Saturday, December 24, 2011

Salt Crystal Christmas Trees

It's Christmas Eve, everyone.  And for those of you who didn't know, that means tomorrow is...


So I bring you all a very salty Christmas project.  It's a festive twist on the old salt crystal project that's so common at elementary school science fairs.  If you start it tonight, it should be ready by Christmas morning.

Here's what you'll need:
  • Non-corrugated Cardboard
  • Bluing
  • Ammonia*
  • Table Salt, britches!
  • Food Coloring*
  • Measuring Spoon
  • Bowl
  • Water
  • Scissors
*optional but recommended

Here's what you do:
  • Cut some tree shapes out of the cardboard. Put slits in them like so:
  •  Slide the two pieces together to make a standy-uppy tree like this:
  • Put a bit of food coloring on the branches of the tree, if desired.
  •  Now, mix the heck out of
    • 1 tbsp. water
    • 1 tbsp. salt
    • 1 tbsp. bluing
    • 1/2 tbsp. household ammonia
(The ammonia is not necessary, but it speeds up the process by a lot. Without it, this might take a couple of days to start working.)
  • Stand the tree in the solution and watch it grow!

Obviously, this is very Christmassy.  The shape that you use can be anything, provided it stands up.  I missed the beginning of Hanukkah (sorry, Hasidic Plumber!), but it's still going on, so if you're ambitious with scissors you could probably pull off a menorah.  A Star of David would work well too, with some yellow food coloring or something.  Or for anyone wanting to go the non-affiliated route, a generic snowman would suffice.

There's loads of stuff to do, so use your imaginations, folks.  Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Salt Lake Monster!

Picture a dolphin... that eats cows.  No, wait.  It's more like an alligator, uh... with a horse's head.  And it's seventy-five feet long.  Yeah.  Scary.  Actually, no.  A snake's body and a greyhound's head.  Is that scarier?  Hmm...

Which is Scariest?Okay, so the last one I made up, but it's something I'd like to see one day in real life.  Surely there must be one out there somewhere.  Otherwise -- mad scientists: get on it!

 I guess this is the closest I'll ever get to seeing one...

Speaking of whales, though, in 1890 a newspaper in Provo, Utah reported that a pod of whales had been spotted swimming through the Great Salt Lake.  Fifteen years earlier a pair of whales had been planted there.  They probably died from the high salinity, and it's pretty unlikely that they went on to have children, like the article suggests.  Anyway, the point is that whales are on topic when it comes to alleged monster sightings in Great Salt Lake.

The first three horrific beasts that I mentioned are all descriptions of monsters (or conflicting descriptions of a single monster) supposedly encountered in the Great Salt Lake.  Perhaps partly to explain why a huge monster like this would be residing in a lake as shallow as Great Salt Lake (avg. max. depth: 33ft. (10m)), and partly to not have to explain how a macroscopic creature could live in an environment of nearly 30% salinity (and nearly devoid of food), it has been speculated that an underwater cavern connects Great Salt Lake to Bear Lake.  Bear Lake is a freshwater lake, and it's much deeper than the Great Salt Lake, with a maximum depth of 208ft (63m).

The Corinne Record reported in 1877 that employees at Barnes and Co. Salt Works spotted a monster in Great Salt Lake and quite literally ran for the hills (well, mountains).  One of the workers, J.H. McNeil, described the creature as "a huge mass of hide and fin rapidly approaching, and when within a few yards of the shore it raised its enormous head and uttered a terrible bellow ... [It was] a great animal like a crocodile or alligator ... but much larger ... It must have been seventy-five feet long, but its head was not like an alligator's -- it was more like a horse's."

Here are some photographs and artist renderings of the alleged monster:

 I see the alligator parts... where are the horse parts?

 Wait, is this even the same monster?

 Is the guy standing and pointing supposed to make this look less shooped?

 A little kid about to be swallowed the eff up.
 The sperm-shaped version of the monster that I forgot to mention.

 Look, there it is! It can walk on land too?!

The moral of this post is -- though I hate to admit it, because I'm always pulling for the folks down at Salt Lake (even the, uh, more imaginative ones...) -- that you can swim quite safely in Great Salt Lake.  Rest assured, you won't get eaten.  At least not by some weird hybrid beast.  Probably.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Vermont Bans Bath Salts

Can it be?!  How am I going to exfoliate my skin the next time I'm taking a bath in Vermont?

More like "No More Beautiful Skin," amirite? Get it? Because... oh *sob*...

As I delved into the body of the article that was before me, I discovered my mistake.  It's not bath salts that Vermont is banning -- the gentle, water softening, cosmetic substance; they mean "bath salts" as in the drug.

Wait, what?

I'd never heard of this stuff before, but apparently folks are selling drugs like mephedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), and methylone by marketing them as "bath salts" or "plant food."  By marketing them as such and explicitly labeling them "not for human consumption," they're able to sell them to smoke shops and mini-marts for public distribution under names like "Ivory Wave," "Purple Wave," "Vanilla Sky," "Bliss," and others.  Several states have made the sale of bath salts illegal, and while there's currently no federal law prohibiting their possession, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has invoked its "emergency scheduling authority" and plans to make the drugs illegal.

On December 16th, the possession of bath salts was made illegal in Vermont.  The regulation was enacted as an emergency rule which will remain in effect until a permanent ban on the drug is put in place.  Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn hopes that criminalizing the drug will prevent it from gaining a foothold in Vermont, which, compared to other New England states, has experienced fewer cases of bath salt abuse.  As of last month, the New England Poison Control Center has reported nearly 200 cases of bath salt abuse: 147 in Maine, 35 in New Hampshire, and 11 in Vermont.

 Sorta like bricks of coke, in a way.

Bath salts strike me as an example of one of the failures of the War on Drugs.  In an effort to circumvent legalities, highly dangerous drugs are being dubiously marketed as cosmetics that anyone could accidentally buy and try using.  Also, the fact anyone would be inclined use it as a drug shows that people are willing to try anything to get high, and it's getting increasingly dangerous.  The effects of the high are certainly outweighed by all of the negative side-effects.  I don't even like taking drugs that are prescribed to me if the side-effects include stuff like nausea or dizziness.  Meanwhile people eager for the amphetamine-like high will risk spikes in blood pressure and heart rate, agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, and suicidality that can linger for days after taking the drug.

Not you too!
This one guy killed his neighbor's goat while on bath salts (though judging by his skin, he's probably doing meth as well): (goat killing is one of those things that's just inherently creepy).  And though I can't recall the link, I was reading a story of a guy who very quickly ended up in a psych ward experiencing hallucinations and other stuff that gives me the jibblies.

Why can't people just be satisfied by the natural high that occurs when you taste something deliciously salty?  That is true bliss.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Geeky Salt & Pepper Shakers

Some nerd-friendly salt and pepper shakers I found online:

Tetris, anyone?

 Invading your kitchen table.

Would you pass the sodium chloride, dear?

 Too bad there are only two...

 The persistent shall be rewarded.

 Ironically, eating too much salt can make one more susceptible to carpal tunnel.

 In case you get lost on the way to the kitchen.
The website on which I found these, plus a few more:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

S.O.S. (Save Our Salt)

Gasp!  In the wake of crowd control food products, Internet censorship bills, and the Defense Appropriations Bill, the U.S. Gov'ment is getting its sweaty, corrupt mitts all over our precious salt.  The FDA, CDC, and the USDA are trying to impose regulations on salt consumption, and while I agree that too much of anything can be a bad thing, the restrictions run contrary to current salt science and could result in dangerously low levels of salt intake among Americans.  The Salt Guru himself speaks on the subject (in lieu of the Salt King, who was out of town):

A truly inspiring man.

You can read more at the Salt Institute website.  It's pretty clear that a company called the "Salt Institute" wouldn't have any veiled motives in opposing the proposed regulations, so there's no need to consult alternate sources when researching the subject. 

P.S. The Salt Guru's name... is MortonWhaa?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Veruca Salt (Band)

Since 1993 there's been this band that's named after Veruca Salt, the spoiled brat from the Willy Wonka films/book.  They're this alt-rock post-grunge sort of group (thanks, Wikipedia!), which has only had one consistent member, Louise Post.  Veruca Salt has released four full-length studio albums and three EPs up until 2006, though the band is still active today.

 Veruca Salt, circa 1997.

Technically, being named after a character who was named after salt, the band is once-removed from salty associations, but that's fine.  Technically I'm named after someone who is simply related to salt as well, instead of me being named Salty McSalterson.  That's far too blatant.

Veruca Salt's first single was "Seether"/"All Hail Me" (more like a double, amirite?) in 1994.  I thought that "Seether" was just the name of the band that played "Fine Again" in 1080º Avalanche, but apparently it's a type of pot for boiling things.  Who knew? 

Anyway, this first video is the music video for "Seether," featuring cats and dogs, two girls kissing, and one absentee bra:

The next one is the music video for "All Hail Me," featuring a baby-killer and creepy/violent children at a party:

And last but not least, a song off their third album, Eight Arms to Hold You (1997), called "Shutterbug." This one features giant dresses concealing awesome bicycle contraptions, more giant dresses, unfortunate censorship of the virtually harmless word "shit," and very visible suspension cables.*

*Which is fine, actually, considering that the cables in the bubble scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory were also notoriously visible.  Possible homage to a namesake?  Who knows.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Michigan Dept. of Transportation Saving Salt

Any effort to conserve salt is cool with me.  The less salt used for non-culinary purposes, the more salt we can eat.  So when I read that the Michigan Department of Transportation is trying to save salt this season, I was quite pleased.  I still am, in fact.

A map of Michigan.

The department has issued new speed guidelines for salt-spreading snow plows in the southwest of the state.  To ensure that salt doesn't scatter too far and bounce off the road, trucks must drive at a sluggish 25 mph (40 km/h).  But it's not sluggish, really, it's... steady... determined... deliberate.  Because we don't want to waste salt. 

The new measures are expected to reduce salt distribution by up to 40%, reduce the frequency of salt runs, save on truck maintenance, improve the safety conditions of the roads, and save around $100,000 annually, which is probably worth the scorn of impatient motorists.  No doubt there will be at least one driver this year who is rushing to get home for dinner, angry at the salt trucks for slowing him down.  There are a few levels of irony here that I won't go into.

It will probably take a year or two to adequately analyze the results.  Hopefully, if it all works well, other snowy regions will follow suit.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It Snowed!

It snowed overnight where I live, and so now there's all kinds of melty white stuff on the ground.

We call this snow.

Before I get into the main part of this post let me first mention two brief facts about the relation of snow to salt. Perhaps throughout the season I'll come up with some more. For now there are just two:
  1. When water vapor condenses to form clouds, it does so by clinging to condensation nuclei such as dust, ice crystals, and salt. Salt's all over the place, folks. Even in clouds (why do you think they're so white? (okay, that's not really why...)).
  2. In movies, the familiar crunching sound of walking through snow is simulated by cornstarch, cat litter, or salt.
Anyway.  When it snows, roads are salted to make the snow melt.  But why does this happen?  The easy answer is to say that snow is evil and the holy salt melts it like Arcs melt Nazis.  What, after all, is the Ninth Circle of Hell covered in according to Virgil?  (Well, ice... but close enough.)

The sciency (and probably more credible) answer is that salt lowers the freezing point of water.  The lower the freezing point, the colder it has to be for water to freeze.

The reason this works is because the dissolved salt ions are an impurity.  As it gets colder, water molecules lose energy and slow down.  As they slow down, they come closer together and form hydrogen bonds with each other.  When salt is introduced, the water molecules cannot form the lattice structure characteristic of ice as easily, and so more heat needs to be removed from the system for the water to freeze.

In controlled environments, salt can decrease the freezing point of water to about -21 ºC (-6 ºF).  In practical use, such as on sidewalks or roads, salt lowers the freezing point of water to about -9 ºC (15 ºF).

Friday, November 25, 2011

Morton Salt

Morton Salt is a staple in salt brands (as Swingline is a staple in stapler brands).  That familiar girl in the yellow dress, holding an umbrella and obliviously pouring salt all over the place, has found her place in cupboards and pantries all around the world.

Morton Salt started out as a Chicago sales agency in 1848, called Richmond & Company, Agents for Onondaga Salt.  The discovery of gold in California in 1849 created a huge demand for salt as fortune-seekers made the long journey west.  In 1889 Joy Morton (whose father served as secretary of agriculture under Grover Cleveland and invented Arbor Day) acquired a major interest in the company and renamed it Joy Morton & Company.  In 1910, the firm was finally renamed the Morton Salt Company.

Morton Salt began adding magnesium carbonate as an anti-caking agent to its salt in 1911.  The Morton Salt Umbrella Girl was born in 1914, along with the slogan, "When it rains it pours."


This blew my mind.  Anyway, 1924 brought iodized salt, and then here is a progression of the Morton Salt Umbrella Girl over the decades:

Isn't she adorable? She reminds me of the Coppertone girl, but I feel less awkward.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Vintage Salt Shakers

Do you like knick-knacks?  Do you like collecting stuff?  Do you like having a bunch of things in your home that you can't use, lest its quality diminish?

Then you've come to the right place!

Fairfax salt and pepper shakers in orchid crystal ~$100

Wham.  Vintage salt shakers.  All the rage these days.  But before you dive into the exciting world of vintage salt shaker collecting (you can throw the pepper shakers away), you should first know a few basics about the hobby connoisseurship:

This is totally important.  The better the condition, the more valuable the salt shaker.  If you're collecting just to decorate your kitchen with cutesy (dare I say kitschy?) salt shakers, then don't worry about this.  But real legit serious awesome collectors (Antiques Roadshow tier) should definitely keep quality in mind.

Salt shakers can be made of a variety of materials, including various metals, glass, wood, ceramics, and more.

Affordable vintage milkglass shakers ~$8-$10

Carved ivory adds a touch of elegance and murder ~$60

Like wine and unlike grapes, good salt shakers get better with age.  Sometimes it's not too difficult to determine the age of a salt shaker.  Some vintage salt shakers served to advertise for companies (a popular sub-genre of vintage salt shakers are the Gasoline Pump sets, for example), and so it is simply a matter of recognizing the era of the brand.

Likewise, many salt shakers represent popular characters, like this old-timey Mickey Mouse set:

 Did someone say Suicide Mouse? ~$195
Outrageousness Factor
Like this $800 set:
But it's signed!  I think it's a Warhol.

Level of Racism
Also important, apparently.
Goodness. ~$85-$100

Friday, November 18, 2011


New discovery!  Searching "F*** Salt," "Eff Salt," or "F Salt" in Google brings up this very blog on the first page!  My indecision still managed to pay off, so I guess I'm keeping the name as it is (see my logistical problems post).  Mainly, though, someone very important to me suggested that I keep the name, and so that's what I'm doing.

But back on topic: Mochileiro mentioned something pretty interesting in the comments of my last post.  He pointed out that the word "salary" is derived from the word "salt."

Now, something I like besides salt is money (because it buys more salt, duh), so the notion that these two things would be related (more than as far as supermarket transactions go) peaked my interest.

By around 550 BC, receiving salt from someone was synonymous with being in that person's service (as far as I know, receiving clothes did not release you from said service).  Salt production was often the sole privilege of monarchies or the ruling elite (Occupy Salt Street, anyone?).  For example in The Book of Ezra (Ezra 4:14, English Standard Version), the servants of  King Artaxerxes I describe their loyalty thus: "Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king..."

The Latin salarium bore connection to Roman soldiers, salt, and employment.  As good old Pliny the Elder wrote, in his Naturalis Historia XXXI: "[I]n Rome. . .the soldier's pay was originally salt and the word salary derives from it..."

Some suggest that the word "soldier" is derived from the Latin sal dare (to give salt), but a more common theory suggests that the word "soldier" comes from the gold solodius (a type of coin) with which Roman soldiers were paid.  This payment may have been an allowance for the purchase of salt or perhaps compensation for soldiers conquering salt supplies or guarding the Salt Roads leading to Rome.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Folktale

I stumbled across some folktales at this website:

The stories are about salt, and most follow a very similar format, despite "originating" in several different countries, from England to Pakistan.  It isn't surprising, naturally, that stories such as these, meant to be spread verbally, should appear in so many places.  One big example, though not really salt-related, is the flood myth in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is virtually identical to the story of Noah's Ark, right down to the dove carrying the olive branch.  The oldest-known written version of the Epic of Gilgamesh is approximately 2000 years older than the Book of Genesis.  Probably the Epic of Gilgamesh had been a story long before somebody took the time to chisel it into a rock.

But back to the salt stories.  The common formula of this particular salt tale is this:
  1. A king has three (or more) daughters.
  2. He wants to find out which daughter loves him the most (occasionally for the sake of the lordship).
  3. The first daughters say that they love him as much as some sweet/vital/expensive thing.
  4. The third (or youngest) daughter says that she loves him as much as salt.
  5. The king is furious.
  6. The king banishes/imprisons her. (A**hole.)
  7. ????
  8. Profit.
Step seven is actually that the girl marries a hunter or prince or whatever, or she becomes a famous cook... and then she's reunited with her father somehow (unbeknownst to him), to whom she serves food prepared without salt.

The king becomes very upset that the food has no salt, and then the daughter's like, "Wham!  It's me, jackass!"

Then the king admits his folly and that truly her compliment was best of all.

One of the stories even ends, "Salt is holy."  Which I've been saying all along, of course.

Monday, November 14, 2011

'Occupy Salt Lake' Protesters Get Back on the Horse

Count this as my foray into the exciting world of Sociopolitical Commentary!

After homeless man Michael Manhard, 42, was found dead in his tent at Pioneer Park this past Friday, Occupy Salt Lake protesters were forced to vacate the area.  Nineteen people were arrested Saturday night, as the po-po bulldozed the crap out of the premises.

Hours after Manhard was found dead of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning and a drug overdose, Salt Lake City police Chief Chris Burbank announced that nighttime camping would be banned, and in the meantime everyone would have to get the eff out.

Protesters were given an opportunity to gather their stuff, but it's not clear where people stayed once they were kicked out.  The bulldozer was technically not a bulldozer, but even though it was a slightly less-threatening front-end loader, protester Drew Baker was quick to draw comparisons to a police state.  The clearing out of Pioneer Park, the center of the Occupy Salt Lake rallies, went peacefully, even though nineteen folks were arrested for not leaving.

Despite being booted, protesters were back Sunday, doing their thing.  "We are here as an assembly of the people," said an anonymous protester. "They can tear down our tents but they can't tear us down. We are going to march forward under a broader vision."

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, "Occupy SLC members have complained the city used Manhard’s death as a pretense to close the camp and pointed out that more than 50 homeless people died in Salt Lake City last year with no response from the city."

A makeshift memorial for Michael Manhard was erected in the park Sunday.


Friday, November 11, 2011


Whoa!  Long time since my last blog post.  If I were a recovering blog addict, this might be a good thing, but alas, this is not the case.

A couple (a few?) posts ago, I used the word "halophile."  It was one of those cases where I knew what I wanted to say -- "Salt-lover" -- and so I employed the handy method of combining Greek root words.  Hal- means "salt" (e.g. "Halogen"), and, of course, Phil- means "lover" (e.g. "Philosopher," "Philanthropist," "Pedophile," etc.).  Wikipedia has a pretty handy list of Greek and Latin roots here.

So, once I had the word formed, I Googled it, and to my delight (but not surprise), the word exists.  Another time this has happened is when I used the word "Mensiversary" (composed of Latin roots) because I hoped there was a more efficient way of saying "One-month Anniversary."  It turns out this isn't an official English word, but I'm also not the first to use it, as a quick Google search shows.

Anyway, back to the point: Halophiles are a real thing.  They're organisms that thrive in environments with high salt concentrations, specifically five times higher than that of the ocean.  I particularly got a kick out of the fact that Halophiles belong to the larger concept of "Extremophiles" (organisms that thrive in extreme environments), which just goes to show that salt, too, is extreme.

Unfortunately, most (probably all) Halophiles are microscopic, so you probably won't be seeing any up close without a microscope.  It turns out that to live in such high concentrations of salt, you need to be wary of dessication (drying up), protein aggregation (who knows?), and all sorts of other silly microscopic things.  However, these are just a different set of issues for a unique environment.  In fact, Haloarchaea, a specific variety of Halophiles will perish when removed from their salty environs.  These guys require a whopping 2M salt concentration to survive, and can handle environments consisting of nearly 40% salt concentration.

Haloarchaea (Red Team) taking the San Francisco Bay Salt Ponds by storm.

Some other Halophiles include Dunaliella salina, which are actually used in cosmetics and dietary supplements for their anti-oxidant effects; Chromohalobacter beijerinckii, which were discovered in 1935 floating around in some fermented salted beans; and Tetragenococcus halophilus, which are active in the fermentation of soy sauce, miso, and salted anchovies.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Quick Post

I just saw this very sentimental Google Chrome commercial, and I thought I'd share it.  Salt makes an appearance in the video, so it counts.

It also features an instrumental of an Ingrid Michaelson song.  I don't know if she has anything to do with salt, but she's quite good nonetheless.

You know another way this has to do with salt? 


(If you have a soft spot for this kinda stuff, anyway... *sniffle*)

Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Halloween!

So, to celebrate the holiday, here's a Roasted Pumpkin Seed recipe:

  • 1 1/2 cups raw pumpkin seeds (from the pumpkin you carved, of course)
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • Lots of salt.
First, boil the pumpkin seeds in salt water for 20 minutes.  Lay them out on a cookie sheet overnight to dry (today is Halloween, however, so we can't wait a whole night.  Blow dry them or something.)  Add a tablespoon of salt (or more, if you're a respectable individual) and 2 teaspoons of butter.  Spread the buttery, salty seeds on a cookie sheet, and bake them for 30 minutes at 300 ºF (149 ºC).

Then eat them.

  • Use garlic salt (or some other flavored salt) to *spice* up the recipe.  Garlic salt fits with the Halloween theme, I believe, but don't use it if you're a vampire.  Not that you'd need me to tell you.
  • Instead of butter, use some other oily thing, like olive oil or whatever.  Or margarine.  Or some combination of oily things.  Go crazy.

Also, here are some salt-related Halloween costumes (it's not too late to change your costume this year!):

 This guy knows.

 Baby version.

 DIY version/Jimmy Buffett Song?

 Brand loyalty.

 More brand loyalty.

 Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka (Is that Charlie next to her?)

Personal Favorite: The Morton Salt Girl.

Happy Halloween, everybody!