Honey

This sweet substance has been mentioned in our recent posts on root beer and mead. What exactly is honey?

According to the National Honey Board, “honey is honey, it’s just that simple.  A bottle of pure honey contains the natural sweet substance produced by honey bees from the nectar of plants or secretions of living parts of plants. ” In the United States, there are over 300 types of honey with the color and flavor determined by the types of flowers from which the bees harvest nectar.

Stay tuned as we learn more about honey in future posts.

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Cyser

In our last post, we looked at the melomel, of which the local meadery offered several varieties. In addition to these and the tradional “straight” mead, another offering was an apple cyser.

What is a Cyser?
We again refered to the FAQ over at Stonekeep Meade and found that it is a type of mead made with “honey and apples or apple cider. Can also be made with peach, cherry or pear cider.”

At the local meadery, the peach and cherry flavored offerings were presented as varieties of melomel. Some consider cyser to be subcategory of melomel, and this seems valid given the definition of each.

However you look at it, we found the apple cyser offered at the local meadery to be delicious enough to bring home a bottle to safely enjoy at a later date. Tune in for future posts where we will look further into mead.

Melomel

In previous posts, we’ve mentioned a visit to a local meadery to do some tasting. Looking at the list of offerings, there was only one item called “mead,” two or three other uniquely named selections, and a whole bunch of melomels.

What is a melomel?
In our last post, we took a brief look at mead, and it’s history, to discover that it is simply fermented honey, water, and – as was the case at the meadery – sometimes yeast. We took a look at the FAQ over at Stonekeep Meadery, located in Pennsylvania, and found that a “melomel is a type (or subcategory) of mead made by fermenting fruit along with the honey.”

Indeed the melomels offered at the local meadery included Blackberry, Blueberry, Cherry, Peach, and Strawberry. Stay tuned for future posts about meads, soft drinks, and more.

Mead

As mentioned in our previous post on root beer, Mr. and Mrs. Family Trivium recently sampled varieties of mead at a local meadery.

What is mead?
To answer this question we looked to the Encyclopedia Britannica (no, not Wikipedia this time) and found that mead is simply an “alcoholic beverage fermented from honey and water; sometimes yeast is added to accelerate the fermentation.”

According to many sources, mead is likely the oldest alcoholic beverage in history, with Time magazine indicating that there is evidence that it existed as far back at 7000 BC in China. Sap House Meadery in Center Ossipee, New Hampshire implies that mead was not invented, but rather that it “may have been accidentally discovered when old tree stumps serving as homes for honey bees were flooded during the rains and the fermentation process took place naturally, only to be found and enjoyed by the people traveling through.”

It seems uncertain exactly when or where mead was invented and whether is was discovered or invented, and by whom. Stay tuned as we delve deeper into this topic in future posts.

Ginger Ale

Having looked at root beer in our last post, we now examine another popular soft drink with a name that may imply otherwise. Ginger ale.

What is Ginger Ale?
According to the history section at Ginger Ale Authority (GAA), ginger ale, as we know it today, is a sweet soda water with a “kick of ginger root.” Similar to root beer, it started out as a beverage consisting of sweetened water, but flavored with ginger root rather than sassafras root. This recipe was present in England and Ireland in the 1840s before showing up in New York City by the 1850s.

Ginger ale has two distinct types:

Golden
According to  the GAA, this type “had a very sweet and bubbly texture, with a strong ginger punch.”

Dry
Developed later, “dry ginger ale was less sweet with a powerful paleness” according to the GAA. It was often used to tone down the flavor of Prohibition era bootleg liquors.

Similar to root beer, ginger ale has an alcoholic counterpart in its family tree, ginger beer, which may very well be the topic of a future post.

Root Beer

Mr. and Mrs. Family Trivium recently went on a date while the kids spent some time with Grandma and Grandpa. We visited the (somewhat) local meadery to sample their offerings and indulge in a couple of honey crust personal pizzas. On the way out we noticed honey root beer on the menu board. With a pizzeria onsite and their favorite carbonated beverage crafted with their favorite sweet, this seemed like a place the kids could appreciate.

When we conveyed our experience to the kids, they wondered what is real root beer? Who invented it? When and where was it invented? More importantly, was it alcoholic? In other words, could they have it?

To answer these questions, we looked to the FAQ over at Root Beer World. We found that root beer is defined as “a sweetened, carbonated beverage originally made using the root of a sassafras plant (or the bark of a sassafras tree), with sassafras as the primary flavor.” According to the timeline at Root Beer World, it was adapted, by American colonists, from a native American beverage by about 1850. It did have a low alcohol content and was referred to as a “small beer.” Sorry kids. You’ll have to wait until you’re 21 to try real root beer.

Robot – How?

In our last post, we considered why a robot might be used. Now, we ask how does a robot work?

We took a look at an article over at HowStuffWorks.com and found that, much like the human body – the inspiration for Čapek’s original, robots can have  four major components:

  1. Main body
  2. Moving parts
  3. Sensory System
  4. Control System

The main body can be thought of like your torso when considering a humanoid robot. On a wheeled robot, it would be like the chassis of your car. In a stationary, industrial robot, this would be a heavy duty frame attached to the factory floor.

On a humanoid robot, the moving parts would be the arms, legs, and neck. Movement is achieved using an actuator, which can be thought of like your muscles. On a wheeled robot, movement is achieved, like in your car, via a spinning motor geared to the wheels. Wheeled robots are likely to also incorporate additional moving parts, such as an arm. In an industrial robot, the moving parts may include compound arms with specialized attachments designed to allow very efficiently carrying out repetitive tasks.

A robot may, or may not, have a sensory system. Robots might have sensors to detect light, sound. Some even have the ability to smell or taste. The obvious human analogs are the senses of sight, hearing, smell and taste. Pressure and vibration sensors can begin to mimic the sense of touch.

The control system is like the brain, processing programmed instructions, along with inputs from sensors, to determine what physical actions the robot will take.

Robot – Why?

In our last post, we discussed what a robot is, as well as who developed the concept, and when and where is was developed. Now, we look at why a robot might be used.

There are many arguments for using robots, most of them supporting one of three reasons:

  1. To save human labor
  2. To save human life
  3. To perform “superhuman” tasks

Saving Labor
Robots can perform repetitive tasks that would become boring for humans and they can do it for a lower cost than human labor, especially when the cost of repetitive stress injury is taken into account. This frees people up to live more fulfilling lives, perhaps spending more time learning as a family.

Saving Life
Robots can go into environments hazardous to human health. Think of robots used by police bomb squads. The Pioneer robot is used for reconnaissance at the radioactive Chernobyl site. Robots have also been used to protect humans from the hazards of space exploration and volcanic research.

Superhuman Tasks
Robots are able to do things which humans can’t.  Robotics are the standard in manufacturing electronic components because they can operate many times more precisely than humans while also operating much faster, allowing increasingly small and affordable electronics. Surgeons work with surgical robots in such a precise manner so as to make surgeries increasing less invasive, allowing patients to recover more quickly, with fewer side effects.

In the future, we will examine the how of robots and robotics.

Robot

It’s cold outside, so the kids are spending quite a bit of time indoors. Learning. This can get boring, so what can stimulate young brains when nature isn’t exactly luring them outside?

Robotics of course. This is the time of year for robotics competitions, and the preceding preparations. But before getting to the “doing” part of robots, we’ll take a look at some definitions and history.

What is a robot?
The Webster Dictionary offers up a couple of definitions:

“a real or imaginary machine that is controlled by a computer and is often made to look like a human or animal”

“a machine that can do the work of a person and that works automatically or is controlled by a computer”

Simply put, a robot is an autonomous, or semi-autonomous, machine.

Who invented the robot (and when and where)?
According to an article over at BBC, a Greek physicist and inventor, Ctesibius of Alexandria, constructed a water powered clock around 250 BC. While this isn’t what we might think of as a modern robot, it is an autonomous machine, fitting the most basic definition.

Wikipedia credits the science fiction play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Czech writer Karel Čapek with first using the word in 1920. In this play, the robots are actually synthetic humans, rather than machines. This play was first published in Prague, where it was also first performed in 1921.

Subsequently, American author Isaac Asimov coined the phrase “robotics” in his 1941 short story “Liar!” After this, the use of the concept of robots and robotics, as we know them today, seems to have snowballed in science fiction and, eventually, mainstream society.

In upcoming posts, we will take a look at why and how robots might be used.

Perennials – How?

In our last post, we learned why perennial plants might be desirable. In this post, we delve into how to use them in food production. There are a variety of approaches. For now, we’ll examine two.

Evolve the Farm Fields
In the NOVA Next article that we referenced in our last post, the focus was on developing what we currently think of as conventional crops (i.e. wheat) into perennials through selective breeding or hybridization. These approaches have their problems, but would allow land currently using the conventional annual model to convert to a less consumptive, more sustainable system while giving consumers the products with which they have become familiar. This approach also favors the monoculture model, with all of its pros and cons.

Back to Nature
An article in Mother Earth News examines the use of permaculture techniques to develop edible landscapes. This approach looks to nature as the example. Natural systems tend towards a polyculture with both perennials and annuals. Natural systems also do a great job of taking care of themselves.

Without getting into exactly what permaculture is (which could take multiple posts), the article mentions these benefits:

  • Diversity – this means more variety for your diet, and your eyes. Diversity also has the effect of mitigating pest problems.
  • Less work – we covered this in our last post on why.
  • Extension of the harvest season – rather than having one big push to pick and use/preserve a single crop, you can enjoy and savor the literal fruits of your labor over a longer period of time.

Getting back to how, the article gives a few suggestions for getting started with perennial food production in your garden:

  • Add perennials around the perimeter of your existing annual garden.
  • In your existing ornamental gardens, use visually appealing perennial vegetables to fill in empty spots or to replace non productive shrubs.
  • Go all out and plant a food forest. That is, copy the pattern seen in a natural forest, but instead of non-productive trees, use fruit trees. In the understory, plant fruiting bushes, shrubs, and vines. Incorporate edibles wherever you can.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to perennials in food production. I’m sure we’ll cover more gardening topics in future posts as it is one of our hobbies here at Family Trivium.