Playing the science long game

You’ve probably heard the phrase, the bigger they are the harder they fall. It’s true. Isaac Newton discovered that force equals mass times acceleration or F=ma. But you’ve never heard the bigger they are the faster they fall. There’s a reason for this. Acceleration due to gravity (falling to Earth) is a constant which doesn’t depend on mass. Yes, somethings encounter air resistance but masses of the same shape and air resistance hit the ground at the same time when dropped from the same height. Recently, I visited the birthplace of the scientist who convinced people of this truth, Galileo Galilei.

Galileo was born in Pisa. The airport there is named after him along with a highway to get there. He’s much more famous for perfecting the telescope and convincing people that the Earth travels around the Sun, but the Leaning Tower is where he did his weight dropping experiment. And it’s a delight to behold. I visited there along with several family members, including kids.

The adorable city of Pisa, Italy

Galileo has been called the Father of Modern Science. He questioned the idea that the sky is heaven and a perfect sphere made of crystals from which God sits and looks down on us. His telescope showed imperfect things in the sky such as sun spots and mountains on the moon. He even showed that Jupiter had moons–breaking the crystal spheres and that Venus had phases as if it was going around a light. In fact, the planets going around the sun explained Mercury in retrograde better than the planets traveling around the Earth on the crystal spheres. He noted that the Milky Way was stars. Wasn’t the sun a star as well? Of course, this was heresy. God was in the sky–not the Earth! God looked at all of us from his heavenly perch. Galileo dared to write it all out in a what I would call a satire in Italian for the public to read. He was put under house arrest for it and made quite famous.

There is quite a lot to see in Pisa, but we focused on viewing the tower area and I set my sights on a Galileo souvenir.

The tower is quite easy to spot.

It has all sorts of wonderful details. You can go to the top but I put it on my list of things I didn’t climb.

But upon my visit, I had some trouble finding Galileo souvenirs, even close to the famous tower where he dropped his weights and observed them fall at uniform speed, despite being different masses. One shop owner showed me soccer jerseys and Einstein and DaVinci T-shirts. Others had nothing at all related to the Father of Science.

You could however, get seafood pizza and pasta made with boar meat. My dining companion dislikes seafood, but it didn’t stop me.

At last, I found a plastic bust of Galileo in a specialty shop. The shop was right on the street where he was born.

Here I am with my find!
Here is Galileo with the picturesque Tuscany countryside in the background.
I also went to Florence (which Italians call Firenza) and saw his grave.
I lit a candle for him. I made a donation but I’m not sure how much it was because my money skills were not good.

There is quite a lot more of Galileo to see in Italy (click here) including his middle finger (in Florence aka Firenze) and his lantern in Pisa. We didn’t do it all but if you are a die-hard Galileo fan, I recommend a trip to his beautiful native land.

Most people know that Galileo was tried and accused of heresy in 1633 at the age of 69. He was kept under house arrest for saying the Earth moves around the Sun. He was pardoned in 1992. And he wasn’t burned at the state because he recanted his beliefs. (In 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for postulating that there were many suns and planets. )You could say Galileo played the long game.

We still see plenty of science denial with regards to covid and climate change. The rich and powerful want inventions, not science’s truths. The thing is, the truth usually comes out, if you have time to wait for it. For now, light a candle for the truth. It needs it.

Porn and drag queens. How dangerous?

Recently, an acquaintance lost a political primary. He dared to not vote the governor’s way just once and groups backing her mounted a smear campaign, and won. They accused him of supporting porn in school libraries.

People in my hometown have a porn obsession. You can’t walk your dog without seeing a sign like this. They think porn is in the library. It’s not. The book they are worried about is a coming of age tale regarding someone who decides to be asexual.

Of course, porn-mania has been used in the past to ban birth control. And in my first novel, Mixed In, any unmarried man is assumed to be a pervert. Calling someone a pervert is a sure way to shock those around them and rally people against someone.

My own definition of porn is that it is sex that involves exploitation vs mere erotica. Most people now days call erotica “porn.” It’s confusing to have such a vague term blanket something so emotionally charged, but I’ll try to discuss some concerns about run of the mill porn/erotica, leaving out child porn and sex offender material, which most people can agree is bad and is a sign of severe mental illness. We are talking about BOOKS here so, hello Lolita, here’s looking at you. And we won’t get into PornHub, which exploits people to make a buck. We are discussing library books.

Misogynistic men watch a lot of porn. (I’m not sure how much they read.) The porn itself doesn’t cause them to be sexual jerks, but it might give them ideas that being a jerk is normal. But most people who watch porn use it as a release valve, not a how-to lesson. Several studies say that porn can cause crime to go down. But of course, it can be very exploitative. Again, we are talking about library books being porn. There are not many studies about reading porn, but anything that hyper-stimulates dopamine release can cause the brain to act in a juvenile matter.Porn that shows/writes about short term one-night stand fantasies is favored by more of the “Dark Triad” types. Some porn needs a disclaimer: being a pizza delivery boy probably is NOT realistically going to get you more action. It could even contain Dark Triad warnings, although people with those traits really love to celebrate them.

You might think porn would encourage people to act out dangerous fantasies, but most studies say, this doesn’t happen. “Hostility, callousness and delinquent behavior were determinants of sexual aggression and that the effects of those personality traits are much stronger than those of pornography consumption.”

And although watching lots of porn is associated with low IQ, watching it in moderation will not shrink your brain. It’s probably not good to have porn in school. Of course, there isn’t any. It’s a scary threat.

What about drag shows? My governor, who is a hater, points out school drag shows as being a reason to defund public schools. This is very opportunist, coming from a party that has numerous domestic abusers running for office. The state of Iowa paid out a huge fine because someone in the governor’s inner circle was guilty of sex abuse and creating a sexually charged atmosphere. Yes, taxpayers were on the hook for it and she dismissed it as ridiculous. This person has turned her eye towards drag shows. What can I find about their harmful effects? Not much.

The University of Northampton writes, “Our findings overwhelmingly evidence that attending drag events has a positive impact on happiness and mental well-being. People feel that they can express themselves in a non-judgemental, safe space where they can escape from everyday life and feel a sense of joy and liberation. With the absence of events over the past 18 months I’m sure this impact on mental well-being resonates with many people.” The people who perform generally experience feelings of well-being, although they might have injuries during the performance.

Since female clothing can be uncomfortable and even cause injuries, what’s the psychology of dressing in drag? It can be anything from a desire to entertain, embracing an art form, pushing against gender boundaries, or the wish to fit in with a close-knit community. One concern about drag shows is that people in positions of power can use them to parody and stereotype women. This is a valid concern, which leads me to suggest that school drag shows be supervised by a qualified sponsor who has had some sensitivity training. They shouldn’t be mocking women. We all know that women wearing pants on stage freed other women to don them. Misogyny comes from people who believe in strict gender norms. Therefore, dressing in uncomfortable clothes and enjoying make-up should be something anyone can do, not simply women.

The ironic thing is, hostility creates an environment where all sorts of bad behaviors come bubbling out of damaged people. It’s kind of like spanking, which can create hostile and even deviant adults.

Accusing people of being deviants by applying your own vague definition of it is hostile and harmful. It’s encouraging authoritarianism. In fact, banning art and authoritarianism go hand in hand. As for drag, it’s pretty harmless, even an art form. It might even make people laugh at the absurdity of gender norms. Which will in turn, fight misogyny. Or at least, we can hope.

The answer to all of this is to do whatever it takes to put a damper on hostility. Like with this nice sign:

Reducing hostility can solve a myriad of problems.
Will this drag queen warp your kids? It’s doubtful. But…

Unstable States Series: How to Live, Love, and Laugh in an Autocracy

A beanstalk holds special meaning in this series.

My publisher is getting ready to release Book Three in my Unstable States series this August. I’m grateful to my publisher, City Owl Press, for helping me push through a bad review on the first book and thankful for all who believed in this tale which must be told.

The premise is: the Midwest (specifically Iowa) becomes the willing victim of an autocratic agricultural government, which breaks away from the US and its freedoms.

Each book is stand alone and told from a different perspective. Book 1 from that of an outsider who gets mixed into trouble, Book 2 from a citizen who wishes to elevate her status in the society, and Book 3 from a scientist who reluctantly hatches a plan to save a friend in need.

I wanted to show people questioning a society where there is no concept of public good and I wanted to show this without blaming religion or having blazing gun battles.

What you will find:

  1. Satire. Makes fun of unstable authoritarian dictators and their slavish followers all the while pretending to be Iowa nice.
  2. Corn, hogs, & water pollution. This series pokes fun at “big ag” in the Midwest.
  3. Romance, body parts mentioned. These stories are sex positive but I’m not sure I could write a totally serious sex scene. In fact, sex scenes are meant to be absurdly technical, Masters and Johnson style. This is a satire.
  4. Scifi, science, & gadgets. But you won’t have to be a science-nerd to enjoy them. For example: wouldn’t you enjoy having a No-Regrets, which will scan potential partners for STIs and detect pregnancy early? I think we need one of these asap. And how would you get rid of a giant lagoon of hog shit? What would you do if ordered to create a homunculus? These require some scientific know how.

I’m posting today because the first book, Mixed In, is on sale. Here’s a universal link. It’s got a bad review that follows it everywhere due to misunderstanding. It’s NOT a torrid romance, it’s more of an informative rom-com or a Shakespearean style comedy with social commentary. Think Don’t Look Up or maybe How I got Drunk and Saved a Demon. If that’s for you, click the link or message me and I’ll send you a copy free of charge. This week only, while it’s on sale.

The second book, Lost in Waster (think Hunger Games in Idiocracy with manure) is also on sale but Kindle only. https://books2read.com/States2UBL

Here’s a good review and description of Book 1:

First in the electrifying series set in “a dystopian future that feels relatable and real . . . Wonderfully entertaining” (InD’tale).

When Catrina moves to Cochtonville to work as a chemist for Cochton Enterprises, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become.

  1. Mass shootings, insurrection. I’m not a fan of gun violence as entertainment. It’s got a killer plant though because we all know if plants could kill us, they would.
  2. Rape, non-consensual sex, women tortured.
  3. It was just a dream endings.

Here’s Each Book

Mixed In

An outsider moves to the city-state of Cochtonville in what used to be Iowa and finds herself mixed into its trouble.

Lost in Waste

A scientist must come up with a way to rid the nation of Cochtonia of an immense pool of agricultural waste in order to move up the social ladder.

Wrinkles in Spacetime

A scientist agrees to help Sir Isaac Newton create a homunculus in order to please the rulers of Cochtonia and save his neck.

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions!

Living in our own private air pollution

Woman in protective mask holding aerosol in her hands closeup. Allergy to cosmetics concept

For the past two days, I’ve woken up, smelled the outdoor air, and was greeted with an acrid smell. Was it a local factory? My underarms? It was clearly some type of air pollution. Air pollution is one of my pet peeves. Iowa is a state with more air pollution than most. What was the smell? Why should we care? Here’s why:

Air pollution has been linked to severe covid.

Pollution, especially particulates, has been linked to depression.

Pollution such as ozone and particulates has been linked to miscarriages in early pregnancy. Pollution can cross the placenta and cause low birth weight or a silent miscarriage where the fetus fails to form properly. It is also associated with an increased risk of ectopic pregnancies. Air pollution can also cause still birth. Many pro-life groups are frauds. They don’t care at all about pollution.

Pollution is as bad or worse in rural areas as it is in cities with agriculture being a major source of air pollution. Rural people are more likely to be resistant to any warnings having to do with science. They just don’t care about air pollution.

There’s not much I can do in the short term to keep those around me from polluting. Here in rural Iowa, few take responsibility for polluting the air.

But what about our own private air pollution? I’m not talking underarm smell here. What about stuff we do to ourselves?

Recently, doctors discovered plastics in the lungs of living humans when they took samples of lung tissue from people with lung ailments. Where could it come from?

One source can be the materials we live with such as our clothes, plastic products including toys, and furniture. How about our personal care products? I was asked: What about hair spray?

I admit. My hair isn’t easily tamed. I gave up on hair spray but do use it on occasion. What’s in it?

Hair spray is used to create shine and hold hair in place. Silicone creates the shine while Styrene/Acrylates which are plastics fix the style. Hairspray contains more than plastics. Many contain formaldehyde and scents which can contribute to air pollution and cause symptoms such as light headedness and headaches. Older style products such as used in the helmet hair look are particularly bad for the wearer.

How dangerous is hair styling in general?

A recent study of Beauty salon air found that it was filled with everything from microscopic snippets of hair and nails to particulates and fumes from products. Bridal party procedures were particularly polluting. Besides spraying, things such as heat and UV styling released harmful fumes into the air.

But it’s not only the salon.

Another study showed that people emit a plume of synthetic scents and toxins, especially after they have showered.

As for hair spray specifically, Hair spray may be asscociated with alveolitis which is a rare but fatal lung inflammation. It and other scented products, along with dander, and air pollution can exacerbate COPD.

There are no doubt worse things you can do to your lungs than apply hair spray, especially on occasion. However, you probably should wear a mask when applying spray. For a lot of reasons, avoiding the Fox News anchor look is good for your health. That’s not nature, it silicone.

And what about my outside air? It turned out, that acrid scent was lawn chemicals. I’ve already written about dandelions being good for you and your lawn and a source of rubber. There’s no need for the toxic smell of lawn chemicals. Or Fox News hair.

How is a lab report like a short story?

If I had one piece of teacherly advice to give to parents, it’s this: read to your kids. Read them stories, fiction stories rich with detail. Stories transcend culture. They’re a way of organizing the chaos of this word so it makes sense. Stories convey information and give warning. And the story plot form is a brilliant and universal way to convey information.

When teaching story form to beginning writers, I find most have an instinctive understanding of it. But to keep them on track, a plot diagram as shown below can be used.

This is a plot diagram. (I bought it from teachers pay teachers.)

Lab reports, too, have distinctive sections. These might include the following:

Purpose and Introduction

Experimental Details

Results

Discussion

Conclusions

References

This is much less intuitive to students. There are different types of lab reports such as formal lab reports and informal lab reports which adds to the confusion about how to write a lab report.

I applied the plot diagram to a weekly lab report assignment. Here it is on my tackboard:

The plot diagram applied to a lab report.

The purpose is to hook the reader, much like the inciting paragraph of a story. The introduction tells why the lab is important. The procedure, observations, and hazards tell what was encountered along the way.

The introduction points to where this lab is going and why it will be important. Vivid, concrete, relevant observations and information gathering build labs and stories, as does attention to hazards along the way. Recognising these takes practice and experience in the craft.

One thing to note is that the results of a lab are similar to the climax in a story. This is where the perception shifts. The scientist or the protagonist finally learns something. The writer’s inclination is to rush the climax/results. Once you get to the summit, it’s such a relief, all you want to do is get to the end and rest. But don’t. This is what everyone wants to read. it’s why they read through the rest. To see what happens. Be sure to tell it carefully.

Conclusions, statistical analysis, and any type of discussions wrap the report up. If print references were used, they are like the “thank-you”acknowledgements.

A lab report sounds so clinical but it is really a story. Being exposed to stories is good for kids no matter what they want to be when they grow up. And in my opinion, everybody needs to take a class in fiction writing.

Hunting the wild Keokuk geode

Long ago, I was a DJ at a radio station in Iowa City. One on-air personality had been cursing way too much in his private life. Instead of ‘Keokuk’ by mistake he said ‘Keofuck’ on the air. Until recently, this was my only thought when I heard the of the town of Keokuk. But this city in SE Iowa is home to some amazing rocks, and I don’t mean cocaine. It has namesake geodes!

Keokuk geodes are found unsurprisingly, near Keokuk, Iowa, Iowa’s southern-most city on the banks of the Mississippi. They are sedimentary geodes, found in deposits of shale and limestone. Here’s more about geodes. Keokuk geodes are silica based on the outside and sparkley on the inside: most often the geode balls are lined with quartz but may include amethyst, calcite, chalcedony, limonite, marcasite, pyrite, and sphalerite.

Last month, we went on a geode hunt. The area of SE Iowa, SW Illinois, and NE Missouri is prime goede hunting territory. Here are some locations where you can look for a fee.

We did our hunting in Illinois at Jacob’s Geodes.

This is the entrance. Stop and say hi. Geodes are $25 per 5 gallon bucket. Bring your own or buy one from Jacob for $5.

We hiked up a trail to a field.
It was easy pickings
Child’s play
Here’s what’s inside.
For the serious types, there’s a quarry.
This woman came from Nebraska to find geodes to give to friends.
This man came from Kentucky.
Here’s one of our nicer ones!

The geodes look like blobs on the outside and some of the fun is not knowing exactly what treasure you are getting on the inside. I highly recommend going geode hunting. The banks of the Mississippi are gorgeous and we had buckets of fun for not a whole lot of money. I guess you could say that after all these years, I still know how to rock.

A Pumpkin Pie in Pictures

Pumpkin pies are easy to make and a forgivable medium to cook with. You can measure somewhat carelessly and switch up your sweetener and still get something wonderful. Here’s how we made our most recent pie.

We picked a pumpkin we’d grown ourselves. Ten seeds gave us only four pumpkins. it wasn’t a great year for them.

We washed it and put it in the oven. We cooked it, seeds and all.
Saying good-bye to the pumpkin.

While it baked for an hour, we did other things.

We cut it in half and let it cool.
We assembled the ingredients and mixed them in a blender. Here is where you can get creative. Find the spices you want, add a dash of vanilla and two or three eggs, pick your sweetener. I like a half cup of sugar and a fourth cup molasses but you can add more or less and use honey or syrup. Don’t forget the cooked pumpkin and a 12 ounce can of evaporated milk.
Pour into your favorite pie crust. I use Trader Joe’s. I like to add some cinnamon and molasses to the top.

I used a Made in the USA metal pie pan, as recommended by Sister Pie.

Bake on a metal tray until the center doesn’t look liquid–about an hour. The crust was so flakey, a piece fell off when I moved it. And we had some pumpkin seeds and flesh left for the chickens.

Allow it to cool and top with whatever suits your fancy. We decided that coconut whipped “cram” was a wonderful choice.

Old dog + new puppy: trouble or treasure?

Apollo smiles. Life is good.

When my sweet dog died, it took me a while to get over it. My remaining dog, Apollo the pug, and I spent many nights simply sitting together on the couch. He and Sabrina had been best of friends. She’d been a mother figure to him and he was quick to protect her if he thought another dog challenged her. He lit into my daughter’s rescue Carin terrier for snapping at his “mother”. And the little pug won the battle. There are some thought about animals understanding death or at least the irreversibility of it. Apollo was sad. His trail drooped.

I didn’t want to leave him alone. He was anxious.

As days spread into years, it became apparent–the hole left was not going to repair itself. I needed a walking buddy and he needed a friend. Our woodsy back yard was being invaded by rodents. Squirrels munched the swing set. I needed a chasing type of dog. But a puppy–could our stodgy ways take an invasion? I thought about puppies and looked at photos of them on-line. With ten grandkids, I needed something sturdy, not prone to roaming, and good with children. I wanted a breed less needy than my delightful late beagle. Most importantly, I didn’t want to inconvenience my pal, Apollo, and his comfortable life. I looked around for a mild mannered pup. He’s too much of a tough guy around other male dogs. It had to be a female. For a little dog, he sheds bundles, and although when I vacuum I feel happy he is still alive to shed, I couldn’t take another mega-shedder.

At last I found a puppy. A video of her showed her to be non-aggressive with other dogs. I went to meet her. She was a sweet, shy little thing. I took her home and called her Daphne. As the breeder suggested, I made sure to give Apollo lots of attention. I crated the pup when they were alone together or even if she, on rare occasion, pestered him. She was determined to make him like her, even to the point of letting him eat her food. In turn, Apollo showed her the house-breaking ropes. She learned from him and sometimes lifts her leg when she pees.

She quickly figured out how to jump on the couch near him and slowly wiggled herself into his life, but she wasn’t as fond of lounging on the furniture as he was. When the pandemic hit and I worked from home, they developed the habit of languishing on the floor near my feet together. The couch at last caught a break.

Both dogs are loyal and loving but perhaps due to a 13 year age gap or differences or their breeds, they operate in different realms. Daphne loves being out in the yard and playing with her toys and other dogs and people, while Apollo is an inside old man who would prefer to sleep or be snuggled. I know some people who have sent their puppy off to daycare periodically to give their new dog some alone time. Fortunately, all I need to do is open the back door.

Here’s a photo essay of their time together:

baby Daphne ( a smaller standard bernedoodle)
She’s allowed to get close but not to touch him
He tolerates her.
Tolerates a little more.
She’s not giving up.
It’s a kiss!
On the porch, ready to bark at passers by.
Relaxing together.
And folks, the squirrels are vanquished.

How is Apollo doing with his new pal? To win him over, Daphne let him eat her food and he gained two pounds which is a lot for a twenty pound pug. We have to keep her bowl away from him. She gives him her full support when he pesters for a treat.

She isn’t a big furniture lounger and he’s adopted her habit of floor sleeping (yes, the dog pillow is mostly ignored). She loves chew bones and now he does too which is good for his teeth. She’s also relaxed about being left alone. (My husband works from home so this doesn’t occur often.) She is shy of strangers but loves the family and kids, as he does. One small concern is the size differences. She is gentle and only 50 pounds but kind of clumsy so I feel a need to watch them on stairs so she doesn’t knock him down. That being said, Daphne is gentle around small dogs.

Celebrating two years post “gotcha” on the couch together.

My advice is: get the puppy but not any puppy. Make sure to get a mild-mannered pup and have plenty of time to give both dogs attention. Figure out how to feed them separately–putting a pug on a diet is almost impossible, especially when he has an advocate.

Both dogs believe that Apollo needs a treat.

I crated Daphne at first to keep her from getting after Apollo. This gave him some time to get used to her and still have his space. When I found him sleeping next to her crate, I knew we’d made it. Two years later, all is well, except for the extra two pounds. They are still with us. So is the tail curl–it’s back!

Science in Scifi: Excerpts from Wolves and Deer

Michael Faraday holds up a magnet

Here is the book blurb:

In 1832, Grace Clare works at the Royal Institution under the direction of the well-known chemist Michael Faraday. But science isn’t all she has on her mind. She learns that her birth mother was famous comic actress Dora Jordan. Grace is dangerously drawn into the tale of Dora’s mysterious, unjust death after her twenty-year relationship with the prince who now occupies the throne–a man who betrayed his life partner and mother of his children. As the only child free to do so, Grace travels to Paris for work and to view her mother’s lonely grave. Awash with the injustice of the cruel betrayal, will Grace be doomed to a tragic life of seeking revenge?

How did I come to write it?

I had published a short story about Isaac Newton that was first in print in Australia and later included in the anthology “The Female Complaint.” I wanted to write something about my favorite chemist, Michael Faraday. He was a humble guy who worked his way into fame by endearing himself to Sir Humphrey Davy. Here’s an excerpt from Wolves and Deer which she tells the story:

“Like Grace, Michael Faraday had been born common, the son of a blacksmith; she was the daughter of a merchant and a milliner. She wanted to learn science as it was more interesting, with greater opportunity than hat making, and hat making in her home town of Dref Ysbryd, Wales, would be her future if she didn’t find employment here in London. Her plan was to present him with a gift, much as he had done to his benefactor, the scientist Humphry Davy. Faraday had flattered Davy by handing him a notebook filled with Davy’s scientific lectures—perfectly transcribed and bound by Faraday’s own hand. Grace would give Faraday one of her experiments based on his work and do him one better by handing him a hat for his wife.”

As I was reading his biography I came upon a note of his correspondence with Lady Mary Fox, the illegitimate daughter of King William IV. Mary was a fan of Faraday’s who wrote him about getting tickets to his lectures and assuring him that she would help him secure a pension from the king. The entry briefly mentioned that her mother was actress Dora Jordan. I became intrigued with Dora Jordan and her untimely but convent for the Royal Family death. My story about Faraday morphed into a novel about a secret daughter of Dora Jordan who works in the Faraday lab. 

Here’s another excerpt from the novel:

“Faraday, I can envision a carriage powered by a steam engine and accompanied by a steam powered calculator giving speed and progress towards the destination.” Mathematician Charles Babbage took a bite of scone with jam as Grace snaked rubber tubing from one flask to another. Babbage and Michael Faraday, members in the Royal Society, hunched over a glass flask. It was now 1832. Faraday and Babbage, two men of science, and the maid who served as an assistant, Grace Clare, were in the basement of the Royal Institution, surrounded by jars of reagent chemicals—ether, chloroform, arsenic. Grace tried not to consider their usefulness. Working for Mr. Faraday had stabilized Grace. She’d made peace with the actress’s death and the mystery of her own birth and went a week at a time without dwelling on it. As any chemist will tell you, matter desires and moves towards stability. Certainly, Dora Jordan’s was a story as old as time, a man leaves a woman for another, the broken woman is found dead without witness, the man nowhere near. Grace was more concerned with the lack of mail from the Clares. It was April. Rain hit the windows.

“Is the latter needed? Any good driver can estimate speed and time to destination in his head,” Faraday replied. “And, where would it be mounted?”

“Calculating devices will be more reliable than humans. Everyone will use them. We are limited now with humans doing our calculations. Faraday, we need more mathematics in England. We’re lacking in mathematical minds. Our mathematical science is in deplorable shape. Where are the new, young ideas? In Paris! We need to go to Paris and return with a young mathematician.”

“One trip to Paris is enough for any Englishman, and I have been,” said Faraday. “Grace, did you say your father was French?”

“He was born in Paris but resides in Wales when not traveling.”

“Let’s send Grace. She needs a trip to Paris.” Babbage, who had recently completed a table of logarithms up to 10,8000, bit into the scone. Crumbs fell onto his silk shirt and scattered across his trousers.

Grace jabbed the end of the tube onto a hollow, glass rod. This would be a connector to help carry the nitrous oxide they were making into a gasbag. Babbage might as well have lit her on fire with the mention of Paris. Once again, she became infected with the enigma of Dora’s death. Even worse, she saw it as her duty to do something to shed truth on it. A trip to France would be a step.

“Charles, this is more about you than about Grace,” said Faraday, at forty-one, the most brilliant chemist in the British Empire. “Grace, are your connections secured?”

“Yes, Mr. Faraday.”

Grace jumped as Babbage smacked a hand on the lab bench. “True, but Faraday, see it my way. I need a mathematician. There is one in Paris who could be convinced to emigrate to London. This fellow is fresh blood, his genius unappreciated in his native country. He must be rescued before the country blows up again. Their police dislike scientists. Fear of science is sinister. He can tutor my pupils. He’ll help you, too. Electrical signals are our future, and someone needs to describe them mathematically. I’m willing to hire him to stir things up and inspire me. When will this Davy’s gas generate? I need a laugh.”

“Don’t rush things, Charles. We have adequate mathematics. It will distract you and cost too much,” said Faraday. “I’m sympathetic to revolutionaries, but the fervor is destructive. And, this isn’t Davy’s gas. Priestley discovered it.” Faraday moved a candle beneath the flask of white powder suspended from an iron rack.

Grace’s hand shook as she took a towel and wiped a glistening blob of jam from the lab bench as Babbage reached into a basket for another scone. Vapor formed above the powder as the nitrous oxide bubbled from the flask of white powder and into a flask of water, a purification step, almost a baptism.

“He’s simply in possession of the passions of youth, Faraday. I need the stimulation and assistance. This student lives in a world of complicated formulas. He solved the 350 year-old riddle of polynomials. He won’t demand outrageous salary. He’s the misguided grandson of a family friend. A Frenchman would shake things up a bit. He’s quite political. Is that one of your new rubber gasbags? It’s starting to inflate!”

Faraday, the strong-jawed chemist, sat back but kept his hand near the torch. Too much heat and it would explode. “My advice is don’t meddle in politics. Are you listening Grace? Grace, stand back. Keep safe. No need for you to get glass shards in your face. And yes, it’s my invention. Not new. I’ve been making these rubber bags for seven years.” The gas bubbled in the flask of water. The gasbag twitched as it slowly inflated.

“Agreed,” said Babbage, his face alight. “There never will be a politician or King able to comprehend science. We need to rescue the mathematician from himself.”

“Write him a sealed letter, Charles,” said Faraday, his wide mouth turning down at the edges. “There’s no cause for an expedition. Grace needs to preserve her modesty, not be gallivanting about the continent.”

Babbage’s smile drooped. “There are complications. He’s been jailed, and the letter might not go through. Let Grace deliver it. Grace has a pretty face, and her voice can melt hearts. He’ll need some persuading. The girl could use a vacation away from this cholera epidemic. Don’t you wish to get away from London for a few weeks, go to Paris? You could see France  and pay your respects to Dora Jordan, Grace. Lady Mary has told me of your mutual connection. I’ll send tulips for her grave—some cut flowers and a few bulbs. How lonely she must be there.”

“Mary should have had respects paid to her sixteen years ago.” Grace kept her voice cold but anger rose within her. “Tis the man who sits on the throne who owes her respect.

“Respects are past due. My neighbor’s maid, Mrs. Zorg, can accompany you as a chaperone. She’s mentioned having urgent business in Paris. And Grace, I’ve calculated it. There is a good chance that something miraculous will come of this trip.”

Grace gave a perfunctory curtsy as heat welled up behind her eyes. “I wish to pay my respects but need to be of use here.” She had the utmost loyalty to Faraday, who’d encouraged her to study science and taught her some himself, even though she’d been hired simply to clean up the laboratory after him. She was afraid to go to France and to open a wound that had nearly healed. Even more, she was presuming the return of the Clares soon. She’d heard from them less than she’d expected. They’d sent a white silk scarf from France and tea from Ceylon, and this was the sum total of their correspondence. She knew journeys were long and letters few, but she was growing anxious for news. Aunt Hester’d been complaining and needed to be bled with leeches on a monthly basis due to the bad air in London.

“Grace wishes to stick with science,” Mr. Faraday said. “An excellent choice. However, Grace, one does learn much from a trip abroad.” The gasbag swelled. Faraday removed the hose and plugged the spout.

“A prodigious bag of gas. Grace, hand me that towel,” said Babbage. Grace gave him her cleaning cloth. Babbage slipped the half eaten scone in the basket, put the towel over his head, leaned over the spout of the bag, and removed the plug.

He breathed in the gas. “Good. I’ll send Harry ‘round to drive you there. He’s a handsome fellow. Have a whiff, Grace. It’s all the rage. Whoa. Ha-ha.” He sat down on a stool and handed Grace the bag, pinching it at the spout.

He wiggled his fingers, and Grace sniffed the laughing gas as it rushed through the spout. It was cold—as any expanding gas—and made her dizzy and euphoric.

“Paris. ‘Tis such a beautiful idea,” she said. Mr. Faraday caught her as she fell.


New book coming!

I had Book Three of my Unstable States Series accepted for publication.

This book picks up shortly after Lost in Waste (City Owl 2020) and about thirty years after Mixed In (City Owl 2017). Like other books in the series, it’s a comic dystopia and political satire with lots of romance, female friendships, and science. This novel will allow the series to stand alone as complete and be sold as such, but also leaves room for it to be expanded if sales are good. I’ve been reading that people have a new interest in dystopian novels. Here’s hoping.

It’s 84,000 words, level 4 heat with a few sensual scenes along with sexy technical discussions as found in the (fictional) contraband book Virginia Guru’s How to Guide to Human Sexual Response. I’m happy to say that the same editor for Lost in Waste (Christie Stratos) will be working with me on this one.

Here’s what it’s about:

Food developer Stella would like nothing better than to have a lab partner to help her create new synthetic products and share the passions of science. But her nation of Cochtonia has gone off the deep end. Fertility rates are dropping and the leaders have decided to turn to alchemy to produce offspring. Sir Isaac Newton has been resurrected from the dead to take a lead role in the impossible task, ordered by the autocratic rulers of the nation. He’s to work as a team to create a homunculus, a tiny person, made outside of a womb. Women won’t be needed at all! Newton isn’t a fan of women, but he’s even less impressed by the absurd society ruled by Cochton Brothers who have never understood science, only profited from it. When Stella offers to help him fake results to save his neck, he’s willing. Is Newton the real thing, or an imposter? As she joins league with him, Stella has to wonder. But as they proceed with the deception, does she even care?

I submitted these two tag lines for consideration. The publisher always has the final word but do you have a favorite?

It’s as if the Enlightenment never happened.

History had him all wrong. He wasn’t a recluse who hated women. He was the sexiest man ever born.

I’m excited to have this novel done. I pushed through despite the pandemic. I like it and hope you will, too.