A billion years ago, in one of my meteorology classes, I was taught the temperature ranges at which snowflakes will form their different potential shapes. I remember getting tested on the information, too.

“At what temperature ranges will capped columns form?”

Heck if I know now, but I can now find out with the click of a button….

This is from Wikipedia’s entry on snow:

“The shape of the snowflake is determined broadly by the temperature and humidity at which it is formed.[12] The most common snow particles are visibly irregular. Planar crystals (thin and flat) grow in air between 0 °C (32 °F) and ?3 °C (27 °F). Between ?3 °C (27 °F) and ?8 °C (18 °F), the crystals will form needles or hollow columns or prisms (long thin pencil-like shapes). From ?8 °C (18 °F) to ?22 °C (?8 °F) the shape reverts back to plate-like, often with branched or dendritic features. At temperatures below ?22 °C (?8 °F), the crystal development becomes column-like, although many more complex growth patterns also form such as side-planes, bullet-rosettes and also planar types depending on the conditions and ice nuclei.[15][16][17] If a crystal has started forming in a column growth regime, at around ?5 °C (23 °F), and then falls into the warmer plate-like regime, then plate or dendritic crystals sprout at the end of the column, producing so called “capped columns.”[12]”

I found this description of this specific kind of dendrite from CalTech:

“Fernlike Stellar Dendrites. Sometimes the branches of stellar crystals have so many sidebranches they look a bit like ferns, so we call them fernlike stellar dendrites. These are the largest snow crystals, often falling to earth with diameters of 5 mm or more. In spite of their large size, these are single crystals of ice — the water molecules are lined up from one end to the other. Some snowfalls contain almost nothing but stellar dendrites and fernlike stellar dendrites. It can make quite a sight when they collect in vast numbers, covering everything in sight. The best powder snow, where you sink to your knees while skiing, is made of stellar dendrites. These crystals can be extremely thin and light, so they make a low density snowpack.”

Oh…I just found this picture that seems to sum it up pretty well:

Anyway, here are some pictures I took today from when the temperature was around 0F, and these are some of the prettiest dendrites I’ve seen with my own eyes (rather than in a book). I’m posting these pics nice and large so you can see the elaborate detail. Isn’t science beautiful?

04. January 2010 · Comments Off on Harvesting the Poop! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Around Halloween, it got cold enough in our basement that I had to bring my worm bin upstairs to the living room. I keep my house pretty cool, but for the past 2 months my worms seem happy enough. We have been giving them about a pound of food scraps per week.

Other than giving them food, I sort of neglected giving them additional “bedding materials” since Thanksgiving, and today when I opened the bin to toss in some banana peels, I was greeted with an, um, odor. It wasn’t a horrible odor, but it was certainly different than what I had been smelling, which was just the smell of dirt.

I decided an emergency “worm castings harvest” was in order. I hadn’t done this yet, so I had to refer to a technique I had read several months ago. I attempted another popular technique of pushing the older, more processed castings to one side of the container, filling the empty side with clean bedding and fresh food. This didn’t seem to make a difference for the worms, many of them went to the clean side, but websites seemed to indicate a mass exodus from the “old side” and this simply wasn’t the case for me.

So here we go — I dumped out the contents of the bin and immediately tossed the newer bedding and food scraps back into the bin. The black tray there is the bottom of Howie’s crate from when he was a puppy. He no longer uses a crate.

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

Note the light on the right. This light is used to “scare” the worms into the center of the pile.

This project took me two hours — to slowly pick at the castings. The clumps of castings went into the buckets, while worms, food scraps and obvious areas of shredded paper went back into the bin.

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

By the way, yes, those are margarita mixer buckets you see there. Great for gardening jobs!

So…as you can see, the pile works down pretty nicely, with a bit of patience.

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

I guess now’s a good time to mention that my castings were chock full of cocoons that I was attempting to save as well.

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

A view of a hunk of casting with worms and cocoons.

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

Now for the cool part — as I pick away at the castings, the worms are continuing further and further into the center of the pile to avoid the light. But at a certain point, the pile becomes nothing but worms!

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

Then, it’s easy to pick up the clump of worms and toss them back into the bin:

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

Jacob won’t touch the worms, but Timmy enjoys checking them out!

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

I filled both of these buckets with castings, I’d guess about 10-12 lbs. total! There are still a number of baby worms in the buckets, ones that I couldn’t easily pick out of the castings…I don’t know if they’ll survive in the basement, either from the cold or from the lack of food scraps. For now the buckets are simply in a giant Ziploc bag in the basement. It had been on my mind to toss the castings into my garden plot immediately (after all, wasn’t that the point of all this effort?), but it’s currently under about a foot of snow.

From 2010 01 03 Worm Casting Harvest

There you have it! I’ve successfully harvest castings from my worms! I’m so excited about that.

However, I’m not sure I like the two-hour-long pick-fest with the castings. I’m eyeing this apparatus for future use.

02. January 2009 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Yeah, you know what’s about to happen!

If you’re interested in how we did this, you can check out this website that explains it pretty well, and tries to sell you the apparatus we have here, the Geyser Tube by Steve Spangler Science. I picked up ours at our local Hobby Lobby store and stuck it in Dave’s Christmas stocking.
A Facebook friend suggested that you can do something similar by rolling up paper to hold the Mentos and holding a plain playing card underneath it. Remove the playing card and let the Mentos fall into the bottle. I like the apparatus I’m pitching above because it has a pull string that keeps you about a foot further away from the bottle, and you can get away from the shower of soda faster.

30. March 2008 · Comments Off on You won’t see THIS on Animal Planet! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Here, play this song to set the mood.
From 2008 03 29 NC…

Yes, you’re seeing what you think you’re seeing here. I took this picture.

Yesterday, the boys and I joined Maryann and her two sons for the NC Zoo’s annual “Wake Up with the Animals” event. We were also offered a sneak preview of the new Watani Grasslands Reserve exhibit, which was a multi-million dollar project to give several African animals a large, free-range habitat, plus close-up viewing of the animals in their habitats.

Close-up, indeed. At least mine is a rated PG-13 photo.

Maryann took MANY MANY MANY more pictures of this exhibition, which can be viewed here.

Photos 137 – 149. Hers are definitely rated R+!

The children were pretty oblivious to this event…Jake asked later in the day about whether I had taken a picture of the elephants “climbing all over each other” and I showed him that I had. I just explained that they were “playing around” and he seemed happy with that. Hopefully he can just mentally compare it with when he and Timmy are wrestling, or when he and Howie the dog are playing around.

Right around lunchtime, it began to rain, and the temperatures fell into the low 40s. It was a cold, miserable walk back to Maryann’s van.

12. January 2008 · 3 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,
*Any Ren and Stimpy fans out there????

Meet our Prius. It was our Christmas present in 2005, although we waited till Jan 1, 2006 to pick it up so that we could take advantage of Toyota’s incredible $3500 tax credit in 2006. That was a SWEET tax refund that year. This year won’t be so nice.

Anyway, some argued that we were taking a gamble about gas prices choosing to buy a somewhat expensive car that would only be cost effective if gas prices stuck around above about $2.50 per gallon. Judging from the graph, I’d say we’re close. The prices have not delved lower than the last line on this graph (courtesy of DOE).

It’s sort of a game for Dave and me to try to outdo each other with the Highest Mileage Contest. Day-to-day, Dave is the winner by a long shot. He will turn off all the accessories (including the heat in the winter, A/C in the summer) to maximize his mileage. He’s definitely more gentle with the gas pedal than I ever am.

I might actually have the best record on a long drive, averaging 51 mpg on a trip from Raleigh to my Mom’s house in Norfolk, VA in May 2006 without the added load of the kids in the backseat. Everything was perfect: the warmer temperatures, the downgrade of the trip, the relatively flat terrain once you’re in Emporia, VA.

I get to use the Prius on my trips to South Carolina for drilling, and it’s certainly nice to make the entire trip: 6 hours roundtrip, on ONE tank of gas. About $30 right now.