Daily Archives: June 30, 2011

Things To Do In Fort Worth When You’re Dead

This is a special weekend in North America, and it should be celebrated in an appropriate fashion. July 1 is Canada Day, and is usually celebrated around here by calling up Canadian friends and singing them the National Anthem in French. (Of course, this is the alternate universe National Anthem, the one sung in the South Park movie by Terrance and Philip that should have won the 2000 “Best Original Song” Oscar. It’s because I love them to death, and because I know, being of Canadian ancestry myself, that getting them angry enough to skin me is the only way to get them to visit.) The subsequent Monday, of course, is celebrated in the US as the name of a really, really lousy alien invasion movie from fifteen years ago. I won’t bring up Texas Independence Day, because our 175th anniversary was last March, but we usually save the fun for July anyway. It’s too cold for barbecue and iced tea at the beginning of March anyway.

So. This weekend is also a special one, because it’s one of those incredibly rare days where the Czarina doesn’t have to work on Saturday. Who’s up for combining Canadian, American, and Texan sensibilities and attending the Science Saturday open house at the brand new Botanical Research Institute of Texas building in Fort Worth? Just replace the cactus with Mounties, and it’ll be just like being in Calgary.

Call in the burn squad

I don’t make a huge deal of my Scottish heritage, no matter how badly the Czarina wants to see me in a kilt. (She’s Welsh: it can’t be helped.) One aspect of my paternal ancestry, though, leads to a lot of trouble. Namely, the fact that you have no idea, no idea, of what the word “frugality” means if you’re not of the blood. I remember reading a book review in the Eighties that started out describing how the reviewer’s grandmother could stretch out a Thanksgiving turkey until she was trying, in mid-July, to figure out how to make turkey-flavored Jell-O from the bones. My first response was “Are we related?” This frugality should be celebrated, not mocked: I mean, how many other civilizations on the planet could look around at available resources and say “We have fresh water, peat, rye, and a big load of copper. What can we do with this?

(Now, I say this about my father’s side of the family. My mother’s is even better, as she came from classic Irish/German/Cherokee stock. I’m glad I don’t let old family and country rivalries affect my life, because otherwise I’d get a big stick and beat the crap out of myself.)

North Texas tends to bring out a lot of that, because it’s not like we have a lot out here. The trees are small. We don’t have big metal deposits. The soil is some of the richest on the planet, but only after it’s been worked for decades to break up the clay we lovingly call “black gumbo”. The two things we have to excess are both products of the yellow hurty thing in the sky that stays above the horizon for eighty days at a stretch this time of the year. Namely, a lot of sun and a lot of wind.

Capturing the wind is relatively easy, because the only time it stops blasting out of the south is during those few moments we laughingly call “winter” and it blasts out of the north. More and more wind turbines are going up to take advantage of our surplus. Since we literally have 300 or more sunny days per year, now it’s time to scoop up a bit of sun, and use it for good instead of for skin cancer and powdery automobile paint.

Now, two things to take into account. I have a good friend in the UK who’s well-known for her propensity to get into trouble, to the point where she has a List. Specifically, this is entitled “Things Arkady Is Not Allowed To Do,” and one of the top ten entries is “Anything suggested by Paul Riddell.” It’s like these people know me or something. That’s the first, and the second is that I’m a horrible enabler. I like to tell people that my little brother Eric is still the only five-year-old I’ve ever met who knew how to make black powder, and I innocently whistle when he points out that his seven-year-old older brother was the one who gave him the recipe. If Arkady and I were ever to meet in real life, well, I hope everyone’s prepared for the next few years when Earth gets blasted out of its orbit and goes wandering through interstellar space. (Another entry in Arkady’s List is “Anything that makes her giggle for more than 15 seconds.” A few minutes hanging around with me, and she’ll be giggling for years.)

And why do I bring this up? It’s because I’ve discovered that I have a need, a deep horrible primeval need, for a Fresnel lens. A big Fresnel lens. Even better, I discovered folks in Fort Worth that manufacture Fresnel lenses.

Now, I’m not going to say a word about what I have in mind, other than that it should be a very interesting heating system for the greenhouse in the winter, and a very important tool during that period when we pass from “spring” to “My daily commute requires me to swim through pools of molten concrete”. I promise, though, that if it doesn’t work, you’ll never know. That’s the good side to the shock of tossing Earth into the void between galaxies.