Monday, November 26, 2007

Apple #283: Heisman Trophy

So while I was home for Thanksgiving, I watched a lot of football with my dad. Professional, college, and high school. And they were each good games, actually.

At one point during the football-fest, my dad and I started talking about the Heisman Trophy. That must have been during the Missouri-Kansas game because the Missouri quarterback, Chase Daniel, is considered a top contender for the trophy this year.

Anyway, my dad said that usually offensive players win the Heisman because they get more air time. He said any football player could win, and that a few defensive players have won, but it usually goes to someone on offense.

I filed away that little remark as a possible Daily Apple topic. Now here we are with my question: have any defensive players won the Heisman?

Answer: yes. A few.

Oh, yeah. First I suppose I should say what the Heisman trophy is.

You'll notice, by the way, that the figure in the trophy is carrying the ball, stiff-arming an invisible defender. In other words, the trophy itself depicts an offensive player. Though I suppose the figure could have just recovered a fumble or caught an interception . . .
(Photo from Heisman Trophy)

The Heisman is a much-coveted award given to the best college football player in each given year. The trophy has been awarded since the 1930s, so it has a lot of history and because only one person wins it, it has a lot of prestige. The winner is decided by secret ballot, and the votes are cast by sports journalists and media people from all around the country, as well as by previous Heisman trophy winners. Additionally, recent voting rules have allowed one fan to cast a ballot. I don't know how they decide who that fan will be.

Each voter chooses his or her top three candidates in order of preference, with the first choice getting the most points and the third choice getting the least. Currently, about 950 people vote on the Heisman trophy-winner.

Now, for the defensive football players who've won the trophy.

LARRY KELLEY, Yale, 1936
(Image of 1936 trading card from
  • The second player to be awarded the Heisman Trophy.
  • It was actually the first year the award had that name. When he was told he had won, he didn't know what the award was.
  • He was a defensive end who played for Yale.
  • But he also played on offense and caught 15 TD passes, including a crucial one against Yale's arch-rival Princeton.
  • He was drafted by the Detroit Lions, but turned down the offer.
  • He went on to teach and coach football at the high school level.
  • Sadly, he sold his Heisman Trophy in 2000 to help pay his federal income taxes. Six months later, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

LEON HART, Notre Dame, 1949
(Photo from the College Football Hall of Fame)
  • Leon Hart also played on offense sometimes, but he's better known for his defensive performance.
  • In fact, he's considered by some to be the best defensive player ever
  • Voted All-American three of the four years he played
  • Won the AP's Athlete of the Year award in 1949
  • Known as "a savage blocker and tackler"
  • His team, Notre Dame, did not lose a single game his sophomore to senior year
  • He went on to play for the Detroit Lions
  • In 1951, he was the last player to win the All-Pro award for both offensive and defensive positions.

CHARLES WOODSON, Michigan, 1997
(Photo from University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library)
  • Played as cornerback, whose primary job is to cover the quarterback and try to prevent passes
  • The season he won -- his junior year -- he had 8 interceptions.
  • He also played on offense as a pass receiver, and on special teams offense returning punts.
  • That year, he blew away Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, and Ricky Williams in the number of votes he received for the Heisman.
  • Started as a true freshman and was a two-time All-American.
  • He went on to play for the Oakland Raiders the following year, and was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

And that's it. Everybody else is either a running back, quarterback, full back, or wide receiver. But mostly it's running backs who've won.

While the list of Heisman Trophy winners is like a mini-hall of fame list, here are some especially notable winners:

  • Paul Hornung, Notre Dame, 1956
      • Quarterback
      • NFL Green Bay Packers (halfback)
      • MVP in 1960 and 1961
      • Known also for his abilities to run, pass, block, and tackle. He was also a placekicker.
      • Vince Lombardi: "the most versatile man who ever played the game"
  • Roger Staubach, Navy, 1963
      • Quarterback
      • NFL Dallas Cowboys
      • 1st year in the NFL he was 27
      • MVP of Super Bowl VI
      • Voted into the Pro Hall of Fame the first year he became eligible
  • Archie Griffin, Ohio State, 1974 & 1975
      • Running back
      • 31 games with 100+ yards his senior year
      • Only player ever to win the Heisman twice
      • Woody Hayes: "the greatest football player I've ever coached"
      • NFL Cincinnati Bengals
  • Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh, 1976
      • Running back
      • Still holds numerous NCAA records including most seasons with 1,000 yards, most yards, most yards rushing, and several others
      • NFL Dallas Cowboys
      • Named Rookie of the Year in 1977 and played in the Super Bowl as a rookie
  • Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State, 1988
      • Running back
      • Averaged 200 yards per game his junior year, the year he won the Heisman
      • NFL Detroit Lions
      • Sanders won Rookie of the Year with the Dallas Cowboys
      • Despite the Lions' abysmal performance, Sanders continued to rack up enormous statistics and to win several accolades for his abilities

And of course, this list would not be complete without:
  • O.J. Simpson, U of Southern California, 1968
      • Tailback
      • Broke several NCAA records in both 1967 and 1968
      • Won the trophy in the biggest voting landslide in the Heisman's history
      • NFL Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers
      • First running back to pass the 2,000-yard per season mark
      • Sold his Heisman Trophy in 1999 for $230,000 to pay part of the verdict against him in the wrongful death suit won by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Enough of him. How about this instead:

Keep your eye on #2. One interception after another, TD receptions, even a pass of his own.
If you don't want to watch the whole thing (the sound is annoying), check out Woodson's leaping interception at about 3:50.

Sources, Heisman Winners by Year, The Heisman Trophy
New York Times Obituaries, "Larry Kelley, 85, a Yale End Who Won the Heisman, Dies," June 29, 2000
College Football Hall of Fame, Leon Hart
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Paul Hornung, Roger Staubach, Football, O.J. Simpson

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

As so many people around the country are doing, I will be going out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday. While I'm away, here's a picture of a turkey for you to enjoy.

Wow, his head is bright blue. He's a wild turkey, with his feathers on full display.
(Photo from Netstate's Massachusetts State Game Bird page)

If you're curious, you could find out what that thing is called that hangs down from a turkey's beak.

You could also find out about some other, lesser-known days of celebration in November.

If you're feeling especially adventurous on your days off, you could read a little bit about vacations.

Happy Thanksgiving, and see you next week!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Apple #282: Kinds of Snow

We don't have snow here yet where I live, but it's coming. And I'm curious: what are the different kinds or types of snow?

The short answer to this is, it depends who you ask.

According to one early-reader guide to snow and the Inupiaq language (what we generally mean when we say "Eskimo"), you can talk about snow in terms of
  • how packed-down its gotten
  • whether it's good to use for building things
  • if it's already been made into something
  • if it's still falling or if it's on the ground
  • whether or not it has been moved by wind or something else.

But another crucial way for the Inupiaqs to describe snow is in terms of how good it is to turn into drinking water. I'm not going to get the diacritic marks right at all, but here are those terms in general:
  • nutagaq -- freshly fallen, light snow, easy to blow away
  • silliq -- next layer down in a snowdrift, packed more tightly
  • pukak -- at the very bottom of a snowdrift, just above the ground, grainy snow that feels like pebbles or salt. This is the best kind of snow to melt into water because the compression has worn the points off the snowflakes. This allows the flakes to be packed closer together, which means there's less air between the flakes. It's also the easiest to scoop into a container. When you melt pukak, you'll get the most water from it.
(Drawing from How Many Kinds of Snow Are There?)

There are a lot more than three layers of snow here. But I think the same principle that the bottom part is the best for melting still applies.
(Photo from the Snow Hydrology Gallery at UCSB)

A snowboarder, however, will tell you about various forms of snow in terms of its surface:
  • Powder -- Freshly fallen, untouched, uncompacted, airy, soft snow.

Powder is new-fallen, soft, and ideally pristine snow like this, near Salzburg
(Photo from the Hotel Gasthof zum Kirchenwirt)

  • Crud -- Powder that's been packed down, tracked, footprinted, or otherwise mucked up.
  • Corn snow -- After several cycles of nightly freezing and daily thawing, the snow gets wet and grainy and heavy.
  • Crust -- Hard crust on top of powder beneath. Your feet tend to punch through this. The crust forms when sun melts the top layer of snow, but the colder temperature freezes it again.
  • Loose granular -- Wet or icy snow that's been groomed into smaller, loose pellets.
  • Wet granular -- Very wet snow, usually occurring in the spring, easy to form into snowballs.
  • Slush -- When the air temperature rises above freezing, snow crystals change to larger pieces of ice. Heavier and wetter than snow.

Corn snow forms when the snow melts just enough to create kernels of snow surrounded by slick patches of melted snow-water. This kind of snow will support your weight if it's still cold enough, but if the day gets any warmer, the water between the kernels will increase and your feet will sink through to slushy snow beneath.
(Diagram from

  • Ice -- Most heavy-snow areas will never entirely turn to ice. But the top layers can melt and freeze several times until they become ice -- solid, hard, and slick.

Meteorologists will tell you about these categories of falling snow:
  • Snow -- ice crystals that have ganged together to form flakes at temperatures below freezing.

Snow falling in Cleveland during a snow storm in December 2007
(Photo by Chris Bennis, sourced from WYKC in Cleveland)

  • Snow pellets -- As ice crystals or snow flakes fall, supercooled water gathers on the crystals. This can happen as a snowflake melts about halfway and then re-freezes. THey have small air pockets locked within them. Pellets will break apart or be crushed when pressed.
  • Sleet or Ice pellets -- Similar to snow pellets in appearance, but these are frozen raindrops that do not have air pockets. Usually this starts as snow way up in the atmosphere but melts on the way down to the earth and then passes into a subfreezing layer where it freezes again and turns into ice.
  • Snow grains -- Very small grains of ice, solid version of a drizzle, little accumulation.
  • Ice crystals -- Crystals of ice that are so small, they float in the wind.
  • Hail -- Falling, dense ice at least 5 mm in diameter. Forms first as ice crystals and supercooled water attaches to it and freezes there.

Because hail forms as ice with water that freezes onto it, it often takes on a layered or clumpy shape, as in this piece of hail measuring in at an astonishing 6 inches in diameter -- that's about the size of a grapefruit.
(NOAA photo posted at

  • Graupel -- Same thing as hail, except less than 5 mm in diameter.
  • Freezing rain -- Liquid precipitation that turns to ice after it hits the ground.

If you talk to a chemist or a physicist, they'll probably classify snow according to the individual flakes or crystals. And there are all kinds of ways in which the crystals have been categorized.
  • In 1951, the International Commission on Snow and Ice produced a simpler system of grouping the flakes into 7 general categories.
      • plates
      • stellars
      • columns
      • needles
      • spatial dendrites
      • capped columns
      • irregular crystals

Process by which a snow crystal grows. Depending on which classification system you use, the different steps of the process might fall into a different category of crystal.
(Image from Mystery in the Air by Pete Dunkelberg)

  • Another snow researcher thought the 7 categories were way too simplistic, so he devised his own system using 35 types of snowflakes.

Kenneth Libbrecht of Caltech's abbreviated guide to snowflakes

  • Still other snow researchers have devised their other systems using as many as 80 categories. Then the International Commission on Snow and Ice met again and revamped their whole system. They said that each snowfall will differ in terms of the snow's
      • density
      • grain shape
      • grain size
      • liquid water content
      • impurities
      • strength
      • hardness
      • snow temperature
  • and the snowfall in general will also have its own characteristics of
      • thickness (amount of snowfall)
      • surface roughness
      • load-bearing capacity
      • water equivalent
      • aspect (slope)
  • If I remember my math right, that's 13! or 6,227,020,800 possible different kinds of snowfall.
Or, basically, this:

(You can have this image, along with several others, as your screen saver, from

Alaska Native Education Program, Immiugniq CH3 - How Many Kinds of Snow Are There?
LINGUIST mailing list, Eskimo Words for "Snow"
ABC of Snowboarding, Snow Types
Mike Doyle, Your Guide to Skiing,, Types of Snow
Jeff Haby,, Precipitation Types
Kenneth G. Libbrecht, Caltech, A Guide to Snowflakes
Argonne National Laboratory, Ask A Scientist Weather Archive, Types of Snow Crystals, February 26, 2004
Working Group on Snow Classification, The International Classification for Seasonal Snow on the Ground, 1985(?)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Apple #281: Baby Oil

Just now while roaming various websites, I came across a mention of baby oil. I thought of what I usually tell people about how baby oil is made -- put a bunch of babies into a big vat and squeeze 'em and what drips out is baby oil. People always look at me with a mixture of distaste and doubt -- could that be true? No, it can't be true. Can it?

Baby oil. Made from baby squeezin's? Or something else?
(Photo from Johnson's)

I mean it as a joke, of course. But because the phrase is so ineptly worded, that is what it suggests.

Baby oil is also known as mineral oil. But, okay, so what is mineral oil? I had always thought it was derived from some ground-up minerals. After doing only a very little bit of searching, I found out that's not right, either.

  • Mineral oil is derived from petroleum. That's right, oil-oil. Like, the oil you pour into your car.

Is this what you're rubbing into your skin to make it nice and soft? Or is this just a scare tactic?
(Image from

  • People rub mineral oil on their babies, on their faces, on their legs. People take it as an enema (because its natural effect on your body is to give you diarrhea, it's great for loosening up the bowels) -- or even drink it.
  • But if mineral oil comes from petroleum, does that mean it's a scary and secretly toxic thing?
  • The important thing to know about mineral oil is that there are two different grades of it. They vary based on the type of oil gunk the refining process starts with.
      • Industrial-grade mineral oil is used by chemical companies, places that have particle accelerator labs, and in general, people who do really involved chemical experiments. This type of mineral oil starts with a naphthene base, which is basically crude oil and has no paraffin wax in it.
      • Food-grade mineral oil comes from paraffin, which is a byproduct of the oil distillation process. So it's a refinement of a refinement.

Paraffin wax. It's a by-product of crude petroleum refining process, yes. It's also the mother of Vaseline and mineral oil. Both Vaseline and mineral oil are also known as petrolatum.
(Photo from Ehsan Chemi Esteban Co.)

      • This is fairly commonly used in the food industry as a lubricant. It's in sprays used to clean cutting boards, or in lubricants used to grease food processing machinery, or it's used to coat packaging so it won't stick to the food. This grade is also what's in enemas, in nasal sprays, and other lubricating-type medical products. And this grade of mineral oil is also used in pesticides for the way it clogs up the breathing of various little mites that attack honey bees.

Mineral oil is recommended as a cleaner for butcher blocks or wooden cutting boards. Vegetable oils are not recommended for this purpose because they will turn rancid.
(Photo from

      • By the way, the World Health Organization studied the effects of ingesting mineral oil, and they found that though the body does absorb some of it, because of its tendency to produce diarrhea, not that much gets absorbed. They found that the amount that does stay in your system is not enough to cause cancer.
  • I've run across lots of beauty & cosmetics-related sites that talk about "cosmetics-grade mineral oil." There's no such thing. The chemical companies that process mineral oil either make it for industrial purposes or to food-grade specifications. That's it.
  • There also seem to be rumors circulating that mineral oil causes cancer, and that you should avoid all cosmetics products that contain mineral oil.
  • At very high concentrations -- like, if you worked in a mineral oil processing facility and you wore no gloves -- mineral oil might give you cancer. But at the level of absorption that would occur with the occasional use of mineral oil in cosmetics, that's not going to happen.
  • In fact, people who already have cancer, are getting radiation, and are often bound up gastric-wise as a result are frequently advised by their doctors to take enemas that contain mineral oil, or even to drink products that contain mineral oil as a way to loosen up the works. Even the various cancer societies around the country suggest mineral oil to people who are fighting against cancer.

Contains mineral oil. Recommended to people struggling with some of the side-effects of cancer-killing radiation.
(Image from

  • Ingested mineral oil can block the absorption of essential vitamins, however. So if you do drink it for its cleansing properties, it's a good idea to take a multivitamin afterwards, and to use it sparingly.
  • You also want to make sure you don't drink too much of it at once -- though that's difficult because it will give you diarrhea in a hurry. If you think you've ingested too much mineral oil, drink a lot of water. That will work better than making yourself throw it up.
  • You also want to be careful about inhaling it. Again, just opening a bottle and using it as you normally would isn't going to be toxic. But if you sit there and sniff it for a long time, or if you work in a mineral oil processing plant and don't protect yourself, you could get "chemical pneumonia."

This baby oil also contains aloe vera & vitamin E. It's got mineral oil in it, but it's still "Nature's Choice."
(Image from Unipack)

  • There's also been some dispute about whether or not applying mineral oil to your face will give you acne. Not very long ago, it was proven that the kind of mineral oil that's sold in the drug store will not give you acne. Since it isn't absorbed easily into the body, it will rest on your skin, and won't soak into your pores and clog up the works.
  • One thing to note, though, is that some "baby oils" do contain a lot of perfume or fragrance. And those perfumes could clog your pores or irritate your skin.
  • Anyone selling cosmetics who says their products are better because they don't contain mineral oil are trying to scare you into buying something more expensive.

This bath & shower gel contains mineral oil and oatmeal. Cost? $7.73.
(Image from

Shaving cream is one of about 95,000 things in the drugstore that contain mineral oil. Cost? $3.99.
(Image from

So while the parentage, so to speak, of mineral oil is a bit scary, in practice, it's not the screaming end of mineral oil. If you hate petroleum and all things to do with petroleum, then go ahead and choose products with other ingredients. But know that you'll pay bigger bucks for that choice.

P.S. I'll admit that after having done this entry, I checked the labels on my various bottles of hand lotion. They all have mineral oil in them -- or petrolatum, which is another word for the same thing. I'll admit it didn't exactly give me comfort.

But then, not only did I find it in so many products, those are all products I have been using for years and that have not given me rashes, break-outs, scary lumps, or chicken heads growing out of my flesh or anything like that. So I decided all over again that while the presence of mineral oil in all my lotions doesn't fill me with contentment, I'm not going to throw them all away or go out and buy everything all-natural at six times the price. I'm going to live with it. Same as I've always done, just without knowing it.

National Cancer Institute, mineral oil
American Cancer Society, mineral oil
Medline, Mineral oil overdose
JT Baker Material Safety Data Sheet, Mineral oil
Clearco, Food Grade Lubricants
STE Oil Company, Crystal Plus Mineral Oil Frequently Asked Questions
Schlumberger, Oilfield Glossary, naphthene-based crude oil
Stanford University, Conservation Online, Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, paraffin
Columbia Encyclopedia, petrolatum
Arias Martinez et al., "Use of food grade mineral oil and integrated beekeeping practices in the control of varroa infections in Apis mellifera colonies,", March-June 2001
FAO Nutrition Meetings, "Toxicological evaluation of some extraction solvents and certain other substances," FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, June-July 1970
The Beauty Brains, The top 5 myths about mineral oil - Part 1, What are the long term effects of taking mineral oil?
Acne Resource Center Online, Cosmetics and Acne
(abstract / press release) "Don't Believe the Hype - Mineral Oil Won't Give You Zits," Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, May 24, 2005
Angry Toxicologist, Ask a Toxicologist: Harmful Cosmetics Ingredients? May 21, 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Apple #280: Mascara

Today I woke up thinking about mascara. No idea why, but there it was, in my head. And in that fresh-from-sleep land, it occurred to me that mascara is really weird stuff. Brown goo in a little container that you brush onto your eyelashes? It just seemed very odd, all of a sudden. I do like wearing it sometimes, but it seemed like a completely foreign substance to me, the more I thought about it.

And just what is in that goo, anyway?

  • When the Egyptians -- men and women -- used mascara, it was made of kohl. People aren't entirely sure what kohl was, but they think it was a combination of charcoal or soot, lead sulfite, and malachite. Yeah. Lead, soot, and another mineral. Great stuff for the eyes.

Egyptian woman, their eyes painted with kohl.
(Photo from Cheikh Anta Diop)

  • People pretty much stopped wearing make-up for a long time, after Rome got sacked and the Western world essentially forgot everything it had ever learned for a long time. It wasn't until the Renaissance that people started wearing make-up again. When they did, they made mascara out of other ingredients.
  • By the early 20th century, mascara was made from Vaseline and coal dust, pressed into a hard cake. You had a special brush that you wetted and rubbed over the cake to moisten and pick up the mascara.
  • Some versions of mascara around that time used soap instead of Vaseline, and other pigments instead of coal dust. But the pressed cake plus brush that you had to wet yourself was the format for applying mascara for a long time. My mom used to have a tray of mascara like this that I played with sometimes when I was little.

This is kind of like the mascara tray my mom used to have. You can buy this actual kit today from Lola Loves Lashes, for only $25.00.

  • Maybe around the 1940s or 50s, mascara started to be packaged in a tube. You squeezed it out onto a brush, and it was a really goopy mess.
  • Then in the 1960s, somebody came up with a grooved applicator that you could stick into the tube, the applicator would collect the goop in its grooves, and you could brush it onto your lashes more easily. Soon the grooved applicator became a brush, and bob's your uncle, that's how we apply mascara today.

The brush gets inserted into the tube and applies the mascara as shown onto the eyelashes. Except for the fact that the brush gets all black and goopy. It doesn't stay yellow and clean like it is in this picture. Oh, and this mascara costs $22.95, by the way.
(Image from Max Factor)

  • But what the heck is in mascara now? Basically, there are two types of mascara, one that's made with wax (beeswax, paraffin, carnauba wax -- if it's a wax, it could get turned into mascara). The other basic variety is made with lotions or creams.
  • Either type may also include various oils, such as mineral oil, linseed oil, castor oil, lanolin (that's used in a lot of hand creams), oil of turpentine (!), eucalyptus oil, sesame oil, etc.
  • Whether the base is wax or lotions, they get all melted and mixed together with the oils. Sometimes the manufacturers add gums like methyl cellulose to make the product stiffen. Some manufacturers may also use some water or alcohol.
  • Then the pigments are added. Those are their own story in themselves.
Mascara manufacturers can use lots of different things for pigments. Coal or tar, however, are now strictly illegal, so they can't use that anymore. But among the things they can use to color the mascara are:

  • Carbon black = black This is actually a nice word for soot. It's carbon in a really powdery form. Often it is a byproduct of combustion -- meaning, it's one of the bad things that come out of the exhaust pipe of your car. It can also be made on purpose by chemical companies, and they make tons of it. Carbon black gets used for all kinds of things, mainly in the tires that go on cars and trucks. A slightly different version of it is used as a pigment, primarily in the toner of your laser printer to make the ink black, or in paints, or in mascara.

Carbon black is used to reinforce the sidewalls of rubber tires like these -- as well as to make mascara black.
(Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1941)

  • Iron oxides = brown These are naturally occurring materials that are used to make all sorts of pigments. You can find them in clays of various colors, manganese, or other earthy sorts of materials. Since some clays are brown, others are red, still others are gray means that you can get lots of different colors from lots of different types of iron oxides. The good news about iron oxides is that they are non-toxic.
  • Ultramarine = blue This is a really expensive pigment that's made from grinding up lapis lazuli, which a is a blue rock.
So, let's recap for a second. Mascara is essentially made of:
  • Wax or creams
  • Oils
  • Soot
  • Clay or dirt
  • Maybe some ground-up rocks
  • Maybe some water.
Not that much different from the Egyptians, as it turns out.

I don't think she knows she's wearing wax and soot and dirt on her eyelashes, do you? But she sure looks hot . . . right?
(Image from Rose Joyce Cosmetics)

There seems to be a rumor circulating that mascara is made from bat droppings. The Apple Lady sighs at this rumor because the reason for it comes down to a simple error in spelling, or perhaps a misunderstanding of terminology.
  • Some mascaras used to contain Guanine. It gave the mascara a glossy, pearly sheen.
  • Guanine is a type of protein that is a building-block of DNA. Which means it exists in all plant and animal tissues.
  • One of 95,000 places where you can find guanine is in bat guano. Guano is the nice word for the excrement of flying creatures like seagulls or bats.

This is guanine. Click here if you really want to see what bat guano looks like.)
(Image from the University of Cambridge)

  • While it might be possible to isolate guanine from guano, as far as anyone can determine, no one has ever done so and sold a guano-derived guanine for use in cosmetics.
  • Not only does this mean that bat droppings have never been used in mascara, it also means that no flying animal's excrement has ever been used in any kind of cosmetic product.
  • Guanine that is sold to manufacturers is actually derived from the scrapings of scales of fish such as herrings and alewives.
  • Before you get grossed out anew by this information, however, guanine is really expensive to produce (have you seen the size of a fish scale? and who is going to sit there and scrape the goo off of fish scales?). Because of the high cost of guanine, most mascara manufacturers don't even use any guanine in their products at all anymore.

Oh, by the way. Lots of ads for mascara continue to use false lashes, glue, and other devices to enhance the models' lashes beyond what the mascara alone can do.

Angela Woodward, Mascara, How Products are Made,
Janice Wee, The Truth about Mascara, Ezine Articles
Wisconsin Department of Health & Family Services, Carbon Black
Encyclopedia Britannica, carbon black (cached)
Wikipedia, Carbon black
US Geological Service, Iron Oxide Pigments Statistics and Information
David Sherman, MadSci Network, Is mascara made from bat droppings?, May 5, 2005
Rick Toomey, "Bat Guano and Cosmetics an Apparently Apocryphal Tale," Canyons & Caves, Autumn 2002

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Apple #279: Fire

The fires in Southern California, which seem to be lessening, got me thinking about fire.

San Diego on fire -- in 2003
(Photo from The San Diego Wildfires Education Project)

I'm not going to get into a lot of nitty-gritty details about the physics and chemistry of fire -- which, like water, is more complex than you might think. I'll just provide you with a few fast fire facts. For free. (Fire starts with f)

  • You might think that fire is a gas or some object like that. But it's actually a chemical reaction -- one that's strong enough that you're able to see it happening.
  • A fire needs three factors to exist
      • Heat -- often the friction provided by striking a match
      • Fuel -- anything that will burn: wood, paper, clothing, gasoline, oil, etc.
      • Oxygen -- we need 21% oxygen in our air to breathe. Fire needs only 16%.

This is what's known as the fire triangle, or the three factors necessary for a fire to exist.
(Image from University of Oklahoma Police Department)

  • Take away any of these three, and the fire will go out or won't start in the first place.
  • If you want to build a fire in your fireplace, start with lighter-weight materials with lots of surface area. More surface area means more oxygen. Thin twigs or flat chips of wood, or even strips of newspaper are especially good items to start with. Once those are burning, you'll need to give the fire more material, so you'll want to add slightly larger pieces of fuel to match the fire's increasing heat and energy.

As everyone knows, toasting marshmallows is one of the best ways to make use of an outdoor fire.
(Photo sourced from Love to Know: Camping)

  • Whether a fire is large or small, you can usually hear a noise, like a whooshing sound. Sometimes it's pretty loud, other times it's kind of faint. Sometimes there are also great big pops or explosions. These noises are all caused by the same thing: whatever material is burning has little pockets of air or other gases inside it. When the fire creates enough heat, those pockets of air will explode out of the material and make that whooshing or popping or gigantic ka-boom sound.
  • Fire also often produces steam. Wood, a common fuel of fire, often has a lot of water trapped in it. As the fire heats the wood, the water trapped inside heats until it boils and turns into a gas, or steam.
  • Metal rusting and something burning are actually the same kind of process. Both are kinds of oxidation, or when air combines with atoms in the material and the reaction releases energy. In burning, though, it all happens a lot faster, with greater energy, and at higher temperatures.

Actual combustion occurs at the outside of the flame, where it appears blue, specifically, at the very base of the flame where the arrow marked BLUE is pointing. Temperatures there can reach 2700 degrees F, even around a candle wick.
(Diagram from Gresham High School Sophomores' Fire Succession page)

  • As fire burns, the air around it is doing all kinds of things. Air heated by the flame rises (which is why fires tend to burn what's above them). The motion of the hotter air traveling upward allows for cooler, more oxygen-rich air to flow in underneath it -- which just happens to be the spot where the fire needs more oxygen to keep burning. In this way, a forest fire can generate winds up to 100 miles per hour, or greater.
      • Most wildfires, though, travel about 14 miles per hour. Which is still pretty speedy.
  • This movement of air currents around the flame is also what makes the flame of your candle flicker. Of course, air traveling through the room for other reasons will have that effect, too. But even if there are no drafts in the room, your candle flame will flicker.
  • On another planet or on the moon, where gravity would differ or where there would be no gravity, fires would burn very differently. Gravity is what makes cool air sink while hotter, lighter-weight air rises. Without gravity, the oxygen-rich air would not cycle down to the base of the flame and thus the fire would not self-perpetuate. The flame would not flicker, nor would it even have a pointy tip.

These four flames are each burning various combinations of methane, oxygen, and nitrogen, all at extremely low levels of gravity. The differing combinations of gas are what cause the flames to be different colors. Low gravity makes the flames round.
(Photo by Jason Taylor and Richard Axelbaum, posted at CSSCI)

  • In movies, you see people swatting at fires with bath towels or blankets. This can work sometimes, if the fire is small enough, and if there aren't any flammable liquids like gasoline involved. But if there are accelerants or electrical equipment involved, the towel-swatting method will only make the fire spread.

If there are towels in that dryer, they won't do a thing to stop this fire.
(Photo from Globe and Mail)

  • In general, how do you know when you can put the fire out, and when you should get the heck out of there? It's probably an instinctive response, but just in case you have time to think about it, here's when you should not stay and fight the fire, but get out as fast as you can:
      • If the fire is spreading
      • If you can't fight the fire with your back to an escape exit
      • If the fire can or soon will block your only escape
      • If the fire is too big for whatever fire-fighting tools you may have.

One of my favorite fire photos ever. This is from Joel Sternfeld's American Prospects. Nothing online does this -- or any of his photos -- justice. If you ever run across this book, take some time to flip through it.
(Photo sourced from Personism)

Robert Kunzig, "The Physics of . . . Fire,"
Discover, January 1, 2001
AllExperts, Physics, Fire, Why does fire make noise?
PBS Nova, On Fire by Rick Groleau
Tom Harris, How Fire Works, Howstuffworks
A Moment of Science, Indiana University, Fire
University of Oklahoma Police Notebook, Everything You Wanted to Know About Fire Safety

Monday, November 5, 2007

Apple #278: Guy Fawkes Day

Today, November 5, has been Guy Fawkes Day. Or so says my calendar. I know it's a British holiday, and I think it has something to do with burning effigies of some guy, but that's about all I can remember. So I'm going to ferret out the details.

By the way, I meant to complete this entry yesterday, so we could all prepare and celebrate appropriately when the day hit, but yesterday I was sick as a dog. Feeling better today.

  • Every November 5 is Guy Fawkes Day. It's not one of those holidays that roam depending on the year.
  • Guy Fawkes is the name of a guy (some say that our word "guy" actually comes from Guy Fawkes' name) who tried to blow up British Parliament and the King of England in 1605.

Guy Fawkes. See how he's frowning, in a clearly malevolent way? He must be a bad guy.
(Image sourced from Linx Public Affairs)

  • That fall, King James was going to show up to open Parliament for its session. Fawkes would then detonate his 36 barrels of gunpowder where they were stashed beneath a bunch of firewood and heavy iron bars. Kablooey, there'd be no more King, no more House of Lords.
  • Fawkes wasn't alone in his plan. He wasn't even the ringleader. Robert Catesby was the man behind the plan. Fawkes was just one of 13 fellow Catholics who had plotted together.

This print of depicts 7 of the 13 conspirators, including Guy "Guido" Fawkes. See how wily and scheming their eyes are? That's proof of their evil ways.
(Image from Learn History)

  • They were all angry because King James' predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I, had had a lot of Catholics executed during her rule. King James had promised to stop having so many Catholics executed. But it didn't look to the 13 conspirators like King James was going to be true to his word, and that Parliament was even less likely to stop killing the Catholics. So they hatched their plan
  • Despite their anger with the government, one of the conspirators got worried about his relative who was in the House of Lords and warned him about of the plot and told him to stay away from the Parliament buildings. The relative then forwarded the letter to King James.

King James I, the guy that Guy wanted to blow up
(Image from PBS)

  • [Recently, though, historians have questioned the authenticity of that letter. It is now believed that the King's officials knew of the plot and fabricated the letter as evidence before giving it to the King.]
  • On October 26, 1605, the soldiers went searching for the conspirators. They killed several of the 13 men in the process of arresting them, and they found Fawkes in the basement of the House of Lords, waiting next to the gunpowder to light it.
  • When they asked him his name, he said it was John Johnson. Not exactly a quick-thinker.
  • On November 5, when the public got the news that some guy named Guy Fawkes was in prison for a foiled treasonous plot, they were so happy he was stopped that they built a bunch of bonfires and made effigies of him and burned them.
  • Fawkes was tortured until he confessed, and later, he and the rest of his band were executed.
  • Subsequently, British officials went on to persecute and torture even more Catholics than before. Fortunately, that part of British practices has died away.
  • Year after year, the British celebrated the day they were saved from treason by building bonfires, making effigies of Guy Fawkes the traitor, and burning him. Sometimes people made effigies of the Pope as well, and burned him too.

The Newpound Bonfire Society dressing up and making effigies in remembrance of the Gunpowder Plot.
(Photo from Wisborough Green)

  • Children went around asking "a penny for the Guy," and used the money to buy fireworks, which they set off on the same night.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
We know no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Holla boys, holla boys! Huzza-a-a!
A stick and a stake, for King George's sake,
A stick and a stump, for Guy Fawkes' rump!
Holla boys, holla boys! Huza-a-a!

(English rhyme that came about several years after the actual plot)

  • The routines of British government still reflect the influence of the Gunpowder Plot. The monarch only visits Parliament once a year, and that's to help preserve his or her safety. In addition, the cellars are still routinely searched before the opening and the monarch's arrival.
  • The celebration has evolved enough that it now has a tongue-in-cheek flavor. Some people might even be hailing the attempt to overthrow the government.
  • That whole "penny for the Guy" thing is now like trick-or-treat. Instead of being used to buy fireworks, the kids keep the money.

You can get this and other T-shirts to help celebrate Guy Fawkes Night here.

Guy Fawkes Day -- and Guy Fawkes Night -- is celebrated in various British-friendly countries around the world. Mainly, people burn a lot of stuff and set off fireworks.

Effigy of Guy Fawkes on parade in Lewes, England.
(Photo from Wikimedia)

Fireworks, set off near Kenilworth Castle, during a Guy Fawkes Night celebration.
(Photo from the Kenilworth Round Table)

Today is only one of many celebratory days of November.

Kaboose, Holidays & Fun, Guy Fawkes Day
Infoplease, Guy Fawkes Day: The anniversary of the famous Gunpowder Plot, reprinted from the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2005.
Fun Social Studies, Guy Fawkes Day: Bonfire Night
Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night
Pip Wilson, Wilson's Almanac on Guy Fawkes Day