Linenger's Letters to his Son

March 23, 1997
Who needs maps?"

Dear John:

Mommy said that Tony Sang cooked up some spicy Chinese food today for all the Americans living in Star City, and that you just gobbled it up. Tastebuds like Mommy, no doubt--she eats five stars plus, and asks for some extra hot sauce. Not me. Burns my mouth.

Let's make a deal. When I'm home and we have spicy food for dinner, I get dibbs on your bottles of mashed-up peas, applesauce, and pureed turkey; while you can have my hot tamales. Agreed?

Good day today up here. Ran some experiments in a furnace that is "levitating" on an isolation mount. Measuring the diffusion coefficients of different metals.

Neat little gadget--reminds me of my sister's Easy-Bake oven. Set it up properly and watch it do its thing.

A pencil-sized metal sample zips into an oven where it bakes for four hours or so; zips out and gets immediately quelched by two thick metal plates that move in from both sides. Then sample number two automatically zips into the adjacent furnace, and the process repeats. I periodically keep an eye on it to make sure all goes as planned.

At the end, I download all the data to a computer, and then transfer it to a data storage device called a WORM. I have lots of WORMS up here just full of data--everything is working just great. Sometimes I run analysis programs that plot nice curves and other pretty pictures. I even see an occasional sine wave--looks sorta like a worm; so I figure that's a good sign.

I then send subsets of the data to the smart people on the ground (like that Tony Sang Chinese cook that you like so much...) who tell me things like: "the floater accelerations are lagging a bit behind the stator in the z-axis--better run program umptyump". I, of course, promptly respond: "of course, I was just about to do that--that was some curve, eh?" Usually, I can fool them, since I don't have to look at them directly in the eye.

Radiation wrecks havoc on electronic devices, so you need to be careful about how and where you store data. Best to store it on different types of medium. If one becomes corrupted, the other may still work.

Radiation doesn't like film alot, either. We test different film types to see which suffers the least. Slow, positive film seems to hold up the best--so that's what I use to shoot selected sites on the planet. I hope that it holds up well, because someday I would like to show you some of those photos of our planet, John. You can take them with you to geography class- -who needs maps?

Radiation does provide a pretty good light show at night, though. Close your eyes. Every now and then you'll "see" a light flash streaking across your field of view. Caused by some particle striking the retina. If it strikes "dead on" you see a small, but bright dot. The light is especially strong and frequent when we fly over the South Atlantic, where the "anomaly" exists--the protective magnetic belts that surround the Earth dip down closer to the surface, leaving us more exposed to cosmic radiation.

Well, enough for now. This science stuff really is fantastic. I'm lucky.

Someday we will work together with your chemistry set, and maybe I can show you a thing or two. If someone doesn't invent a "new math two", I may even be able to help you with your homework. (Anyone who grew up in the late sixties was hopelessly out of luck growing up getting any help with math homework because some wise-guy thought up this thing called "new math". It totally baffled every parent alive at that time. My Dad could always give me the answer, but could never tell me on which side of the equal sign to put the x's and y's.

Okay. Goodnight my future chemist/engineer/ whatever interests you. Love you. Miss your mischievous smile.


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