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Monday, November 11, 2019

Easy ways to reduce your environmental impact

Puffin Rock is the best show on the planet.

As scientific findings and news media churn out more and more predictions of environmental gloom, it’s hard to feel optimistic about humanity’s prospects. However, if we all make an effort to reduce our resource use and develop better habits, we can work towards making human existence sustainable for future generations. Living more sustainably doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, to prove just how easily one can make a difference, here are some super low-effort ways to reduce your environmental impact:

1. Line dry your clothes

If you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor area or balcony with space for a clothesline or drying rack, consider air drying your laundry.  Dryers guzzle huge amounts of electricity—speaking from experience, our electricity use doubles during rainy months solely due to dryer use.  There are many practical benefits to line drying: your electricity bills will be much lower, and your clothes won’t wrinkle if you fail to whip them from the dryer the second they’re done.  Plus, sun-dried laundry smells amazing—if happiness had a smell, it would smell like air dried sheets.

2. Use a fan instead of turning on the AC

AC uses about 50 times more electricity than the typical ceiling fan, so consider turning on the fan rather than the air conditioning on hot summer days.  If you live in a coastal area, fans actually have an advantage over AC on cool summer nights if you use this simple trick: Buy a box fan that can spin in both directions.  Open up a window, then insert the box fan so it’s facing outward, and stuff any remaining spaces in the window with blankets or other fabric.  Open another nearby window, then turn the fan on reverse.  The fan will draw air inside the room out, and the change in pressure inside the room will draw air in through the other window.  The feeling of cool night air whooshing through the window is pure bliss.

3. Get your coffee “for here” instead of “to go”

If you’re planning on staying at a coffee shop for a while, ask for you drink “for here” and they’ll put it in a cute ceramic mug for you.  Not only are you reducing waste, but you’re also creating the perfect Instagram setting.

4. Collect rainwater in a rain barrel for watering plants

This is really the epitome of low-effort: put a big bucket under your gutter downspout and you’ve started a rainwater collection.  (Be careful in the summertime, though—standing water is the ideal mosquito larvae habitat.)  You can then use the free water to care for your plants, which provides the added benefit of forcing you to go outside.  The picture I put here is super cute and aesthetic, but the rain barrel we have in my backyard is just an ugly plastic tub.  It does the job, though :)

5. Recycle Correctly

We all know we should recycle, but many of us don't do it simply because we don't know how. Luckily for you, we have a blog post on this! You can read it here. The basic gist is to read the labels on your containers, and when in doubt, throw it out. Composting is also a good idea, and you can read more about that in this blog post.

There you have it! It takes virtually no effort to instantly ascend to an elevated moral plane of sustainability superiority. So go out there and flex your environmentalism!

Written by Coral C., Homework Assistant

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Peculiarly Precise Laws in the United States

Imagine this: You're taking part in a prestigious frog-jumping contest. You've traveled 3 hours south of your hometown so you could see your pet frog, Hopper, win that contest and take home the gold medal. You were SO confident of you and Hopper's inevitable win that you got so excited you even left your lunch at home. But you decide, 'Forget lunch. I will be having the dinner of champions.'
Alas, tragedy strikes! Your frog Hopper is so capable , that he hops 30 feet in the air, sparking a pre-mature heart attack. When he lands on the ground again, it is not on his feet. Your beloved pet and jumping champion has passed away.
Of course, you grieve. But then you hear a rumbling. Is that the train? you think. No, you realize. that's my stomach. That missed lunch is really taking a toll on you. You look down at Hopper. He looks awfully delicious. Maybe, just maybe.... with some salt and a grill ... 
Sorry to burst your bubble, but if you're a Californian, your plan to eat your once-loved pet is not only a little barbaric, but also very illegal. 
You heard me. In California, it is explicitly illegal to consume a frog if it died during a frog-jumping contest. 

I bet you're thinking, Gee. Well I would never do such a thing, so I'm in the clear, but that's a strange law. Do we really have that one written down? 
My answer to you, my inquisitive friend, is absolutely! 

It's written right there in the California Fish and Game code, Chapter 7, Article 2: "Any person may possess any number of live frogs to use in frog-jumping contests, but if such a frog dies or is killed, it must be destroyed as soon as possible, and may not be eaten or otherwise used for any purpose."

I've always been intrigued by some of the bizarrely specific laws we have across America. Most of these laws aren't federal, but made on state levels. The law about frogs in California is one example, but there are multitudes. Today I'd like to examine some of my favorites. And hey! If you ever go visiting one of these states, maybe my blog post will make sure you stay a law-abiding citizen.

  • If you own a pig in Alabama with an inclination for trash, you better go get yourself a pen to sign the permit you'll need! In Alabama, it's illegal to feed a pig garbage without one, UNLESS that garbage is your own and the pigs are being raised for your own use. 
  • Thinking of stopping by a cheese shop in Illinois? I also recommend swinging by a local Starbucks first, for a bit of caffeine. In the Prairie State, it's illegal to fall asleep in a cheese shop, or ANY place where food is sold or served. 
  • In Delaware, you can't trade or sell the fur of a dog or a cat. I'm going to guess Cruella DeVille doesn't spend much time there. 
  • Try not to get too angry in Mississippi. It's illegal to use vulgar language and obscenities in the presence of 2+ people! 
  • Nevada has outlawed a rather unconventional method of measurement. There, you can't use an X-ray to determine someone's shoe size. But with good reason! Using those X-ray devices might expose a person to radiation. 
  • Less of a law and more of a statement, a state statute of Oklahoma's is that it is "fact that there exists an International Communist conspiracy" and that said conspiracy "constitutes a clear and present danger to the government of the United Sates"
  • In Vermont, they've got a law that makes it illegal to write a law: It's illegal to outlaw (yeah, take some time to think about that one) solar collectors and clotheslines, on the basis that both are "energy devices based on renewable sources." 

  • In Pennsylvania, fishing is all good and fine, but you can't catch a fish with your mouth. I wonder what their bears do. 
  • Here's one that might break a few hearts. In Tennessee, it's illegal to use somebody else's Netflix account. You may need a moment to grieve. 
  • However, here's one last one to cheer you up! In Washington, if you happen to be the one to confirm the existence of Sasquatch (or Bigfoot, or the Yeti, whichever name you may call him), you will be fined and jailed if you also are the one to murder him. The Sasquatch is also labelled an endangered species there.  It's good to know Washington's looking out for the big guy. 

There you have it! Some of our strangest, but most interesting laws. This list is by no means exhaustive, and if you want to learn about even more funky legislature, feel free to check out the first two links in the sources section of this article! 

Happy findings, and now that you've read all the way through, I'd better not find you sleeping in an Illinois McDonald's.  

This article was written by Roo Joshi, Homework Assisant in the Teen Zone. 



Monday, November 4, 2019

A is for Apple

At any point during the fall there is at least an 83% chance that you'll see me roaming around wearing fuzzy socks and an oversize sweater while drinking a warm mug of apple cider. In my opinion that's the spirit of fall - wearing comfy clothes and drink the liquefied version of my favorite fruit: the apple.
Image result for apple

In the spirit of fall, I've decided to write a post dedicated to apples.  In pastries, as a light snack, coated in caramel and chocolate, or even liquefied, apples can be enjoyed in so many different ways. But with so many preparations of the fruit, I often find myself forgetting just how many varieties of apples exist. There are over 7,500 varieties of apples grown world-wide, 2,500 of which are grown in the US.

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More Apples! 

Red Delicious, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji, Jazz (my personal favorite), Pink Lady - all of these probably sound familiar, since they can be found in most grocery stores in the country. But soon, another kind of apple will be joining their ranks: The Cosmic Crisp, a brand-new variety that will soon be made available to the public.

So, how can there possibly be a new kind of apple?


Scientists at the Washington State University (WSU) Tree Fruit Research Center have been working on developing the new breed of apple over the past 20 years. Washington state is known for its apples - it grows more annually than any other state! Because of a combination of environmental factors and good agricultural practices, the growing season in Washington lasts nearly the entire year for many major apple varieties.
The Growing Season of Various Apples in Washington State
Surprisingly, despite Washington's very active apple market, the Cosmic Crisp is the very first apple to ever be created in the state. Looking to replicate the success of the Honeycrisp apple, cultivated by the University of Minnesota in the 1960s, Washington apple growers funded WSU's research into the new variety. Nicknamed "Cosmic" because of the star-like appearance of the apple's yellow-dotted skin, this new variety of apple is a cross between Honeycrisp and Enterprise apples. It has the same crunchy, juicy flavor as the former, and stays fresh for longer because of the disease-resistant qualities it gets from the latter. It's the best of both worlds: delicious and fresh.

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The Cosmic Crisp, nicknamed for its star-like appearance.
Because they paid for the research, Washington growers alone will be able to grow and sell this apple in the next 10 years. Already 12 million Cosmic Crisp trees have been planted, revealing the growers' confidence that this breed will be a success. Clearly, this little apple has a big future in store. But as to when in its future it will quite literally be in stores - I'm quite excited to find out when that will be!

Written by Jessica A., Apple Lover and Homework Assistant

Monday, October 28, 2019

Talking to Trees

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The city of Melbourne, Australia is known for being a center of art, music and culture. It's often ranked the most livable city in Australia, and boasts beautiful street art, a lively music scene, and a plethora of fun events and festivals. However, in addition to all the music and art that has brought fame to the city, one thing has recently put Melbourne in the international spotlight: its trees.

In 2009, Melbourne was facing a 40% decline in the number of trees in their city due to drought. As the city wanted to protect the thousands of beautiful trees growing in its boundaries, Melbourne's government initiated programs intended to help conserve them, one of which was to catalog each tree by giving it an official ID number.

In an effort to make it easier for citizens to report tree-related issues such as fallen branches, city officials decided to give each of the city's trees its own email address that would be paired with its ID number. However, instead of the tree-related complaints that officials expected to flood the inboxes, what they found shocked them: dozens, hundreds, thousands of love letters addressed to the trees themselves.

Here are some of the letters Melbourne citizens sent to their favorite trees:

Although it was not its intention, Melbourne's tree-mail service revealed the deep connection the citizens have with their city. With life becoming more digital and cities sacrificing nature for infrastructure, it's so incredibly important that people still take time to appreciate the natural beauty of their surroundings.

The tree-mail service also reveals another interesting aspect of human nature - the tendency to talk to inanimate and nonverbal things. From having one-sided conversations with pets to yelling at the TV when your favorite team fumbles the ball, people often view animals and objects not as items, but as physical beings that are capable of being on the receiving end of a conversation. It's not like anyone is expecting their pet or the TV to start talking back to them (that would be very weird) - but that doesn't stop most of us from talking to them anyway.

It's the same with these trees. People enjoy viewing these trees as acquaintances or even friends, even if their relationship with the tree is entirely one-sided.

Ironically, in some cases the relationship actually went both ways, as some people got responses from the trees they sent letters to.

This person had a lovely correspondence with an Elm at their college:

And this person discussed Greek politics with a Cedar:

It really is a remarkable thing to see people engaging in genuine conversation with the natural world.

People from the United States, Germany, Singapore, and other countries all over the world have sent letters to Melbourne's trees, commenting on their beauty, thanking them for the oxygen they provide, or even just talking about their day. If you had a chance to talk to your favorite tree, what would you say?

Written by Jessica A., Homework Assistant
The Atlantic
News Australia

Thursday, October 17, 2019

An Analysis of Peppa Pig as a Role Model for Young Children

PEPPA PIG! *Du-dudu-du-du, dudududu-du-du!*

Peppa Pig has become something of a global cultural phenomenon.  The five-minute episodes detailing Peppa Pig's neighborhood shenanigans have captured the hearts of young children around the world--including my sister.  I have watched hundreds of episodes of Peppa Pig with her and can confidently say that it is the best kids' show on the planet. In fact, it ranks #2 on my list of favorite TV shows.

Recently, I've noticed that Peppa's witty remarks have found their way into teenage meme culture (and Chinese Hypebeast culture, but that's its own can of worms).  Now, I've seen some of these memes, and I am sorry to report that they betray a fundamental lack of understanding as to the depth of Peppa's character. This is a wrong that must be righted.  Knowledge will be given to those who seek it--if you truly wish to understand the beauty of Peppa Pig as a character, your journey begins here.

Here are the reasons why Peppa Pig is a good role model not only for young children, but for all of us:

Peppa is a good friend
"Meet Emily Elephant"
Peppa and the rest of the kids in the show are good friends.  Not unrealistically good, a la My Little Pony I’d-Die-For-You good, but as friendly and welcoming as one can expect from four-year-olds.  For example, when Emily Elephant joins their Play Group, all the kids rush to make friends with her. By valuing Emily’s unique traits and her charming personality, the kids help Emily overcome her shyness.  This is a theme among the friend group: they all participate in games together, they form "secret clubs" where everyone is welcome, and they’re all invited to each others’ birthday parties. Peppa herself is especially open to new friends; for example, she makes several friends overseas, including Delphine Donkey and Kylie Kangaroo.
"Meet Mandy Mouse"
Like any group of four-year-olds, the friends sometimes fight over who raced down the hill fastest or whose pet is the cleverest.  However, where other kids’ TV shows like to drag disagreements out into tangled messes of drama and misunderstandings (*Ahem* Strawberry Shortcake’s Berry Bitty Adventures), Peppa’s disputes are resolved quickly.  What stands out about the friendships in Peppa Pig is that they don’t stand out: they’re simple, straightforward interactions between young children that result in fun for everyone.  And when you’re four years old, that’s the best kind of friendship.

Peppa is responsible
"Goldie the Fish"
At the ripe old age of four, Peppa already understands the importance of fulfilling obligations and taking care of other people.  For one, she is the primary caregiver to Goldie the Fish. She follows the fish’s feeding schedule religiously, and fusses to no end when her grandparents take over Goldie’s care while Peppa's family is on vacation.  (Seriously. Peppa calls her grandparents every day to ask about Goldie, and even sends Goldie a postcard.) She cares about Goldie’s emotional wellbeing as well, taking her to the aquarium to find friends when she feels sad and rushing her to the vet when she’s under the weather.  For contrast, I once had fish that died the morning after we bought them.
"Ice Skating"
Peppa also feels a strong sense of duty towards her brother George.  George is two years old and can’t verbalize his needs yet. However, Peppa is always ready to advocate for him: she acts as a mentor, teaching him how to ice skate and paint; she helps him find his dinosaur when he inevitably loses it at yet another store; and she even argues with Rebecca Rabbit when she feels Rebecca’s little brother isn’t sharing.  (Get you a sibling who will fight other people’s siblings for you.)

Peppa is enthusiastic and seeks new experiences
"Miss Rabbit's Helicopter"
Peppa is fearless.  She flies in a helicopter to save Daddy Pig from a bog.  She goes on carnival rides that scare the adults. She goes to new countries and boldly talks to strangers.  The outside world can be a very scary place when one is four years old, but Peppa attacks new things with gusto.  Peppa’s openness to new experience shows kids that stepping outside your comfort zone doesn’t have to be frightening.
"Chloe's Big Friends"
In addition, Peppa is open to new people.  She’s chatty with kids and adults alike, showing genuine interest in the things they have to say and returning their inquiries with sincerity.  Peppa encounters all types of people, and she treats them all with good will and good nature. She even wins over her older cousin Chloe and her friends, who had initially protested that they didn’t play with “little kids.”

Peppa’s flaws are relatable
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"The Quarrel"
Despite being a well-rounded, emotionally secure child, Peppa still shares the same character pitfalls as most kids.  She has trouble sharing, and her parents often have to remind her. She gets a little jealous when other kids perform better than her, whether that’s in drawing or in a race.  She’s a tad boastful and sometimes she tells little white lies. Because Peppa isn’t a polished Mary Sue character (*Ahem* STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE), she relates to young children rather than coming across as an unattainable ideal.
"George's Friend"
Peppa’s realistic character also makes the show enjoyable for adults.  It’s a show about adorable kids who do adorable things, with humorous takes on parenting problems like getting the kids to bed and the never-ending fight to leave the playground at a reasonable hour.  What’s not to love?

I really can’t do the show justice in this little blurb.  Please, I beg you, watch an episode on YouTube. It sounds crazy, but I’ve never related to any fictional character more than I have connected with this two-dimensional anthropomorphic pig and her preschool adventures.
Written by Coral C., Homework Assistant

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Rube Goldberg Machines

I'm not typically a huge fan of science projects being a humanities-focused student myself, but the most fun I've ever had on a project in school was actually on a project I did in my 8th grade science class: the Rube Goldberg Machine. For those of you not familiar with the history of the machines, the idea behind them originated with San Francisco-born engineer and cartoonist Rube Goldberg (hence the name).
Image result for rube goldberg portrait
Reuben Goldberg

Who Was Rube Goldberg?
Despite his dream to become an artist, Reuben "Rube" Goldberg was sent by his father to study engineering at UC Berkeley in the early 1900s. He worked for a few years as an engineer for the city of San Francisco, where he made a whopping $100 a week (which was actually a decent week's wage during the time). However, dissatisfied with his good-paying job, Rube quit working for the city in order to follow his passion: being a cartoonist. He was hired by the San Francisco Chronicle with a weekly wage of $8, and despite drawing numerous comics for the newspaper to publish, nearly all of his drawings were sent to the same place: the trash can.

After some time working at the Chronicle, Goldberg's editors were hit by a shocking realization: their newspaper actually sold more copies when there were comics on the pages. Who would have thought that people actually like reading the comic section?

Goldberg's career took off, and within a few years he was making upwards of $100,000 a year, and even won a Pulitzer Prize for a 1948 comic about the dangers of atomic weapons. In addition to his regular wacky comics, Goldberg was famous for his sketches of various machines and contraptions, which have now come to be known as "Rube Goldberg Machines".

What is a Rube Goldberg Machine?
Basically, a Rube Goldberg Machine is a contraption that accomplishes a very simple task in a ridiculously complicated way. Believing the contraptions to be symbolic of "man's capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results", Goldberg created the comics as a way to poke fun at the tendency of people to use really complex, roundabout ways to complete really simple tasks (so basically me with any easy math problem).

Examples of Rube Goldberg's Machine Comics
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How to Eat a Radish
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Self-Operating Napkin

For our project in 8th grade, we were tasked with finding a complex way to get a golf ball on a tee. Our final contraption included dominoes, a pulley system, several ramps, three different kinds of balls, and a lot of other things that I can't even name. And even with all that, our contraption only took about 7 seconds to accomplish its task, which makes the minutes-long videos on YouTube that much more impressive. Creating a giant Rube Goldberg Machine is actually one of the items on my Bucket List, but as I don't have the space, time or materials to build an entire machine, I have to live vicariously through everyone on YouTube for now.

In honor of that, here are some of my favorite Rube Goldberg Machine videos!

Written by Jessica A., Homework Assistant

Thursday, August 22, 2019

100 Ways to Cook an Egg, or the History of Chef Hats

I'm obsessed with the Food Network. It may be because of my 2-week span of summer where I didn't have work or school and had nothing better to do than watch TV for around 10 hours a day, but either way I love (most of) the shows on the network. But one thing has always struck me as odd: none of the chefs on any of the shows actually look like chefs. I mean sure, they've got the whole being-in-a-kitchen-and-cooking thing that I associate with all chefs, but none of them had the quintessential chef outfit. Y'know, the long white coat, black or gray pants, fluffy white hat look, which my mind always associates with the movie Ratatouille. 
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Chef Skinner
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Image result for ratatouille movie chef outfits

I guess when you're on TV you don't need to stick to the typical chef's look, so all the Food Network stars have an excuse. But when I was thinking about this (for quite a long time, might I add), I started thinking about where this outfit even came from.

White always seemed like an interesting choice of color for people who deal primarily with food, since it's so easy to get dirty. Turns out, that line of reasoning is actually the exact reason chefs wear white - it's a sign of cleanliness, which is obviously a very important thing for kitchens to be. Makes sense, unless the chef happens to be anything like me and manages to spill on themselves every single time they are even anywhere near food.

As for the chef's hat, arguably the most distinct part of their outfit, those have been a key mark of a chef since the early 1800s. Initially, the hat, called a toque, came in a variety of colors that signified a chef's rank. However, around the time the whole idea that white = clean came about, all toques became white, with the chef's rank being identified by how tall the hat is.

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That, of course, led some people (like this man) to make ridiculously tall hats to declare their culinary supremacy. How do you even walk with that thing on?

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Le Chef's Toque

Besides its distinct whiteness and tallness, another distinctive characteristic of the chef's toque is the number of folds it has: 100. The reasoning behind this is because, according to legendary French chef Marie-Antoine Carême (the man who many credit with being the one to standardize the chef's outfit), there were 100 ways to cook an egg.

At first, this number seemed ridiculous to me. I can maybe think of 10 ways to cook an egg off the top of my head. But after some careful Google searching, I've found a list of tons of ways to prepare an egg:

Boiled, baked, basted, fried, scrambled, poached, shirred, coddled, pickled, made into omelets, frittatas, soufflés, used in quiches, tarts, cake batter, breakfast burritos, mayonnaise, bearnaise and hollandaise, tarts, deviled, Benedict... the list goes on.

Truthfully, no one has ever actually sat down and made a numbered list of every single way to prepare an egg. But basically every culture around the world has their own way of utilizing eggs in their own dishes, often in more ways than one, so there's really no doubt in my mind that the number of ways to reach an egg definitely reaches 100, if not even higher. Eggs are one of the most versatile foods there are, so it's really no wonder they're such an integral part of the main thing that makes a chef actually look like a chef.

Now, with your newfound knowledge of chef outfits and eggs, you're well on your way to becoming the Food Network fanatic that I became over the summer!

Image result for egg smiley face

Written by Jessica A., Homework Assistant and Food Network Lover
Country Roads Magazine
The Daily Meal
Smiley Face Breakfast Mold