Category Archives: Science

All the News That’s Fit to Print in Blowers

Today’s guest post comes from Clyde of Mankato

Mr and Mrs. Harold White were the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Einar Rasmussen on Friday night. Mrs. Rasmussen served Swiss steak with pineapple upside-down cake for dessert. After dinner the couples drove into Wadena for dancing at the American Legion club.”

Hot news that story, is it not? Such items were once the staple of small town newspapers. As I recall, they were called “social notices.” Anything to fill space around the ads and the legal notices. (More on the legal notices later.) Who does not want to see their name in print?

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My parents spent much of their childhoods and early married life in the central Minnesota town of Sebeka, home of the Sebeka Review, to which my parents subscribed after they moved away. Each Thursday they would read the paper and tell us stories, fully augmented by imagination, about the people mentioned, the kind of tales a newspaper would never tell. The Review published social notices by regions, one of which stood out in our childhood—Blowers Township. My sister got a kick out of the name, “The Blowers News,” which as a joke we always pronounced as you are pronouncing it now, unless you are up on your Otter Tail County geography. It is not bloo-wers, as in people who blow, but blau-wers, as if you were expressing pain with the ow, “oooww.”

Every week my sister read the Blowers social notices aloud. Over time we became acquainted with most of the few residents of this small very rural township. My sister plotted out friendships and feuds. She drew scandalous unfounded conclusions about what the notices really meant.

As for the social notices on our town, my parents’ comings and goings were hot news almost every week. The wife in the couple with whom my parents were socially active was the reporter of such tidbits. A common item would read “Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Birkholz were the guests of My and Mrs. ______________. After a dinner of chicken and dumplings several games of smear were played.” Mrs. ______________ was a devoted fan of passive verbs. In social notices women were always Mrs. His-First-Name Something, as if they had no first name.

If you do not know what smear is and how to pronounce it (Schmear), then you don’t know Northern Minnesota.

Another long gone item was a legal notice, the property tax reports. Each household was listed, by the man’s name of course, unless the woman was in some form single. After each person’s name was the amount of property taxes assessed and if paid or not. My father relished the anger he could express at how much more property tax the few farmers paid than the high-paid citizens in town. The newspapers made good money from printing those long reports.

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Doing a bit of research, I learned something new about Sebeka. It is the birthplace of one-time Twins pitcher Dick Stigman, which I knew, but is also birthplace of Kenneth Arnold, the pilot who made the first widely reported sighting of a UFO, or a flying saucer as he called it.

Have you ever been newsworthy?

Similar Simians Self-Select

Here’s how influential baboons can be – they have digital natives questioning the value of social media.

A recent study of baboon behavior found that baboons like to hang out with their own personality types.  Those identified as bold tended to hang out with like-minded baboons, while the meek ones prefer the company of their own sort.

As a result,  groups remain socially isolated and new information tends to stay within the group that discovered it.

Sound familiar?

No, not to me either.  No one in my circle cares much for animal studies.  Even if the creatures aren’t harmed, we tend to agree that they have a right to privacy.

But Trail Baboon poet laureate Schuyler Tyler Wyler, who, frankly, is not one of us, found the report inspiring.  So he penned the following few lines of deathless verse:

Those bold baboons are reckless beasts
They’re wild and fast and free.
So when I want to socialize,
they’re not my cup of tea.

I much prefer the timid ones.
Baboons who are demure.
If thoughtful and considerate,
I’ll hang with them for sure.

And when we convene a confab
to trade news and give reports,
we will screen for type and temperament
to weed out the wrong sorts.

So that when we all are gathered
we’ll stay focused, we’ll be tame.
All our thoughts and inspirations
will be pretty much the same.

Where do you get new ideas?

Battery Flattery

Elon Musk’s announcement that Tesla will develop and sell solar energy storage for the home brings to my attention something that I did not know I needed.

A big honking battery in the house.

Musk said, “The obvious problem with solar power is the sun doesn’t shine at night. The issue with existing batteries is that they suck. They’re expensive, large, and unsightly. The 51-by-33.8-by-7-inch Powerwall, on the other hand, looks like a beautiful sculpture.

There’s another thing that has not been a high priority when going over the family budget.

Buying a big honking sculpture for the house.

But now that I know I could get art AND reliable solar energy all night long from the same purchase,  I’m re-thinking the possibilities.

And since these are all carrying loads of electricity, the sculptures could be outfitted with lights!  The imagination reels with possibilities.

What famous sculpture would you install in your home? 

 

 

Control Issues

In today’s hyperactive social media environment, it does not take long for good reputations to get ruined by a bit of breathless over-reaction to common problems.

A quick tweet, a tossed-off Facebook post, a carelessly shared You Tube video, or a thoughtless headline might be all it takes to permanently shame a good citizen.

Or a starlet.

Or a spacecraft.

Yesterday’s New York Times headline, “Russian Space Station Cargo Ship Is Said to Be Out of Control“, smacks of the same type of discriminatory treatment given to a string of young, boisterous female celebrities, all of whom were declared, at one time, officially O.O.C.

Trail Baboon Sing-song poet laureate Tyler Schuyler Wyler insisted that I give him a moment to come to the defense of the poor, maligned Progress 59 capsule with a few lines of soon-to-be-forgotten verse.

 

One cannot be a star today without a robust hide.
And for anyone who reaches high, expect a rocky ride.
But as long as I’ve got pitch and yaw, a cargo, and a goal.
It’s unfair to try to shame me with that trope – “out of control.”

While it’s true I’m not mature, (this is the first time I have flown)
I’m more stable and more focused than that wingnut, Lindsay Lohan.
I admit our mission so far hasn’t made the throngs admire us,
But I’m not as O.O.C. as that sad train wreck, Miley Cyrus.

I may tumble out of orbit very soon, it now appears.
But I won’t completely self-destruct like gaudy Britney Spears.
So I don’t feel like a failure, though I’m sinking by degrees.
I will simply resupply a patch of Earth that lacks debris.

What’s the worst thing that’s been said about you?

Thar She (someday) Blows!

It’s not new to hear that Yellowstone National Park is a giant super-volcano, but new research adds some detail to what we know about the plumbing underneath.

It turns out there’s a reservoir of very hot and molten rock sitting ten to thirty miles below the surface, warmed from beneath by a scary plume of nasty Earth’s-core-grade magma.

Here’s my favorite line from the Washington Post article – “This is a volcano that can erupt either in a big way or a truly colossal and catastrophic way.”

It’s nice to know we have choices.

One gets the impression that were this baby to blow, it would have an effect everywhere and you could count on a level of personal inconvenience well beyond having to some wash dust off the windows.

But on the global disaster hand-wringing scale it’s hard to know how freaked out to be about this, since humans haven’t been around long enough to have witnessed the last Yellowstone eruption. Is it more or less troublesome than a meteor strike?

Or what if a rogue comet scored a direct hit on Earth with the point of impact right on top of the Yellowstone caldera? I know the odds are against it, which is why that disaster movie is probably already in production.

Oh for the innocent 1950’s, when the Earth’s center was filled with giant lizards and mushroom forests.

What’s your favorite disaster movie?

Rough Landing Haiku

Space travel fans and recyclers are full of admiration for the people at Space-X, who come closer with each attempt to doing something the throw-away generation of the ’60’s didn’t even consider. They’re trying to create a rocket booster that can carry a vehicle to orbit, and then land, vertically, the same way it took off.

To allow some room for error, they built a barge that can float out in the ocean, away from population centers. Smart, but problematic, as it creates a somewhat unsteady surface.

This last time they came quite close to making it work.

I love the slow yielding to gravity at the end, as it gradually becomes clear we are not going to remain vertical.

The fall takes about 7 seconds – just long enough to read three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables.

if there is no land
just a barge in the ocean
there is no landing

falling down to earth,
a job anything can do,
gets tricky at last

hold the platform still
and I will stick the dismount
at some other time

practice makes perfect
but first some big explosions
for entertainment

Space X says next time, they’ll try to do the landing where there is actually some land.

When has practice made perfect for you?

Carnival Town

We are ALL Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

We are ALL Dr. Babooner
We are ALL Dr. Babooner

I suffer from a litte-known, not-well-understood condition called Atariphobia, which is an unsupported-by-facts but nonetheless pervasive fear of invaders from space.

Consequently, I find myself constantly scanning the sky for signs of flying saucers.

In addition, I am a practicing Orsonist. As followers of the late actor/director Orson Welles, we Orsonists assume that in every case the most dramatic explanation is automatically the one that’s most likely to be true.

Rosebud!

Welles is known for the classic 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast,  which convinced too many people that Earth was under attack.  As a result, smoldering craters of every kind give me the creeps. When our family went to visit Yellowstone National Park, I stayed in the hotel room the entire time, sobbing.

In spite of these debilitating conditions, I am usually able to lead a typical life. But there’s a blog I follow where the writer often talks about how beautiful our planet looks from space, and he sometimes posts things like this video:

When I look at this, I’m terrified.

Compared to the barren, dead worlds we see elsewhere in our solar system (Mars!) and others we’re discovering throughout the galaxy, our place has a distinct ‘open for business’ look that makes me extremely uneasy.

It’s a swirly, spinning, sparkly gem set against a black background, with inexplicably vivid highlights, like the intermittent green glow of those northern lights – a feature that simply begs to be investigated.

If you were a space alien searching for a fun place to land or a bright bauble to tear apart, ours appears to be the only game in town. Why wouldn’t you come here?

I’m usually not too political, but I called my Congressman to urge her to do something. I thought maybe she could offer legislation to wrap the world in a drab,frumpy bag, dressing it down in the same way a beautiful woman de-emphasizes her best features to discourage unwanted attention.

The congressional aide I spoke with told me the Republican leadership is already doing everything it can to uglify the world through climate change denial. He used the incessant western drought as an example.

“California,” he explained, “is already looking a lot like Uranus.”

But I could hear stifled laughter on the other end of the line. I don’t think they took me very seriously.

Dr. Babooner, people are so willing to mock those who are even a little bit unconventional. How can I get them to consider the real risk posed by our planet’s obvious invade-able-ness?

Trepidatiously,
I.M. Wary

I told I.M.W. there is not much one person can do to make the world seem uninviting to outsiders. And when it comes to putting a potential crisis on the popular agenda, one must wait one’s turn. As a people, we respond to risk when the danger is imminent and our possible responses are limited.  In other words, we will only act when it is too late to act.  But as an Orsonist, I’m sure you’re already well aware that the world will accept no whine before its time.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?