Tag Archives: science

Monarchs and Milkweeds

In the summer of 2015 I transplanted some local varieties of milkweed to a small patch in my garden next to the rain barrel. They were shocked by being dug up. I watered and they survived. In the summer of 2016 they all came up looking healthy. I was hopeful for visits by Monarch butterflies. I never saw evidence of any. If you aren’t familiar with milkweed, this link will help. When damaged, they bleed a white sap.

This year in 2017 the plants are nearly 6 ft tall and strong. I put a 4 ft tall piece of fencing around them so they wouldn’t blow over. This picture shows them in the center in full bloom. The second picture shows their flowered tops.

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Abscission | Autumn Leaves Fall

On 17 Nov 2016 we reached a near-record high of 75˚F in eastern Iowa. It started to cool off the next day and got very windy. That night and the next day were much colder and windy with gusts in excess of 45 mph. Most of the trees already dropped their leaves before this recent weather. The strong wind removed the rest, except for the mulberry trees. They still held tight to their dried leaves.

The next morning, it was the coldest night of the year at 20˚F. We knew what to expect from the mulberry trees. As the temperature warmed to near freezing, they would drop their remaining leaves within an hour. The process involves something called abscission. Earlier colder and frosty nights triggered the formation of a thin layer of cells at the base of the leaf stem. The very cold temperature helped complete the process of cutting the leaf loose from the stem so it could fall.

In this video the leaf drop occurs on the tree behind out neighbor as the sun warmed the leaves. There was no wind. The video is speeded up by 4X. It will help to view on a larger screen.

Buttonweed | Velvetleaf | Annual Weed

Do you recognize this seed pod? It is from the annual weed I always called Buttonweed. By late summer the plant forms these characteristic pods. Each vertical segment contains from 2-9 seeds. It is 1 inch across. Later they split open for seed dispersal. Notice the many hairs.

Buttonweed4

Buttonweed5

It is a member of the mallow family. The plant Abutilon theophrasti is native to China and India. It was used as a fiber crop in China since 2000 BC. The stem has long fibers suitable for cord, rope, binder twine, fishing nets, coarse cloth, paper and a caulk for boats (Mitich 1991; Spencer 1984). The seeds are edible.

It was apparently introduced to North America before the 1700s. Records show it was cultivated along the east coast for its fiber content. It is now widespread in the croplands of the U.S. and Canada and is considered a weed pest. It was one of the targeted weeds Dad told us to not miss when we walked the soybean fields in the summer.

Known for its ability to thrive in disturbed soils, it grows in the worst of conditions. Here are two examples I found in weedy patches by the trail. Buttonweed2

Buttonweed1

The leaves are heart shaped with a point at the end. They and the stem are covered with fine hairs. Even the seeds have a fine hairs. The seeds are very durable. They can pass through the gut of animals unharmed. They can remain viable up to 50 years before germination.

Buttonweed3

Diving Tony the Tiger™ | Cereal Box Prize

DivingTonyIt was always a treat for a kid to find a toy in a box of cereal. This prize was offered in the 1980s by Kellogg’s in their Frosted Flakes cereal. At that time we lived in the western suburbs of Chicago. I was active in a physics teacher group that met monthly in order to share teaching ideas and demonstrations. There were two other groups for the northwest and the southwest suburban areas, as well as a group active in Chicago itself.

Once a year all of the groups met at a central college campus for an evening of sharing and give-aways. Melanie suggested that I should write to Kellogg’s and request some Diving Tony toys to give away to the teachers at the next meeting. That I did. Kellogg’s sent me a free boxful of perhaps 100 of the toy. Needless to say, Tony was a big hit with the physics teachers. Everyone got to take Diving Tony the Tiger home to show their students.

Recently, we were watching NCIS, one of Melanie’s favorite shows. There was a scene in which a small diving toy-like device was used to show how some criminals accessed their underwater drug stash. We both looked at each other, laughed, and said ‘Diving Tony!’ That prompted me to write to Kellogg’s again.
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Dear Kellogg’s

In the mid-80s, I wrote to Kellogg’s and requested a large number of Diving Tony the Tiger toys to give away to my fellow physics teachers at a large meeting. The company graciously obliged and sent me a box of them. There might have been 100 in that box.

Do you have some background information about that promotion that I can read? History, popularity, how many the company gave away in cereal boxes, etc. I am not able to find much on your site or anywhere else.

Thank you … Jim

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Jim,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. To better assist you with this, we ask if at all possible. If you could can send or email us an image of the item that was provided (tony the tiger toys) ?

Thanks again, Jim, for contacting us.

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This video should be helpful. It was posted by Doug McCoy on YouTube.

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Jim,

We appreciate you following up with the link to the YouTube video showing the diving Tony premium offered in 1987.

While details are limited on this item, I was able to find out that this was an extremely popular item that we offered in the 1980s. Over 27 million were packaged in boxes of Frosted Flakes in 1987 between October and December. Additionally, there was a “Tony’s Treasure Hunt” on the side of the box that could be placed behind a water source and used as a game. With 4 different depths, it was your objective to be able to get Tony to each depth and back to the surface.

Please know that your comments regarding our past premiums are valued and will be shared with the team.

Thank you again, Jim, for contacting us. We wish you all the best.

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I found this comment posted 2 years ago on the YouTube channel below the video.

Nostalgia Factor…
I had a friend who dove Tony in a bottle then capped and sealed it with tape. He hid that sealed bottle in a closet for years. I told this story to another one of my friends & his eyes lit up, regaling me with his love for that lost toy. we rescued Diver Tony from the closest & took that thing everywhere. I once visited a rest stop on I-23 near Battle Creek, MI where Kellogs were having a demo. Met Tony the Tiger and showed him my Diver Tony. He did a little dance and took a picture with me.

Fresnel Lenses | How They Work

How I See It

In a recent post about Maine lighthouses, I included two photos of the Fresnel lenses used to project the bright light beam across the water. One of the readers is a man I’ve enjoyed working with before in the blog world. He suggested I add a post with some description of how the Fresnel lens works. Here it is.

Basics of Converging Lenses

The converging, or convex lens, is able to bring parallel rays of light toward a focal point. As a child, I played with a magnifying glass lens to burn leaves, grass, and other things.

ConvergeLens1

The lens can also be used in a different way to project light rays parallel to each other in a beam. Simple projectors work on this basic principle. A lighthouse is designed to do this.

ConvergeLens2Large Lens Applications

A problem arises when the optical instrument using a convex lens becomes very large. The…

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Milkweed | Seeds Harvested

Milkweed plants are disappearing according to Monarch Watch and other sources. The Monarch butterflies rely upon them for survival. I decided to gather a few seed pods so I can plant some in my backyard and along a trail near my house. I cruised around some places on my bike looking for patches of milkweed that had extra pods I could harvest and bring home. I only took seven and left the rest for nature. I placed them on the deck for a month to dry out. That worked well. They split open and revealed their many seeds with attached coma.

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Each pod had dozens of healthy brown seeds. The challenge was to remove them without getting coma fuzzies all over the place. The garage seemed the best place to do that job.

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I grasped each pod firmly by the end opposite the seeds. That is where the coma tails were bundled. Then, I ran a small stick along the seeds to make them fall onto this plate. Almost all of them came loose so I could set aside the pod and detached coma fuzzies without any trouble. One source I read said to put the contents of the pod into a paper bag and shake it vigorously. Cut a small hole in the corner and dump out the seeds. The fuzzies remain in the bag. I never tried that. Here is my crop of seeds for the spring.

Seeds

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They are now stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator until April. At that time, I will vernalize them. They get exposed to very cold temperatures for several weeks before planting them in May when ground temperatures are above 70˚. Vernalization increases the germination rate. I will layer them between moist paper towels and put them into a freezer for several weeks.

More on this story in April and May.

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.

Supermoon v.2.0 | Another One?

In case you missed it last month…

How I See It

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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