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Question of the Day

My friend and I noticed that cows feeding in a pasture all face the same way. Is there a reason for this?

Yes, especially in coastal areas. Cows will swing like a weather vane to face the wind head-on. Otherwise, the wind will ruffle their fur, and they don't like that.

Last 7 Days

    I'd like to complete a saying that goes something like this: "May the sun be at your face and the wind at your back." Can you help?

    It's part of an Irish blessing for travelers. Here's one version of it: "May the road rise up to meet you, / May the wind be always at your back, / May the sun shine warm upon your face, / And the rains fall soft upon your fields, / And until we meet again, / May God hold you in the palm of His hand."

    What is the meaning of alarm, as in a three-alarm fire? Obviously, the more alarms there are, the more serious the fire, but what does an alarm measure?

    An alarm is a warning, signal, or call to action. It originated as a call to arms -- "All'arme!" (To arms!) in Old Italian. As used by fire departments, the signal is preceded by a number, which alerts the dispatcher to the magnitude of the fire and the response required. The numbers represent preestablished assignments of apparatus and manpower and allow the dispatcher to know instantly how much equipment and how many firefighters will be needed to do the job. The higher the number is, the more of each will be required.

    In cooking, does it matter which type of soy sauce is used?

    The two main types to consider are light and dark. The dark will have a much heavier flavor, while the light is saltier. We wouldn't recommend the light for persons trying to restrict their salt intake. Some specific brands of soy sauce can achieve the flavor without the saltiness. As a substitute, you could try a beef bouillon cube dissolved in water.

    What weather patterns result in droughts?

    Strangely, weather scientists can't explain why droughts occur in some years, or decades, and not others. They do come in cycles. Droughts occur when a high-pressure area settles over a region and then doesn't move on, as is usual. Clouds can't form because the high pressure is pushing down the air, causing "compressional warming" and lowering the humidity. Essentially, the conditions needed for creating rain have been removed. When this goes on for a long time, a drought occurs. Although the 20th century had some notorious droughts, one of the most famous of which produced the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, the United States and other parts of the world have seen worse. There were "mega-droughts" in the 13th and 16th centuries, and there's nothing to stop such droughts from occurring again.

    How are coffee beans decaffeinated?

    Two methods are generally used. In the first, the beans are placed in a rotating drum and softened with steam for 30 minutes. They are then rinsed in a chemical solvent for about 10 hours. When the chemical has absorbed the caffeine from the beans, it is drained away, and the beans are steamed for 8 to 12 hours more so that any remaining solvent will evaporate. A minute amount of the chemical (0.1 parts per million) remains in the beans. In the second method, green coffee beans are soaked in hot water until the caffeine is drawn out of them. The water is drained and treated with a chemical, which absorbs the caffeine. Then the mixture is heated until both the chemical and the caffeine evaporate. The remaining water is returned to the beans, which, according to coffee experts, allows the beans to regain most of their flavor.

    I have ceramic tile with white grout on my kitchen floor. The grout hasn't been sealed and has gotten quite dirty. Is there a way to darken grout before sealing it?

    Try cleaning it first, then darkening, then sealing. Several commercial cleaning products will take out most rust and mineral deposit stains. Check at a tile store and follow the instructions for the product carefully. Several products, also available at tile stores, can add darkening or coloring agents to grout and will seal it against future staining.

    What does the saying "Mare's tails and mackerel scales make tall ships take in their sails" mean?

    A "mackerel sky" is one that has a lot of cirrocumulus clouds, which often precede an approaching warm front. Warm fronts can bring veering winds and precipitation. This weather proverb is an apt way to describe how a sailor might respond if he saw "mackerel scales" approaching.

    What does it mean to get off scot-free?

    This phrase has nothing to do with Scottish people, but is related to the Old Norse word skot, which was a municipal tax dating back to the 13th century. Someone who was scot-free was exempt from paying this tax. Later the word was applied to money owed for entertainment, as for drinks at a tavern. Someone who didn't pay for his drinks was said to have received them scot-free. It is now appropriate to use the term whenever someone goes without penalty, loss, or harm.

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