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Friday, June 30, 2017

The Cumulonimbus Incus


   In my neck of the woods the weather has been unsettled the last few days and while leaving the mall on Thursday, June 29th a huge cumulonimbus incus cloud was visible to the East. 
     A cumulonimbus incus (Latin incus, "anvil") also known as an anvil cloud is a cumulonimbus cloud which has reached the level of stratospheric stability and has formed the characteristic flat, anvil-top shape. It signifies the thunderstorm in its mature stage, succeeding the cumulonimbus calvus stage. 
     A cumulonimbus incus is a mature thunderstorm cloud generating many dangerous elements. 
Lightning; this storm cloud is capable of producing bursts of cloud to ground lightning.  
Hail; hailstones may fall from this cloud if it's a highly unstable environment (which favors a more vigorous storm updraft). 
Heavy rain; this cloud may drop several inches of rain in a short amount of time. This can cause flash flooding 
Strong wind; gale-force winds from a downburst may occur under this cloud. 
Tornadoes; in severe cases (most commonly with supercells), it can produce tornadoes.        
     Cumulonimbus clouds can be powerful. If the correct atmospheric conditions are met, they can grow into a supercell storm. This cloud may be a single-cell thunderstorm or one cell in a multicellular thunderstorm. They are capable of producing severe storm conditions for a short amount of time. 

     Thunderstorms are formed of what are known as cumulonimbus clouds which grow from the billowy cumulus clouds. If the sun heats up the ground thermals form and the warm air and it rises, pushing up the clouds. They keep growing upwards and then reach what is known as the tropopause which is the part of the atmosphere between the troposphere which is the bit nearest to the ground and the stratosphere which is the next layer up. 
     What you get here is known as an inversion which is where you get cold air sitting over warm air. What everyone is used to is the warm air rising and therefore being above the cold air. This doesn't happen in the stratosphere because it gets colder and colder as you go up. This means that the clouds can't go any farther and it spreads out along the top and it's very flat. 
     Fortunately there wasn't any severe weather associated with this cloud.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


     A hurricane, also called a typhoon or a cyclone, depending on where they occur, is a type of storm called a tropical cyclone, which forms over tropical or subtropical waters. The scientific term for all these storms is tropical cyclone. Only tropical cyclones that form over the Atlantic Ocean or eastern Pacific Ocean are called "hurricanes." 
     A tropical cyclone is a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms but no fronts (a boundary separating two air masses of different densities). Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 miles per hour are called tropical depressions. Those with maximum sustained winds of 39 mph or higher are called tropical storms. 
     The last tropical storm that occurred in the US eventually fizzled out into light to moderate rain that reached as far north as Lake Erie. 

     In 2012 when Hurricane Sandy made landfall along the New Jersey coast at 8 pm Monday with sustained 90 mile-an-hour winds, Ohio's north coast, 450 miles away, was being hammered by rain and wind gusts near hurricane strength. Northeast Ohio was battered because a cold front that traveled east over Cleveland, stalled and then merged into the western edge of Sandy. The hurricane's winds then swept south across Lake Erie with no trees or buildings to reduce the wind speed.  Around the corner from my house there is a large park that was filled with oak trees, many of which were diseased and rotten inside. As a result, about half the trees in the park were toppled. 
     When a storm's maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph, it is called a hurricane. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 category which is based on a hurricane's maximum sustained winds. See the chart below for their effects. 
     Hurricanes originate in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, the eastern North Pacific Ocean, and, less frequently, the central North Pacific Ocean. A six-year rotating list of names, updated and maintained by the World Meteorological Organization, is used to identify these storms. Hurricane Season begins on June 1 and ends on November 30, although hurricanes can occurred outside of this time frame. They occur, on average, 12 times a year in the Atlantic basin. 
     Tropical cyclones are like giant engines that use warm, moist air as fuel which is why they form only over warm water near the equator. The warm, moist air over the ocean rises upward from near the surface and as a result, there is less air left near the surface causing an area of lower air pressure below. 
     Air from surrounding areas pushes in to the low pressure area which also becomes warm and moist and rises. As the warmed, moist air rises and cools off, the water in the air forms clouds and the whole system of clouds and wind spins (storms that form north of the equator spin counterclockwise. Storms south of the equator spin clockwise. This difference is because of Earth's rotation on its axis.) and grows, fed by the ocean's heat and water evaporating from the surface. 
     As the storm system rotates faster and faster, an eye forms in the center. The eye is very calm and clear with very low air pressure. Higher pressure air from above flows down into the eye. 
     Tropical cyclones usually weaken when they hit land, because they are no longer being fed by the energy from the warm ocean waters. However, they often move far inland, dumping many inches of rain and causing lots of wind damage before they die out completely. 
     For US residents, AccuWeather has a good Interactive Hurricane Tracker HERE.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Restaurants - Germaphobes Beware!

     You use hand sanitizer, but does it really help? First, hand sanitizer is NOT an alternative to washing your hands with soap and water. It's quick and convenient as it often has a form of alcohol which works as an antiseptic. Other ingredients could include water, fragrance, and glycerin. 
     Non-alcohol based hand sanitizers contain an antibiotic compound called triclosan or triclocarban and are often labeled antibacterial, antimicrobial, or antiseptic. The US Food and Drug Administration says triclosan could carry unnecessary risks and studies are ongoing. 
     If you make a habit of frequently using hand sanitizer, you should be aware of the dangers. Here are some hidden dangers of hand sanitizer that you may not know about, but should...they are effective against bacteria, but what happens if your body builds up resistance to antibiotics, and in turn promotes resistance to bacteria? 
     Triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics and its constant use may actually lower your resistance to diseases. One 2011 study found that health care employees who were most likely to use hand sanitizers over soap and water for routine hand washing were nearly six times more at risk for outbreaks of norovirus, which causes most cases of acute gastroenteritis. Just because it doesn't have triclosan, doesn't meant it's completely safe.
     A few squirts of hand sanitizer could equal a couple of shots of hard liquor, so some teenagers have been drinking it and poisoning themselves. Another effect of triclosan is it may lead to hormonal disruptions and cause bacteria to adapt to its antimicrobial properties, which create more antibiotic-resistant strains. This can also harm the immune system. 
     Some hand sanitizers are loaded with toxic chemicals. Synthetic fragrances contain phthalates, which are endocrine disrupters that mimic hormones and could alter genital development. You should also look out for parabens, which are in many skin care products. They are used to preserve other ingredients and extend a product's shelf life. 
     In any case, in a restaurant you probably don't think much the silverware you use to scoop up food and put it into your mouth. Researchers at Ohio State University conducted studies proving that odds are high that a gastroenteritis-causing virus is present on all public silverware, even after they've been washed and dried. That should not be a cause for panic though; it's not realistic to think we can kill all the bacteria and viruses in the world. 
     But, just how filthy is that fork? The Ohio State study found that it didn't matter whether silverware was hand-washed or run through a dishwasher; the virus which is the cause of 90 percent of epidemic gastroenteritis cases wasn't killed! The study claimed that viruses were left on the cutlery, ceramic dishes and drinking glasses after washing. They don't make everyone sick, but they do pose a threat to your immune system. 
     If the tables are sticky bacteria thrives on surfaces that aren't properly cleaned, and where bacteria live, viruses follow. Also take note of what materials are used to clean everything. That rag used to wipe tables down is probably filthy. Salt and pepper and bottles of ketchup and mustard are another source of filth and germs. And menus… they carry the most germs. According to one study, nearly 16 times that of the second most germ-infested items, salt and pepper shakers.
     Sick employees are another problem because 53 percent of food workers reported going to work when sick.  Even if employees are wearing plastic gloves, that's no guarantee. Touching one food, say raw pork, then moving along and touching another food means the gloves become the vehicle for contamination. 
     Check out the bathroom. If it's filthy just imagine how dirty the kitchen is. Just because employees must wash their hands (and they ALWAYS do, right?) before returning to work doesn’t mean you are safe. 
     Remember, when you sit down at a table, you’re one of thousands of people who’ve eaten in this exact spot. The glassware, plates, and silverware are run through the dishwasher, but all the other stuff you come in contact with, like tables, chairs, and menus are rarely thoroughly cleaned. 
     The dirtiest things in every restaurant are: 

Toilets: there are 295 bacteria on every square inch of the toilet seat, and 3.2 million inside the bowl itself. 
Ice: investigators in fast food restaurants in the US found that 70 percent of the ice in the ice machine contained more bacteria than the water in the toilet!!
Bathoon floor 
Door knobs 
Salt and pepper shakers 
Lemon wedges 
Salad bar tongs 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Johnson's Island

     Johnson's Island is a 300-acre island in Sandusky Bay, located on the coast of Lake Erie 3 miles from the city of Sandusky, Ohio. It was the site of a prisoner-of-war camp for Confederate officers captured during the American Civil War and was the only Union prison exclusively for Southern officers but, it also held regular soldiers. Civilians who were arrested as guerrillas were also imprisoned on the island. During its three years of operation, more than 15,000 men were incarcerated there.
     The island is named after L. B. Johnson, the owner of the island beginning about 1852 and was originally named Bull's Island by its first owner, Epaphras W. Bull, about 1809. In late 1861, Federal officials selected Johnson’s Island as the site for a prisoner of war camp because it offered easy access by ship for supplies to construct and maintain a prison and its population. Sandusky Bay offered more protection from the elements than on other nearby islands, which were also closer to Canada in the event of a prison break. Woods of hickory and oak trees could provide lumber and fuel. The U.S. government leased half the island from private owner Leonard B. Johnson for $500 a year, and for the duration of the war carefully controlled access to the island.

     The prison opened in April 1862. It had a 15-foot-high wooden stockade which surrounded 12 two-story prisoner housing barracks, a hospital, latrines, sutler’s stand, three wells, a pest house, and two large mess halls. More than 40 buildings stood outside the prison walls, including barns, stables, a limekiln, forts, barracks for officers, and a powder magazine. They were used by the 128th Ohio VolunteerInfantry, which guarded the prison. The prisoners had amateur theatrical performances, publishing, and crafts projects available.
     While life was hard at Johnson's Island, the conditions here were better than those at other Northern and Southern military prisons were. One of the main reasons for this was the type of prisoners – officers. Many of these men came from wealthier backgrounds and received financial assistance from their loved ones. Northern officials also believed officers were deserving of kinder treatment than enlisted men because of the officers' standing in society. Federal officials removed Johnson's Island's original warden, former Sandusky mayor William Pierson, in January 1864.  Pierson, a local businessman and mayor of Sandusky, was placed in charge of the Hoffman Battalion and the operation of the prison.
     Pierson was a Yale graduate.  Although he was a successful businessman and politician, he had no previous military experience and was not an able prison administrator. He promulgated a series of arbitrary rules that tended to insult the prisoners and cause discontent and he permitted a lack of discipline to develop among the guards. Sanitary conditions steadily deteriorated within the prison because of the accumulation of garbage and because of problems associated with the development of latrines (only a few inches of soil covered the limestone base of the island). Pierson was later replaced by a camp commander with more military training and better administrative skills.
Prison guards
     Among the prominent Confederate generals imprisoned on Johnson's Island were Isaac R. Trimble and James J. Archer (both captured at the Battle of Gettysburg), William Beall, Thomas Benton Smith, Edward Johnson and Missouri cavalryman M. Jeff Thompson and John S. Marmaduke. Lieutenant Christopher Columbus Nash, later the sheriff of Grant Parish, Louisiana, who directed the Colfax Riot in 1873, was also imprisoned at Johnson's Island.
     More than 15,000 men passed through Johnson’s Island until it was closed in September 1865. Wardens lost only about 200 prisoners as a result of the harsh Ohio winters, food and fuel shortages and disease. Johnson's Island had one of the lowest mortality rates of any Civil War prison. Confederates made many escape attempts, including efforts by some to walk across the frozen Lake Erie to freedom in Canada. A handful of escapes were successful.
     After the war, the prison camp was abandoned and most of the buildings were auctioned off by the Army and some were razed after falling into disrepair. The last-remaining circa-1861 block-house was burned by accident in 1901.
     About 1894, a summer-resort was established at the eastern-end of the island, but the resort failed shortly later. Afterward, during the first-half of the 20th-Century, the land was used for farming and rock quarrying. Many lakeside homes have since been built and the island is now developed with two subdivisions. As a result of this development, most of the Civil War-related sites, excepting the cemetery, have been destroyed or built over.
     In 1990 Johnson’s Island was designated a National Historic Landmark and a causeway was built to connect it with the mainland. The Confederate cemetery, as well as Fort Hill in the interior of the island, are accessible to the public. Ground-penetrating radar studies have proved that several graves lie outside its fence.
     The Johnson's Island prison was the site for one of the most elaborately planned prison escape attempts of the Civil War.. Confederate Captains Charles Cole and John Yates Beall hoped to free the prisoners at Johnson's Island. They then would form an army from these inmates and travel to Columbus to free the prisoners at Camp Chase. After freeing these men, this newly formed Confederate army would operate across Ohio and create havoc in the heart of the North. It was hoped the Union would have to divert soldiers operating in the Confederacy to deal with this threat.
     The plan began during the early summer of 1864, when Charles Cole arrived in Sandusky. He was working as a representative of the Mount Hope Oil Company of Pennsylvania. Cole used this position to win the trust of some of Sandusky's prominent residents and a number of Union army officers. Cole succeeded in having ten Confederates enlisted in the 128th Ohio Infantry. These ten men were stationed at Johnson's Island and would assist. John Beall and a group of Confederates would seize control of a passenger steamship operating on Lake Erie and then sail into Sandusky Bay. They would then approach the only Union gunboat on Lake Erie and seize it.
     On September 19, 1864, Beall and twenty-five men seized control of the passenger steamship and headed towards Sandusky Bay, anchored the ship and waited for a signal from Cole who had planned a dinner party aboard the Michigan for the ship's officers the next day.
     Before Cole could carry out his plot, an officer from Johnson's Island arrived with an arrest warrant. A telegram had arrived earlier that day ordering Cole's arrest for spying. Meanwhile, aboard the passenger vessel seventeen men staged a mutiny and forced the plan to be abandoned. Charles Cole remained in prison for the duration of the war. John Yates Beal was guest of honor at a necktie party (i.e. he was hung) for spying for the Confederacy on February 24, 1865.
     By the 1950s, Johnson's Island became a residential community and a popular vacation spot.
The island today

Thursday, June 22, 2017

John Kellogg and Yogurt Enemas

     John Harvey Kellogg was born on February 26, 1852 in Tyrone, New York and passed away on December 14, 1943 in Battle Creek, Michigan.
     At the age of 24 Dr. Kellogg became chief physician at the Western Health Reform Institute of Battle Creek straight out of medical school. It was a position he was to hold 62 years. The Institute had been founded by Seventh Day Adventist leader Ellen G. White in 1866 as a home for healthy diet and lifestyle. Kellogg soon renamed it the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Here's something few people know: the word sanitarium was coined by Kellogg.
     At the sanitarium served patients only whole grains, fruits, nuts, legumes, and other healthy foods. Kellogg had some for eccentric ideas. The man was fascinated with the bowels and they had his undivided medical attention. He believed that almost all illness originated in the stomach and bowels and advocated daily yogurt enemas to produce intestines that were clean as a whistle. If anyone is interested, yogurt enemas are still being advocated and you can get more information at Health Information-Fitness.com
     He also made the claim that virtually all other disease were caused by sexual intercourse. That may explain why he and his wife had no natural children; they he three adopted daughter and four adopted sons. 
     His treatments included such bizarre things as seating patients in a vibrating chair, applying carbolic acid to the clitoris to prevent "harmful" female masturbation, immersion in freezing radium-laced water, and administering electric shocks at various parts of the body. Kellogg believed that coffee was unhealthy for the liver and drinking it was the leading cause of Americans' deaths. He believed that spices from mustard to salt were unhealthy, vinegar was "a poison, not a food." At one time he promoted “Fletcherizing." The practice involved chewing food until it slithered down the throat. He changed his mind about Fletcherizing when he decided that excessive chewing destroyed the fiber content of the food. 
     Kellogg's obsession with the bowels so enthusiastic that it was catching. More and more people became convinced that their bowels, poisoned by meat-eating, drinking, smoking and just about everything else they did, flocked to to sanitarium. 
     In order to be properly cleansed, Kellogg made use of an enema machine that blasted fifteen gallons of water through their bowels in a matter of seconds. Every water enema was followed by a pint of yogurt, half was eaten, the other half was administered by enema. 
     If this didn't do the trick more drastic steps were necessary and if those methods didn't work the offending length of intestine was just removed. Kellogg performed as many as twenty operations a day. Even though Dr. John Kellogg advocated some weird ideas, his surgical skill was admired by the doctors at the Mayo Clinic. 
     Yogurt enemas were the key. Kellogg claimed that he had managed to cure cancer of the stomach, ulcers, diabetes, schizophrenia, manic depressives, acne, anemia, migraines and premature old age. 
     Kellogg authored many books. Treatment for Self-Abuse and Its Effects, Ladies' Guide in Health and Disease, Itinerary of a Breakfast, Autointoxication or Intestinal Toxemia, Tobaccoism: Or How Tobacco Kills and Art of Massage, to name a few.  The Road to Wellville by T. Coraghessan Boyle and the film version in1994 tells his story in a fictionalized manner. 
     Kellogg lectured on the advantages of celibacy, and proudly claimed that he and his wife (they were married more than forty years) had never had sex. Kellogg was one of the most ardent anti-masturbaters in the country. He also sponsored "Race Betterment Conferences" in support of eugenics programs. Eugenics is the “science” of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics. Developed largely by Francis Galton as a method of improving the human race, it fell into disfavor after the Nazis. He also held the bigoted opinion that races should be segregated for preservation of the human race. 
      As part of his dietary program, Kellogg and his brother, Will Keith, invented several foods made from grains, which were forced through rollers to make long sheets of dough. When the brothers were called away while cooking wheat one day, when they returned the wheat seemed overcooked, but because they were on a tight budget, they put it through the rollers anyway, and it emerged as a thin flake. They had just invented flaked cereals,and the Sanitarium became famous for its wheat and corn flakes. 
     This lead to the brothers co-founding a company to sell their cereals, but Dr. John Kellogg believed that because he was older and smarter and better educated than his brother, he treated poor Will like an employee. The result was that the brothers ended up feuding over business matters and Will left to establish his own business...Kellogg's of Battle Creek. For years they sold competing boxes of corn flakes, but ended up suing each other.. After the suits were settled, the brothers were estranged for the rest of their lives. Ol' Will had the last laugh. When business at the Sanitarium fell off, Dr. Kellogg got out of both the health resort and cereal business, but his brother's Kellogg Company kept expanding. 
     On his deathbed, Kellogg wrote an apology, acknowledging that he had wronged his younger brother and seeking his forgiveness. He gave the letter to his secretary and told her to mail it, but old hag had also hated Will for years so she just put the letter in her desk. John died shortly thereafter and the two Kelloggs never reconciled.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


     Eructation, or belching as it commonly called, is the act of expelling air from the stomach through the mouth. It usually occurs when the stomach expands because of too much swallowed air. Belching releases the air to reduce the distention. 
     Belching occurs when the stomach fills with swallowed air for a number of reasons. The most common are: eating or drinking too quickly, drinking carbonated drinks and anxiety.  Other causes are: talking and eating at the same time chewing gum sucking on hard candies, drinking through a straw, smoking, wearing poorly fitted dentures, hyperventilating and breathing through your nose 
     It’s possible to belch when the stomach is not full of air, usually because belching has become a habit or a means for reducing abdominal discomfort. 
     Babies and young children may swallow large amounts of air and that is why babies must be burped shortly after eating or drinking. Burping expels the excess air that was swallowed during feeding. They can't expel it because of their inability to sit up straight. 
     Some foods and drinks can also cause belching. These include carbonated drinks, alcohol, and foods high in starch, sugar, or fiber that cause gas such as beans, lentils, broccoli, onions, cabbage, cauliflower, whole wheat bread, etc. 
     A number of different medications may also lead to belching. Common pain medications are naproxen, ibuprofen and aspirin In fact, excess use of pain medications may cause gastritis, a condition that can cause belching. 
     Some medical conditions may also cause belching as a symptom such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, gastritis, peptic ulcers, lactose intolerance and Helicobacter pylori among others. 
     Normally belching does not require any treatment and belching as a single symptom is not usually cause for concern unless it’s frequent or excessive, but if belching does not relieve stomach distention, or if the abdominal pain is severe, seek medical attention immediately. 

Belching facts...fun and not so fun: 
# Most people belch between 6 and 20 times a day 
# In some cultures, a burp after a meal is considered to be a compliment to the chef. 
# If an astronaut burps in outer space, there is a good chance that some food particles will also come out...called a wet burp. 
# The longest burp ever recorded is 1 minute 13 seconds and 57 milliseconds long. The record goes to Michele Forgione in Reggiolo, Italy which he accomplished on June 16, 2009.
# The loudest burp ever recorded was 109.9 decibels by Paul Hunn in Bognor Regis, United Kingdom, on August 23, 2009. That's louder than a motorcycle or chainsaw. 
# Every year, cows in the US burp about 50 million tons of gas into the atmosphere # The burps of ten cows could heat a small house for a year. 
# The more you burp, the less flatus you expel (i.e. the less you fart). 

    Supragastric belching is a phenomenon that occurs when a person swallows too much air which results in frequent and repetitive belching. Behavioral therapy is often used to train patients to recognize when it’s happening so they can stop. 
     Your stomach muscles can actually become partially paralyzed (gastroparesis) which prevents food from being emptied properly; the result is extra belching. It can be a common problem with diabetes because diabetes can effect nerves throughout the body, including the stomach. If a person has difficulty swallowing, they feel like food is stuck and wont go down, they swallow some more and end up gulping lots of air. Once the food goes down, they have to belch because of all the air that was swallowed. 
     Smelly burps (throat farts) that smell like rotten eggs can indicate stomach problems. When the stomach doesn’t empty properly, food can sit in it and become fermented by gut bacteria, which produces sulfur compounds that result in a foul smell. Bad breath can be indicative of such things as a tumor which can cause blockage of the esophagus that results in burping. In this case though, there will normally be other signs such as unexplained weight loss, vomiting, or changes in stools. 
     People who have had surgery to their stomach, such as a procedure for reflux that wraps the stomach, they may not be able to burp. Another issue called achalasia makes it difficult for food and liquid to pass into the stomach from the esophagus and causes people to have difficulty burping. 

Belching dogs  
     Some dogs also belch, some don't. If they don't, that's bad because trapped air pushes against other organs and veins creating a problem with blood and oxygen reaching other organs. 
     High risk factors for a dogs inability to belch are: older dogs, males, pure breeds, familial link, deep-chested dogs, nervous or fearful dogs, dogs that eat one meal a day and dogs who are fast eaters and gulp their food. 
     The most important thing, if you have a dog who is a fast eater, you know, forgets to chew their food, it is best to slow them down. Here are a couple of options. If your dof bolts its food, here's a little trick to get it to slow down...throw two or three tennis balls or rubber balls in their bowl on top of the food. That way the dog has to move the balls around to get to the food, hence slowing down their eating and not allowing them access to large amounts of food at a time. Believe it or not, there are actually food bowls on the market for fast eaters. Feeding the dog smaller more frequent meals is a better idea than trying to feed one big meal once a day. Also, no strenuous exercise an hour before or after meals. 
     However, it is important to know the signs of bloat because it is indeed an emergency. You absolutely must get your dog to a vet immediately as this is a life threatening condition. The air-filled stomach is likely to twist, interrupting the blood flow into the stomach and the tissue of the stomach begins to die. Once this happens, a dog may have only a few hours to live. Signs of bloat are usually vomiting but nothing comes up, lethargy, looking drunk or off balance when trying to walk, distended or firm abdomen and the dog acts uncomfortable. Also in later stages as the symptoms advance, the tongue and gums become pale (white) or blue.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Confusing Chance of Rain Percentages

     So exactly what do those percentages mean? Does that 50 percent chance of rain Monday mean maybe it will rain or maybe it won't, or does it mean something else? 
     When they say there’s a 50 percent chance of rain some people think that’s means 50 percent of the area will see rain. Some people think it means it will rain half of the time. Some people think it’s the odds of seeing rain. Actually, the last option is closer to the truth, but not quite. 
     The correct terminology is Probability Of Precipitation or POPS to the weather forecasters. POPS is a mathematical calculation which is:  the forecast area of coverage by the rain multiplied by the confidence in the forecast. Thus: Chance of rain = coverage x confidence
     So, if the rain is expected to cover half the area and the forecasters are 100 percent sure there will be MEASURABLE rain, the formula is: 
50 percent (Coverage) x 100 percent (Confidence) (0.50 x 1.00 = 0.50) or 50 percent. 

Example 2: the predicted coverage is 50 percent, but the forecasters are only 50 percent confident that is correct. The formula is therefore: 50 percent (Coverage) x 50 percent (Confidence) (0.50 x 0.50 = 0.25) or 25 percent. 
Example 3: the predicted coverage is 100 percent (there will be a widespread rain) but the forecasters are 25 percent confident. The formula is: 100 percent (Coverage) x 25 percent (Confidence) (1.00 x 0.25 = 0.25) or 25 percent. 

     Note that measurable rain is 0.01” or more, so the AMOUNT or rain is not a factor! That 50 percent could be 0.01 inch or it could be 1.5 inches! 
     As used on television, when the forecaster says there will be a 25 percent chance of rain, they mean for any given point on the map. That means if you don't leave your backyard there is a 25 percent chance you'll get rained on. But, it you travel from home to work and back your chance of getting rained on increases as you move around. For example, for every, say, 5 miles you travel, the odds of getting wet go up. 
     As mentioned, in the equation the Chance percentage has nothing to do with the amount of rain and nothing is factored into the chance of rain for how fast it falls or for how long. That means if the chance of rain is only 10 percent, you could experience enough rain in a short time to get a flash flood. On the other hand, a 100 percent chance of rain could mean a light drizzle for a couple of hours.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bank Robberies in the Wild West

     Anybody familiar with the Wild West knows robberies were common when a roving gang of outlaws would ride into town and plunder the bank. They'd ride in, usually dressed in what were known as dusters, overcoats made of canvas which served to keep the dust and wind off the cowboy despite summertime frontier temperatures of up to 125 degrees. 
     They'd slowly ride into town, tie up their horses and enter the bank in broad daylight and force the employees to open the safe, throw the money in saddlebags then skedaddle. As they galloped off, befuddled townsfolk ran around yelling, “The bank's been robbed.”
     According to a research article published in 1991 in Banking in the American West from the Gold Rush to Deregulation they surveyed bank robberies in Arizona, California, Colorado, the Dakotas, Kansas, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming between 1859-1900 and discovered only a handful of bank robberies were reported. In fact, the report stated that there were more bank robberies in modern-day Dayton, Ohio in a year than there were in the entire Old West in a decade. 
      All this was despite the fact that it wasn't until the 1890s that Western states began to regulate certain types of bank behavior to protect the customers. In addition, government regulations aimed at preventing bank failures eventually came into existence.  In the 1920s bank robberies plagued the Great Plains states, e.g. Bonnie and Clyde, and rewards were offered and bank insurance was offered for the first time. 
     The study discovered that in the Old West almost all bankers began their careers in another field. Many of the early bankers originally had ties to the banking business when they were city slickers back East, but when the moved to the West they frequently opened the general store. Why? Remember, they were city slickers and they knew townsfolk demanded trust and confidence in the banker, so by setting up a business that townspeople could learn to rely on, they could open a bank later. 
     But earning trust and respect wasn't all it took. You had to LOOK like a banker...rich and successful. The you had to be able to construct a building that at least looked impressive. The bank would be built in the center of town with buildings on each side. That left only the front and back exposed to break-ins which would be easier to protect. Also, in those days, businessmen tended to live above their stores, so it would be difficult to break in at night without waking neighbors. The rear walls would be double-reinforced. 
     Even if the robbers got inside, they still had to deal with the safe. These safes usually were what were called the cannonball design. They were large metal boxes on legs that held important documents and the actual gold, silver and paper money was stored on top of the box in a large “ball safe.” This design made it difficult to separate from the bottom or carry off. These safes were later abandoned in favor of Diebold safes, named after the Cincinnati company that supplied many of them. These safes had doors several inches thick. In short, getting into a safe was a major and very difficult undertaking. 

     Many western banks commonly left the vault open during the day to allow customers a view of the inside as reassurance that their money was well protected. Prior to 1930, there was no Federal Deposit Insurance and if your money was stolen, it was gone so banks had to appear prosperous and impregnable. 
     Besides his personal appearance of prosperity, the banker needed to a building that reflected the same attributes. Hence, many banks' fine wooden counters, shiny brass finishings, chandeliers and marble floors and ostentatious furnishings. 
     All this made breaking into the building and cracking a safe next to impossible, so we are presented with the scenario where the gunslingers march into a bank and pull off the heist. A few were successful,but not many. One famous robbery was by Cassidy’s gang. Butch's bank robbery involved meticulous planning. He stationed horses at points where he knew his own horses would be wearing out, ensuring that his gang had fresh mounts all the way to their hideout. 
     Some of the bank robbery myth can be traced to Missouri, where the James and Quantrill gangs plundered at will during the Civil War. Their expeditions ranged as far north as Northfield, Minnesota, but Hollywood has greatly exaggerated the bank robbery of the Old West. 
     Actually, bank robberies weren’t common during the Old West because there weren't very many of them. Folks usually kept their money somewhere else. Besides, it was difficult to ride into town where almost every adult male was armed and escape without getting met by a hail of bullets.
     Railroads and stagecoaches were easier targets. Stagecoaches had a single driver and an armed guard and train schedules were easy to predict. Even then, after a few trains were hit because the railroads hired the Pinkerton detectives with crack shots and expert riders who rode in separate cars with their horses.

Oceanic Charts

View National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 1000+ U.S. coastal and Great Lakes nautical charts are available online and provide up-to-date navigational information to mariners. These charts are updated weekly and include all of the latest Notice to Mariners corrections. 

Navionics is company that pioneered GPS when they brought to market the world's first electronic chart device in 1984. This site has charts, a blog, an online store, a wide variety of apps and tutorials. 

Nautical Charts Online lets you view charts for U.S. waters, international waters, specialty charts and browse a wide variety of item for sale. 

Fish Track offers all of the tools needed to be successful in the sport of deep sea fishing. The fishing charts tool offers the latest SST and Chlorophyll images for the world's top sport fishing locations. 

The average depth of the ocean is about 12,100 feet. The deepest part of the ocean is called the Challenger Deep and is located beneath the western Pacific Ocean in the southern end of the Mariana Trench, which runs several hundred kilometers southwest of the U.S. territorial island of Guam. Challenger Deep is approximately 36,200 feet deep. It is named after the HMS Challenger, whose crew first sounded the depths of the trench in 1875. 

ChartGeek has charts about oceans, space, sci-fi and many others and is a fun place to explore.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Captain Kangaroo Mister Rogers and Lee Marvin...Fighting Machines?!

Kangaroo, Rogers and Marvin
     Lee Marvin (February 19, 1924 – August 29, 1987) was an American film and television actor known for his distinctive voice and prematurely white hair. Marvin initially appeared in supporting roles, mostly villains, soldiers, and other hard-boiled characters. From 1957 to 1960, he starred as Detective Lieutenant Frank Ballinger in the NBC crime series, M Squad.
     In an appearance on the Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson, Carson commented that a lot of people were unaware that Marvin was a Marine in the initial landing at Iwo Jima, was severely wounded and earned the Navy Cross
     Marvin replied that, “Yeah, I got shot square in the ass and they gave me the Cross for securing a hot spot about halfway up Suribachi.” Marvin also related that on Iwo Jima he had served under the bravest man he ever knew and they both got the Cross the same day, but what the other fellow did made Marvin's “look cheap in comparison.” 
     The other fellow stood up on Red Beach and directed his troops to move forward. That sergeant and Marvin became life long friends. The other fellow was Bob Keeshan who later became Captain Kangaroo. It's was a nice story, but not altogether true. 
     Marvin left school at 18 to enlist in the United States Marine Corps Reserve on August 12, 1942. He served with the 4th Marine Division in the Pacific Theater during World War II. While serving as a member of I Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division, he was wounded in action on June 18, 1944 during the assault on Mount Tapochau in the Battle of Saipan, during which most of his company were casualties. He was shot by machine gun fire which severed his sciatic nerve and then was hit again in the foot by a sniper. 
     In later life, Marvin was a Democrat who opposed the Vietnam War, but publicly endorsed John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery where his headstone reads "Lee Marvin, PFC, US Marine Corps, World War II".   See Comet Over Hollywood for more details.
     About that Navy Cross award... the website, Marine Corps Navy Cross Recipients lists two Marvins who received the award:  2nd Lt. Milton Marvin and Sgt. Glen Marvin.  Sorry, no Lee Marvin and no Keeshans of any kind!
     Bob Keeshan (June 27, 1927 – January 23, 2004) was an American television producer and actor. He played the original Clarabell the Clown on the Howdy Doody television program and later created and played the title role in the children's television program Captain Kangaroo, which ran from 1955 to 1984, the longest-running nationally broadcast children's television program of its day. 
     After an early graduation from Forest Hills High School in Queens, New York, in 1945, during World War II, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve two weeks before his 18th birthday, but was still in the United States when Japan surrendered. In a 1997 interview, Keeshan himself stated that he enlisted in the Marines but saw no combat because he signed up just before the atomic bomb ended the war. 
     Then there was Mister (Fred) Rogers, a US Navy Seal sniper and a combat veteran in the Vietnam War with over twenty-five confirmed kills to his name. He wore the long sleeve sweaters to cover the many tattoo’s on his forearm and biceps. He was a master in small arms and hand-to-hand combat, able to disarm or kill in a heartbeat. 
     It was said that Fred Rogers began his television career as a result of his being convicted of child molestation; one condition of his sentence was that he fulfill a community service obligation by performing a television show for children on a local public station. This circumstance explains the lack of children on his program. All not true. 
     The truth is, Mister Rogers never did serve in the military; he went straight into college after high school and then into TV work after graduating from college. His breaks from television were not the result of military service...he was attending the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1963. He also attended the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Child Development. 
     Besides, Rogers was born in 1928 and was way too old to have served in Vietnam which lasted from 1965 to 1972. Children did appear at times on the show, but only rarely because the difficulties of working with very young children on scripted television shows was simply too difficult.  
     Moral of the story: you can't believe EVERYTHING that comes out of Hollywood.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Listen to Live Aircraft Broadcasts

     LiveATC.net is a site that allows you to listen to live air traffic communications from corner of the world. Get a peek into a world you don't normally get to experience.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Listen to Police on Your Laptop

Broadcastify is the radio communications industry's largest platform for streaming live audio for public safety, aircraft, rail, and marine related communications. Simply visit the site and choose the location and you can listen to fire and law enforcement radio calls.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ferretville, USA

     Ferrets, a small member of the weasel family, endears itself to people with their fun-loving personality and silly antics even if they do get into a bit of mischief occasionally. Ferrets are also known to be thieves that enjoy stealing small objects from owners and hiding them in obscure places. 
     Ferrets have very specific needs unique to their species and only one species of ferret is kept as a pet, the Mustela furo. Pet ferrets are available in various coat colors and patterns within the species. The black-footed ferret is a wild cousin and the two should not be confused. Black-footed ferrets are the only ferret native to North America and have never been domesticated. 
     The average adult is about 15 inches long and as a pet, it can live about 8 years with proper care. Ferrets are great pets for adults, but they should not be left around babies. Several reports have found that pet ferrets have attacked babies while the parents slept. They seem attracted to babies, perhaps due to odors resembling those of suckling rabbits. Typically, attacks are made when parents are absent or asleep; the ferret escapes its cage and jumps into the baby's crib. 
     Some ferrets may communicate by making entertaining noises or by using body language and nipping is a natural behavior to get attention or show defensiveness when awakened. They can be litter box-trained. 
     It is unclear when ferrets were first domesticated, but they have a long and storied history. Greek scholars—Aristophanes in 450 BCE and Aristotle in 350 BCE—wrote about a ferret-like animal. Some lore asserts that ancient Egyptians even kept them as pets, but the absence of ferret bones in explored tombs casts doubt on that claim. Remains have been found in a medieval castle in Belgium, but there is no mention of the pets in any contemporary writings. It's also possible that the ferret was exclusively a lower class pet, which would explain the lack of documentation. In the late 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci painted Cecilia Gallerani holding a weasel-like creature. Although the animal has been dubbed an ermine, many scholars believe the animal is actually a ferret. 
     When threatened, ferrets will dance. In the wild ferrets perform a hypnotic dance that sends their prey into a trance. Domestic ferrets also perform this dance, but they use it for play instead of hunting. They arch their backs, puff their tails, and move from side to side. This is usually a sign that the ferret is happy and having fun. A group of ferrets is called a business. 
     Rabbit hunting with ferrets is a popular sport in England. The ferrets run into rabbit holes to run the prey out of hiding. Hunting with ferrets is illegal in Minnesota. 
     They have also been employed to run through pipes. When wires cannot be pushed through tubes or tunnels, ferrets are are used to pull the wire the through. 
     Females can die if they go too long without mating. Unspayed females need to mate or run the risk of producing too much estrogen leading t estrogen toxicity which can cause anemia, clotting, and death. 
     Ferret-legging was an endurance test or stunt in which ferrets were trapped in trousers worn by a participant. It seems to have been popular among coal miners in Yorkshire, England. Contestants put live ferrets inside their trousers; the winner is the one who is the last to release the animals. The world record is five hours and thirty minutes. 
     At one time in the US ferrets were sold in hardware, sporting and general stores as commonly as steel traps or case knives and almost all of them came from Ferretville, USA, as it was called, a small town in Ohio. There was a time when five or six railroad cars of ferrets were being shipped out every night! It was my place of birth and an article in the February, 1936 issue of Popular Science tells all about it.  About the ferrets that is.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Electric Football

     I did not know this toy was still around. The game has become popular and there are literally dozens of electric football leagues in the US, complete with tournaments that attract EF "coaches" from all over the US and Canada! The Electric Football League, headquartered in Highland Park, Illinois, held its 17th annual Official Electric Football Super Bowl & Convention in January 2011, in Columbus, Ohio.
     Tudor Games reacquired the NFL license and their new and innovative products with better bases and better boards had resulted in the hobby growing. Video games have largely supplanted electric football, but it still thrives and has also benefited from technological progress. Players became more realistic in sculpting and appearance but there has been very limited advancement in the game play. 
      In 1947, Norman Sas, owner of Tudor Metal Products and Tudor Games, created electric football. He used a vibrating car race game made by Tudor as the base and added small players which moved down the field as the playing field vibrated rather noisily. It was an immediate hit and more than 40 million of the games have been sold since its creation. Tudor Games was sold to Miggle Toys in 1988. Miggle and the NFL stopped the working agreement around 2007 resulting in generic players being sold. Miggle sold pre-painted players from 18 college teams, including home and away jerseys. However, as of December 2011, the Miggle website did not list any pre-painted college teams. 
     The game is played on a metal field, which can range in size between 24 inches long by 13 inches wide up to full scale size of 61 long by 27.5 inches wide. Detailed plastic players on bases, which react to the vibration of the field, are placed in formations, just as in real football. When the formations are completed by the offensive coach and the defensive coach a switch is activated that turns on an electric motor which causes the field to vibrate and the players to move around. Each player is attached to a base, with prongs underneath of the base. Some modify these prongs by stretching or otherwise reshaping them to make the players faster, stronger or move in an exact route.   Special players are used to pass, kick or punt. The ball is a small oval piece of felt. The quarterback has an extended arm which the ball is placed on and on the original his arm was “cocked” and when a lever was squeezed a small spring launched the ball. If the ball touches the receiver it is considered a complete catch. Use of the throwing Quarterback is a difficult skill to master and requires practice to develop. Special players are also used for kicking and punting and have spring legs which when pulled back and released, kick or punt the ball. 
     Foto-Electric Football was a less popular game. In 1936 Scientific Football by a company called Cadaco came up with a set of see-through overlay cards with various defensive and offensive layouts. A “slider” underneath the field was moved and the ball carriers route showed up as a line. Whenever it ran into a dot that represented the defensive player the plat was over. Passes were indicated with a dotted line. To see if play calling was successful a small light bulb illuminated the results, assisted by the handy “Foto-Electric Football Chart” and a set of three dice. The game allowed 30 plays per quarter, rather than utilizing a clock. 
     All the necessary information about downs, plays left in the quarter and the score were tracked by a set of dials. To keep track of where you were on the field, a little football kept track of the progress. 

     Recent Chicago Tribune article

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Cat Whiskers

     The scientific name for a cat’s whiskers is ‘vibrissae’ which hints that whiskers are sensitive to vibrations in air currents. Their whiskers turn out to be be than just several long hairs growing on their face, they are an essential sensory mechanism. Damage or cut a cat’s whiskers and it will cause negative side effects. 
     Whiskers themselves are nothing more than thick long hairs, but their importance lies in the fact that they are deeply rooted in follicles which are surrounded by a muscle tissue that is very rich in nerves and sensory cells. These nerve cells in the roots are then connected to a special area of the cat’s brain. 
     Whiskers serve many functions, but their main function is a type of environmental scanning system that tells them a lot about their surroundings. Cats don’t actually need to touch the objects with their whiskers to detect the object. The nerves at the base of the whiskers are so sensitive that they can pick up small air movements which cause the whiskers to vibrate. They are so sensitive that cats can even pick up air movements indoors, such as air flowing around furniture, which lets the cat know there is something in its path even in the pitch dark. This is essential because they are far sighted and have trouble seeing things clearly close up. Being nocturnal by nature, this also helps them determine their environment more clearly at night while they hunt. 
     Cutting a cat’s whiskers should never, ever be done. It would be like taking away a human’s vision or sense of touch. Research has shown that cats without whiskers have trouble estimate the size of openings and can easily get stuck. Also, due to the fact that whiskers are important to a cat’s equilibrium, without them, they have trouble walking straight and have difficulty running. They also tend to get disoriented and fall. Experiments with cats that have had their whiskers cut short also struggle to judge distances accurately and will often misjudge jumping distances as well as occasionally run into things. As with other types of hair, whiskers will regrow as long as the follicle itself isn’t damaged. 

Whisker facts: 
# There is some evidence that whiskers somehow aid in helping cats detecting odors. # Every cat’s whisker pattern is unique. 
# In addition to the obvious whiskers in horizontal rows on the ‘whisker pad’ of their cheeks, there are also whiskers between the corner of a cat’s mouth and the outer corner of the nose, on the chin, and the eyebrows, and on the back of the front legs. 
# A breed of cat called the ‘Sphinx’ often has little to no whiskers. 
# Blind cats rely almost solely on their whiskers to navigate. 
# Cats don’t have a true collar bone; this which allows them to twist their way through very narrow openings and whiskers aid in determining the width of the space they are in.
# Whiskers are two to three times thicker than regular cat hair and are found not only on either side of the muzzle (called mystacial whiskers), but on the jaw, above the eyes and on the back of the forelegs. 
# There are usually about 12 mystacial whiskers, the longest, on each side of the muzzle (although some cat have more). Mystacial whiskers are connected to muscles that allow the cat to move them. 
# whiskers are deeply embedded and connected to the nervous system. The tips are equipped with sensory organs called proprioceptors that help the cat determine an object’s distance, direction and even surface texture. 
# If a cat is required to use a narrow food or water bowl, the pressure to its sensitive parts can cause what is known as “whisker stress.” If the cat scoops food out with a paw or knocks food on the floor to eat, its bowl is not big enough. 
# Whiskers correspond to the width of its body; it uses them to know whether or not it can fit through narrow spaces. 
# Whiskers on the back of the front legs help a cat in climbing and when the cat is in contact with prey; they help determine where to deliver the fatal bite. 
# Whisker position indicates mood. Pulled back means it is scared or angry; relaxed whiskers mean a relaxed and happy cat. Whiskers pointed out front and tense generally mean the cat is feeling aggressive or is in hunting mode; the cat may also be curious if it is taking a reading of the environment. 
# Some breeds have short, curly whiskers. # A Maine coon cat in Finland holds the record for longest whiskers in the world; in 2005, Guinness World Records measured them at 7.5 inches long! 
# Whiskers shed, but grow back.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Art of Skywriting

    Skywriting is the process of using a small aircraft which expels special smoke while flying in a pattern that creates writing readable on the ground. It's rarely seen these days and is becoming a lost art.
     The typical smoke generator consists of a pressurized container holding a low viscosity oil which is injected into the hot exhaust manifold causing it to vaporize into a huge volume of dense, white smoke. Wake turbulence and wind cause dispersal of the smoke causing the writing to blur and twist, usually within a few minutes. 
     However special "skytyping" techniques have been developed to write in the sky in a dot-matrix fashion with a new letter every 2–5 seconds instead of every 1–2 minutes which allows the message to remain legible for longer. In skytyping a computer program triggers the injection of fluid into the exhaust, not the pilot.
     With skytyping there are no aerial acrobatics, but formation flying is required. The planes fly side by side, equidistant and at the same altitude. The letters are made up of individual dots that blend together at a distance. Emitting the dots is entirely automated. A message is loaded into a computer that controls the smoke and the program tracks the locations of each plane. Whenever a plane reaches a point where a dot should be placed the computer triggers a burst of smoke. The entire formation flies a predetermined distance, shifts position and then makes another pass to lay the next line of smoke dots. The passes continue until the message is complete. Obviously, this method is much more expensive.
     The beginnings of skywriting are disputed. In a 1926 letter to The New York Times it was stated that skywriting was perfected in England in 1919 and used in the United States the next year. But stunt pilot Art Smith was known to do skywriting at the end of his exhibitions in 1915 when he wrote "Good night." 
     Skywriting dates back to World War I when a group of RAF pilots discovered that running paraffin oil through a plane's exhaust created a white smoke trail that would hang in the air. They used the smoke to signal ground forces when all other means of communication were unavailable and to create smoke screens for troops and ships. 
     After the war Captain Cyril Turner took what he knew about skywriting to the advertising world. The result was the first recorded use of skywriting for advertising purposes. It was over the Derby at Epsom Downs Racecourse in the United Kingdom in May 1922 when Turner wrote "Daily Mail" above the track. 
     Commercial skywriting in the United States was developed in the early 1930s by Sid Pike, president of the Skywriting Corporation of America in 1932. One of the first major clients was Pepsi-Cola, which used skywriting to reach a mass market. In 1940 Pepsi wrote some 2,225 skywritten messages over 48 states, Mexico, Canada, Cuba, and South America. 
     At one time skywriting was seen as the future of advertising and some claimed it was bound to be a bad thing. The New York Times called it "celestial vandalism" and claimed that in the future the skies would be so smoke filled that apartment dwellers on upper floors would have to keep their windows closed. There was even predictions of cloud slicing machines that would allow for skywriting in any weather and some engineers worked to develop smoke that would glow in the dark so messages could be written at night. Colored smoke was another prediction and some pilots tried it, but it never worked as well as white.
     In 1946 the Skywriting Corporation had a fleet of surplus World War II planes and developed "dot matrix skywriting", or skytyping as it was called. Skytyping uses five planes in formation to choreograph puffs of smoke being released from each plane. The messages, written at 10,000 foot altitude, can be up to 1250 feet tall and over five miles long. Skywriting letters, on the other hand, are 3,000 feet high and take longer to write. 
     The rise of television in the 1950s put a damper on skywriting's ad appeal because television allowed companies to put their ads in customers' homes and match ads to target audiences regardless of the weather. Nowadays, it's just a novelty. 
     A single skywriting aircraft capabilities depend on the size of the smoke oil tanks. Usually up to 12 letters or characters. 30 gallon tanks are typical and it takes 2-3 gallons per letter. A six-plane digital skywriting formations can form up to 30 letters and can stretch four to six miles long. Usually though a single plane is used and the average message can be up to eight characters long. 
     How long the message remains visible depends. Winds are their nemesis. With no winds, skywriting is visible until the earth rotates away from the writing in about about an hour or so. If winds are strong, visibility of the skywriting can vary from a seconds to 5-10 minutes.
     Costs typically start at about $3,500.00 per message, but ferry fees to move aircraft to the desired location will cost extra. The average cost for a personal message is $8,500.00 based on travel of one of the few aircraft that are located in the USA.  Skywriters need blue skies and clients typically agree to pay rain or shine, so clients take a risk. One company advises that if you don't want to pay that much, or take the risk, then hire someone to tow a banner! 
     One source claims there are only four professional skywriters in the world. Skywriting is usually done at an altitude of 10,000 feet and requires looping, climbing and rolling all while releasing perfectly timed streams of smoke. In ideal weather conditions, skywritten messages can be seen for more than 2,800 square miles. If my math is correct, that would be a square about 53 miles by 53 miles. 
     The real question is how to they do it?  In the past skywriting pilots were known to provide false information to throw off their competitors. The only way a pilot can learn how is from a current skywriter. Having all the right equipment, which includes a single-engine, high-horsepower plane and an $800 drum of liquid smoke, not to mention specific piloting skills isn't enough. Even skilled crop dusters and acrobatic pilots would hardly be able to learn it on their own. 
     Everything starts with a flight diagram that notes turns, where each letter begins and ends, how many seconds to count off from the top to the bottom of each letter and more.  It requires split second timing down to how man degrees the turns must be. Because skywriters are writing horizontal to the ground they have to write backwards and are unable to track their progress visually - all they see is blue sky and smoke so the must trust their planning and their instruments. Headings have to be dead on...being even slightly off can make for a pretty bad looking letters that can ruin a message. They also have to be able to efficiently transition from one letter to another, knowing when to open and close the flow of smoke. They also have to ensure that each letter is proportionate to the others, evenly spaced and running along a straight line.