How Maple Syrup Was Invented (My Theory)

Yesterday, Derek had a post about a non-geotropic icicle at his house.  It got me to thinking about my own icicle story – it’s about icicles AND maple syrup.

While Québec is the largest producer of real Maple Syrup; here in New Brunswick, we have a pretty solid industry built around it.  Of course, maple syrup is only one of the products you can make with the sap of the Sugar Maple: maple butter and maple candy are also popular, especially in these parts. As a matter of fact, there is an annual tradition for most people to take their kids out to the “Sugarbush” to visit a “Sugar Camp” AKA “Sugar Shack.”  Here you see my daughter and three neighbourhood friends about to enjoy their treat of some hot thick maple liquid, which is kind of halfway through the refining process between syrup and candy.  Here it is being poured onto some snow, where the kids roll it onto popsicle sticks and it cools into a kind of lollipoppish thing.

For those who don’t know, maple products are made through a series of evaporations.  The sap that is taken directly from the tree is boiled until most of the water is gone and the sugary part dominates the liquid.  That’s syrup.  You get about 1 part syrup for every 8-10 parts sap that you boil.  Boil it some more, and pour it into molds, let it harden – that’s candy.  The technique was probably discovered by the Algonquin First Nation, but there are other theories.

Anyway, my question has always been, and the Web doesn’t even seem to know the answer, what prompted some nutcase hundreds or thousands of years ago, to boil tree sap and then eat it?  Did they try this with everything?  Was there some mad proto-scientist who went around boiling random things and feeding the results to people to see what happened?

For years I wondered about this, and then, last spring, I figured it out.

First, some physics about how maple sap is collected.  Or, more importantly, when.  It can only be collected in the spring, when the temperatures drop below freezing at night and rise above 0°C during the day.  As you know, water expands when it freezes.  So the night-time freeze forces the sap (which is produced by the roots) up the trunk of the tree to nourish the buds that will become leaves.  During the day, the sap melts inside the tree to become liquid again.  That’s when the taps that have been hammered into the tree trunk drip out the sap into waiting buckets.

But the question remains; who figured out it was worthwhile to do all this?  I got my answer one spring evening when I noticed an icicle, about 30cm long, hanging from a branch of the sugar maple in our front yard.  Nothing strange about that, but then I noticed that there were no other icicles on any other tree in our yard, or any other on this particular tree either.  I then noticed that this icicle was emanating from a place where that branch had been broken during the winter – probably by ice/snow overload or something.  Therefore, the icicle hadn’t been formed by rain or snow-melt — it must be frozen liquid that came from the tree.  I broke off the icicle (like people, including Algonquins, have been doing for millennia), and tasted it, and it was decidedly sweet.  Aha!  So I rushed inside and put the icicle into a pot and boiled it.

Now, bear in mind that the total volume of this icicle was only about 100ml.  But I did triumphantly produce about half a teaspoon of syrup.  Mystery solved!


It’s Great When People Do What You Advise Them To,

…and it WORKS!  What a rush!  What brought this to my mind was yesterday’s post about my experience as a live threatre director.  But years before that, I was rugby coach for (I think) the ONLY ladies high school rugby team in New Brunswick at the time.  So we always had to play college teams, and we ALWAYS got smoked.  I’m talkin’ 72 – 3 type scores.

One team that we played fairly regularly, St. Thomas University, had a player who weighed at least 250 lbs.  And it as ALL muscle.  Her name was Bonnie.  The game plan for every match for STU, was, “give the ball to Bonnie.”  And it worked.

Now, let me turn the story to OUR team – the Fredericton High School Queen Bees.  (It’s a long story – our school colours were black and yellow, and all the other teams are called Black Kats, except for the boys rugby team, which are called the Hornets, and I wanted to call the girls’ team the Hornettes, but whatever.)  We had some exceptional athletes on our squad, many of whom would letter in this and other sports.  But this post is not about them.

This post is about Carolyn Garber.  An extremely intelligent and attractive young lady who was 2 years ahead of herself in grades, and about 15 years ahead in maturity.  She tried out for the RUGBY team, despite being about half the size of any of the other (very fit) girls.

We weren’t even allowed high school field time to practice, so I used to take the ladies down to the Fredericton Green for our workouts.  On one such evening, we were working on tackling drills.  I explained, that not even the largest person in the world can run anywhere, if their ankles are pinned together.

Flash forward to the following weekend.  We are playing STU, and Bonnie (of course) has the ball.  Our biggest, fittest, roughest players are literally BOUNCING off her as she rumbles down the field for a certain try. (“Try” = “touchdown” in rugby.)  THEN, from out of no-where, like a snake or a ferret, comes Carolyn!  She grabs Bonnie by the knees and slips her hands down to her ankles, and it was like a redwood falling.  It seemed to take 5 minutes for Bonnie to hit the turf, and when she did, car alarms went off.  It was AWESOME!.

Anyway,  we still lost like 106-3, but that was ABSOLUTELY my proudest moment as a coach.

I’m Not a “Gleek,” But…

I have become hooked on some of the Youtube versions of their performances.  As a not-very-accomplished musician, I can’t pretend to understand the ecstasy from delivering such joy to people, but I have been a comedian, actor, and director in my day.  And I can definitely relate to this director’s reaction as his cast performs:

To get the full effect, you’ll have to watch the whole 6-something minute video here, but it brought back a lot of memories of when I had folks out on stage doing amazing things.  BTW, I’m not saying that Glee is the best art on TV – probably on a par with American Idol.  But it does capture the fear/rapture of performing live…

Also BTW, the theatre in this clip is fairly similar to the Capitol, here in Moncton, whose board I am vice president of.  [Attention grammar police!]

Full Disclosure

I have been using a 12-year old photo of myself on this blog, because it’s the only decent one where I’m wearing a tie.  I decided to come clean today and substitute a recent one (3 months old) where I have significantly less hair:

It was taken at a friend’s cottage on PEI* in August, and while not as professional as the previous, it’s more HONEST.  And that’s my marketing mantra, right?

“Tell the truth.”

And that really is a Club Soda in my hand – I didn’t Photoshop out a Stella Artois logo.

* BTW, here in the maritimes we say, “on PEI” as in, “on the Island,” as opposed to “in” Ontario or other mainland provinces…

Well, That Was Easy – “Quantum Jumping” Solves Everything

While browsing a frequently-updated breaking news site (, I stumbled across an ad for something called “Quantum Jumping.”  I almost never click on ads, but the snarky, know-it-all, ex-physics-major in me wanted to confirm that the people who ran the ad really had no idea what “quantum” means.  It turns out they do, but in a VERY bizarre manner.

This is a self-help scam much like The Secret, which was espoused by Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities a few years ago.  The essence of The Secret is that if you visualize yourself being succesful, you will be.  Oprah was either conned, bribed, or genuinely convinced, that the technique would benefit her 1 billion fans that she told them about it, so it became a smash (although fleeting) success.  Whichever it was, Oprah was either immoral, illegal, or stupid enough to do it.

Of course, The Secret probably works, the same way that concentrating all your effort on ANYTHING works.  If I wake up every day and tell my self that I’m going to be the best goddamn hot-dog vendor in the city that day, sooner or later, I will be.  I don’t need any mysticism or wonky rituals to do it.

But the subject of this post is Quantum Jumping.  I quote from their site:

“Quantum Jumping is the process of “jumping” into parallel dimensions, and gaining creativity, knowledge, wisdom and inspiration from alternate versions of yourself.”

They go on to explain how Max Planck and Albert Einstein first came up with the idea of alternate universes (partially true), but then leap to the conclusion that you can visit them at will.  And while you’re in that alternate universe, you can hook up with your alternate self, who may be a billionaire or professional athlete or (they admit) homeless person.  But you learn from the more successful versions of yourself and return to this dimension wiser and more equipped to succeed.

There are a LOT of details left out, because, of course, you have to order the DVD set to learn the whole program.  But it goes to show you that a little bit of knowledge (in this case knowledge of physics) is a dangerous thing.

Wujek Stashu and Geezer

My wife’s brother Gary just left us after a 4-day visit from Ontario.  He calls me, “Stash,” which is short for “Stashu” (sp?), which is “Stanley” in Ukrainian, I think – long story.  My wife comes from Ukrainian and Polish roots.  My “full” nickname on her side of the family is Wujek Stashu – Wujek (pronounced VOY-eck) means “uncle” in Polish.

Gary is universally known as, “Uncle Geezer.”  There are various attributions for this moniker, but the most humourous is that he’s been acting like an old man since he was about 10-years old.  A more generous reason may be simply that he’s the oldest of his siblings.

ANYWAY, the whole nickname thing got me thinking.  Gary (Geezer) spent 4 days in my house and never once called me, “Stephen.”  And I loved it.  I don’t think I ever addressed him as anything but, “Geezer,” either.

The famous saying is that, “familiarity breeds contempt,” but I don’t think that applies in marketing.  If you are so familiar with something/someone that you have nicknames for each other, then you have a real bond.  Granted, it COULD be a negative bond (like if your nickname for your supplier is, “leech”).  But more often than not, if your customers have a “pet” name for you, it’s a good thing.

Facebook Fosters Fastasy Friendship?

A few weeks ago, I posted about the new vector the Nigerian scam has taken – through Facebook.

Now, it seems, the original money-makers on the World Wide Web, the pR0n dealers, have discovered Facebook as well: