12/15/2010

30+ Categories of Sweet Desserts


According to scientists, our tongues can distinguish five types of tastes: pungent (acrid), sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.  In honor of the holidays, which is all about sweet foods, following is a list of some of my favorite go-to treats - a useful list in case you're trying to figure out what to prepare for dessert!
  1. Brownies.  Nothing wrong with a basic chocolate brownie, though these days the fashion seems to be "fancying" them up by adding caramel, nuts, or flavored chips (mint, raspberry)
  2. Butterscotch.   Like caramel, butterscotch can be fashioned into a delicious buttery candy or used as an ingredient in candy bars, cakes, or pies.
  3. Cakes: So many delicious choices, I've devoted a whole blog entry to them!
  4. Candies-chocolate.   Turns out pretty much anything tastes delicious if you coat it in chocolate! This category includes everything from m&ms to bon bons and truffles.
  5. Candies-hard. Includes lollipops, lemon drops, peppermints, rock candy, ribbon candy, and candy canes
  6. Caramel.  Available as a candy, but more commonly encountered as an ingredient in other sweets.  Without caramel there would be no toffees, no flans, no caramel chocolate bars, no caramel sauce for ice cream or caramel glaze for cakes; no caramel apples; and (say it isn't so) no caramel corn! 
  7. Cheesecake. Top your basic cheesecake with fruit; or, add ingredients to the batter (chocolate, pumpkin, berries, lemon/lime, mocha, peanut butter) to create different varieties
  8. Chewing Gum.   Includes regular chewing gums and bubble gum
  9. Chocolate: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate ... need I say more?
  10. Cookies: Includes American cookies, English biscuits, wafers, animal crackers, biscotti, macaroons, gingerbread, and shortbreads.
  11. Cotton candy.  Airy, flossy, sugary goodness!
  12. Drinks - novelty.  Since the beginning of time people have been creating sweet novelty drinks, often by combining sugar, alcohol, and other ingredients into concoctions such as mulled wine, eggnog, or mead; today, we tend to call them "cocktails." Other sugary novelty drinks include flavored milk, lemonade, and artificial "fruit" drinks like cool-aid.
  13. Drinks - soda.  Sodas deserve their own category, if only because they are such a dominant source of sugar in our everyday diets!  Today we have Coke and Pepsi but even during the civil war people enjoyed sarsaparilla.
  14. Frostings/glazes.  Though one tends to think of your basic royal icing or fondant when talking about frosting, delicious sweet toppings can also be crafted out of cream cheese, marshmallow, caramel, and a variety of fruits.
  15. Frozen treats:  Includes popsicles, snow cones, gelato, and sherbet
  16. Frozen Milk treats: Includes ice cream in all its forms: bars, cones, pints, cakes, and milkshakes
  17. Fruits:  Nature's original dessert!  This category includes raw fruits, poached fruits, dried/candied fruits, fruit smoothies, jellies, jams, and fruit juices.
  18. Fudge. Like brownies, fudge is delicious plain but is also available in dozens of flavors.
  19. Gelatin.  Includes gelatins like jello; also licorice and gelatin-based "gummy" candies (gummy bears, jellybeans)
  20. Honey: Honey-based treats include challah, baklava, and candy corn; also, by the way, it can also be fermented to create a yummy alcohol generally called mead!
  21. Liquors.  Given that alcohol is nothing more than fermented plant sugar, the wide array of sweet liquors available shouldn't be surprising.  Some of these include: Amareto, Kahlua, creme de cacao, Frangelico, and Grand Marnier
  22. Marshmallow.  An essential ingredient in rice crispy squares, s'mores, and peeps.
  23. Marzipan.  Marzipan, a dough made from almond flour (or sometimes other sweetmeat flour), can be shaped into cookies or works as a filling for chocolate candies.
  24. Meringue. Meringue, a confection created by whipping egg whites until they turn into a froth, are great alone or topped with fruit.
  25. Milk Products (lactose): Turns out adding sugar to milk products = fabulous!  Sweet butters and creams are the foundation of any number of delicious treats.
  26. Molasses: Used in some spice cookies; also adds the "sweet" to many barbeque sauces and baked bean recipes. 
  27. Nectar. One word: honeysuckle!  It may not be a major ingredient in anything, but if summer had a taste, it would be honeysuckle.
  28. Pastries.  Includes doughnuts, beignets, napoleons, strudels, baklavas, croissants, fritters, eclairs, danishes, and turnovers
  29. Pies/Cobblers/tarts: Includes pies, cobblers, and tarts.
  30. Puddings/mousses/custards:  Includes American puddings (vanilla, chocolate, tapioca); thicker British puddings (plum pudding, etc.); mousses (basically, frothy puddings); and custards like crème Brule, blancmange, and flange
  31. Relishes/chutneys/salsas.  Though we typically think of relishes as salty, delicious fruit relishes and chutneys are excellent spread on bread or served with meats.
  32. Sauces/syrups. Sauces (ex: chocolate sauce, raspberry sauce) and syrups (corn, maple, blueberry) typically aren't served alone but add plenty of sweet when poured over breads, puddings, or ice cream.
  33. Sweet Breads: In this category I'm including breads as well as breads with yummy things rolled into them: sweet rolls, cinnamon rolls, panettone, funnel cake, muffins, rugelach, and jellyrolls/yule logs all fit into this category
  34. Sweetmeats: "Sweetmeats" is an old term for nuts: walnuts, pecans, peanuts, pistachios, poppy seeds, etc.  Eat them raw as snacks or use them as ingredients with other sweetables like cakes, pies, brittles, or candies
  35. Taffies/nougats.  A category of extremely chewy treats - delicious but hard on the teeth!
  36. Truffles.  A delicious combination of cake, pudding, and fruit - often with a sauce or topping thrown in!
  37. Wines.  Several varieties of wine are known for their sweetness, including Rieslings, gewurtstrameners, and sauternes.

12/07/2010

25+ Great Cakes


As if this month wasn't busy enough, my family celebrates about 6 birthdays in December.  Which must explain why I'm thinking, not about how on earth I'm going to catch up on my Christmas shopping, but about cake. 

The following isn't meant as a comprehensive list of all cakes, but it is a comprehensive list of all the best cakes I've ever run across in my life.  (By the way, I'm not separating out cupcakes or bundt cakes, as these are shapes, not categories, as far as I'm concerned.)
  1. Chocolate Cake. It's delicious on its own, or add fruit (cherries, strawberries, raspberry, banana, coconut, pineapple, orange), candy (peppermint, caramel, chocolate chips), nuts (peanutbutter, pecans, walnuts, hazelnut), or booze/liquor (amaretto, khalua, rum) - or all of them! - to create endless variations. Variations include fudge cake, devil's food cake, chocolate volcano cake, death by chocolate cake, white chocolate cake.
  2. Black Forest Cake. I know - this properly belongs under the "chocolate cake" category, but this is my list and I think Black Forest Cake is sufficiently amazing to deserve its own category.
  3. Lemon Cake.  Especially good with poppy seeds or almonds. Variations include poppy seed cake, key lime cake, orange cake.
  4. Punch Cake/poke cake.  The idea is to bake a basic cake (yellow, chocolate, whatever), punch holes in it, and then fill the holes with a variety of good things. The result tends to be colorful and incredibly moist.  Variations include pineapple punch cake, peach punch cake, jello punch cake, lemon punch cake.
  5. Pineapple Upsidedown Cake.  With this you get not only cake and fruit, but also a delicious carmelized layer of brown sugar that adds the perfect amount of sweetness and gooiness.  Variations include banana upsidedown cake.
  6. Coconut Cake.   One of my all-time favorites.  One Easter, mom dyed the coconut green and scattered jellybeans over the top, so it looked like a lawn seeded with Easter eggs.  Variations include pina colada cake.
  7. Hawaiian Cake/Pig Pickin' Cake.  Includes mandarin oranges, pinapple, coconut and sometimes macademia nuts .... kind of like a cake version of what my grandmom used to call "fruit ambrosia".  I always called it Hawaiian cake, but I understand it is also known as a Pig Pickin' Cake.  I include this for reference and not because I ever intend to call it a Pig Pickin' Cake in public.  Ever again.
  8. Angel food cake.  Classic sponge cake paired with fresh fruit and cream - liquid or whipped.  It really does taste like a little slice of heaven.  Variations include strawberry shortcake, peach shortcake.
  9. Boston Cream Pie.  Vanilla cream inserted between two layers of yellow cake with chocolate on top ... what's not to love?  (TIP: This cake is delicious served cold to the point of frozen.)  Variations include twinkee cake.
  10. Spice Cake.  Variations include ginger cake (aka gingerbread), clove cake.
  11. Carrot Cake.  Suppose I could list this as a variation of your basic spice cake, but the carrots add a heartiness and moistness that plain spice cake lacks.  Variations include pumpkin cake, sweet potato cake, zucchini cake.
  12. Pecan Cake. ... by which I mean a cake prepared using pecan flour and then covered in a pecan/caramel frosting. Yellow cake works well as a base; spice cake works even better! Variations include hazelnut cake, almond cake, walnut cake, pistachio cake.
  13. Cinnamon Coffee Cake. I've seen all kinds of things added to the recipe - berries, apple, pecans, etc.  It's all good.  For special occassions mom used to bake a version she got from the side panel of a box of bisquik.  It was so buttery, it would have made even Paula Dean swoon.  Variations include streussel cake.
  14. Mousse cake.  Basically, any cake with layers of mousse and topped with a mousse frosting. It's two desserts in one!  Variations include chocolate mousse cake, raspberry mousse cake.
  15. Caramel cake.  You swirl the caramel into the batter, and then finish it off with a caramel/nut frosting.  Genius.  Variations include butterscotch cake, candy cakes.
  16. Apple Cake.  These are especially good with a nutty caramel frosting, and are perfect for fall.  Variations include pear cake, banana cake, cranberry cake, blueberry cake, apricot cake, blueberry cake, raspberry cake.
  17. Sour Cream Pound Cake.  Your basic pound cake recipe but with sour cream substituted for some of the oil and water.  Adds a great richness to the flavor.  Variations include cream cheese cake, applesauce cake, yogurt cake, pudding cake.
  18. Whiskey cake. My grandmom used to make this one.  She swore the whiskey evaporated during baking but my sister and I used to pretend to be tipsy after imbibing a piece.  Variations include rum cake, marguerita cake, bourbon cake, beer cake, wine cake, champagne cake, sherry cake.
  19. Apricot brandy cake.  I should probably expand this category to include all cakes that combine fruit with booze (though apricot and brandy are the best combo I've ever run across).  As anyone whose favorite part of a mixed drink is the fruit at the bottom of the glass knows, fruit and booze make a great combo. 
  20. Marble cake.  The trick with marble cake is to swirl together two kinds of cake batter.  The result is delicious and colorful.  Variations include chess cake, rainbow cake.
  21. Red Velvet cake. This is basically a devil's food cake with red food coloring added to the batter, but it gets its own category because it's always been one of my favorites.  The contrast of the red cake and the white frosting makes my mouth water!
  22. Mocha Cake.  Variations include Black Russian cake, cappucino cake, tiramisu cake.
  23. Amaretto Cake.  My wedding cake contained a whole bottle of amaretto.  Not sure if the guests realized, but I can tell you that in all my life I've never seen a wedding cake consumed so quickly!  Variations include khalua cake, creme de menthe cake, eggnog cake, irish cream cake.
  24. Dump Cake.  Presumably called this because the idea is to take a basic cake mix and then "dump" stuff into the batter - chips, nuts, pieces of candy, crushed cookies, fruit, raisins, etc.  Variations include chocolate chip cake, cookies & cream cake.
  25. Ice cream cake.  Like mousse cake, it's two desserts in one.  My mom was making them long before you could pick one up at the Baskin Robbins on your way home.  Variations include baked alaska.
I've also encountered some cakes that never should have been invented.  Tomato soup cake? Soda pop cake? Cantelope cake? Rhubarb cake?  Ricotta cake? Yikes! It's almost enough to make me swear off of pot luck buffets.


Don't see your favorite here?  Let me know!  Hate to think that I might be missing out on something good.

12/01/2010

30+ Uniquely American Foods


It seems a very great hypocracy that the same countries that denegrate us for our food are often the ones that have lines stretching out the doors of the local McDonalds.  I think it's time to look at U.S. food realistically.  Sure, it's often appallingly unhealthy, but is it more unhealthy than Germany's staple, the ubiquitous wurst, or England's staple, fried fish?  I think it's time for Americans to stop being ashamed of our cuisine and to proudly celebrate its meaty, greasy, creamy greatness.

Following is my list of foods that, to me, represent signature U.S. food.  Some of these dishes, I realize, are not technically indiginous, but though they may have sprung in other soil, it is in the U.S. that they have taken firm root and flourished.

Let me know if I've missed any of your favorites!   

  1. Barbeque.  Okay, so the art of preserving meat by adding vinegar or salt and/or smoking is ancient ... but it was here in the US that we figured out how to use slow cooking and molasses to turn what was basically dried meat jerky into a succulent, juicy, "fall off the bones" treat.
  2. Hamburger.  Do we eat so many hamburgers because we raise so many cows, or do we raise so many cows because we eat so many hamburgers?
  3. Fried Chicken.  Just like us Americans to take a healthy food and figure out how to make it more fattening.
  4. Chicken Wings.  Another American gift: figuring out a way to rebrand something no one wants to make it desirable. 
  5. Meatloaf.  For folks who really want a hamburger but can't afford the bun.
  6. Turkey.  One of the best reasons to be an American: Thanksgiving.
  7. Corn.  Indiginous to North and South America, the U.S. has made corn "ours" by virtue of grits, succotash, cornbread, johnnycakes, popcorn, and corn on the cob dripping with butter. 
  8. Peanuts/Peanut Butter.  It isn't a ballgame without peanuts, and it isn't a bag lunch with a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.  Second greatest food pairing of all times (after PB&J): PB and chocolate. 
  9. Pecans.  Pecans are another sweetmeat indiginous to the U.S.  God bless whoever figured out how to transform them into praline candy and pecan pie.
  10. Ice Cream.  Give me a good old fashioned scoop of vanilla over gelato any day.  Other American contributions to the world (you can thank us later): ice cream cones, milk shakes, and root beer floats.
  11. American Pizza.  We all know pizza is Italian, but much like how reindeer evolved to elk when they hit North America, what we call pizza here is far removed from its ancestral origin.  (Food Darwinism - cool!)  So bring on the deep dish crust, smothered in tomato sauce, topped with pounds of cheese, and smelling faintly of steamed cardboard!
  12. Soul Food.  The origin of soul food is slavery, which is makes this cuisine uniquely, though disturbingly, American.  Slaves and other indigent people in the South found ways to turn neglected crops - like black eyed peas, kale, and collard greens - with the neglected bits of butchered animals - chitlins, ham hocks, etc. - to create food that tastes a lot better than it sounds.
  13. Breads.  Of course we didn't invent bread.  But we did invent pancakes for breakfast, hushpuppies, and bisquits drenched in sausage gravy.
  14. Jello.  Other countries have geletin, but we're the ones that figured out how to turn it all colors of the rainbow, suspend foreign objects in it, and mold it into mysterious shapes. 
  15. Potatoes.  Given the number of Americans who can trace their ancestry back to Germany or Ireland, no wonder the U.S. has a love affair with potatoes. Our lasting contributions to the potato genre: french fries, potato chips, and potato skins.
  16. Pies & Cobblers.  We didn't invent pie, but I would argue we've have done more than any other country to expand the pie and cobbler art form to embrace not only timeless classics like apple pie, but also indiginous favorites to include huckleberry, blueberry, and pecan pie.
  17. Macaroni & Cheese.  The ultimate comfort food, although most Europeans are still trying to figure out why American cheese is orange.
  18. Bagels.  Many thanks to our Jewish neighbors in New York for this American classic!
  19. Casseroles (aka "hot dishes" aka "covered dishes").  I'm not talking about Julia Child's casoulets - I'm talking about good ol' American casseroles, the ones that use condensed soup as a base and are inevitably covered with cheese.   Undoubtedly there's a reason no other country is clammoring to claim this unique but dubious American classic.
  20. Cookies.  Especially chocolate chip cookies.  Ours our nothing like what they call "bicuits" in other countries, thank goodness.
  21. Creole Food.  Another food arising from America's polyglut past, creole food blends traditions from the Caribbean, French cuisine and Southern cooking to give birth to uniquely American dishes such as jambalaya, gumbo, and etouffe. 
  22. Condiments.  The world has us to thank (or not) for mayonaisse, catsup, and maple syrup. 
  23. Soda/Pop.  Thank you, Coca Cola, for Santa Claus!  And thanks also for that 70s anthem "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," Super Big Gulps, and our current epidemic of overweight teens.  Root beer is particularly American: I have a European friend who adores root beer and says you can't get it anywhere else.
  24. Iced Tea.  I have it on good authority that many Europeans find absolutely appalling our habit of adding ice to perfect good tea.  I'm betting they live in places where temperatures  don't reach 100 degrees during the summer.
  25. Sandwiches.  Lots of countries lay claim to having invented the sandwich, but Americans have brought more inventiveness to the task than most.  Case in point: hoagies/dagwoods/subs, philly cheesesteak, reubens, and muffulettas.
  26. Hot Dogs.  I'm sure American hot dogs can trace their ancestory to English sausage or German wurst, but our version - plopped in a bun and topped with condiments - is uniquely American.
  27. Chili.  Okay, so we stole the spices and tomato base from Mexico, but it was our idea to add weird stuff like buffalo, pasta, and cinnamon. 
  28. Salads.  America's penchant for eating raw vegetables is looked at with askance by many folks from around the world, as well as most toddlers.  However, we have found ways to make raw veggies more palatable by burying them beneath dressing (see Condiments-Mayonaisse), meat & cheese (cobb salad), fruit (waldorf salad) and fish paste (caesar salad) 
  29. Cheese-Based Snack Foods.  I wince at having to claim this as a uniquely American food, but there's a reason so much of the rest of the world holds us in disdain, and I suspect this may have something to do with it.

11/20/2010

Careers for People Who Love Food

Recently a student of mine was struggling to identify things that he might want to do when he "grows up".  Finally, in a rather embarassed way, he suggested that he might be interested in something having to do with food.  I think he was a little stunned when I proceeded to rattle off a whole list of jobs that would allow him to work with food.  This list is in his honor, but I admit to having thoroughly enjoyed compiling it - imagine being paid to eat!
  1. Chef.  Requires training, but not necessarily at a cooking school - some restaurants will allow you to start off as a lowely commis and work your way up.  Some variations include sous chef, saucier, pastry chef, and garde manger.
  2. Personal Chef.  If the idea of working in a frantic, crowded, steaming kitchen doesn't appeal to you, offer your services as a personal chef to people who have more money than they do time.
  3. Caterer.  Join an existing catering company or start your own. You can specialize in food preparating, "plating" (making it look pretty) and/or serving.
  4. Baker.  Find employment at a going concern or branch out on your own, selling baked goods to local stores or at farmers' markets.
  5. Confectioner.  Making candy for a living - now that's a career I could get behind!
  6. Cake decorating.  You don't actually have to be as gifted as those folks on the cable television decorating shows (though if you are, you'll never want for work!).  Plenty of grocery stores and stand-alone bakeries looking for people capable of creating good-looking cakes at a brisk clip.
  7. Farming/Gardening.  Grow your own!
  8. Wine-making.  You can make your own wines, or sell your grapes to wineries who will do the work for you.  Lots of opportunities to sponsor/attend events that focus on how to pair wines with good food.
  9. Brewing.  Make your own beer!
  10. Sommalier.  Or, if you enjoy wines but have no interest in growing them yourself, become a sommalier - that guy at the fancier restaurants who recommends the wines and decants them for you. Note: You must look good in a tux or gown.
  11. Cooking Instructor.  Market your food prep skills by offering cooking classes.  You'll be especially desirable as a teacher if you have some specific expertise to offer: ex, French cooking, gluten-free cooking, cake decorating, cooking for children.
  12. Cookbook Author.  Or, if you don't want to teach, try assembling your best recipes into a cookbook.  If you're lucky, a major publisher will pick up your cookbook and market it for you.  If you'd rather avoid that hassle, however, you can always sell your cookbook at craft shows/farmers' markets or even online.
  13. Dietician.  Help people conquer their struggles with food by becoming a dietician.  The job isn't just about helping people lose weight: you'll also have an opportunity to help athletes, diabetics, chemotherapy patients, people with food sensitivities, and others. 
  14. Test Kitchen Employee.  Yes, this is a real job!  Cookbook and cooking magazine publishers always test the recipes they plan to publish.  Not sure exactly how you land one of these jobs, but I know they're out there!
  15. Food Critic.  You don't have to work for The New York Times or Fodors - even local newspapers regularly run restaurant reviews.  Or, if you aren't so worried about getting paid, create a blog and post your restaurant reviews there.
  16. Restaurant/Food Service Worker.  One of the most obvious ways to work with food is to join the staff of a company that specializes in food/hospitality.  Just choose your venue: fast food joint, classy food joint, food cart, bar, hotel ...
  17. Restaurant/Food Service Owner/Manager.  If preparing/serving food doesn't appeal to you, consider a position that will allow you to focus on brainstorming menu choices, shopping for unique/quality ingredients, and creating dining experiences.
  18. Event Planner.  People who plan weddings, conferences, etc. are expected, as part of the job, to provide appropriate dining alternatives.  The cool part is that many caterers/restaurants/hotels, eager to win your business, will offer "comped" meals and tastings.
  19. Food Bank/Community Kitchen.  If the idea of blending cooking and community service appeals to you, considering working at a community food bank or kitchen.
  20. Food Journalist.  You don't have to criticize food to have an excuse to write about it - just pick up an edition of Bon Appetit or Weight Watchers magazine and count how many articles there are in each.  Someone's got to write them - why not you?
  21. Culinary Travel Specialist.  Why not combine your love of food with your love of travel, by getting into the so-called "food tourism" business?  I'm guessing this usually involves organizing trips to exotic foreign destinations, though there may be a business to be made out of arranging local food tours, if you're lucky enough to live in an urban area where international offerings are abundant.
  22. Food Scientist/Chemist.  If the science of cooking appeals to you, consider becoming a food scientist or chemist.  Plenty of companies out there eager to invent the next big thing: frozen foods that don't taste frozen, fruits that don't spoil, or the Holy Grail of food science, a side-effects-free sugar substitute
  23. Food Photographer.  If you're into photography, consider specializing in food.  There's a great deal of art that goes into making food look delicious, fresh and appetizing, and people are willing to pay for the services of a photographer who does this well.
  24. Grocery Store Employee/Manager.  All the fun of working with food without having to worry about preparing/serving it. 
  25. Personal Grocery Shopper.  It's not glamorous, but if you like the idea of shopping for food using someone else's money, more and more grocery stores are offering this as a service to customers who don't have the time or ability to do their own shopping.
  26. Theatre.  I stuck this one on the list because you always hear about theaters/studios setting up big food tables so the performers and technicians can grab sustainance in between takes.    
  27. Politician/Lobbyist.  Frequent wining/dining is a prerequisite for both jobs - the major difference between them is who pays.
  28. Celebrity.  Become a celebrity and you'll never have to pay for food again!  Everyone will be eager to shower you with free meals and delicacies.  The downside, of course, is that if you want to continue to be a celebrity, you'll probably need to watch your weight.  Cruel, isn't it?

11/19/2010

50 Careers for People Who Like to Work Alone

Do you have a personality that irritates others?  Or do others have personalities that irritate you?  Does the buzzword "teamwork" make you bristle ... or, worse yet, break into a cold sweat? 

Seriously - my eldest son is blessed with a high IQ, intellectual curiousity, and a great work ethic.  However, he is also an extreme introvert, has a speech impediment, and isn't exactly patient when it comes to tolerating fools.  The kind of guy, in other words, who needs to work somewhere far from the maddening crowd.  All of which has started me wondering what sorts of careers are available out there for folks who would prefer to earn an income without having to deal with a lot of human interaction.
  1. Animal-based careers.  Assuming you're okay with animals, just not people, some possible careers include working as a breeder, vet, kennel worker, dog walker, pet sitter, zookeeper, etc.
  2. Archivist/librarian.  A great career for people who enjoy books, cataloging, and/or find hissing "shhh!" at total strangers to be a power trip.
  3. Artist.  Creating art is an inherently independent effort; painters, photographers, handicrafters, potters, sculptors, and their ilk possess the ability to observe the world without necessarily interacting with it.  The challenge, of course, is finding a way to sell one's artwork without having to deal with galleries, magazines, or craft fair organizers. Thank goodness for the web.
  4. Athlete in solitary sport.  Lots of sports emphasize individual effort over teamwork, to include marathoning, swimming, diving, bicycle racing, kayaking, surfing, scuba diving, skiing, rock climbing, surfing, sailboat racing, etc.
  5. Caretaker.  Steven King's novel The Shining may have given caretaking a bad name, but it's not all spooky mansions, snow-bound mountains, creepy twins and demonic hedge animals.  Locations as varied as estates, cemeteries, earth stations and weather stations require caretakers to attend to basic facilities needs.
  6. Close Captioning Typist.  I don't actually have any information about this job, but have always imagined it involves sitting in a cubicle, wearing headphones, watching TV and furiously typing.  Or maybe these days there's software that does the work?
  7. Clothing/shoe creation/repair. Once you've taken the measurements, each job requires blissful hours of solo cutting and sewing.
  8. Computer programming/networking.  If I weren't doing this alphabetically, this entry would probably deserve to be first.  The work is lucrative, easy to find, and wonderfully isolating: a really juicy networking problem or coding assignment can potentially cut you off from all social contact for weeks at a time.
  9. Courier/Deliveries. Lots of stuff besides pizza needs picking up and delivering: think mail, packages, trash, newspapers, dry cleaning, medical samples, confidential legal material, expensive jewelry, cars, etc.
  10. Crime.  Hey, I'm not recommending it as a career choice - simply noting that it is, in fact, a career that lends itself to solitary effort.
  11. Custodian/maid.  Custodians at hotels and office buildings seem rarely to interact with anyone.  Perhaps because they are simply too busy.
  12. Data Analysis.  Tons of jobs out there for people who like to analyze data.  I know this because, in just the past 24hrs, various forms of media have informed me that (1) kids diagnosed with ADD are at higher risk for heart disease later in life, (2) the economy is actually recovering, if you take into account about 20 extenuating circumstances, and (3) it is a statistical improbability that Donovan McNabb will remain healthy enough to work off the huge new contract he just signed for the Washington Redskins. 
  13. Data Entry/Retrieval.  Until every tidbit of information in the world has been transferred to computer (which can't be too far off now), there will continue to be a need for files clerks to categorize, catalog, sort, store, and retrieve paper-based information.   I recommend any organization or agency affiliated with local government.
  14. Equipment Operator. Lots of jobs out there operating big machines with little cabs/offices: toll bridges, cranes, oil rigs, rollercoasters, snowplows, etc.
  15. Explorer.  Make a career out of going places where no man has gone before: the arctic, above a rainforest, under the ocean, outer space ....
  16. Factory Work.  The upside is that, as long as you're doing your job, no one's going to interrupt you.  The downside is the tedium of potentially doing the same tasks day after day after day.  Your call.
  17. Farming/Ranching.  This category incorporates a huge range of jobs, from plowing fields to picking fruit, from raising chickens to milking cows.  Lots of opportunities for solitary work, as long as you don't mind mosquitoes.
  18. Firespotting.  Isn't this the first job everyone things of when you talk about "lonely jobs"?  I don't know how many of these jobs are actually available, but I can think of worse careers than sitting in the middle of a lush forest, reading books and occasionally scanning the horizon for smoke plumes.
  19. Garage/Tollbooth Attendant.  Not a bad gig if they let you listen to your iPod while you're working.  Plus you can work on assembling a first-class coin collection.
  20. Gardening/Landscaping/Nursery Work/Forestry.  The plants aren't going to mind if you don't talk to them.
  21. Graphic Design.  Decided not to lump this in with "artist" since it's more of a career than a vocation.  And a pretty lucrative career at that, if you've got talent and can sign up with an agency that will handle all the pesky client touchy-feely stuff on your behalf.
  22. Internet/Online Careers.  Become a blogger, online journalist, wiki writer or web portal host and interact with the world without ever actually having to change out of your pajamas.
  23. Inventor.  Isolation is practically a job requirement, lest anyone steal your great ideas.  Potentially lucrative fields include iPad/Kindle apps (Apple/Amazon being equally desperate to justify purchase of their respective products), alternative energies (Obama's still hoping green is the next internet), and/or life-saving technologies for 3rd world countries (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - pockets don't get any deeper!)
  24. Lifeguard.  Another one of those careers where you're surrounded by people but essentially alone.  If anyone tries to bug you while you're sitting on your stand you can just tell them: "Can't talk. Have to stay vigilant."
  25. Lighthouse Keeper.  Another career that automatically comes to mind when someone mentions solitary jobs.  To tell the truth, I'm not even sure this job is available anymore, due to improvements in automation, but it's certainly one of the more romantic options on this list.  Think tretcherous shorelines and storm-tossed seas, moaning foghorns, billowing fog, and the ghosts of dead sailors lingering among the waves.
  26. Long-Haul Truck Driver. Make a downpayment on a rig and start living the life of a long-haul trucker.  No need to be bound by stereotypes:  feel free to eat healthy and spend the time improving your mind by mastering classical music and listening to great literature (or college courses) on audio.
  27. Mathematics-Based Careers.  Try it - just tell someone you're mathematician and watch them hasten to leave you to your own resources!  Respectable wages await folks able to qualify for employment as actuaries, accountants, bankers, investors, codebreakers, handicappers, and statisticians. 
  28. Mechanic.  If you're competent, doesn't matter how rude your are: your customers will never let you go!
  29. Monk.  Again, not necessarily recommending this as a career: just saying that if you fancy limited wardrobe choices, stark accommodations, and atonal music, this is an option to consider.
  30. Movie Projectionist.  Do theaters hire movie projectionists any more, or is this all done automatically?  Am kind of hoping humans are still in charge, as this was the go-to career for loners with a fancy for cinema back when I was a kid.
  31. Musician.  Though you typically have to perform with others, there is no requirement to socially interact socially with them.  Plus, remaining aloof creates the impression that you're brilliant and eccentric.
  32. Night Shift Employee.  When most of the world goes to sleep, a few solitary souls emerge to keep things running through the wee small hours of the morning.  Some institutions that require night work include stores (restocking), hospitals, hotels, convenience stores, tollbooths, airports, and astronomers.
  33. Park ranger.  If you can duck out of having to lead tours, there are plenty of other solitary jobs that require doing, from grooming trails to monitoring/tagging wildlife, environmental testing, and/or maintenance.
  34. Philosopher/Theologist.  People will beg you not to tell them what you're doing.
  35. Pilot.  I'm picturing the sort that fly their own planes, delivering corporate bigwigs to important meetings or packages to isolated locations. 
  36. Reader.  I'm thinking of those folks that record the text of books onto tape for the benefit of folks who have vision impairments or who enjoy listening to books rather than reading them.  Getting the gig to do War and Peace has to qualify as full time employment!
  37. Researcher.  Am distinguishing this from data analysis because there's are plenty of research jobs that don't require numbers.  Consider genealogy, history, or one of the soft sciences.
  38. Restoration.  Become an expert at restoring books, cars, boats, paintings or some other category of possession that people prize and will pay to keep in good repair.
  39. Scanning books into digital libraries.  Speaking of moving hard files to computer archives ... before all the great libraries of the world become accessible online, someone's got to actually, manually scan the books into a hard drive somewhere.  Sounds mind-numbing, but maybe if they let you listen to your ipod as you work ....
  40. Scientist.  Sure, you can work in a lab, like your stereotypical mad scientist.  But there are also careers in fields such as geology, botony, and biology that involve engaging in field work in remote locations.
  41. Seafaring Jobs.  All that lovely water separating you from the rest of humanity!  Careers include boat maintenance, boat relocation, towboat captain, fishing, and mapping/navigation.
  42. Security work.  All you need is a uniform, a badge, an ipod, a bag full of doughnuts and a big thermos of caffeine.
  43. Surveyor.  You may need a partner to hold that pole with all the measurements on it, but at least they'll always be 20yards away from you!
  44. Technician.  Get a job in a laboratory developing photos, sorting samples, or processing DNA.
  45. Trade career.  Many of the more skilled trades - plumbing, electrician, carpenter, welding, car repair - allow you to work solo, and most of them pay well to boot.  
  46. Transcriptionist.  Legal and medical transcriptionists are, I understand, in great demand.  All you need is a lot of patience and a wrist brace to prevent carpel tunnel syndrome. 
  47. Translator. Another one of those great careers you can pursue in the comfort of your own home.  
  48. Umpire/referee.  The only career I can think of where you're surounded by people who you can penalize for trying to talk to you.
  49. Undertaker/coroner/mortician.  The perfect job for folks who possess compassion in combination with a strong stomach.
  50. Usher.  Even though you'll be surrounded by patrons, no one ever talks to the ushers.  All you have to do is hand out programs and show people to their seats.
  51. Writing/journalism.  There are so many niche magazines and newsletters out there, all in need of folks able to organize their thoughouts and output them in grammatical Engish.  It's harder to find those folks than you may think.

11/11/2010

Careers for People Who Love Theater



I understand the unemployment rate for actors is something like 85%.  Depressing!  And a little surprising, given the range of careers available to people who have the ability to make others suspend their disbelief.  I think these people must not be thinking outside of the box: those communication skills come in handy not just on the stage, but in sales, PR/advertising, public speaking, teaching, and politics!  The following list is compiled in honor of the many people in my life who abandoned careers on the board in order to pursue more "stable" careers.  It's never too late, guys!
  1. Actor - film, television, theater, local theater, advertising (venues = major theater, local/regional theater, production studios, dinner theater)
  2. Personality - anchor, commentator, talk show host, podcast host, etc.
  3. Entertainer - singer, dancer, magician, etc. (venues = local theater, cruise ships, amusement parks)
  4. Directing/producing
  5. Theater management
  6. Costumes/makeup
  7. Usher
  8. Technician - camera, lighting, audio, set design, film editing
  9. Stagehand
  10. Ticket sales/brokering
  11. Casting agent/Talent Scout
  12. Radio DJ
  13. Voice acting/voiceovers
  14. Audio book reader 
  15. Teacher/Coach - drama, public speaking, training, communications
  16. Screenwriter/Playwright
  17. Journalist/writer/critic - film, drama
  18. Historical Reenactor. 
  19. Children's Entertainer - storyteller, puppeteer, clown
  20. Public Speaking - instructional, motivational
  21. Sales
  22. PR/advertising
  23. Politics

11/10/2010

21 Careers for People Who Love to Travel


Sometimes I toy with the idea of combining two of my life goals into one, by picking a career that would also allow me to see the world.

Realistically, almost every career offers some travel possibilities.  Sales personnel attend training sessions.  Professionals attend conferences.  You can be a computer specialist in Belgium as easily as you can be a computer specialist in the U.S.

My emphasis here is on jobs where travel isn't just a fluke, but an actual job requirement.   Land one of these jobs and you will see the world ... though possibly not at your convenience or on your terms! 

(Want to travel when/where it's convenient for you? Marry well or win the lottery!)
  1. Airline Pilot/Steward.  The classic choice for people who want to see the world, for good reason: these days, there's almost no exotic destination not serviced by air.  Before you sign up, however, consider carefully whether you have the "right stuff" to endure endless hours of airport muzac, disarm shoebombs, and clear away sick bags with a smile on your face.
  2.  Seaman.  It's an oldy but a goody - become a sailor and see the world!  Or at least those parts of the world that have ports.  You can join the Navy, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, or become a seaman for private merchant vessels.  (Just remember your vitamin C tabs so you don't catch scurvy.)
  3. Military.   At the time of this writing, various U.S. military services maintain bases in such exotic locals as Japan, Germany and the Philippines.  The downside is that the parts of the world you're most likely to see are Iran, Afghanistan, and war zones being policed by U.N. forces.
  4. Cruise Ships.  The cruise ship industry is always hiring: the bad news is that, in general, they prefer to hire internationally since foreign workers are so much less picky about matters such as work hours, salary and accomodations.  However, there are opportunities for U.S. citizens, particularly in the areas of cruise staff, day care staff, and entertainment.
  5. Diplomatic corps/State Department.  This is an obvious choice, but be prepared to take what you're given - the State Department has a pretty ingrained policy of alternating so-called "desirable" postings (places with beaches, orchestras, history and/or really good local breweries) with undesirable postings (war zones, 3rd world countries, areas of tectonic activity).
  6. Peace Corps/Volunteerism.  Then again, if you're an adventurer, a risk-taker, a romantic ... if you like the idea of spreading peace and doing good ... if you see "undesirable postings" as a challenge rather than a punishment (and if you aren't to particular about the quality of your health care) ... then the Peace Corps may be for you.  Failing Peace Corps, there are plenty of other international volunteer organizations willing to whisk you oversees in exchange for free labor.
  7. Translator.  If you are fluent in one of the "hot" languages (Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, etc.), companies may be willing to pay you to travel to these countries to help their sales representatives conduct business with the locals. 
  8. International Business.  Or, you can be the guy that the translator is translating.  International companies engaged in law, banking and sales need employees willing to travel to oversee/train/manage their foreign operations.
  9. Nanny/Au Pair. This is an obvious choice for young women who don't mind working with children.  The problem is that families will expect you to stay for more than a few months, so you may not get to see many countries before the demands of nannying wear you out and leave you begging for home.
  10. Student Laboror.  In countries with manual labor shortages (notably the U.S. but also some small European countries with tourist seasons), companies often spring up that specialize in importing students from other countries to fill temporary vacancies.  While a viable option, expect to work long hours and live in intimate quarters.
  11. International Courier.  Some companies will pay good money to ensure that sensitive materials travel safely from country to country.  You'll need to be bonded, insured, cleared, fingerprinted, and you may have to turn over a child or two as hostage, but in return, people will pay you to cart their precious documents, diamonds, etc. from destination to glamorous destination.
  12. Travel Agent.  Though the practice isn't as common as it used to be, resorts/hotels/cruise ships/etc. used to offer low-price or comped trips to travel agents in hopes the travel agents would then recommend their facilities/services to their clients.  I suspect, however, that if you can convince these hospitality providers that you influence the decisions of a big enough client base, perks are still available.
  13. Travel Writer.  I have a feeling this probably isn't a lucrative career - if there was big money to be made from travelling and then talking about it, hard to imagine why anyone wouldn't do it.  Rather than set out on your own, perhaps the thing to do is to offer your services to one of the going travel writing concerns: Fodors, Rick Steves, etc.
  14. Hospitality.  Hook up with a mega-hospitality provider for a chance to work at hotels, spas, restaurants or resorts overseas.  While outfits like Marriott, Hilton, Sheraton and Intercontinental are more likely to land you in exotic resort areas, less glamorous companies such as McDonalds, Starbucks, and Walmart are aggressively expanding across the globe and may offer more immediate opportunities.
  15. Tour Guide.  Offer your services to a travel company that specializes in offering guided tours to foreign parts.   This works best if you have some special expertise to share - fluency in a language, expertise in a particular era of history, or specialized athletic skills (white water navigation, climbing, parasailing) - but some companies may be willing to give you a script to memorize and set you on your way, if you show yourself capable and game.
  16. Professional Sports.  Certain sports - such as golfing, surfing, and scuba diving - require you to travel to where the best facilities/conditions are.  But even more mainstream sports like baseball, basketball, and soccer enjoy worldwide appeal, with franchises in almost every continent.  If you aren't born with natural athletic ability there may still be opportunities in sports medicine, training, and coaching.
  17. Academics/Research.  Positioning yourself as an expert in pretty much any academic area will provide opportunities for travel - speaking at conferences, guest-lecturing at foreign universities, conducting research in international libraries, etc.
  18. Academics/Teaching.  There are always opportunities for folks able to teach English to citizens of foreign nations eager to learn the "international language of business."  Potential employers include governments, embassies, foreign companies, and foreign universities/schools.
  19. Science.  Some scientific disciplines - such as geology, biology, and mechanical engineering - practically require travel as a prerequisite.  After all, if you want to study rocks, plants, or dams, you have to go to where they are, right?
  20. Arts/Entertainment.  Cultivate an artistic talent and, if you're good enough, you should be able to market yourself in any country that enjoys drama, orchestra, and/or dance. 
  21. Journalism/Foreign Correspondent.  A gig that's as hard to get as it is glamorous.  Just know in advance that they're not going to send you somewhere unless there's actual news to report, so you're far likelier to end up in Iran than Belize.

11/03/2010

Careers for Teachers Outside of the Classroom


  1. Educational Consulting.  Educational consultants administer testing and provide other evaluation services for students, especially students with special needs.  Some tests you can administer without certification; others will require training and certification. However, for those who are trained in the tests that are most in demand, this can be a lucrative career.
  2. Educational Advocacy.  Educational advocates help parents - especially the parents of students with special needs - ensure that their students are receiving the education and protections guaranteed by federal, state and local law.  Prerequisites include a good knowledge of educational law, strong negotiating skills, and a desire to advocate for the needs of students.
  3. Proctoring/Grading.  State and national testing companies are always looking for folks to grade the essay portions of standardized tests.  If you just can't get enough of overwrought undergraduate prose, this might be the ticket for you.
  4. Test Prep.  Speaking of standardized testing, the companies that prepare students for high stakes standardized testing (SAT, LSAT, etc.) are always looking for teachers willing to teach their test-prep courses.  This is a nice gig because they supply the curriculum - all you have to do is teach it.
  5. Create curriculum. Create worksheets or other materials for online or paper publishing companies.
  6. Literary Analysis/Review. Write essays for publishers of literary analysis (ex: Cliff Notes, Sparknotes, online providers).
  7. Tutoring.  Offer tutoring services as an individual or through a for-profit tutoring center (ex: Huntington Learning Center, Sylvan Learning Center).  
  8. Adult and Community Education.  Most school systems offer adult and community education.  Courses offered often go beyond tradition school subjects to include IT, creative writing, finance, resume writing, college essay prep, fine arts, music, and more.  These classes provide a great opportunity for teachers to work with students who have a genuine passion (or need) for the subject they are teaching.
  9. Create a "homework helper" website. If face-to-face tutoring isn't for you, create a website that (for a small yearly fee) will provide homework assistance for students. To add value, create downloadable flash cards, worksheets, and other resources.
  10. Homeschooling.  Groups of homeschoolers may be interested in classes offered by a certified teacher but offered outside of the constraints of the public school system.  Demand is particularly high for those able to teacher higher-level content courses such as chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, and foreign languages.
  11. Online Education.  More and more school districts are beefing up their online offerings to make up for constrained funding available for summer school, summer enrichment, and homebound education, increasing the demand for certified teachers willing to teach such offerings.
  12. English as a Second Language instruction.  There aren't too many communities these days that don't have a pocket of immigrants needing to increase their English skills.  There's no need to speak a foreign language to be an ESL teacher.  However, if you haven't taught ESL students before, be sure to spend some time researching best practices, as this type of instruction requires skills that go beyond traditional teacher training programs. 
  13. Proofreading/Technical Writing.  A great career for you English/journalism/creative writing teachers out there.  People who "speak science" often possess lousy English skills: thus the need for people with solid writing and grammar skills to polish their technical papers, proposals, and professional materials.

10/03/2010

200+ Science Fair Project Ideas



Here are some of the ideas my son and I ran across when researching possible topics for his science fair project.  FYI, he eventually chose: "Which food produces the most gas?" I can't imagine a topic more inclined to appeal to adolesent males - with the possible exception of any experiment involving a catapult.

Biology
  1. BASIC PLANT EXPERIMENTS. 
    1. How is plant growth impacted by the amount of various nutrients added (or taken away)? gravity/magnets? sound/music? movement? mowing/pruning? type/quality of soil? type/quality/quantity of light? type/quality/quantity of water? pH? electrical current? cycles of rain/drought? presence of worms/biologicals? environmental factors (flood, fire, drought)?
    2. Is there a mathematical relationship between root and stem growth?
    3. Does soil composition and porosity affect root pattern & growth rate?
  2. BASIC MICROORGANISM EXPERIMENTS. How do water-borne microorganisms respond to different amounts of nutrients added to (or taken away from) soil? different temperatures? pH? 
  3. BASIC ORGANISM EXPERIMENTS (MICE, WORMS). How do organisms respond to differnet types of food (ex: energy drinks)? music? motion? the presence/absence of predators? Can they communicate, and if so, how and under what circumstances?
  4. FUN WITH ELECTROMAGNETISM. Do electromagnetic fields affect plants? microorganisms? macroorganisms?
  5. WATER QUALITY. 
    1. What is the effect on water quality of seasons? amount of rainfall? chemicals? runoff? excessive algae growth? growth or reduction in population of certain species (i.e., decomposers)?
    2. How can polluted water be remediated?
  6. ADAPTATION.  If you systematically eliminate a trait in a population (ex: remove the smallest fish, remove all plants with green flowers, remove all short plants, etc.), how many generations does it take for the trait to disappear from the population entirely? How does nature repopulate an area devastated by fire/flood/drought?
  7. BOOSTING YOUR ACADEMICS. Is there a relationship between academic success and eating breakfast? time spent on homework? studying method employed? time of day chosen for studying? studying with or without music/sound? caffeine?
  8. FUN WITH FUNGUS. On which foods does fungus grow best? How do fungus seeds spread in the absence of wind?
  9. EAT YOUR FRUITS AND VEGETABLES  How is ripening rate impacted by presence/absense of specific chemicals? light? temperatures? humidities? presence/absense of other foods?  Which fruits/veges cause the most gas?
  10. SOIL SCIENCE. What kinds of soils retain water better? promote/inhibit plant growth? promote/inhibit growth of certain plants/microorganisms/organisms? withstand compacting best?
  11. VIDEO GAME SCIENCE.  Do video games effect heart rate? blood pressure? appetite? tolerance towards violence? attention span? ability to delay gratification? reflexes?
  12. KIDS VS. ADULT. Do children have better reaction times than adults? do kids/adults have different resting pulse rates?
  13. MUSIC. Does listening to different types of music affect heart rate? blood pressure? academic performance? mood? stress?
  14. PRODUCT TESTING.  Which lotions do best job of reducing dry skin? Which suntan lotions do best job of protecting from sun? Which orange juice contains the most vitamin C? Are the calorie counts on nutritional labels accurate?
  15. SMELL.  Is everyone's sense of smell the same? Or does is vary by gender? age? culture?
  16. HAND DOMINANCE.  Doe hand dominance correlate with gender? academic ability? athletic ability? eye dominance? ear dominance? culture?
  17. SOMETHING ROTTEN THIS WAY COMES.  What factors increase/inhibit decomp rates? Just how biodegradable are "biodegradable" products?  
  18. PHYSICAL EXERCISE.  Does the type/quality/quantity of warmup activity impact athletic performance? How long do you have to exercise before you start to build endurance/stamina?
  19. GERMS. Which method best reduces spread of germs - covering mouth with hand, elbow, or handkerchief? What are "germiest" places in public?
Physical Sciences (Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics)
  1. Do size, shape or mass have the greatest impact on a magnet’s strength?
  2. What evidence can we find about the rotation of the earth from star trails?
  3. Does the presence of designated hitters increase the average number of runs in baseball games?
  4. How does sunspot activity affect radio reception?
  5. How does particle size affect settling rates?
  6. How does temperature (or air pressure; or evaporation rate; or substrate; or surface area) affect crystal growth?
  7. What forces act on soap bubbles to determine their shape?
  8. What differences can be observed in the way salt & sugar crystals grow?
  9. What will happen to a rubber ball (or a ping pong ball; or a marble) exposed to dry ice? Why?
  10. Can the hydrogen and oxygen in water molecules be split?
  11. How do different thermal cups perform in keeping liquids hot for long periods of time?
  12. What do magnetic field lines look like? Why?
  13. What materials block radio raves most effectively?
  14. Does the shape and mass of an object affect its velocity when sinking through water?
  15. What is required to build the best paper airplane in the world?
  16. Do different objects accelerate at different rates?
  17. What is the most efficient angle for windmill blades?
  18. What is the relative elasticity of various types of string (i.e., twine, kite string, fishing string, sewing thread)?
  19. Which material is a better insulator – straw, sand, paper or cloth?
  20. Do different colors absorb heat differently?
  21. Do different gases expand differently when heated
  22. Are “fireproof” fabrics really fireproof (NOTE: Adult supervision required!!)
  23. Can astronomical observation & math be used to estimate the distance of the sun and the moon from earth?
  24. What makes stars appear to twinkle? Demonstrate
  25. How does the viscosity of liquids affect the shape of droplets?
  26. Can light be bent?
  27. What color can be seen most clearly through a fog?
  28. Which type of sunglasses do the best job of absorbing light & protecting the eyes?
  29. Can solar energy be used to cook food (we mean directly – not indirectly such as creating electricity to run a regular stove!)
  30. Does regular carbonated soda cause bone to decompose?
  31. Which brands of carbonated soda are the most corrosive?
  32. Does temperature change the magnetic field patterns of a standard horseshoe magnet?
  33. What is the difference between music & noise?
  34. Which fuels are most efficient in producing energy?
  35. How does gear size affect gear efficiency?
  36. Compare different metals (ex: density, buoyancy) & explain similarities/differences
  37. Compare different woods (ex: density, strength, burn rate) & explain similarities/differences
  38. What is the best method, other than heat, to melt ice?
  39. Does the viscosity of a fluid affect its boiling point?
  40. Compare and explain the resonance of different objects (ex: metals, glass). Explain.
  41. How does the shape & construction of (insert musical instrument here) affect the sound quality of the instrument?
  42. What kind of sound carries best through water? Through fog?
  43. Do metals expand at the same rate when heated?
  44. Does aluminum foil make a difference in cooking times?
  45. What is the best nose cone shape for a model rocket?
  46. What is the best wing design for an aircraft?
  47. What factors determine solubility of a substance?
  48. Does temperature affect the pH of acids or alkalines?
  49. Does the pH level of fruits & vegetables effect their taste?
  50. Which freezes first, hot or cold water?
  51. Are there differences in different brands of bottled water?
  52. How “clean” is rain water in your area?
  53. What biological or chemical agents do the best job of cleaning up oil spills?
  54. Does the shape of ice affect melting time? Why?
Electrical & Structural Engineering/IT
  1. Do potatoes conduct electricity? Why?
  2. Does salt water light up a light bulb better than regular water? Why?
  3. How can you use magnets & wire to create electrical current?
  4. Does the size of a wheel affect the speed of a vehicle?
  5. How does the shape of a pinewood car affect its speed?
  6. How does the size of wire (or number of coils, or type of wire) affect the strength of an electromagnet?
  7. What materials make the best magnetic shields?
  8. What factors (for example, temperature, color of light, angle of light) affect the current, voltage and power generated by a solar cell?
  9. How can structures be made more impervious to collapse during an earthquake?
  10. How can structures be made more impervious to flooding?
  11. Do quarters and feathers fall at the same speed?
  12. How does the composition of various balls (i.e., rubber, marble, ping pong) determine how they bounce?
  13. What is the impact of lever length on the strength of levers? (Or, How does the length of a catapult affect its range?)
  14. How does shape affect buoyancy?
  15. What materials make the best shock absorbers (hint: test by dropping eggs from various heights!)
  16. Which materials work best as sound barriers?
  17. Does the particle size of sand used to make bricks (or concrete) matter?
  18. Can light from a Light Emitting Diode (LED) be modulated using sound?
  19. What materials work best in a sandbag for preventing a flood?
  20. Does a ceiling fan really reduce room temperature?
  21. Can eggs withstand a greater force from one direction than from others?
  22. How can a computer be used to break codes?
  23. Can encoded information (floppy discs, metro cards, credits cards, etc.) be affected by magnetism (NOTE: Adult supervision required for this one!)
  24. How is an electrical current affected by temperature (or magnetism, or type of conductor)?
  25. Is electrical current affected by the diameter of a wire?
  26. What affects the strength of an electromagnet?
  27. How many blades should a fan have?
  28. How does the shape of a kite affect its flight?
  29. What controls the descent rate of parchutes?
Earth Science
  1. Where is the current of a stream the fastest?
  2. Does the amount of water affect the size of a wave?
  3. What is the greater cause of water erosion in a stream – gradual erosion over time, or major events like storms and floods?
  4. How does topography affect weather conditions
  5. How do changes in air pressure affect weather
  6. How does the growth of vegetation affect soil erosion?
  7. What are the most effective ways to control soil erosion?
  8. How do stalactites and stalagmites form?
  9. How does the size of particles in rivers affect how fast they settle?
  10. What factors contribute to makes soils more or less porous?
  11. Can antacids help soil polluted by acid rain
  12. How do soils in different parts of our area differ?
  13. What affects evaporation the most … air temperature, water temperature or wind speed?
  14. What is the relationship between the depth of water and its temperature (or salinity, or pressure)?
  15. How does the construction of levies along rivers effect erosion & deposition patterns?
  16. Why do hurricanes gain more power over warm water than cold water? Demonstrate.
  17. Why is there no wind in the eye of hurricanes? Demonstrate.
  18. Why are winds highest in the eyewall of hurricanes? Demonstrate.
  19. How can earthquakes cause tsunamis? Demonstrate.
  20. How are average temperatures (or average rainfall) changing in your local area (or state? Or country? Or the world?)
  21. How can you measure wind speed?
  22. How can you measure atmospheric pressure?
  23. What is the difference between direct sun & shade? Is it constant or variable?
  24. Particle fallout: Does the amount of particle pollution in soil vary with distance from a road (or height, or location)?
  25. What happens to road salts applied to roads after the snow melts? What effect does this have on the environment?
  26. What would happen to weather if the Earth was a cube?
  27. How do obstacles affect water (or wave) motion?
  28. What factors influence the size, shape & other characteristics of cracks in dried mud?
  29. What does the shape of local streams & water features tell about the geology of the local area
  30. How much silt is there in a river at different times? How do specific events (rain, droughts, floods) affect silt levels?
  31. What factors influence dune shape, form and movement?
  32. What factors influence beach erosion?
  33. How can rock formations be dated by examining the fossils within them? (use a local formation as an example, if possible)
  34. How does naturally-occurring asbestos form? Is it as dangerous as the asbestos that contractors once used as insulation for buildings?
Social Science
  1. If you ask the same question in a negative and positive way, will you get different answers?
  2. Does the color of a questionnaire affect how people answer the questions?
  3. Do flashcards with pictures enhance memorization better than flashcards without pictures?
  4. Are poems with a lot of rhythm, rhyme & different sound devices easier to learn than those written in free verse?
  5. Do men and woman have the same “favorite colors”?
  6. Is text written in colored ink easier to remember than text written in black and white ink?
  7. Are horoscopes accurate? Can their accuracy be measured?
  8. At what age to people develop the ability to accurately estimate the number of marbles in a jar?
  9. How do various types of music affect concentration?
  10. Can subliminal messages really be used to affect how people make decisions?
  11. Is there such a thing as ESP?
  12. Can people really tell if they are being stared at?
  13. Can a computer program help people make decisions?
  14. Can computer games be used to encourage students to do homework?
  15. How good are we at hearing one voice in a crowd?
  16. In communities with voluntary recycling programs paid for by the community or state, what is the average level of compliance?
  17. Does a bath take less water than a shower?
  18. What is the average ratio of recyclable waste to unrecyclable waste in your house?
  19. Does the ability to memorize information vary during the course of a day? Does everyone demonstrate the same daily pattern?


10/02/2010

20 Fun Geology Facts



Once upon a time I earned a degree in geology ... then came the oil glut (am I ever aging myself!) and I moved on to other careers.  These days, I retain just enough geology trivia to amuse my middle school students.  Here are some of my standards:
  1. Rubies and sapphires are actually the same mineral - corundum.  The basic chemical formula of corundum is Al2O3, but traces of iron stain the mineral red (ruby) while traces of chromium or titanium stain the mineral blue (sapphire).
  2. Rubies, sapphires and emeralds are all more rare than diamonds.
  3. Not all diamonds are clear.  They come in a variety of colors (called "fancies"), including yellow, green, blue, orange, brown ("champagne"), purple, grey, black (called carbanado, recently shown to be meteroic), milky white, pink, and red.  Red is by far the rarest.  
  4. Antacids taste like chalk because they ARE chalk, a.k.a. calcium carbonate.
  5. There are 18 volanoes in the US with the potential to erupt again, all of them in Alaska, Hawaii and the West Coast states.
  6. Will Yellowstone spawn a "supervolcano" that will destroy the US?  ANSWER: Probably not.  The amount of rhyolitic magma just beneath the surface of Yosemite is relatively small at present, so even if it eventually "erupts" through the surface, should cause minor lava flows rather than a large supervolcano-type eruption. (For those who are still hoping the Mayans were onto something, however, a supervolcano-type eruption is technically possible.  USGS sets the odds of such an event occuring in the next few thousand years at 0.00014% .)
  7. The Gulf of California is a spreading zone - many millions of years from now, it will be an ocean.
  8. The earth is slipping along the San Andreas fault at a rate of about 2" per year.  This means that in about 15 millions years Los Angeles and San Francisco will be neighbors.
  9. California is sinking at a rate of about 4" per year. But you can't blame the San Andreas fault for this one; rather, sinking is due to pumping of natural underground water reservoirs.
  10. The Great Lakes, combined, contain more than 20% of the world's available fresh water. (Doesn't count underground aquafers or polar ice)
  11. People experiencing earthquakes in the Great Lakes region have the glaciers to thank - the earth there is still "rebounding" from having been smushed by glaciers during the last ice age. ("Smushed" isn't actually a geological term, but it should be.) 
  12. What country owns Antacrtica? ANSWER: No one - there's a treaty that establishes Antarctica as a "neutral zone" ... though no telling how much longer this will go unchallenged, since melting due to global warming has begun exposing huge oil reserves beneath Antarctica's surface.
  13. Despite what you've seen on Christmas cards and holiday specials, it rarely snows at the Earth's poles, because cold air is lousy at retaining moisture.  For this reason, both the Arctic and Antarctica are classified as cold deserts.  Overall, Antarctica receives more snow because it is surrounded by ocean (ice in the Arctic is ~2 miles thick); the Arctic, in contrast, sits in a virtual land-locked lake, and sports a mere 15 feet of ice.  This also explains why Antarctica rises some 9000 feet above sea level (the tallest continent by far) while the Arctic rises barely 1 foot above sea level.  
  14. People who wade into the Dead Sea automatically float.  Dissolved salts make the water so dense, humans are less dense in contrast and so float.
  15. What is the most earthquake-prone state in the US? ANSWER: Gotcha!  It's not California, but Alaska (see Item #3).
  16. What is the most dominant element in the air we breathe? ANSWER: Gotcha again!  Our atmosphere is 80% nitrogen.
  17. Iceland looks huge on a regular map, but it is approximately the size of Kentucky.  This is because the Mercator projection map we use to make lines of latitude and longitude lie flat inadvertantly makes countries nearer the poles appear HUGE. 
  18. Why doesn't the earth have as many craters as the moon?  ANSWER: We do!  Geologists have so far located ~170 impact craters on Earth. However, they are hard to spot because many of them have been gradually eroded away or been overgrown by vegetation. 
  19. About 200 million years from now, Asia and America will collide to form a supercontinent centered around the north pole.  Scientists already have a name for it: Amasia. (Because apparently scientists are better at predicting stuff than they are at naming stuff.)
  20. Every so often our magnetic poles "reverse" - the north pole and the south pole reverse their magnetism.  Scientists estimate this could happen again about 1000-2000 years from now ... So start relabelling your magnets now!