Monday, November 23, 2015

A Science Guy’s Almanac #12: Dress Up and Other Fun Days – Re: 11/20/1977

A Science Guy’s Almanac #12: Dress Up and Other Fun Days – Re: 11/20/1977

Dress Up and Other Fun Days

Back in the “old days, before standards and benchmarks and Professional Learning Communities, I began teaching. I am sure that some teachers did little or no planning or revision of their courses year after year (I suspect some of you remember teachers with yellow legal-sized lined pads with their curriculum hand-written on it that they used daily in class.) However, I can honestly say I never taught a class the same way two years in succession.
In the early years, the goal was to make the class “better,” but for whom or why what we planned was “better” was not a major issue. Owen Miller and I spent the last week of each school year going of that year’s calendar, adjusting lengths of units, ordering films, and talking about new ideas. Eventually, we got to the point where we began writing ideas on the calendars as we went through the year. This brainiac idea made our planning a lot more productive since we didn’t have to keep asking each other, “Do you remember what we said we were going to do here?”
For most of my time at Monte Vista, Biology was the class I taught. I first it was Applied Arts Biology, designed for students who were not college-bound. Then, when John Burak died, I began teaching mostly College Preparatory Biology, a more rigorous alternative for those of academic inclination—or with parents who were that way.
Before major breaks, our classes enjoyed “Food Labs.” In these blatant attempts to circumvent “no food in the room” policies, I would put these kinds of suggestions for lab materials on the board: CO(OK)IES. These usually ended up with sugar overload for kids since they had them in almost every class those days.
My mom and dad had a closet full of old clothing in their outbuilding. The family used it for Halloween costumes. For a couple of years, the box was a resident of one of the small prep rooms at the back of 1007. Once or twice a year, the Anatomy and Physiology students would have dress-up days. No rationale, Just a time to bond a little.

My AP Biology classes were usually too large to do the dress-up, but we would have 2-3 “Caloric Replenishments” each semester rewarding the hard work they were doing. These were never without a theme, and were quite popular.
Another AP Biology event was the “Coincidental Meeting at the Murph.” Prior to selling the naming rights to San Diego Stadium to Qualcomm, the place was known as Jack Murphy Field. The San Diego Padres played in that stadium and four or five times a year offered 2-for-1 deals on pretty good seats. I would collect money in advance and buy the tickets. The kids planned what they wanted to eat. I told them, “I will be at Jack Murphy Stadium in parking lot section 3B on Monday at 5:30 PM. I will have enough Padre tickets for ___ students. If you happen to show up at the same place at the same time, I think that would be quite a coincidence.”
They would nod sagely, and someone would explain to the clueless what I was doing. “Coincidental Meetings at the Murph” were, for all intents and purposes, a completely unauthorized field trip. If I was still teaching, there is no way I would try that today, and do not take this as authorization to do them—or even a suggestion to think about. The 21st-century world we live in is a totally different time with a totally different set of teacher boundaries.
APBio Students enjoying the food at a "Coincidental Meeting at the Murph" in 1982.
While the main reason for these trips to the ball game was to have a good time with one another, I will not forget one time when a very special thing happened. At one game, a young lady sat by me. She was uncharacteristically quiet for her. After the first inning, I asked her if something was wrong. She looked at me with shining eyes.

“Everything is so colorful,” she gushed. “It doesn’t look anything like it does on television. This is sooo pretty.” I had not given any thought to the idea that any of these events would have been the first time a student had been to a baseball game. And I never would have thought that the beauty of the field would have made such a dramatic impact on a student.

Next blog: Calling all independent and self-published writers!
Next Almanac: A Science Guy’s Almanac #13: Voices and Stories Re: Any day in one of my classrooms 1973-2015

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thoughts After My Longest Edit… Ever!

Thoughts After My Longest Edit… Ever!

I began working on my “final” edit of The 5th Page on September 28, 2015. I sent the edited manuscript back to Sherry Frazier, my publicist, on the day I completed the edit: November 3, 2015.

I worked on the manuscript at least three hours every Monday through Friday of that time. Some weekend work and some l-o-n-g days were included. It was not a fun time.

What did I learn from this experience?

  1. Make your characters come alive early in the process. I waited until after I thought I’d finished the manuscript before allowing readers insight into several of my main characters. I will not do that again.
  2. Decide if you’re going to present your story in strict chronological order early in the process. I waited until I was two weeks into the “final” edit to make that decision. As a result, it took me approximately fifteen hours to print, cut chunks from the printed text, and sequence those chunks. And even after I thought I had accomplished that task, I found chunks I had to move after the first move.
  3. Establish a timeline and add to it as you go. I waited until I went to the strict chronological plotline to do that. I found I had not allowed enough time for some sequences of events to occur—and I mean physically not enough time for airplane flights, car trips, etc.
  4. Include enough verbiage on your timeline to recognize what plot point it represents. I used letters to “number” my chunks. I dutifully placed those letters on my timeline and my revised timeline. But, when I started my last sequencing I had to continually refer to the cutout chunks of text to know what was happening at that labeled point.

At 174,000 words, this is far and away the longest book I’ve ever written. Part of my problem was that I treated this novel as a short story in my preparation. That will not happen again.

Bottom Line

Time spent on early planning, character development, and sequencing of events will save you a LOT of time in the end.

Next blog: Calling all independent and self-published writers!

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Monday, November 9, 2015

A Science Guy’s Almanac #11: 1st Lt. George Keller – Re: 8/8/1945

A Science Guy’s Almanac #11: 1st Lt. George Keller – Re: 8/8/1945

November 9, 2015 - Moved out of sequence because of the content.

This is a LONG blog honoring our veterans on Veteran's Day. Too often in today's society, our military personnel fail to receive the respect and gratitude they deserve. I hope this glimpse into the past will remind you of how many individuals like George Keller contributed to our freedom.

I never met George Keller, either before or after he joined the Army. I could never have met him. I was born in 1950 to Burdella and Owen Downing. Lt. George Keller died in 1945 as described below.

I first learned of his existence in 1967—32 years after his death. I was thumbing through my grandmother’s family Bible. I found my mom and dad’s marriage listed on the family tree page. But my mom, Burdella Felts, was listed as Burdella Felts Keller.
I learned bits and pieces over time. But, until my dad died in 2002, I really didn’t know the whole story of my mom’s first husband. Below is a brief telling of George’s story. 

I recommend the book I quote from. A soldier, not a writer, wrote it. For that reason, the sentence construction is eclectic, and the editing could use some cleaning up. I did not adjust the grammar on anything I quoted. Walter’s words deserve to be read in his own style.

However, the book is not important because of the sentence structure. The book tells a story of a handful of regular men who determined to live.

I am proud to be able to bring this to you in honor of Veteran’s Day.

All quoted material is from the book, Courage Beyond the Blindfold – The Last P.O.W.s of WWII, written by Walter R. Ross, the bombardier on Keller’s B-29 Crew.

* * *

Burdella Felts, my mom, met George Keller at Harvester Avenue Missionary Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They were married in 1940.

George was already in the Army by the time they married. The couple spent time in Florida. They moved to Nebraska as part of George’s pilot’s training. George and Burdie’s final American station together was in White Sands New Mexico. It was there that now 1st Lt. George Keller was named as Air Commander for a B-29 Crew.

George was deployed to Tinian Island, located between Hawaii and Japan, where he and his crew were assigned the B-29 they named the Sad Tomato. Keller’s crew flew 15 successful bombing missions in the Sad Tomato.

Due to an engine failure in the Sad Tomato, the crew was assigned a newer plane for their 16th mission.
For security reasons, there were no radio signals available to assist us in navigating the plane. We had to rely on dead reckoning and/or the sextant.
The purpose of this mission was to eliminate Yawata’s capability to produce steel. A successful bombing mission could shorten the war.
We left Tinian at 0313 carrying a bomb load of 24 m-17 amiable clusters of 500 pounds each for a total of 6.3 tons of incendiary bombs. We headed for the assembly with the target to be reached in seven hours at 1030.
Page 67
It was en route to their target, the rumors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was confirmed.
Just as the pilot [Keller] notified the crew that we were approaching the target area and to be on the lookout for enemy planes, our radio operator, Martin Zapf, picked dup word that the Americans had dropped a new type of bomb. Although the information was sketchy, we learned that this bomb was carried by a B-29 and had totally destroyed a Japanese city.
Page 67
Keller’s crew successfully completed their bombing run.
As our plane approached the target, we observed a plane ahead of us in another formation going down in flames. We watched the parachutes unfold as we all expressed our sorrow and dismay knowing how prisoners were treated, especially airmen. It became a night I will never forget.
Prior to dropping our bombs, the pilot was having difficulty holding his place in the formation. We were lagging behind the other planes. This made us vulnerable to fighters. Keller could not hold his position for reasons not known to me. I could hear Holden yelling, "Pull up into formation, we're falling back!" I was too busy preparing for my bomb run, but I heard Keller holler back, "I can't. I'm losing power!" By that time, everyone in the front compartment was getting into the act, knowing a lone plane out of formation was vulnerable. In spite of our lagging, our bomb run was progressing as planned. The bomb bays were opened and I released our bombs at about 1120. To add to our plight, four bombs failed to release. They were hung-up on the bomb rack in the bomb bay. Correll, the navigator who was closest to the window in the bomb bay entry door, saw them and yelled the information to me. That's all we needed, but we did have some luck. During this run over the target when Zeros targeted in on us, our P-S1 fighter planes from Iwo Jima started dogfighting with them, at our three o'clock position, but as the Zeros were driven off flak began bursting all around us. We were engaged in combat against the enemy. I am not sure if any of our gunners got any shots off, probably not, for fear of hitting one of the bombers or fighters. During all of this confusion, I was desperately pulling on my bomb salvo release level without success. Finally, I yelled to the pilot, Release your salvo lever." It worked. The bombs dropped.
Page 73
Unfortunately, mission #16 was to be the last for that crew.

Just as the last bomb dropped, the right gunner, Sergeant Traverse Harman, yelled over the intercom, “The right wing is on fire, we have been hit.” …
Under normal conditions, we could land the plane into the water with, with wheels up and skim the plane on its belly to a stop…
During standard ditching operation, each crew member removes his chute and life raft, assumes a sitting position facing rear with his back supported against a sturdy (upright) panel in the plane. He braces his head and knees to reduce the chances of injury.
When Keller commanded, “Assume positions,” the crew began scurrying around…
Meanwhile, I could not close the bomb bay doors from my position, my closing mechanism had been damaged when we took the hit…
I could stay and die or risk my life by jumping. I wrapped my hand around the rip cord, rolled over and went out. I must have closed my eyes because the next thing I knew I was gliding toward the sea.
A hero to the end, Keller stayed with the plane until everyone got out safely. He even waited for me as I word in the bomb bay. I am not sure I would or could have jumped without Keller. I owe my life to him.
As the final member to leave the plane before George Keller, I was the last person to see him alive. Gilding down, I looked up just as I hit the water and saw him [Keller] with is chute partially open. He hit the water about the same time as the plane hit and exploded. Burning debris litter the ocean area where Keller entered the water. No one saw him again.
Pages 74-76
George Keller was killed as he ditched his plane after all his crew successfully bailed out. The crew spent several days in the ocean with minimal food and water and not enough lifeboats. They were captured by Japanese fishermen and turned over to the Japanese Army.

Two significant events occurred during their month-long stint as POWs. The first was the miraculous appearance of a Christian Japanese officer, Lt. Fukui. This enemy soldier spoke English. It was he who convinced his commanding officer not to kill the prisoners as it would only bring more serious repercussions to the Japanese after they surrendered.

The second significant event was their visit to Hiroshima days after the bombing. They were the first American POWs to be taken on a tour of the city. The group was combined with a smaller group of POWS who’d been incarcerated just outside of Hiroshima and were already dying of radiation poisoning. This is the entire test that Ross includes about that visit.
While looking over the city, I was witnessing the results of the bombing we had heard about on our radio while on our way to bomb Yawata. Unfortunately, we had gotten there before any other American troops, not our plan, but that is the way our mission ended.
The place looked like a giant steam roller had rolled over it, like a vacant lot in the U.S. when all of the buildings had been torn down and then bulldozed. I was viewing what remained of a city destroyed by an unknown bomb, to me. There was no noise, not even a dog barking, not a sound, only quiet. Silence. There were no people. No fires, except one here and there. Nothing green. Just complete desolation as far as the eye could see in the darkness of night. There was destruction everywhere.
Page 118
First Lt George Keller received the Purple Heart and a commendation for his heroics. In late 2014, the VFW presented my mom with an unofficial version of the Distinguished Flying Cross. The crew and their families have been working toward getting this award, comparable to the Silver Star, for Lt Keller since 1945. They are hopeful that it will be officially presented soon.

I’ve never served in our military. 

Even with my imagination, which is pretty extravagant, I cannot imagine what these men went through. War takes good men and women and puts them in evil situations. I am not grateful enough for their service and sacrifice. I don't know if it's possible to be grateful enough.

From my view of life, they are all heroes—as were the Japanese soldiers who fought so hard to defend their homeland.

Next blog: A Science Guy’s Almanac #12: On the Road... Re: November 5, 1985

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Monday, November 2, 2015

A Science Guy's Almanac #10: On Nuclear Bombs and Bomb Shelters: Re: 8/5/1945 or 3/28/1979 or 4/26/1984 or 3/11/2011

A Science Guy’s Almanac #10: On Nuclear Bombs and Bomb Shelters Re: 8/5/1945 or 3/28/1979 or 4/26/1984 or 3/11/2011 

November 2, 2015

I offer you a choice of four dates in the past for this blog—there are others I could have included. Each of the dates listed records the occurrence of a nuclear event.

8/5/1945    The Allied bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. Next week's Veteran's Day blog relates to this event.
3/28/1979 – The Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania.
4/26/1984 – The Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine.
3/11/2011 – The Fukushima, Japan, cooling system flood with a subsequent reactor shutdown and leak.

I grew up as a child of the cold war between the USA and the USSR. In school, we had disaster drills. Our community had an air raid siren that was tested monthly. There were Civil Defense shelters around the county.

But, the truth was: there was very little accurate information on nuclear radiation and its effects.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki provided horrific evidence of what a blast could do. And, over time, there was data collected on the effects of nuclear radiation. However, in the Nevada desert, above ground nuclear test were conducted years after the end of WWII. The naiveté on the dangers of radiation is clear. KTLA Channel 5, a Los Angeles television station, actually broadcast at least one of these blasts live on television—with crews at a safe distance from the blast.

However, conclusive evidence for DNA as the genetic material was not presented until 1954. And it wasn’t until years later that any depth of understanding of the function of DNA and the damage caused by radiation was achieved.
So, for two decades, workers in any location where radiation was known wore dosimeters to measure the amount of radiation they accumulated. It was believed that ionizing radiation was safe as long as the exposure was limited to accumulation of acceptable levels—now known to be a fallacy.

Vintage Radiation Dosimeter
Dosimeters are still used today. Now used only for determining the level of leakage of nuclear material—not safe levels.

Kids growing up in this time took the threat of nuclear war very seriously. We ducked and covered during drills. We learned where the closest fallout shelter was. And, given the chance we really planned!

In 6th grade, selected members of my class—I found out later it was the Gifted group—were assembled as a team. I was included—even though I never quite made the cut on any of the tests used to measure giftedness.

The team’s task was to design a bomb/fallout shelter for the entire school. In retrospect, I cannot imagine the school’s teachers ever agreeing to spend an indefinite time, underground, with the students in their classes. However, we attacked the task with vigor.

Using a map of the school, we designed quite an underground structure. We had the expected eating and sleeping areas—with bathrooms for each sex! There were a large kitchen and dining area. Supply rooms abounded. We also included sports areas and a library. While not quite Blast from the Past quality, we were proud of our effort.

And it wasn’t just elementary school students that planned.

Poster and/or Billboard Promoting the Use of Fallout/Bomb Shelters
For those of you too young to have experienced this cold war/bomb threat phenomenon, I’ll end with one other example.

In my senior year of college, as part of my undergraduate major—Biology for Secondary Teaching—I had to take a health course on human reproduction. One of our sessions was the viewing of a Civil Defense film. I insist it was titled How to Have a Baby in a Bomb Shelter, but I’m really not certain of the actual title.

This film was part of the supplies in every fallout/bomb shelter. To say it was explicit is almost euphemistic. I spent most of the film with my head between my knees, no mean feet in theater seats, trying not to either pass out or vomit.
Aside. When my wife was pregnant with our organic son—more on that moniker in another blog—I dutifully attended childbirth classes. However, I informed my wife that I would not be present in the delivery room for the actual delivery of my child. I explained as I’ve written above about that Civil Defense movie. I continued with my explanation that I wanted the doctor to be concentrating on her and the baby and not stepping over my limp body sprawled on the floor.
My wife listened politely. She then informed me that I would be present in the delivery room.

I was.

Now we know that neither dosimeters nor bomb shelters offer protection for nuclear radiation of the type and intensity of an atomic bomb. Humanity is fortunate that only two nuclear bombs have been dropped as aggressive acts against another nation. In 2015, when we look back at the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we are tempted to point fingers of blame on those responsible for the development, production and, ultimately, the use of nuclear bombs.

I know that the pilots who dropped those bombs on Japan were convinced, and still are to this day

if they are still alive, that the acts saved hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides. I’ll not debate if that makes the action right or wrong. To do so 70 years after the fact is arrogance personified.

Today, our goal as humans and citizens of the world should be two-fold.
That no such weapon ever be deployed again.
That knowledge and understanding of those opposing us be a priority so non-lethal solutions to problems can be found.

Next blog: A Science Guy’s Almanac #11: 1st Lt. George Keller – Re: 8/8/1945
This blog is offered as a tribute to all our military veterans—living and dead.

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