Monday, March 30, 2009

Putting our resources to better use. "Better use" being YOUR definition, of course.

I read a lot of blogs everyday. I don't always comment, of course. Mostly, when I don't comment it is because I don't know that much about the subject of the post, or the post really doesn't invite comments because it is complete within itself, or targeted to a particular audience of which I am not a part.

There is one blog that I go to just about every day because the lady always has something I find interesting. I seldom comment, because this is one of the blogs that is usually way over my head. (And I'm not just saying that.) But I read, and I try to understand. I am talking about Stephanie and her Rocketscientist blog. What an interesting blogger she is. I know many of you are faithful followers as well.

Anyway, yesterday morning she had some pithy quotes from various famous people. She often does that and I always enjoy it. A post consisting of famous quotes is not that hard to comment on, so I did. There were several I liked, but the one that caught my attention the most was one by former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. I want to reproduce it here - I hope Stephanie doesn't mind - because it made me think of something else, which I now want to blog about.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children." -Dwight David Eisenhower, 1953, a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Now, Eisenhower was a great delegator and PR man, and he certainly knew how to kiss the proper ass at the proper time. This skill at diplomacy and finding ways to make many prima donnas work together stood him in good stead throughout his entire life. Make friends, use friends. At any rate, he was hardly deep enough to formulate the words in the attributed quote, and in 1953 would not have been writing his own speeches anyway, if he ever did. But the quote is still valid, and one assumes he wouldn't speak the words in a speech if he didn't agree with the words at least in part - and it is important that a general would be the one to speak the antiwar words.

There are two ways to take this quote, of course. First that war is bad and wasteful, and second that war money would have been better spent on society's pressing problems (or not taken from the workers in the first place.)

I personally believe the hungry should be fed. I believe the destitute should be clothed and housed. I have compassion for these people, even if it is their lifestyle of choice, even if they are out of work by choice, even if they made the choice not to educate themselves in a land of plenty.

I have a blog dedicated to the plight of the world's poor, and the injustices visited on them. I support Water Day, and Women's Day, and Earth Day, and Gay Rights Day and all the rest. I do. I care. I contribute to charities and I try to volunteer whenever I can. I am involved with my community. While I am not a person who is totally convinced there is such a thing as global warming created by mankind, I certainly believe climate change seems to be a cyclic part of Earth's history through the ages. I am not convinced puny man can change this. I AM convinced that if a man CAN change it, that man is not Al Gore. But that's a different subject.

My point is I still support the efforts of the people who DO believe in this phenomenon and who seek to remedy it. I don't have to personally believe in everything in order to believe my friends are good people and could use my support.

But... I also don't believe that we need to devote every possible spare penny we can dig up to the cause of helping the poor. There, I've said it.

It is true, as the quote attributed to Eisenhower says, that if we didn't buy war materiel we could give more money to the poor and hungry of the world, and we could invest in a lot of more worthwhile things than war. Underneath that quote is also the larger assumption that there are a lot of other things, besides war, that are wasteful in many people's eyes, and the money would be better spent on feeding the poor or paving roads, or fostering higher education. Or building more bowling alleys, I suppose: it depends on whose vision you are working on or whose ox you are goring.

It all depends on one's own value system as to what is wasteful and what is needful in this world, and what priority should be assigned to those things. And the more sure you are that your list of values is "obviously correct" and that others who disagree with you "just don't get it", the more it is likely you are probably wrong. That last is from another of Stephanie's posts. Have a good day.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Electricity>Nuclear Energy>Your friend Uranium-235

What have we learned so far about electricity?

•Electricity is the flow of subatomic particles called electrons
•Electrons are located in things called atoms
•Electrons will flow in a conductor when it is placed in a magnetic field
•An electric generator is essentially many conductors rotating in a magnetic field
•Electricity is free but the means to turn the generator is not
•The generator can be turned by wind, water, or (most commonly) steam
•Steam is produced by boiling water
•Heat to boil water comes most commonly by burning coal
•Another source of heat to boil water is the heat given off by a nuclear reaction

So, onward and upward, mes petits protégés.

Most of you have seemed very bored in class so far, because the information has been so elemental. Except for little Canucklehead, who often looked challenged, even during the balloon rubbing. Today, in an effort to keep you exceptional children awake, we will discuss what a nuclear reaction is, what fun things you can do with it once you have it going, and, in another post, a couple of things you probably want to watch out for. Ready?

First of all, you may recall that the nucleus of an atom consists of little things called protons and neutrons, and that electrons revolve around the nucleus. You may also remember that the number of protons in the atom tells you what "element" the material is. The names of some elements are iron, oxygen, gold, lead, helium and many others. One other example is an element called Uranium.

Uranium occurs naturally on Earth. Some elements, such as plutonium, do not. You don't have to remember plutonium though. Uranium has an atomic number of 92. Does anyone remember what that means? Ettarose? Yes, it means uranium has 92 protons in its nucleus. Good girl! Of course it also has... what?... yes, neutrons and electrons. Good, Angelika!

Uranium is a metal, considerably denser than lead, and is a silvery-gray color when refined. Ummm... like lead. Some elements have variations in their atomic structure, and these variations are called "isotopes."

Canucklehead, you have not been paying attention. Tell the class what an isotope is, please. What? A baseball player on the triple-A team owned by the Dodgers located in Albuquerque? And they serve beer there? Correct, but we are not talking about baseball right now. Pay attention, please.

You may recall that besides protons, an atom's nucleus also contains small particles called neutrons. What's that Janet? Yes, we made fun of neutrons because they had no electrical charge. Some atoms of the same element have different numbers of neutrons. Each variation in the number of neutrons is called an isotope of that element. For example, uranium-235 is one variation, or isotope, of the element uranium. Uranium-238 is another possible isotope of the same element.

An interesting thing about uranium-235 is that if you bombard its nucleus with an outside source of slow neutrons, you can make it's nucleus split apart (fission). What, Descartes? Why, yes! - just like slamming a cue ball into a group of other pool balls. Great analogy! Pow, pow, pow! ::Ralphie's old man is nervous now: "Carefull now... they go all over!"::
Yes, Lidian, very cool indeed. But that's not the REALLY cool part. No. Can you tell us what the REALLY cool part is, little A.? Little A.? Little A., don't pretend you are invisible. Everyone can see you sitting there. Anyone? Anyone? Alison?

Why, YES, little Alison! The really cool part is that when you break apart the nucleus, the pieces fly off and break apart the nucleus-us-us... nuclei... of other atoms. So cool, indeed! Thank you Alison! You have been reading your little Nuclear Reaction book, I see!

So... once you get the fission (splitting) nuclear reaction started, it just keeps going on its own! And going, and going, and going, and going... wake up Canuck.

But, another very important thing is, when the nuclei break apart, HEAT is also given off. True! Slam! Pop! Split! Burrrrrrnnn! Right, Sheila! Nine-ball in the side pocket! Go for it class! ::turns up hip hop music really loud as tykes get on their feet and duck their heads up and down to the beat:: Yes! do the "neutron slam", Debbie! Slam! Bam! Pop! SPLIT! -- Burrrrrnnnn!

Okay, sit down now, please. ::Turns off the music::

Who would like to see a picture of a nuclear reactor at work? ::Everyone raises their hands::

Look up at the projection on the wall, children. A beautiful unearthly blue. An online reactor at a nuclear power station. ::Class goes silent::

::Quietly:: "The primal power of the universe. Yes, oddly frightening..."

(To be continued in an upcoming post)

Monday, March 23, 2009

A very unusual way to boil water

In 1831, Michael Faraday discovered that if an electrical conductor (a copper wire, for example) is passed through a magnetic field, there will be an electrical current induced in that conductor. That's pretty much the essence of the story of electricity as we know it today. The refinements that we've learned since then are icing on the cake.

An electric generator is a device used to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. That is to say, mechanical energy is used to pass that conducter through a magnetic field, and the electricity thus produced is sent through wires to your home.

"Mechanical energy" (the energy needed to spin the conductors around within that magnetic field) might be sourced from wind power or water power, but far more commonly that mechanical energy comes from steam power.

Steam is created by boiling water. The steam thus produced is blasted into a turbine which turns the electrical generator. The means used to boil the water can be oil or gas (or wood, or whatever) but by far the most common fuel used to boil water for electrical generation is coal.

Boiling water with heat made from coal is costly both in dollars and also to our environment. Janet can testify to the latter. Burning coal is also a dirty proposition and VERY expensive to make even half clean with scrubbers.

Another way to boil water is much cheaper and much MUCH cleaner (if guarded properly.) This is by using nuclear energy to produce the electricity.

A lot of people have a mental image that in order to produce electricity in a nuclear power plant, uranium fuel rods are somehow mysteriously rubbed together by scientists and electricity is given off in the process.

In reality, making the atoms in uranium excited (VERY excited!) in things called "fuel rods" simply makes the fuel rods very hot. Very hot indeed. But basically, if you cover the fuel rods with water, the water will boil and turn to steam like any other boiling water. Hence the title to this post: "A very unusual way to boil water."

Uranium is very cheap. Uranium is very efficient - it lasts for a very long time (a very long time indeed compared to coal.) Thus you have a cheap fuel that lasts for a long time which can produce steam and spin generators to make large amounts of electricity for a very long time. Very cost effective.

::Fran Drescher as The Nanny: "Sooooo....what's yer PRAHHHHH-blem???::

Well, the problem are the Homer Simpsons of the world employed at nuclear power plants who are too bored or too sleepy to do one simple thing: make sure they watch that the level of the water stays covering the uranium fuel rods. Even Dr. No knew enough to do that. (Although he, or Ian Flemming, were not all that clear on containment procedures.)

In a way this IS rocket science, but in a very real sense it is not: what idiots could not watch water level gauges and read sensors and look into tv monitors and cause water valves to be turned when needed?

What idiots? Well, the idiots at Three Mile Island for one. And the idiots at Chernobyl for another.

You see, when the water boiling on your stove boils away, the dry pan gets very hot indeed, and fires result.

When nuclear reactions are taking place and the hot fuel rods are not kept covered with water, they get very hot too. So hot they will melt anything they come in contact with. Metal. Concrete. Dirt. Ah. Dirt. They will continue melting all the way through the earth, all the way to China. The China Syndrome. That's a theory. It has never actually happened.

So, today, in the U.S., we still put up with 19th century methods of burning coal and other fossil fuels to boil water, rather than make sure idiots are properly trained and watched closely.

The last U.S. commercial nuclear power generator to go on-line was on February 7, 1996.

Of course something else happens when you don't properly keep the nuclear fuel rods and contaminated materials safely within the containment system, and that "something" certainly must not be overlooked.

[To be continued.]

[Yes, Dear A., I know all about France's fine 86% nuclear production. Just wait, please.]

Sunday, March 22, 2009

World Water Day 2009

Today is World Water Day.

I haven't seen or heard anything about it from Bloggers Unite, but I am going to blog about it anyway.

What is World Water Day?

World Water Day is the official UN-designated day dedicated to water issues. It's a key date to champion the right of people everywhere to affordable, safe drinking water, close to home.

Why are good water supplies important?

Because... Clean water reduces the spread of diarrheal diseases that kill 5,000 children a day.

Because... Accessible water supplies mean women can spend time working to earn money or caring for their families, rather than walking for hours in search of water.

Because... Sufficient water supplies mean there is water available for washing and watering gardens, as well as drinking and cooking.

What can YOU do on World Water Day?

There’s lots you can do to become a WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) champion! Learn more, share what you learn with others, and support organizations like WaterAid, that exist to help the world's most vulnerable communities gain access to clean water and sanitation, close to their homes.

Make a donation online
Visit the official UN World Water Day website
Sign our petition asking Congress to combat global poverty
Take part in the Walk for Water in Zeeland, MI
Organize your own World Water Day Walk for Water
Organize your friends into a community of WASH champions by starting a giving circle using an online personal fundraising page
Visit our display at the American Museum of Natural History's Water Resource Fair in New York
Spread the word about our work:
Declare your commitment by joining our Facebook group
Keep current by following us on Twitter and retweeting our tweets
Become our friend on MySpace and leave a message
Watch and rate our YouTube videos
Post a WaterAid America banner on your website or profile
Sign up for our enews and forward it to your friends
Download the WaterAid iGoogle theme

Go to this website to donate or to learn more about the above items.

Here is the information about the picture at the top of this post:

Ester Bizwick, aged 55, from Wilson Village in the Machinga District of Malawi knows how important clean water is for poor families worldwide. Here she describes how her life has improved since gaining access to a clean water supply supported by WaterAid:

"I used to draw water from the Lisanjala River. I used to go four times a day with all the children. There were lots of problems from the water. Children and parents would get sick from the diarrhea and we’d frequently go to the hospital which is 17 kilometers away. It was taking too long to get to the hospital.

"It was difficult before the [new] water [point], we were unable to grow vegetables because the water was not close. We didn’t have adequate food. We would grow cassava in the fields to sell for clothes, food and soap. But we didn’t have enough food to eat.

"We have had our [water] connection recently and we have been growing vegetables to eat instead of buying them.

"Since the water came our lives have changed. We are able to concentrate on our families and the children are not getting sick any more so we are saving time and being more productive.

"The time is being used to farm, look after children, and bathe."

Photo: WaterAid / Layton Thompson

Friday, March 20, 2009

Advice From a Failure

“All that truly counts is the relationship to the self—the self as deeply as it can be known, as fully as it can be accepted, as genuinely as it can be lived–for from that relationship all else proceeds.”

A belated happy birthday to Jo Coudert. March 14, 1923. Time flies. But you are ever young. Many people's lives were changed because you decided to put your thoughts down on paper way back in 1965. You are still going strong more than 40 years later. Please don't ever stop. May you live to be a thousand. And, for the record, you were never a failure.
Caution: this is not a humor post.
An essay on Right Livelihood.

Like many people, Relax Max's puppeteer Tom has spent a lifetime trying to answer the same question asked by so many others down through the ages: "Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is my mission in life? What should I be doing with my life?"

Many of us do go through life constantly seeking those elusive answers. As the years begin to slip away, this search for meaning and for right livelihood becomes more and more desperate. The need is to learn "The Secret" of what we should be doing with our lives—and learn it before there is no more life left.

After a considerable period of frustration at not being able to quite define our purpose and our reason for being—not to mention a small fortune spent on self-help books—some of us begin to give up hope of ever finding the answers. We settle for whatever we can get. We begin to live the same lives of quiet desperation that our parents lived, and their parents before them lived.

Some of us get lucky, though, and manage, through persistence, to get at least part of the answer. In this post I would like to share with you some of the things that I finally came to understand during my long search for the mysterious Secret Truth. These truths are deceptively simple, but they have helped me make more sense of my life since I uncovered them. At least I haven't felt the need to buy any more self-help books after that remarkable day.

First, after more than a few years of searching, it occurred to me, as it may also occur to you, that the correct question was not being asked, and that was possibly why clear answers were not forthcoming. In other words, instead of asking ourselves what we should be doing in life, what we really want to know is, "What would make me happy?" That simple reframing of the question changes the dynamic and makes the question easier to answer. 

The new knowledge that I had been perhaps asking the wrong questions didn't help me that much at first, but then I began to contemplate the definition of happiness, and also the nature of happiness. Suddenly, the idea came into my mind that one of the unique characteristics of happiness is that it cannot be made a goal. That is to say you cannot obtain happiness by the usual progressive step-like accomplishments that you do in order to arrive at "normal" goals. What then?

As soon as I realized that happiness was not a goal—or even a tangible thing for that matter—I became liberated enough to think outside the box a bit. If happiness is not a thing to be somehow garnered by accomplishing step-by-step goals, what is it?

That's when the simplicity of it first hit me: happiness is a condition, not a thing. Happiness is a desired emotional state that one cannot make happen simply by beating it over the head or capturing it and dragging it home. It is much simpler, more sublime, than that. It suddenly became obvious to me that all you really have to do to be happy is to begin doing things you truly enjoy, things that bring you joy, and then happiness simply... ensues.

Up until that point, I had assumed that things were what brought happiness: if I had a new car, I would be happy; if I had a new house, I would be happy; if I had plenty of money, I would be happy. Then, I did get a new car that I had been wanting for a long time, and I was happy—for about two weeks; and I did get a nicer house on more land, and I was happy—until a few mortgage payments came and went; and I did, over time, begin making more and more money, and I was happy—until I realized I still possessed the capacity to spend as much as I made. 

You may see what I am getting at. You can't really trade things for happiness. Happiness only comes when you are doing what you enjoy doing. I enjoyed downshifting and sliding around curves in my cool Mustang SVO—and at those times, I experienced happiness. I enjoyed sitting on my patio in the quiet summer twilight and sipping an ice tea and watching the sun go down—and at those times, I experienced happiness. I enjoyed spending money—and as I made the selection to purchase a new set of golf clubs, I was happy.

If you are reading this now and guessing there might be more to this happiness thing than meets the eye, you would be right. True happiness needs to be sustainable. If you are going to sustain the wonderful feeling of happiness, then you need to be permanently doing something that brings you joy. And something that brings such permanent joy can only be that special thing which you were meant to be doing with your life. Pow! The paradox comes full circle. Catch 22. Impossible.

Happily, further investigation shows this is not true. With this new knowledge of the nature of happiness, you are able to reason out the third piece of the puzzle that resolves the paradox once and for all. The knowledge that it is happiness which you are really trying to experience, is the key to the puzzle of "What should I be doing with my life." Suddenly you realize they are one and the same. In other words, to find out what you should be doing with your life, you need only answer the question, "What really makes me happy? What, when I am doing it, makes me lose all track of time?"

Then, you answer the final question: "What am I good at? What can I do really well? What thing do I do that people say, 'Wow! How did you do that?'"

A light comes on in your head. A silly smile comes over your face. Maybe you hear angels singing in the distance because another human has come to understand what his purpose on earth is. Maybe the goofy smile turns into laughter as you realize that all you have to do now is devise a way to do that thing you love to do and are good at doing, in such a manner that the result will help and benefit other people in some way. And the circle is completed.

I believe with all my heart that we are all born with certain gifts and talents and capacities and aptitudes; that these things in various combinations make us an unique and inestimably important person; that these raw materials are hard-wired into the very fiber of our existence, just as surely as the DNA of our body's physical structure exists.

I also believe many of us spend much needless time looking outside for the clues that will tell us what we were meant to do in life. We look for writing in the clouds, signs in the stars; we wait for a voice from on high to finally tell us what it is we are supposed to be doing. Yet all the time, more often than you might imagine, the answer lies within us; has already been placed in us at birth. Sadly, we too often go through our entire lives without realizing our purpose, because we talk too loudly to really hear; look too furtively to really see; act too frantically to really feel.

The apostle Paul tells us these things are "written in our members."

Socrates said simply, "Know thyself."

Shakespeare wrote, "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."

I want to be as plain as possible here. This seemingly simple concept is deceptively hard to explain. If you take away anything at all from this post, I hope it is that there is something you need to be doing with your life, something special you are supposed to be doing. Perhaps it is something that only you with your unique gifts and talents can do, and if you don't do it, it simply won't get done in the world.

I would also have you understand that, more often than not, the clues to what you should be doing are found inside yourself; things seeking constant expression; things that make you feel uneasy and restless when you suppress that expression.

Try to follow yourself around and watch what you do when you are not at work, when you are enjoying "free time" to do as you please. Maybe you like to work to restore things, bringing them back to life with skills that seem to come natural to you. Maybe you like to work with wood in the workshop in your basement, your hands expertly turning out fine furniture. Maybe the watercolor paintings you do to relax are acclaimed by your friends, and it just comes easily to you. Maybe your heart soars when you play the piano, and you play so well, so naturally. Maybe you have the best feelings of all when you are volunteering at the nursing home, or with small children, or with the sick. Maybe you feel you are very much at home when you work with animals, and they sense your love and bond with you. Maybe you are at peace in your garden, nourishing plants, making things grow. Or one of a thousand other things.

The clues are that the thing makes you feel good inside, seems to come naturally to you, and, whatever it is, you do it well—almost as a second nature. And, always, some person outside yourself is helped in some way or receives a benefit from your work.

I don't think I can get any plainer than Richard Bolles stated it in his explanation of our individual Mission: " exercise that Talent which you particularly came to Earth to use—your greatest gift, which you most delight to use, in the place or setting which God has caused to appeal to you the most, and for those purposes which God most needs to have done in the world."

One can spend a lifetime trying to change one's self. Or one can stop and listen to what your inner self is trying to tell you: that you are already somebody who is very special. Your job is not to try to change into someone else's ideal. Your job is to become yourself, what you were always meant to be since the day you were born or perhaps even before; your true self.

If we were indeed created in God's image, we need not to be ashamed of that image; we need not to continually try to be that which we are not.

Finally, I return to Jo Coudert:

"Of all the people you will know in a lifetime, you are the only one you will never leave nor lose. To the question of your life, you are the only answer. To the problems of your life, you are the only solution."

[Much of this post consists of excerpts from a book by Tom Osburn on the subject of Right Livelihood which will appear late this year.]

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

And as the elders of our time choose to remain blind, Let us rejoice and let us sing and dance and ring in the new. Hail Atlantis!

One of the most mysterious legends handed down by the ancient world is the tale of Atlantis. Tradition places Atlantis somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean 11,000 years in the past. In 360 B.C. Plato wrote the "Timaeus" and "Critias".

The Critias tells us that Poseidon, God Of The Sea, was granted the realm of Atlantis when the gods divided the earth amongst themselves. There he created a palace for his love, a mortal woman named Cleito. On the top of the hill in the center of the island a great temple was constructed to honor Poseidon.

Consisting of several land masses, the Atlantis Continent was located in the Atlantic, west of Gibraltar. It was said to have been a paradise, hosting a highly developed civilization. Civil prejudice, greed and power contributed to the downfall of the empire. Zeus called for a meeting of the gods to punish Atlantis.

Here the story ends. Whether the author chose to end the story here, or perhaps the last pages were lost to antiquity, we'll never know. It is presumed from the Timareus, the verdict of the gods caused the Atlantic Ocean to submerge the continent beneath it's surface.

Many people believe Atlantis to be complete fiction, others claim that Thera inspired a philosopher's imagination, and still others contend that the story is an accurate account of a long lost forgotten past.

There have been many books written about Atlantis of which the Oera Linda Book from Holland (Frysia) is said to be one of the oldest books ever found. It tells of the destruction of the large Atlantic island by earthquakes and tidal waves.

" During the whole summer, the sun hid itself behind the clouds, as if unwilling to shine upon the earth. In the middle of the quietude, the earth began to quake as if it was dying. The mountains opened up to vomit forth fire and flames. Some of them sunk under the earth while in other places mountains rose out of the plains... Atlantis disappeared, and the wild waves rose so high over the hills and dales that everything was buried under the seas. Many people were swallowed up by the earth, and others who had escaped the fire perished in the waters."

In 1969, a young man from Glasgow who had recently burst upon the music scene, and who epitomized the era's message of peace, love and change, retold the story of that shining civilization for another generation. I believed it.
—Relax Max

The continent of Atlantis was an island
which lay before the great flood
in the area we now call the Atlantic Ocean.
So great an area of land, that from her western shores
those beautiful sailors journeyed
to the South and the North Americas with ease,
in their ships with painted sails.

To the East Africa was a neighbour, across a short strait of sea miles.
The great Egyptian age is but a remnant of The Atlantian culture.
The antediluvian kings colonised the world
All the Gods who play in the mythological dramas
In all legends from all lands were from fair Atlantis.
Knowing her fate, Atlantis sent out ships to all corners of the Earth.
On board were the Twelve:
The poet, the physician, the farmer, the scientist,
The magician and the other so-called Gods of our legends.
Though Gods they were -
And as the elders of our time choose to remain blind
Let us rejoice and let us sing and dance and ring in the new
Hail Atlantis!

Writing credit to Josef Haselberger
and Relax Max
Music by Donovan

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Electricity 101-b: Opposites attract; magnetism is your friend!

In our first lesson, we learned that some electrons can be caused to move from one atom to another, and that this "flow of electrons" was known as electricity. Yes, indeed.

Actually, we can be a bit more specific: electricity is a form of energy which results from the very existence of "charged particles". When we say "charged particles" we mean what, little Lidian? Do you remember? YES! Protons and Electrons! Good! And you weren't even here!

And opposites attract, right? The little boy in the very back - no, Canucklehead, not you. You would not know the answer to this. Descartes? Yes. Descartes. What's that? Call you "Rene"? I think not. You are a little boy, not a little girl. Tell us what are attracted to each other, D. I will call you "D" because Descartes is too long to type each time.

D: "Protons and electrons are attracted to one another because they have opposite charges!" Oh, my! Have an Oreo, little D! And YOU weren't in class last time either! Amazing!

Electricity can be either STATIC or DYNAMIC. Yes. Yes. Don't shake your head Little Debbie. Static electricity is an accumulation of a charge, and dynamic electricity is that which you cause by inducing a current. Don't worry - all will become plain, little Alison. What? No, I haven't seen your church, Alison.

Angelika! No more warnings, young lady! Pay attention! Put your Hugh Laurie dolls away, please.

An example of STATIC electricity might be that which comes from a battery. Or lightning. Or... hmmmm. Come up here little Canucklehead. Take off your shoes. Good. Now walk over to the door, shuffling your feet on the carpet. Good. Good. Good boy, little Canuck. Now, slowly point your finger at the metal door knob. Gently now... good boy! Don't cry little Canuck. It is only a demonstration of static electricity. What's that? "POP"? Yes, little Canuck, big "pop." Thank you. Sit down now. Stop sniffling little Canuck.

Can anyone tell us why there was that little spark at the tip of Canuck's finger? Anyone? No? Little A.? Little A., don't try to hunch down and hide. We know you are sitting there. Anyone else? Sheila? "Because little Canuck had shuffled off some electrons and needs to receive more"? Why, that's very good indeed, Sheila! The door knob KNEW little Canuck needed some more electrons, so the extra ones just JUMPED right into the tip of Canuck's finger. More surprising than painful. Little Canuck? Nod your head, please. Yes. Say, "More surprising than painful."

"Static electricity is simply the transfer of electrons from one material to another." Write that down, please.

"Static electricity is the imbalance of electron charges." Write that down too. Janet? Write that down, please. You can just remember it? No, little Janet. Write it down. Yes, please.

Please come up front, Canucklehead. Bring the balloon we blew up earlier. Yes. The pink one. It doesn't matter little Canuck. The yellow one. Whichever. Because I thought you might break one. Just choose one. Hurry. Don't shuffle your feet, little Canuck. Just walk.

Now I need one more volunteer. No Canuck. You are already a volunteer. Besides, we need someone with hair. Little A.? Will you help us? Thank you. Just come up front, please.

Yes, Canuck. She does have hair. Lots of nice curly hair. Of course I am not going to hurt her. Why would you say that?

Watch this very closely, class. Lidian? Please? Don't be passing notes, little Lidian. Just watch. Thank you. Canucklehead, go stand over there by the wall. You too, little A.

Rub the balloon on little A.'s hair, Canuck. GENTLY! More, please. Now hold the balloon against the wall. Let go. Let go. Yes, let go. Let go of it, Canuck!

Class, what is the balloon doing now?

Janet? Yes! It IS staying stuck to the wall! Good girl! Now who can tell us WHY the balloon is staying stuck to the wall?

Angelika: ::yawning:: "Opposites attract." ::yawns again::

Yes! Opposites attract! Two whole words! Good, little Angelika!

The balloon has a more negative charge because it picked up electrons from little A.'s hair. What? Yes, little A. "Curly" hair. Thank you. And the wall has a more positive charge than the balloon. Opposites attract. Good! Sit down, children.

What else is static electricity? Lightning is static electricity. Don't point your finger at lightning, little Canuck. Lighting moves from cloud to cloud or from cloud to the ground, but who's checking it that closely? NOBODY! Besides, it is too fast to see that. Too fast - right, little Canuck? ::Playfully flicks his fingers out and snaps little Canuck's ear::

How about the other kind of electricity - the kind you make yourself? "Dynamic" electricity. Who can guess, before we start? Anyone? Little Sage?

Little Sage: "You can make your own electricity by repeatedly cutting an electromagnetic field with an armature."

Wow! And little Sage wasn't here last time either! But little Sage is British, so that explains it. Hmmmm. But little A. is British, too. A conundrum. Can you say "conundrum", Ettarose? No, sweetheart, not quite. But close. Don't hunker down, little A. Please. Yes, little Canucklehead? You had your hand up? No, no beer at your age, young man. Well, what then? Ah. Little Sage is a biker. I see. Yes. That would explain it, wouldn't it?

Now, if you would please just step up here for a moment, little Canuck. Little Canuck? Don't back away, little Canuck. You can trust your teacher.

Next time: Electricity is stored in one-gallon-sized plastic-lined buckets that are located behind each light switch and wall receptacle in your home. True or false? And little Sage cuts that electromagnetic field like a chocolate cake. Also: Little Canuck demonstrates the proper way to use a neon current tester. 


Major swindler heads to jail today

NEW YORK – Saying he was "deeply sorry and ashamed," Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty Thursday to pulling off perhaps the biggest swindle in Wall Street history and was immediately led off to jail in handcuffs to the applause of his seething victims in the courtroom.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

For Ettarose: she shares this pet peeve, too

Right here at the very beginning of this little post, let me confess that I don't pay enough attention to my grammar, spelling, and proper word usage. I don't proofread my posts as thoroughly as I do other writings. It isn't that I don't respect you, it's just that... well, I'm not sure. :) Anyway, this post is not meant to be all high and mighty by any means. Having said that, though, there are a few things that bother me as I travel around the blogsphere, and what better place to unload my frustrations than right here? I say "frustrated" because these things are so simple. The frustrations stem from three areas:

1. Using the right word
2. Spelling that right word
3. Using Apostrophes

(I'm not going to talk about other punctuation, or where quotation marks are supposed to be put, because the Americans and the British do it differently.) And I am not really talking about this blog or the comments to this blog because, frankly, I can't remember it happening here; for some reason I seem to attract an educated audience - more so than myself, so this is not for you. I simply hope that you will, because you also travel around the blogosphere as I do, nod your heads along with me. Then I hope you will add some examples to my too short list, in your comments.

Then we will throw a party and feel all superior together. I may even reopen the pub Friday night for that purpose. Here goes the short list. (It is short because I want to leave room for your own examples. Plus, you all know by now how lazy I am. Plus you also know how much I hate to write long posts.)

1. There are many examples of misused homonyms, but let's use "to, too and two."

I went "to" bed. I went to bed "too." I have "two" beds. I have two beds, "too." I have to go now, to be in one of my two beds. You have to go to bed in one of your two beds, too.

See how easy that was? Won't you comment on your own pet-peeve misused homonym?

2. There, their, they're. And apostrophes.

Why is the use of apostrophes so difficult for people, people? Why did so many children stay home sick the day the English teacher covered apostrophes? Judging from my travels around the blogosphere, I am not alone in my loathing of misused apostrophes.

In thinking back through my foggy memory, I can recall only two uses for apostrophes: to show possession and to indicate missing letters in contractions. I'm not talking about the single marks you use for quotations within quotations. Those aren't apostrophes.


The ball is hers. The balls are theirs. (I realize we are approaching another area of difference between American and British usage, as to when to use singular or plural verbs, but that is not my point here.)

If the thing that is owned is owned by one person, then use 's. If it is owned jointly by two or more people, then use s'. Jimmy's ball. Trees' leaves. So easy. Well, most of the time. How about children's and childrens'? Who can tell me? Anyone? Anyone? Heh.

Actually, this can be quite entertaining. At least it can if your mind works like mine and Soubriquet's. For example, where would you put the apostrophe in "Farmers Market"? (Actually, I think I read this one on Sage's blog a long time ago, not Soubriquet's. But he will enjoy the little mental swordfight anyway.)

"Farmer's Market?" "Farmers' Market?" Depends on whether one farmer owns the market, or whether seven farmers own the market. Me? I say neither one. The market could be owned by a city slicker who owns the vacant lot the event is held on. In that case, the sign over the entrance should simply read, "Farmers Market" - no apostrophe at all. Meaning several farmers are selling here, but they don't own it.

Onward and upward.

2b. The other occasion to use apostrophes: contractions.

There, their and they're. DO NOT be afraid here. DON'T be afraid here.

They are going over there. They're going over there. Their dog is going over there where they're. Heh. Forget that last one.

And while I am at it, may I briefly mention "your" and "you're?" Good god almighty, people! This isn't rocket science here! (Just in case Stephanie reads this.)

You are running fast. You're running fast. Your car. The car is yours. "You're" means "you are." Your means it belongs to you. Your horse. Not "your going to dinner." Please.

And "lose" and "loose." Ah, well. I will leave that one for youse to deal with.

3. "Was" and "were." I save the easiest for last.

"Was" is singular, and "were" is plural.

But "were" is also theoretical, and "you" has only become singular in the last couple hundred years. By that last statement, I mean "you" used to only mean plural, and was used only to refer to several people. When you wanted to mean just one person, you used to just say "thou." Not so today, of course. Now you say "you" in either situation, plural OR singular. And that's the rub: "you" singular has kept the same verb as "you" plural. And so you say, "You WERE there last night," not, "You WAS there last night." Just as if you were talking to two people instead of just one.

"Were" is used when the sentence is theoretical? Sure. That means if you see the word "if" nearby, it is a sure sign you will be using "were" pretty soon and not "was." Sometimes "was" is used incorrectly because it often "sounds right," but it never is. I screw this up a lot myself. But...

"If I were you." Not, "If I was you." I'm not you. I never will be you. It is only theoretical. Use "were."

"If George Bush WERE to come back, I would scream!" Theoretical. "Were," not "was" - because his presence is theoretical, not actual. Again, note the word "if" in the sentence, and use that word as your cue.

"George Bush WAS here last night. The vapors remain!" Use "was" IF he truly WERE here last night.

Okay. You've got it. You've always had it. I'm leaving now. Otherwise this would be another long post.

What are your favorite words and usages you see in the blogosphere that make you growl? Tell me in your comments.

The following is for Ettarose for not bothering to comment on a post that even has her name in the title:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Please go vote for Catherine's short story!

Please go VOTE for Catherine's great short story. I think it is a wonderful story and I hope you will go read it and vote for it. "Ben Wall" is the name in the voting widget. Thank you!

Bloggers Unite for International Women's Day

Started as a political event, the holiday blended in the culture of many countries (primarily Russia and the countries of former Soviet bloc). In some celebrations, the day lost its political flavour, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love to the women around them in a way somewhat similar to Mother's Day and St Valentine's Day mixed together. In others, however, the political and human rights theme as designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Clarity 101: a child's guide to electricity

Your attention please, class. Little A.? Sit up front please, so you won't disrupt the lesson. Ettarose? Leave little Canucklehead alone now. Canuck? Pay attention, please. No, you can't go have a drink now.

Today we are going to learn about electricity. Can you say "eee-lek-TRI-ci-tee?" Good.

What is electricity?

Electricity is the flow of electrons from one atom to another atom.

Oh, my! but you look puzzled already Chica. Just wait. No you can't go to the bathroom now, dear.

Everything in the universe is made up of tiny particles called atoms. Atoms are the building blocks of the universe. "Everything" means every tree, every star, every animal. Air and water too. Even YOU are made up of atoms. Yes, little Catherine, even you. Little teeny tiny Welsh atoms. Sit still, please.
Inside each of these tiny atoms are even smaller particles. Because they are smaller than the atom, they are called "subatomic particles." Yes, Sheila, it DOES make sense. Please don't talk though.

At the center of the atom is something called a nucleus. See this model I am holding up? No? Pretend you see a model, please. The nucleus is made up of extremely small particles called protons and neutrons. 

Revolving around the nucleus, almost like planets revolve around the sun, are other even smaller particles called electrons. Can you say eee-LECK-tron? Good! A proton is very small, but an electron is much, much smaller still. Yes. Yes. Don't shake your head little Debbie.

Each of these particles, protons and electrons, has an "electrical charge." An electrical charge is a kind of "force" within the particles. ::pops little Canucklehead on the side of the head sharply:: Do you understand "force," little Canuck? Yes, indeed. Protons have a positive "charge" and electrons have a negative "charge."

Because of their opposite electrical charges, protons and electrons are attracted to each other. Remember the old saying "opposites attract?" In the case of electricity, it is true. Neutrons have no electrical charge. Pfft. Yes, Souby. Silly useless neutrons. Thank you.

When  there is an equal number of protons and electrons, the atom is balanced, and is probably as happy as a pig in deep slop. By the way, not all atoms have the same number of protons. Nosiree. The number of protons in a particular atom tells you what kind of atom (or "element") it is. If you want to know. Chemists seem to want to know. Hardly anyone else. And you can also forget about "elements." Unless, again, you are a chemist. An American chemist, not a British chemist. Never mind, children. Electricity. That's the thing.

Not all electrons are in the same "orbit" around the nucleus either. Some are closer, like Mercury is to the sun, and some are farther away. Like Uranus, Canuck.
The electrons in close orbit around the nucleus protons are strongly attracted to the protons. What? Yes, Caroline! - because they are closer together! Good girl!

And the electrons in "orbits" farther away from the protons? Anyone? Anyone? NOT so strongly attracted. Good answer, Frostygirl! ::pops Canucklehead again. Just because::

By the way, these electron "orbits" are called "shells." That is what we will call them from now on. Inner shells and outer shells. Never mind Chica. Just keep coloring. Someday you will be an excellent designer, little Chica.
What's that, Souby? "Little" Chica is redundant? Yes. Right you are, little guy. Right you are. Like Rio Grande "river" is redundant. A fine boy. A remarkable boy. ::Scrooge gives him half a crown::

Just remember that the electrons farthest away, the ones in the "outer shells" are not so strongly attracted to the protons in the nucleus. Not always, but sometimes. No, little A. Sometimes. Not always. ::narrows eyes at her menacingly::

Sometimes these outer shell electrons are so weakly attracted to the far away protons that they can be bumped out of their orbits. I mean shells. Stand up Canucklehead. ::bumps into little Canuck hard, knocking him several feet away::

See? When an outer shell electron is bumped, it can go right into another atom next door, and become a part of that atom. And then maybe it bumps another electron in THAT atom, and so forth right on down a whole line of atoms. And that is called a "flow of electrons". Ha! And a flow of electrons is called... what? Little Debbie? YES!! Eee-lec-TRI-ci-tee!!!

Come here, Canucklehead, and we will demonstrate again. Canucklehead. Come. Come. Do as I say young man.

[Next time: some absolutely shocking information about electricity.]


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