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03/17/17 - March Moonrise

We had a very pretty moonrise in Port Angeles recently.

The moon

Still rising

Another view

Keywords: science

05/06/16 - Light Column and Rainbow

One of the nice things about living in the Pacific northwest is that we have lots of rainbows. Now and then we have other atmospheric effects. Recently we had a pretty dramatic rainbow and a light column. The latter is usually the result of ice crystals in the atmosphere at sunset. Those photos were taken looking west at the setting sun. If the sun had been visible from our vantage, we would have seen it at the base of the column.

A dramatic rainbow

The light column is the vertical orange column near the center of the photo.

Another view of the light column

Keywords: atmosphere, science

11/28/15 - Ice Crystals

The weather has been getting colder, but the water in the Strait of San Juan de Fuca is still warm, at least comparatively. Along the coast this means morning fog and condensation on the cold ground, and that means ice crystals. They were lining the dike along the Olympic Discovery Trail about a mile west of Morse Creek. The crystals form on the plants, rocks and pebbles and grow hoary whiskers like something from a moon garden.

The dike, looking west

Ice crystals

Click for a closer view of the ice crystals

Ice whiskers

Ice covered pebbles

More ice crystals

Are you cold yet?

Even more ice crystals

The busy harbor in Port Angeles with two ships and an arctic drilling rig

Keywords: morse creek, weather, atmosphere, science

05/16/15 - Replacement Stove Knobs

We have an old Jenn Air electric cooktop which is basically in pretty good shape. The only problem is that the old stove knobs have become illegible. We tried to find new ones, but Jenn Air changed the knob design and has run out of its stock of old replacement knobs.

Luckily, we live in the age of 3D printing, so we fired up the old 3D modeling program - we use Cheetah3D - and designed a new stove knob. This meant measuring the old ones with calipers and designing some new ones which would be easier to read and work with our old cooktop.

We uploaded the 3D model to the Shapeways web site, did a little tweaking, and two weeks later we'd get a stove knob in the mail. The first two really didn't work, but on our third try, the knob worked. We submitted an order to print three more, and two weeks later we had a new set of stove knobs. We first heard of 3D printing technology back in 1979. Maybe the future is coming after all.

If you want your own print out of a stove knob for an ancient (pre-D post) Jenn Air stove knob, check out the product site at Shapeways.

Our replacement Jenn Air electric range control knobs

Keywords: science, art

03/14/15 - Pompeii in Seattle

There is an exhibit on Pompeii at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. We really enjoyed the special exhibit on ancient Egypt that we saw there, so we made a point of getting into town for this one. It is a pretty amazing exhibit with lots of wonderful artifacts, a fair bit of explanation, and fascinating videos of reconstructions of the homes of the rich and famous of the doomed city.

Pompeii was destroyed by a volcano in the first century, but not by a lava flow. It was buried under volcanic ash, so all sorts of things were preserved, locked in stone. The folks living in Pompeii had no idea that they were living next to a recently active volcano. In fact, the Romans of the day had never even heard of a volcano, save possibly for highly distorted accounts in old stories of dubious veracity. We have no such excuse, so we don't buy retirement condos with names like Rancho Mount Saint Helens.

There were mosaics, glass bottles, statues of household gods, frescos, furniture, dishes and even somebody's safe decorated with various figures associated with vigilance and defense. We were fascinated, as we Kalebergs often are. The exhibit is in Seattle until the end of May, so if you are at all interested in this kind of thing, make your plans soon.

An ornate oil lamp

That's an ad for garum, Roman nam pla

Household gods - lares and penates - with Lars himself on the far right

A very atmospheric exhibit

Useful stuff for the bath including an early example of a blown glass bottle, the modern looking one

The three Graces, a timeless theme

An old safe

Keywords: science, seattle

12/20/13 - Crepuscular Light

On the east coast, the autumn sunsets were always spectacular light shows with brilliant reds, pinks and violets highlighted in the sky. On the west coast it seems to be the dawn that puts on the great sky shows.

The sun is rising.

Keywords: science

09/09/13 - The Truth About Kale

Our friends all know that we're crazy about kale, but we recently ran into some terrifying news. Not only is our favorite vegetable, and partial namesake, full of chemicals, but it could destroy the planet. Check out the article Just Kale Me.

It's hilarious. (No, the kale cultivars we eat have extremely low levels of the chemicals noted, though there are heirloom varietals with higher ones. No, no one is expecting kale to feed the world. Most people will go on eating the usual staples, but maybe with a nice dish of kale on the side.)

The terrible truth about our favorite vegetable

Keywords: food, science, humor, kale

04/15/13 - The Science of Middle Earth

Science is learning all sorts of new things about the earth, particularly about hot plumes rising from the mantle and creating islands in the Pacific and splitting continents. For the latest, we checked out the April 5th, 2013 issue of Science Magazine, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

"Plumes of all sizes seem to rise from two huge piles of who-knows-what sitting 2900 kilometers down at the bottom of Earth's mantle embedded in a mystery layer hundreds of kilometers thick. The outline of an operating manual is coming into view, but some pieces of the Earth engine are yet to be labeled."

We are definitely on the frontier here. Let's face it: no one knows what; it is a mystery layer. That's real science.

The plumes are under the redder areas. The mystery layer is inside somewhere. No, we don't know what.

Keywords: science

01/18/13 - Lissajou Figures

If you ever watched any science fiction movies from back in the 1950s or 1960s, before modern computer generated special effects, you almost certainly have seen a Lissajou figure, a strangely wobbly figure traced on an oscilloscope screen. They were one of the weirdest things you could make appear on an oscilloscope screen without a great deal of trouble. All you needed were two signal generators, and there you were, in science fiction land.

There are a number of Lissajou figure generators on the internet, but most of them require Java. Right now Java is having its own special effects crisis as a security risk, so it is time for a replacement. This generator uses HTML5, so it will run in most newer browsers, though it may not run in some older ones. Click this link and go play. There are two parameters, generally small integers, you can adjust, and you can drag your cursor across the phase shift rectangle to make the figure "rotate". It's a spacey effect. Sometimes it will appear to be rotating horizontally, but if you tilt your head you will see that it is rotating vertically as well. (Try 5, 4 for that.)

Click the image to generate your own Lissjou figures.

Keywords: science, art

12/31/12 - Two Out Of Four

This was a last minute Christmas present suggested by most recent flight back from Seattle. The climb out of Boeing Field takes one over an industrial area south of Seattle. It doesn't look like much by day, but there are all sorts of fascinating lights by night. One set was hypnotizing, a set of four columns lighted two at a time, moving about an invisible shape. A quick trip to the Radio Shack provided an Arduino processor and some red LEDs. JoAnn's fabrics and hobby supplies next door provided four plastic columns for supporting elaborate wedding cakes. Add in a glue gun, a soldering iron and some black foam board, and there was something new under the tree. Be sure to click and watch the dark video. It can be hypnotic.

Click the image to see the movie

The works in a drawer

Click the image to see the movie

Keywords: christmas, seattle, science, art

06/18/12 - We Answer Questions - Operation Twist

Now and then we get questions from our friends and family, and we try to answer them. Here is our answer to two related questions: What are bonds? and What is Operation Twist?

1) Bonds are just loans. If someone, usually a company or government entity, wants to borrow money, they can write down promises to repay in the form of bonds which are legal documents, contracts, that state:

  • a) A certain sum must be paid on a certain future date
  • b) Certain sums of interest must be paid at certain intervals
  • c) The borrower may repay the loan early, but not before a certain date, the call date
  • d) This is a contract since a, b & c are because the borrower received a certain amount when the bond was issued.
A bond is a fungible instrument. It can be bought and sold. Typically, the borrower engages a bank or other financial firm to serve as the underwriter. The underwriter is responsible for rounding up the money to be lent. Underwriters usually have clients who are looking for investments, so they'll typically arrange to sell their clients a lot of the bonds before the issue date, the day the borrower gets the money and the lenders get their bonds. Even they can't sell enough bonds, the undewriter is still obligated to lend the full sum, so they try and sell as much of the loan as they can up front.

A lot of financial instruments use the same structure. If you buy a CD at your bank, you get a certificate of deposit which is basically a bond saying you'll get your money, your principal, back on a certain date, and you'll get interest at various intervals up until then. If you borrow money and sign a promissory note, you promise to repay and to pay interest. A mortgage is just a promissory note wrapped up with land and a house as collateral. A treasury note is just a bond issued by the federal government. Corporate bonds are just bonds issued by corporations.

You'll notice that most of finance is about money now and money later, so it's mainly about how money travels through time.

Also, there are a lot of names for the same thing. The distinctions are usually historical. On the sidewalk it might be an IOU; 20 floors up it's a bond; if there's real estate as collateral, it's a mortgage. (The real in real estate comes from the same root as royal, not realize.)

2) Operation Twist is based on the segmentation of the market for treasury notes and the fact that the US government cannot go broke.

Despite what the deficit scare mongerers say, the US government cannot go broke. It can always print more money. This means that federal debt is the safest game in town. (Look at what happened when one of the rating agencies cut the US credit rating; interest rates went down making it even easier to borrow.) Since interest rates are based on the level of risk of repayment, the treasury pays the lowest rates at every time scale. All other interest rates are based on these. A lender always has the choice to lend to the government or to some riskier party, but they expect higher interest payments as a premium for accepting the risk of losing their money.

The federal government borrows money at many different time scales, so one can buy government bonds with periods ranging from 30 days to 30 years. The short term notes, for a year or shorter, are mainly used for parking big lots of money safely. Large bank accounts are not FDIC insured, so if you have a million dollars you might need at any time, you'd constantly be buying and selling, 30 or 90 day notes. If you are a pension fund and are trying to meet your 2040 obligations, you might buy 20 or 30 year bonds. Most business lending is in the 10 year range so the interest rates on business loans are roughly tied to the 10 year government rate.

The goal of Operation Twist, also called quantitative easing, is to lower the 10 year government rate by manipulating the market for government bonds. The idea is that the Federal Reserve owns trillions of dollars of treasury bonds, more than anybody else, so they are big enough to influence rates across the board. Operation Twist has the Federal Reserve selling their 10 year bonds and buying 30 year bonds. This should lower the rates on 10 year notes and raise them on 30 year notes. Lower rates on 10 year treasury bonds should mean lower rates for loans across the board. Lower rates should stimulate the economy.

This would usually be the case, except that interest rates are already very low, and the economy has lots of other problems. If you account for inflation, federal interest rates are negative, meaning that the lender is paying the government to hold his or her money. It isn't clear they can go a lot lower or that this would have much effect. Also, businesses consider other factors when deciding whether to borrow money or not, for example, many of them are worried about their customers, and their customers are worried about their jobs and the size of their paychecks. It doesn't make sense to expand if no one is buying now.

Keywords: historical, art, science

03/09/12 - Volvelleteer Updates

We've done a few updates to our volvelle making program Volvelleteer. We've fixed a few bugs and cleaned up the interactions. It also works better with more modern Windows systems. Volvelles are those pairs of rotating cardboard disks, one with little windows in it that show a variety of information as you turn the back disk. Volvelleteer is a tool for making these given a table of text or numbers. If you are curious, check out Volvelleteer or check out our Kaleberg software page to see what other goodies we have lying around.

A volvelle in the making

Keywords: software, art, science, kale

01/23/12 - Some Chemistry Software

We've updated our ancient Period Table of the Elements - five downloads since 2006 - to include a simple chemical equation solver and balancer. If you know what this means, then this post is for you. If you actually might need such a thing, then this post is probably a godsend. So, assuming you are one in a billion, follow the link and take a look at the latest update from Kaleberg Labs.

Keywords: software, science, kale

11/01/11 - Halloween

We had our usual Halloween passing out bales of candy to perhaps 200 tricker treaters. Our street must have a reputation as a soft touch. A reputation like that takes some living up to. That, and a lot of little candy bars. It also takes a giant spider in a giant web, our shaman transforming, and a bit of mad science. (Is there any other kind?)

Our spider greeting trick or treaters

Our shaman and mad science

Another view of our spider

Keywords: halloween, science

05/24/11 - Constructomatic

We've been doing some geometry tutoring, and one thing seems to have led to another so we threw together a little program for doing geometry constructions. You put them together from points, lines and circles, and then you can interact with them. If it sounds intriguing, give it a try.

Keywords: software, science

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