Long-Legged Geeky Girl

Whew! I’ve been up to my ears in busy so have missed posting for a while…sorry! I did just enter an essay contest and thought I might share my non-fiction entry. Go GIRLS!

 

Long-Legged Geeky Girl

Mary Ellen Wall

 

“What are you all red-eyed about?”

“High waters. All I got is high waters. Bell bottoms gotta drag the floor!”

“Prissy girls.” Mama went back to her crossword puzzle and I stomped back to my room to take off those durn blue jeans that showed my ankles as soon as possible. It wasn’t my fault I wasn’t born a boy. Tossing my book bag and shedding my shame, the treasure spread across my bed stole my attention.

My Bookmobile treasure: Pollinators, Geology and the Inland Sea, The Science of Fire, Storm Dynamics. With a fluffed pillow at my back and my bare giraffe legs stretched out before me, I reached for the nearest tome. The 8th grade science fair was only 27 days away. Hmmm, weather instruments.

I had a jelly jar in my hand wondering what to use as a membrane when I saw the fancy syrup bottle with the plastic handle and spout in the trash. Ditch the spout. The jelly jar went back to Mama’s canning supplies. The smaller opening would mean a little balloon would fit lots easier and still be big enough for a pointer. A needle would poke the balloon. Dootdootdoot…what the hoot? Epiphany! A toothpick, flat rounded end stuck down. Glue, where’s the glue?

The two poster boards were a breeze to do. One had a wild tornado in the center with a spotted cow and a couple trees in it. Labels and arrows artfully drawn noted the meteorological details. The other had a precis of my EXPERIMENT. The harder part turned out to be affixing the index card to the bottle neck. Scissors! Tape! Where’s the durn tape?

I added another reading from the nightly weather report; the toothpick had a great range against the card which gave me pretty good space to record the data. The weather guys said a band of storms were on the way. Great! I might get a couple data points in the low range right before the science fair; the top of the card looked a bit blank.

Me, the biggest idiot in the room. The guy to the left of me had put an Apollo capsule model together. On the right, the guy with a hamster in a cage kept trying to make the critter run in the wheel. Across from me the guy had a printed, full color diorama of the Grand Canyon. Several boys had volcanoes. I had taped the cow tornado picture to the front of the table and whapped up a poster full of news of the record-breaking storm swarm and a fairly well drawn map to put in its place. Was it hokey? The boys had more polished displays. Except for me, all the contestants in the gym were boys.

Seeing the strange high school teachers quizzing the Apollo fellow reminded me of a Wild Adventures show including a warthog. Me, the warthog, now realizing lions approached. Could I still run? Where were the exits? I blinked at hearing someone knock on the table and there they stood, directly in front of me. Holy bovines.

“Miss, please explain why you brought this mess here.”

Mess? By golly, warthogs got tusks. “Sirs, Ma’am, I made this barometer from ordinary items and calibrated the device using the National Weather Association certified reports that are televised each evening.” Here I pointed at the data on the card. “There are 23 data points taken before Wednesday. On that day, the barometric pressure got so low, the diaphragm busted. This ‘mess’ is the evidence that my barometer worked.” I did not add that the sight of that balloon getting sucked way into that bottle and popping while Mama clutched my little sisters under the kitchen table and screamed at me to join them will amaze me to the end of my days.

Well, 1st place won me a whopping $50. The April 3, 1974 avalanche of ravaging tornadoes allowed me to proceed directly to the Woolco Department Store where I purchased a gleaming new Brother sewing machine. I figured out how to use it. From then through now, I choose the material for my clothes, I select the patterns and alter as I please. And my pants are always the right length.

90% Off Sale!

I am a sentimental sort and would rather have a white Christmas than any number of odd gifts that take up closet space. Not that I don’t treasure the thoughtful present sent by someone who had no idea what the hay to get me.Chick Cracker

Note to self – Take that overstuffed box of clothes that either never fit or were ludicrously NOT ME to the St Vincent’s. Put a garish bow on it? I have a million left over as I am an obsessive keeper of things that might be useful one day.

I watched the forecasts, pored over the extended nationwide maps and signed up for a weather blog.

WU Forecast

All in vain. These folks are getting snow…those folks are getting way too much snow. Where’s mine? Then I saw the animated, blinking ad for SNOW! 90% Off! Just in Time for XMAS! Oh yes I bit, I bit big-time and spend my paycheck. It would be worth it, right? Do the calculation, see how much this wondrous dream maker was originally valued? How wonderful of the generous creators of this magnificent offer to put it on such a sharp sale just in the St Nick of time!

(Imagine a night filled with anticipation, much like a child listens for jingling bells, in this space.)

Christmas morning, full of hope, I layered on the woolies and fur boots. And I saw this:

Crit Kringle 077

Trust nobody who says XMAS instead of Christmas.

 

Crowdsourcing?

You see it everywhere now, crowdsourcing. First it was cool new inventions that needed start-up cash, then struggling artists that needed a good push toward stardom, and always charities. Now you see people wanting you to fund what used to  be regular expenses. A guy has to fix his truck. This girl always wanted a horse.

The one that gets me is the independent author who is begging asking for an all-paid self publishDistant Trees of a book with unknown quality. I’m a big fan of self-publishing, all my books are that way. Right now, I have a great deal of anxiety over whether I can afford to enter a prestigious contest – one that will also judge my five books as a series. It would boost my credibility and maybe encourage a few book buyers. If I won. Hmm.

I have not been able to afford professional editing of any of my books; I would love to but that would run thousands of bucks for each one. A substantive edit is heavily pushed at Indies, I am bombarded with smiling Editors who assure me their service will make by book shimmer in Tenembrasperfection. My cover designs rely heavily on royalty-free photo sites, not the dazzling Graphic Designer outfits that lay on heavy persuasion that the cover is the BIG THING.GREEN.Dig.BadgeWIN

I, like a multitude of others, abhor spending my time and money of a book somebody slapped up on Amazon with little or no editing. I have been burned and am very wary now. Some covers look like grade-schoolers did their darnedest. You can’t even trust the reviews because unscrupulous authors buy them by the hundred – a practice Amazon is now cracking down World of Our Ownon. To avoid that pitfall, I studied hard and used local amateur editors. I edited several times over the span of months. I paid for cover design. To validate that approach, I have won or placed in several contests, though none for cash prizes.

Download 090915 078Should I get on IndieGoGo or some other site and explain that my books show what happens when the climate changes, how it affects the folks a hundred years from now, about how desperate people make bad decisions? My books will enlighten the public! Give me $10000 to get CadillacNeighbors editing and a professionally designed cover! Give me marketing funds! Give me the moohlah to enter big-time contests…

I can’t see doing that. Perhaps I’m too independent or too proud. I did order a complete set of my books to send to that contest. Maybe I’ll win!

Little Ita Whams Solomon Islands, then Australia

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As cyclones (southern hemisphere hurricanes) go Ita packed strong winds into a tiny package.  Cyclone Ita drowned the Solomon Islanders, then zeroed in on Cooktown in Queensland and blew trees and roofs around before heading south for the city of Cairns. Haiyan (super-powerful) recently smashed the Philippines, Sandy (super-sized) inundated New Jersey and New York last year and the Gulf Coast including New Orleans hasn’t recovered from Katrina yet. Some data says we’re getting stronger storms because of climate change while other data implies that there is too much natural variation to confirm one way or another. Weather Underground has a great discussion on the question.

In Neighbors, the fourth of my Elise t’Hoot science fiction books, I had the north Atlantic coast of South America hit by two Ita-sized hurricanes in a row, destroying all the families there possessed. They became refugees and were exiled along with lots of other ‘excess’ people. It may be hard for scientists to state for sure that any given hurricane or cyclone or typhoon is more vicious because of climate change, but when the sea level rises a few feet, these storms and their flooding storm surges will certainly get closer to more people. With the jet stream going loopy, these storms may romp outside their typical tracks. For example, three strong wintertime storms just pummeled England only a day or two apart, revealing World War 2 ordinance and 10,000 year old forest remains.

Yeah, I Like Nuclear Power!

Illustration of how nuclear power is created.   The bad accidents everybody thinks of when nuclear power is mentioned are USSR’s legacy to the Ukraine Chernobyl and the recent Japanese Fukushima units. I do not include Three Mile Island because it hurt nobody and only puffed some short-lived gases into the air that affected no one; the containment worked and the reactor for TMI-2 melted into a lower, reinforced area that never has escaped.

Chernobyl was not built like any US reactor, it was graphite blocks with control rods going through it. What maniac designed that I don’t know, but it was like having a high heat source integrated in coal and controlled with mechanical rods. Some techs were there on the weekend to do some testing and screwed up the system causing an uncontrolled transient. The result was reactors with no containment buildings burning, the highly radioactive soot dusting the Ukraine grassland while horrendous radiation levels killed emergency workers at the site. Cows hundreds of miles away ate the contaminated grass and gave radio-iodine milk. The site for miles is still hideously contaminated. Where I worked at San Onofre, we monitored the plume the world’s air currents brought to the US as it went over. A reporter came to the plants, said she’d been to Ukraine and was concerned. She alarmed all of our monitors and radiation counters. I put her shirt in out spectrometer and saw transuranics (reactor isotopes) like crazy. We took her clothes for disposal and let her bathe in a controlled area.

You have read and heard about Japan. They sited those reactors near some of the most active seismic zones in the planet and apparently became complacent. I believe the Nuclear Regulatory Commission here is more attentive here, but also would like to see more Fukushima lessons learned incorporated here, especially the passive cooling. See the Westinghouse Reactors site for info on the new nukes Vogtle in Georgia have ordered; they incorporate new passive cooling tech.

Part of the billion dollar cost of a nuclear plant is the extensive geological investigation, research on all credible threats plus a margin. At Fukushima, they looked at historical tsunamis and thought a 30 foot seawall would more than suffice. They got a hundred foot wave. Same with the quakes. They knew of the quake and wave risk but greatly underestimated the magnitude. Yes, we need to review our assumptions and update them! Nuclear has no room for complacency.

I love solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, wave power but nothing we know can provide us with the intensive source of power we need for heavy industry like nuclear. We have an excellent track record in this country. I saw an NRDC report that several reactors in the US had automatic shutdowns for issues  in the last decade like it was a bad thing. Automatic scrams are an important safety feature, we WANT the reactor to shut down when there is an earthquake, a hurricane or other problem – the safety systems worked. I’m a general fan of the NRDC, but wish they would look at facts and not paint the entire technology so monstrously no matter what.

The US has the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission), EPRI (Electric Plant Research Institute) and the ANS (American Nuclear Society) to name some entities that help keep our facilities updated and share lessons learned from around the world. Of course in my opinion, a main reason US nukes excel is because most ex-Navy nukes segue into commercial reactors after running submarine and aircraft carrier reactor systems. Uncle Sam beats reactor safety into each and every nuke with a large hammer, rigorous education and exercises. Navy experience and expertise no doubt does make a big positive difference, a resource other countries don’t have. Add that to homegrown nuke physicists and I think we’re doing better than those others.

Obviously I’m passionate about this, sorry for being so long-winded. On Tenembras, the exile planet in my books (BUY THEM), nuclear is the only way to power the critically necessary Breaker that makes terraforming oxygen. Sure they have lots of solar and wind, and fusion is high on their wish list, but the colony planet has to use nuclear for the same reason the US does right now: to meet the huge electrical demands of heavy industry. Go Solar! Go Wind! Go Nuke!

Home Sweet Home

A friend of mind urged me to share why I don’t heat or cool my house. The cabin here looks rough on the outside, but it is nice inside with four pairs of skylights, lots of room, a huge library, a two car garage, two stories and a full basement. It also has a nice heat pump. I leave the heat on ‘frost watch’ (about 40 F) and don’t use the cooling at all.

You may think Kentucky isn’t that far north or south and it doesn’t matter, but 40 F in the house all winter needs to be experienced. Toothpaste doesn’t want to come out. Bread won’t rise. No brewing until late spring. The microwave fogs up when I heat something. The refrigerator won’t come on because it is set at 40F and when it doesn’t run, the freezer compartment doesn’t stay cold. The cats get VERY friendly, wanting to snuggle all the time. I have to leave the radio on all the time (standby) because if I turn it off, the circuits get condensation and I can’t turn it back on for a day or two. I have a wood stove in case the electric goes out.

Why? Because I think people, certainly Americans, are crazy about constantly either heating or cooling to get a perfect temperature. Is all of that energy consumption really worth you personal comfort? Do you wonder how much pollution and CO2 is associated with your demand for being able to wear a t-shirt inside all of the time? How much coal do you need ripped from the Kentucky countryside in order never have to wear a sweater?

I go home from work and , if it’s cold enough, change into my long  johns and add a sweater or sweat shirt and sweat pants. If it’s colder than that, I add a hip-length super-fleece jacket and pants. By layering as needed, I can stay cozy all the time, especially since I have a thermal blanket at the ready by my easy chair. In the summer I unlayer, usually ending up in a tank top and loose skirt. I have one window fan and lots of screened windows. The full basement helps moderate temperatures.

“I can’t do that, I have kids.” Right. You are teaching your kids that a constant, narrow range of comfort is normal and good. I was raised in a house heated by a Warm Morning coal store that sat in the kitchen. My job in the winter was to go outside to the coal pile and chip some from the ice and snow so Ma could start the stove up. My sisters, brother and I have few colds or other sicknesses and we know for a fact that winter is cold and summer is hot.

“I have a medical condition.” Do what your doctor says, I’m only trying to make you think. Thinking includes making an informed decision whether messing with the thermostat is proper for you or your family.

“I have a right to slurp up as much energy as I can pay for and don’t care about how much of the poisonous residue ends up in the air for little children to breathe.” I have nothing polite to say to folks like that.