Friday, July 29, 2011

Why This Sweet Lady Hates The Sputnik

Linda Shaw at her home in Springdale, Arkansas. 

   Linda Shaw graduated from Miami Sr. High School in June of 1958. It was a memorable year for her, of course.
  But space buffs may remember the previous year more vividly, since 1957 is the year that Sputnik was launched. The small satellite shocked the American public, as the purpose of the satellite was not clearly known. It was almost too small to be seen with the naked eye, and it transmitted a steady beeping noise that was recorded by radio amateurs and commercial radio stations and broadcast to the general public. Historians describe America's reaction as "near hysteria" to the strange little beeping thing. The great Space Race thus began between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and no one could argue that the Soviets were far in the lead. 
   The U.S. began reviewing its science and education programs in order to become more competitive with the Soviets. Large amounts of money were poured into schools and research programs. It was decided that "America could become better educated and more powerful if their kids were smarter!" said Shaw. 
   Senior students at Miami Sr. High typically enjoyed the privilege of not having to take final exams if they had a passing grade in all of their classes. But the launch of Sputnik changed everything! "What better way to make them smarter than have seniors take final exams?" asked Shaw. "And I bet every senior in 1958 remembers that. No, it didn't make us smarter - just madder." 

Sputnik I

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Day In Joplin

Volunteer Clean-Up Crew from Arkansas. From left: Daniel Brinker, Danny Northcutt, Kevin Barber, Brandon Hoult, me (Jennifer Lewter), and Russ Terwilliger. Photo by Margaret Terwilliger.

Brandon and Daniel work diligently in the 100+ degree heat.              Photo by J. Lewter

Joplin, Missouri seemed like a far-away place. I had never been there, and prior to the horrendous F5 tornado that hit it earlier this year, I was pretty sure I'd never even heard of it. When some of my friends wanted to go volunteer for a day in Joplin, I decided to go along. I did not realize that this town, where more than 150 people were killed, was only a 3.5 hour drive from my own home.
  "Joplin - stirred, not shaken," said Brandon Hoult of the damage he observed. We were all shocked at how bad the city looked. It had been more than a month since the tornado hit, and it still looked like a nuclear bomb had been the culprit. 
  "It looks good compared to how it was," a local civilian assured us. The lady we met said that the tornado had changed paths unexpectedly, and that the anchorwoman on TV started screaming when she realized the magnitude of the storm. "When the news lady starts screaming," she said, "you know it's bad." The civilian also mentioned that they could not actually see the tornado; it was just dark and rainy with winds in excess of 200 miles per hour. 
  Margaret Terwilliger said it is "kind of sad" that Joplin really isn't in the news or on the forefront of everyone's minds anymore because there is so much work that still needs to be done. 
  Kevin Barber was glad the relief effort was so efficiently organized. It is true that none of us had a clue about what to expect when we pulled up to the College Heights Christian Church in Joplin.  We were treated very well, and given equipment, masks, and boots to borrow for the day. I was quite happy to borrow some work boots since I hadn't even considered the amount of nails I would be stepping on. 
    We spent the whole day working on one house, but we did not come close to finishing the debris clean-up there. "What we did is about all you can do," said Russ Terwilliger. The heat was brutal, even though several different people drove by and brought water, Gatorade and fresh watermelon to us throughout the day. Several of us plan to go back when the weather is cooler. 

   If you are able and willing, Joplin could certainly use your help. We were very impressed with College Heights as a volunteer hub. Their web address is:

The link below shows a 3D image of the tornado using data from Google Earth. Original post by steve16624.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows - The Finale!

Brandi Gagen and I outside the Russellville Picwood Theater. Fans began waiting in line six hours prior to ticket sales for the July 15th midnight premiere of Harry Potter 7, Part II.

 It's hard to believe the Harry Potter magic is over. Fourteen years have passed since the first Harry Potter book was published. As with all good things that come to an end, being with friends makes it better. I camped out in line yesterday to ensure that I would get a seat for the very first showing of the very last Harry Potter movie.
   Back in 1997, I also attended a Barnes and Noble midnight book party for J.K. Rowling's seventh and final chapter in the Harry Potter series. I remember being impressed with all of the costumes that people were wearing as they paced around the bookstore late at night. There was a store-wide countdown during the final 10 seconds before the clock struck midnight, and then a Barnes and Noble employee hurriedly wheeled out a huge platform stacked with hundreds of Harry Potter hardbacks. My friend Stephanie and I each bought a copy and signed each other's book. It was a special event and we knew it. 
    Four years later, (almost to the day), I was happy to sit out in the heat with some new friends to get our movie premiere tickets. It was well worth the effort, as the Harry Potter movies never fail to impress. I will not divulge many details here, but I was particularly impressed with the magic wand light show amassed for the protection of Hogwarts, and I was so very pleased to see the return of Professor McGonagall (Dame Maggie Smith) in this movie, as she is my most favorite Harry Potter character.

    I will keep my Harry Potter-looking 3D glasses forever! 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Monster Turtle Found in Arkansas River

        Imagine how much turtle soup you could make.           Photo by Tiffany Frost

 Terry Frost of Dardanelle, Arkansas made an impressive catch in his hoop net in the Arkansas River earlier this year. Alligator snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) can be a nuisance to fisherman who use set lines or hoop nets to catch fish, although they usually drown by the time they are discovered. Frost found this particular turtle alive and well, although it "wasn't the most cooperative creature I have encountered," he said.
   "I have heard old-timers tell stories about loggerheads (alligator snappers) with stove-pipe heads all my life, always wondering if they were true or a little truth and a lot of the old-timers' memory getting bigger and better with time," said Frost. Apparently the old-timers were telling the truth!
   Alligator snappers are found in rivers that drain into the Gulf of Mexico. They are the largest freshwater turtle in the U.S., with the heaviest snapper on record weighing 250 pounds. Frost estimates that his catch was around 150 pounds. Many states now protect these turtles due to the over-hunting for meat markets that occurred in the 1970's. 
   One unique feature of the snapper is that it has a fleshy, worm-like appendage in its mouth that it uses to lure in fish and small turtles for food. 
   "I will say that any intentions I ever had of noodling catfish has since been permanently erased from my bucket list," said Frost, who released the turtle back into the river unharmed. 
Image courtesy of Indiana-Purdue University in Fort Wayne