Monday, December 22, 2014

The New Monday Quiz, Brimming O'er with Yuletide Cheer!

This quiz guaranteed 100% free of questions about gift quantities in "The Twelve Days of Christmas"

1. What is one supposed to do on Boxing Day?

2. How do we usually translate "O Tannenbaum" into English? How about "Adeste Fideles"? How about "In Dulce Jubilo"?

3. David Sedaris' "The Santaland Diaries" is a mostly-true account of his brief career as what?

4. What was George Washington up to on Christmas Night, 1776?

5. It was written in 1857 for the American Thanksgiving holiday, and was for some time considered a mildly racy drinking song. Today, it is an extremely well-known Christmas song. It is no longer considered racy. Sing it while you type the answer.

6. Christmas trees were initially a regional Protestant custom in a small area of Germany's Rhineland. Then they went viral. During what century did Christmas trees become popular throughout the Christmas-celebrating world?

7. On Christmas 1989, the notorious couple shown here would be subjected to a sham trial and then summarily executed. Hey, wait, this question isn't cheery! Well, too late. Who were they?

8. And who should be upon that ship, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day, and who should be upon that ship, on Christmas Day in the morning?

9. According to the Biblical account, three wise men follow a star to Judea at some point after the birth of Jesus, hoping to meet a new Messiah. Who is it that tips them off to look in Bethlehem?

10. Truth, or Michael5000-style nonsense? By tradition, St. Francis of Assisi staged the first nativity scene in 1223 in an attempt to refocus the Christmas holiday away from feasting and gift-giving and back on Christian worship. 

The Stamp Advent

The 2014 Stamp Advent Calendar
December 22

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament Round 1: Ely v. Dobson!

Timothy Ely
born 1949

Took First Place in Phase 1, Flight 7, with a voting score of .813.
Tied for First in Phase 2, Flight 5 of the Play-In Tournament with a voting score of .500.


William Dobson
1610 - 1646

Tied with Theo Van Doesburg in his first try at the First Round, back in December 2012.


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

The Stamp Advent

The 2014 Stamp Advent Calendar
December 20

Friday, December 19, 2014

Element of the Month: Caesium!

December's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 132.90545196 amu
Melting Point: 28.5 °C
Boiling Point: 671 °C

The first thing that struck me about Caesium is that it has a very low melting point, 28 degrees Centigrade, which is 82 degrees Unitedstatesian. This made me think that it would be great for building temporary backyard winter shelters, not unlike igloos, that would melt away in the fullness of late spring. Unfortunately for my scheme, it turns out that Caesium is also highly pyrophoric, which is to say that it bursts into flame when exposed to air. It also reacts explosively with water. So much for the Caesium yurt craze.

Caesium is also the “softest” of the elements, an abstract concept that made me think that maybe it would be a good metal for making pillows. But then it occurred to me that human body heat would melt the Caesium and that your head would slowly sink right through it, the same problem that plagues pillows made of butter. Plus, the pyrophoric thing and the explosive reactions with water would be a problem with this innovation, too.

The Centerfold!

Some Caesium being kept in an airtight, waterproof container, what with the pyrophoric thing.

By the way, if you are wondering if Caesium is the same thing as Cesium, the answer is yes. Calling it Cesium is an American eccentricity, like calling Aluminium Aluminum. You can call it cæsium if you really want to be cool, and know how to produce an aesc. Or an "ash," as it is sometimes called. But I digress.

It’s the 45th most common element on the Earth’s crust and has some unusual mineralogical properties, but we won’t go there. Most of the Caesium used by the human community comes from Manitoba. It’s used for this and that, but not really for much. Its sexiest use, if you swing that way, is in the technical definition of the second. You thought the definition of a second was “1/60th of a minute” or “1/86,400 of a mean solar day,” but the first is circular (because a minute is 60 seconds) and the second is fuzzy (because, what’s a mean solar day anyway, and will it never change?). No, the definition of a second is:
the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom.
“What we can’t do in this age of marvels!” we exclaim, before realizing that this definition has been in place since 1967.

Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff discovered Caesium in their mineral water in 1860. They were looking for it pretty hard with the spectroscope they had recently invented together. They named it after the Latin word for “sky blue,” not because it or any of its minerals are sky blue – which, bummer, because that would be cool – but because its spectroscopic emission spectrum makes bright blue lines. On a roll, the team of Bunsen and Kirchhoff would go on to discover Rubidium in 1861. Bunsen and his lab tech developed the “Bunsen burner,” a legacy if ever there was one. Kirchhoff coined the concept of “black body radiation” and has a couple of minor laws of physics named after him, which is also pretty good.

Long-time friend to the blog Calico Cat recently called my attention to
The Period Table in Fabric.  Here's its representation of this month's
Element, by North Dakota quilter Kim Stenehjem.

The Stamp Advent

The 2014 Stamp Advent Calendar
December 19