Why Egg Dyes “Need” Vinegar

With Easter being here, I’m sure various persons are celebrating in whichever way is traditional to their family, be it with hams or church or gifts. And while I’m sure I’ve partaken of a fair number of hams over the years, the only tradition that is integral to the holiday for me is egg-dyeing. Mostly, my sisters and I used the kinds of dyes that come in little dissolvable tablets, but sometimes I think we got a little creative with natural dyes, or Ukranian eggs.

However, regardless of whether one is making fancy Ukranian Pysanky, or your basic cheap-as-free hardboiled eggs in PAAS, pretty much all egg dyes require vinegar. To this day, the smell of vinegar makes me think first and foremost of Easter. But why is it even in there? Let’s see if Bob and I can answer that for you.

Bob & Tea Discuss Eggs

Have to be honest though: this year instead of dyeing eggs, we helped my sister move. So that was new.


And if that didn’t answer all your questions, or raised even more questions, there are more resources below:

Fluoroantimonic acid – Really horrible stuff.

Parthenogenesis - in which a lady clones herself.

Bujo - Scammitty scam scam. Usually. I suspect.

Minecraft dyes – dye your sheep -> let them breed -> get new colors of sheeps! Sweet. Minecraft has everything.

Mantis eggs – Environmentally friendly pest control! Order hundreds today!

Permanent link to this article: http://thearclamp.com/blog/2014/04/20/why-egg-dyes-need-vinegar/

What Does Snow Smell Like?

Taking this question completely at face value, the chemical compounds in snow that might give off an odor include:

Nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, nitric acid, dimethyl sulphide and sulphate and methanesulphonate.

pretty snow flakey

Check out SnowCrystals.com for more neat snowflake pics & stuff.

But really, what does that tell you? It’s all well and good to know that these chemicals could give a handful of snow a distinct smell, but if you ask anyone (anyone but a chemist, that is) what pickle juice smells like, they’re not going to say “acetic acid, terpenoids, and allicin,” they’ll say it smells sharp or sour or garlicky.

See, it’s when you try to describe the scent of snow that things get more muddled. Ask anyone who claims that snow has a smell, and they’ll say things like: it smells crisp and bright and cold; it smells white and fluffy. Oh, I’m sorry, I thought I asked what it smelled like. Those are all distinctly not smell words. Like the Black Book of Colors describes colors without color, we can espouse poetically on concepts tied to snow without ever really touching on an actual smell description.

Many people who have been around much snow can recognize the smell of it in the air or on the ground, but few people can put any words to it that actually relate to smell. So you’re left with words that other snow-savvy humans would probably agree with, but which mean nothing to someone who doesn’t already know what you’re talking about.

white fluffy kitty

This is also white and fluffy. How does it smell?

Part of the problem is that snow smells different on the ground than it does in the air, and neither of them smells like the ice and frost you can get a whiff of from your freezer. I’ve seen many people say that impending snow smells like a wood-burning stove. Maybe that’s an association thing, or maybe their sense of smell is just very different than mine because I have no idea what they’re talking about. To me, the smell of impending snow is a little bit like ozone, but less sharp, like mild electricity from power lines lurking somewhere above me.

It is possible that I, and others who say that snow smells of ozone, really are smelling ozone or something like it. One theory, which seems to have been adopted by NASA, is that lightning, a definite source of ozone, is born of millions of collisions between tiny ice crystals. So it could be that snow, still bumping into itself up in the clouds, makes lightning and therefore smells like it.

And yet, especially when it comes to impending snow in the air, there is a chance that we’re sensing snow without actually smelling it at all. We could instead be sensing subtle changes in atmospheric conditions like pressure and moisture that commonly lead to snow. The fact that we breathe in to sense these things could lead us to believe that the sense we are using is smell.

On a similar “not actually smelling” vein, Bob suggests that perhaps the smell of snow is actually the absence of smell. Certainly, cold air is less volatile, and therefore less likely to carry odors. But on the flip side, drier, colder air makes for a drier mucous membrane in the nose which can actually increase sensitivity to smell, possibly making the “smell” of snow a subtle increase in all the smells.

So the answer is: we don’t know what snow smells like. Science knows what is in snow that smells, but the sensation of “smelling”, especially when it comes to impending snow, could very well not be a smell at all. The fact is, there is no pressing practical purpose to completely defining let alone explaining the issue. Current meteorology already probably exceeds this poorly understood human sense in terms of weather prediction, and I’ve yet to hear of anyone wishing for a snow-scented perfume. So for now, at least, I’ll just keep on telling my warm-weather friends that snow smells crisp and cold and fluffy. Like mint ice cream? Yeah, sure, kinda like that.

BONUS COMIC: What do cookies smell like?

mean cookies
“Chemists talk weird, man.”
“Well how would YOU describe the sense of impending cookies?”
“My cookie sense is tingling.”


Image Credits: SnowCrystals.com

Permanent link to this article: http://thearclamp.com/blog/2014/03/07/what-does-snow-smell-like/

Sweet Success: Science and Techniques of Candied Fruit

Last Valentine’s Day, I tried to show y’all my love via candy, but it ended up being kind of creepy and flesh-colored with an unpleasant texture. This year, taking no chances, I enlisted the help of actually having all the proper ingredients and a Bob, who is better at candy making because he reads directions carefully and does not always consider “just wing it” to be a valid approach to kitchen shenanigans.

Candied Fruit

If I were a dragon I would probably sit on a horde of candied fruit.

Among all the shiny, sugary candies out there, none are quite so opulent as candied fruits. They look like enormous, shining jewels. But you can eat them! The best of all worlds! When fruits are boiled in a concentrated syrup (read: sugar in water), the boiling softens them and they become infused with the dissolved sugar. This results in a softer texture and a very sweet taste, but it also preserves the fruit. Much like the high salt concentrations in cured meats, the high sugar concentrations in candied fruits discourage spoilage by microbes via osmosis which keeps the interior of the fruit too dry for food-ruining microbes to thrive in. And that’s not the only mechanism by which sugar acts as a preservative. It can also interrupt microbes’ enzyme activity, break down their DNA, or indirectly support other preserving processes like fermentation.

Whole fruits can take entire days, or even months to preserve with sugar, but thin pieces (scientifically put: those with a higher surface area to mass ratio), can be done in a matter of hours. Which brings me to today’s sweet experiment: candied orange peels. They’re a little bit time-consuming, even with 2 hours of unattended boiling in the middle, but they are otherwise incredibly simple to make, and they look oh-so-pretty when you’re done.
Other bonuses include making your house smell amazing, and the orange syrup they leave behind (quite possibly even more delicious than the candies themselves) has all kinds of tasty uses.

I used a recipe from my trusty Sweet Temptations cookbook, which is also where I got my Turkish delight recipe, but I’m pretty sure that fiasco was not the book’s fault. I liked this recipe because it called for a lot less sugar than most recipes I found online which use as much (or more) sugar as they do water and that seems like a waste of sugar.

Step one, obtain orange peels, was perhaps the biggest chore. Getting the peel off in large, even pieces is not hard if you first roll the orange between your hands or on a counter top to separate the pith from the fruit (like a very firm massage, but not hard enough to break the peel). But separating the pith from the peel was a little tedious. The thickest part of the pith could be sliced off each 1/8th of a peel with a sharp knife, but the rest had to be scraped off, which took up to a minute per piece, and that adds up.

boiled orange peels

They look like orange leeches at this stage, but they don’t taste like leeches. I assume.

Step two was much, much less effort: boil peels in syrup for 2 hours. The important (and sciency) part of step two is that one should not stir the syrup while the orange peels are boiling. As the water in the syrup boils away, the sugar solution becomes more and more concentrated. Eventually, the solution will become supersaturated, which means that there is now more sugar dissolved in the water than would otherwise be possible. This makes the solution very unstable- not in an explosions! sort of way (probably for the best), but in a “might spontaneously crystallize” sort of way. Disturbing the solution, especially by suddenly changing the temperature gradient as stirring would, can make the excess sugar begin to crystallize, which ruins the syrup and can change the texture of the candy.


The finishing step (three, if you’re counting), simply called for draining the syrup (and saving it for later!) from the peels, and rolling them in sugar before drying in a not-very-hot oven or overnight. Dipping them in dark chocolate later was optional, so I dipped some and not others. Though unless you hate chocolate, dark chocolate, I would not call it optional at all. The taste is complex but elegant, if you don’t mind my waxing eloquent about fruit: subtle, sweet, and soft with touches of tartness with a smooth bitterness from the chocolate and a light crunch from the sugar. This has probably been the most successful candy venture of my life. Although since Bob helped, I can’t be sure the peels wouldn’t have come out as limp and chewy tentacles had I done this on my own.


The finished product. So pretty! So tasty!

Permanent link to this article: http://thearclamp.com/blog/2014/02/13/sweet-success/

The Arc Lamp is Now at Level 4

This weekend The Arc Lamp surpassed 8192 views, putting us at level 4 per our gamification plan.

"I got the documentation right here."

“I got the documentation right here.”

The top three posts of all time:

  1. At 2299 views, Why Do Your Genitals Hurt When You Push On Your Navel?.
  2. At 637 views, The Latest in Patent Troll Silliness.
  3. At 630 views, Android 4.0 ICS System Update Battery Drain Fix.

….which are the same top three posts from last time, just shuffled around.  So I thought I’d post the bottom three posts as well, just for something different:

  1. At 2 views, Megaviruses, Free Books, and “I’m still relevant!” Says the Hubble.
  2. At 1 view, Old Timey Minnesota.
  3. At 1 view, Andersen-esque.

Granted, WordPress doesn’t add homepage views to each individual post view count so more than 1 or 2 people probably saw each of those.

Permanent link to this article: http://thearclamp.com/blog/2014/01/27/the-arc-lamp-is-now-at-level-4/

Comet ISON Dead, Samsung Putting Out Fires, and an Internet Puzzle Better Than a Dan Brown Novel

Today’s interesting links:

Comet ISON now an ex-comet, says NASA:

After months of anticipation, Comet ISON grazed by the sun on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28). Something emerged on the far side, but NASA astronomers can now confirm: ISON is no longer a comet.

Awww, sad. I was really looking forward to this. :(

* * * * *

Via Mashable:

On Dec. 2, Canadian resident Richard Wygand posted a YouTube video in which he claimed that his Galaxy S4 was dangerously defective. “I just plugged it in to charge it,” Wygand says in the video. “Went to sleep, woke up to smoke and a little bit of burning.”

The video in question (nsfw: language):

Samsung’s response:

A few days after his first YouTube video, Wygand posted a new video offering an update, which includes a disturbing bit of news.

He said that in order to receive a “similar model” replacement phone, Samsung allegedly asked that he first sign a legal document that would require him to remove his videos from YouTube, remain silent about the agreement and surrender any possible future claims against the company.

Followed by another video from Wygand (still nsfw: language):

* * * * *

Chasing the Cicada: Exploring the Darkest Corridors of the Internet:


Clandestine hackers spread across the globe.  Secret messages.  Prime numbers.  All of these are part of the most difficult internet puzzle ever seen.

It’s a frustrating, enigmatic ending to a saga that, throughout, showed signs of careful craftsmanship and ingenious orchestration. It was a hunt that swept a room full of curious minds from an idle board on 4chan down the Internet’s most anonymous corridors, then spit them out into the real world. But today, Kinkle feels like he’s back where he started. He knows no more about “cicada 3301” than he did on that January night.

“It’s actually pretty crazy that there’s so little about that final message online,” he says. “A decent amount has been written about the hunt itself, so it’s odd that there’s barely anything about its conclusion.”

The article at mental_floss does a great job of explaining the back-story of the puzzle, but for a more comprehensive timeline, go to the Uncovering Cicada Wiki.

I really hope this epic story gets turned into a book and/or movie someday.

Permanent link to this article: http://thearclamp.com/blog/2013/12/16/comet-ison-dead-samsung-putting-out-fires-and-an-internet-puzzle-better-than-a-dan-brown-novel/

“When all is said and done, it makes good toast.”

It was an uncanny coincidence that Tea and I both ran across references to the Poe Toaster.  I remembered that it is the unknown person or persons who has a glass of cognac and leaves the unfinished bottle at Edgar Allen Poe’s grave.  Tea apparently did not remember this.

However, there is always a brief giddy moment before my long term memory kicks in and my brain combines the word “POE” (classic master of terror) and “TOASTER” (maker of crisp browned bread) to remind me of this video:

Permanent link to this article: http://thearclamp.com/blog/2013/10/31/when-all-is-said-and-done-it-makes-good-toast/

An Appliance as Mysterious as a Cat


But we loved with a love that was more than love- I and my Annabel Lee toast.

Permanent link to this article: http://thearclamp.com/blog/2013/10/31/an-appliance-as-mysterious-as-a-cat/

Lunar Eclipse Tonight!

Today is the Hunter’s Moon, but BONUS!, it’s also an eclipse.  Not a total eclipse, but a penumbral one (i.e. the Earth only partially blocks the sunlight from reaching the moon).

Here in the Midwest we should be able to catch it around moonrise at around 6PM.  If the weather behaves, we might even get some pictures.

Eclipse Timeline

Eclipse Timeline

Eclipse Visibility

Eclipse Visibility


Permanent link to this article: http://thearclamp.com/blog/2013/10/18/lunar-eclipse-tonight/

Because Ghosts, As Usual

Okay, Amazon, get the hell out of my cookies. Just because I have read every creepy story thread ever posted on Ask Reddit doesn’t mean that my search for books about volcano survivors should include hits like “Libby’s Paranormal Time Travel and Paranormal Hunters: Combo

I’m not sure why someone scared of their own shadow loves creepy things and monsters so much, but visiting places like r/creepy is a habit I should probably cut back on.

Brrr. Ghosts!

One might think that I’ve been reading peoples’ (supposedly) true spooky stories because it is October and “yay, Halloween!” But yeah, this is pretty much a year-round thing.


Permanent link to this article: http://thearclamp.com/blog/2013/10/10/because-ghosts-as-usual/

Comet ISON May Be Awesome Or Just Sort Of “Meh”

Comet ISON, or Comet Nevski–Novichonok, or just plain C/2012 S1, is a 3 mile wide icy comet that was discovered on September 21, 2012.  Just days later the news had articles like this:

Comet ‘shining 15 times brighter than moon’ will fly by our planet in 2013

They are one of the most spectacular views a human could hope to see – and next year a comet which could outshine the moon is due to fly by the Earth.

Comet ISON is visiting the inner solar system and is set to put on spectacular views for the Northern Hemisphere across November and December as it heads towards the sun.

It may prove to be brighter than any comet of the last century – visible even in broad daylight – and this may end up being its one and only trip to the solar system, as its trajectory may see it plunge into the sun in a fiery death.

Exciting, no?  Well, now that it is actually near enough to the Earth to be observed by amateurs and experts alike it is turning out to be a bit of a disappointment:

ISON could still become ‘comet of the century’ — or not…

Astronomer Bruce Gary was the first to photograph ISON after it emerged from the glare of the rising sun on Aug. 12, and belongs to the first camp. According to Gary’s calculations, the comet might not get much brighter than fifth or sixth magnitude, which is near the threshold of naked-eye visibility.

“I’ve begun to lose interest in this comet, which may never become visible to the unaided eye,” Gary said. “I wonder why someone ever suggested that it could become the ‘comet of the century.'”

On the other hand, astronomer Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C. has issued a more sanguine outlook.

“Certainly, we would love it to be a couple of magnitudes brighter right now, but it’s doing just fine,” Battams said. “I’d say it’s still on course to become a very eye-catching object.”

In any event, I am still excited to see it because unlike other comets which return on a regular basis, such as Halley’s Comet (~76 years) or Comet Hale-Bopp (~2391 years), Comet ISON appears to have come from deep space, and coupled with its highly parabolic orbit, is likely to return there.  So, no one has ever seen Comet ISON before, and (assuming it survives the intense heat and gravity of the Sun to escape), no one will ever see it again.

I have high hopes for this little guy and am looking forward to an awe inspiring New Year’s Eve view of it.  But if it doesn’t make it past its Thanksgiving Day perihelion, I’ll still feel honored to have seen a unique celestial event.

Here's a sky-map to show where Comet ISON has been and where it'll be for the next couple weeks.

Here’s a sky-map to show where Comet ISON has been and where it’ll be for the next couple weeks.

Permanent link to this article: http://thearclamp.com/blog/2013/10/02/comet-ison-may-be-awesome-or-just-sort-of-meh/

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