Monday, October 31, 2005

Apple #120: Fog vs. Dew

I was driving home one night and moisture kept forming on my windshield so that I had to use my wipers. I wondered if this was technically fog or dew. And what's the difference between the two, anyway?
  • Basically, the difference is that fog is moisture that has condensed but stays in the air, floating just above the surface of the earth in a cloud. Dew is water vapor that has condensed on the surface of things.
That's the simplest way to think of it. But of course there's more to it than that.
  • This is dew:
    • It appears on the surfaces of things in the early morning or in the evening.
    • After a warm day that begins to cool, the surface temperature of things cools faster than the air. When the air cools too, it can't hold as much moisture. So the moisture that was in the air forms on the surface of cooler objects.
    • Most often, the things that collect dew are thin or small objects like blades of grass or strands in a spider's web or the shallow cup of a fallen leaf.
    • If the temperature is cold enough, the dew freezes and becomes ice, which is better known as frost.

(photo from University of Aberdeen School of Physics

  • Now here's fog:
    • Fog is a cloud that touches the ground, but just barely.
    • There are actually lots of different kinds of fog, which can form under many circumstances:
      • Fog at the end of the day
      • Fog when wind comes off water and blows over land
      • Fog when rain falls out of a damp cloud into drier air below
      • Fog when a clump of cold air passes over much warmer water and makes steam
      • Valley fog in mountain valleys
      • Upslope fog as air rises up the slope of a mountain and cools and condenses as it does so.

(photo from the University of Houston's Fog in the Woods

    • For my money, the most exciting types of fog are ice fog and freezing fog.
      • Ice fog happens when the moisture in the fog freezes into ice crystals. Temperatures have to be below freezing, and this usually happens in places like Alaska or Canada or in the Arctic.
      • Freezing fog happens when the droplets in fog freeze onto surfaces. This forms a particular ice called "rime ice." It happens most often on mountainsides exposed to low clouds. It's the same thing as what happens in a freezer that's not frost-free. It looks like the wind blew and froze the moisture instantly into place.

Rime ice
(photo from Grandfather Mountain)

The moisture on my windshield certainly wasn't ice fog or freezing fog. It wasn't so late at night that you could say it might as well have been morning, which would lead me to say it couldn't be dew. However, there were no cloudy patches in the air around me that I was driving through (I do like to drive through fog. I like to make a verbal "foom" sound effect when the car first punches into it.)

The temperature probably had been quite a bit warmer earlier in the day and had cooled fairly significantly by the time I got in my car to drive home. So I'm going to say that the moisture on my windshield that I kept having to wipe away was dew.

And that's probably why using the defroster also helped, because it raised the air temperature so that the water on the window could evaporate away from my window into the air.

This also means that that old song "The Foggy Foggy Dew" is more than just inexplicable, it's enormously confusing.

Wikipedia, Fog
Wikipedia, Dew
Wikipedia, Dewpoint
Thanks, Wikipedia!
Onelook, Fog
Onelook, Dew

Friday, October 28, 2005

Apple #119: Pink Floyd's Name

A few days ago, I was listening to Dark Side of the Moon, specifically my favorite song from that album, "Time." It occurred to me to wonder how they came up with the name "Pink Floyd" anyway.
  • In the mid-1960's, Pink Floyd evolved out of a band that went through several name changes, including
    • Sigma 6
    • The Meggadeaths
    • The Screaming Abdabs
    • Tea Set
  • Tea Set was formed out of the wreckage that was The Screaming Abdabs after they broke up. Tea Set included the psychedelic/genius Syd Barrett.
  • Tea Set was slated to play a show and discovered another band to play the same night with them was also called Tea Set. Barrett, on the spur of the moment, suggested they change their names to The Pink Floyd Sound, taking the first names from from two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
  • The word "Sound" was dropped pretty quickly, but the band remained The Pink Floyd for several years, up until about 1973.
  • As the band's popularity grew through the late 1960's, Syd Barrett tried to cope by taking more LSD and more dope. Instead of feeling better, he became increasingly erratic and unstable. At one show, he de-tuned his guitar until the strings flapped, and played one note over and over. At another show, he stood with his arms at his sides, his guitar hanging, and staring into space while the rest of the band performed. This period is now generally described as an "extended nervous breakdown."
  • In 1968, David Gilmour joined the band to fill in for Syd's guitar and singing parts while he stood onstage. Eventually one day, the rest of the band decided against picking him up after a meeting, and he never played with them again.
  • As of 2002, Syd Barrett was living at his now-decesased mother's house in Cambridgeshire, England, where he mostly stays home and paints and writes. He no longer answers to his erstwhile nickname "Syd" but prefers his given name, Roger. Sometimes he answers the door, but most of the time he prefers not.
  • Pink Floyd now stands as one of the most popular and successful rock bands, having sold roughly 250 million albums around the world. On a 2001 best-of album, Echoes, nearly a fifth of the songs are written by Barrett, although he was with the band for not quite 3 of its 30-plus year life.
  • Here's a description of one of The Floyd's concerts in 1967:
    • The Floyd introduced a rudimentary quad sound-system, played taped noises from nature and had a liquid red light show. Mason was amplified sawing a log. Waters threw potatoes at a gong. The roadies pumped out thousands of soap bubbles and one of them, dressed as an admiral, threw daffodils into the stalls. The mess earnt the Floyd a ban from the hall and a favourable review from The Financial Times.
  • At a 2005 Pink Floyd reunion to raise money for poor nations, Roger Waters said:
It's actually quite emotional standing up here with these three guys after all these years. Standing to be counted with the rest of you. Anyway, we're doing this for everyone who's not here, but particularly, of course, for Syd.

For an update since this posting, see a brief entry on Syd Barrett.

Wikipedia, Pink Floyd
Dolly Rocker's Syd Barrett FAQs
For a great article on Syd Barrett, read "You Shone Like the Sun," The Observer-Guardian, October 6, 2002

Monday, October 24, 2005

Apple #118: Boston Molasses Flood

A couple days ago, I was listening to a cooking show on the radio, and the chef was asked how to make Boston Baked Beans. He said that you can make them either with rum or with molasses, both of which were very much available in Boston once upon a time. He said that the molasses in Boston was part of the reason for the Great Molasses Flood, when a barrel of molasses exploded and oozed through the streets and actually killed a lot of people. I had to know more.

(Photo from The Natural Path

  • In 1919, molasses was the primary sweetener used in the United States. It was used to make cookies, cakes, and bread. Molasses was also used to distill rum and to produce industrial alcohol for ammunition. Boston was a major US port and the distillery capital of the US at the time. This is why Boston Baked Beans are made either with rum or molasses, and this is why there was an enormous tank of molasses in Boston in 1919.
  • On January 15, 1919, the United States Alcohol Company's largest molasses storage tank, located in Boston's North End, exploded. This wasn't just a barrel of molasses, this was a tank, built 52 feet high and holding about 2.3 million gallons of molasses, or 14,000 tons of the stuff.
  • On this particular day, the temperature had risen rapidly from 2 degrees F the day before to an unseasonably warm 40 degrees F. Additionally, warm molasses from a new shipment was pumped into the tank on top of the colder molasses that had been there the previous freezing day. Fermentation started happening in the tank, and the resulting gases caused the tank to explode.
  • When the tank ruptured, enormous chunks of metal were propelled into buildings and structures all around the tank in Boston's North End. One chunk smashed through a stone pillar which supported an elevated railroad. Without this pillar, a portion of the railway sagged and then fell to the ground. Another section of the tank wall fell on a nearby firehouse and crushed it, burying three firemen in the ruins.
  • After the initial explosion, the following vacuum it created sucked air from nearby buildings back to the tank, causing further damage. The vacuum also picked up a truck and dragged it across the street back toward the tank.
  • But the worst of the damage came from the molasses. A huge geyser of it spewed into the air and rained down onto the city. It formed an initial wall of flowing molasses, reported to be anywhere from 15 to 30 feet high, and traveling at 25 to 35 miles per hour. Not only was it moving fast, but the river of molasses was several feet deep and cooking-hot. Those who waded in to save people trapped in the molasses flood were themselves hopelessly mired.
  • One city building where employees were eating their lunch was demolished by the flood and the wreckage was strewn some 50 yards. Another city building, which had an office on the ground floor and tenement apartments above, was torn from its foundation.

Photo from Eric Postpischil's Molasses Disaster pages

  • In all, 21 people were killed an 150 more were injured. People suffocated in the molasses, they were cooked alive in it, or they were swept by the wave into the harbor.
  • When the flood stopped, the river of molasses cooled but was still a sticky, nasty mess. Horses trapped in the goo could not be rescued and had to be shot. Fresh water did nothing to move the molasses, so salt water was pumped in from the harbor and sprayed over the area, thus destroying any vegetation that stood a chance to grow in the soil.
  • It took more than 6 months to get the molasses off the sides of buildings, the cobblestones in the streets, and off cars and homes. People reported seeing molasses oozing out of cracks in sidewalks periodically for the next 30 years. People also claim that on a hot day in Boston's North End, you can still smell the molasses.
  • At that time, Boston's North End was populated mainly by Italian workers, most of whom had not yet sought citizenship and were working poor. 119 separate legal claims were brought against the company, and though they tried to blame the explosion on bomb-wielding Italian anarchists, the argument didn't fly and the company paid $650,000 in settlements. In today's money, that's in the millions.
  • It was discovered that the tank was originally constructed according to no regulations, because nobody agreed on whether it was an industrial device or a structure. As a result, it was built without plans and never subjected to inspection. The tank had leaked constantly, but instead of patching the leak, the company painted the tank the same color as the leaking molasses.
  • After this tragedy and the investigations into the tank itself, the Boston Building Department tightened its engineering and architecture regulations. Surviving North End Italians, galvanized by what they saw as unfair treatment, sought citizenship in enormous numbers so that they could vote and have a voice in their government.

Tony Sakalauskas, "The Boston Molasses Flood of 1919," 3 A.M. Magazine, 2001
CNN, "Great molasses flood remembered," January 23, 2004
Useless Information, The Great Boston Molasses Tragedy, The Great Molasses Flood
Eric Postpischil's Molasses Disaster pages, November 24, 2004

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Apple #117: Synchronized Menstruation

A while back now, 3d asked:

I don't know if this an unappropriate subject or not, but my wife would like to know why a woman's cycle will change when with different groups of women. Perhaps there's really no explanation for this.

Some brief investigation into this question pulled up some interesting research. Or anyway, I found it pretty fascinating. I always wondered about this. I had heard that maybe the moon had something to do with it, but people's menstrual cycles didn't necessarily seem to match with the full moon, so I didn't think that was it. Turns out, it's scent that does it.
  • Scientists have studied women who live together, say in dorms, and also women who just socialize without necessarily sharing living quarters, and they have found that their cycles synchronize after a couple months. This synchronization is now sometimes called "the McClintock effect" after Martha McClintock, Professor of Biopsychology at the University of Chicago, who first studied and wrote about this phenomenon.
  • Not everybody is equally sensitive to synchronization. Some women's cycles don't change at all, and some women's cycles jump 12 days to match the cycles of others around them.
  • Scientists also studied menstrual cycles of rats and found that rats also synched up even when they were in separate rooms. The rooms, however, were connected by a shared airflow. This suggested an airborne influence at work.
  • To determine what the airborne influence could be, Dr. McClintock studied the effect of pheromones on women's menstrual cycles. She had women bathe, then use an alcohol wipe under their arm and turn and wipe the cloth on the upper lip of the next woman. Sounds kind of gross, but you know, it's all for science. She said there wasn't a strong odor at all, and all the women in the study thought they were in the control group.
  • The results of this study found that not only did the women's cycles synch up, but by timing when they wiped each other relative to certain points in the cycles, they could shorten everybody's cycles or lengthen them.
  • While further research has corroborated that pheromones from other women influence the synchronization of their menstrual cycles, as far as I've found, no one has yet isolated the particular pheromone, or chemical scent, that triggers the shift in ovulation. In other words, there's no spray that you can go out and buy and squirt on a bunch of women, or female animals, to get them all ovulating on the same date.
  • As far as why synchronization happens, that's another matter. I've discovered from doing these Apples that while science can verify whether or not something happens the way we think it does, science often has a very hard time explaining why it happens. And the reasons why women's cycles influence each other are still entirely speculative. But the possiblities Dr. McClintock and others have offered essentially boil down to this:
    • When women are ovulating, other women's bodies could take this as a signal that it is a good time for them to be fertile. A prepubescent girl, for example, may pick up the signal that now is a good time for her body to start ovulating. An adult woman may get the signal from other women who are currently pregnant that now is a good time to get pregnant. In other words, if other women's bodies are going through and surviving this expenditure of energy, then there must be enough food available, the weather is benign, there will be other women available to assist, and so on.
    • Another possibility is that if all the females in a group are ovulating at the same time, that would make it more difficult for a dominant male to go around and impregnate every single one of them, thus making it more likely that the male who gets the female pregnant is more available to support its offspring. Therefore, a woman's body will do its best to synch up with the ovulation cycles of other women as a way to protect their potential offspring.
    • Elsewhere, however, Dr. McClintock says that menstrual synchrony may serve no particular function at all. Thanks a lot.
Hope that helps, Wife of 3d!

I think that, since nobody has added any new requests in a while, we'll call the requests finished for now. Thanks to everybody who posted a question! You've helped make this blog even more interesting and informative for lots of other people.

Radio National, The Health Report with Norman Swan, "Menstrual Synchrony," June 8, 1998
Martha K. McClintock, "Whither menstrual synchrony?" Annual Review of Sex Research, 1998
Morofushi et al., "Positive Relationship between Menstrual Synchrony and Ability to Smell 5alpha-Androst-16-en-3alpha-ol," Chemical Senses, 2000
"Period living,", December 14, 2002

Monday, October 17, 2005

Apple #116: Welsh vs. Welch

A while back, Fork Stealer wanted to know, does one "welsh" or "welch" on a bet when one does not pay what is owed? And if one spelling is preferred, why that particular spelling?

First of all, I'm going to note that this expression is an ethnically pejorative phrase. It has its roots in England, whose citizens considered the Welsh to be a substandard people for reasons that are unclear to me. I don't care to unearth those so-called "reasons." Let's just say the English didn't like their next-door-neighbors the Welsh and leave it at that.

The primary reason I'm answering this question is in the hope that once people know what it refers to, they will stop using the expression.

To address Fork Stealer's question as accurately as possible, I consulted my Oxford English Dictionary. I found no entry for "welch." Under the entry for the verb, "to welsh," it offers "welch" as a variant, whose origin is unknown.

According to this same dictionary, a Welsher is "A bookmaker at a race-meeting, who takes money for a bet, and absconds or refuses to pay if he loses." Further down, an additional definition of Welsher is simply "a Welshman." In other words, once upon a time, people pretty much equated any man from Wales and cheaters. I don't know if the English vs. Welsh antipathy continues today, but I say, let's stop the name-calling, please?

Like Fork Stealer, I thought the phrase was to "welch" on a deal. I know that I thought this because somewhere in my childhood brain, I connected Welch's grape juice with the concept of not paying one's bets. If you did not pay up, this meant that not only were you a cheat, you also had the same kind of puckery mouth that you would have if you drank Welch's grape juice. While I now know that this is not the case, I think I prefer these connotations to the original.

Oxford University Press, The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 1988.

I love the OED. I don't mean the Concise one, I mean the big honking 24-volume set (also available in micrographically reproduced form, in two thick but far more usable volumes). An online version is available, but as far as I'm concerned there's no substitute for the printed, bound, browse-through-it version. If you ever have the chance to buy a copy, do it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Apple #115: Mr. T

Whew, the insanity week is over. So now, on with Mr. T.
  • Mr. T is best known for his role on in Rocky III and on the television show The A-Team, his gold chains and mohawk, and his trademark phrase, "I pity the fool," which he first uttered in Rocky III.

Poster from Rocky III, when Mr. T first said, "I pity the fool."
(order the poster from PopartUK)

  • His birth name is Lawrence Tureaud. He grew up in a south side ghetto of Chicago as the second youngest of 12 children. His father left when he was 5 and his mother raised the 12 children on $87 a month from welfare in a three-room apartment.
  • He says he survived living in the neighborhood by building up his body and telling people, "If you think I'm big, you should see my brothers." While he went through a brief period of acting up, cursing, and playing hooky from 5th to 7th grade, he thought about how his mother would feel if he went to jail, so he stopped acting up and kept himself out of trouble.
  • To this day, he does not drink alcoholic beverages, nor does he curse in public.
  • He went to Dunbar Vocational High School where he was a football star, studied martial arts, and was a three-time all-city wrestling champion. He won a football scholarship to Prairie View A&M University in Texas, but since he was used to relying on his photographic memory and studied little in school, he was thrown out of college after a year.
  • He worked as a military policeman for the Army, and then tried out for the Green Bay Packers. A knee injury put an end to his pro football hopes and he decided to become a broadway dancer instead.
  • To get himself on broadway, he decided to make contacts with famous people and soon was working as their bouncer and bodyguard.
  • Notable people whom he guarded include Muhammad Ali, Steve McQueen, Michael Jackson, and Diana Ross. He charged $3,000 a day. He was twice named America's Toughest Bouncer.
  • He acquired his jewelry as a bouncer, when he would take various pieces from disorderly people and wear the jewelry himself. At its peak, the collection was valued around $300,000. It took him an hour to put it on, and though he usually took it off at night, some nights he slept with it on "to see how my ancestors, who were slaves, felt."
  • He legally changed his name to Mr. T in 1980.
  • Sylvester Stallone spotted him in the World's Toughest Bouncer contest in 1982 and decided he should be Clubber Lang in Rocky III. The role originally had only a few lines, but Stallone "built up the part around the man."
  • Here is one exchange from the movie:
      • INTERVIEWER: What's your prediction for the fight?
      • CLUBBER LANG: My prediction?
      • INTERVIEWER: Yes, your prediction.
      • [Clubber looks into camera]
      • CLUBBER LANG: Pain!
  • In 1983, he was Sgt. Bosco "Bad Attitude" Baracus on The A-Team. His character wore the same gold chains as Mr. T and was tough as a bulldog but dumb as a post. Mr. T has said it takes a smart person to play a dumb guy. He was in several other TV series and movies, but most of his appearances on screen since the A-Team have been as himself. He appears frequently on Conan O'Brien.
  • In the first Wrestlemania in 1985, he was Hulk Hogan's tag team partner and together, they defeated Paul Orndorff and Rowdy Roddy Piper. The next year he re-visited his feud with Roddy Piper in Wrestlemania 2 and defeated Piper in a boxing match when Piper was disqualified.

This signed picture of Mr. T duking it out with Rowdy Roddy Piper can be yours for $119
  • In 1994, he returned to pro wrestling when he acted as a special referee for the match between Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair.
  • Piper has commented that several wrestlers really did dislike Mr. T because they viewed him as an actor, not a wrestler, trying to break into the wrestling world.
  • Hulk Hogan wrote in his autobiography that Mr. T almost ruined the first Wrestlemania because when he arrived, his entourage was somehow so threatening or enormous or somehow objectionable that security would not allow them into the building. Mr. T said he would then back out of doing the show, but Hogan was able to talk him into staying.
  • Years later, while living in Lake Forest, Illinois (a very upscale suburb of his hometown Chicago), Mr. T clearcut 100 acres of trees on his property. He said he did this because of his allergies. His neighbors and town officials did not like this at all and established an ordinance forbidding anyone from cutting down any trees, even on their own property, without a permit.
  • In 1995 he was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma, a form of cancer. He sold most of his gold jewelry and donated the proceeds to cancer research.

All that gold probably would fetch a hefty sum.
(Image from Da Bronx Bombers)

  • Six years later, at age 49, he was told he had beaten the disease. In his TV appearances since, he has worn gold chains.
  • He is a born-again Christian and has produced albums, films, and specials which encourage children to go to school, stay off drugs, and do their homework.
  • In a BBC-run poll, Mr. T was voted the fourth most influential American in history, behind Homer Simpson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King.
  • Here are some notable quotes from Mr. T:
      • I'm talented and flexible. I could play Hamlet, even though I look like King Kong.
      • I am the best bodyguard because I'll take a bullet, I'll take a stab wound, I'll take a hit upside the head; I'm like a Kamikaze pilot; the President got shot because his men relaxed.

Photo from
  • Mr. T now lives in Sherman Oaks, California, and is divorced with three children.
Internet Movie Database, entry and biography of Mr. T
Wikipedia, entry on Mr. T
Mr. T vs Everything -- see him battle AC/DC, the Australian Parliament, the Brady Bunch, Carrot Top, the Iron Chef, and more!

Thursday, October 6, 2005

This is Not an Apple

Sorry about falling behind in the postings lately. I've been working overtime every day this week, and it's been pretty exhausting. Then yesterday, there was some kind of problem with Blogger and it wouldn't let me access the site. No worries, I'll very soon have an entry about the next item up for blogs, Mr. T.