Have You Ever Seen Beautiful Gray-Green, Dipped-in-Red, Soldier Moss?

Biology, Plants
I rarely ever notice the kind of car a person is driving, or the clothing they are wearing. Yet from the first time I was exposed to a tiny lichen on a piece of rotting wood, I was enchanted by its beauty. It had short shafts of pale gray-green with tips of the brightest, purest red I've ever seen in nature. But then, I've often noticed the tiny things are often the most beautiful, if you look at them closely. Soldier Moss Soldier moss is also known as British soldier. The red tips are referred to as fruiting bodies. Although the comparison is not quite the same, the mushrooms we eat are just the fruiting body. The essential part of the fungus is called the mycelium. Actually, Soldier moss is…
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Is Lard Public Enemy No. 1? Not in Your Sweet Life

Food, Health
[caption id="attachment_23419" align="alignright" width="369"] Copyright © 2014-2015 Renderings Natural Fats, LLC. All rights reserved.[/caption] I am 70. I recall many changes in viewpoint as to what constitutes healthful eating. Perhaps you are old enough to recall some as well. Among them were controversies concerning some of the most popular foods of the day... 1. Butter 2. Chocolate 3. Eggs 4. Organ meats 5. Lard The first three foods have once again gained acceptance, at least in moderation. The fourth item, organ meats, includes liver, kidneys, sweet breads, and heart. Misinformation helped damage their reputation. How many of us today include kidneys or 'sweet breads' in our menu? Once removed from the dinner table, children are not exposed to such foods, and are reluctant to try them later. But What About…
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The Curious, Ever-Circling, Bee-Eating Robber Fly

Nature, Plants
About 25 years ago, I entered a phase of my life in which I envisioned a kind of nature reserve for the 5-acre plot surrounding my home. The land was beautiful. It was wooded and rocky and the soil was rich. Recently, I had fallen in love with native wildflowers and since I tend to focus when I'm interested in a thing, I soon became well-acquainted with hundreds! The Trees There was a wonderful assortment of hardwoods on the property. Hickory, oak, black gum, cucumber magnolia, linden, sassafras, cherry birch, and tulip-poplar. I'm not even sure I haven't missed a few. Well I planted black locust. If I still lived there, I'd have planted Osage orange, too. The Flowers I am not going to attempt to name the hundreds of…
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Was Mom Right? Is Eating Carrots Good for the Eyes?

Chemistry, Food
From childhood, Mom admonished me, "Eat your carrots! They're good for your eyes." Now, I wore glasses. Later, with Mom's approval, I became an organic chemist. Since I listened to Mom, I eat my carrots. But I wondered if they really are good for the eyes. Here's what I learned. Carrot Chemistry Carrots contain the organic compound β-carotene. It's chemical structure is seen in the image below. The chemical formula of β-carotene is C40H56. In addition to imparting the orange color to a carrot, if a molecule is split down the middle and the cleaved double bond is hydrated for both halves, the result is two molecules of retinol, C20H30O. See the image. Does the name retinol suggest the word retina to you? It should. Retinol is one major form…
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The Peculiar Origin of the Graham Cracker

Food, History
[caption id="attachment_23324" align="alignright" width="480"] Available circa 1915[/caption] Crackers come in every shape and size. One of the most famous cracker varieties is not served with fish or olives. Rather, it is a sweet treat, often eaten stand-alone, or with butter, peanut butter, honey, or perhaps jam. It can be crumbled to make pie crust. We know it as the Graham cracker. The Flour behind the Cracker The Graham cracker is generally dark tan and has a somewhat gritty texture. This is because it is made from unsifted coarse-grind whole wheat flour. This namesake cracker was inspired by the preaching of the somewhat eccentric Sylvester Graham (1794-1851).¹ As a young man, Sylvester tried many occupations, eventually deciding to be a clergyman. However, the message he preached was swayed by personal belief,…
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Chimera African Violets – What Are They? How Do I Cultivate Them?

Biology, Plants
[caption id="attachment_23293" align="alignright" width="480"] Pinwheel[/caption] In the 1950s, if an individual owned an African Violet, it was usually a small houseplant with fuzzy green leaves and blue or purple flowers. It wouldn't be long before violets came in nearly every color except the elusive yellow. And flowers were no longer necessarily singles. All sorts of combinations were introduced. Some flowers even had curly green edges. But even more striking developments were to come. Among these were the chimera violet. We ask: what is a chimera violet? where does it come from? how can I cultivate one? What Is a Chimera Violet? First, consider the word chimera. It is a complex word with various meanings. In mythology, a chimera is a beast constructed of parts from two or more different animals.…
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Mathematics Intrinsic Value, or Simply a Tool?

Mathematics, philosophy
It is a sunny day; you want to take a walk. We here define walking as the taking of repeated steps in any given direction. Our walk will take us into the field of mathematics. An Unusual Walk Imagine a stretch of sidewalk that is precisely 6 feet long. An initial 3 foot step is taken. Every step after that must be 1/2 the distance of the previous step. So our second step is 1/2 the length of the first step. The third step is 1/2 the length of the second step, and so on. Questions: 1. Theoretically, how long would it take you to reach the end of the 6′stretch? 2. How far would you have traveled, after each step? Answers: 1. You would, again theoretically, never make it…
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Give that Old African Violet a ‘Facelift’

Biology, Plants
[caption id="attachment_23247" align="alignright" width="480"] Image: Morguefile by Ronnieb[/caption] You've grown to appreciate African Violets. You started growing them about 10 years ago. Now you have several very beautiful varieties. Your first purchase produced single purple flowers. Now the plant has a long twisted stem and is not desirable to look at. But it has sentimental value. Your mom gave it to you just before she died. You wonder if anything can be done to save it? What Needs to Change The plant lost leaves over the years, producing a long, ugly, stem. Failure to rotate the plant on your windowsill caused the plant to lean so much it tips easily. The lower leaves have discolored, curled edges. You want to fix all of this. What can you do? The Long…
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Growing African Violets – Common Misconceptions

Plants
[caption id="attachment_23222" align="alignright" width="480"] The truly historic Athena.[/caption] A newly found friend heard the story about my mother and me, that we were African Violets aficionados. The story was true. We raised hundreds of them in dozens of varieties. My friend had many questions concerning the care and welfare of her violets. My Background Mom was always taking day trips of eight or ten hours length. To view antique glass or bisque, drop by a cemetery, listen to a recital at the Academy of Music, or visit a greenhouse complex. However, she hated to travel alone. So I was drafted. I was easy to get along with. As to greenhouses specializing in African Violets, we frequented Fischer's in Linwood, NJ and Tinari in Bethayres, PA. If it had been close-by,…
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Fermentation Adds Pleasure to Our Diet

Chemistry, Food
[caption id="attachment_23185" align="alignright" width="480"] Sausages, mashed potatoes, and sauerkraut.[/caption] When most people think of fermentation, they think of fermenting fruits rich in sugar, or of potatoes or other starches. In most cases, they are thinking of is alcohol, for drinking! But fermentation is not limited alcoholic beverages. For instance, did you know sauerkraut is fermented cabbage? Or that both coffee and chocolate are made using fermentation? Let's "Define" Fermentation When yeast ferments sugar, sugar breaks apart into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. When yeast is used to bake bread, both the alcohol and the gas cause the bread to rise. But fermentation to produce alcoholic beverages, involves no cooking. The alcohol must "disposed of" in a different way! Now yeast is a budding, single-cell fungus. So fungus can be used…
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