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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Soil Erosion

The landslide on Highway 17 last rainy season. Source: NBC Bay Area

Soil erosion occurs when soil is exposed to the elements, which can lead to runoff, dust storms, and landslides.  This is exacerbated by human activities, such the removal of vegetation whose roots hold soil in place, or the conversion of grassland into cropland.

Image result for the dust bowl
The Dust Bowl.  Source: How Stuff Works
 The most famous case of soil erosion in the United States is perhaps the Dust Bowl, which lasted in the American Midwest in the 1930s, during the Great Depression.  A prolonged summer drought had caused the exposed topsoil of farms to dry up.  When unusually strong winds swept the country, they picked up the layer of fine dust and carried it all over the country in ominous black clouds.  Those who experienced the Dust Bowl recall that they could put their hand right in front of their face, and not be able to see it through the dust.  These storm events continued throughout the decade, leaving the already struggling farms devastated.

Image result for beijing dust storm
A Beijing dust storm. Source: Azertac

In Beijing, wintertime means sandstorms.  Strong winds bring soil from the badly deforested forests to the east, causing unhealthy fogs of dust to envelop northern China.  In an effort to mitigate these events, the Chinese government had poplar trees planted where the original forests had stood, but the forests are not ecologically complex enough to replace the old forests and winter dust storms still frequent Beijing.

Rescue workers wade through mud following the mudslides in Montecito. Source: LA Times
In California, the first big rainstorm of the season has left tragedy in its wake.  The previous months have brought record-breaking fires to Napa Valley and much of Southern California, killing vegetation and leaving the soil bare.  When heavy rain began on Monday, January 8th, areas in Southern California already devastated by fire were hit by flooding, followed by massive mudslides.  Houses were pulled from their foundations and carried miles away by the mud.  For people who had just survived a fire, the mudslide was a double blow.  Montecito County was hit especially hard, with numerous casualties and hundreds of houses damaged or destroyed.

As rain continues, other areas of California that had experienced fires are also under threat of a mudslide.

Written by Coral C., Homework Assistant

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Chickens for Your Backyard

Source: William Dark Photography

When I was in elementary school, I went through a dog phase.  Then a cat phase.  And after that, a guinea pig phase.  By sixth grade, I was pretty much willing to raise anything.  (This included a caterpillar, who I loved and cherished until it ran away an hour later.)  Unfortunately, my parents were strongly anti-nonhuman mammal, and I had a special knack for killing off fish; thus, I remained pet-less.

But then one day, my dad brought home a box of baby chicks.

So why chickens?  In my case, they were the perfect compromise for my cat-hating parents: they're low-maintenance and strictly outdoors; plus, they lay delicious eggs.  They provide a certain amount of emotional attachment, but not too much attachment.  With a bit of yard space, almost anybody could raise a flock of hens.

If you do decide to give chickens a go, here's how to get started:

I recommend starting with baby chicks, mostly because they're cute.  You can get them by ordering online and getting them mailed (weird, right?), or by visiting a feed store.  Make sure you get females, since owning roosters is illegal around here.  Around here, Half Moon Bay is probably the closest source of chicks.  You'll need to raise them in a box indoors for around eight weeks (here's a guide).  These weeks are crucial for bonding with your chicks; make sure you're cuddling them lots!

Source: Appletons

Once your chickens are older, you'll want to move them to a chicken coop.  At this point, you can either choose to keep your chickens in an enclosed space, called a run, or let them free range throughout your yard, but beware: they'll probably do significant damage to some of your plants.  They'll start laying eggs at around 5 months of age.  Chickens typically live for 5 to 8 years.

Chickens are easy to care for, entertaining, and provide fresh eggs for your fridge.  I highly suggest you consider getting a couple!

Post by Coral C., HW Assistant

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Year in Review: Iconic Memes of 2017

As 2017 ends, another great year for memes ends. Memes are any photo or video that is shared widely on the internet. The best memes are general enough to have variations but specific enough that they can convey a nuanced humor. Last year, 2016 gave us Dat Boi, the Arthur Fist, and Salt Bae;  2017 has been yet another epic year for memes. Here's a salute to some of the most iconic memes of this year.

5) Roll Safe 

The Roll Safe meme is a screenshot of actor Kayode Ewumi, with one finger on his temple. Generally, they refer to a very poor decision made, but a very clever play on words. It is the best-worst source of advice possible.
4) Meryl Streep Singing

Actress Meryl Streep provided the perfect expression for all us singing our favorite tunes when she shouted something during an awards ceremony in 2015. This meme is structured as a duet, with the lyrics of popular songs sung by the recording artist and Meryl Streep. Sometimes it features misheard or made-up lyrics.

3) Mocking Spongebob

This screencap from the TV show Spongebob Squarepants is used to indicate mockery. It usually is accompanied by some sort of text, in an assortment of capitals and lowercase. Spongebob memes are quite common - last year, for example, Spongegar and the Blurry Mr. Krabs memes were both popular.

2) Math Lady 

The Math Lady or Confused Lady expresses general confusion in a series of four screenshots from the original gif. In 2016, it only showed the actress Renata Sorrah - in 2017, it was revamped with the addition of a few mathematical symbols and equations. 

1) Distracted Boyfriend

This stock photo was named "Disloyal Man Walking With His Girlfriend and Looking Amazed at Another Girl". It's actually a series of photos shot by photographer Antonion Guillem and tells a story of these three characters. Even in comparison to other memes, it is especially meta. The Distracted Boyfriend meme often represents two conflicting desires.

What was your favorite meme of 2017?

Post by Swathi P., Homework Assistant

Monday, December 11, 2017

Yummy Snow

Have you ever wanted to eat snow but realized that snow isn’t actually edible? No fear! Shaved snow is just what you need to satisfy your snowy appetite! Shaved snow melts instantly in your mouth, just like real snow. Unlike real snow, however, shaved snow tastes just like ice cream!

Shaved snow comes in a couple cool flavors, such as mango, green tea, or strawberry! Drizzled on top of the beautiful snow is a sauce of your choice, which can be condensed milk, strawberry syrup, chocolate syrup, or any other tasty combination. To top it off, you can add boba, popping boba, lychee, red bean, or even grass jelly. Any boba enthusiasts out there? Check out shaved snow – it’s like boba milk tea, but instead of milk and tea, it has snow instead.

How is shaved snow made? Looking at the big picture, shaved snow is made up of ultra-thin layers of flavored ice stacked on top of each other. To start, you mix milk and water, and add the flavoring. It is then put in a freezing machine which freezes the snow into a huge ice cube. The ice cube is put into an ice shaver that shaves it up into small thin layers. To finish, these layers are stacked together, drizzled with sauce, and speckled with toppings.

What do you think about shaved snow? If you like ice cream or boba, you should try it out sometime! Leave your thoughts on this wonderful dessert in the comments below.

Post Written by Howard W., Homework Assistant


Thursday, December 7, 2017

California Fires: The Deadliest Yet

We all felt it in October. The smell of smoke spread all over the bay area.  People were wearing masks to school and staying indoors to get away from the polluted air. From our perspective in Mountain View, it almost seemed like the disaster had been local, hence the large amounts of smoke in our area. In reality, the disaster is far greater than that. The smoke came from wildfires all the way up to Sonoma and Napa County.

The wildfires have destroyed over 217,000 acres of land, burning down homes and forcing people out of the area. People have called the wildfires one of the most devastating disasters in California for a long time. Forests and communities have been destroyed. So how did this come to happen, and how can we prevent it?

The cause of the massive wildfires is a combination of a wet spring allowing plants to grow, then an extremely dry summer wilting the plants. The conditions were perfect for a fire to spread rapidly across California. Also, there happened to be very powerful winds, some almost reaching 50mph, that helped the fire spread even faster. The dry vegetation and the powerful winds were key reasons for the wildfire to start.

The exact cause of the event is unknown. Some believe the PG&E’s electrical wires supplying power to homes in the area may have been damaged, igniting fires in the area. Under state law, power lines are required to withstand up to 56mph winds, yet in areas where the fires started, winds did not reach that speed. PG&E has faced many allegations in the past for its faulty equipment, causing many to consider PG&E as a possible cause of these wildfires.

Post Written by: Howard W., Homework Assistant


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How Scientists Study Fish and Depression

In attempting to understand the world, scientists often turn to animals like rats to study and conduct experiments on. To study depression, researchers have analyzed the behaviors of an unlikely candidate: fish.

One in six people has experienced depression. Despite this, conducting experiments to better understand and treat depression only recently became common.

Other animal models, like rats, have been used in the past to study depression. But these animals are also complex organisms that may act one way even though they feel another because of external factors, the same way humans do. Fish are more likely to act the way they feel.

Although the neurochemistry of fish is actually quite similar to that of humans, there are still limitations to studying fish. Most clearly, a scientist cannot ask a fish about how it feels. But researchers can still consider other methods to understand symptoms better.

Through the "novel tank test", scientists can consider whether a fish is depressed, the severity of its depression, and the effects of any antidepressant. Fish have the natural inclination to explore a new environment. If a fish is placed in a new tank, and it goes against its natural tendency by staying at the bottom half of the tank for more than five minutes, then it is depressed. Fish can be studied before and after an antidepressant is administered as well.The severity of the depression can be determined based on how long the fish spends at the bottom.

By monitoring levels of substances like serotonin and dopamine, researchers can better understand depression and prospective treatments.

Post by Swathi P., Homework Assistant

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Watching TV: From New York to LA

Image result for watching tvLocation can have a huge impact on a person's perspective. Living in the mountain tops of Mongolia would be a very different experience than living in a studio apartment in London, for example. But even just within the United States, there is a great diversity of experiences that are shaped by location. These subcultures pervade into many areas of life. One of these small but pivotal differences is in TV shows.

For example, in this infographic, we can compare the viewing of Modern Family, a popular series that follows the life of a humorous family. The areas that give Modern Family more love in a darker pink, while areas that prefer other TV shows is a light pink-white. The Bay Area is one of the areas that shows a darker hue, and therefore a place where Modern Family is more popular.

As someone who grew up on Spongebob, it's odd to think that simply growing up another part of the United States would have perhaps subtly influenced me into watching another cartoon. The cause for this difference is the prevalence of different kinds of people spread across the US. Urban and metropolitan areas have distinctly different tastes than rural.

What are your favorite shows? Are they characteristic of this area?

The prevalence of other TV shows:

Post by Swathi P., Homework Assistant