What’s The Nine-Year-Old reading this week?

The Dandelion Caper by Gene DeWeese
dandelion-caperWhat the book’s about: 
  Another gem from The Nine-Year-Old’s school library, The Dandelion Caper tells the story of Walter and his friend Kathy. Walter and Kathy specialize in rescuing tourists from outer space, but they are unprepared for the trouble they encounter when a set of evil aliens take over an abandoned house in their neighborhood. 

Why The Nine-Year-Old thinks you’ll like it: “I liked the T. Rex aliens and all their machines that didn’t work. I also liked the cat alien who was trying to catch the T. Rex aliens because they were being evil. And the invisibility gadget looked disgusting, but was hilarious.”

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Michaeux Nelson

badnewsoutlawsWhat the book’s about: Bad News for Outlaws describes the long career of Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves. A former slave who escaped to freedom in the Indian Territories, Reeves was the first African-American U.S. Deputy Marshal and one of the most talented U.S. Marshals in American history. During his 30 year career, Reeves used his wits and courage to bring more than 3,000 outlaws to justice — killing only 14 men in the process.

Why The Nine-Year-Old thinks you should pick it up: “Bass Reeves was mentioned in a book I read in second grade and I’ve been curious about him ever since. I’m glad someone finally wrote a book about him. He was a Deputy Marshal a really long time ago. He served longer than any of the other deputy marshals, even longer than the person who assigned him there. He got suspended when his Territory became a state — all the marshals did — so he joined the police force. I wish I could have known him.”

Your Storm Glass Update

(Photo: Shala Howell)

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Still not back to normal. If this were working, those crystals at the top would mean thunderstorms. The murky liquid would mean rain.

Chicago’s skies are a radiant blue today. It doesn’t seem like my storm glass is really back online yet. Maybe next week.

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Throwback Thursday: Parenting Fail

Dateline: March 28, 2012

The Five-Year-Old, under her breathe: “[mild expletive, mild expletive], our phone is broken. [mild expletive, mild expletive].”

I knew the day when The Five-Year-Old started using that particular expletive was bound to come. Still, I wasn’t at all prepared for it. I’m a bit too fond of using that particular expletive myself, and telling The Five-Year-Old she can’t do something when I’m likely to do it myself in the next 10 minutes seemed problematic.

Still, I decided I had better try to rein her language in. A few weeks ago, my brother sent me an interesting link on a positive disciplinary technique that tries to resolve issues not by simply punishing the behavior but by changing the belief motivating the behavior. So I gave it a try.

Mommyo: “The Five-Year-Old, why are you saying that?”

The Five-Year-Old: “Because the phone is broken.”

Mommyo: “And is it really helping to say that?”

The Five-Year-Old: “A little bit.”

So much for that.

Update from March 2017: Nowadays, The Nine-Year-Old’s preferred way to vent her frustration is to say simply “curses and foul language.” I wish I could claim that our more advanced parenting methods had anything to do with it, but really she just read it in a book somewhere and thought it was funny, so she started using it. 

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Wordless Wednesday: Stealthy

(Photo: Shala Howell)

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Just like Wonder Woman’s invisible plane, no one will ever see Canelo coming in his clear plastic storage tote.

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Your storm glass update

As you remember, yesterday The Nine-Year-Old and I tried to reset our storm glass, with rather surprising results. A couple of hours after the official experiment had ended, I wandered into the office to find the once-clear storm glass looking like this:

(Photo: Shala Howell)

12:17 p.m. The Storm Glass Apocalypse. Or as The Nine-Year-Old prefers to call it: The Storm Glass Eclipse. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Had applying so much heat for so long changed the character of the storm glass entirely? Would the ferns ever grow back? Or would the storm glass look like this forever?

We checked on the glass pretty obsessively all afternoon, but didn’t notice much real progress until the evening. At 5:41 p.m. yesterday, it looked like this:

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Five hours and 24 minutes later. (Photo: Shala Howell)

That was hopeful. The Nine-Year-Old and I closed out our day hoping that time would heal our glass.

Sure enough, by 10:11 this morning, the dense mass of crystals had retreated enough to allow a couple of brave little ferns:

(Photo: Shala Howell)

22 hours and 55 minutes later. (Photo: Shala Howell)

It still has a long way to go, but to answer yesterday’s question: yes, our storm glass will eventually have room for those lovely giant ferns again.

Oh, the things that make me happy in winter.

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“How do we reset the storm glass?”

Inquiring Janes want to know: "Did we break it?" (Photo: Shala Howell)

Inquiring Janes want to know: “Did we break it?” (Photo: Shala Howell)

Last week, we tested our storm glass to see whether the crystals were forming (or dissolving) in response to changes in temperature. Short answer: Yes.

But as you’ll remember, at the end of the experiment we were left with a pretty thick collection of grainy crystals at the bottom of the glass. This collection persisted for at least a week after the storm glass was back in its regular spot in our office.

Frankly, it made me worry a bit that we’d broken it. The ever-practical Nine-Year-Old suggested that we try to reset it.

What does it mean to reset a storm glass?

In this case, we mean turning the liquid in the glass completely clear, and then returning it to its home environment to see what happens.

How do you reset a storm glass? 

Since the crystals formed at cooler temperatures and dissolved at higher ones, we decided a steady application of high heat was called for.  Mommyo ruled out using fire, so we decided to try using a hair dryer instead.

Our Hypothesis

If we apply a steady source of heat to the storm glass for long enough, all of the crystals will dissolve, effectively resetting the storm glass for use in future experiments.

Our Equipment

The equipment requirements for this experience were pretty straight-forward. To conduct it, we needed:

  • The storm glass itself
  • Thermometer
  • Digital camera to record crystal formations
  • Mommyo’s hair dryer

Step 1: Photograph the storm glass at the beginning of the experiment.

Those giant fern crystals were so pretty I almost canceled the experiment this morning outright. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Those giant fern crystals were so pretty, I almost canceled the experiment this morning outright. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Step 2: Apply a steady source of heat to the storm glass.

Plan A: Use a hair dryer to apply a steady source of heat to the storm glass.

This didn’t work at all. The crystal formation barely budged, Mommyo quickly tired of holding the hair dryer, and The Nine-Year-Old got bored.

We needed a better plan.

Plan B: Set the storm glass up in front of the space heater in the kitchen. Have The Nine-Year-Old sit in the kitchen monitoring the storm glass while eating a snack and reading a book. Set a timer for 15 minutes.

Although the space heater was only set to 73F, our thermometer told us that the space heater warmed the air around the storm glass to 85F.

(Photo: Shala Howell)

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Step 3: After 15 minutes, the crystals were almost gone, but not quite, so The Nine-Year-Old reset the timer for 2 minutes.

The Results: 

After 17 minutes in front of the space heater, all of the crystals had dissolved. So we returned the storm glass to its home in the office.

Success! (Photo: Shala Howell)

Success! (Photo: Shala Howell)

All seemed lovely, until Mommyo walked into the office two hours later to write up this experiment and found this.

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Oops. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Nine-Year-Old and I had expected crystals to form when the storm glass cooled, but neither of us had expected anything this dramatic. We thought it would take a couple of days for crystals to show up, and that when they did, they’d be in the lovely fern shapes we’d had this morning.

In hindsight, though, perhaps we should have expected this.  After all, we knew from our earlier experiment that the crystals form in response to drops in temperature. By turning off the space heater and moving the still-warm storm glass to the office shelf to cool, we were effectively lowering its ambient temperature nearly as rapidly as that day we set the storm glass outside the window in 29F weather.

So have we broken it now? 

Broken being a relative term, of course, given the faulty predictive capabilities of our storm glass in its best days.

I guess what I really mean is, will our storm glass ever have enough room it in again for the lovely ferns to form? I certainly hope so. I miss those ferns.

All we can do now, though, is wait a few days and see what happens. We’ll keep you posted.

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Night Sky Watch: Mars helps Mommyo spot Uranus

Mars and Uranus in a tete-a-tete tonight. No doubt gossiping about the much flashier Venus down below. (Illustration: Andrew Fazekas of Sky Safari)

Mars and Uranus in a tete-a-tete tonight. No doubt gossiping about the much flashier Venus down below. (Illustration: Andrew Fazekas of Sky Safari)

Apparently, the moon is tired, because Mars will be our tour guide tonight. (Assuming cloud cover and light pollution in Chicago permit us to even find Mars, that is. Oh, to live in a place with stars.)

But let’s be optimistic.

The pinprick of light immediately next to Mars tonight is Uranus. The brighter light down below and to the right is Venus. And if we’re really lucky, we might even spot the Comet Encke dashing through the solar system just below Venus.

Hmm, maybe I’d better break out the telescope, just in case. That’s a lot of action.

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What’s The Nine-Year-Old reading this week?

Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring by Enigma Alberti

While we were in Washington, DC last week, we visited the International Spy Museum on F Street. We highly recommend it. Take it from us, though, if you go, your experience will be much better if you go all in on the secret agent mission. I’m pleased to report that all three of us successfully maintained our covers and completed our missions.

Since we’ve been back, The Nine-Year-Old has been consuming one spy-related book after another. Her favorite from the week is Enigma Alberti’s* Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring. 
civilwarspyWhat the book’s about: 
  Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring is based on the life of a former slave who spied for the Union Army during the Civil War. Mary Bowser infiltrated the highest ranks of the Confederacy by posing as an illiterate servant in Jefferson Davis’ family. Her post in the Confederate White House gave her access to some of the Confederacy’s most sensitive secrets. She used her photographic memory to relay critical information back to the Union.

Although we still don’t know precisely which information Mary acquired, this book gives middle school readers a snapshot of what Mary’s life as a spy in the Confederate White House may have been like. 

Why The Nine-Year-Old thinks you’ll like it: “It’s very believable. Some of it may have happened, but I couldn’t tell which parts. It was mostly make-believe, I think, but not entirely fiction either. Anyone interested in either history or spies would like this.”

*If you, like me think Enigma Alberti is entirely too appropriate an author’s name to be real, pat yourself on the back. It’s the cover identity for a squad of writers who write the Spy on History series from Workman Publishing. 

Wonderopolis (www.wonderopolis.org)

wonderopolis

When The Nine-Year-Old hasn’t been reading about spies, she’s been devouring the archive of wonders on the educational website, Wonderopolis.

Created by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), the Wonderopolis website is a treasure trove of questions submitted from curious minds around the world. To date, the site has an archive of more than 1,800 wonders on a vast range of topics. Each day a new wonder is asked and answered. So far, The Nine-Year-Old’s favorite Wonder of the Day is #1841: Was King Arthur a real person?

I’m sure you will shocked to learn that The Nine-Year-Old has submitted several wonders of her own, and is eagerly awaiting her answers from the Wonderopolis team. We will let you know how that goes.

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Throwback Thursday: Guess who climbed her first tree 4 years and 360 days ago?

Hint: When she woke up the next morning the first words out of her mouth were “Mommyo, have you made me a trophy for climbing my first tree yet?”

Here she is, posing Caterpickles style with her tree-climbing trophy on that magical day back in February 2012.

Do you think she still has that trophy somewhere? (Photo: Shala Howell)

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Wordless Wednesday: The Nine-Year-Old (briefly) gets a goldfish

Mr. Goldfish (Photo: Shala Howell)

Mr. Goldfish (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Nine-Year-Old and I had the chance to tag along on Daddyo’s business trip to D.C. last week, so of course we took it.

Our hotel room came equipped with — of all things — a goldfish. The Nine-Year-Old absolutely loved it, and has talked to me at length every day since we’ve been home about how much better she would sleep if only she had a goldfish in her room at home too.

I remain unmoved.

The Nine-Year-Old took her duties as Room Guardian of the Goldfish very seriously. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Nine-Year-Old took her duties as Room Guardian of the Goldfish very seriously. (Photo: Shala Howell)

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“How do storm glasses work?” Part Two: The Testing

My retro weather center. The storm glass is on the right, making its bold prediction of cloudy skies in Chicago in winter. The glass tube on the left is Galileo's thermometer. We'll talk about how/if that sucker works some other time. (Photo: Shala Howell)

My retro weather center. The storm glass is on the right, making its bold prediction of cloudy skies in Chicago in winter. The glass tube on the left is Galileo’s thermometer. We’ll talk about how/if that sucker works some other time.
(Photo: Shala Howell)

About two weeks ago, after noticing that our replica storm glass had been predicting cloudy skies more or less continuously since we acquired it six months ago, The Nine-Year-Old and I began to wonder how storm glasses worked. You can read our initial research on the topic here.

In a nutshell, we learned that storm glasses are not very reliable weather predictors.  According to a series of tests performed in Cecil Adam’s lab at the Straight Dope, storm glasses only correctly predict rain about half the time.

Which got us wondering, if the storm glass isn’t reacting to changes in local weather conditions to make its predictions, what is it reacting to?

The Top Contenders

Further research narrowed the candidates to three contenders: changes in pressure, light, or temperature. Since it was early February (and felt like it), we decided that testing the effect of temperature changes would be the easiest. So we did that first.

Our Hypothesis

The storm glass will react to changes in temperature, most likely by forming more crystals at lower temperatures.

Our Methodology

Our plan for testing our hypothesis was simple: We’d move the storm glass in front of a working window. When we wanted to cool things down, we’d open the window. When it was time to warm things up again, we’d close the window.

Since the average daytime temperatures outside that week were in the 20s and 30s and our temperature inside is more or less in the low 70s, we expected this simple trick would let us change the temperature easily by some 30 or 40 degrees. That should be more than enough to determine whether the crystals in the storm glass are responding to changes in temperature.

To keep things simple, we decided to use the master bathroom. It’s a fairly small room with a dedicated radiator, so the bathroom both cools off and warms back up again pretty quickly.

Mommyo extracted the electronic meat thermometer Daddyo had gotten for Christmas from Daddyo’s cooking drawer. When The Nine-Year-Old tried it in the bathroom, she found that it was both easy to read and seemed to measure the ambient temperature well. The experiment was on.

Our Equipment

The equipment requirements for this experience were pretty straight-forward. To conduct it, we needed:

  • The storm glass itself
  • A working window with ledge and screen
  • Thermometer
  • Lab notebook & pen for recording observations
  • Digital camera to record crystal formations
  • Piece of blue paper to provide a consistent background for the test photos

Our Process 

Step 1: Move the storm glass to the test environment.

Two days before the experiment was to begin, we moved the storm glass to the master bathroom to allow it to adjust to its new environment. We observed it every morning and evening, and when its crystal formation appeared to have stabilized, we began the tests.

Step 2: Record the storm glass’s appearance and its ambient temperature at steady state.

Initial crystal configuration at the start of the experiment. Note the pale crystal at the tip of the storm glass, well above the liquid, as well as the cool mushroom cloud like crystal about halfway down the glass. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Initial crystal configuration at the start of the experiment. Note the pale crystal at the tip of the storm glass, well above the liquid, as well as the cool mushroom-like crystal about halfway down the glass. (Photo: Shala Howell)

We also noted the time, weather conditions outside (just in case they were relevant), and took a picture of the initial crystal formation. 

  • Experiment Start Time: 3:55 p.m.
  • Ambient Temperature: 71°F
  • Weather Outside: Cold! 25°F, cloudy, no rain or snow
  • Crystal Appearance: Crystals at the top, large mushroom-like crystal in mid-section
  • Associated Weather Prediction: Thunderstorms, we think
  • Storm Glass Position: Window ledge inside master bath, window closed

Step 3: Lower the ambient temperature.

We opened the window, closed the door to the bathroom, and set a timer to remind ourselves to check on the storm glass in about 2 hours.

Step 4: Wait two hours, then record any changes. 

Photo taken from the side so that you can see the sliding formation of crystals. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Photo taken from the side so that you can see the sliding formation of crystals. (Photo: Shala Howell)

After two hours, the large mushroom crystal was replaced with a mass of dense, but fluffy looking crystals. The mass was distinctly taller on the side closest to the window screen (the colder side).

  • Current Time: 6:15 p.m.
  • Lapsed Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
  • Ambient Temperature: 52°F
  • Weather Outside: Still very cold. 20°F, cloudy, no snow or rain
  • Crystal Appearance: Lots of dense crystals, more on the side facing the window
  • Associated Weather Prediction: The Nine-Year-Old thinks this crystal formation is best described as murky liquid, so we’re going with rain.
  • Storm Glass Position: Window ledge next to the screen, on the exterior of the glass itself, but with the window open so that the storm glass was still exposed to heat from the bathroom.

Step 5: Warm the room up again.

We moved the storm glass back to the inside window ledge and closed the window. We set a timer for two hours, but got caught up in a really good episode of Netflix’s Series of Unfortunate Events. We may have decided that science (and bedtime) could wait for the end of the episode.

Step 6: Some time later, check the storm glass again, and record any changes.

Photo: Shala Howell

Photo: Shala Howell

The dense mass of crystals is definitely getting smaller. It’s back to looking a bit mushroomy, even.

  • Current Time: 10 p.m.
  • Lapsed Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
  • Ambient Temperature: 73°F
  • Weather Outside: 14°F
  • Crystal Appearance: The mass of crystals appears to be dissolving as the storm glass warms up
  • Associated Weather Prediction: Rain?
  • Storm Glass Position: Window ledge inside master bathroom with window closed

Step 7: Review your testing methodology and adjust it as necessary.

Based on the results of Steps 1-6, it seemed pretty clear to us that more crystals form at colder temperatures. But simply opening and closing the window next to the storm glass only created about a 20-degree variance in ambient temperature. We wanted to see if we could do better than that.

So we decided to place the storm glass out on the exterior portion of the ledge between the window glass and the screen, and close the window behind it. This would keep the storm glass from receiving warmth from the air inside during the experiment. And as The Nine-Year-Old, who becomes more self-sustainable every year pointed out, closing the window would be more energy-efficient too.

Step 8: Record the storm glass’s appearance and local conditions before applying the new test parameters.

If the crystals look like clouds, does that mean we'll have clouds? (Photo: Shala Howell)

If the crystals look like clouds, does that mean we’ll have clouds? (Photo: Shala Howell)

  • Current time: 10:06 a.m.
  • Lapsed time: 12 hours, 6 minutes
  • Ambient temperature: 73°F
  • Weather Outside: Cold! 29°F, little wind
  • Crystal Appearance: A large portion of the crystals dissolved over night
  • Associated Weather Prediction: We can’t tell. Cold?
  • Storm Glass Position: Window ledge inside bath with window closed

Step 9: Cool things down according to the new specifications.  

To do this, we placed the storm glass on the portion of the ledge between the window glass and the window screen. Then we closed the window, and set a timer for one hour.

Step 10: Wait one hour, and then see what’s changed. 

Photo: Shala Howell

Photo: Shala Howell

Holy cow, that closed window made a big difference!

Even though the testing period was much shorter — less than half the time of the previous cold exposure in Step 4 — the crystal formation was much more impressive. The crystals were so dense in fact that The Nine-Year-Old and Mommyo had a heated discussion about their nature. Was this what the storm glass text describes as murky water, or was the whole thing simply frozen over?

  • Current Time: 11:08 a.m.
  • Lapsed Time: 62 minutes
  • Ambient Temp: 32°F
  • Weather Outside: 29°F, clear
  • Crystal Appearance: The crystals are still at the top, but the rest of it is what The Nine-Year-Old calls murky water and Mommyo calls a slushy mess.
  • Associated Weather Prediction: So much rain
  • Storm Glass Position: Window ledge next to screen, with the glass window closed.

Step 11: Warm things up again.

We brought the storm glass back inside and closed the window. We set a timer for one hour, to see if the crystals in the storm glass reacted to being in warmer air as dramatically as they do to being in the cold.

Step 12: Wait one hour then, record the changes. 

Photo: Shala Howell

Photo: Shala Howell

Well, that was sort of dramatic. I mean, half of the crystals are gone now, but there’s still a lot of dense slush there.

  • Current Time: 12:15 p.m.
  • Lapsed Time: 67 minutes later
  • Ambient Temp: 72°F
  • Weather Outside: 32°F
  • Crystal Appearance: One-third to one-half of the slushy mess has dissolved away
  • Associated Weather Prediction: This is still probably murky water, so we are going  with rain
  • Storm Glass Position: Inside with the window closed

Step 13: Wait another 30 minutes and record the changes.

Photo: Shala Howell

Photo: Shala Howell

There was some more melting (excuse me, dissolving), in response to the warmer conditions, but not really a lot. The storm glass was now only half-full at best of mush. The crystals are a lot less dense too.

  • Current Time: 12:54 p.m.
  • Lapsed Time: 39 minutes later
  • Ambient Temp: 70°F
  • Weather Outside: 32°F
  • Crystal Appearance: Definitely down to 1/2 of the slushy mess has dissolved away
  • Associated Weather Prediction: Rain?
  • Storm Glass Position: Inside with the window closed

Step 14: Leave the storm glass alone for several hours, then return to record the changes.

The Nine-Year-Old and I both wanted to move on to doing things outside the house at this point, so we made a Caterpickles agreement that we would go live our life and let whatever happened to the storm glass in the intervening hours go undetected. We did check it once more at bedtime, but I apparently forgot to photograph it, so you’ll have to take our word for what we found.

Over the intervening 8 or so hours, even more of the crystals dissolved away. The dense mass had retreated to the bottom third of the storm glass. The rest of it was back to being clear liquid.

  • Current Time: 9 p.m.
  • Lapsed Time: 8 hours, 6 minutes later
  • Ambient Temp: 70°F
  • Weather Outside: 20°F
  • Crystal Appearance: Two-thirds of the slushy mess has dissolved away, leaving a mass of dense crystals at the bottom of the storm glass
  • Associated Weather Prediction: Still going with rain
  • Storm Glass Position: Inside with the window closed

Step 15: Leave the storm glass alone overnight. Return in the morning to see if anything else has changed.

Any further changes were so slight, they were hard to detect. The Nine-Year-Old was pretty certain that the crystals only covered the bottom quarter of the storm glass, instead of the bottom third. So we’re going with that. Still no pictures. Apparently our camera man quit.

  • Current Time: 9:15 a.m.
  • Lapsed time: 12 hours, 15 minutes
  • Ambient Temp: 70°F
  • Weather Outside: 36°F
  • Crystal Appearance: Crystals down to 25%
  • Storm Glass Position: Inside with the window closed

Given the length of time that had passed and the very slight change in the crystal formation, The Nine-Year-Old and I decided that this was probably the storm glass’s new steady state, and ended the experiment.

Conclusion:

After our brute force temperature experiment, The Nine-Year-Old and I are pretty convinced that temperature variables are a big factor in crystal formation.  The crystals formed quite rapidly in response to drops in temperature, but retreated at a more sedate pace as the storm glass warmed back up.

However, after the dose of cold in Step 10 that turned the contents of the storm glass to slush, the character of the crystals changed. No longer the light, flaky fern-like crystals we had at the beginning, these new crystals are dense, gritty, and far less attractive.

We moved the storm glass back to the office, hoping that mass would go away. It’s been a week now, and while there are some fluffy crystals at the top of the crystal formation, that dense ugly mass is still there.

Inquiring Janes want to know: "Did we break it?" (Photo: Shala Howell)

Inquiring Janes want to know: “Did we break it?” (Photo: Shala Howell)

So naturally, now we want to know, “Did we break it?” Or as The Nine-Year-Old put it this morning, “How do we reset this thing?”

Based on the results of our tests last week, a more aggressive form of heat is clearly called for. How we plan to accomplish it is a post for another day.

Related Links: 

 

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