Question of the Day

When you have a light switch on without a light bulb in the socket, is it still using electricity?

We consulted the head of maintenance here at The Old Farmer's Almanac. Mike says that having the switch on will allow the electricity to progress into the wires that lead to the socket, but without a bulb, the electricity will not be used to illuminate the bulb's filament (which gives light). Therefore, although the current is in the wiring, the electricity used is so minimal that it hardly registers on the electric meter.

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Last 7 Days

What type of wood is a "weather stick" made of? This stick supposedly bends with changes in the barometric pressure. My sister got one on a visit to Vermont or New Hampshire.

Originally developed by the Native Americans of the Northeast, this special stick, made from a branch of the balsam fir tree, is supposed to predict weather changes. Hung on an outside wall or door casing exposed to the weather, the stick will spontaneously bend down when foul weather is approaching and up to predict fair weather.

What city has the highest average temperature?

In the United States, Key West, Florida, has the highest annual mean temperature -- 78.2 degrees Fahrenheit.

Who was Cooter Brown, as in "drunk as Cooter Brown"?

We called Cooter Brown's Tavern & Oyster Bar in New Orleans and were given the following story. Cooter Brown lived along the Mason-Dixon line at the time of the Civil War. He had family on both sides, and, not wishing to be drafted by either the North or the South, he decided to get drunk -- and stay drunk -- so that he wouldn't have to fight in the war. Inebriety has been measured against Cooter Brown's extended binge ever since.

Where does the word chitterling or chitlin come from? And how did it come to apply to children?

The official definition of chitterling is, we hesitate to say, the small intestines of pigs, which are cooked and eaten as food. However, chit is a term for a child, especially a pert girl, and it also refers to a root or a sprig of new growth. In Middle English, the term chitte refers to a young animal. Chitling is used in the southern United States to describe the smallest pig in a litter. The word chitlin is probably a regional pronunciation of the more proper chitterling. Chitlin as it applies to children could have its root in these word variants or may have evolved from the sound of the word, which is very much like the word children.

Is it possible that a wind gust of 35 mph can be recorded in one area and just 100 yards away a gust over 55 mph is recorded at the same time?

What you describe is called a "wind-shear" and is quite common. In fact, under some conditions, a wind-shear can be so severe and specific that a difference of more than 20 mph can be present a few feet away and you will not know it.

Any suggestions on training my dog not to be afraid of thunderstorms?

Get one of those commercial recordings of thunderstorms. Have your dog sit or lie down and give him a treat. Turn on the recording, keeping the volume low, and give the dog another treat when the thunder sounds. Increase the volume gradually, giving the dog a treat or praising him each time you do so. Finally, reduce the sound gradually. When a real storm occurs, have the dog sit or lie down and reward him with a treat when he does not show he's afraid. If his fear behavior continues, ignore it, but don't discipline him.

Can I make my new copper weather vane look like an old one?

If you're looking for that green-tint effect, an effective method is to bury the vane in a pile of manure for two weeks -- but you may have some explaining to do to your neighbors.

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