bp's science: atoms are tiny (v.1)

To give you a break from my wordy posts, I'll share a neat scientific tidbit for today's science goodness.

~5 trillion (5,000,000,000,000) atoms fit on the head of a pin.


Peak Bloom

This year I've been waiting for the go-ahead from the Cherry Blossom Festival Bloom Watch folks. I want to go down early one morning, before all of the crowds, and show Oliver the beauty of the bloom. Ever since Jess and I spent an unexpected early March morning downtown amidst the trees, that's how I prefer to see the cherry blossoms, with practically no one else around.

Here's a photo of us enjoying the bloom three years ago. Do we look three years younger? Probably. But it sure doesn't feel like I'm three years older.


bp's Science: the placebo effect (v.1)

One evening, I made chocolate cake with applesauce instead of oil. As can be imagined by any human with a fast metabolism and love for frosting, Jess insisted that such a manuver would be a mistake. Thus, he did not want me wasting a cake baking (which is rare in these parts) by adding applesauce. I understood his request, but my desire to find out if applesauce was just as good was too great. If applesauce could replace fatty oil, cake was to be my good friend for a long while.

So I added applesauce and the cake was good. So good that I knew Jess would never know I'd made the substitute. He got home to the surprise of chocolate cake.

"Have some!" I exclaimed, maybe a little over-giddy because it had turned out so good.

"You didn't put applesauce in it, did you?" he asked.

"No." I lied. I had to for the experiment to work. That is, I wanted to see if Jess' tastebuds could decipher that the oil was gone without him being swayed by the knowledge that it indeed was. I cut him a slice and in it went.

"This cake is really good. It's so moist. I think I'll have another piece," was Jess' conclusion.

So I gave him another and let out my secret, announcing to him much like Vizzinni did when he switched the glasses, "I did replace the oil with applesauce! But you couldn't tell."

"Really? The cake is good, but now that you mention it, I can tell. This cake is a little lighter than regular cake."

Enter the placebo effect. My example above isn't perfect but let me explain.

A placebo is defined as: an innocuous or inert medication; given as a pacifier or to the control group in experiments on the efficacy of a drug

The placebo effect is defined as: any effect that seems to be a consequence of administering a placebo; the change is usually beneficial and is assumed result from the person's faith in the treatment or preconceptions about what the experimental drug was supposed to do; pharmacologists were the first to talk about placebo effects but now the idea has been generalized to many situations having nothing to do with drugs

So why does a placebo work when it's actually nothing? Or in the cake case...why does Jess think his cake is just as delicious just because I've told him I've made no change (or reverse placebo). Well, in the cake case, maybe the cake was just delicious. But in real life, why do inert medications (in most instances the placebo is just a sugar tablet) tend to make people think the medication they were told they were taking was working (e.g., making their joint pain better or their heart burn lessened)? This tends to suggest to me that the power of the mind is great. Our brain has a power over our well-being. What do you think? What does the placebo effect suggest to you about human physiology?


A visit downtown

Spring is in the air and we must celebrate. We decided to take a stroll outside and over to the White House. I must say, I'm enjoying this weather. Oliver is too. He's an outside kinda guy.

And I just finished The Lost Symbol. It takes place in DC. Jess and I are looking forward to visiting the places mentioned in the book. We laughed about taking visitors on a "Lost Symbol" tour, then we found out there really is one in town. Our tour would be better though cause it would be free.


Census 2010

Well, I did my part. I filled out the Census 2010 questionnaire and sent it on it's way.

Have you filled out your form?

I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about putting all of our names and birthdates down on paper and sending it off, you know, with all the identity theft going around. But then the message on the envelope reminded me, "YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW." And it just so happens that if you don't fill it out, a Census 2010 employee will probably show up at your house and ask you who you are and when you were born. That's how they used to do it every 10 years, right?

Enjoy. This stuff only comes around every 10 years.


bp's science: boiling water and a wooden spoon (v.1)

Have you ever heard that if you place a wooden spoon across the top of a pot of boiling water and pasta the water won't boil over? I've used this method several times and it works! But why?

Turns out the science is pretty basic. First, why does a pot boil over in the first place? The answer: too much heat mixed with pasta water (aka water made thicker from the pasta residue). This heat creates lots of bubbles and the heavier water mixture doesn't burst like plain water because it's heaver (surface tension is greater). Since it takes more heat to break pasta water bubbles, the additional bubbles that are created by the continual heat get backed up in the pot and then you've got a boil over.

Now for the wooden spoon. Think of pasta water in two situations:

1. When you allow pasta to boil in a pot without anything on top, the boiling water has heated up the pot (a good conductor of heat) and the air surrounding it. The water is free to boil at it leisure, allowing heat to escape through the bubbles. It gets hot inside those bubbles.

2. When you place a wooden spoon on top of the pot, there's a very low heat conductor sitting on top of your pot. When the boiling water gets closer to the spoon, it shys away from the cool object (transfers or looses heat to the cool wooden spoon). In addition, the spoon breaks up the bubbles once they get to the top (remember surface tension), thereby preventing a boil over.

I would think that if you let the water boil long enough, and that'd be a long time, the wooden spoon would heat up just as hot as the boiling water and the water would boil over. But I'm not sure. It seems like that would take a while (and no one boils their pasta that long...think pasta mush). I also think the water would be gone by the time the wooden spoon heated up. Maybe I should try it and report back.

See this link for more info on what materials conduct heat best (and worst).Photo of boiling water via whatscookingamerica.net



Ever since I've taken a indefinite leave from work and I've got more time away from the office, my consumption has increased. There's something about going out and buying that makes me feel like I've achieved something, and I'm pretty sure that's not a good thing. "I got these Dr. Suess books for $5 each!" I proclaim to Jess like I've just summitted K2.

I've talked to my sisters about this explaining that, "Every time I set my foot into Target, I end up coming out with more than I planned to buy." Here I am, a young mom, taking a stroll through the store, needing cereal, but coming out with a lint remover, some bathroom cleaner, a jar of almonds, and a spray bottle. Those items seem harmless. We need the stuff. But did I mention that last week, I saw kid toys for $1 each and I bought two items...when we already have one of these same items at home? What was I thinking? After hearing of my behavior one of my sisters replied, "You've become a marketer's dream." And I have.

What's more is that I subscribe to REAL SIMPLE. I dig this magazine, and I'm enjoying the layout, design, new ideas, and recipes it presents. But it's also got me thinking that I should buy purse organizers and blue eye shadow. I don't own a purse and I don't wear eye shadow. To add to this, Martha Stewart Living is getting sent to us too. And I don't know why. I never signed up for it, but we keep getting it, and I keep reading it. All the while taking in it's 70 out of 168 pages of advertisements.

To make matters worse, I am within walking distance of several shops. Target is one of them. Filene's Basement another. World Market, Old Navy, Barnes & Noble. Oh yes, and the road I live on is a straight 7 minute walk to the mall. A full service mall, complete with a Gap, Banana Republic, Borders, H&M. Yesterday as I was leaving the place I thought to myself, "This is wonderful. Oliver and I can walk here on nice days this spring."

I need a park. I need a project. I need to not need.


Year of the Tiger

This year we celebrated Chinese New Year like we've done in many years past, with the Chinese Branch. They always put on a great party, complete with superb entertainment and good food. The year of the Ox (last year) was a good one. This year's going to be great too.

Ringing it in with the Tiger

Jess rollin' in the Chinese New Year dough

Ash attempting the art of Chinese Calligraphy


bp's Science: what's the biggest organ in your body? (v.1)

What am I up to? Well, this: Every Tuesday I am going to post something neat about science.

Why? The other day someone guessed that H20 was a hand in the game of 21; so it sounds like we all could take in a little more science. Plus, it will force me to learn (or remember) something every week. Why not? So join me. Take a minute or so to learn about the world around you. Then go and share your knowledge with others. It should be fun (maybe just for me, but I hope not).

bp's Science: what's the biggest organ in your body?
Brain? Liver? Lungs? Actually, the biggest organ in your body is your skin. When your "epidermis is showing," your dermis and subcutaneous layers are also hard at work protecting, cooling, and/or keeping your body warm.

Is this too elementary? Come back next week for another rockin' fact.


2:41 is all

I've been pondering whether or not I should post this video my sister-in-law sent me in an email the other day (thanks!), but I just have to do it. I can't stop thinking about how hilarious it is. Hopefully, you'll get a good laugh out of it too. Here are the top 5 reasons this video is worth 2 minutes and 41 seconds:

1. The lip synching talent of the performer is sub-par at best and therefore quite enjoyable.
2. The arm movement choreography is one of a kind.
3. The 1976 decor, fashion, and hair style can't be beat.
4. The tune is catchy.
5. You can watch this video over and over again and find something new to laugh at every time.

With that I give you the Russian version of The Lawrence Welk Show.


Chopsticks and straws

One of my earlier memories involves my grandmother cleaning out the refridgerator at home. I believe she had come over to babysit. I remember sitting at the counter...watching. Our fridge was really full. With lots of food sitting in the back: unseeable, untouchable, and therefore, uneatable. As my grandma went through the fridge, she tossed out about 68 percent of it. She'd look at the jar of foodstuffs and say "When in doubt, throw it out" and into the garbage it went. I was shocked at the waste! But I was powerless. My grandma was a tough lady and I don't think my under-five self could do anything about it.

Yes, at a young age I knew about waste. I grew up in a house that knew little waste. Throwing away food was unheard of. We even saved the ketchup packets we got from fast food joints and didn't use (and then we never used them). We saved soy sauce packets, chopsticks, and even straws. My mom would go as far as rinsing the chopsticks and straws and running them through the dishwasher. Like I said, little waste.

So the other day, we got sushi takeout. Delicious (ahhh, soy sauce and wasabi mixed together). I found myself saving the chopsticks. I even put them in the dishwasher. Then I used them again, and found myself rinsing them again, and placing them in the dishwasher. Jess inquired as to why I was doing such a thing. We had nice chopsticks in our silverware drawer and didn't need to save the wooden ones. Then and there I realized that I was doing just as my mom had done years before. And I liked it. To tell you the truth, I don't really know if my saving the chopsticks came from (1) consciuosly not wanting to waste or (2) subconsciously liking the feeling of remembering and doing something like my mom.