Tuesday, June 29, 2010

{Trivial Tuesdays} Raindrops keep falling on my head

Raindrops keep fallin' on my head
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed
Nothin' seems to fit
Those raindrops are fallin' on my head, they keep fallin'

So I just did me some talkin' to the sun
And I said I didn't like the way he got things done
Sleepin' on the job
Those raindrops are fallin' on my head, they keep fallin'

- B.J. Thomas

Laala lalaala lalala.... I just love that song don't you? It's just one of the many I have been singing for the past two days as a contemplate my consistently soaking wet shoes and try to keep the kids morals up. Yes, I came back from N.Y., leaving my hubster behind, only to get smacked in the face with GIGANTIC tree uprooting storms I have to walk through.

But on the bright side, it allowed me to look into the science of storms, weather, and raindrops. This week's question is actually two questions and doesn't come from Trivial Pursuit, but straight from the mouth of my 6 foot 1 little brother (I'm 5"1' and the older sister which no one seems to believe even though I'm married and graduated from University, but I digress, and you don't really care about my age/size related frustrations).

a)Are raindrops shaped like teardrops? 
b)Why are some raindrops bigger than others?



a) No

b) Differences in condensation nuclei size & rate of coalescence.

Yep, we have been duped since childhood with images of smiling tear- shaped raindrops. Water dripping from a faucet or off something is tear-shaped because of tension keeping the droplet from falling but when it falls freely, it's shape depends on it's size.

Image via Trends Update

A raindrop with a diameter below 2mm is spherical. Between 2 and 8 it gradually transitions to a hamburger bun shape (or jellyfish shape depending on your interests) before bursting into smaller raindrops, generally spherical ones. Why? It's a battle of two forces: water tension vs air resistance.

Fun fact? Only spherical raindrops produce rainbows.

Photo by Emmanuel Villermaux, via Science News

Now for part B. First off, raindrops are, simply put, condensed water vapour.  If you remember the water cycle, water evaporates from the earth. The air is filled with tiny particles in suspensions such as dust, we call these condensation nuclei because water vapour will condense (return to liquid form) - warp itself around the particle. Each particle becomes a droplet. These droplets vibrating around in the atmosphere bump into other droplets and become bigger and bigger, this is called coalescence. Once they are big enough, the droplets start falling towards the earth and are now called raindrops. So, if the initial particle or condensation nuclei is on the big size and the droplet eats lots of other droplets on the way down, you've got a big raindrop. 

As simple as that! <3 We could easily complicate our lives by dwelling into the physics of the whole thing but I'll leave that to someone else.  

Take care!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Encounter with my Guardian Angel

I met my Guardian Angel today.

This post has nothing to do with science but it does however reflect a beautiful side to our human world.

Today started off with a harsh wake up call at 5:45. I packed my bag, took the time to transfer my belongings from my purse to my backpack. Double checked my room to see if I hadn't forgotten anything I might need for work. Ran upstairs, grabbed a banana, my raincoat and rushed out the door and into the car. On the way to work, I untangled my hair and somehow managed to produce a side braid (thankfully my father drives both of us into the city giving me 30 extra minutes to get ready in the morning).

Thirty minutes later, my father drops me off at the metro/subway station and I zombie walk myself and my ten gazillion heaving bags of stuff to the turnstiles managing to grab a newspaper and smile kindly to the paper man on the way. Nearing the turnstiles, I expertly swing my backpack forward and reach for my metro card and nothing. It's not there. I stop. Look through the pocket again, nothing. Noting the traffic build up behind me, I retreat to a near by wall, unload my bags and begging frantically looking through (koff emptying koff) my bag. Still NOTHING, not even my wallet or a single dime of spare change. I grab my cell phone and dial up my Dad. He picks up. (He has a ingenious blue tooth devices that connects his cellphone to his car speakers just so you don't think I make my Dad talk on his cellphone while he drives.)

- Oui, Allo?
- Dad, it's me. Are you far from the metro?
- Yes, I'm in the tunnel [heading out of town]. Why?
- Weeel, I forgot my metro pass, I don't have my wallet, and so I don't have a single penny to buy a ticket to get to work. I say in a panicked voice. 
- Oh. Well I'm a bit far now to turn back. It will probably take me a hour because of traffic.....
And that's the exact moment when my gardien angel in the form of a late middle aged women gently taps me on the shoulder and says:
- I'll cover you for a ticket darling, don't you worry.
- Don't worry Dad, an angel just got my back. See you tonight.
My angel, called Carmel, emptied out her purse and gave me every last penny she had on her, ''in case I needed more to get back''. Next came the paper man asking me if I would be ok for the day and offering to lend me a few bucks for lunch since he'd see me the next day anyway. I couldn't believe this display of generosity and solidarity from total and partial strangers. It was uplifting and gave me hope for the world. When I asked how I could get the money back to her, she answered:
- Don't worry about it, it will come back to me one way or another.

So I write this post, to thank Carmel for her kindness and generosity. She will forever be my Guardian Angel.

Take care!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

{Trivial Tuesdays} of Elephas and Loxodonts

This week's Trivial Tuesdays post will comprise not 1, not 2, but 3 questions pertaining to the same animal. Get ready, here we go.

Q.10 -11
What's the only with 4 knees but can't jump?


A. 10-11
The Elephant

Yes, the picture totally gave it away, but it's a great picture. Google found it for me but I was unable to find the source. Thank you unknown photographer and plane/helicopter pilot.  Moving on to the third question.

What does a baby elephant suck[le] with?



Its mouth

Haha Trivial Pursuit you tricky devils! I tricked a couple people with this question. The elephant's trunk is its nose, it does use it to suck up water but then it transfers it into its mouth, you can't swallow through the nose, it would go directly to your wind pipes and we all no that's no good.

There are three species of elephants living today, two in Africa and one in Asia. They are the largest land mammal living today (the largest mammal on earth being the blue whale but I digress). Their longevity compares with that of our own species with an average of 70 years (more or less depending on the species and group). You can easily tell the African Elephant from the Asian Elephant by physical characteristics.

 via Wiki
The most visible difference is the size of their ears. The Asian or Indian Elephant has significantly smaller ears than the African species. The African elephant is bigger and it's front shoulders are the highest part of its body. Both male and female African elephant have exterior tusks whilst only male Asian elephants have tusks. If you look at the tip of the trunk, you will see yet another difference. African elephants have two tips or fingers and the Asian elephant has only one. African elephants tend to be the more wrinkly of the two but just like size, you need both side by side to use this characteristic. The African elephant has a slopping forehead whilst the Asian has a pointy or not as rounded head (you can see it on the picture above).

So, if you where paying attention, you now know that Dumbo's mom was a beautiful Asian elephant and MAYBE just MAYBE she mated with an African elephant and produced a flying baby...but that is somewhat far fetched. I don't even know if they could produce viable infants or even mate for that matter.

Interesting fact, you can make paper out of elephant dung and it looks and smells nice. I recently found out you can make paper out of a lot of things that aren't 30 year old trees, it just needs to have a high concentration of cellulose. Elephants, being the large herbivores that they are, eat a whole lot of plant matter produce cellulose and fiber rich poop.  Crazy, right?

In other less mind boggling news, I'm off to NY for a this week so this will (most probably) be my last post until June 29th. I thought I would give my few faithful readers a heads up so you don't worry too much. I'll be back with interesting posts. 
Here's a little brain tease for you all :

Bio of the largest mammal ever to have roamed the planet earth
My Sighting of a Cecropia Moth
Citrus grandis
Tusk, Horns, Nails and Exoskeletons
Book review - Tree; a life story by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady
and much much more

Keep reading and thank you!
Take care!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Aceraceae in Quebec part 2 and the Canadian Flag scandal

Part 2 of 99 plants for the summer.   (Find part 1 here)

Last week, I started with probably one of the easiest tree families to identify in Quebec, the Aceraceae a.k.a. the Maples. There are 6 native species that can be easily found in Quebec and if you look carefully even within the island of Montreal and 1 introduced species that you can find absolutely everywhere you look.

Let's get the three native species out of the way (and hopefully engraved into my brain) before discussing the case of the Norway Maple and it's man-made brothers.

Acer saccharinum - Silver Maple, Érable argenté

Probably my favorite maple next to pj boy (Striped Maple).  This maple is easy to tell apart from the others because of it's extra-long middle lobe and the pale under-side of it's leaves. It's a big fast growing tree and so it needs lots of space.

It grows best in rich, humid soils near rivers, lakes, marshes, and bogs but I've frequently seen them surviving along roadsides in Montreal.

Acer saccharum - Sugar Maple, Érable à sucre
This is the species to thank for Maple Syrup, a wonderfully sweet topping for pancakes. Maple Syrup comes from the boiling of the spring sap. Once a Sugar Maple is big enough, meaning usuallly over 20 years old, it is tapped - a hole is drilled and a spout is put it place. Once the warm weather returns, the sap starts flowing again in the trees and some of it is diverted to the spout and into a bucket or tubing to be collected.

Like most maples, A. saccharum has a 5 lobed palmate leaf. The valleys between the points are rounded or in a ''U'' shape. It's autumn leaves are beautiful to behold as they change from green to yellow and then to orange and red before falling to the ground.

A. saccharum likes rich, moist, well-drained soils.

Props to the Northern Ontario Plant Database, I really like their website, their pictures are really nice and the information seems frequently checked and updated. 

Acer spicatum - Mountain Maple, Érable à épis

As plainly stated in it's English common name, this shrub (because it's average height is under 8m) is a mountain dweller. I first came across it on Mont-Royal, the large forested hill located in the center of Montreal, during a salamander hunt. It can easily be identified by its flowers that grow in erect clusters on branch tips. Its three lobed leaves resemble those of the Striped Maple but are smaller and the bark isn't striped.
It grows in well-drained moist soils such as those found by mountain stream sides.

Acer platanoides - Norway Maple, Érable de Norvège

Introduced and now invasive species extraordinaire, the Norway Maple comes in many shapes, sizes and colours. They are frequently used in landscape design as some varieties produce dark purple leaves. They are extremely tolerant trees and therefore strive in stressful city conditions. Thanks to their extreme shade tolerance, rapid growth, high seed production and tendency to kill all species that grow under neath it, the Norway Maple is out competing our native maples. Which is not cool especially since they significantly reduce biodiversity in the invaded forested area.

It has encrusted itself into Canadian life so much so that the leaf that you see on our flag is none other than a NORWAY MAPLE!!! One would expect to see a Sugar Maple. Scandalous

How to tell them apart? The easiest way is to brake off a leaf and see if white latex appears. If that's not an option, you can look at the valleys in between the lobes, A. saccharum has U shaped valleys whilst A. platanoides has V shaped valleys. It's leaves are usually broader too.

Although to a lesser extent, the Norway Maple can also be used to produce maple syrup.

What maples grow in your back yard? Sugar, Norway, or Japanese?

Take care!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Things we should know

Riboflavin a.k.a Vitamin B2
                                                     is a coenzyme that helps you metabolized carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to give your body energy. Where to get it? Milk products and leafy green vegetables in particular but you can find it added to many other food products.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I was wondering if I could subsist solely on Frozen Yogourt.  Wouldn't that be wonderful? Anyway, riboflavin came up in the discussion and no one knew why we needed it so I googled it and shared the info with the rest of the world. My conclusion is that a diet of Frozen Yogourt would contain Riboflavin (because of the yogourt). Yeah! Only like a gazillion more to check.

My favorite flavour is mango and raspberry, what's yours?

Take care!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Trivial Tuesdays - The secret of popcorn

Today's Trivial Tuesday topic was used yesterday during my activity on cereals with 6 -7 year old kids. I'll list a couple of their answers before I give you the answer. So cute. 

What inside popcorn makes it pop?


Kid answers:
  • "The heat"         
  • "The microwave" 
  • "Last time I ate popcorn not all of the seeds popped and my mom said I would brake my teeth if I tried to eat one [insert deep breath] but it didn't."
  • "I like popcorn with butter."
  • "I like popcorn with butter too!"
  • ... so did the rest of the class but they obviously had to tell me one by one
You got to love those kids. How about you? What is your hypothesis?

I eventually managed to weave the conversation back to the topic of interest which was the origin of the pop. Well, drum roll please.



And the crowd stares in disbelief and confusion. Corn, originally from Mexico, has been cultivated world wide for thousands of years. Archaeologists have found corn kernels, corn pollen, and many other corn related things in the most unusual places. The oldest is 80 000 year old fossilized corn pollen found buried 61m (200ft) below Mexico City. [!] They've managed to pop 1000 year old popcorn grains found  in a tomb on the east coast of Peru - the story does not state if they ate them or not.

Here's how it works. Within the hard yellow outer casing (pericarp), there is a pouch of soft starch that contains a small amount of water. At 450F or 232C water turns to vapour. As time goes by, the pressure caused by the expanding vapour increased to a point of rupture. This is when the outer casing exploded and the kernel is turned inside out and the popcorn goes everywhere if your not careful.

On that note, I'm off to make some popcorn.
Take care!

Nasa.2004. What Makes Popcorn Pop?[on line] http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forkids/home/popcorn.html [accessed june 7th 2010]

Monday, June 7, 2010

99 Plants for the Summer

It seems the best way to maintain a consistent posting rhythm I need a theme. Well I've found a new one. In 2008 a took a class called Flowering Plant Diversity at McGill University - awesome class btw. One of the objectives of the class was to be able to identify 99 different plant species of Quebec and know where these bad boys liked to live. It was hard, no, it was grueling ; especially since I had just met my favorite distraction a.k.a my present day hubby. To keep a long story shot, let's just say that I didn't put as much energy into memorizing as I should of and now 2 years later, I remember very few of the 99 and find myself giving a camp on the forest during which I am pretty sure I will be asked to identify LOADS of plants.

To reduce the number or "I don't know"s,  " it might be"s, and frantic field guide thumbing, I have decided to bring you along on my race to relearn all 99. During the class I took notes and drew most specimens so when possible I will try to include pictures of my notebook to prove to you and to myself that I have actually, at one point in my life seen these plants in the wild.

Let's start with trees since they will be the main focus of the camp.

Family: Aceraceae
Common characteristics: Opposite leaves, and the fruit is a schizocarp (mostly refered to as helicopters or samaras).

Acer negundo - Manitoba maple, Elf maple, Box Elder, Érable à Giguère

This is the only North American Maple to have pinnately compound leaves (3 to 7 leaflets). It can grow quite tall (10-25m) and is frequently found along the roads in Montreal.

It enjoys full sunlight and ample supplies of water. It is often found in riparian zones (flood plains).


Acer pensylvanicum - Striped Maple, Moose Maple, Érable de Pensylvanie

Young Striped Maples look like they are wearing pajamas because of the green and white striped trunk. Although still striped, the pattern is not as obvious when it's older.  It's a small tree or a very large bush, it's average height is between 5-10m (a woody plant is considered a bush under 8m). It has big broad palmate leaves with three forward pointing lobes.

This tree is mostly found in the understory of cool, moist forests. It's extremely shade-tolerant and will never become a canopy tree. 


 Acer rubrum - Red Maple, Swamp Maple, Érable Rouge

I wrote about this tree in one of my Spring Time in the City posts, you can find it by clinking here. I posted pictures of the flowers.  It's a medium size tree (18-27m), it generally has red petioles and small branches and  a ''V'' shape between it's 3 lobes.

It can grow most anywhere, it's a very tolerant tree.


There are three more Maples present in Quebec but I'm going to stop here for tonight. I've got to save some for tomorrow. So 3 down, 96 to go!
Tune in tomorrow to find out what makes popcorn pop.

Take care!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Spring Madness

Here as promised, proof that Squirrels are crazy or at least this one had a bad case of Spring Fever. We watched it for at least 5 minutes before I had to run back to work.

NEW!! : I recently aquired a Bunny (funny story realy but not now click here to find out more) and my husband observed him doing very similar movements when left to run about his parent's garden. After some research, we discovered that the action of jumping and twisting in the air is refered to as a binky and it is an expression of joy. Could it be the same for this adorable squirrel? I mean it has the right to rejoice after surviving the long harsh Canadian winter and finally finding readily available food and a nicer weather. It might not be crazy after all, I mean we forgave Tom Cruise for his exhuberance, right?

Take care!

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