Morning Sky | Jupiter-Venus Conjunction

Melanie McNeil:

Get up get up!!

Originally posted on JAR Blog...:

Plan to rise before sunrise on several mornings between August 16 – 23. Check the weather forecast to see if clear skies are expected. If they are, you might witness one of the most beautiful pairings of planets for this year. Each morning, Jupiter and Venus appear close and a different distance apart. On the morning of August 18th, they will be closest to each other, about the width of a full moon.

If you have reliably clear morning skies, a series of photographs would be an interesting project. The details and helpful directions about the conjunction are in this video from Science @ NASA. Enjoy the show.

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Castor Bean | Poisonous | Growing Tall

These photos were taken August 10, 2014. Castor Bean (Ricinus communis) was growing tall and strong. The top of the plant was 5 feet high. Yes, I do understand this plant is toxic.

August 10, 2014 | 5 ft tall

August 10, 2014 | 5 ft tall

I remember that my mother grew some of these on the farm in Illinois when I was a kid. Their height of 10 – 12 feet was very impressive to a small boy.

Two inch wide stalk

Two inch wide stalk

Some of the leaves are 2 feet wide. I like their pronounced vein structure. They are casting shade on the smaller pepper plants below.

Leaves are at least 2 ft wide

Leaves are at least 2 ft wide

I was a skinny little kid. Mom was concerned that I was not eating enough. The doctor advised her to give me a daily large spoonful of castor oil just before the main meal. It turned out to be good medicine. It tasted so bad, I decided food was a better alternative. Very clever advice, doc. Did you know that the cartoon characters, Tom and Jerry, included awful tasting castor oil in one of their cartoons.

More details can be found at this link. Updates to growth progress will come later.

Ants | Following The Trail To Food

The cool Iowa morning drew me outside to enjoy my cup of coffee. Two Blue Jays were busy calling to each other as they patrolled the backyards. The air was heavy with moisture. Soybeans and corn grew tall.

I reached for my cup and noticed some movement out the corner of my eye. It was an ant, only ⅛” long, moving up a black metal rod. It’s antennae were feeling the way ahead of it. They were keeping it on some sort of invisible trail.

Heading toward food.

Heading toward food.

It went up and over the arch and down the other side. It carefully negotiated the wire hanger and went down the side of the bottle of sugar water of the hummingbird feeder. Each ant followed the same path to within about 1/2″. The invisible trail guided them well. Returning ants rounded the top of the arch and got to the rail of the deck where they moved along the edge to the left. They disappeared over the side and headed down to the ground somewhere. Two tiny bodies are visible about halfway up the post in this picture.

The prize at the end of the trail.

The prize at the end of the trail.

Close inspection showed several ants gathered around some pools of sugar water. Their mouths were touching the water. Each ant showed no movement for several minutes. They seemed to be drinking their fill of the sweetness. I watched several back away from the sugar water and begin their trek in the reverse direction along the trail.

Drinking their fill.

Drinking their fill.

I wondered if I could tell whether their abdomens were any larger because of drinking sugar water for several minutes. Positioning the camera and setting it for macro closeup, I patiently waited for one to come down so I could get a nice view in silhouette. Several attempts failed. They moved too fast. Then, success. To my amazement, their little bellies were so distended they were translucent. Light shined through them. What a fun nature lesson this morning.

Heading home...belly full.

Heading home…belly full.

Homemade Ketchup!

Last week we made ketchup. Why, when the basic bottle of Heinz tastes so familiar? Three reasons. First, we ran out and needed a replacement. Second, we had garden tomatoes from last year to finish, as this year’s are beginning to ripen. And third, we continue to choose less processed foods when reasonable to do.

This seemed reasonable.

ketchup

We had three sandwich-sized freezer bags with tomatoes left over. When those were thawed, the excess liquid was drained off. Here is the basic recipe.

Chop fine one medium onion and saute in vegetable oil until soft. Add a clove of chopped garlic and continue on heat. Add the tomatoes. (Ours were processed for the freezer, skins and most of the seeds removed, and in big chunks. In addition we added about 10 frozen oven-roasted tomatoes to deepen the flavor. These had skin on, which was pulled out as they softened and began to cook down.)

Add about 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and a sprinkle each of cayenne, allspice, and clove. Remember a little can go a long way. Better to start with not much of each of these, especially the clove and cayenne. Add a bay leaf and salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally until thickened, about an hour. Remove the bay leaf.

Let cool and then process in the blender until smooth. We have a food processor, not a blender, and our ketchup is still textural. We like it that way.

Caution: this doesn’t have all the preservatives and chemicals that store-bought brands have. Though there is salt, sugar, and acid — all natural preservatives — don’t assume this will last like store-bought. The recipe on which this is based suggested a refrigerator life of about 3 weeks.

The flavor is more complex than Heinz. The clove and cayenne add layers you don’t get from the store. We’ve enjoyed it on fried potatoes and are looking forward to something meatier, like meatloaf or hamburgers.

 

 

Supermoon v.2.0 | Another One?

Jim in IA:

In case you missed it last month…

Originally posted on JAR Blog...:

Maybe you were one of the fortunate ones last month to see the July Supermoon. My blog post explained quite a bit about it. There were news stories, images, and streaming webcams covering it. It was hyped as a big deal. For some of us, it was.

Well, here we go again. There is another even bigger Supermoon this month on August 10. It will be the biggest perigee full-moon of 2014.

Mark your calendar. Watch for it in an evening sky near you.

Science @ NASA

PS: There is yet another coming in September. You will have another chance if your skies are cloudy.

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Oklahoma City | National Memorial

by Jim and Melanie

Before destruction – Wikimedia

We recently visited Oklahoma where our son is a pilot in training with the Air Force. On one of the days, we drove to Oklahoma City to visit the National Memorial to the 168 victims of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. The bombing took place on April 19, 1995. The glass-fronted building formerly stood nine stories tall, faced north and aligned with NW 5th Street. Just before 9:00 that morning, a rental truck was parked by the bomber directly in front. He set a fuse and departed for safety and his getaway car parked nearby. At 9:02 the blast tore a gaping hole in the front of the building, killing 168 adults and children. Through a series of fortuitous events, he was arrested within two hours along I-35 north of the city for having no license plates. Evidence led to his conviction of the bombing.

News helicopter view soon after shows the terrible destruction. - AP Photo

News helicopter view soon after shows the terrible destruction. – AP Photo

The scene today is peaceful. It honors those who died and those who worked tirelessly to rescue the victims. The memorial had several beautiful parts honoring those people and the family, friends, and community members whose lives were changed in an instant.

The satellite view below gives an overall perspective. North is toward the top. The blue rectangle is the footprint of the original building. The street originally crossing in front of the building location has been closed. There are many small dark objects aligned in rows within the blue rectangle. Those are chairs honoring each of the victims in their last know location by floor.

Aerial

Click the image for a Google Map view of the site.

Show me more of the memorial.

Interstates | Highway Numbering System

Last weekend we drove through Kansas City and Oklahoma City during parts of a visit to see our son. He is a pilot in training at Vance Air Force Base, Enid, OK. Most of the driving was done on the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways. That link provides a large amount of information on the system begun on June 29, 1956. On that date, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. This post is about one aspect of the interstate system, namely how the roads are numbered.

Numbering in General

East-west roads are even numbered. North-south roads are odd numbered. The even-odd scheme applies to the general route of the roads and allows for some deviation in places. The one and two digit numbers start small in the south and west. They progress larger for the roads toward the north and east. Here is an example of a few chosen roads.

USMap

Numbering Near Big Cities

Large urban areas pose some different challenges. I constructed a map for a fictitious location called Big City. Interstate highway I-60 passes through as an east-west route. There are two suburbs a few miles to the northeast and northwest. Notice there are two types of connections to I-60. There are loops and spurs.

A spur connects to the main artery at one end such as the roads 160 and 360. The first digit of a spur is an odd number. The next two denote the parent highway. In this case it is 60. A loop connects to the main artery at both ends such as 260 and 460. The first digit of a loop is an even number. The next two denote the parent highway.

Big City

As with all systems and schemes, there are some exceptions and oddities. The Federal Highway System has them, too. I invite you to read the link in Wikipedia for some comments about them. Enjoy your next road trip.