Former Chicagoan Sean Carroll, who blogs at Cosmic Variance, learned something at the fall meeting of the Illinois and Iowa sections of the American Association of Physics Teachers: "High-school science teachers live in a very different world than professional researchers. Typically a 'department' is only one person, and when it comes to resources one has to be a little creative. So it’s quite common (I’ve just learned), when one first is hired, for the new teacher to be presented with a storeroom full of stuff that their predecessors had acquired one way or another. . . . Sometimes, indeed, it’s hard to figure out what the stuff is! So here at the FM of the IIS of the AAPT, people have been bringing in pieces of apparatus that have been lying around for decades and have become unmoored from their original purposes. They then show the wayward equipment to their assembled colleagues, and ask for help figuring out what the heck this thing is supposed to be." Read the whole thing, and the comments too.
Treehugger nominates the Jerusalem artichoke, which "looks like a ginger root, tastes like a cross between a radish and an artichoke," as the "most underrated" [hate that phrase!] native American food. Other underrateds include birch syrup, analogous to maple syrup except that it's a lot more work to boil down: "It takes an average of 100 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of birch syrup. Maple syrup, by comparison, averages 40:1." Maybe it's a native food, but the processing sounds really energy-intensive. Let's not confuse boutiquery with greenness.
Medpundit offers a close look at something your ancestors didn't want to know: cough syrup ingredients from the good old days.