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 1080ยบ 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.