Summer in Tomah

It’s been a busy but beautiful summer for the Scheckels in Tomah, Wisconsin. Ann and I have been doing two-a-week science presentations in Wilton, Gays Mills, Tomah, Warrens, Mauston, and environs. Many of these are part of summer library reading programs. We use a lot of volunteers from the audience and it very rewarding to see many kids excited about being a part of a science demonstration. Yes, or program is fast moving and entertaining, but we take time to explain the science principals involved. We try to express how these science activities are involved in their everyday life.
We also enjoy riding bicycle in the hill country of southern Monroe County. A group of us bike on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning to breakfast in one of several pancake nooks, such as Camp Douglas, Sparta, Wilton, Clifton, or Oakdale. Plentiful rains have ensured a lust, green countryside. The corn and soybean crops look good. Second crop hay is being baled or chopped. The roadside chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace greet us at every turn. The views from the top of the Ridge, along Highway A, are spectacular.
I have been a part of a flying club here in Tomah for many years and enjoy flying the Cessna 150 over the verdant quilt work of fields, forests, and farms. But something new; I’ve taken up learning to fly a radio controlled plane and let me tell you, it is not easy. There is an active RC club in Sparta and I have been taking a few lessons. I did successfully fly a Tower Hobby 60 inch wing trainer successfully for a few flights. But disaster struck when I flew it into the rising Sun in the east and lost track of it. The repair job is coming along nicely!
Ann and I were very happy to help Dick and Sandy celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary which is in September. Every year the Bishop in La Crosse has a Mass and dinner for all the couples in the Diocese who have their 50th in the calendar year. The commemoration was last Sunday at the Diocesan Center in south La Crosse.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On the road

Gays Mills 7 8 14 Wilton Library  7  7  14Ann and I have been on the road the past two days, doing science demonstrations to kids as part of their summer reading program. On Monday, it was down to Wilton where the librarian, Gina Rae hired us to do a one hour general demonstration program. So we did some great demonstrations on Bernoulli’s Principal, the science tenet that explains the lift of a wing on an aircraft, how a carburetor works, and a curve ball. We continued with sound and waves demonstrations, laws of vibrating strings, how sound is produced, and how organ pipes work. About 35 kids, had great time, very receptive audience.
On Tuesday, the Gays Mills library had Ann and I do an hour program around the theme of sound and waves. Pitch and frequency, waves, talk on a laser beam, singing rod. Highlight was having the 30 students play two songs using palm pipes.
We will be going down to Gays Mills for the next 3 Tuesdays, a different science theme each week. Next week is flight, aerospace, and rocketry.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Why is asbestos bad for a person?
Asbestos is a generic term for a group of natural occurring minerals that have been mined and used in construction, industry, and the military since the 1880’s. The big advantage to using asbestos is its resistance to heat and combustion. Asbestos has superb insulating and sound-proofing properties in addition to being quite cheap.
The biggest producers of asbestos are Russia, China, Brazil, and Canada. Asbestos is still used in many developing countries.
Asbestos has been widely used in building materials and pipe insulation, brake linings, floor tile, shingles, fireman’s clothing, mats, fiber cement, and fire-resistant bricks.
There are different types of asbestos, the most common being white asbestos (Chrysotile) found in cement products, insulation, and auto and truck brake linings. White asbestos is also resistant to salt water, hence its popularity in ship construction.
Asbestos fibers are extremely small, about one-fifth the diameter of a human hair. The fibers can easily become airborne and inhaled into the lungs, where they remain permanently.
The medical damage can be severe. Asbestosis is scarring of the lungs and restricts one’s ability to inhale. Breathing becomes more and more difficult, until the lungs become useless. Mesothelioma is cancer of the lung lining. This is the disease we hear about on television ads.
People who get asbestosis and mesothelioma generally have been exposed to the material for long periods of time and high concentrations. Shipbuilders and certain factory workers fall into this category. The symptoms may not appear until 20 to 30 years after the first exposures. No safe limit has ever been determined. The longer the period of exposure, the greater the risk.
Thousands of tons of asbestos were use in WWII ships to wrap pipes, line boilers, and cover engines. There were 4.3 million shipyard workers in the United States in World War II. Estimates are that for every thousand workers, about 14 died of mesothelioma. An unknown number died from asbestosis.
Not only can asbestos exposure cause a wide variety of cancers, but also plaques, loss of lung function, heart enlargement, and breathlessness. The combination of smoking and exposure to asbestos greatly increases the risk of developing lung cancer.
Friability is a word you’ll hear when asbestos removal is being discussed. Friability is the ability of a solid material to be reduced to smaller pieces with very little effort. Asbestos may be friable if small particle are easily dislodged, enabling them to become small enough to become airborne, and to be inhaled into the lungs.
Most all products manufactured today do not contain asbestos. Asbestos was phased out of building products the1970’s an 1980’s. Fiberglass, mineral wool, and glass wool have replaced asbestos for insulation. Some product incorporate organic fibers and wood fibers. Stone fibers are used in gaskets and friction materials. Aramid is a synthetic product widely used in brake linings and is similar to Nomex, which is used in bulletproof vests.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Misquito bites


Why do mosquito bites itch?


            It’s not the bite that itches, but our body’s reaction. The mosquito uses her piercing needle proboscis to penetrate the outer layer of skin. I use “she”, because only female mosquitoes bite. (no sexist jokes please).

            Once the straw-like proboscis gets down through the epidermis, the mosquito searches for a blood vessel in the dermis layer underneath. She secretes a bit of saliva that contains an anti-coagulant that keeps the blood flowing smoothly. She does not want her “soda straw” to clog up. When the blood sucker (no IRS jokes please) is finished with her meal, she flies happily away but leaves behind that saliva.

            Our marvelous immune system senses an invader and produces a histamine to combat the foreign intruder. The histamine gets to the site of the attack and causes the blood vessels to swell. That’s the source of the reddish bump (wheal).

            When the blood vessels expand, nearby nerves are irritated. That irritation is the source of the itching. This entire process takes time, so a person may not realize they’ve been bitten for an hour or two.

            That itching can turn out to be a good thing. It tells us that we have been bitten. Mosquitoes carry some really bad stuff. In the United States it is encephalitis and the  West Nile Virus. In more tropical climates, malaria is the big concern. The itch may be a clue to a potential cause if a person comes down with one of those maladies.

            Some people develop an immunity to mosquito bites and are not affected. On the other end of the spectrum are those that develop swelling of limbs. Benadryl, an antihistamine, is useful, as is Calamine lotion. Ice packs provide relief, same with  aloe, a cream used in many sunburn remedies. 

            Mosquitoes are most active at sunrise and sunset when the air is most calm. Those flying syringes are lightweight creatures and can’t operate when it is windy.

            One of huge obstacles to building the Panama Canal at the beginning of the 1900s was the prevalence of yellow fever and malaria in that tropical climate. The French had lost 22,000 workers in their attempt to build the Canal decades before.

            Colonel William Crawford Gorgas was appointed to solve the problem. Mosquitoes lay their eggs on the surface of standing water. When the larvae hatch, they live just below the water’s surface, breathing through a siphon in their tails. Eliminate the standing water and you eliminate the mosquito. That is just what Colonel Gorgas’s crews did; draining swamps, filling some wetlands, spraying standing pools, fumigating residences, quarantining infected individuals, and providing screened verandas as sleeping quarters. 

            By 1906, one year after the start of the eradication program, only one case of yellow fever was reported and when the construction was finished and the Panama Canal opened, in 1914, there were none.           

Email questions and comments to:




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How do air bags activate?

How do airbags activate?
Airbag deployment has saved thousands of lives and allowed people to survive a crash that otherwise might have resulted in serious injury or death.
An airbag is a stretchable fabric that can be tightly packed into various locations in a vehicle and can be deployed in milliseconds by filling the bag with a gas to help cushion the driver and passengers.
The most important part of the airbag is the crash sensor. A motorist wants the airbag to deploy in a crash, but not when he bumps into a car ahead while texting during a traffic jam!
The crash sensor responds to different inputs, the most important being a sudden stop, Other sensors measure wheel speed, seat occupant status, and brake pressure. Some sensors can activate seat belt locks and automatic door locks, in addition to airbag deployment.
There are two basic airbag sensors; electrical and mechanical. One common sensor is termed a “ball and tube”, in which a ball is held by a small magnet. When a collision occurs, the ball is dislodged from the magnet, rolls forward in the tube, and hits a switch that activates the airbag.
Another popular and modern airbag sensor is the MEMS accelerometer, a small integrated circuit with internal micro mechanical elements. The mechanical element moves with a rapid stop, causing a change in capacitance which is detected by the electronics on the chip. The chip activates the airbag. Most autos have some sensors inside the car, and some on the outside.
Once a sensor detects an actual crash, the next step is bag inflation. And it has to be fast, so fast that the driver’s head doesn’t smash into the steering wheel. The bag must be inflated with nitrogen gas within 55 milliseconds. A millisecond is one-thousandths of a second.
The decision to deploy an airbag in a frontal crash is made within 15 to 30 milliseconds of the start of the crash. Airbags are fully inflated within 75 milliseconds. The bag has to deploy at a speed of about 200 mph. If the deployment is too slow, the passengers risk injury from the airbag moving toward the passenger at the same time the passenger is moving toward the airbag.
Some manufacturers use an igniter pin that is driven into a sodium azide packet that produces the gas used to inflate the airbag. Then the bag has to deflate on its own once deployed. The gas escapes out tiny vent holes.
The automobile people say the airbag can hurt a person if they are out of position. That’s why they preach that seatbelts must be worn if airbags are to be effective. Airbags are placed in the steering wheel for the driver and dashboard for the front passenger. That dashboard airbag on the passenger side is larger and more expensive than the driver’s airbag, simply because it is bigger. Side doors hide airbags. Modern cars can wrap a person in a cocoon of airbags.
Deployed airbags have been known to kill kids in the front seat. Most states have rules for kids in the front seat. Those laws are based on age and weight.
Airbags have been used by spacecraft landing on Mars, the F-111 fighter/bomber, and the Army’s Blackhawk and Kiowa Warrior helicopter.
Mecedes-Benz was the first production car to install airbags. They started in 1980. A poignant milestone occurred in April, 1990. Two cars, both Chrysler LeBarons, both equipped with airbags, collided head-on at Culpeper, Virginia. The estimated combined speed was 70 mph. One car strayed over the centerline initiating the crash. One driver had a cut on his elbow and a bruised knee. The other driver had a bloody nose and minor bruises. Both walked away. The press headlined the accident as “dueling airbags”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


How does lightning form?
Lightning; one of nature’s most awesome, beautiful, and deadliest phenomena. Lightning is an electric current caused by a static discharge. In a thunderstorm, raindrops and frozen bits of water make contact and rub against each other and soon the clouds are filled with electric charges. It’s very similar to a person shuffling across the room in bare feet and touching a metal door knob. A tiny lightning bolt jumps from hand to door knob.
Negative charges form at the bottom of clouds and positive charges accumulate at the top of clouds. Like charges repel each other. Negative and negative charges repel. Positive and positive charges repel.
The ground beneath a cloud will become positively charged because the negative charges in the ground under the cloud are driven away or repelled by the negatively charged cloud. The term for this event is called “charging by induction”.
Now we have “negative” cloud sitting above a “positive” ground. Unlike charges attract.
Charge concentrates or builds up on anything that is sticking up, such as a tree, mountain, fishing pole, or person.
A tiny leader charge goes up from these sharpened points, and a huge charge comes down from the cloud and that is the bright lightning flash that we see. The average lightning bolt carries 30,000 amperes of current. In comparison, a typical toaster uses 10 amps. The air is heated to over 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The color varies from clear white to yellow orange.
Thunder is not the angels in heaven clapping and applauding, as our Mother told us kids. Thunder is the shock wave created by heating the air. The light flash we see travels at the speed of light, or 186,000 miles a second, almost instantaneously. The sound from lightning, or thunder, moves 1,100 feet a second. Light moves about a million times faster than sound. It takes sound five seconds to travel a mile. You want to know how far away the lightning is from you? Count the time between flash and thunder and divide by five to get the distance in miles.
Thunder is often heard as a rolling, slowly dissipating rumble. The sound from various portions of the long stroke reach the ear at slightly different times.
Cloud to cloud lightning is of little concern. Although a few planes have been disabled by lightning and crashed, modern aircraft are equipped with static discharge wicks that drain the charge and prevent radio interference and also drain the charge. Aircraft are frequently struck by lightning with no ill effects. Charges reside on the outside of a conductor and airplanes are very good conductors.
Obviously it is the cloud to ground lightning that is the most dangerous. Cattle under trees are killed, forest fires are started, and buildings are damaged.
In the summertime, we often see lightning on the horizon, but we not hear the thunder. We kids on the farm called it heat lightning or sheet lightning. It really is lightning from a distant thunderstorm that can be as much as 100 miles away. The lightning, aided by the refraction or bending or light in the atmosphere, can be seen from a great distance. But the thunder from that lightning travels 10 or 15 miles, at best.
Periodically we would see a tree that had been struck by lightning. The lighting strike heats the sap in the tree to steam, and the resulting explosion bursts parts of the tree into many splinters. Well, isn’t there some little sap in every family tree?
Lightning kills about 30 people every year in the United States. Most of the deaths are caused by people doing outdoor recreational activities such as fishing, camping, and playing golf. One of the safest places to be is inside a metal car or inside your house, away from the window.
Lightning is not strictly an Earth event. Lightning has been observed on Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Walk around the World

How long would it take for someone to walk around the world?
It is close to 25,000 miles (circumference) around the Earth. The average walking speed for most people is about 3 miles per hour. So we’re looking at 8,300 hours of walking. Let’s figure a 10 hour walking day. That puts us at 830 days of walking, or about 2.7 years.
Such a feat (no pun intended) would require about 50 million steps, many pairs of shoes, good health, determination, and stamina. It would be an epic demonstration of human endurance and courage.
But a walk around plant Earth is complicated. There is no path entirely on land that would permit a 25,000 mile continuous trek. One would have to take a boat or plane for a substantial part of the trip.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the first verified walk around the Earth was made by Dave Kunst. It took four years, 21 million steps and 22 pairs of leather shoes for Kunst to complete his record-making 14,450-mile walk in 1974. His brother John accompanied him, but he was killed by bandits in Afghanistan. Dave Kunst completed the journey with another brother, Pete.
Kunst and his brothers hiked across Europe, North America, Asia, the Middle East, and back to Europe.
The Guinness Book of Records lists Steve Newman as the first do walk around the world solo. It took Newman four years to cross 20 countries for a distance of 15,000 miles.
Jean Beliveau, a neon sign salesman from Quebec Canada, started his walk in 1998 at age 45. He hiked 45,000 miles through 64 countries in 11 years.
George Meegan holds the record for the longest unbroken walk. From 1977 to 1983, he walked 19,000 miles from Tierra Del Fuego, the southern tip of South America to the northernmost part of Alaska. Meegan covered the entire Western Hemisphere and the most degrees in latitude ever on foot.
There are ways of getting around the Earth besides walking. Some notable circumnavigations would include the Magellan-Elcano voyage. Magellan set out from Seville, Spain in 1519 with 5 ships and 270 men. One ship, the Victoria, with 18 men returned 3 years later. Four ships were destroyed or lost and Magellan himself was killed by hostiles in the Philippines.
The first airplane circumnavigation was carried out by the United States Army Air Service in 1924. The team of fliers took 175 days to go 27,340 miles. Four Douglas built aircraft were used and three finished the journey.
One of the most remarkable trips around the globe was the nine day 1986 non-stop, and non-refueled flight by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. Their composite (fiberglass, carbon fiber, Kevlar) aircraft, Voyager, had 17 fuel tanks. Their Voyager aircraft can be seen at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. A replica is on display at the Experimental Aircraft Association Museum at OshKosh, Wisconsin.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment