Unscientific American

I was sitting at my computer the other rainy day when I heard a loud boom. The house  shook a little, and our power went out. Now, as one who has perfected the art of procrastination, I wasn’t too upset. Truth be told, my current manuscript was not even open. My plans for the morning involved numerous diversions from the realities of the grim world: the New York Times Wordle, Connections, Mini Crossword (I’m too stupid and impatient to do the regular one), and Spelling Bee, with a few rounds of Outspell from the Washington Post. These are the “exercises” I do daily for my brain, such as it is.

I’m not really stupid. (I am impatient though.) I skipped two grades in elementary school, graduated from high school at 15 and college at 19. However, somewhere along the line, my science skills suffered. Science credits were a requirement to get my bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University (and so was passing a mandatory swimming test, which is pretty bizarre in retrospect). So, I took a two-year survey course, AKA Science for Dummies: a semester each of watered-down Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. I’ll never forget the physics professor standing at the blackboard laughing, saying there was no point trying to explain anything to us because we were too ignorant. He was right, if politically incorrect.

Back to 2023. No power? No problem. I could always write in longhand if absolutely necessary. (But probably couldn’t read what I wrote.) As I sat in the gloom, I tried to remember what it was like pre-computer. I have become totally dependent on it, but have no understanding of bytes and pixels or any other associated computer science words. In fact, I do not understand how most mechanical and electrical things work.

I took driver’s ed in the dark ages, when one had to identify the locations of pistons and spark plugs and batteries on a little map to qualify for the road test. Nowadays, everything is computerized, and whatever I “learned” then is obsolete. I passed, although I will drive for blocks to avoid parallel parking. Maybe even go back home.

Some years ago, I bought a research book to help me with early automobile history. I was writing a book set at the turn of the twentieth century, and the heroine had to learn how to operate a vehicle on the fly to save the hero’s life. Here is the German edition of In the Heart of the Highlander (A Scandal in Scotland auf Deutsch). See the cute car?

The research book was mercifully in English, but I still failed to comprehend how anyone could have learned how to drive. Each nascent car company had a completely different design from the others, and what complicated procedure worked on one would get you nowhere on another. The first car keys were used in 1910, but they only activated the electric circuit or locked the ignition. It wasn’t until 1920 that you could stop cranking the handle. And it wasn’t until 1949 that Chrysler first used the key ignition system we have today. Now, some cars don’t use keys at all. It’s difficult to keep up with advances in technology, and I’m not trying anymore. Ignorance is my bliss, just as that professor professed.

You will be happy to know the power came back on without us having to go full Little House on the Prairie. According to the CMP guys, the issue was “animal-related.” Life resumed—except for the squirrel who electrocuted itself when the transformer at the end of the street blew. No matter how advanced we become, there will always be a suicidal squirrel to remind us there’s more to life than staring at a computer screen.

Those rodents really have it in for the modern world—twice, my car’s wires were eaten by chipmunks. (If this ever happens to you, insurance should cover it, and strategically-placed mothballs seem to be a deterrent.) A mouse’s nest killed our air-conditioning system when we lived in Connecticut, and something chewed right through my son’s letterman jacket when it was stored in a box in a garage (with no mothballs).

Are you science-savvy? What do you do to procrastinate/keep your mind sharp and avoid the dreadful news headlines? Is it working?


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15 Responses to Unscientific American

  1. Anonymous says:

    As a librarian, I know just enough about everything to be dangerous.

  2. Julianne Spreng says:

    When in college, our computer skills class was learning key punch!

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      I first typed on a Royal upright typewriter. No computers yet! It was a big deal when my father bought a used electric typewriter when I was in college.

  3. I won the top science award at my small rural Maine high school then failed both introductory chemistry and math courses in college. The Navy then sent me to electrician school, where I was best in show. Go figure.

  4. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    The wisdom of the government! And hopefully you didn’t electrocute any squirrels. 🙂

  5. Alice says:

    I’m not sure when you were at Adelphi but I was at Queens in the late 50’s — we had to take swimming because the city had just built a new pool on campus. I was relieved because I never would have passed some of the other PE classes. Good at Math & Science but a total klutz. We all have our weaknesses.

    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      I graduated in 1967. To this day I don’t understand the swimming thing, although I went to Jones Beach a lot! I had undiagnosed mononucleosis when I took the swimming final, and I thought I would drown. It was a miracle I passed. But I was so exhausted after I finally went to the doctor, so I guess it worked out. I probably contaminated the pool though, LOL.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I do Wordle and Connections too!! and 3 Sudoku page a day calendars at night before sleep.


    • maggierobinsonwriter says:

      Oh, I can’t do Sudoku at all. My brain isn’t wired for it. But one of my sons-in-law and a granddaughter (his niece) and I all report in on a loop every day. The pressure, LOL.

  7. Brenda Buchanan says:

    Maggie, as is so often the case, you have me laughing from the first line of your post to the last. Thank you for this mirthful interlude in a very busy day.

    Brenda B.

  8. Sandra Neily says:

    I could relate to so much of this, Maggie. I went to a Christian Science high school and since the religion says that the mortal world isn’t really real, only the spiritual…(yup!) science was limited to Ecology. Which turned out to be great since no one was talking ecology in 1966! However, I too have felt science illiterate. So I want to share this short podcast which is great. And some episodes have given me good ideas or idea nuggets for stories. Short Wave by NPR. Each session is short and the scope of things they cover is ….huge. I listen in the kitchen. Thanks for such a great post!

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