Week 7: Week of the Screaming Propagation

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Friday, July 19, 2013


Caleb Heath

It is now redundant to say that this has been a busy week. All weeks henceforth (that is, the next two and half) will be busy as we work hard to finish our projects. When we are not working, we shall be touring. We have a tour today actually, as we all head to NIST so that Alexandra can show us around. She’s been there all summer, and Nicole has been there for three weeks now. This will be my fifth trip to NIST. I’m still looking forward to it; there’s always something new to see in that sprawling complex.

The fourth trip was Wednesday. Kendra and I met Nicole and Jamie (who has gone to NIST for a few days as well) in the afternoon to help the middle school teachers at the institute construct SOCKs of their own. It was wonderful chaos. Everyone managed to construct a theremin. We did have a few setbacks (blown timers, smoking speakers) and some mild frustrations, but these passed. This was a first experience with electronics for many of the teachers. Many were intrigued. I remember hearing, “Well, I’m ready to rewire my house now.” Hopefully no smoke there!

I visited the United States Botanic Garden last weekend. It has a beautiful selection of flora from many biomes. One of the more distinguished residents is presently in the news: the titan arum. It owes its current glory to the rare spectacle that is its blooming. They open unpredictably; years may pass, even decades. The flowering itself is brief, one or two days at most. A webcam watches the plant, easily taller than a human being, day and night, and visiting hours have been extended in anticipation of the event.

I saw the plant quiescent on my recent event, but I do want to see it in full glory. I suspect I’m unique in my desire to smell it though. The titan arum’s other names include the stinky plant, and the more evocative corpse flower. Sweet scents may do for bees, but if you want carrion beetles to ask “Where’s the beef?” only the smell of rotting flesh will do. It takes all kinds to pollinate.

Also, it generates heat so that the stench travels farther. You gotta love nature.

In other tourist news, I’d recommend the Bureau of Engraving and Printing here in DC. There’s also one in Fort Worth. I suspect that Texas has a better visitor experience. They have a special two story area just for exhibits in addition to a tour. Still, either is worth a visit, if only to see a fraction of the billion bank notes printed every day. This is mostly replacement money. I know that bills have a limited lifespan, but I’ve never actually had one come apart on me before. I suppose banks usually make the call for when money gets to worn out. No coins incidentally. That’s the Mint’s job, and you have to go to Philadelphia to see that, or one of the other cities with a branch.

That’s all for now. Tour today, and there’s still much to do.

Caleb Heath