What are the dimensions of a standard rain gauge. I'm having trouble finding this from weather officials and I'd like to make my own.

The reason you couldn't find an answer from those folks is there is no standard rain gauge. The commercially produced rain gauges are simply collection devices with calibrated markings. Making one yourself is a great exercise in construction and applied mathematics. The rain gauge should have a collection area of at least ten times the area of the measuring device. First, use a ruler and pour water into a one gallon container, such as a used bleach bottle, to a depth of 1 cm. Pour this water into a tall jar and mark water level with grease pencil or paint. This will be the mark for 1 cm of rain. From this first mark you can measure and mark up tenths of centimeters all the way to the top of the jar. Now you're ready to capture rain. Avoid having trees or buildings in the way, and don't place the gauge where channeled winds, such as a passageway between buildings, would disrupt the rain. The gauge should be over level ground and at least twice the distance away from trees and buildings as they are tall. For example, the gauge should be at least 12 feet away from a 6-foot tree, and the top of the gauge should be at least three feet above the ground.

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What is the most frequently prescribed drug in the United States?

Number one, as of 1994, was amoxicillin, an antibiotic frequently used to treat ear infections in infants and toddlers.

What does auld lang syne mean?

It means old (auld) long (lang) since (syne), or old long ago. It's part of the Scottish and northern English dialects and comes from Old English.

When my daughter and I wish on the "first star I see tonight," are we really wishing on a planet? How can we tell one from the other?

Most likely that first bright star is a planet, but binoculars can probably help you tell for sure. Even a cheap pair will usually add enough magnification so that you can make out a planet. You can also try looking for the bright star night after night and notice if it seems to move across the sky against the backdrop of the other stars. If so, it's a planet, living up to its Greek name, which means "wanderer."

My understanding is that there are a couple of words that were derived from sailing, one being "posh" and the other being "news." What are the true origins of these words, and is it true that they are derived from sail of old?

The origin of "posh" is obscure.The most seen explanation for the origin ascribes it to the days of the British Empire in the 19th (and early 20th) century when there was constant steamship travel between England and India. In those pre-air conditioning days, it was unbearably hot crossing the Indian Ocean, and the coolest cabins were the most sought after. That meant, when traveling east, those on the port side; sailing west, those on the starboard. Consequently, those passengers who could afford the luxury booked "Port Outward/Starboard Homeward" or "P.O.S.H." The acronym thus became a synonym for whatever is first-class or luxurious. A more likely definition is that it is a word from Romany, the language of Gypsies, meaning half. The word originally entered England's underworld in the 17th century in such compounds as posh-houri, meaning half-pence, and soon became a slang term for money in general. And then the meaning changed to expensive or fancy. "News" has no nautical origin that we know of. It's the plural of "new" and is from the old French word for new -- noveles. Its original meaning was "new things, novelties," and eventually came to encompass "tidings, or an account of recent events and occurrences brought as new information." Now we use it in the singular form, but until this century the plural form was used.

What are comets made of?

Your average comet is a mixture of water and carbon dioxide ice, dust, rock, and a smattering of other molecules such as sodium. Sodium was responsible for the flaring tail of the Hale-Bopp comet, for example. Comets, having traveled here from the far corners of the solar system, are believed to be the remains of a vast interstellar gas cloud that formed our solar system in the first place.

Is a thistle the same as a nettle, and do they both sting?

Both thistles and nettles have been called the devil's plant or devil's vegetable because of their thorns, and both are considered prickly weeds, although they're often used medicinally. But that's where the resemblance ends. Nettles are commonly of the family Urticaceae, and their tiny hairs release an irritant that gives them the name stinging nettle. Thistles are of the family Asteraceae. One variety, the Scotch thistle, sports purple flowers and prickly leaves and has become the national emblem of Scotland. Legend has it that in the tenth century, the invading Danes gave themselves away by their screams when they tried to steal away barefoot through a dry moat full of thistles. Like nettles, thistles have been prescribed for toothaches, as a restorative tonic, and to impart warmth through their counterirritant action.

Is there any way to get rid of and prevent spiders from taking over my basement?

To get rid of spiders, put cedar chips in the toes of old pantyhose, and hang the hose from the basement ceiling or other areas where spiders build their webs. To discourage spiders, spray rubbing alcohol on windowsills or leave perfumed soap chips scattered about.

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