Thursday, September 30, 2010

The History of Fire Making Tools

I attended a lecture last week at the Hi-Desert Nature Museum in Yucca Valley called The Quest for Fire, The History of Fire-Making Tools. Speaker Tom O’Key. Pictures have been uploaded to my Flickr page. Here’s what I gleaned from this nearly two hour long lecture:

-Nothing exists without fire.
-Vesta is the goddess of fire. Vestal virgins maintained fires. They might have used a concave mirror or solar lens to spark fires.
-Touchwood was the first material discovered that could transfer embers, thanks to its soft pulp. The magic mushroom (yes, that’s what he said the name was) also has these properties and was used as tinder. Plant down also used for tinder. Starting that ember in the tiny hearth of these items was critical.
-Then tinder boxes and steel were invented. Flint and steel hit together to make fire. Ember stored in tinder box. Tongs were used to transfer the ember. People discovered pyrite has fire-making capabilities.
-Tools remained standard for millennia. The hand bow and drill was the number one method to make fire and consisted of two parts: the bow and the hearth into which the fire was started. Bow drill was the advanced method of fire-making.
-Concave mirrors were used to get fire from the sun.
-At some point fire pistons were invented, but no one knows the history of this device. It’s believed to have come from the aboriginals.
-Iron doesn’t create sparks. You must use steel.
-Sulfur (brimstone) was discovered to have fire-making abilities.
-A lens was used to light tobacco.
-In the 1800s scientists were called philosophers, not scientists.
-Sulfur match making was the job of the poor because of the work and stench involved in the process. Making matches was poisonous in nature, causing a condition called fozee jaw. Matches were carried in a basket and sold on the street.
-The steel was chained to the wagon in pioneer days so it would be readily accessible.
-Tinderboxes were common on all fireplaces and hearths.
-Fusee matches were in England only.
-Diamond Match Company is biggest in the United States and a long-lived business.
-Spills were rolled wood shavings made with a spill planer and were used to transfer fire.
-Historical fire-making tools are rare finds. Most burned up or were reabsorbed by nature.

It was very interesting to see Mr. O’Key’s collection, quite fascinating how fire-making has progressed over the years. I had been hoping for hands-on demonstration, but that wasn’t part of the lecture. I hope I’ve done his lecture proud, i.e., accurately.

When speaking to another attendee, I learned there is a private foundation for the care of meerkats in the neighboring town. This organization was featured on Animal Planet. I never realized it existed.

:) Caitlyn

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Spear Throwing

I recently attended a Brown Bag lecture at the Hi-Desert Nature Museum on spear throwing. You'll find the pictures on my Flickr page.

The lecture was presented by Paul Campbell. Paul has a fascination with all things old, particularly those relating to the Native Americans in California. Through research and trial and error, he's rebuilt many artifacts California Native Americans used in their daily lives, including the spears and atlatls (spear throwers) demonstrated during the lecture. The best part? After the lecture those of us who were interested in learning to throw spears got hands-on experience!

My photos show how much fun everyone had. I was surprised with how quickly adults and children learned to throw. And throw far! The photos also show many different types of spears (also called darts), atlatls, quivers (one from straw, the other from a coyote pelt).

Here are some miscellaneous facts I gleaned from the lecture (any mistakes are my own):

- You can throw very far with an atlatl. Range depends on where you hold the atlatl.

- Think of your arm as a catapult when throwing.

- Spear tips are fire-hardened. Stones are used to make the point.

- Few ancient spears and atlatls are found because they were made of wood and wood disintegrates.

- Spears were made of wood or cane.

- A "male" atlatl has a spur protrusion. A "female" atlatl has a groove.

- A cane dart (spear) has more momentum than a .357 Magnum.

- A flexible atlatl creates a whip effect and can make a dart sail.

- This Alaskan spear (reddish brown with string around it) is designed so that the point stays in the target. The string keeps the point with the spear, and the spear floats. This makes it easy to retrieve weapon and prey.

- The most common quivers were made of coyote pelt.

Paul Campbell also has two books out:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Mating Life of Bugs

Not all bugs, just some bugs.

I recently went to the Hi-Desert Nature Museum in Yucca Valley, California to listen to a lecture on archaeological discoveries. I arrived to learn the speaker had taken ill and that lecture was postponed. The substitute lecture was on the sex life of bugs. It was fascinating!

Here are a few of the tidbits I picked up. I hope I don't get anything wrong.

Female aphids give birth to females as soon as they're born, and those females give birth to females as soon as they are born. Males are born in the fall. Ants are friends of aphids. They treat them as cattle, herding them and caring for them, because the aphids secrete "honey dew" which the ants love. This is also the aphid's urine. Ladybugs (whose real name is lady bird beetle) are the aphid's enemy. The larva of ladybugs love to much on aphids.

Males are drawn to a female by the pheromones the female gives out. After the male mates he goes on to mate again. The female mates once and dies.

Wasps are the cicada's enemy. Wasps are carnivores. Bees are vegetarian.

Damsel fly:
Male has what looks like a spiky ball on the end of his penis. He uses this to remove any previous sperm in the female before he mates with her.

Dung beetle:
Both make the dung balls for their young. Very devoted parents, especially the female. She would rather eat her young than leave them.

Praying mantis:
They eat everything smaller than they are, which is why the male must approach the female very cautiously. Once he makes contact the female bites his head off. This must happen in order for the male to ejaculate.

Honey bee:
A good queen lasts about a year. Life span of a worker is six weeks. Drones come from fertilized eggs. Workers come from unfertilized eggs. A normal hive sleeps during winter. The drones are kicked out of the hive at this time. When it's time for a new queen, a female is hatched and swarms with the drones (also hatched since all the others died). How many times she mates with drones will determine her worth as queen. If she doesn't measure up she is killed and a new queen is hatched. Queen's only job is to lay eggs. Swarms aren't aggressive. They are focused on mating with the potential queen.

Two flies plus two piles of manure equal 8,000 files. Maggots are used to clean out wounds since they eat decaying flesh.

Blister beetle:
They don't blister when they are eaten. They blister inside the body. Larva jump on bee when one lands nearby.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Las Vegas, Nevada

I’ll get to our trip to Las Vegas in a bit. First I wanted to mention the place we stopped at around the halfway point in our drive—Kelso, California. Kelso was one of the many railroad towns that cropped up during the heyday of the railroad. As freeways took over Kelso fell into decline. Over the years we’ve watched those townspeople who remain slowly renovate the area. Their first task was the depot, which eventually became the home for their museum. Then they added restroom facilities for travelers. (When you’re traveling across the desert you have no idea how welcome these facilities are.) Kelso is also the Mojave National Preserve’s principal information center. Nearby the Kelso sand dunes tower over the desert. Further on you can explore Hole In The Wall, Mitchell Caverns, volcanic cinder cones, and a beautiful forest of Joshua Trees. It’s absolutely beautiful here in springtime when the wildflowers are blooming. We had a nice lunch at The Beanery (hearty sandwiches and great ice tea) and I’d recommend it to anyone passing through and needing a short respite from the long drive to Las Vegas or from a day exploring the area.

Click here for pictures of Kelso Depot.

Click on the names if you’d like more information about Kelso Depot or the Mojave National Preserve.

Now for Las Vegas…

What a difference two years have made. That was the last time we were in Vegas (to the best of our recollection). We always stay at the Golden Nugget on Fremont Street. We prefer Fremont Street to The Strip because for us it always has a “party” type atmosphere at The Fremont Street Experience. You also don’t have to deal with people trying to stuff fliers and “coupons” in your hands. Because of our stays at this hotel, we always get deals in the mail. We couldn’t refuse the most recent deal. We both needed to get away before the fall rush around here and the offer came at the perfect time. We were able to get a Junior Corner Suite in Golden Nugget’s new Rush Tower at a greatly (and I mean greatly) reduced price. The rack rate for the room (according to the price list on the back of the door) is $1000 a night. We got it for $99 a night and I think we are officially spoiled for the Rush Tower now. It was quiet and the registration desk is away from the casino with very easy access to the parking garage. The entire tower is nonsmoking. The room was comfortable and spacious. Upon returning home I received an email from Golden Nugget thanking us for our stay and offering a complimentary room upgrade should we decide to return again this August or December. I saved the email even though it’s doubtful we’ll return again this year.

I took the liberty of taking pictures of the Junior Corner Suite. You’ll also notice several pictures of Fremont Street during the day and at night, as well as other miscellaneous shots of Las Vegas. (The link is at the end.) Vegas truly does come to life at night. It’s the lights that make it feel like magic. We arrived on Thursday and wandered along Fremont Street. Friday night it was packed. More vendors, more tourists, more street performers, more excitement. This year (summer 2010) the Fremont Street Experience is celebrating the 70s and we heard 70s era music in the casinos and on the street. And, of course, you get the big overhead screen putting on a show for you as well—more 70s music. A lot of fun.

What wasn’t fun was discovering how the cost of meals has skyrocketed in the last two years. It used to be that food was the cheapest thing you could get in Vegas. Not anymore. The breakfast buffet at the Golden Nugget now costs $9.99. On weekends it becomes brunch and costs $17.99. Dinner is $20.99. Yes, it’s all you can eat, but it’s quite a change from being $5.99 for breakfast and $9.99 for dinner, and brunch used to be a Sunday only thing.

The other change was—no coin machines. (They are few and far between.) I’d arrived armed with a bag of quarters only to discover there were no machines to take them. Plus the cashiers didn’t have counting machines to exchange coins for paper. I had to go to another casino down the street—the only one with a counting machine. All the slot machines now take paper money in and dispense vouchers to cash out. You take your voucher to the cash redemption machine and get your money. I don’t know how they handle jackpot winners, since I say nary a one while we were there (which is also strange now that I think about it). You’ll also find an explosion of penny machines everywhere. Caution: be careful or you’ll find yourself betting over a dollar on these machines. In case you were wondering, there were no big winners for us this particular weekend, not that there ever is but just for the record.

We also try to get out beyond the casino when we in Vegas. This trip we decided to go to the Atomic Testing Museum. We trekked out, me armed with my camera, only to discover the museum had a no photography rule. The museum was interesting at first, then became repetitive and boring with the same thing over and over again. Plus, numerous audiovisual displays side by side made it very difficult to hear what was being said. I don’t think I recommend this museum. I did, however, have another visitor tell me the Liberace Museum was great and worth the cost of admission. Perhaps next time.

Click this link for all my Vegas photos.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

ComicCon 2010 - San Diego, CA

ComicCon 2010

OMG! As prepared as we thought we were to attend our first ComicCon event, we weren’t prepared at all for the sheer magnitude of the conference. The best advice I can give anyone wanting to attend ComicCon is to make sure you plan to go for more than one day. If possible, plan to attend the entire conference. This will also allow you to thoroughly peruse the nearly 200-page Events Guide. Failing that, you need to make sure you check out everything on the conference website the day before you’re scheduled to attend.

Before I go any further, here’s the link on Flickr for the pictures we took.

And for those of you who don’t have a clue what ComicCon is, here’s the link to that site. This is a conference that focuses on the science fiction/fantasy/paranormal genre in the entertainment industry (comic books, movies, TV shows, books, art). To say it is a big conference means little until you actually see it with your own eyes. The conference literally takes over San Diego during its run.

Here are some tips for those tempted to attend:
- Wear comfortable shoes. You will be on your feet nonstop all day.
- Take water (although there are plenty of places within the exhibit area that sell drinks and snacks).
- Make sure you have an extra large tote bag. The huge bags the conference passed out broke within an hour. They weren’t designed to handle more than five pounds, despite the fact these bags were at least four feet deep and two feet wide.
- Plan your attack in advance and make sure everyone in your party is aware of your agenda. If you’re separated, make sure you’ve got a place to meet up.
- Take a tube for posters.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…

We took our time going to all the exhibit booths and not only got freebies, but also managed to have some very interesting conversations with the vendors. There seemed to be a lot of steampunkers there. Several roamed the conference and were ready at the blink of an eye to put on little shows for you.

Many costumes were abundant throughout the conference and it was difficult to tell who were dressed for the heck of it and who was working. I suspect those who shifted into “posing” mode at the sight of camera were the pros, and they did their job very well as you can see from the photos.

We attended on Friday – Star Wars Day – and weren’t disappointed in the multitude of Star Wars items displayed. A diorama of the Hoth Planet occupied my husband for a while. He photographed every inch of it. Ditto with the display of light sabers “through the ages.”

The only celebrity I met was R2D2. There were so many things to pack into one day that I really didn’t want to spend my time waiting in line for autographs or the scheduled events in the meeting rooms (and those lines were long). And remember that tip about comfortable shoes? Well, the ones I thought would work (the ones that have never failed me) gave out on me. And, silly me, I’d forgotten I had a different pair in the van. Oh well…live and learn.

One caution regarding children... Sometimes you can find yourself in questionable content areas. The kids might not even notice since there's so much to see. It's also very crowded (Sat being the busiest day). But Sun is Kids' Day. Still crowded but geared toward the children.

We took all the goodies we got and split them into different bags (we received several different small tote bags). After taking what we’d gotten for ourselves, the remainder was divided to give to our two young grandsons and our oldest son (their dad). There wasn’t one toy in any of it, but when those three got those bags, you would have thought they’d gotten gold. It looked like Christmas in our house with stuff scattered all over the living room.

I’m already planning for next year, if we decide to go again. I’m dissecting this year’s guide so I have my game plan ready. Maybe we’ll even be able to get the whole family there. It’d be fun to watch the excitement on the faces of grandsons and son as they experience it firsthand.

Where We Stayed In San Diego:

Hotels sell out fast in the downtown area near the Convention Center. When I say fast I mean they sell out by February. We were fortunate to find a Holiday Inn Express on the northeast end of Mission Bay that was less than fifteen miles from the Convention Center. Our accommodations were nice and the staff very courteous and helpful. Holiday Inn offers free breakfast as well – coffee, tea, juice, milk, cereal, fruit, pastry, eggs/omelets, and bacon/sausage. They served a French roast coffee I really enjoyed.

Despite the free breakfast (fresh coffee was definitely appreciated) we wanted to make sure we really fueled up for the day. We knew a hearty breakfast would see us through until dinner. We found a really good restaurant on Garnet Street called The Broken Yolk. They serve huge breakfasts at reasonable prices. They are only opened for breakfast and lunch. For dinner we splurged at World Famous on Pacific Beach Blvd. This seafood restaurant was right on the beach. We had a window seat to the Pacific Ocean where we watched dolphins dip through the water right behind a line of surfers. Dinner was a little pricey, but it was sooooo worth it! Valet parking – save yourself the hassle and let them find a place to park your vehicle.

I’ll end with saying that San Diego has always been one of my favorite cities. Having ComicCon there just gives me another reason to visit.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Desert Tortoises

Early in February I attended a lecture at the Hi-Desert Nature Museum on the desert tortoise. Having experienced them firsthand I do know quite a bit about them, but I’m always willing to learn more. Therefore, you can imagine my delight when I actually did discover things I didn’t know before.

You'll find a nice article on the desert tortoise here.

Other interesting facts:
-Males are bigger than females in maturity, they have a gular horn under their chins, longer tails, and a concave under-shell. (I knew all that except the longer tail.)
-You cannot tell the age of a tortoise by counting the rings on its shell.
-They are on the threatened species list.
-Burrow temperature determines the sex of the babies.
-The range for one tortoise is 2.5 acres.
-It’s illegal to even take old tortoise shells you find.
-During a drought they can reabsorb nutrients from their shell.
-Younger tortoises will eat scat for nutrients.
-Brumation in a reptilian term that is similar to hibernation.
-Native Americans invented a tortoise hook they used to pull tortoise from the burrow. Tortoises were used for food and tools. NOTE: This is now illegal.

For information on the lecture series at the Hi-Desert Nature Museum, go here.