Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Santa, The Chimney Expert

Santa, The Chimney Expert
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
“…And laying a finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.”  Does that make Santa an expert on what one can find in a chimney?  He does have plenty of experience.
            Since 1900, the number of homes constructed with chimneys has steadily declined. Will Santa have to change his methods of operation? Will some animals have to change their habitats?
            Before the eleven hundreds, dwellings had fire pits and the smoke traveled to the ceiling and throughout the structure.  Spaces near the top were used for storage and hanging meats, thus taking advantage of the preservation qualities of smoke.
            When early attempts to control the smoke led to the development of the chimney, a second floor could be added to homes.  By the fifteenth and sixteenth century, chimneys were built of brick and found in most homes.
Chimneys are busy places and can be the residence for several types of creatures.  Bats, blue-tailed skinks, squirrels, spiders, raccoons, chimney swifts and other animals take shelter within these structures.  Tales of wildlife coming into a house through the chimney are common.
Found in North Carolina and most eastern states, the gray, cigar-shaped chimney swift was once a crevice dweller, but eventually transferred to the warm environment of the chimney to build its nest.  The small birds spend most of their waking hours flying and catching insects to eat while in flight.  They quickly dive into the water to bathe and come up shaking the water from their bodies.
Many modern chimneys are covered and have narrow flues, which are not suitable for nesting.  The glue-like saliva, which the bird uses to cement its half-saucer nest to brick walls, no longer works. 
In 2012, chimney swifts were added to the watch list because they are in steep decline.  Swifts migrate to South America and spend the winter in Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Brazil.  Although the swift is gone, the nest will remain in the chimney.
 Santa might also encounter a nasty substance called creosote, which is a by-product of incomplete combustion.  Burning fossil fuels such as wood and coal produces water, carbon, and volatile chemicals which condense on chimney surfaces.  All forms of creosote are highly combustible.
Several factors can make the build-up worse.  Restricting air flow by closing fireplace doors, failing to open the damper completely, burning unseasoned wood, and overloading a firebox can all accelerate the build-up.  
This black, oily substance can eventually become a thick deposit which reduces the airflow in the chimney and may cause a chimney fire.  Most of the time, the fire is contained inside the chimney, but if the fire is hot enough, it can ignite materials close to the chimney and cause a house fire.  Homeowners should have their chimneys cleaned regularly by a professional.
Whatever Santa encounters, he always gets the job done with the help of many elves, of course.   

Monday, December 16, 2013

Do you believe in the magic, er, science of Christmas?

Do you believe in the magic, er, science of Christmas?

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Have you ever wondered what was wrong with Rudolph’s nose? Some scientists who have considered the problem proposed that he might have had a severe cold, but others take it a step further.
Reindeer noses actually have an abundance of membranes that warm the air coming into their bodies. Because of the warmth and moisture, parasites and bacteria might have created an infection, which caused the famous red nose. Poor Rudolph!
What about the reindeer antlers? Their names sound male, but real reindeer shed their antlers around Christmas time, so they must have been misrepresented. How shocking!
Although Germans have an abundance of evergreen trees, they invented the first artificial trees by using dyed goose feathers. What a mess that must have been!
The tallest Christmas tree on record was a 222-foot Douglas fir that decorated the Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle, Wash., in 1950. Most Christmas trees grow for 15 years before they are cut.
Another Christmas legend tells that spiders wove a blanket for Baby Jesus, so in Poland, spiders and their webs are used to decorate trees and are considered signs of kindness and wealth.
Evergreens were symbols of eternal life and rebirth, so bringing them in the house during winter was a sign of preservation of life for ancient people. From that belief, grew the Christmas tree tradition. A strong environmentalist, President Teddy Roosevelt would not allow a Christmas tree in the White House.
According to legend, Martin Luther, protestant reformer, was moved by the beauty of stars shinning between branches of a tree. He brought a tree into the house and decorated it with candles to share with his children. Apples were one of the first ornaments to decorate trees.
Because the rooster was thought to be the first animal to announce the birth of Jesus, Bolivians attend the “Mass of the Rooster” on Christmas Eve each year and actually bring roosters to the service.
The name mistletoe comes from the Anglo-Saxon word, which means “little dung twig” because bird droppings are the method of spreading the seeds. Druids thought of the mistletoe plant as sacred because it has berries when other plants seem to die. They believed that it had special powers to cure illnesses and to hold evil at bay.
Aztecs believed that the beautiful poinsettia was a symbol of purity and often used it as medicine to reduce fever. Poinsettias are not poisonous, but holly berries are.
There are several possible explanations for the Christmas Star appearing in the story of Jesus. Some people think it may have been an exploding star or a supernova. Others believe it could have been a planetary alignment of Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, which would have produced a noticeable light. Another possible cause of the light could have been a comet.
Christmas traditions and legends often contain a touch of science, and that makes them more interesting for some believers.
(Source: facts.randomhistory.com/Christmas-facts)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Fair Trade helping the world and the local community

Fair Trade helping the world and the local community
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Here at Port Discover, we take our citizenship seriously in many ways. Through our programs like the annual Earth Day Celebration and our many conservation efforts, we promote efforts to conserve the resources of the earth.
To help support our organization and give the kids an opportunity to take something science related home, we opened a science shop last year at Port Discover. The small area at the center offers a wide variety of science education related products that people can purchase during a visit to Port Discover.
The selection includes such things as stuffed animals, games, books, science experiment kits, seeds and plants.
Recently we added products from the World Fair Trade Organization. If you have purchased coffee from Starbucks and Nestle Corporations, you are probably acquainted with Fair Trade products. The largest producers of Fair Trade coffee which is their largest selling product are Uganda and Tanzania.
The first Fair Trade markets began in the 1940s and 1950s when some religious organizations received craft products for their donations to third world countries. The current Fair Trade movement began in the 1960s with an emphasis on “trade not aid.” A philosophy of helping others to help themselves was the core value of the organization.
Profits from selling the products are used for community projects that improve the lives of everyone, such as, roads and bridges which connect people to each other and the world. The market-based model provides and alternative to dependency on aid from other countries. The communities learn the democratic process concepts of being self-governing and making their own decisions.
The businesses operate fostering the principles of reforestation, water conservation, and environmental education and awareness. They continuously support practices which help their community and the planet. Also, Fair Trade standards require that people have access to health care and education. Participants are taught about wise business practices and sustainability.
Women in these developing nation communities are empowered through their work with Fair Trade. They are guaranteed access to health care, job rights, freedom from harassment, and opportunities for education and leadership roles.
Fair Trade principles include payment of a fair price, restricting child labor, transparency and accountability, non-discrimination, good working conditions, and respect for the environment. Products are made or grown from sustainable natural resources, recycled, and biodegradable materials.
For example, beads from Uganda are made by rolling glossy, colorful paper into a bead shape and then coating them with lacquer. Other meticulously made products in the science shop are crafted from recycled wire from cars, plastic bags, banana leaves, telephone wire, steel drums, and old tires.
Handcrafted paper from India, African paper art dolls, and Mayan weaving are among the products offered from Fair Trade. Products come from all parts of the world including Kenya, South Africa, the Caribbean, and Haiti.
Port Discover strives to help us all understand more about our small planet, and in the process, we hope to support our educational programs.
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