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Friday, April 15, 2016

Do you have any information on wood gas?

Wood gas is an alternative fuel created by burning wood (or other biomass) in a machine called a gasifier. During World War II, wood-gas-powered generators and vehicles provided a way to get around the petroleum shortage. According to Richard Freudenberger’s article in Mother Earth News, there were over one million wood gas civilian vehicles in Asia and Europe by the end of the war.

One of our patrons was building their own gasifier and hoped to find some resources at the library. They checked out The Homeowner’s Energy Handbook by Paul Scheckel, which had a small section of information, but they were hoping for building plans. We looked in some of the other books about sustainable and off-the-grid living, including Chris Peterson’s Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency, and we checked our collection of Foxfires and even some of our history books, but we couldn’t turn up anything.

We moved on to searching our online research databases. Typing “wood gas” into Academic Search Premier, one of the multidisciplinary databases available through CLEVNET, brought up a multitude of articles. Some were from scholarly journals, and one was “Wood Gas Wizard,” Freudenberger’s Mother Earth News article from April 2012. Freudenberger interviewed Wayne Keith, an Alabama farmer who was unwilling to pay more than $1.50 a gallon for gasoline. Keith started powering his vehicles with wood gas in 2004. His website,, provides plans and other resources for others looking to do the same.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Why are my fish disappearing?

One of our patrons was concerned about their home aquarium. They had maintained it for many years, but their older fish were starting to die off. They had started to add new fish, but a few of those fish had disappeared. Was one of the older fish eating them? Was something wrong with the environment?

Assuming that the tank was tightly covered, the water was clean, pH balanced, free of harmful chemicals, and an appropriate temperature, and the fish were not being under- or over-fed, we checked Mary Bailey and Peter Burgess’s Tropical Fishlopaedia, Maddy and Mic Hargrove’s Freshwater Aquariums for Dummies, Dick Mills’s Aquarium Fish, Stuart Thraves’s Setting Up a Tropical Aquarium Week-by-Week, John Davies’s Complete Encyclopedia of the Freshwater Aquarium, and for more information.

Our patron’s aquarium included a Buenos Aires tetra, a rainbow shark, and a rosy barb. They had been attempting to add an otocinclus catfish and a few varieties of platys and tetras.

According to Bailey and Burgess, an omnivorous fish who has never bothered its old tankmates may go after small new fish. If it came into the aquarium at the same time as the old fish, or if it was too small to eat them when they were added, the omnivore seems to recognize them as companions and not food. It’s used to food coming from above – which is also where new fish are introduced. Platys, tetras, and barbs are omnivores, and Thraves mentions that it’s common for larger fish to pick off neon tetras, so that could be a problem. While our patron’s fish are generally known to be peaceful, Buenos Aires tetras can get aggressive as they age, especially the larger ones. Rainbow sharks (which are not actual sharks but are closely related to barbs and danios) are also somewhat aggressive and territorial, especially toward their own kind. Only one should be kept in an aquarium and it should be given plenty of places to hide. (The Buenos Aires tetra and the rosy barb, on the other hand, are schooling fish and are happiest in groups of at least six.)

It’s also possible that the fish were simply unhealthy when our patron purchased them, or that they didn’t take well to the stress of transport, depending on how long they lasted. The otocinclus catfish in particular is known to be delicate and often has trouble acclimating to a new environment.

If our patron is still worried about their fish, Tropical Fishlopaedia and Freshwater Aquariums for Dummies both have information on troubleshooting aquarium problems.

Friday, April 1, 2016

What kind of nickname is Sagehen?

“In the book I’m reading, other characters call the main character the Sagehen. Why do you think they call her that?”

One of our patrons was enjoying The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas, a work of historical fiction set in nineteenth-century Colorado. Gracy Brookens, the main character, is a midwife in a small mining town. Other characters sometimes refer to her as “the Sagehen.”

Our first guess was that it was akin to calling Gracy a mother hen or a mama bird in reference to her maternal nature. “Sagehen” is an informal word for the sage-grouse, a chicken-sized bird that calls the sagebrush of the American West its home. However, after doing more research, we found an interview with Sandra Dallas on the blog Let Them Read Books where she talks about what inspired her to write her novel. Her main inspiration was a poem called “In These Rude Airs” from Belle Turnbull’s book The Tenmile Range. Dallas met Turnbull in 1963 when the poet was an elderly lady living in a Colorado cabin, and remembers her as “a gentle creature” though her poetry had a hard edge to it. “In These Rude Airs” centers around another midwife called the Sagehen and Dallas created Gracy Brookens as a response, though she’s a much gentler character.

For curious readers, The Tenmile Range and The Last Midwife are both available for borrowing through CLEVNET.