Enjoying the Eclipse

Enjoying the Eclipse

Detours in Life

Pentecost 34


While eclipses occur almost every year in one form or another, today’s solar eclipse is the first total solar eclipse visible across the continental United States of America since 1979.  Over 12 million people live in the 70-mile-wide (113-km-wide), 2,500-mile-long (4,000-km-long) zone where the total eclipse will appear on Monday. Millions of others have traveled or are in route to spots along the route to view this celestial spectacular event.


News agencies are predicting this event will draw one of the largest crowds in human history, especially given that many media outlets will also be covering for those unable to witness the moon’s shadow passing directly in front of the sun, blotting out all but the halo-like solar corona in person.  From its beginning at 10:15 PDT (1715 GMT) in the area around Depoe Bay, Oregon to the close of the totality blockage of the sun by the moon at 2:49 EDT (1849 GMT) near Charleston, South Carolina, this event will unite the world and most certainly the USA. 


How one will “see” this event will depend upon location, more on that in my next post.  For now, we need to realize that, in spite of our many differences, there are things that can unite us.  While none of the over one million people living in its path will “see” the eclipse exactly the same, they will be united in experiencing its awe.  The skies will either darken or go into a quasi-twilight setting and some stars and one or two planets will be visible.


Of course “seeing” an eclipse is never done with the naked eye.  ISO-certified safety glasses are required or special box-lenses viewing contraptions can be used.  Even animals can sustain damage to their eyes so, if possible, keep all animals indoor homes or barns during the two and a half hour event.


An eclipse serves to remind me that what we see is seldom the complete story.  It is wise to remember that we need to take the time to prepare and explore our beliefs and opinions, just as people traveling to see the eclipse have done.  Enjoy today’s phenomenal event in the sky but remember, what you see is not the complete story.  We sometimes have to detour around the obvious to understand real events and see the truth.

Up, Up, and Away

Up, Up and Away

Easter 49


When discussing unlimited potential, the cliché “The Sky’s the limit!” is often used to indicate that anything is possible .  At the time, reaching for the sky was to go beyond reality.  Today, though, it is not uncommon for men and women to do just that – go beyond the sky and into outer space.


On April 9, 1959 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the names of seven astronauts that would take part in Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program of the United States.  These seven men were nicknamed the Mercury Seven.  Thirty-four years later in 1995 a Hollywood Produced borrowed from the nickname in discussing the Mercury Thirteen.


Mercury Thirteen refers to the thirteen women who were part of an Air Force project.  With space a premium in any space craft, two researchers wondered about the advisability of sending women into space rather than men since women tended to have smaller body frames.


Our final installment of this series about female inventors will focus on those women who helped make the space program that the international world has today.  Some were true inventors while others invented thought, potential, and possibilities by their participation.  In this last frontier of gender inequality, the Mercury Thirteen helped pave the way and prove that women could do whatever the men did in outer space.


IN 1960, one year after the announcement of the Mercury Seven astronauts,  Dr. William Randolph “Randy” Lovelace II and Brig. General Donald Flickinger invited accomplished polot Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb to take the same physical tests that Lovelace’s foundation had developed for NASA to select the Mercury Seven.  Cobb passed with flying colors (no pun intended!) and other female pilots were invited to participate in the testing.  Within the next year, nineteen women had undergone the rigorous testing.  The oldest was the forty-one year old wife of a United States senator and mother of eight children while the youngest was twenty-three years old and a flight instructor. 


With the testing completed, thirteen women passed the same physical examinations that the male candidates for astronauts had to pass.  Those thirteen women were: Jerrie Cobb, Wally Funk, Irene Leverton, Myrtle “K” Cagle, Jane B. Hart (now deceased), Gene Nora Stumbough [Jessen], Jerri Sloan [Truhill], Rhea Hurrle [Woltman], Sarah Gorelick [Ratley], Bernice “B” Trimble Steadman (now deceased), and Jan Dietrich (now deceased).  While none of these women ever went into space, their participation and success in this program proved women could and would one day become astronauts.  The first female astronaut was Sally Ride but there have been forty female astronauts that have gone into space from the United States with the first woman in space being a Russian cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova.  Eileen Collins was the first U.S. female astronaut to pilot a spacecraft.


Having someone to go into space was just a piece of the puzzle of space flight, however.  Some of the earliest and most innovative computer programmers were women.  We’ve already discussed Dr. Grace Hopper and her inventions and contributions to computer science.  She was the one who, upon learning a computer was not working because of the moth that had somehow gotten inside the processing unit, coined the term “debug”.  The female innovators of computer science and programming were not afraid to try something new.


“When I first got into it, nobody knew what we were doing.  It was like the Wild West.”  That is how Margaret Hamilton describes her days as one of the first programmers for the Apollo Space Program.  Margaret would take her four=-year-old daughter to work with her at M.I.T. and while the child slept on the floor, Margaret would try out new things and write new code.  “We had to simulate everything before it flew.  Once the code was solid, it would be shipped off to a nearby Raytheon facility where a group of women, expert seamstresses known to the Apollo program as the “Little Old Ladies,” threaded copper wires through magnetic rings (a wire going through a core was a 1; a wire going around the core was a 0). Forget about RAM or disk drives; on Apollo, memory was literally hardwired and very nearly indestructible.”  The seventy-pound computers on the Apollo crafts would also employ the first auto-pilot systems that now are commonplace on commercial airliners.


I mentioned at the beginning of this series that I was chagrined to realize I could not think of forty-nine female inventors.  History tends to lean towards the men in its reporting and I felt that was a great reason to do this series.  In the past forty-nine days we have discussed a total of seventy-seven female inventors, just the tip of an ever-growing iceberg of proof that intelligence is not gender specific.


I hope you have enjoyed this series and perhaps learned something.  I most certainly have!  The true take-away, though, is that nothing should stop us from becoming the best we can be.  Margaret Hamilton is now her own boss as the head of the technology company Hamilton Technologies.  In an article in “Verne” two years ago she discussed the differences between then (1960) and now for women.  “It depends on who the woman was, who she worked for and what the culture was in a particular organization. In general, some things were more difficult then and some more difficult now. On hindsight, some of the things that were accepted back then, because we (men and woman) did not know any better, are not accepted now; and they often seem quaint and even astounding when looking back. We still do other things out of ignorance today, such as continuing to pay women lower salaries than men.”


Today software is a common term but fifty years ago it did not even warrant a line item in the budget for a space project.  Today women still make less than men when doing the same job at the same level of performance.  We still have a long way to go.  The good thing is we still have a way to go at all, a chance to improve and invent a better tomorrow.  Speaking of tomorrow, a new series starts.  See you then! 


A Drop of Water

A Drop of Water

Easter 5


As I began to write this, nine million people in the United States were under a severe weather warning.  Life interrupted and while I was called away, several tornadoes did indeed touch down in northeastern Oklahoma resulting in property damage and human injury.  Two nights earlier a similar scene played out on a television program but with less damage due to one of the lead characters creating dry ice which was sucked into the tornado resulting in a drastic drop in temperature and tornadic power.


“I’m not really a freak; I am a member of the community.”  This quote was said by the first women ever to receive a PhD. in meteorology, Dr. Joanne Simpson.   A graduate of the University of Chicago, Dr. Simpson would go on to lead the Experimental Meteorology Branch of the Environment Satellite Services Administration’s Institute for Atmospheric Sciences and eventually the lead weather forecaster at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).


While at the Experimental Satellite Services Administration, Dr. Simpson, in 1966, became the director of Project Stormfury.  For over twenty years, the United States government initiated this program to seed rain clouds within a cyclone or tropical tornado with silver iodide, much like the character did on the television program with dry ice.  Since tropical tornadoes or cyclones become hurricanes, this effort was considered ground-breaking and life-saving.


The premise behind the television program’s plot I mentioned earlier is not new.  The use of dry ice to effect a change in such a weather system was first posited by Vincent Schaefer and Irving Langmuir.  A researcher at the General Electric Corporation, Charles Schaefer had in 1946 caused a small snowstorm by cloud seeding.  Langmuir was a fan of weather modification and its possible life-saving results and both men would later be advisors for the U.S. military’s Project Cirrus.   Project Cirrus had as its primary goal the weakening of hurricane storm systems.  It was believed that by seeding the area around the eyewall of the hurricane, latent heat would be released and a new eyewall would be created.  The winds of the hurricane would then weaken due to air pressure changes within the system.


The hypothesis that one can seed clouds and cause rain within a tropical cyclone which would lower the temperature and disrupt the tornadic activity was unsuccessful.  It was found that such weather systems did not contain enough super-cooled water within themselves to effect the desired changes.   These systems also undergo such changes on their own given time.  The observational data and storm lifecycle research generated by Dr. Simpson’s Project Stormfury was not a complete failure, however.  The resulting research helped improve meteorologists’ ability to forecast the movement and intensity of future hurricanes.


One of Dr. Simpson’s ventures was the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM).  In conjunction with the Japanese government’s Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA, TRMM was part of NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth, a long-term coordinated research program involving a satellite designed to study the earth as a global system.


Prior to TRMM, rainfall predictions worldwide had a fifty percent success rate.  This is an important statistic since tropical rainfall contains over three-fourths of the earth’s atmospheric wind circulation.  Dr. Joanne Simpson was living her quote about being a member of the community with this project.  TRMM’s program goals included improved understanding of the global energy and water cycles by providing distributions of rainfall and latent heating over the global tropical areas; the understanding of the mechanisms through which changes in tropical rainfall influence global circulation and to improve ability to model these processes in order to predict global circulations and rainfall variability at monthly and longer timescales.  It also provided rain and latent heating distributions to improve the initialization of models ranging from 24 hour forecasts to short-range climate variations.  This helps to improve hurricane forecasting and save lives.  Additionally, TRMM helped evaluate the diurnal variability of tropical rainfall globally and develop a space-based system for rainfall measurements.


Roger Miller once wrote that “Some people walk in the rain while others just get wet.”  Joanne Simpson not only walked in the rain, she blossomed in its nourishment and defeated the prejudice of women getting higher education.  She herself recognized the sacrifices she made in her personal life to do so but the millions who reap the harvest of her studies are forever thankful.  While nine million plus will feel the harsh effects of weather over the next twenty-four hours, fewer will perish, thanks to Simpson’s Project Stormfury and TRMM.


The End…or Not

The End…or Not

Pentecost #168

You may not have realized it but we are not really here.  No, there isn’t a theoretical physics problem.  The world, as we know it, ended on December 21, 2012.  At least, many felt it was supposed to, according to the Long Count calendar, of three calendars of the Mayan culture.

The Mayan are the original inhabitants of Mexico and Central America.  They have lived in what today we call the Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas regions in Mexico and in Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras in Central America.

The Mayan civilization developed as early as 7000-2000 BCE, the Archaic Period, as a hunter culture.  Crops such as maize and beans flourished and animals such as dogs and turkeys were domesticated.  (I have no idea why someone would want a pet turkey but …)  Archaeologists have unearthed villages dating back to 2000-1500 BCE.

The Olmec Period or Formative Period was 1500-200 BCE and represents the time when the Olmec culture appeared.  One of the oldest cultures in Mesoamerica, the Olmec lived along the coastal lands of the Gulf of Mexico.  They built great cities of stone and brick and were artists of great caliber regarding the art of sculpture.  The ruins of their temples and houses indicate the Olmec were of great stature and evidence shows that Shamanic religious traditions were common.  It remains a mystery exactly their origin and the reason for their demise.

In an area now called Monte Alban in the region of Oaxaca lived the Zapotecs.  The Zapotec Period dated from 600 BCE to 800 ACE and the Zapotecs laid the groundwork for much of what we call Mayan culture.  The Mayans would later refine and adapt the Zapotec art of writing, mathematics, and astronomy.  Other periods followed with great cities constructed.

As we explore the mythologies of South America, we need to recognize and then perhaps discard existing opinions.  Many consider these ancient cultures little more than tribes of cavemen.  The three Mayan calendars are just one example that these people were so much more than mere cave dwellers or ignorant people living off the land.

Mayans organized dates by the use of three calendars, thee very different calendars.  The civil calendar was known as the Haab and contained 365 days per each cycle.  A year consisted of eighteen months of twenty days each and one month of only five days.  The Tzolk was a divine calendar for religious services and had 260 days per each cycle that were broken down into twenty sections, each with 13 days.  The third calendar was the Long Count calendar.  An Astronomical calendar, it contained 7885 years per cycle.  The Mayans believed that the world would both end and be reborn at the end of each cycle of the Long Count calendar.

As 2012 approached, a new myth circulated on the Internet.  This myth used the Mayan Long Count calendar and encouraged people to go to a small village in France to escape the “end of the world”.  The surge of tourism to Bugarach helped local businessmen but nothing more.  It does serve to remind us of the power of a myth…and gossip.

There is nothing in nature that simply ends.  Death is but a step of many.  The buried become a part of the soil much like the spirits of the Australian Dreamtime.  The cremated and buried at sea become a part of nature’s cycle; their bodies are reborn into nature’s tomorrow.

Between December 31st and January 1st, our year both ends and is reborn.  We also can and should this every day.  The ending of one aspect of life is the birth of another.  Whether it be an hour, a day, or a new phase of life, time does more forward, offering us a chance to try, to struggle, to learn, and yes, to become victorious in living.  The world is not ending.  It’s really just beginning!

Mystery of a Myth

Mystery of a Myth

Pentecost 133

Yesterday we began our discussion of Egyptian mythology by a quick nod to the oldest of the three pyramids at the royal necropolis at Giza.  Constructed somewhere between 2589 and 2504 BCE, the Great Pyramid of Khufu is the only one of the original three pyramids that remains intact.  Some of the blocks that comprise its construction weigh over fifty tons while the other 2 million-plus blocks weigh anywhere from two tons to thirty tons.  As mentioned yesterday, this pyramid is aligned with the constellation Orion but it is not the only one that is.  The pyramids of Menkaure and Khafre are also so aligned.

The Egyptians had a deep reverence for the sky but they also recognized that earth gave us the ability to live.  Perhaps that is why the interior temperature of the Great Pyramid at Giza is a constant temperature that equals the temperature of the earth, 20-degees Celsius or 68-degrees Fahrenheit.  More amazing is that the cornerstone foundations of this pyramid have a ball and socket construction, just like our shoulders, elbows, and knees.  This type of construction allows the pyramid to deal with heat expansion and earthquakes.  Even the mortar is mysterious.  After much analyzation, the exact composition is still unknown and attempts to reproduce it have been unsuccessful.  Unlike conventional mortar used in bricks, this mortar is actually stronger than the stones is binds and connects.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was also known as “Ikhet” which translates as “glorious Light”.  If you remember, we discussed yesterday how it was originally covered in casing stones made of highly polished limestone.  These stones would reflect the sun’s rays, causing the pyramid to sparkle and shine.  It has been determined that such a covering of shimmering limestone made the pyramid similar to a mirror, reflecting light that, if one stood on the mood and gazed upon its location on earth, the pyramid would have shone like a star.  The quarry from whence these limestone blocks were quarried as well as how they were transported to the construction also remains a mystery we have yet to unearth.

What we do know is that the Great Pyramid of Giza is today the most perfectly aligned, accurate to one-tenth of a degree, edifice in existence.  When constructed the North Pole was in perfect alignment with the pyramid.  It is also at the very center of the land mass of the earth.  If you look at a map or globe, this might not seem true but it is in how such a center is determined that makes the statement true.  East/west parallels and north/south meridians intersect at two places.  The parallel and meridians are determined to be those that cross the most land.  One place of intersection is in the ocean while the other is…you guessed it, at the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The walls of the Pyramid are also unique.  For one thing they are concave.  The centers have an indention which forms an eight-sided pyramid inside, visible only from the air and only in certain light.  The eight-sided pyramid is visible at dawn and sunset on two vernal equinoxes – spring and autumn.  The pyramid also contained a swivel door, found in only two other pyramids.  The coffer was built during construction as its size prohibits it passing through any of the doors.  Its construction is also unique.  It was made from one block of solid granite which would have necessitated saws with blades eight to nine feet long possessing teeth made of sapphire.  Hollowing out its interior required extreme vertical force and the use of tubular drills also made of sapphire.  If take the perimeter of the coffer and double it and multiply that by ten to the eighth power you have the sun’s mean radius.

The mathematics might be coincidental except too many such equations exist to be merely random.  The curvature of the faces of the pyramid matches the radius of the earth.  For over thirty-eight hundred years, this pyramid stood as the tallest structure on earth.  The relationship between Pi (p) and Phi (F) is also somewhat of a mystery regarding the Great Pyramid.  Phi is the only number whose square root is one more than itself.  Phi is also known as the Golden Ration, a so-called perfect number found throughout nature.  Pi is the circumference of a circle compared to its diameter.  The Great Pyramid illustrates the relationship of Pi and Phi as well as giving proof to the Pythagorean Theorem, developed by Pythagoras in 570-495 BCE.  Using the Pythagorean Theorem one can construct a Golden Triangle or a perfect triangle with a right angle of 90-degrees or a right triangle.  The Great Pyramid of Giza has four Golden Triangles and perfectly illustrates the relationship between Pi and Phi.

Thus we have a very mathematical, permanent structure, withstanding countless earthquakes and intrusion and thievery.  After all, this was a pyramid whose construction was ordered by a young man, for Khufu was only twenty years of age when he assumed power.  The pyramid took twenty-three years to complete and many myths revolve around both the demeanor and the leadership/tyranny of Khufu as well as the labor needed to create such a memorial.

All too often great leadership does not reflect great humanitarianism.  Andrew Carnegie once said:  “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” The American industrialist Henry Ford is known for having introduced the moving assembly line and created the world’s first production in 1908.  I think someone in Khufu’s regime might have beaten Mr. Ford to the punch on that.  The Great Pyramid of Giza was built with mathematical precision and teamwork and each worker had to have given it his best.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was a great monument for a pharaoh that was not a great humanitarian. It stands today as a testament to the mythological beliefs about the soul being taken to the heavens.  It also incorporates another great myth, that of the underwater world of Atlantis.  Remember the granite coffer in the middle of the Kings’ Chamber?  Supposedly it came from Atlantis.  There are no engravings or inscriptions – just a very large block of chocolate granite.  It is said that the golden capstone also shows water level marks from the flood for which Noah built his ark.  A pyramid built in 2589-2504 BCE showing a watermark from a flood supposedly occurring in 2304 BCE with a stone in the middle from a city written about by a man who lived 427-347 BCE.  And somehow they are all connected…mysteriously.