Sneak Peak at Air Pollution Today

Pollution and I have a long-standing grudge match. Pollution is a form of chemical assault. Anyone and everyone should be angry about pollution. So what if it helps the economy? You know what else helps the economy? Innovation.

Many studies have connected sickness and hospitalization for respiratory problems with air pollution.  For example, COVID and other viral respiratory diseases are harder to fight when the air around those affected contains particulates and chemical pollutants. Particulates are a pervasive form of air pollution here in Iowa.  The most hazardous of particles are the very fine ones known as PM2.5.  These tiny particles can clog your lungs and accumulate.  You can never cough them out.  Once your lungs are coated with them, you either need a lung transplant, or you will die. They come from combustion.  Gas and diesel engines, home heating,  power plants, fires, and cigarettes all contribute to these damaging particles.  Chemical reactions such as those associated with farming and industry are other contributors. 

Course particles known as PM10 will cause respiratory illness.  They come from such things as grinding and crushing rocks along with dust from unpaved roads.  Course particles can aggravate existing conditions, cause shortness of breath that could result in a hospital visit, create susceptibility to respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis, and cause excess strain on heart muscles. 

Particulates, both large and small, can change the weather by “invigorating clouds” and causing more rain to fall. Smoke and other tiny particles can affect the upper atmosphere and cause more and stronger tornados far from the source of the smoke.

            Recently, I got an air particle monitor as a gift. It uses a laser to count the small PM 2.5 particles. I connected it to a sensor network and you can follow the Monitor here.

Here’s what it looks like when displayed:

An air pollution station in Pella Iowa tells all.

You can see that currently, Pella’s air pollution isn’t too bad. It was pleasantly low during Thanksgiving week-end. You can see a spike on the left -hand side of the top graph when someone smoked a cigarette near the monitor. Smoking puts out a small, dangerous cloud of particulates—enough to register as hazardous. There are ebbs during quiet times and after the rain shower, followed by rises corresponding to traffic, when neighbors were using leaf blowers, and when smoke from a wood stove or bon fire drifted on the breeze. The thing about pollution, especially air pollution, is that it doesn’t stay put. No doubt you remember from chemistry class that gases have a lot of kinetic energy. They move.

Iowa’s own aged Senator, Charles Grassley, has been blowing the anti-environmental dog whistle for decades, and I’ve written about it. There is no excuse for him to pretend he doesn’t know about the harmful effects of air pollution. He simply doesn’t want to do anything about it because agriculture is one of the largest contributors to air pollution. This is worse when farms are combined with other industrial processes (such as manufacturing).

For now, we are in an air pollution lull. It’s early in the week and industries haven’t gotten into full swing. The fields are dormant after harvest. What can we expect in the future? No doubt air pollution will rise this spring.

Fertilizer itself is a pollutant, resulting in significant air pollution and particulate emission. Because of its demand for fertilizer, corn is one of the dirtiest, most polluting of crops. Fertilizer manufacturing is in itself polluting.(Note the higher air pollution levels near the Mississippi which is the site of numerous fertilizer plants.) You might be grumbling about the coming winter but for today, go out and enjoy the air.

The Slow, Deliberate Erosion in Education

As a scientist, it took me a while to grasp why Iowa’s governor stood fast against mask wearing during a respiratory pandemic. Not only did she and her cohorts not support mask mandates, they banned them and made those who wore them pariahs. The net result was more covid deaths, but even worse than this, the college where I worked supported her.  We briefly had a mask mandate, following a student petition, but for the most part, this is what we signaled.

The message was: you can wear a mask if you want, you poor, weak thing instead of stressing the science: masks work to slow the spread of covid by at least 40%. In a place where people sit close and windows won’t open, this would have gone a long way to keeping covid out of the classroom. 

It took a while for me to process it was one more academic microaggression—Second Class Citizen status in a place of higher education. There was no need to protect the professors. If you wanted to protect yourself it was up to you to be the outsider. It was also expected that if we got covid, we had to carry on someway somehow.

As I had long suspected, this view is handed down from above and intentional. Rich donors hostile to academic knowledge are transforming colleges and universities in order to make them less like places where you think and more where you get some job training—including training how to knuckle under and put up with dangers. They’ve donated to anti-intellectual politicians, started their own programs, appointed their people to boards, and even gone the way of the “businessman college president.”  It’s no different than any oligarch buying the silence of their critics.

The bottom line is, I retired from a job thought I’d take to the grave with me or at least work at until age 70. As an educator from a family of public school teachers, college administrators, and librarians, being a professor was a familiar fit for me. The stimulation of new ideas, research, and writing was a dream come true.

This isn’t to say there weren’t snakes in the garden, such as the visit from the governor devoid of passion. As a chemistry professor, I became aware of the desire of legislators to both praise, harness, and censor scientists. It quickly became apparent that the powers that rule in Iowa didn’t want our opinions on climate change, pollution, or saving the wetlands. If we couldn’t produce some engineers, preferably conservative in outlook, what good were we?

I was only accused falsely by a student once, thankfully. It had to do with the Vagina Monologues, which my school no longer performs. This was around the time purity culture was rampant. Students even fell victim to the No Dating Movement, a form of benevolent sexism. The student was most certainly pushed to be angry with me by outside forces.

There were a few uncomfortable moments with the staff –unimpressed with the egghead professors–as well. When the science building, of which I was once dubbed the czarina, underwent renovation, I made my request to keep the humidity down in one room. It contained equipment which measured infrared (heat) absorption of molecules. In simple terms, substances can be held together by a plus-minus attraction as found in salt. They can be held together in a restless sea of their outer electronic charge as with metals. Or as with everything from water to oil, they can hold together by sharing their outer coating of electrons in clearly understood patterns. This equipment measured the later. But since the detectors were looking for shared electrons, the optics had to be made of substances in which electrons were not shared in order to make them transparent to what was being measured. Some of this was salt crystals. Predictably, my pleas were ignored, the salt in the instrument took on water, and the equipment needed costly repairs.

My past includes a long list of things I tried to shrug off.  Poor ventilation in my office—enough to give OSHA concern. My lab roof leaked. A student had terrible allergies whenever he walked into the room. Years later, a plastic bucket filled with collected rainwater that had been hidden in the ceiling burst with a shower of gunk and mold. I became so afraid the fume hoods would break down, as they were known to do, that I came up with a whole book of labs that didn’t need them. Here’s the thing—I was often chastised for bringing up these valid concerns as if I was a naughty, out of control pest instead of an employee worried about health and safety.

I’ve been given emerita status and can return any time to use the new equipment the college bought after I left. The people who ignored my demands for lab and office quality control have long since retired. Although I’d intended to, I don’t go back. I’m not sure why.

Across the nation, teachers suffer from poor salaries and lack of time for professional development. Want to know a lack of time example? I was grading papers beside her bedside when my mom died! It seemed perfectly normal to both of us.

Meanwhile, our governor has the luxury to pardon turkeys remotely to help stop the spread of disease. Turkeys are more important than teachers and students, who by the way, are spreading flu and RSV, but never mind, mask mandates are banned.

I’m writing this to bear witness. What we had in the way of education—supported and encouraged educators passionate about their subject matter and their students—is eroding faster than an Iowa field. Here in Iowa, few care to do anything about erosion. It’s too darn bad. We had a good thing.

Don’t let John Birch do your taxes

You probably heard all the latest news about the IRS. My spouse is an accountant so I hear about taxes no matter if I want to or not but since it’s near an election, politicians are talking about taxes. Some of what you hear is good news, in fact, on the federal level much of it is. A lot of it is just plain BS-scare tactics meant to keep the rich richer and fund political ambitions.

The announcement from Biden is that the income categories are going to be adjusted for inflation, meaning, you will probably be paying less in federal taxes.

Earned income credits are used for low income people and can add back some credit to the refund for “working poor.”. This bracket will go up too,meaning those raises from $7 dollars and hour $10 an hour will not be a burden, helping those low income workers and according to my spouse, “makes taxes more fair.” But if our taxes are going down, how will the government make ends meet without being stingy when it comes to the average citizen?

You probably also heard about the added IRS agents. This is needed to put the Service back in IRS. Taxes are the way we get money to run our country. To ignore tax cheating and not do all we can to collect what is legally owed is like shooting the family breadwinner. My husband calls it “malfeasance” which has been visited upon our country since the 80s.

Adding new agents will help honest people and make doing taxes and getting a refund much easier. By the way, here are some ways NOT to cheat on your taxes. Be aware, itemized deductions are pretty much going away in the new Trump massaged tax plan.

Additionally, the IRS will be able to update their technology. As this article explain, they have computers that still use windows XP!

A relative who has since passed away was a member of the John Birch Society and was taught to hate income taxes so much that he told my husband he was working for the enemy by being a tax preparer. The John Birch Society was once considered a fringe wing of the Republicans and mostly ignored. It’s back now with its demonizing of many facets of civil society. Politicians such as Ted Cruz seem to be doing its bidding. I recently heard one running for office in my area say in a debate that getting rid of the IRS updates was her top priority. Here she is at my grocery store for those who recognize her.

Those who demonize income taxes and say they cut taxes fail to mention one important tidbit of information. There are all types of taxes besides income taxes and states use these types of taxes and income taxes to fill their coffers for things such as public schools, roads (and plowing them), recreation areas, and law enforcement, which is aided by the federal government. They can also make up for income tax cuts by reducing services. For example, my state cut back on restaurant inspections.

I have been traveling and all across the country, the same politicians who brag about cutting taxes accuse the OTHER side of defunding police when it is those taxes which are paying for the law. None of it makes sense which is why I hate political ads. You can’t explain an issue in a soundbite, especially when the ads are handed down from outside groups like the John Birch Society But guess what, the same people associated with the John Birch Society are paying for those ads.

Progressive income taxes are used by states who want those who can to pay more in taxes. For those who want the rich to keep what they have (and possibly donate it to politicians), other taxes and fees are added to make up the difference. States vary in what they tax more, income or the add-ons and consumption taxes such as sales taxes. A popular way to add on a tax is to have a “sin tax” on things such as gambling, liquor, and tobacco products. Marijuana is a new and lucrative taxable substance for some states, luring people from out of state to fill their coffers. Take a look at your phone bill. Mine includes over $11 worth of tax and fees. Those are NOT income taxes. They are making up for the high income people getting a tax break, recouping losses for “tax cuts.”

My state, Iowa has a flat tax, which people see as simple and fair, but which shifts the tax burden onto lower income people more harshly than the upper echelon. It often means lost revenue for the state which means other taxes and fees must be added, or services must be cut. Personally, I probably won’t see much benefit and I would love the richer people to pay more taxes so they fund fewer political ads.

When it comes to taxes, unless you are very rich, there isn’t really such a thing as a tax cut. You might lose services and benefits or get charged more of another tax. Iowa for example, has gone from a 2.5 % sales tax to a 6% sales tax plus local option taxes. We also have an internet commerce tax. The basic idea is that if you have lower income taxes, you will attract more high rollers to your state and they will spend money buying things. One thing they will buy is political advertisements. They also are more likely to be tax cheats so those IRS agents are going to earn their keep.

One modern lesson we’ve learned is that tax cuts at the top are bad for a country. Look at Great Britain today. History shows this as well. The Mayan Empire is an example, as cited in the book Collapse.

In any case, be aware of what it means to “cut taxes” and if a politician talks about scary IRS agents, they are not going to work for you–they are John Birch Society performance artists. Be mindful and cast an informed vote.

Diagram of taxes

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.