Tag Archive for science

Here Be Dragons: Science and the Imagination

As I type this, I’m sitting out on the porch watching the end of tonight’s supermoon eclipse. Cloud cover had killed the beginning of it for us, but now the clouds are gone and I’ve got a good view of the Earth’s shadow cast across the face of the moon. The red of the totality, the Blood Moon, was fairly dim, but now I’ve got a great view of the contrast between the sunlight and the shadow.

I can’t help but think about some people I know who take no joy in this sort of thing. It’s not an uncommon attitude, but some take it a step further and claim science has somehow ruined these events for them. Eclipse? “Big deal,” they’d say. “It’s just a shadow.” Meteors? “It’s just a rock falling into the atmosphere.”

When they were kids they were impressed by such events because they were in awe of what they didn’t understand. I even knew someone who was jealous of primitive cultures who explained the stars away as gods or dragons, of cultures who built stories and myths around these events. He’d lament how astronomy and physics have killed those stories.

So life was somehow better when we were ignorant? I just can’t get behind that attitude.

Ignorance is not imagination. Those cultures were explaining the world in the best way they could. Their ignorance does not make the world magical.

Imagination is still finding the beauty in these events, even though we know exactly what’s happening. Science doesn’t stop poets from romanticizing the full moon. It doesn’t stop writers from using a storm to set atmosphere. It doesn’t stop any of us from finding the beauty in a sunset, even though they occur every day and we know exactly how they work.

Should we not retain our imagination in the face of what we already know? Should we not find wonder in the explained? To me, that’s what real magic is about.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

War Rocket Rugrat

My family inadvertently reenacted the worst portions of the Soviet space program yesterday.

That’s the problem with science kits: they promise so much, but give so little. The Rugrats received a simple rocket kit for Christmas last year. Little more than a plastic soda bottle and some tchotchkes, it’s supposed to shoot “up to 100 feet” into the sky.

Here is our sad little rocket:

Launch One: FAIL

Made by Acme, apparently

Now, to be fair, we weren’t all that concerned about looks. The fins are cheap balsa wood,  and the rest is flimsy, light plastic lashed together with strips cut from a sheet of silver foil tape. The Rugrats are still too young to cut and tape straight. End result? Something that could explode and we wouldn’t be too concerned about it.

The fuel for this simple rocket is vinegar and baking soda. When the two mix you get carbon dioxide, which is supposed to punch out a stopper at the bottom and propel this thing skyward. A simple chemical reaction. So we loaded the vinegar into the body, dropped the baking soda into the engine tube, and took them out to the field across the street.

Launch One: I mix the materials and the engine immediately blows off in my hands. The rubber stopper misses my face by inches.

The Wife and Rugrats laugh and laugh.

The Wife and Little Bird run home for more fuel, we clean up the rocket and reload, and we take it back to the center of the field. I put in the stopper (engine) and tighten it up more this time. The eldest Rugrat wisely flees the launch area.

Launch Two: Mix the fuel, set the rocket down, boosh! It all explodes out of the bottom before I let go.

The Wife and Rugrats laugh and laugh.

I know the chemistry is sound because we’re getting the reaction, and the stopper does pop loose. However, the paperwork says it’s supposed to take 8-30 seconds for pressure to build up. Maybe the designers of this thing should have read up on the Nedelin catastrophe. We load up again, this time using less baking soda, and I try to get the stopper/engine on good and tight.

Launch Three: Mix the fuel and it blows up all over my shoe before I can set it down.

The Wife and Rugrats laugh and laugh.

This thing writes its own premature ejaculation jokes at this point. Maybe the kit designers are trying to build empathy for their personal problems.

Though I suppose it could have been worse. The kids want to try a Mentos and Diet Coke launch sometime.

We had enough vinegar for one last launch. I examine the stopper and make sure it tightens as it’s supposed to (it has a screw and a handle that are supposed to compress it lengthwise to make it wider). I dry the stopper and the mouth of the bottle to make sure it will get a good grip. Prep the engine, return to the launchpad. Again, my assistant Rugrat flees the scene.

Launch Four: Mix the fuel, set the rocket on the ground. It immediately falls over on one of its flimsy balsa wood fins. I reach down to pick it up . . . Boosh! The stopper pops and the rocket shoots fifteen feet or so through the grass.

The Wife and two Rugrats laugh and laugh.

The Squirt hangs his head with a sad pout because the rocket “sucks” and we’re out of fuel, so he didn’t get to see it fly up into the air. Thanks, Science! You like making little kids cry?

Man. Science is a jerk sometimes.

And that’s why I didn’t get any real writing work done yesterday.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.