Monday, January 19, 2009

Peroxidase in Action

This is not the actual project, but just a quick qualitative run-through to test the efficacy of the horseradish peroxidase before going on to the actual chemistry. As with any organic extract, the concentration and potency of the enzyme may vary. Horseradish is out of season (I had to go to several specialty grocers before I found it), and it has to be fresh in order to work. I understand the it goes bad quite quickly. So, here's how we tested it on hydrogen peroxide:

I sliced some root section...

and sliced it again to fit into the test tube.

We placed it in a test tube with 10 ml of 30% hydrogen peroxide, and a drop of dish soap to sustain the oxygen we hoped it would produce.

Yay! It produced oxygen and water, slowly at first...

then, quite vigorously.

Tune in tomorrow, for the quantitative experiment (may include fire)!


What happens when horseradish extract hits peroxide? I'll let you know later...

Friday, January 16, 2009


From Accuweather:

Winds: WNW
at 17mph

Time to walk the dogs.

First Things

In case you have not heard, First Things On the Square blog is reposting Fr. Neuhaus. Put your feet up and read a while.

Role Models: A Poll

Looking for a science role model? Her's a brief discussion at Sci Guy (H/T American Spectator):

"Based again on everything you have seen, read or heard, who would you say are the science role models for the youth of today in America?

Most comments were general (i.e. "Teachers," 9 percent, or "Astronauts," 5 percent)... "

Sci Guy has results and comments.

And yes, Bill Nye is on the list, but not Neil deGrasse Tyson. I mention both together because they were featured together in a recent episode of Stargate Atlantis.

There's No Crying in Cursive

Just a thought on cursive handwriting. You could impose it on the reluctant 9 year old boy, with dismal results. You could make that 9 year old write row after row of poorly shaped letters while he (and you) holds back the tears of frustration; and you could do this day after day.

Or, you could forget it until he's 12 or 13, enduring the comments made over and over by well-meaning grandmothers who know other children who write in cursive by now. Then, at nearly 13, you can hand him a cursive template, and watch him get it in an afternoon. And just try to get him to move on to another subject. Just try.

Your choice, if you homeschool.

ETA: Paul's choice for first copywork in cursive? The Yak by Hilaire Belloc!

A Mouse Tail

So it's 6 am, and Circe buzzes in with this in her mouth, and all I can think of is that she has caught an opposum...but it's just a giant mouse puppet. Whew.
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Chamberfest: CPE Bach

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Libby's Chamberfest performance of CPE Bach's Concerto in A minor, H.432, Wq.170. Catchy name, right? While this is often heard with a cello soloist, the bassoon had the solo role in last night's performance, and it was spectacular. The bassooninst romanced the audience as he played and danced his bassoon through the piece. The strings, including the harpsichord, all maintained a similar bright timbre through the piece, while the bassoon's comfortable and mellow tones rose up and serenaded us. What a pleasant evening.

An interesting note: The 6 students were each from a different country, with 4 continents represented (another group had an Australian)--I hope I get this right: Turkey, Peru, Canada, Korea, The Ukraine, and the US--and were all united by the music. If only the world...

Newsflash: Learning Can Take Place Outside of School!

Oh, you already knew that? Well, just in case no one believes you, it has been verified by the National Research Council. Here's a bit of a soundbite to give your relatives (emphasis mine):

"Learning is broader than schooling, and informal science environments and experiences play a crucial role," said Philip Bell, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report, and associate professor of learning sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle. "These experiences can kick-start and sustain long-term interests that involve sophisticated learning. Think of the child who sees dinosaur skeletons for the first time on a family trip to a natural history museum, and then goes on to buy dinosaur models and books, do Web searches about dinosaurs, write school reports on the subject, and on and on." and "...even everyday experiences such as a walk in the park, contribute to people's knowledge and interest in science..."

Read the press release here.

It's a good thing we have organizations that will study such things. Otherwise, how would we ever know that learning can take place in museums or on a nature walk? And while this study specifically examined science education, do you suppose that students might learn about other subjects outside the traditional classroom?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Kitchen in Action

Trip tries his hand at eggs, and does well, which just goes to prove that children who are cooking-deprived as children can develop the skills required to excel in the kitchen as late as teen-hood.

Cleaning, however, has a very narrow learning window...oh well.
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Saturday, January 10, 2009


What does Circe see?

Just out of reach:

Better than mice ;) !

The Finished Kitchen (More or Less)

So here it is, in all its yellow glory. As you can see, it already has that "lived-in" look. The towel on the floor is in lieu of a doormat, until we choose one. It is snowing, and this is the door the dogs use, you see. The dishes in the sink are on the clean-and-draining side. There will soon be a stainless steel table to the left of the stove for prep work. Right now, it's just radiator and dog bowls. This is the view from the living room steps:

This is how the kitchen looks from the breakfast area:

There is currently nothing in the breakfast area, but it will have a bar height table and chairs:

Paul is enjoying a glide on his Heelies through the new kitchen:

Sea Kittens? Yum!

What's a sea kitten? It's part of PETA's new anti-fishing campaign aimed at children. Change the language to reflect a more cuddly attitude towards fish, and you'll stop the slaughter. Or something like that. Hey, maybe we ought to call unborn babies "womb-kittens." (H/T TEH Resistance [not a blog for children]) Yeah.

Frankly, a sea kitten sounds like what one might call a young catfish.

I interned at a wildlife refuge right after college. Most of the people I worked with were very nice, but a few were PETA-nutty. One introduced me to her cat "PETA." I told her that I had a dog named "PITA." She told me that her cat's name stood for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. I told her that my dog's name stood for Pain in the A... Erm. Yes.

Another refuge worker would only eat eggs if they were laid by her own personal chicken, which ran wild around the property. Fine. Then a rooster was dropped off at the refuge, and she stopped eating the eggs her chicken laid just in case...[wait for it]... they were fertile. And it was not because she was squeamish about the tiny cell cluster on the yolk, but because of a pro-animal life ideal. Seriously.

Then there was the woman who explained to me that she was a vegetarian but her pets were not, so ethically, she had to feed them meat. So it's OK to kill animals if you are going to feed them to other animals, but not if you are going to feed them to humans. Oh, and it's OK to keep animals as pets.

And then there was the rescued fox kit, who was taught to hunt by exposure to (no doubt) terrified store-bought hamsters and gerbils. Purchasing animals for food could be expensive, though, so to keep the refuge going, many food items, especially those big bags of frozen white mice, were donated by research laboratories.

I could go my month-long internship I heard many anecdotes and opinions that would make great stories, though the people who actually ran the place, and most of my fellow interns, were pretty reasonable. But all this talk of sea kittens is making me hungry. And PETA, if you are out there (and you are out there, aren't you?), please know that my kids have asked for "sea kitten and chips" for dinner. Yum. Pass the malt vinegar.

ETA: Another strange version of this story.

Create Your Own Sea Kitten at!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Finished! Mostly...

Photos tomorrow. (Don borrowed my camera, and left the chip in his office.) It's a very bright, cheery kitchen. I just have a few details to take care of myself, but the work is done. Finally!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Mother

[Fade in, cue eerie music]

I feel microscopic. My voice is tiny, and though I'm screaming, I'm so small I fit in a jacket pocket, and the person wearing the jacket cannot hear me. The sounds around me are so loud that they all blend together , and I only hear parts of conversations. I scream again and again, but to no avail.

A nightmare? No. I was wide awake. Laryngitis? Nope. Feeling fine.

Maybe it has happened to you, too. I happens when a child accidentally presses the "call" button on her cell phone, and she's in a noisy place, like a concert that's just letting out, and you yell "hello" over and over; you hear giggling, or talking, or general rustling of coats and programs, but no one can hear your tiny, microscopic cell phone-reduced voice.

And then you hang up and wait for her to call for real.

How Many SUVs Does it Take get a congressman to Washington?

If you are using Fuel Cell technology, the answer is 4. The NY Times explains:

The range of the Equinox Fuel Cell vehicle is about 200 miles, according to G.M., and the distance from Corning to Washington is roughly 280 miles, which means Mr. Massa would have had to refill the tank with hydrogen somewhere along the way — but there are no hydrogen stations on the most direct route from Corning to Washington.

The solution: two Equinoxes.

Carolyn Markey, a G.M. spokeswoman, said Mr. Massa drove one Equinox from Corning to Harrisburg, Pa., where a second Equinox was waiting for him. He then drove it to Washington [snip]

In order to deliver and retrieve the Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles, Ms. Markey said, two Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid S.U.V.’s were used as tow vehicles: one to tow the first Equinox back up to Honeoye Falls, and another to tow the second Equinox, which originated in Washington, up to Harrisburg for the trip back down. So essentially, the entire 280-mile trip was also made by a Tahoe Hybrid, which gets about 20 miles a gallon on the highway. Towing another S.U.V. lowers that gas mileage.

I'm a big fan of new technology, but until there are hydrogen fueling stations available, this is just a stunt.

H/T Planet Gore.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Is Britain Becoming Ember?

File under strange but true: it seems that there is a veritable panic amongst Brits over fast dwindling stocks of traditional 100W incandescent lightbulbs.

Read the rest.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Free Chamber Music, Anyone?

Libby's group will be playing the Konzert in a moll of CPE Bach on Thursday, January 15th at 8pm. Find out more, here.

Brain and the City

Here's a link to a great article in the Boston Globe about the brain's reaction to city living. According to a recent study, city living is not so good for your brain, but bits of nature may help:

One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain. Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.

Read the rest here.

I knew there was a good reason for Central Park.

I was walking past a public housing project (in Boston we used to just call them "projects") on Amsterdam Ave. yesterday, and I noticed a sign that said, "Keep off the Grass." But there was no grass in sight--not even the tuffty-brown skeletons of winter grass--just frozen mud. It was mighty grim. If a woman looked out of her window into that muddy mess, I think the urban brain performance meltdown would surely kick in. We were so lucky as children growing up in an apartment with a grassy back yard, hedged in with privet, and lined with forsythia. It wasn't big, but it was a little oasis apart from the trolley cars, ambulances, and street noise that marks daily life in a city. A little nature, it seems, goes a long way.

Have you been outside today?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk!

Being in the kitchen has its the view of my backyard out the window over the sink. I was rinsing a spatula, when I looked out and saw this fellow happily eating something on my compost pile:

The view through the window was not great, so I tried to get a better view by quietly looking out the side door.

At first, he (she?) kept eating, but he got nervous and took off toward the garage, taking a long strand of composted English ivy, tangled in his prey, with him:

He finished eating what must have been a mourning dove from the look of the feathers below...I need a way better lens. Still.

More photos here.

So, I Conditioned the Griddle Last Night

...and I tried it out, with both burners set to 350. It was hot! Without a backsplash, I am a bit afraid to use it, but meanwhile, I thought some one might have a suggestion for what temps to use when making pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, or whatever. I'm sure I'll have to play with the temp settings and adjust to the peculiarities of this range, but I have never used a griddle like this before. A new adventure in cooking!

Also, does anyone have a great griddle recipe for anything?

Eric the White, in Place, Waiting for a Hood

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