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.

Aliens May Be More Like Us Than We Think!

My comments: I designed three main types of aliens for my Elise t’Hoot books: The beings in tree-like shells, the ancient, gigantic crab-scorpion frights and the gaudily clothed bipeds the characters talk about. For example, the treeish Amigos can levitate and pull water and mineral from the ground, Elise is abducted and finds she can wear the Tooli robes, and  few books later she is awed by the Critch-Critch who are threatening Earth. This article caught my eye as it helps justify the Tooli, and really the others as well.

Date:  October 31, 2017

Source:  University of Oxford

Summary:  For the first time, researchers show how evolutionary theory can be used to support alien predictions and better understand their behavior. They show that aliens are potentially shaped by the same processes and mechanisms that shaped humans, such as natural selection. The theory supports the argument that foreign life forms undergo natural selection, and are like us, evolving to be fitter and stronger over time.Oxford Aliens

These illustrations represent different levels of adaptive complexity we might imagine when thinking about aliens. (a) A simple replicating molecule, with no apparent design. This may or may not undergo natural selection. (b) An incredibly simple, cell-like entity. Even something this simple has sufficient contrivance of parts that it must undergo natural selection. (c) An alien with many intricate parts working together is likely to have undergone major transitions.  Credit: Helen S. Cooper

The Journal Article (edited by Science News):

 

Hollywood films and science fiction literature fuel the belief that aliens are other-worldly, monster-like beings, who are very different to humans. But new research suggests that we could have more in common with our extra-terrestrial neighbours, than initially thought.

In a new study published in the International Journal of Astrobiology scientists from the University of Oxford show for the first time how evolutionary theory can be used to support alien predictions and better understand their behaviour. They show that aliens are potentially shaped by the same processes and mechanisms that shaped humans, such as natural selection.

The theory supports the argument that foreign life forms undergo natural selection, and are like us, evolving to be fitter and stronger over time.

Sam Levin, a researcher in Oxford’s Department of Zoology, said: ‘A fundamental task for astrobiologists (those who study life in the cosmos) is thinking about what extra-terrestrial life might be like. But making predictions about aliens is hard. We only have one example of life — life on Earth — to extrapolate from. Past approaches in the field of astrobiology have been largely mechanistic, taking what we see on Earth, and what we know about chemistry, geology, and physics to make predictions about aliens.

‘In our paper, we offer an alternative approach, which is to use evolutionary theory to make predictions that are independent of Earth’s details. This is a useful approach, because theoretical predictions will apply to aliens that are silicon based, do not have DNA, and breathe nitrogen, for example.’

Using this idea of alien natural selection as a framework, the team addressed extra-terrestrial evolution, and how complexity will arise in space.

Species complexity has increased on Earth as a result of a handful of events, known as major transitions. These transitions occur when a group of separate organisms evolve into a higher-level organism — when cells become multi-cellular organisms, for example. Both theory and empirical data suggest that extreme conditions are required for major transitions to occur.

The paper also makes specific predictions about the biological make-up of complex aliens, and offers a degree of insight as to what they might look like.

Sam Levin added: ‘We still can’t say whether aliens will walk on two legs or have big green eyes. But we believe evolutionary theory offers a unique additional tool for trying to understand what aliens will be like, and we have shown some examples of the kinds of strong predictions we can make with it.

‘By predicting that aliens undergone major transitions — which is how complexity has arisen in species on earth, we can say that there is a level of predictability to evolution that would cause them to look like us.

‘Like humans, we predict that they are made-up of a hierarchy of entities, which all cooperate to produce an alien. At each level of the organism there will be mechanisms in place to eliminate conflict, maintain cooperation, and keep the organism functioning. We can even offer some examples of what these mechanisms will be.

‘There are potentially hundreds of thousands of habitable planets in our galaxy alone. We can’t say whether or not we’re alone on Earth, but we have taken a small step forward in answering, if we’re not alone, what our neighbours are like.’

 

Journal Reference:

  1. Original Study: Samuel R. Levin, Thomas W. Scott, Helen S. Cooper, Stuart A. West. Darwin’s aliens. International Journal of Astrobiology, 2017; 1 DOI: 1017/S1473550417000362
  2. This version: University of Oxford. “Aliens may be more like us than we think: What evolutionary biology tells us about how aliens could look.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 October 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171031202151.htm>.

 

A Life of an Obscure Self-Published Book

Mack sat quietly on the shelf day after day with his 19 copies. The Word Master, the man who had spent long nights to move the words  from his mind to a page Mack carried had lain inert for several cycles of sun reaching and retracting across the wooden floor.

Soon after, others arrived and saw the Word Master in the chair. They shuffled around, never thinking to choose a book to read. A big man, aggression clear in his black eyes held a box to our shelf and scowled. What reason would he have to make such unkind faces at us? If only he would touch one of us, we could connect with him, teach him things.

The horrid man raised a mighty paw and swept all 20 copies into a box. No reverent touch, he seemed afraid to make much contact at all. Jumbled with his brothers in the corrugated coffin, Mack thought back to the Word Master’s prophecy: “No one will read these, I wasted by life. I should take them to the dump and jump in 201402 Dump 264with them.” The kind Word Master would caress each spine; Mack loved his calloused fingers tracing the letters A. Macquarie. As the oaf handled the box as if to bust each book into pulp, Mack felt the communal consensus. They and the Word Master were headed for the dump.

A stranger grabbed a brother and shook him, frightening Mack. Why had the oaf brought them to this disorderly cavern? He heard a woman say, “This not a set of encyclopedias, this is what Abel had left over from peddling this science stuff to the schools in the lower 48.” She dropped the copy carelessly, making the covers pop apart and the pages splay and curl as in death.

“I gotta get to work. Do something with them, okay?”

The woman calmed the situation somewhat by lifting and examining the covers of each of us. She stacked us neatly in the box and carried us to a far part of the cavern, to a door with ‘Goodwill’ written in red on it.

“Hey, you have room for this one more box?”

The door vanished upward with a rumble, then rumbled back down with a loud click. Rough motion and new noises. Mack and his brothers went for a long ride.

St Vincent Donation 11062014 003Mack had thought the previous room a cavern, but this immense space dwarfed it. People and machines roamed here and there, busy like the tiny black ants the Word Master would mash with his bare feet. Why someone thought he and his kin should travel with toasters and bundles of multicolored cloth items, he could not say. They all arrived at a smaller area and were handled without any attempt at comprehension yet again. Oh no, a shelf should not be alive! How long would they languish in the alcove of mites and tiny spiders?

The odd woman drove a chair, amazing. He could see it because she held him her dainty hand. She riffled his pages. She read the page with the proud proclamation that Abel Macquarie had written those words in 2000. Mack reveled; it was first time any of his words had been read! Then GLORY! She put the box on her lap, took us to a person standing AND PAID MONEY. The Word Cabin June 2015 065Master said he’d not sold one copy, not one red cent. Now 20 copies sold at once!

The sweet woman took us to her cabin and the wooden floors made us all so homesick. What had they done with the Word Master? As he wondered, she began wiping each of our covers and placing us on a crowded shelf.

The heady hope and excitement ebbed. Day after day passed with the sun filling the room and leaving the room.

She woke him by wiping his covers again, and flashing him with something. She opened the cover and made tapping noises on the brightly lit tray on her table. Warily, he was determined not to fall for the siren call again. As giddy as we all had been, she never had the need to consult his graphs, and never became a treasured READER. She placed him back on the shelf to wait in limbo.

One sunny day as she tapped away at the bright tray, she clapped her little hands. Her chair whirred and she laid out papers and odd things. She took me from the shelf and wrapped me in the paper. NOBODY COULD SEE ME! How would anybody ever read me if they could not see me? What had I done to deserve being bound this way? Darkness, noises, thumping and bumping, despair!

The lady that ripped the paper away riveted his attention. She had the same energetic, probing aura the Word Master had. She bathed his fiber soul in joy with the words, “Permafrost Cores and Analyses from 1949 to 1999! EXACTLY what I needed!”

 

Since I Don’t Have Enough To Do…

I had heard about Citizen Science for a long while, but equated it with birdwatchers getting eaten up with ticks out in some snaky woodland. That can be great fun, including the monkey-like tick-picking afterwards, however it is time consuming and risks horrid diseases. Then I found Citizen Science for couch taters and cubical residents:

ZOONIVERSE! People-Powered Research

The Zooniverse provides opportunities for people around the world to contribute to real discoveries in fields ranging from astronomy to zoology. Welcome to the largest online platform for collaborative volunteer research.

They have lots of projects from wildlife in Gorongosa to old sailing ship logs to weather patterns – you select a project and they tell you the way to count and identify what you see. They show you pictures. You count or circle or describe. If you like, you can join a chat on the subject.

I have indicated the illustrations in old horticultural journals. I have compared one storm track against another to discern the stronger. I have counted wildebeests and indicated what direction they ran. I have categorized Mediterranean plankton (least favorite). The newest one is spotting and identifying Wisconsin wildlife, looks very interesting. For all y’all that have jam-packed days already (as I do) yet wish to contribute in a meaningful way, give it a try as you can do as many counts as you have time for. It’s fun!

Painting pre-crackle runsPainting crackle detailOooh, update on the painting project – CRACKLE. Check out the before and after; neat effect after drying a couple days. I propped the canvas up at various angles until I got the drip rate I wanted.  I have tons left to do on this. I love the ‘fractured sky’ look and the way it dripped down, but not so much the solid brown right below the crackle. There are plenty of ways to fix that. All I have to do is tear myself away from my laptop and the SF new series…I have more ideas for that too. How long before the weekend starts?

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!