Thursday, July 4, 2013

Day 191. Happy Independence Day!

Growing up, one of my favorite aspects of the 4th of July was the fireworks.  Back then we couldn't get them legally in Illinois, but as soon as you hit the Missouri border, you could stockpile up, baby!  We'd buy all the sparklers, bottle caps, and bottle rockets our parents would allow, and we'd save them up until the 4th.  My favorite of this booty were the "Black Snakes."  They definitely weren't colorful, but you'd light those little black tablets and they would start slowly and then grow in velocity into grotesque, misshapen snake-like creatures.  My friend and I would never tire of seeing how they would bend and turn into charred, twisted ropes.  Kids are funny like that.

I still love fireworks.  I feel cheated if I don't get to see them every year.  Now that I've grown up, though, what I especially hold dear to my heart, is not "Happy July 4th" but rather the concept of Independence Day.  The value of being able to live in independence as you take this brief journey on earth.  So, my hope to all, no matter what your race, sex, religious belief, sexual orientation, or what country you call home, is that you are able to live your life as you please.

Happy Independence Day, citizens of the world.  (-:

Now, here's a recipe to make your own homemade snakes.  I've never tried it, just a recipe I grapped from the internet ( so I accept no responsibility on the outcome.  See, you're free to try it or not.  Ain't life grand?

Soda & Sugar Black Snake Materials
  • sand
  • alcohol or fuel oil (I (the writer of the recipe) didn't have any high-proof alcohol on hand, so I used lighter fluid left over from the handheld fireballs project)
  • baking soda
  • sugar (I used powdered sugar, but you can grind table sugar in a coffee grinder)
Make Snakes
  • Mix 4 parts powdered sugar with 1 part baking soda. (I used 4 tsp sugar and 1 tsp baking soda.)
  • Make a mound with the sand. Push a depression into the middle of the sand.
  • Pour the alcohol or other fuel into the sand to wet it.
  • Pour the sugar and soda mixture into the depression.
  • Ignite the mound, using a lighter or match.
At first, you'll get a flame and some small scattered blackened balls. Once the reaction gets going, the carbon dioxide will puff up the carbonate into the continuously extruded 'snake'. Actually, you don't even need the sand. I tried this project using baking soda and sugar in a metal mixing bowl, added the fuel, and lit the mixture. It worked fine. The old firework snakes had a distinct smell. These have a smell too... burnt marshmallows! If you use pure ethanol, sugar, and baking soda, then there is nothing toxic about this project. One caution: Don't add fuel to the burning snake, since you risk igniting the alcohol stream.

How Black Snakes Work
The sugar and baking soda snake proceeds according to the following chemical reactions, where sodium bicarbonate breaks down into sodium carbonate, water vapor, and carbon dioxide gas while burning the sugar in oxygen produces water vapor and carbon dioxide gas. The snake is carbonate with black carbon particles:
2 NaHCO3 → Na2CO3 + H2O + CO2
C2H5OH + 3 O2 → 2 CO2 + 3 H2O
These instructions were adapted from a tutorial given on Boing Boing which in turn came from a defunct Russian site.

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