In our last post on chiggers, we discovered that Mr. Family Trivium has been using a course of calamine to treat the itch caused by bites from these creatures.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines calamine as “a mixture of zinc oxide with a small amount of ferric oxide used in lotions, liniments, and ointments.” The Online Etymology Dictionary, indicates that the word originated in the 1590s, from French “calamine”, Thirteenth Century Old French “calemine” or “chalemine,” Medieval Latin “calamina” which it thought to be a corrupted form of “cadmia” (zinc ore) or “calamus” (reed) in reference to the shape of the mineral.

WebMD suggests that calamine can be used for pain/itching/discomfort caused by contact with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. As children, Mr. and Mrs. Family Trivium also remember calamine being used on bug bites and chicken pox. Mr. Family Trivium has been having good results using it on his chigger bites.



In recent posts on food, we’ve examined eats that were arguably more American than apple pie. While not as popular as ketchup and pizza, computers, according to a Census Bureau report, are in 84% of US households.

In the Family Trivium home, we have more than one and it seems like we are still always competing to use them to complete homework, pay bills, research upcoming purchases, and last, but not least, work on It seems like modern Americans do almost everything with their computers, and without stopping to appreciate these devices and how they came to be.

Once again turning to the ever present Merriam-Webster dictionary, we find that a computer is:

an electronic machine that can store and work with large amounts of information

This is a serviceable definition to explain a modern computer, but we can gain more insight from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1640s, “one who calculates,” agent noun from compute (v.)…

William Harris has written an article over at, that condenses a fairly comprehensive understanding of the earliest development of what we think of today as a computer. In it, we learn that the first “computers” were in fact persons whose occupation was to perform calculations and enter the results into tables referenced by others. Harris’s examples include aiming artillery shells and calculating taxes.

According to Harris, the first device resembling our modern conception of the computer was developed by British mathematician Charles Babbage. By 1832, Babbage had developed a prototype of the “Difference Engine” which is designed to make tables. Subsequently, Babbage designed the “Analytical Engine” to take data input on punched cards, perform more complex calculations, including multiplication and division, and then record the results on paper.  Babbage’s designs were more ambitious than his times would allow, but in 1991 his design was proved out when two functional copies of his “Difference Engine” were built to his specifications.

Stay tuned for future posts where we’ll take a look at the evolution of the mechanical device into a more modern form.

LED Lighting

An ongoing project in the FamilyTrivium Household has been a conversion from incandescent and fluorescent to LED lighting. On this blog, we’ve already examined the first two and, in this post, we now turn our attention to the last.

We turn, once more, to the Learning section over at to find that “LED” stands for “light-emitting diode.” LED is a solid-state technology where a solid material encapsulates the materials used to generate light. This means that the technology is less affected by shock and vibration, than incandescent and fluorescent counterparts, and should have a longer service life.

The first visible-spectrum LED was developed by Nick Holonyak, Jr. in 1962 according to At the time, Holonyak was consulting for GE and each LED cost approximately $200 to produce. Additional, early LEDs were only able to output red light and were quite limited in their output. In other words, their utility was limited to applications such as indicator lamps. Only more recently have LEDs evolved to area lighting usage.

In our house, we’ve reached the point the point where LED bulbs are in use in the areas where we spend the most time: living room, kitchen, bedrooms. We do still have some CFLs and an incandescent or two being used in our bathrooms, garage and basement. The LEDs that we have put into service put out a nice natural color of lighting reminiscent of the old soft white 40 or 60 watt incandescent bulbs while only consuming 5-10 watts. As an added bonus, compared to fluorescent bulbs, they turn on right away and reach full brightness immediately, and without the mercury content.

Fluorescent Lamp

In an earlier post, we studied the incandescent light bulb. Today we will examine one of its relatives: the fluorescent lamp.

According to, fluorescent lamps are “gas-discharge” lamps that “use electricity emitted from cathodes to excite mercury vapor contained within the glass envelope, using a process known as inelastic scattering.” When excited, the mercury vapor emits ultraviolet light, which causes phosphors, also contained in the lamp, to glow, or produce visible light.

While Henrich Geissler is credited with creating light emitting tubes in the 1850s, it was Daniel McFarlan Moore who was able to develop the technology into something commercially viable, according to his bio at the Smithsonian Institution. Moore credited an improved ability to seal the glass tube, compared to that at Geissler’s time, with allowing this to happen.

The Smithsonian’s article on Moore reports that he spent some time working for Thomas Edison, prior to developing his “Moore Lamp” in 1898. Perhaps this is where he learned about contemporary glass sealing techniques that would allow his product to be a success. Edison inquired “What’s wrong with my lamp?” Moore is quoted as having said “It’s too small, too hot, and too red.”

Since our original post on the incandescent bulb, more (not Moore) of the CFLs that we have been using in our home have come to the end of their life. Encouraged by dropping prices, good sales, and even some manufacturers coupons, we have continued our transition to LED lighting, to which we will next turn our attention.

Light Bulb

One more stop in the hardware section before moving on to other topics…

Recently, a bulb burned out in one of our bathrooms. It was the only bulb in this bathroom. It was dark. It was dark in the master bathroom, which we refer to as “mom’s bathroom.” To keep Mrs. Family Trivium happy, Mr. Family Trivium replaced this bulb as quickly as humanly possible.

Upon completing this task, I noted that this was the last of the CFL light bulbs we had in inventory and it was time to procure some more LED bulbs – we’ve been slowly converting. We waxed nostalgic over growing up with incandescent bulbs, the topic of this post, before converting to florescent bulbs, before the current project of switching to LEDs.

A Little History
As was alluded to in a previous post, many of think of Thomas Edison as having invented the light bulb. This is akin to thinking that Henry Ford invented the automobile. The fact is that Edison developed a light bulb that could be brought to the masses.

According to the History section over at, there were a handful of other inventors who developed different version of the electric light prior to Edison’s commercially practical iteration in 1879. The first was basically a piece of carbon which glowed when electricity was passed through it. This evolved, over the better part of the century, into the modern incandescent bulb with which we are familiar – er, less familiar – today.

 The Modern Incandescent Bulb
There are many versions of meme with Edison saying how many times he learned how not to build a light bulb – 100, 1,000, 10,000, etc. According to the Franklin Institute, Edison and his colleagues worked on 3,000+ different theories. By January 1879, Edison’s design consisted of a glass vacuum bulb housing a thin metal filament which glows when electricity is passed through it. This is much the same as the modern design to which we are accustomed. One difference is that this early iteration of Edison’s design used platinum, as opposed to the modern interpretation’s use of tungsten, which Edison theorized would be an appropriate material, though he didn’t have the tools necessary to work with it.

Check back for future posts exploring electric lighting.

Super Glue

We continue our walk of discovery down the hardware aisle…

A few weeks back, one of the kids won a homemade stuffed animal. It wasn’t long before one of the googly eyes fell (was shaken) off the poor creature. “Dad, we just need to put it back on with craft glue.”

“Well, I don’t know if we have any craft glue, but I knew exactly where to find the super glue.” Right next to the WD-40 and duck tape of course (actually it’s Gorilla Tape, but that is a post all its own). After 30 seconds, the googly eye was securely restored to its craft glue eye socket and has been healthy ever since.

What is super glue?
While Super Glue is a brand, much like Duck Tape, generic super glue is a strong, fact acting adhesive with a chemical name of cyanoacrylate according to Wikipedia. It was originally developed, by accident, in 1942 by Harry Coover Jr. who was trying to create clear gun sights to be used during World War II – like duck tape and WD-40, super glue spawned out of the defense industry.

While the uses are less numerous than for duck tape or WD-40, they are still many, as summarized in the Wikipedia article. The most common use in our house is as “nail glue” to hold together a one of my damaged finger (or toe) nails until it has had a chance to grow out and can be properly trimmed. If you have a favorite or unique use for super glue, please feel free to share in the comments.

Duct (HVAC) Tape

In our last post about duck tape, we learned that true duct tape evolved from the World War II technology – After the war, people used duck tape to hold heating and cooling duct work together. Thus started the misnomer of duck tape to duct tape.

What is actual duct tape?
First, to avoid confusion, the subject of this post should probably be referred to a “HVAC tape” rather than “duct tape.”

OK. So, what is HVAC tape?
Before getting into what HVAC tape is, note that despite the belief that it is used to hold duct work together, that it is actually meant to seal duct work, that is to make HVAC systems more efficient by preventing losses through joints and seams. In the context of rigid metal ducts, as would have been the norm immediately after World War II, duct work is actually held together by fasteners and banding.

As used with rigid metal ducts, HVAC tape typically consists of a durable adhesive bonded to heavy duty aluminum foil. Duck Brand even offers HVAC tape of this type, through 3M offers a better explanation of the components in their similar product.

It seems that while not nearly as versatile as duck tape HVAC tape, specialized for the purpose, is a better option for use on your ducts.

Duck Tape

In our last post on WD-40, we referenced the old advise:

You only need two things in life: Duct Tape and WD-40. If it moves and shouldn’t, use Duct Tape, if it doesn’t move and should, use WD-40.

In this post, we look at Duct Tape.

Isn’t the title of this post Duck Tape?
Yes, and it turns out that when referring to this tape, “duck” and “duct” can be used somewhat interchangeably.

Isn’t Duck just a brand of duct tape?
Yes, currently, Duck is one of many brands of duct tape currently available. As will be explained, duck tape actually came before duct tape, so we will look at it here and save actual duct tape for a future post.

What exactly is duck tape?
According to the Duck brand website, it is a strong, flexible, durable, waterproof tape which was developed for the U.S. military by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Permacell during World War II. It consisted of cloth laminated between a polyethylene coating and very sticky Polycoat adhesives. Because of it’s water repellent characteristic, it was nicknamed “duck tape.”

After the War, this tape was put to civilian use – more on this in a future post. Years later, Manco named their version of the product “Duck Tape” with Manco T. Duck as its mascot. You can by this product in most hardware stores today.

There probably really are as many uses for duck tape  as for WD-40. If you have a unique use for duck (or duct) tape, or if it has ever saved your day, please share in the comments.


Many of us have heard the sage advise:

You only need two things in life: Duct Tape and WD-40. If it moves and shouldn’t, use Duct Tape, if it doesn’t move and should, use WD-40.

About a week ago, we had an episode where a few days of warm (for winter), wet/humid weather was followed by an overnight sub-zero plunge. In the morning, the garage door was not moving – the weather seal had frozen to the concrete – it wasn’t particularly icy out, but there was enough moisture between the two surfaces to freeze and trap one of our family cars in the garage. Following the above above advise I sprayed the seal with WD-40 and voila! The door was working as expected.

The kids were naturally curious: what exactly is WD-40?

To this day, per the brand’s website, the formula is a secret. Contrary to a popular myth, it is not made from fish oil. Per their FAQs, it also doesn’t contain silicone, kerosene, water, graphite, or chlorofluorocarbons.

While we may never know what exactly is in WD-40, we can learn about it’s original purpose and other relevant facts from the History page at the WD-40 company website:

  • First, the WD stand for “Water Displacement”
  • Second, the 40 stand for 40th attempt. They got it wrong 39 times before getting it right – according to another legend, Edison could only wish to have been so fortunate when developing his light bulb.
  • It was developed in 1953 by Rocket Chemical Company as a rust preventative solvent and degreaser for the aerospace industry. It’s first use was to protect the skin of the Atlas Missle.
  • It made its first consumer appearance as “WD-40” in 1958 in San Diego.
  • In 1969, Rocket Chemical Company renamed itself after its only product: WD-40.
  • In 1973, WD-40 Company, Inc. went public, and it’s legend continues…

The uses for WD-40 are probably as many as there are people on Earth, maybe more. While I may have been able to use something more efficient to loosen the garage door from the ground, it wouldn’t have been anymore effective, and certainly not as handy as the can of WD-40 always sitting on the garage workbench.

Has WD-40 ever saved the day for you? Do you have a unique use for it? Do you you use it everyday? Have you found a viable alternative? Please share in the comments.

Synthetic Motor Oil, How?

In previous posts, we covered what a synthetic motor oil is, and why you might want to use it. Now we consider how it is different from from conventional motor oil. The procedure for how to change motor oil, covered previously here on Family Trivium, is the same as for conventional motor oil – you should, simply, need to do so less often.

How Is Synthetic Motor Oil different From “Regular” Motor Oil?
Aside from the obvious fact that mineral oils come from the ground and synthetics from the lab, we can learn from the Bob Is the Oil Guy’s Oil 103 class how these two substances are operationally different, particularly when considering multi-grade products:

Multi-grade mineral oils are based on a lighter weight oil, with the intent of better protecting an engine at startup than a heavier weight oil that would be at an optimal viscosity only at operating temperature. A “viscosity index improver” (VII) is added to this thinner weight oil to make it thick enough to provide optimal viscosity at operating temperature. It should be noted that even the lowest weight oils (straight or multi-grade, mineral or synthetic) cannot achieve an optimal viscosity at startup, when they are cold.

Multi-grade synthetic oils are based on a heaver weight oil, not requiring a VII to allow them to achieve optimal viscosity at operating temperature. At lower temperatures, synthetic oils do not thicken as much as mineral oils, so they maintain a more desireable viscosity at startup.

In the example from our original Motor Oil post, our Ford uses 5W-20. A conventional 5W-20 is based on a 5 grade mineral oil and has VIIs added to give it the higher viscosity of a 20 grade motor oil at operating temperature. A synthetic 5W-20 is based on a 20 grade synthetic oil which still manages to be thinner than mineral oil when cold.

In Bob Is the Oil Guy’s Motor Oil 104 class, further argument is given for why synthetic oils protect better than mineral oils:

  • They have a higher film strength, so they do a better of job of sticking to engine parts, helping to prevent wear at startup.
  • Engines using synthetic motor oils turn over easier
    • Thus, the starter is less taxed and will last longer, and
    • The battery is less taxed and will last longer, because
      • The battery is discharged less at startup, and
    • The alternator spends less time recharging the battery, which uses engine power otherwise used to move the vehicle, and
      • The alternator is less taxed and will last longer, and
    • You will get better gas mileage because the power of the engine is being used to move the car forward rather than recharging the battery.

Last Month, with this knowledge at hand, when we changed the oil in our Ford, we switched from the OEM-specified 5W-20 synthetic blend motor oil to a full-synthetic 5W-20. In addition to the reasons, stated in this post, of better startup protection and possibly better fuel economy, we also desired a longer oil change interval, thus we also installed an oil filter designed to go up to 15,000 miles (like the oil which was used). We don’t anticipate going 15,000 miles before changing the oil, but we are hoping to get as much as 10,000 and we are considering sending it in for a lab analysis to see if perhaps we could have gotten more life out of it. Look for future updates on this topic.