Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Do Us All A Favre And Just Play Football

I ran across some residual resentment in Wisconsin amongst the locals. Some folks are still upset that Brett Favre signed with the Minnesota Vikings for $25MM. Others just see his choice as a love of football and all that lovely green stuff. In any case his first season with the Vikings is sure to be a stepwise, uphill slog. Certain relatives are relishing the thought of Favre facing a Green Bay defensive team no longer obliged to go easy on him in practice. Even I can't wait to see that game.

This scene is actually pretty typical of the good natured humor that I encountered:

Note that the target mechanism of the dunking tank is hidden, strategically located right behind the number 4 on that purple jersey. There was no shortage of takers at that booth (photo from the Sun Prairie Sweet Corn Festival)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sink the Bismark

click on the photo to enlarge your appetite.

The chocolate bismark is a species of Berliner doughnut, available in certain locations throughout southern Wisconsin, for example, here.

I have fond memories of the bismark. As a boy of 13, I delivered the morning Wisconsin State Journal newspaper. One of my customers was a now defunct "micro-bakery," run by an old Bavarian woman. Each morning around 6 o'clock when I stopped by to deliver the news, she would treat me to a freshly baked chocolate bismark. They were especially tasty and appreciated in the dead of winter.

Real chocolate bismarks are becoming hard to find, having been displaced by custard-filled species, and also by bismarks prepared with a lighter-colored dough. I googled around looking for a photo of the real thing, but to no avail. The photo above is the real deal from my trip back. Accept no substitutes.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Greetings From Wisconsin

I'll be in Wisconsin for the next several days, visiting family but also looking for the perfect chocolate bismarck, drinking the occasional pop (as long as there's some brandy in it), and drinking water from bubblers.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lithium: Part 2/3


(bummer about the link)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lithium (1/3)

The other day at Costco I noticed one of those bilingual signs: “Batteries/Piles.” The Spanish word pila echoes the historical origin of batteries (cf. the obvious name from the photo above). In the year 1800, Alessandro Volta (the guy the Chevy Volt is indirectly named after) invented what became known as the voltaic pile, thus enabling the first systematic studies of how electricity interacts with matter.

Sir Humphry Davy seized upon the idea of electrolyzing dry molten salts and metal oxides with voltaic pile electrodes (the two wire thingies in the photo above). Davy prepared several elements for the first time, producing blobs of highly reactive metals at one wire when he electrolyzed molten natrium and kalium salts. Davy gave the new metals “ium” names derived from their material origins: sodium from caustic soda and potassium from potash. Davy was so persuasive, and his demonstrations so dramatic, that he successfully renamed the elements: natrium became sodium and kalium became potassium. Today, only the Germans use the older names, though they do survive in the modern chemical symbols, Na and K.

Lithium was discovered in mineral ore samples in 1817. Its discover, J. A. Arfvedson, thought it appropriate to name the new element after the Greek word lithos = stone [cf. lithosphere], to distinguish it from the chemically similar elements sodium and potassium, both of which had been first found in sea and land plant ashes. A year later Sir Humphry prep'd lithium metal by electrolyzing molten lithium oxide.

Metallic lithium is the lightest of metals, so light that it floats on oil; it would float on water too if it didn’t spontaneously react and produce combustible hydrogen gas: see link. The brilliant red color briefly seen in that video comes from gaseous lithium atoms “cooling” in the outer reaches of the flame by giving up red photons. Today lithium salts are used in pyrotechnics to give brilliant red colors.

Lithium sits near the extreme upper left corner of the Periodic Table, directly beneath hydrogen.* Lithium follows helium in sequential order, but the two elements couldn’t be more different. Explaining why helium and the other noble gases are so chemically stable requires a plunge into quantum mechanics (at least at the level of an elementary text book); suffice it to say that when moving from helium to lithium, the third electron that elemental lithium requires cannot share the same space as its first two electrons and must be held at a greater distance, i.e., be more weakly bound. The third electron is said to be a valence electron. The concept of valency comes from a Latin word meaning "combining power of an element" and refers to an element’s ability to gain, lose or share electrons.

Lithium doffs its third electron with ease, becoming lithium ion (Li+) and by so doing regains the magic electronic configuration of helium. By analogy, Na+ has the magic noble gas configuration of neon, and K+ has the noble gas configuration of argon.
*Hydrogen is not an alkali metal however it is classed in Group I, the western edge of the Periodic Table. Hydrogen shares some chemical properties with lithium and the other alkali metals, namely the oxidation state of +1. On the other hand, hydrogen also can also be a hydride, having pseudo-halide properties.

The Hammer of the Buzz

I've just been getting around to listening to Mothership, yet another Led Zeppelin compilation produced by Jimmy Page to milk the legend. What is new on this otherwise predictable rehash is a nice remastering of the drum track: mainly the enhanced sound of John Bonham's drumming.

Others have described Bonham's style as his special "groove." Yes he had that, but there was something more about his drumming style. Bonham owes some of his sound to Carmine Appice, who introduced Bonham to Ludwig drums during Zeppelin's first American tour (Geez, I wonder if Trooper York knew the Appice family?-Brooklyn, boomer, Italian American?). I also think there's a noticeable difference in drum "sound" between their first album and Led Zeppelin II. The very first song on their first album, Good Times, Bad Times, features those shin-cramping bass drum triplets that marked Bonham's style. Later, he perfected a more fluid, all around triplets sound as demonstrated here by Appice (if the videos won't play for you it may be because they are Quicktime ".mov" videos. You can download quicktime here (thanks Jason!).

Bonham had a certain precision and economy to his style--almost approaching perfection in the sense that one could not easily imagine doing it better. His exquisite, almost metronomic timekeeping was due to his use of his left foot high-hatting between and during breaks, a technique borrowed from earlier drum legends. You can see it in this demo.

Whenever Bonham's right stick came off the high hat during a beat, his left foot would kick in to keep the same rhythm: this style is very obvious in for example this version of Whole Lotta Love. If you still can't view the videos, just crank up your own version of Whole Lotta Love and listen closely to the middle "trippy" part and the remainder of the song until the break. Bonham is left foot high-hatting throughout his turns around the cymbals and tom toms: zsip-zsip-zsip-zsip-zsip-zsip-zsip-zsip-zsip....

I learned these things as a teen (way before Internet tutorials) when I played drums as part of my misspent youth. I used to listen for hours on end to their songs, trying to copy and learn his style. My friends and I even had a little high school garage (basement) band in the mid-70's: we called ourselves "Buzz Hammer."

John Bonham has been dead almost 30 years--can you believe it?