Sunday, February 16, 2014

Marshmallow World

This is one of the snowiest Pennsylvania winters E and I remember. We've had winters with multiple large storms that probably, in the end, dropped more snow on the state. But since December, it's just been storm after storm here, not necessarily major ones, but enough to put a pause in people's schedules. Then last Thursday, we were hit with a lovely two-part storm that gave us about 20 more inches on top of the 8-10 that were already on the ground from previous events. This was followed Saturday by a 3-inch topcoat, and there's talk of a little something tomorrow night. Amazing.

E decided to fix his long-broken cross-country skis over his winter break, assuming that spring would come immediately. But luckily (from a skiing perspective at least) that has not happened and he's been able to take a few runs over the many farms near our house. It's given him a new and beautiful perspective on our area from a vantage point he wouldn't otherwise be able to see.

But back to our latest deluge:

The patio is now level with the ground thanks to the snow.
A better perspective on the depth
The filled-in vegetable garden
E and the mail delivery  area
Front sidewalk – now with walls!
Hardy young Mennonite women
Man the barricades!
E doing his Dorf impersonation.
Front walk

But there is hope, know why? As I was taking these shots, this appeared. Look closely:

My grandmother was always thrilled to see the first robin, and documented the sighting each year. She always felt that it meant spring was coming soon. Let's hope she's right.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

House of C and E - Special Science Edition!

I'm not sure this post fits in with the original spirit of the founding ideals of this blog, but I just think this is the coolest thing and I'm shamelessly working this into any conversation, email, post, etc.

So yesterday at work, I had some free time and decided to take our shiny new cloud chamber out for a test drive.  At this point, you might be asking: "What's a cloud chamber?" "Wait, why are my thoughts being typed out on this blog post?"  "What unholy power is responsible for revealing my innermost deliberations onto this miniscule and insignificant blog?"  "Wait, is this just E trying to be witty and whimsical?"  "Haha, very funny, now get back to writing your post."  "Anymore of these shenanigans and I'll stop reading right here."  Good point. Sorry about that.

A cloud chamber is a simple device that has a chamber (about the size of an average piece of Tupperware) that is filled with an alcohol vapor.  Simply, the bottom of the chamber is filled with an alcohol (like isopropyl alcohol) and with a little cooling around the chamber provided by cold tap water, the chamber becomes filled with a vapor of these alcohol molecules.  And the purpose of all this?  This vapor is really good at interacting with high energy particles, like those you'd find from nuclear processes (for those who want to know: alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays, etc).  When a high energy particle flies through this vapor, it can collide with these alcohol molecules and, in the process, ionize them.  When an alcohol molecule becomes ionized, the neighboring alcohol molecules become attracted to it and condense onto this "seed" ionized molecule.  It's like the same process that makes water vapor in the air condense into a larger cloud (hence: cloud chamber).  So this newly formed, larger cloud of alcohol becomes big enough that we can see it.  And because it's so much bigger (and heavier) than the vapor of molecules around it, it falls downwards.

So as the high energy particle flies through the alcohol vapor, it leaves a thin alcohol cloud trail behind it, showing us the path that the high energy particle travels along.  Cool!

So, we set up the cloud chamber and had everything running.  Our high energy source was a piece of radioactive cobalt that emits gamma rays (high energy photons - just like light, but with a lot more energy and WAY outside of the visible spectrum).  We placed the cobalt sample near the chamber.  As the gamma rays from the cobalt enter the chamber (traveling at the speed of light) they can collide with the molecules in the alcohol vapor.  When that happens, the gamma rays can knock electrons off the molecules, sending them shooting across the chamber at high speeds (think of the breaking shot in billiards)!  And it's these high speed photoelectrons (the electrons that are knocked off the alcohol molecules by the gamma rays - i.e. photons) that create the cloud trails through the vapor.  So, in this chamber, we don't see the path of the high energy gamma rays, we see the path of the photoelectrons that are created when these gamma rays enter the chamber and collide with the alcohol molecules.  But still, seeing those cloud trails is evidence of the gamma rays being there.  Plus it just looks so cool.

So without further ado, here's a video showing the subatomic fireworks display:

Isn't science cool?  It totally it is.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Blogging is for the Birds

It goes without saying that we've been delinquent in posting to the blog.  We've done a little painting in the foyer/hallway/kitchen.  Replaced the light fixtures in the powder room.  And completed a few other odds and ends.  But for now, we're going to post about our birds.

We have two seed feeders and one suet feeder hanging from the ash tree in the back yard.  Being that I knew almost nothing about birds, it's really amazing and interesting to see all the different varieties that we see come to the feeders.  Here's a main sampling of our avian neighbors:

Finches - Lots of finches.  As far as we can tell, they look like House Finches, with the males being the ones with the nice red accents.  They come in groups throughout the day, thoroughly chowing down on the Safflower seeds. 

Juncos - C tells me that they're also called Snow Birds.  They don't show up in the numbers as the finches, but there are a good number of them.  They do eat at the feeders but when the finches are monopolizing the roosting spots on the feeders, the juncos are more than happy to eat the seeds that are knocked to the ground.

White-Crowned Sparrows - A little less prolific than the juncos, these distinctive sparrows tend to stop by a few times a week.  The white/black striping on their heads make them very easy to spot.  We see these guys out on the feeders, on the ground under the feeders, or out in the front yard eating the berries off our Burning Bushes.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet - We usually only see one or two of these grey-ish yellow birds at a time.  The yellow is subtle but the striping on the wings really stand out.  And they'll get seeds wherever they can.  If the feeders are unattended, they'll sit there and eat.  When the other birds are around, they'll hang out on the ground with the Juncos and eat the seeds there.

Cardinals - Good ol' Cardinals.  It's a little surprising how few of these we see.  But when they do show up, especially with snow on the ground, they're impossible to miss.  As far as we can tell, we have a male (seen in the photo) and a female.  The female has been spotted in the front yard eating the berries off our Burning Bushes.  The male has been spotted at the feeders.  Also, he is not intimidated by the finches, juncos, or any of the other smaller birds who quickly make room for him on the feeders whenever he wants to get a bite to eat.  The smaller birds don't leave, but they do know it's probably not a good idea to get in his Excellency's way.

The Woodpeckers - These are our rock stars this year!  They're pretty shy and only show up now and then.  But when they do, it seems like a special event.  We have two.  As best as we can guess, the first one is a female Hairy Woodpecker.  She goes for the suet:

Our second woodpecker is a male Red-bellied Woodpecker.  This guy is striking with that red mohawk of feathers on his head.  It's not a stretch of the imagination why we call him Sid and the female Nancy.  Like Nancy, he pretty much only eats the suet, however we tend to see Sid more frequently than Nancy.  Whenever they do show up, it's usually when none of the other birds are around.  And when they do arrive, it feels like we have celebrities among us!


That's all for now but I hope to post something soon about the new colors and features in the house.  But for now, we're enjoying the colors that have showing up in our backyard everyday.  Stay warm!