September 6th, 2007


Why water your Kansas yard in August?

I don't water my yard during droughts because, well, why? But today I learned why you should from the Jim Clark Motors courtesy-van driver. I dropped off my Crossfire this morning for a variety of warranty repairs. On the way home, we naturally discussed the weather. I mentioned how the ground around the foundation of my house has at places pulled away an inch or more, and the post-retiree driver said he has cracks in his yard that are eight feet deep.

I wondered aloud whether the soil's retreat might be affecting the crack in my foundation (it's a slab foundation) that appears to be growing (the tile grout is opening up above the crack).

The other passenger in the van said, "Oh yes. The same thing happened to my house until I started soaking the ground around the foundation."

"Whatever you do, don't fill the gaps near your foundation," said the yard sage, our driver; "that'll only cause you more problems when the rains come. The clay can't take up much water when it's this dry, so the water will just sit there. There's nowhere for it to go when we get rain, so it'll just move your foundation more."

Huh, I thought. "Why doesn't anyone tell new homeowners these things?" I asked.

"You're not from Kansas, are you?" asked the driver.

"Nope. Minnesota."

To which he told stories about the natural fortitude of Kansans.

Anyhow, I sense a really useful book for new homeowners. It would include tips such as this:

Water your yard around the foundation during droughts. This helps prevent your house from settling and your foundation from cracking.

EDIT: Needless to say (yet I'm going to say it anyway; I mean, isn't that what always comes after "needless to say"?), I've been soaking the soil around my foundation since I wrote this, and will continue doing so until I've done so all the way around the perimeter. I'm almost half-way done now.

World's Fastest Indian

72 years ago this week: Campbell shatters 300 MPH speed barrier!

Think about that for a second. It's 1935. A car that can blaze down the highway at 60 MPH is something special. The fastest mass-production automobile that year was the Jaguar SS90, so named because it could go 90 MPH. Here it is, the Bluebird:

Click the image to see the story.

What powered this feat? A 36.7-liter V-12 Rolls-Royce aero-racing engine that made more than 2,500 horsepower.

Here's the Jaguar SS90 with its dainty 2.6-liter straight-6 engine. It was considered the first true sports car. I'd trade my Crossfire for this:

An interesting bit of trivia from the same year: The record for fastest car on a public road was set in 1935 by a Mercedes-Benz race car on the newly built autobahn. That car had a three-liter supercharged V-12 engine, and the record was 270 MPH. Wow - and the record still stands! Hitler, who had demanded the engine's development, used the engine for the Meschersmitt fighter-planes. Here's that car on the track:

Moon red

Astro-image of the day: nearest neutron star

Cool. We've just identified a neutron star that lives not far away:

Click the image for the full story.

These things are damned cool. Imagine an object heavier than our Sun (as much as 2-3 times as massive), but contained in a sphere about the size of a small Earth city. Because it's so massive yet so compact, the gravity fields surrounding it as you approach in your age-worn spaceship become so immense that tidal forces between your head and feet could tear you apart.

Y'all read Niven's Neutron Star, right? Or at least Ringworld? (I do believe that story is part of the book, isn't it? If not, well, they're conflated in my mind.) Excellent dramatization of what it would be like to approach one of these monsters.