Sunday, April 14, 2024

I saw my first Total Solar Eclipse, and I have some advice.


Photo courtesy of David Rogers. 

I was lucky. My first Total Solar Eclipse AND all the cool people who chase eclipses came to ME. It all happened in the city where I live: Russellville, Arkansas. Our little town was mentioned in The New York Times at least three times before the big event. People came here from all 50 states, and from at least 40 countries to see this thing. Three astrophysicists from the Paris Observatory in France came over for it. I enjoyed hearing them talk immensely. One of them had already seen nine (9) Total Eclipses, and he was not here for business. He said he was addicted to experiencing eclipses. The French astrophysicists gave multiple public seminars, and they talked about how people are made from stardust, and how no other planet in our solar system experiences Total Eclipses because every other planet's moons are the wrong size. They said beautiful and mesmerizing things, including how we will be in perfect alignment with our sun and moon during this very special and rare time.            

   On the day of the eclipse, I was running an art booth downtown for our local community arts center. Several people I knew took turns sitting at the large 3-table booth with me. Everyone was excited and on their best behavior. I heard no complaints from anyone on this magical day. A smart college student named Meghan was one of my favorite visitors that day. She and her classmates have been developing a new website for the arts center, so I knew her pretty well. I had a large sketchbook open, and we took turns drawing the sun and moon as soon as the eclipse started. Our drawings were pretty terrible, but we documented the eclipse progression every few minutes using the same tools our ancestors had: writing tools and paper. The sky went dim, and then it went pretty dark. Not pitch black, not what I was expecting. It was an eerie sort of glowing darkness, with lightness all around the horizon. That's one of the things you need to look for - it looks like the sun is setting (or rising) in a complete 360 degree range around you. The sun itself will look like a pitch black hole in the sky, like some sort of space portal, or a illuminated message from the gods. It is truly otherworldly. This image of the black hole sun with a white glowing corona around it, is the stuff of legends. A partial eclipse cannot compare. Meghan had her eclipse glasses off before I did, and she said, "I can definitely see why people describe this as a life-changing experience." It is unreal! I could see a red glowing structure at the 6 o'clock position under the sun. It was fairly large, somewhat diamond shaped, and persistent. I asked the people around me if they could see it. They said yes. I tried to snap a few half-hearted pics with my budget iPhone, but I didn't have a filter for it. I was relying on the fabulous photographers I knew to get fantastic photos of this. (And they did not disappoint!) Since I was downtown, the streetlights automatically came on in the darkness. You want to avoid this if you can. The streetlights were annoying. I loved being with all of the excited people, which was part of the downtown experience. People who lived up the mountain on Skyline said they could hear us whooping and cheering downtown as soon as Totality began. 

   If you want silence, get out in the country. If you enjoy hearing the excitement and comments from others, go downtown. We found out later the large red glowing objects were plasma "prominences" from the sun - the large one I saw was approximately three earths in diameter. Many photographers were able to get high resolution images of this, and this will always be magical to me. I saw it with my naked eyes during Totality when I took my eclipse glasses off.

   I made friends with people from California, Canada, Washington, and New Mexico. An old friend from college who I hadn't seen in about 25 years found me downtown! He had made the trip from Florida because Russellville looked like "the place to be." Some of us are making plans to catch the next Total Eclipse together. Don't say I didn't warn you! After you experience a Total Eclipse, there's nothing else that can compare. They are fabulous and addictive, and I sincerely hope you are able to catch one.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

My Ex-Boyfriend Died

 If you have ever wondered if you should tell someone's ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend that their former boyfriend/girlfriend has died, the answer is yes. Do it carefully with some tact. 

 A girl from my early college years contacted me to let me know a boy from our old university space club circles went into cardiac arrest suddenly and was on life support. She said things did not look good. 

This boy - who was unbelievably 50 now - was quite honestly one of the most brilliant people I have ever met. His intellectual prowess was only matched by his equally inversed lack of social skills. You know the type - a rocket scientist with food stuck on his chin.

I remember the shouting matches he would engage in with other senior engineers in our space club. They made me so uncomfortable. He was the first person who showed me how to row in a 2-man crew boat. I still have a piece of scrap paper from 1995 where he scribbled his name and phone number and the words "crew and SEDS" on it. (SEDS is the acronym for Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.) We went out a few times. Things were innocent and then awkward and he hurt my feelings bad enough I cried at least twice in front of him. Hard, eye-stinging ugly cries. It was humiliating, and I really had no control over it. 

A couple of years after he gave me his number, after he graduated and after he got engaged to someone else and after he moved to California, I became the President of that collegiate SEDS club. 

I did see him again. Years later, we actually worked at the same tiny aerospace company for a while. He was in a top management position, and I ...was not. He seemed to be very savvy with money and taxes and insurance. He drove a nerdy little car, presumably because he had gotten it on the cheap. He had a kid in day care that he had to pick up every day because his wife refused to do it, even though she worked at home and we often had meetings that ran past 5:00 and he couldn't attend them. (His wife has never liked me. Go figure.) 

He told me once, "Life isn't fair." I was aware of how much money he made a year, and I thought, "What the HELL are YOU talking about??" He also told me once, ironically, cruelly, that if you could survive to age 65, you'd probably make it to your 90s. Now I wonder if he had some underlying health problems. He allegedly caught covid during the pandemic - maybe that did that damage his heart? He was always fit; he always played some type of sport. I remember sitting on the edge of the sand volleyball court and watching him play in college. 

He left two teenage boys behind. I really feel sorry for them. My Dad was here until I was nearly 40, and that wasn't long enough. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"What if Pixar did Alien?" by Monica Ion

Ripley and her cat Jonesy by Monica Ion

   I follow London-based artist Monica Ion on Twitter, and I am frequently impressed with her work. Her renditions of Ripley (above) from the 1979 movie "Alien" have been printed and then sold out on Etsy within hours. These are only two of Monica's images in a series called "What if Pixar did Alien?" I think they are fabulous!

Monday, May 28, 2018

10 Basic Science Lessons

   I get to work with about 80 high school students this summer. That might sound like a nightmare to some people, but I really like young people. I am teaching a science class I created called "Sciencepalooza." I didn't actually come up with that name, but I do develop the course curriculum each summer.

   In the college classes I teach, there are a few basic lessons I always cover for my students during the normal academic year, and I teach many of these same things to my high school students. I wanted to post some of these topics on here, just in case this helps anyone plan a class, or maybe this will start a conversation about what the most important science-related topics are that we should be teaching to our young people.

   Science literacy appears to be at great risk in the United States. Why don't we have more scientists in our highest government offices? We desperately need people in high power positions to support scientific education and research. 

   Here are some basic science topics I hope my students can learn to help stave off the encroaching ignorance:

1. The Scientific Method. I usually go through the steps of the Scientific Method, and then give a super-simple example of how we all actually use the Scientific Method in every-day life. 

2. Famous Scientist Quiz. I just type up a list of twenty or so famous scientists in a matching-style quiz with their major contributions. Of course there are MANY scientists you could put on a quiz like this. Benjamin Franklin is always on my list. So is Carl Sagan, Charles Darwin, Nikola Tesla, Kary Mullis, Albert Einstein, Galileo Galilei, Alexander Fleming, and Wernher von Braun. 

3. Hypothesis v/s Theory. People mess these up all the time. A hypothesis does not have much (or any) evidence to support it yet. A theory has a LOT of evidence to support it, and it is generally accepted as THE TRUTH by the scientific least until someone provides highly convincing evidence that we were wrong. When people say,  "I have a theory...", what they should really say is, "I have a hypothesis." 

4. Bacteria v/s Viruses. This is a big deal. When people get sick, it is usually caused by a virus. (The common cold and the flu are caused by viruses.) Bacterial infections, such as a sinus infection, are usually localized and don't cause symptoms that affect your entire body the way a virus does. (Unless the bacteria have spread throughout the body, which is not good.) Key point here: antibiotics will NEVER work on a virus. If you are sick and it is due to a virus, there's not much a doctor can do for you. Also, some viruses actually stay in our bodies FOR LIFE. An example is the chicken pox virus, which can go dormant for many years in our bodies, and then it can re-erupt later as the painful shingles. This is also a good time to talk about vaccines and how there is NOT a single solid study that indicates there is a link between vaccines and autism. 

5. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). I have a really graphic PowerPoint with pictures of STD infections that I show my high school students. I talk about the STDs that are caused by bacteria and the ones that are caused by viruses. The viral-based STDs are generally the ones you get stuck with for life. We don't know how to get rid of viruses if you catch one, but we should have an antibiotic that could help you get rid of a bacterial-based STD. I also usually call my local health department to get statistics on what the current local outbreaks are. It seems to really make an impact on my high school students when I say things like, "Russellville has more cases of gonorrhea than any other STD." 

6. How to do conversions, especially metric v/s English units. The United States continues to cling to the old English system of pounds, feet, miles, etc. Learning how to convert English units into metric units is a very important skill. After all, do you remember when one of our NASA Mars orbiters burned up in the Martian atmosphere because someone did not convert English units to metric units? It was akin to setting $125 million dollars aflame. Students love this story. 

7. How to make a basic graph. I usually give the students a small dataset, some blank paper and colored pencils. I teach them about the independent variable (or test variable), and how to identify the dependent variable. I review what the x and y axes are, and how to label them. Then we usually look at examples of some really poorly made graphs so they can learn to identify a meaningful graph. We also look at pie charts and talk about how all the pieces should equal to 100%.  

8. The most common statistic: The t-test. What is a p value? It may be challenging for the students to grasp this concept in one sitting, but we have to try. I know  professors who struggle with basic statistics. Statistics is a basic and critical tool for scientists. The more you understand statistics, the harder it is for anyone to feed you garbage. 

9. How to look up a peer-reviewed science journal. Google Scholar is my favorite search engine for scientific papers. There are others, but this one is a great place to start. 

10. How to check to see if you've found a predatory journal. Scientists are under intense pressure to publish their work, so of course there are plenty of people around who are looking to take advantage of them. You won't ever need to rely on mainstream media to explain science news to you if you know how to look up peer-reviewed journals. You can learn to interpret the papers yourself, but you need to make sure the papers haven't been published by someone using shady criteria.  Librarian Jeffrey Beall created the best resource I know of to make sure you are not referencing a predatory journal.  

Sunday, May 6, 2018


Jenette Goldstein played the infamous role as the badass lady space marine named "Vasquez" in the 1986 Aliens movie. 
   Well guys, dreams DO come true! Earlier last year, I caught an interview clip on YouTube with one of my childhood heroines, Jenette Goldstein. I listened intently to what she was saying since she was the physical incarnation of female ass-kickery in a movie where only Sigourney Weaver could outshine her. Goldstein's character, Vasquez, may be best remembered in Aliens as the buff lady marine doing pull-ups shortly after waking up from hypersleep. (How many women do you know who can crank out pull-ups like that?) Her character was fearless and macho, and she was just exactly the person you wanted on your team when fighting vicious, double-jawed creatures from another planet. 
   During the interview, Jenette mentioned that she had opened a bra store in Los Angeles "for the busty lady." I was more than excited to hear this. Not only could I potentially meet Vasquez herself, but I could probably find some great new bras! As luck would have it, I was flying to L.A. later that year on my way to a meeting in Hawaii. I had a two-hour layover at LAX, and I decided to press my luck at the chance of actually meeting Jenette. As soon as I could get off my plane, I literally ran outside to grab a taxi. A nice Russian man took me to the closest Jenette Bra store. I knew it was probably stupid to risk missing my flight to Hawaii, but I NEVER go to L.A., and my return flight from Hawaii was at night when the bra store would be closed. So it was now or never! The taxi driver agreed to wait for me outside the bra store since I could only stay about five minutes. Sadly, Jenette was not there when I arrived. I had printed out the photo above for her to sign, and I had also brought a pre-addressed and stamped manilla envelope to leave there in case I missed her. 
   So I told the nice girls at the store how big of a fan I was of Jenette's, and I left the photo and envelope behind. When I got home about a week later, I checked my mail eagerly! No photo. I checked the next day, and the next, and the next. After two weeks had gone by, I was starting to feel terrible. I really thought if I had provided a photo and a self-addressed, stamped envelope, I was sure to receive an autographed picture from my hero. 
   The weeks turned into a month, and then another month, and then I gave up completely. Maybe my note to her wasn't friendly enough? Maybe it seemed like I was demanding something from a complete stranger? I wasn't sure, but I was really disappointed. 
   And then today, EIGHT months after I visited the bra store, the manilla envelope I had stamped and addressed was sitting in my mailbox!  I was grinning madly when I opened it. She had not only signed the photo, but she also included two more photos of herself in movie stills. I was so happy! I went out bought a frame immediately and hung the autographed picture on my wall. 
   THANK YOU, Jenette Goldstein!!  Your photo is truly one of my most prized possessions. I also watched Aliens again tonight, for the millionth time, just to pay more attention to your character. You were flawless and believable, and just exactly who I'd want on my team during a fight for my life. The next time I come to L.A., I hope I can spend more time shopping for bras. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Vulcan Female

"Vulcan Female" by AngelDeeDee on DeviantArt

   AngelDeeDee stated in the comments on her DeviantArt site that she had been "requested" to do some photo manipulation on the above image. She added the Vulcan ears. I am not sure who made the original piece, but I would love to give them appropriate credit. 

   I think this image alone is frame-worthy. I might try to make an oil portrait out of it. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Women In Science

Just a great picture of women doing science!
From left to right, Katrina Martens, technician, Rachel Sa, technician, Jessica Abbott, grad student, Kristin Aquilino, grad student, and Natalie Caulk, technician. These ladies were taking seagrass samples out in Bodega Bay of California in 2011.
Photo courtesy of Pamela Reynolds and the UC Davis Bodega Marine lab