Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Marie Curie

Marie Curie was the first scientist to be awarded two Nobel Prizes: one in Physics (1903) and one in Chemistry (1911).

She also invented the word "radioactivity" based on the Latin word for ray (radio-, radi-, rad-).

She and her husband, Pierre, helped name and add two more elements to the Periodic Table: polonium and radium.

Source: Marie Curie and the Science of Radioactivity

Friday, November 24, 2006

Foods from the Americas

Lots of popular foods come from the "New World." Some are well known, but others may surprise you. ;) Nearly 30% of all cultivated plants grown worldwide have their origins in the New World (1).

  • Cassava (Tapioca or Manioc) -- from South America. It can be grown in very poor soils and still yield a very nutritious vegetable. Amazon Indians domesticated over 40 varieties. Some can be eaten right away, others must be processed to remove a naturally occurring poison (2).
  • Potatoes -- South America, especially the Andean mountains.
  • Beans (all varieties) -- from Central America, spread to North America
  • Peanuts -- from South America. The word "Goober" for peanuts is African and means "ground nut" (5).
  • Sweet Potatoes -- Native to Mexico
  • Tomatoes -- native to Mexico, but many varieties are found in the Andes (2). The Aztec word for tomato is xitomatl (6).
  • Tomatillo -- also cultivated by the Aztecs. These are most often seen in salsa verde.
  • Squash -- various types grow all over the Americas. Some, like the pumpkin, are native to more tropical climates. The word squash is Native American and comes from the word askutasquash which means "eaten raw or uncooked" (5).
  • Chili Peppers/Sweet Peppers -- natives to Central America and Mexico.
  • Avocado -- originated in Southern Mexico, eaten by Incas and Aztecs.
  • Papaya -- most likely native to Southern Mexico.
  • Guava -- also most likely native to Southern Mexico.
  • Raspberry/ Blackberry -- native to North America.
  • Strawberry -- native to North America.
  • Cranberries -- native to North America and used by Native Americans in a food called pemmican, which is sort of an energy food. It was made with jerky, cranberries and fat (7).
  • Blueberry -- native to North America.
  • Pineapple -- native to Brazil and Southern Paraguay.
  • Passion Fruit -- native to South America as far south as north Argentina.
  • Paw Paw -- native to North America.
  • Serviceberry -- sometimes used to flavor pemmican. Native to North America.
  • Teaberry -- tasty berry used to flavor a brand of gum. Native to North America.
Grains & Nuts
  • Corn (Maize) -- there is no "wild" corn. Corn is a human invention and may have been developed from a plant known as Teosinte (3). It was developed in Mexico between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago (4).
  • Quinoa -- grows in the Andean mountains and was considered sacred by the Incas (2)
  • Wild Rice -- not actually a rice, but a water grass of the species zizania aquatica. It was a staple in the diet of the Chippewa and Sioux Indians. It is also known as Minnesota's State Grain (8).
  • Cashews -- native to Brazil.
  • Amaranth -- a staple grain in the diets of the Aztecs.
  • Pecans -- native to North America and the state tree of Texas.
  • Sunflower -- native to North America.
Spices, etc
  • Chocolate -- the Aztecs considered it a gift from the gods, the name "chocolate" has Aztec origins. They called it xoco-latl.
  • Vanilla -- comes from an orchid! May have first been domesticated by the Totonac Indians, who still cultivate it today(2).
  • Allspice -- from the Caribbean.
  • Sassafras -- used as a tea, condiment and medicinally.
Sources: New World Foods, Ethnobotany (Foods that changed the world), The Story of Corn, Doebly Lab, Seeds of Change, Gourmet Sleuth, Culinary Sleuth, Minnesota Wild Rice

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

White Sands = Gypsum

White Sands National Monument is an amazing place to visit. Just last Sunday, I drove up there with my kids. We had a super time.

The sands are almost pure gypsum. Gypsum is a type of rock that is almost completely soluble. It dissolves easily in water and when it rains, it washes out of the surrounding mountains into the White Sands area inside the Tularosa Basin. The reason all the sand stays in the Tularosa Basin is because there are no rivers or other natural water features that leave the basin area. The gypsum stays put because it has nowhere to go.

High winds in the area break up gypsum crystals that form after the water begins to evaporate. The wind creates the sand and pushes it into the high dunes in the park. Dunes can be as tall as 50 to 60 feet.

Source: National Park Service Fact Sheets

Friday, November 10, 2006


Ska is a form of music that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950's and early 60's. It is the first popular form of music indiginous to Jamaica and gave rise to other more familiar types of music such as rocksteady and reggae.

Ska music was made for dancing. The music is upbeat, quick and exciting. Musically, ska can be characterized with a drumbeat on the 2nd and 4th beats (in 4/4 time) and with the guitar hitting the 2nd, 3rd and 4th beats. Traditional ska bands generally featured bass, drums, guitars, keyboards and horns (with sax, trombone and trumpet being most common).
According to, the word ska comes from bassist Cluet Johnson (Clue J), who used to walk around greeting people with the phrase, "Love Skavoovie."

Ska also has a sort of particular dance known as skanking. I found a video clip of a guy skanking, but unfortunately it has no music. Link here.

Some ska from Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra:

Sources: FAQ,

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Coffee, TIPS and filters

In the words of a dishtowel I saw in a catalog: "Coffee: do stupid things faster and with more energy."

Yep. Coffee definitely does that for me!

I wanted to find out a little more about the history of coffee, so here are some trivial tidbits about this wonderful beverage.

Coffee originated somewhere in Africa and around 700 AD, there was evidence of coffee use in the Red Sea area. Coffee made its way out of Africa into Arabia, where Muslims transformed the drink by roasting the beans. Wherever Muslims went, coffee went, too. Through Muslim trade and the expansion of Islam, coffee made its way to Turkey, India and Europe.

The world's very first coffee shop was Kiv Han in Constantinople which opened its doors in 1475. Like today's coffee houses, people listened to music, talked and drank coffee, of course.

In Europe, coffee spread from Venice and finally made its way to England. In English coffee houses, the idea and word for "tipping" servers made its way into the language. Tips was actually an acronym, TIPS, which stood for "To Insure Prompt Service." Tins were labeled as such and customers would throw coins into the tin so that they were served faster.

In 1607, coffee made its way to America with Captain John Smith. Incredibly, by 1668, coffee replaced the favorite breakfast drink of New York City, which had previously been beer!

One of the most important factors in brewing coffee at home, the filter, was invented by Merlitta Bentz. She used her son's blotter paper in her brewing machine and found the flavor was improved by use of the filter. She and her husband patented the idea in 1908.

Sources:, Roast and Post Coffee Company

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


What is galvanized steel? It's a process where zinc is bonded to the outside of steel in order to prevent corrosion or rust. Galvanized steel is used on cars, for hardware cloth (like chicken wire) and many other things. The zinc on the outside of the steel oxidizes to form zinc oxide which is not brittle like iron oxide.

The first known description of galvanizing with zinc comes from a French chemist, P.J. Malouin, in 1742. The process, however, is named after Lucie Galvani, a scientist who believed in a process called "animal electricity." He hung frog legs from his metal balcony and would watch them twitch as the wind blew them against the metal.

Galvani's contributions to the study of electricity were ignored in his time, but later on, his name was attached to the process known today as "galvanizing" when Stanilaus Sorel, an engineer, took out a patent on the process in 1837 and chose to name it after Galvani in tribute to his contributions to science.

Galvanizing animation

Sources: Wikipedia, An Anecdotal History of the Galvanizing Process (PDF), American Galvanizers Association (AGA) , American Zinc Association

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Where is the B drive?

I guess I spend a lot of time thinking about little things. The other day, when I was moving files around on my Windows-based PC computer, I started wondering why the B: drive was skipped. I have an A: drive and a C: drive, but no B: drive.

Well, I looked up the info on the web and found out that there had always been a B: drive. Back in the day when computers had two floppy disk drives, one was drive A, and the other, drive B. After I read a little, I realized that I remembered having an old computer (A Commodore 64) with the A and B drive.

Old school. Nice.

These days, since no one needs two floppy drives, the B drive is omitted.

Sources: Microsoft Help and Support, Obsolete Technology: Floppy Disks