Another Nominal Post

This was a spectacular flight over Ten Sleep Canyon on the western front of the Big Horn Mountains, but the flight itself was truly nominal.

Nominal. Why isn’t it more popular to use in everyday conversation? During the Perseverance mission to Mars, that word must have been used over 100 times during the last couple hours of the vehicles final approach to the red planet. NASA has been using it for years. Why hasn’t it caught on yet?

 

Even Elon Musk used the word recently when he tweeted about newest Space X Starship prototype, “Starship landing nominal.”

 

A typical dictionary definition for nominal is something like, “functioning normally or acceptably.” Yet, how might it sound in everyday language?

 

“Hey Morgan, how are you?”

“Oh, I’m pretty much nominal.”

 

“His graphic design project is nominal.”

 

“That was a nominal meal!”

 

Perhaps the problem with “nominal” is it sounds too much like “normal,” and for anything to be normal, it’s just not worthy of  mentioning.

 

In this day and age, we don’t like talking about things that are nominal. In fact, we seem to prefer hearing about one’s troubles or misfortunes rather than about all things that are nominal in their life.

 

Still, I think it has a chance. If the word “dope” can go from the nickname of drugs to something that is fantastic, there’s certainly hope for “nominal” as well.

Waste & Aesthetic of Energy Systems

Wind Farm, Iowa

Because I’ve been pretty outspoken against fossil fuels over the years, a few people I know like to remind me of the wind turbine blade landfill near Casper, Wyoming—pointing out to me that after the blades have been used up due to wind erosion and whatever else wears them down, they have a dedicated place for disposal in this supersized landfill. Currently there is no recycling options for them other than covering them with dirt (see link below).

 

Their reminder about this always strikes me as a little odd. They say it as if the fossil fuel industry has nothing in comparison, or almost as if they are unaware of any waste or discarded material when it comes to the fossil fuel industry. When in truth, much of the fossil fuel waste is simply laying around unused where it was last operational or it simply ends up in the everyday landfills. Further, harnessing the wind and sun have no significant residual by-products like that of the fossil fuel industry.

 

Just because the fossil fuel industry has no “dedicated” spaces for their trash, doesn’t mean there is none. I would even reason based on the wide variety of equipment you find in any oil or gas field that the amount of trash probably surpasses that which is generated by renewables—for the simple reason there are fewer moving parts when it comes to renewables, especially with solar. Further, whether the waste is renewable or not, I’ll bet my paycheck that the waste generated by renewables is far less toxic than the waste coming from fossil fuel operations.

 

Regardless, I’m not here to argue which industry generates more waste. The point is anything that is of this world generates waste—automobiles, appliances, construction, medical equipment, textiles, printing and publishing, shipbuilding, agriculture, hospitality, aviation, etc. Sooner or later, everything wears out, and waste is the result, period.

 

Then there is the aesthetic of it all. Granted, anything man-made in the wilderness is not great, because, well… it’s man made and doesn’t look natural. So, given the two offerings of a fossil fuel landscape or a renewable energy landscape, I’ll take the renewables every time. Not because they can’t be seen, but because the visual they offer includes simple lines and shapes along with various patterns, and a minimal amount of peripheral and chaotic related structures. (See photos).

 

Yes, a wind farm can be seen from far off, but it is anything but ugly. Keep in mind, power lines and their transmission towers are just as visible from far away whether they carry electricity from a coal-fired power plant or a wind farm, and are probably here for a long time to come.

 

Lastly, there is no odor associated with renewables—and certainly nothing that can make you dead before you hit the ground like hydrogen sulfide (H2S). 

 

I’ve witnessed many travelers stopping and just simply gazing at a wind farm for its grandness, quietness and simplicity. But, I don’t recall (ever) hearing someone say, “Let’s go out to the gas fields and look at the structures,” or “Let’s go watch the pumpjacks!” Not to say there are some exceptions to this twisted idea.

 

 

Which would you rather view?

Attack from Below

Shoshoni Punks.

Today I flew my drone several times on the way to Casper, Wyoming for a recruiting trip. One of my “sorties” was in the small town of Shoshoni, Wyoming. As I was driving through town, I saw that the old “downtown” area where they leveled the derelict buildings was mostly vacant, but the community appeared to have built a nice little basketball court with a fence around it—and their were some young males playing there. I didn’t get a good look, but if I had to guess, I’d say they were freshman or sophomores in high school.

I pulled over at the public restrooms located a little farther down the main drag and decided I would fly my drone over the railroad track until I reached the new basketball court and capture a couple images of the new recreation space.

The drone was about 60-70 feet high as it made its way toward the court—higher than any trees in town. I could see through the drone’s camera that the young men/boys must have heard the drone because they stopped suddenly and looked up as they started walking toward the other end of the court where the drone was. Although I wasn’t over the court, I must have been close enough that they heard the whirling props.

One of the youth took the basketball and threw it in the direction of the drone… not coming close at all. But then I could see that the other boys were squatting down on the side of the court and suddenly came running toward the drone with a throwing motion—no doubt, probably picked up some rocks and were heaving them in the drone’s direction.

Naturally, I flew away and found a couple other things to photograph before bringing it back to the rest stop and continuing my journey towards Casper.

But, that little incident stayed with me as I made my way down the road—considering the action from Shoshoni’s youths. I was reminded of the old movies about aliens visiting Earth and how humans are often portrayed as violent and militant in their first contact of those things that are a mystery to them.

I wondered, if I had walked down their with a camera around my neck, would they have thrown rocks at me too? Probably not, but something less familiar to them like a drone was immediately perceived as what… a threat, someone spying on them in their public basketball game? Maybe they just wanted to see it crash, but I found their vicious reaction a bit disheartening.

I thought of myself at the same age and wondered if I would have reacted the same way. I’d like to think I would have only stopped and observed—maybe even a little wave at the small aircraft suspended overhead.

Many people who are born and raised in Wyoming often display or express suspicion of those who aren’t the same. If I was given $100 for every time someone told me to “go back to Ohio, Arizona (or even California),” I’d be a rich man by now. Perhaps these youth in Shoshoni had simply illustrated that same, small-minded temperament.

Volunteers Needed

George Floyd under the knee of Derek Chauvin.

There’s a contingency of individuals out there who insist that George Floyd died from a drug overdose instead of affixation. I suppose it is possible, but a little experiment needs to take place first—and a simple experiment at that.

Starting with the defense team of Derek Chauvin (or the jury), one of its members should step forward and volunteer to be handcuffed, face down on the asphalt and have the weight of a… say, 180-pound man kneel on the back and side of their neck for almost ten minutes.

It would be an easy test to refute the claim that Mr. Floyd was indeed murdered by Chauvin. All they’d have to do is endure about 10 minutes of what is likely to be an uncomfortable experience—but certainly survivable, right?

And just to make sure that nothing goes wrong, unlike George Floyd’s experience, this little test will be closely monitored so if—for example—the volunteer passes out, the pressure will be released and a medical expert will be there to revive them if needed. They would also have the option to “tap out” much like a mixed-martial arts contest if they feel they can’t go any longer.

That seems like a simple enough request. Who wants to volunteer?

Midwest Midnight

The following was written for National Public Radio in response to their request (for listeners) to answer the following question: What music has changed your life? This post first appeared in October 2007.

An Akron Goodyear Factory Building… now gone.

Growing up in Akron, Ohio, working-class rock-and-roll music seemed to find its way into nearly every home—ours was no exception. And while Dylan, Springsteen, and Mellencamp permeated the airwaves, the one song that stirred me to my soul (and still does to this day) was written and performed by a singer and band that fell just short of national stardom status—Midwest Midnight by The Michael Stanley Band.

Stanley once said that Midwest Midnight was, “…the most honest song I’ve ever written,” and it was the first song that spoke to me about my hometown—or at least that part of the country that I called home. Stanley’s anthem left me feeling that there was no denying who I was or where I was from—no matter where I chose to live following my high school graduation in 1978.

It’s funny how one can know the words of a song by heart after all these years and still only possess a vague notion of the song’s intended message—such is art. Today, the lyrics of Midwest Midnight are still abstract to me and at 47-years-old, I would have thought this little mystery would have been solved by now. Perhaps I really don’t need to know what Stanley was trying to say because his song has woven its way into the fiber that defines me, which is understood, but not necessarily articulated.

Living in the wide-open spaces that straddle the Wyoming and Montana border, I consider myself a Westerner now. And while my taste in music has expanded exponentially over the years, every now and then my MP3 player will select Midwest Midnight in the shuffle mode and I’m instantly taken back to the world of Northeast Ohio—its overcast skies, industrial skylines and its proud, working-class ambience.

Excerpt from Midwest Midnight
Why can’t she see what she’s doing to me
If that bandstand girl only was here
And I’m living the dream, getting lost on the screen,
doing Presley in front of the mirror…
And I’m hanging around, getting high on the sounds
of the ladies and electric guitars
Cross a double yellow line to who knows where
with six sets of glory a night in some bar…

(CHORUS:)
Midwest midnight
Ten thousand watts of holy light
from my radio so clear…
Bodies glistening, everybody’s listening
as the man plays all the hits that you want to hear.

Postscript: Michael Stanley passed away on March 5, 2021 after a short battle with lung cancer. His last performance was in March of 2020 at the Akron Civic Theatre just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Here’s a video of Stanley singing another early song and a favorite, The Rosewood Bitters, recorded in his basement on April of 2020.

In 2019, WKSU’s Amanda Rabinowitz interviewed Stanley for his Cleveland Arts Prize Lifetime Achievement Award. LISTEN HERE for the interview.

Inocculation Observations

Today I received my first COVID-19 vaccine. It was fairly uneventful, yet here I am somehow writing about it. I filled out a one-page form and before I knew it, I was taking off my jacket and rolling up my sleeve for the curly-haired, red-headed nurse.

In our short visit, I found her sense of humor and bed-side manner a pleasant surprise given the gravity of a pandemic. She said sternly, “Morgan, take off your clothes,” and then chuckled. The only reply I could come up with at the moment was, “Gee, I haven’t heard that in a long time.” If I could do it all over again, I probably would have said something even more self-deprecating like, “Oh, you’ll be so disappointed.”

I knew a few people there for the same reason. I found it amusing how some of the men—older of course—felt the need to remove their shirt rather than roll up their sleeve to receive the vaccine. I don’t know, maybe it was a long-sleeve kind-of-thing, but I was reminded of my father. Even in his late years, he never had second thoughts about being shirtless. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Regardless, after I turned 40, I felt pretty certain that no one would see me shirtless in public even if it was Jay-Lo wagging her “come hither” finger at me from her hotel balcony.

My partner, Mish did her fair share of socializing with the medical staff as well—especially after her inocculation. We sat together afterwards and she told me of her moments with the nurse and needle—as we witnessed another shirtless, old-guy with man-boobs directly in front of us receiving his vaccine.

Looking around the cavernous room of others visiting at the fairgrounds I considered how normal mask-wearing was becoming in any given social setting. I wondered if this new norm might have some staying power long after the pandemic is behind us. If one needs any evidence to support such a possibility, look no further than  the Japanese culture and their practice of mask-wearing, long before any pandemic was on the horizon. It seems very possible that the rest of the world will now see the wisdom in that practice of social hygiene. 

The actual shot was pretty typical of any—like a bee sting that doesn’t last very long. Six hours after getting the shot, the only thing I have noticed unusual is that my arm is sore where I received the injection—reminiscent of the occasional charly-horses John Polinger administered back in junior high. I do feel a bit fatigued as well, but that’s more likely just attributed to another Thursday and knowing that the bulk of my class load is behind me for another week. Whatever aches or pains come with this vaccine, I’m thinking they’ll blend right in with the aches and pains that come with a 60-year-old body. 

Stay tuned for Part II.

A Recipe for a Greater America

The Mars rover Perseverance is slowly lowered to
the Martian surface by the onboard sky crane.

You want to talk about making America great (again)? I’ve news for you—it’s already here.

It was on full display this past Thursday in NASA’s Pasadena, California Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) when the Perseverance rover was lowered onto the surface of Mars after a seven-month journey covering over 300 million miles.

No matter how you look at it, the landing of the car-sized Perseverance on the Martian surface was a great event that went without a hitch. And, great events don’t happen without great people running the show.

As I witnessed this event unfold, I started noting how many people of color and how many women were part of this show—starting with Swati Mohan, the mission’s guidance, navigation, and control operations lead. I have no idea what the demographic breakdown of the mission’s team is, but it certainly didn’t resemble anything like those Apollo missions with a room full of Anglos assembled in Houston’s mission control back in the 60s and 70s.

I read recently that NASA as a whole still has a long way to go in terms of diversity, with 72% White and 34% women employees. I’d be surprised if those were the same numbers on the Perseverance mission team.

If we truly witnessed greatness the other day—and I believe we did—then the recipe for greatness was right in front of us in the diversified gathering of individuals who define the Perseverance mission to Mars.

Defining a Friendly Community

Some people around here say Powell is one of the friendliest small towns you’ll ever come across. “Everyone is so friendly,” they’ll say.

Today, as COVID-19 cases creeped up to a new all-time high in our state (Wyoming), I made a trip to our local supermarket for a weekly supply of provisions. Out of a store that probably had close to 100 shoppers in its aisles, myself and maybe five others were wearing masks as recommended by every health department in the country—that makes for five percent who were conscientious enough and felt the need to do our part in helping to prevent any further spread of the pandemic.

My question turned to the others—you know the 95% who weren’t wearing masks and how they reckoned with that moniker of  “one of the friendliest towns” one might ever encounter.

This wasn’t early March when the pandemic was just reaching our shores. This was a time when the virus had not only arrived, but was taking up residence and sipping lemonade in our country’s sparsist communities—with no real deterrent/silver bullet on the horizon.

With that in mind, I found myself wondering how am I still to view this community where a random 95% of them are without mask during the height of a pandemic? Should any outsider continue to consider them “friendly” as they have always been labeled? How can they been seen as friendly when they appear to be people that don’t seem to care about spreading a virus to their fellow citizens? Or, how can they be seen as friendly when all they seem to care about are their Constitutional rights being taken from them in the form of being forced to wear a mask? Or this: how can they appear to be friendly instead of just outright stupid when they don’t take the pandemic seriously, despite what the medical community has been telling them since March?

Surely this random 95% didn’t just happen to forget their masks as they headed for the supermarket on this ordinary day.

No More Ohio State

GLENDALE, AZ – Fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes cheer after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 44-28 in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Buckeyes defeated the Fighting Irish 44-28. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

As a naive young child growing up in Ohio (Akron), I wasn’t a big Ohio State fan in those early days. When the Buckeyes took down O.J. Simpson and the mighty USC Trojans in the ’69 Rose Bowl, I didn’t really care. However, a few years later my best friend would evolve into a major fan of the Columbus-based university, attributed to his older brother receiving a scholarship for the OSU Track and Field team. So, eventually, I got sucked in—how could I really resist?

In the years that followed, I found myself in good company discovering many of family and extended family were also OSU fans. So, along for the ride I went.

As a high school student, I never had any inclination or dreams of attending Ohio State. I considered Ohio U (in Athens), but ended up attending Arizona State University. While there, a strange thing happened—a tried out for and won a spot on the ASU football cheerleading squad. In payment for hoisting pretty women over my head and tumbling across the gridiron, I had one of the best “seats” at any game I attended, including the 1980 contest against Ohio State in Columbus.

In payment for hoisting pretty women over my head and tumbling across the gridiron, I had one of the best “seats” at any game I attended, including the 1980 contest against Ohio State in Columbus.

It was odd being down on the field at the “Horseshoe,” cheering for the other team. But, I wasn’t phased by it at all. I secured seats for my family and friends at the game, and never once experienced any kind of traitorous feelings for the scarlet and grey. In fact, being on the “other team,” I saw the Ohio State fans in a new light—and it was hardly flattering. Compared to many other road games I attended, the Ohio State fans were by far the most obnoxious, and some of them downright ugly.

Not long after graduating from ASU, I still kept track of the Buckeyes and as long as they weren’t playing ASU (see 1996 Rose Bowl), I still considered myself a fan—even attending their ill-fated game against USC in the 1985 Rose Bowl.

After tonight’s heart-breaking loss to Clemson (making them 0-4 against the Tigers), I decided I had enough of Ohio State. But, I wanted some facts to back-up my emotions in disowning them. So, here’s what I found regarding their not-so-illustrious post-season record. In 49 post-season bowl games starting with the 1969 Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes have a record of 19-30 (.388); mind you, not all of them being major bowl games. But of those 49 games, 18 were played either in the Rose Bowl (as Big 10 Champs taking on the Pac 10 Champs) or as a National title game. In those 18 games, Ohio State was 8-10 (.444). Hardly an impressive record when it comes to the post-season stage.

A Saturday night in “C-bus” at “The Shoe.”

Tonight I spent $37 on food and drink to watch a typical post-season Ohio State team lose in a fashion that only Ohio State seems to be capable of pulling off. I’ve seen this story play out way too many times in my short life, and with most of it behind me now, I’m walking away from Ohio State. I’ll never go out of my way to watch them play again as I did tonight—especially if it is a major post-season bowl game against a Southern university.

There is some victory/salvation in all of this. Given my “fan” status over the years, I really have no Ohio State swag that I need to unload (or burn as in the case of the jilted fan).

It’s true that during the regular season, it takes any visiting team a monumental effort to defeat the Buckeyes in C-bus, but in the big games come the post-season, at best they are predictably mediocre.

Postscript: When will one of the strong Southern Universities like Alabama, Clemson, Florida, LSU, Auburn ever venture north of the Mason-Dixon for a November or December contest with the likes of a respectable Minnesota or Iowa team? That never happens. As my brother put it, “They never will as there is nothing to gain and everything to lose.”