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Friday, January 20, 2017

How much force does it take to break a bone?

We couldn’t find any clear answers to this question, because a lot of factors need to be taken into account. Even though according to The Handy Anatomy Answer Book by Patricia Barnes-Svarney and Thomas E. Svarney, one cubic inch of bone can theoretically withstand the weight of around five pickup trucks, and is ounce-for-ounce stronger than reinforced concrete, most of us know someone who has broken a bone, because bone will still break on impact. Charles Q. Choi, writing for LiveScience, says that this is because force is generally delivered quickly, and David Biello, writing for Scientific American, adds that the angle of the force affects whether the bone will break, and what kind of fracture it will be.

On UC Santa Barbara’s Science Line, the writers explain that bones are designed to withstand certain types of stress – arm and leg bones, for instance, have curves to them. This makes them able to resist force from certain directions, but vulnerable from the others.

According to DK’s Human Body, a transverse fracture, where the bone breaks straight across the width, is usually caused by a direct or angled force, whereas a comminuted fracture, where the bone breaks into several fragments, is caused by direct impact. A greenstick fracture, where a bone bends and cracks but does not break all the way across, is most common in children, whose bones are still relatively flexible. As we age, our bones become more porous and fragile, and fractures become more likely.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Why does my cat drop his toys in his water dish?

Drowning toys in the water bowl isn’t uncommon behavior in cats, but we couldn’t find one definite explanation for it. Arnold Plotnick, a veterinarian blogging at catexpert.blogspot.com, and S. Hartwell, a writer for messybeast.com, both offer some guesses.

Our patron’s cat may be trying to store the toy in a safe place. If the toy is a particular favorite or if they’ve just finished with it, they could be “putting it away” in their food-and-water area, which they may see as a safe and central part of their territory. Wild cats will take their prey back to their nest, and the indoor cat dropping its toy in its dish could be following the same instinct.

Some cats like to play in water. Hartwell relates stories of cats that liked to pat the water with their feet and then pop the bubbles or watch the ripples, or a cat that would drop catnip in the water and watch the leaves float around. Our patron’s cat could be playing at fishing, or they could just like the texture of the wet toy.

According to John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis in the books Cat Sense and The Trainable Cat, cats treat their toys like prey. They often like toys that resemble creatures they would hunt, and treat them differently depending on the size. They will be more cautious, for instance, with rat-sized toys, and tend to hold them at arm’s length rather than close in their front paws, as rats are more likely to fight back. Cats also tend to get bored with a toy unless they can damage it – a resilient toy that doesn’t show any sign of being “killed” indicates that it’s not really prey, or, if it is, that it’s too hard to subdue. As Bradshaw believes that cats think they are hunting when they play with toys, he would probably put the water-bowl behavior down to some kind of hunting instinct.

Friday, December 30, 2016

What does it mean that Mercury is retrograde?

One of our patrons heard someone blame their bad luck on Mercury being retrograde. They’d heard the expression before, but had never stopped to think about what it meant.

We found our answer in The Total Skywatcher’s Manual by Linda Shore, David Prosper, and Vivian White, Wonders of the Solar System by Brian Cox, and The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Amateur Astronomy by Michael E. Bakich. Retrograde motion is when a planet appears to move backyard in the sky, going from east to west. (The opposite – the normal, west-to-east movement -- is called prograde motion.) When a planet is  retrograde, it isn’t actually moving backwards. It has to do with that planet’s orbit around the sun relative to Earth’s. When Earth catches up to a planet and overtakes it, the other planet appears to move in the opposite direction, like when a fast car passes a slower one on the highway.

Susan Miller, writing for AstrologyZone.com, explains what astrologists think about Mercury retrograde. Mercury is said to rule communication as well as formal contracts and agreements, and when it is in retrograde, it is in a “resting” state, so problems might arise in those areas. This is why some people don’t like making big decisions or signing contracts during Mercury retrograde periods. However, it’s also said to be a very intuitive period, and a good time to reflect on the past.

According to the 2017 edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Mercury will be retrograde from January 1-9, April 9-May 3, August 13-September 5, and December 3-23 in 2017.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Why do my air plants keep dying?

“I thought air plants were supposed to be low-maintenance, but mine keep dying. What am I doing wrong?”

Tillandsias, commonly known as air plants, are often marketed as needing no care. However, they are still living plants (part of the bromeliad family, which also includes pineapples), and, as such, they need light and water to survive. We have a copy of Air Plants: The Curious World of Tillandsias by Zenaida Sengo, which has good information on tillandsia care and gives some hints about what our patron may have been doing wrong.

Our patron’s plants may not have been getting enough water. Sengo recommends either misting them 3-7 times a week, dunking them in water for a few minutes 2-4 times a week or every 7-10 days, depending on the variety of plant, or submerging them for an hour or two each week. An under-watered plant with begin to brown and crisp up at the tips, or its leaves may curl in on themselves.

However, air plants are also prone to rot, so if they weren’t aired out properly, that may have been what did them in. Sengo recommends shaking the water out of tillandsias, and making sure to place them on top of rocks or branches as opposed to something that retains water like soil or moss. Also, while tillandsias look good in terrariums, gardeners need to be especially careful not to overwater them – air in terrariums doesn’t circulate well, so it takes longer for the plant to dry out.

A tillandsia that isn’t getting enough light may have discolored leaves, or it may show no signs of distress until a thorough watering causes it to abruptly fall apart. While the gardener may think that watering was the cause of death, the lack of light was the real problem, preventing the plant from performing its normal functions. Tillandsias need as much bright, indirect light as possible, and Sengo suggests a few hours of gentle direct sunlight as well, such as the morning light from an east-facing window. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Why did we domesticate ferrets? What are they for?

It’s generally believed that humans domesticated cats to help us with pest control and dogs to provide protection and help with hunting and herding. One of our patrons has two pet ferrets, and he wanted to know when people began bringing ferrets into their homes, and what purpose they originally served.

We found some information in Ferrets for Dummies by Kim Schilling and Susan A. Brown’s article “History of the Ferret” on weaselwords.com. Today’s pet ferret is assumed to be a domesticated form of either the Western or Eastern European polecat, and they have been in our lives for about 2,500 years. It’s not certain who first tamed them. While some sources say Egypt, citing hieroglyphs depicting weasel-like creatures, Schilling believes that the hieroglyphs were probably depicting native mongooses, which were kept as pets to kill snakes and small rodents. While mongooses look similar to ferrets and weasels, they are not part of the same family. Ferrets, weasels, otters, wolverines, badgers, martens, stoats, and minks are all Mustelids.

Ferrets seem to have been first domesticated for hunting and pest control. Between 63 BC and 24 AD, Caesar Augustus was requested to sail ferrets out to the Balearic Islands where an overpopulation of rabbits was causing a famine. They assisted hunters in catching the rabbits. (The practice of hunting with ferrets, called “ferreting,” involves releasing the ferrets near a burrow. The ferret is not meant to catch the game, just drive it out of its burrow to where the hunter is waiting. The ferrets would often have bells on their collars so that the hunters could keep track of them, and sometimes they would also be tethered.)

Like cats, ferrets were considered very useful on ships for the ability to keep the rodent population down. The Colonial Navy of Massachusetts named the ferret their official mascot in 1986, saying that, in the days of wooden ships, ferrets were even better than cats, as they could fit into all the tiny nooks and crannies where mice tried to hide.

Ferrets were once even used to transport wires and cables through narrow pipes. According to Brown and Schilling, oilmen, telephone companies, camera crews, and sailors have used them in this way. People would tie the wire or cable to the ferret or its harness and the ferret would run through the pipe on its own.

They are still raised for their fur, although this is less common than it once was, and they’re often used in biomedical research. However, most people today know them as companion animals.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Where can I find information on mental health?

“I’m doing research for school and I need to find information on mental health.”

The Newton Falls Public Library has a section devoted to mental health, including books on the history of mental illness, memoirs, and books to help people and their families understand, treat, and live with their mental illness. DSM-5 Made Easy: The Clinician’s Guide to Diagnosis, written by James Morrison, and Mental Health Disorders Sourcebook, edited by Amy L. Sutton, provide basic information on a variety of different disorders.

We also looked online. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, founded in 1979, has a lot of information on their website, NAMI.org. They provide information on symptoms, treatment, and support on everything from anxiety to schizophrenia. Database resources are available as well. The Ohio Web Library provides access to Consumer Health Complete, a database of health information including videos, diagrams, magazine articles, fact sheets, and scholarly reports.

Our patron was specifically looking for information on illnesses similar to schizophrenia. We found schizoaffective disorder, who involves a person having some of the symptoms of schizophrenia (including delusions, disorganized thoughts or speech, hallucinations, and reduced emotions or behavior, such as a flat voice and expression or a lack of pleasure in life) for at least a month, along with symptoms of depression of bipolar disorder. Morrison also mentions schizophreniform disorder, which might be diagnosed when a person has only been showing symptoms of schizophrenia for less than six months. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

When should I prune my roses?

No one here at the Newton Falls Public Library grows roses, but we do have access to a lot of gardening books. We checked Lewis Hill’s Pruning Made Easy, Rayford Clayton Reddell’s The Rose Bible, and www.heirloomroses.com to find answers for our patron. As it turned out, the subject was more contentious than we expected.

Some gardeners like to prune in the fall so that the rosebushes don’t need to carry the extra wood through the winter. Cutting off spindly canes will prevent them from whipping against their neighbors, and shortening long canes will reduce the likelihood of them being loosened by the winter weather.

However, other gardeners believe that fall pruning makes it more difficult for the rose to survive the winter, because they’re losing food stored in their branches. Also, pruning also tends to jumpstart new growth, which is then killed by the cold. They prefer to prune in spring, clearing away dead and damaged wood from the winter and previous season.

Julie Washington, a writer for the Plain Dealer, interviewed a few of Northeastern Ohio’s rose experts in October 2013, and they were very firm: don’t prune until the spring in Ohio. They also recommend that gardeners clear dead leaves from around their roses, and perhaps treat them with a commercially available dormant oil or spray.