2.266 writers, fopal

Tuesday 08/31/2021

I did the aerobics, but a couple of moves caused my hip or back to hurt, so I will probably skip it on Thursday. It’s weird how I can feel nothing going this way, but going that way causes a pang, which means re-injuring or at least stressing a sore muscle.

Last night, just after writing the blog post, I wrote a little thing for the writers group. The group met at 11 am, and when I read my piece it was very well received. I’ll append it below.

I drove to FOPAL and processed 6 boxes of books. Then I continued triaging some of the existing shelves. I cut the AI/Machine Learning shelf by half.

Back home I organized a meeting of the AV-interested techs for tomorrow in the auditorium, to finalize how we will do “hybrid” meetings, a live event on stage extended to Zoom.


According to a highly authoritative (sounding) website, given the details of my time (3pm), date (2 December 1942) and place (Tacoma, WA) of birth,

  • my Sign is 10°06′ Sagittarius
  • my Ascendant is 17°33′ Aries

and this is my absolutely gorgeous chart:

But that’s not a picture of the remote event that truly affected my life from birth. This is:

This is an illustration of the Chicago Pile, the first artificial nuclear reactor. It was designed and assembled by a team led by Enrico Fermi (already in possession of his Nobel prize), and Leo Szilard (the first person to conceive of the idea of a nuclear chain reaction, only a few years before, and the author of a letter, co-signed by Albert Einstein, that alerted President Roosevelt to the potential for creating a nuclear bomb). They led a team of a dozen scientists, the youngest of whom was a woman, Leona Woods, who was responsible for designing and implementing the geiger counters used to track the pile’s activity.

The pile was constructed in a squash court located under the bleachers of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. (By coincidence, Leona Woods had played squash there two years earlier.) It comprised 330 tons of ultra-pure graphite blocks surrounding 5 tons of Uranium metal. Assembly began in early November 1942. Layers of graphite and uranium blocks were laid with Fermi keeping track of the approach to criticality — the moment when the uranium could produce enough neutrons to make the reaction self-sustaining. He called a halt with the 57th layer, on the evening of December 1st, 1942. The next day would see the experiment begin.

At 9:54 AM on the 2nd, the “zip”, an emergency damper rod, was withdrawn. Quoting the quite fascinating wikipedia article, then…

“Norman Hilberry stood ready with an axe to cut the scram line, which would allow the zip to fall under the influence of gravity. While Leona Woods called out the count from the boron trifluoride detector in a loud voice, George Weil, the only one on the floor, withdrew all but one of the control rods. At 10:37 Fermi ordered Weil to remove all but 13 feet of the last control rod. Weil withdrew it 6 inches at a time, measurements being taken at each step.

“The process was abruptly halted by the automatic control rod reinserting itself, due to its trip level being set too low. At 11:25, Fermi ordered the control rods reinserted. He then announced that it was lunch time.

“The experiment resumed at 14:00. Weil worked the final control rod while Fermi carefully monitored the neutron activity. Fermi announced that the pile had gone critical (reached a self-sustaining reaction) at 15:25.”

Two thousand miles and two time zones away, my mother was well into labor, preparing to deliver me into the brand new Atomic Age.

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