Categories
Uncategorized

Week of January 17, 2021

You Are (in some species, the color of) What You Eat

Sunday

Newborn flamingos have grey feathers, but get pink by eating brine shrimp. These shrimp are full of carotenoids, which they get from the tiny algae they eat, and the flamingos break down carotenoids in their liver and deposit the compounds as orange and pink pigment throughout the bird’s body.

Monday

Salmon flesh also gets that salmon color from the tiny algae-eating crustaceans in their diet.

Tuesday

Those fishy carotenoids don’t just make things orangy-pink, though. The strikingly blue and large feet of the blue-footed booby also comes from these compounds in the bird’s seafood diet.

Categories
Uncategorized

Week of January 10, 2021

Random Acronym Week (RAW!) #1

Sunday

AWOL = absent without leave

Monday

NASA = National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Tuesday

SWAT = Special Weapons and Tactics

Wednesday

PATRIOT Act (the US federal statute) = Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism

Thursday

ESPN = Entertainment and Sports Programming Network

Friday

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics

Saturday

NSFW = Not Safe For Work, usually a warning about internet content inappropriate for the workplace.

Categories
Uncategorized

Week of January 3, 2021

Don’t Quit, It’s Legit

Sunday

If an authentic thing is said to pass an “acid test,” it is because real gold also had to pass one in the gold rush days. Gold’s non-reactivity to nitric acid distinguished it from lookalike iron pyrite, aka “fool’s gold.”

Monday

“The proof is in the pudding” derives from “the proof of the pudding,” which shortened “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” This expression just meant you have to try food to learn whether its good. When the term began, however, “pudding” was a dish made of animal intestines stuffed with meat and other foods.

Tuesday

“Bona fide” also conveys that something is authentic, and is Latin for “in good faith.”

Wednesday

There many possible origins of the term “The Real McCoy,” to indicate an authentic. It could have first referred to the automatic train engine oiling system patented by inventor Elijah McCoy in 1872, as opposed to an inferior knock-off device. It could be a mispronunciation of the advertising slogan “A drappie (drop) o’ the Real MacKay” used in 1856 by the G. MacKay and Co., Ltd. whiskey distillery. It could come from 1930s radio host George Brainwood McCoy, who would sign off by saying “This is Sergeant George (The Real) McCoy folding his microphone and silently stealing away.” A dispute over the rightful leader of the Scots Clan McCoy could also be the origin, and there are even more possibilities.

Thursday

Someone who is “dyed in the wool” is considered thoroughly subscribed to an opinion or belief. This term originates from the practice of dying wool when it is raw and before it is spun, meaning the color runs throughout the fiber and not just near the surface, and therefore lasts longer.

Friday

If a person or transaction is “on the level,” this indicates honesty and fairness. This appears to be a Freemasonry-inspired term, since level surfaces and buildings are more solid and sound, a level is a mason’s tool, and, like with a “level playing field,” equality for all parties is implied.

Saturday

“Honest to goodness,” the description of something simple and genuine, is a variation of “honest to God,” the last word’s swap being a safety against blasphemy.

Categories
Uncategorized

Week of December 27, 2020

Historical Highs

Sunday

7-Up first arrived in 1929 with the less catchy name of “Bib Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.” A mouthful, but note the third word; the drink contained the mood enhancer lithium until it was federally banned from beer and soft drinks in 1948. Coincidentally, the drink appeared just weeks before the The Great Depression began in the US, when most people needed all the mood lightener they could get.

Monday

Heroin was developed by drug giant Bayer in 1895 as a painkiller and cough suppressant, promoted as safer than morphine, and was even recommended for children. The name derives from “heroisch,” German for “heroic,” but the company quit selling the syrup 15 years later when its addictive properties had become obvious.

Tuesday

From 1886 until 1903, Coca-Cola did indeed contain real cocaine, and the “Cola” part is from the kola nut, the extract of which supplied caffeine in the first recipe. The original drink was produced as a type of faux wine in response to a short-lived 1886 alcohol ban in Atlanta, where the company is still headquartered.

Wednesday

While they eschewed cocaine, opium, and morphine, Nazi soldiers fueled many of their battles with pills of a methamphetamine-based drug known as Pervitin, developed in 1937 by German chemist Fritz Hauschild. Also known as “pilot’s salt” and “tank chocolate,” Hitler himself was given frequent injections of this early crystal meth, though Allies’ tests with the drug were stopped when the side effects were judged too severe.

Thursday

Before federal statutory bans and enforcement of the 20th Century, medical and recreational opium use was common in the US. It was used to treat wounded soldiers in the Revolutionary War and Civil War in the form of powders and solutions, and Asian immigrants brought with them the practice of smoking it. A very common medicine of the time was laudanum, which was opium dissolved in alcohol. Unfortunately, this wide-scale use led to an opioid epidemic which predated the current one by well over a century.

Friday

Cocaine used to be common to numb the mouth for otherwise-painful dental procedures, and was sold as droplets and chewables. Modern dentists use novocaine (novo = new, and the last part of cocaine), but this chemically different anesthetic does the job without the addiction risk of the original. Also note that several other modern anesthetics use the -caine ending, such as lidocaine (aka xylocaine) and benzocaine.

Saturday

While now more known for psychoactive effects, marijuana was historically grown for the production of paper, rope, sails, canvas, and clothing from the hemp fiber. The Mayflower sailed over with hemp in its sails and caulk, British colonies were ordered to grow it, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson raised it and encouraged others to. In fact, the US government accepted tax payments in hemp, and Virginia farmers were legally required to raise it. There was more government-encouraged hemp growing during WWII’s “Hemp for Victory” program, but the plant was largely discouraged and prohibited in the US until more recent legalization efforts. While all the same plant, the sticking point is often THC content, since this is the chemical that gets you high. Legally, hemp must by bred to have less than 0.3% or less of this by dry weight to avoid the more stringent regulations applied to hemp which can produce the psychoactive effects.

Categories
Uncategorized

Week of December 20, 2020

The Material World

Sunday

Glass is basically melted sand. Modern commercial glass recipes have some other things thrown in, including recycled glass, but it starts with sand, which is mostly silicon dioxide.

Monday

Steel is basically iron with a hint of carbon. To get the properties which give steel its advantages over iron, though, the carbon must be added in just the right amount and conditions.

Tuesday

Concrete is basically a mixture of rocks, cement, air, and water. Cement, in turn, is a mixture of lime, silica, alumina, and gypsum, almost all from natural sources like limestone, chalk, coral and shell deposits.

Wednesday

Plastics typically come from oil. Oil is packed with carbon, the basic building block of the polymers in plastic and the great varieties of plastic types which can be synthesized. However, because plastics don’t react chemically with most substances, they also do not decompose or decay easily, causing environmental problems.

Thursday

Asphalt is combination of a little “asphalt cement,” a viscous petroleum tar-like substance which binds together the aggregate, or gravel and sand of various sizes. This slurry is then usually flattened smooth, as for roads.

Friday

Traditionally, bricks are wet clay from the ground heated and dried in a hot kiln. Modern bricks can have different ingredients depending on their purpose, and may contain sand, lime, concrete, aluminum oxide, and fly ash (a coal burning by-product).

Saturday

Plaster is typically made from lime or gypsum with sand and water and has been used in building and sculpting since antiquity.