A Light Read!

My high school chemistry teacher (and one of my favorite teachers of all time) from the previous year taught my senior year physics class. When she had submitted her order for chemistry and physics supplies over the summer, the principal decided he needed to cut back and (without consulting her) took the first page of her request and discarded everything else. Well, the first page happened to just include chemicals for her chemistry class. Thus, nothing for her physics class was ordered. She was not happy, but she did the best she could with what she had. (It must have been okay since I had no trouble in my freshman physics at Carolina.)

I was one of a group (today we’d probably have called geeks) that hung out in her classroom during lunch. One day she was going through the supply closet trying to find something to use to teach physics with and found an old Van de Graaff Generator. When she told me what it was, I was hooked! Therefore, my assignment for the grading period was to make it work for an A.

Well, I went to the 1974 edition of Google (World Book encyclopedia) for information. The belt and the ground source were missing but the motor worked, the acrylic tube was cracked but intact, and the ~12” aluminum top sphere was undamaged. My mom took an old silk dress and sewed a new belt. I went to the local hardware store and bought some ¼” mesh hardware cloth for the ground source. I redrilled the acrylic tube and put everything together. Within a week, I had it working.

It would throw a “bolt” of ~150,00 VDC static electricity (per label specifications) around 6 inches. The bolts of static electricity tingled/burnt a little when they hit my arm and even left a little light burn mark, but it was way too cool to worry about! I demonstrated it to the class, taking the brunt of the electricity through my fingers and lighting the ceiling fluorescent lights by holding one 4’ fluorescent tube in the other hand while touching the ceiling light bulb. Way cool!

My physics teacher decided it worked so well, that I should demonstrate it to all of the science teachers in my high school. She arranged a time for a demo. Since the sparks were relatively small and dim, she arranged for the demo to be held in a very small storage closet with no windows. All of the science teachers and the assistant principal attended. I had everything set up, so when the time came, I flipped off the lights and hit the switch for the Van de Graaff…

Okay – Just a very brief weather forecast for that autumn day: It was the first really cold day of the season and the humidity was very, very low … Now back to the story.

As I continued to explain the principle of the Van de Graff, a bolt of static electricity hit me from approximately 2 feet away. I went speechless as I lost my train of thought. Every time I moved, it struck another uninsulated part of my body (i.e., hands, arms, face). Yes, the light(ening) from the spark was bright, but I could not find the light switch. As the science teachers started to stand up, the static electricity reached out into the small enclosed space and struck them. In hast (panic), I scrapped the wall for the light switch until I hit it. The lights came on and I turned the Van de Graaff off. At that point, I calmly asked if there were any questions… as teachers and assistant principals exited the door.

There were none. And yes, I got an A for the grading period and was allowed to graduate from high school (even after the Saturday morning when the principal found my long lost 4 ft corn snake coiled in the center of his desk – but that’s another story…)!

L.F. Eason – OLLI Member

‘Twas two weeks before christmas

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas, when all thro’ the land,

The people were hearing salvation’s at hand.

The vaccines were packed in coolers with care,

To deliver a miracle for mankind’s welfare.

The virus was novel and deadly, you see,

But the serum will kill it and save you and me.

The scientists and doctors all worked day and night,

“Pioneers of healthcare,” historians will write.

Soon we can resume all the fun things in life,

We can gather, we can hug without any strife,

Hallelujahs we’ll hear all over the earth,

Faith and hope being given a brand new rebirth.

Carol Rahmani, long time OLLI member and volunteer, currently serving on the Program Development Committee that brings you all the wonderful OLLI classes and lectures!

It’s Elemental – More Musings from an amateur cosmologist!

What is an element?  According to “Webster”, an element is any substance that cannot be decomposed into a simpler substance by ordinary chemical processes. Elements are the fundamental materials of which all other matter is composed.

There are 92 naturally occurring elements in our universe.  I say “our” universe since there may be others, and they may have more or fewer elements than we do (and different natural laws as well).  Also, “naturally occurring elements” does not include several heavy, unstable man-made elements that have been created in Earth laboratories but do not exist in nature.

The atoms of 91 of our 92 natural elements have a nucleus consisting of various numbers of protons and neutrons surrounded by a cloud of electrons.  However, an atom of hydrogen, the lightest and most abundant element, has only one proton in its nucleus (no neutrons) “surrounded” by one electron.    The natural elements range from hydrogen (one proton) to uranium (92 protons).

All of the hydrogen in our universe was “created” in the first few minutes of the “big bang” some 13.8 billion Earth years ago.  Some of this hydrogen today is found in stars as the fuel for the synthesis of heavier elements via nuclear fusion processes.  The rest is spread throughout space or tied up in chemical compounds in planets, asteroids, comets, etc. 

Most of the second most abundant element, helium, was  also formed in the big bang, but helium is also created today in stars via hydrogen fusion.  Stable versions of the next 3 lightest elements, lithium, boron and beryllium, are not made in stars but are created when energetic cosmic “rays” interact with other matter in the universe. 

ALL of the other 87 naturally occurring elements were synthesized in first and second-generation stars via fusion during a star’s natural life or during end-of-life “supernovae” explosions of stars much heavier than our sun.  These explosions “seeded” space with the heavy elements needed to form later generation stars like our sun and solid bodies (like Earth) and their eventual life forms.  Supernovae explosions continue today at an average rate of two per century per galaxy.

Of the 92 natural elements, life on Earth has evolved to include some 26 of these in varying amounts. In a human body, for example, only 4 elements (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen) make up 96% of body content with 22 others accounting for the remaining 4%.  Included in this 4% are calcium, sodium, potassium, iron etc., and other trace elements like zinc, iodine, manganese and selenium. 

Most astro-biologists today believe that all life that might exist anywhere in our universe is based on the same biochemistry that governs life on Earth. 

One obvious question is why does our universe contain 92 natural elements and not, say, 57 or 162?  And why are our natural laws and elementary particle properties so finely tuned so as to support the galactic structures we see and the emergence of life?  One answer to these questions is known as the “anthropic principle” which says, basically, that our universe (perhaps one of many) happens to be one that has these properties or else we would not be here to ask these questions.

As “intelligent” life forms, we are indeed fortunate to be able to ponder these questions and possibilities and to  discover the secrets of the universe in which we find ourselves.

Howard J. Horton, Jr. OLLI member

Who, What, Why, Where Were They in 1908

Thanks to OLLI member, Ed Mashmann, for sharing the results of his genealogical sleuthing with us. It’s interesting to see how much information is available.

Here is a summary of information that I have gathered regarding our ancestors for the generation who were living 100 years ago, 1908. For the most part they were Beth’s and my grandparents and great grandparents. We have a milk wagon driver turned house carpenter, a butcher, a Civil War veteran and farmer, mothers and housewives, a Cardinal, a grocery keeper turned miner turned bricklayer, Buffalo Bill Cody, a dressmaker, a wedding(!) or two, a child’s birth, a house plasterer turned railroad motorman, a blacksmith, a carpenter, a shoemaker, a gardener turned truck driver, a textile worker and a drunk.

Map of Northern Germany with Ancestral Locations

We have name evolutions – Maschmann became Mashmann, Kartus, Kartuss and Cartus became Kartes and Cordes, Bünger became Binger, Hayden became Hedden and Schurg became Schurick. In the US Censuses this name has been transcribed as Shirk, Sherrick, Sherk, Scharick, Schwark, Schwick, Schunck and Schmick.

They emigrated at different times. Maschmann emigrated in 1904. Berner emigrated in 1871. Ehrle emigrated in 1872. Kartes emigrated around 1858. Bünger emigrated in 1856. Foley emigrated before 1870. Byrne emigrated before 1852, Map of Northern Germany with Ancestral Locations perhaps 1849, and Kennedy emigrated in 1849. Hayden may have emigrated in 1630. Fritz emigrated in 1749. Williams emigrated in 1873. Stark emigrated about 1630. Isler and Steinhagen emigrated in 1872. Schürg (Schurick) emigrated in 1857. Youngbludt probably emigrated before 1850. Schwille emigrated in 1851.

They came from all over Europe. Maschmann came from Otterndorf and Nordleda, Neidersachsen, Germany. Berner came from Nehringen, Pommerania. Ehrle came from Stuttgart, Würtemburg and before that Tübingen, and before that Wangen and before that Tettnang. Cartus, Kartus, Kartuss and Schmidt came from Biewer, Pfalzel and Ehrang near Trier, Rheinland, Prussia. Bünger came from Damshagen, Mecklenburg. Kennedy came from Garryhasten, Byrne came from Prospect and Foley came from Carrigadaggan, all from County Wexford, Ireland. Hayden may have come from Woodbury, England. Fritz came from the Palatine, Bavaria. Williams came from Tynygraig Melindwr, Rheidol, Cardiganshire, Wales. Stark possibly came from

Map of Southern Germany with Ancestral Locations

Scotland. Isler and Steinhagen came from Gohren, Pommern (Poland today). Schürg (Schurick) came from, possibly, Neunkhausen, Duchy of Nassau, Baden. Youngbludt came from Prussia. Schwille came from Pfullingen, Schwarzwaldkreis, Württemberg.

They came in ships. Maschmann came aboard the SS Blucher from Hamburg, Germany. Berner came aboard the SS Germania from Hamburg, Germany. Ehrle came aboard the SS Cambria from Hamburg, Germany. Bünger came aboard the Transit from Hamburg, Germany. Kennedy and perhaps Byrne came aboard the Margaret from New Ross, Ireland. Hayden may have come aboard the Mary and John from Plymouth, England. Fritz came aboard the Elliot from Rotterdam, Netherlands. Williams came aboard the Parthia from Liverpool, England. Stark may have been aboard the Mary and John with Hayden from Plymouth, England. Isler and Steinhagen came aboard the Europa from Bremen, Germany. Schürg (Schurick) came aboard the Jacob A. Stamler from Antwerp, Belgium. Schwille came aboard the Rhein from Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Map of the British Isles and Ireland with Ancestral Locations

Where were they in 1908? William H. Maschmann was living at 942 Trinity Avenue, Bronx, New York. Charles Berner and Anna Ehrle were living at 794 Westchester Avenue, Bronx, New York. John Peter Cordes and Margaret Binger were living at School Street, Belleville, Wisconsin. Moses Foley and Mary Byrne were living at 2014 West Monroe Street, Chicago, Illinois. Bruce Hedden and Anna Fritz were living at 115 Carlisle Street, Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Evan Williams and Clara Stark were living at 212 Matson Street, Parsons, Pennsylvania. William Isler and Johanna Steinhagen were living at 69 Third Avenue, Albany, New York. Ferdinand Schurick and Wilhelmina Youngblood were living at 65 Plum Street, Albany, New York.

Ed Mashmann – OLLI member

step back please!

I walked into the long hut before a meeting and asked the man sitting at the battered desk if I could join.  He looked a lot like Joe DeMaggio. There were sections of tree trunks, several carved and painted brightly, scattered around the hut like sentries waiting for Mr. Miller to bat them a ball.  He handed me a small card divided into sections, and told me to fill out all the information, and then to find a grassy spot at home and do what it said on the back and to give it to him next week.  I didn’t notice at the time that the card had to be signed by a parent.  Some boys I knew had joined and they liked it so I wanted to give it a try. I joined without asking my parents.

My parents were enthusiastic.  My father patted me on my shoulder, and said, “Son, It’ll be good for your character.”  He never called me son.  Something about scouting moved him to think of me as “son” rather than “trouble maker.”  My mother said, “ We’ll go down to the Dixie Dry Goods tomorrow and get you a proper outfit.” 

I don’t know why I thought they wouldn’t be enthusiastic.  Some of the adults I bothered to listen to were talking about the  communists invading the country, so I supposed, without giving it much thought, that they might think that I was becoming a comrade in the Red Army. Sometimes I gave them less credit than they deserved.

Joining the boy scouts turned out to be one of the best things I did during my mis-spent youth.  Mr. Miller ran the local Texaco gas station out on highway 5, the main way to get into our town from farms out that way.  As our scoutmaster, he filled us with noble thinking.  I had to learn the scout oath.  It wasn’t very long and everything in it seemed reasonable.  I doubted that anyone could be that good, though.  I went out in the grass, and with my father watching, did all the tumbles and jumps required to get the Tenderfoot badge. My father signed his name to the card with sweeping strokes of blue ink.  I folded it neatly and put in the cigar box on top of my chifforobe.  I had until next Tuesday to memorize the Scout’s Oath and Motto and a few other nice sayings.  I wondered if learning those things would make me better.  The President, Mr. Roosevelt, said that they would.

I got to the hut early like he said to do, and handed the card to Mr. Miller.  He patted me on the shoulder like my father had.  Apparently, shoulder-patting came part-and-parcel with manhood, which I apparently was entering into.  I was ten.  He listened to me recite the oath and motto and he checked my salute.  I stiffened my back and snapped him a good one, three fingers held high and proud.  He asked what the three fingers meant, and I told him.  I was so proud. 

I joined in time for the annual camping trip, which I found out about at the meeting that evening. The troop owned a truck load of tents and cots and camp stoves, all paid for by selling fireworks to families and little kids.  I would be helping with that, too.  Mr. Miller related the camping trip and selling fireworks to the Oath, but I didn’t get the connection.

Half way through the meeting, Mr. Miller told us to take an outdoor break and to return to the hut in 30 minutes.  There were trees all around the hut, so several of us played piggy wants a signal.  Then we played Red Rover.  That was just an excuse for the older scouts to whomp the dickens out of us littler scouts by throwing us around like we were mud balls aimed at alley cats lined up on a fence.  Somebody got hurt every week.  I never did.

I saw a picture of Joe DeMaggio, “The Yankee Clipper,” on one of those “Do you remember when…” lists this morning.  And that’s what got me going on Mr. Miller and the scouts.  

OLLI Connects – August 24

Although it is produced for younger students we think you will enjoy this clever video featuring 4 NC Symphony musicians playing Ravel’s String Quartet from home https://bit.ly/3lh8eTk Look out for news of NC Symphony’s plans to live stream performances from Meymandi Hall in the fall.

Sir Anthony Hopkins is best known as an Oscar winning actor, but he has always had a love of painting and has rekindled that interest in recent years. He has even more time to indulge himself now that his movements are restricted due to to Covid-19. Read a recent interview with him in ARTnews and view the TikTok video that went viral! https://bit.ly/3gsjcBU

OLLI has volunteered at the Foodbank of Central and Eastern North Carolina numerous times and will do so again when the time is right. In the meantime take a virtual tour of their operations and see how they manage to serve so many people over a large geographical area https://bit.ly/2CXdqua

Read this excellent interview with NC State Professor of Psychology, Dr. Rupert Nacoste, who incidentally has taught for OLLI. He discusses his latest, very timely book, To Live Woke: Thoughts to Save the Soul of America https://bit.ly/3aXhuHC The interview was featured in the online university newsletter, Diversity Digest from the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.

I hope you enjoy this selection of online resources. Don’t forget to share with me anything you come across that OLLI members might also find interesting.

Take care

Joan Hardman-Cobb (OLLI Assistant Director) jcobb@ncsu.edu

the mystery of nasit dac!

I inherited the MGB, the Magical Genealogical Box, from my father through my brother, in 2001.  There were many wondrous documents and pictures in the box. 

I spent months, years actually, sorting and cataloging all the interesting materials.  Whenever I wanted to go on a new journey into the past I would retrieve another certificate or letter.  My father was doing research in the 1970s when you would write a letter requesting information or a copy of a birth, marriage or death certificate and waited a month or two for a response. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1916-10-7-maschman-berner-marriage-certificate.jpg

Included in the MGB were his hand-written family trees with one entry for my mother’s grandmother, my great grandmother.  He recorded her name as Dasit Knac.  He found this name on a death certificate that in those days were negative images.

As a brand new researcher, I took that information and started looking for Dasit.  I searched for Dasit Knac on ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, German databases and any other online search engine I could find.  All these tools were unavailable to my father in the 1970’s so I was optimistic that I would be able to find something but nothing turned up.  I sent it to my relatives in the US and asked them if they knew of Dasit.  I asked a professional genealogist in Hamburg, Germany, Andrea Bentschneider, and she explained that Knac could be a German name, probably spelled Knaac.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1870-november-27-berner-carl.jpg

Finally I sent the death certificate to my German friend, Reinhard Maschmann (not related), in Gütersloh, Germany.  He took the file and reversed it from negative to positive and the 40+ year mystery was solved – the answer emerged from the shrouds of time.  It was actually a 100+ year mystery if you calculate from when the death certificate was completed.  As clear as a bell it was revealed that her name was (drumroll) “Don’t Know!”

Ed Mashmann, OLLI Member

OLLI Connects – August 7

Raleigh SeniorTechEd is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to educating adults on computer technology, including tablets and smartphones.  They give hands-on experience to build confidence for new users and enhance the skills of more experienced users. They are currently offering their classes and help sessions via Zoom starting in September 2020. Click on the link for course descriptions https://www.raleighseniorteched.org/course-descriptions/ You will see they have lots of technical know-how classes for a modest fee, such as getting to know your pc or smartphone, learning Microsoft office, and fun classes like using Facebook and Google Photos.

Visit their website:  www.raleighseniorteched.org for more information.

Email:  information@raleighseniorteched.org Phone:  919-954-3688


Virtual Book Club Series: Race and Injustice – Week 4

This week join Center President Robert Newman and Alexis Pauline Gumbs to discuss her book, M Archive: After the End of the World

Told from the perspective of a future researcher, M Archive is a series of poetic artifacts that documents the persistence of Black life following the worldwide cataclysm we are living through now. Engaging with the work of Black feminist theorist M. Jacqui Alexander, Gumbs masterfully demonstrates the impossibility of demarcating the lines between art, science, spirit, scholarship, and politics.

You can watch the presentation here. To make a comment or ask a question during the event, you will need to sign into YouTube with your Google Gmail account. If you do not have a Gmail account, you can sign up for one here for free.
A recording of the discussion will be available both on the Center’s YouTube channel and on the NHC website. You can also watch recordings of the previous 3 weeks presentations.

Looking for a new podcast? OLLI Member and Advisory Council chair, Katie Robinson recommends Scene on Radio, it explores human experience and American society, in particular the Seeing White series. You can also explore other episodes on different https://www.sceneonradio.org/seeing-white/

Thanks to OLLI member, and coordinator of OLLI’s newest Special Interest Group, The OLLI Singers, for sharing this humorous parody of Billy Joel’s song, The Longest Time, by the Phoenix Chamber Choir of Vancouver, Canada. The lyrics have been adapted for our life experiences in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic,


I hope you enjoy this selection and are able to take advantage of some of the resources shared to supplement your OLLI Zoom classes and lectures- Registration for fall semester opened on August 4th and there is still space available in most offerings https://bit.ly/OLLIfallcat

Keep learning, keep connecting!

Joan Hardman-Cobb (OLLI Assistant Director) jcobb@ncsu.edu

OLLI Connects – July 28

A Podcast for Art Lovers

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University

Among the museum staff’s favorite stories from the Nasher Museum’s history is their podcast series from 2016, in which artists talk about their work in Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art. Read the article and listen to the podcast here https://nasher.duke.edu/exhibitions/southern-accent-seeking-american-south-contemporary-art/

Space News

Space Themed Classes and Lectures were a popular part of our first Zoom offerings. If you are missing the stimulation here is an interesting article about the star of our show – The Sun. See the stunning close-up photographs scientists at NASA and the European Space Agency have been able to obtain via the Solar Orbiter spacecraft. https://bit.ly/2E7

Stay Active!

There are many online resources for keeping fit these days so we have no excuse for not exercising. Try this website to vary your routine, Heart and Soul Fitness. The link is to the section of the website for older adults but if you want something more intense there is plenty more on offer. https://hasfit.com/workouts/home/senior/

I hope you are well and managing to stay healthy, active and engaged, even though your activities are restricted. Perhaps you are finding time to connect with friends in different ways, discovering new interests and rekindling your enthusiasm for hobbies and pastimes. If you’d like to write about your experience, one paragraph or several, I would love to share it on this site. Just email it to me at jcobb@ncsu.edu

Take care

Joan Hardman-Cobb (OLLI Assistant Director)

kai tak airport

The first time I went to Hong Kong, in October 1983, I traveled to San Francisco and from there flew the modified 747 plane, on Pan Am 101, a twelve hours direct flight through nine time zones, a novelty on those days.  Business class eased being confined in a flying tube for such a long time, and the comfort of the seats, the service provided by the attendants and the delicious noodles, served right after a short-night slumber, even made it enjoyable.

The gentleman that sat next to me had taken that flight several times before and, when the captain announced we were close to landing, he gave me a hint of what was coming: “The question is always which way we’re going to approach; from sea towards the town or over the city towards the bay? Either way I always find it an adventure.” Kai Tak, the old airport since replaced, was a long strip on the mainland, ending on one side over the Kowloon Bay and well entrenched into a low hill of the Kowloon city, on the other end. The plane took a wide curve over and around Hong Kong Island, and we could see Kowloon across the bay. “We’re flying over the city towards the water,” my companion announced, with a sardonic smile which, at the time, I did not exactly know the meaning. The plane curved towards the mainland and started the descent onto the numerous high rises that populate Kowloon, like stalagmites sprouting out of the ground. From my side window I got a glimpse of the runway, far in the midst of the buildings, and my anxiety kicked in.

As the altitude decreased my disquiet rose when I started to hear the pre-landing sounds of the engines revving up and revving down, the flaps extending, one point at a time, and finally the loud sound of the landing gear being deployed; I could now clearly perceive the details of the buildings’ roofs, but no sight of the runway. Then, the plane abruptly tilted to the right and made a sharp ninety degrees turn; we were flying low enough for me to distinctly see the people sitting at their tables eating their seven o’clock dinner in the buildings below. When the turn was complete the plane, brusquely straightened up and descended steeply for a few seconds until we felt the hard touch down on the airstrip. “They have to descend fast to land at the beginning of the runway and still have enough asphalt to brake before the Kowloon Bay, at the end.” My companion chuckled softly and added, “a couple of years ago a Chinese plane didn’t stop fast enough and went into the drink.” The reaction to the powerful engines reverse thrust and the sharp braking pressed us hard against our back seats, until the plane lost speed, came to a slow roll and I could see the short waves of the bay waters bathing the runway ramparts. The plane turned to a taxiway and gradually drove up towards the Airport Terminal. “This is the big excitement every time we come to Hong Kong,” and my side mate laughed, now relaxed. “I hope you enjoy your stay.”

Emigration and customs, polite and efficient, went fast. I exited the nicely cool terminal and a hot, humid, malodorous air hit me like a bullet, instantaneously soaking my shirt I had now been wearing for almost twenty-four hours. Dozens of dispatchers, on their walky-talky radios, moved hastily back and forth along the parking platform, in a rousing brouhaha, calling stationed limousines, Rolls Royc’s, Bentleys, Mercedes, BMW, matching each car with customers that had been waiting. Several dispatchers rushed in my direction, “Hotel, sir? Which hotel, sir?” I shouted Sheraton, over the place’s clamor, and a dispatcher pointing at his vest’s logo, asked for my name, checked it in the list on his pad, whistled to a car at the end, and signaled for me to follow him. A swanky uniformed driver opened the door of the large Mercedes limousine and I understood my name embedded in the Cantonese message the dispatcher gave to the driver. I got in the car and was immediately hit by the very cold temperature inside. The driver turned around and obsequiously saluted me. “Welcome to Hong Kong, sir.” Handed over a hot jasmine-perfumed towel and enquired about my flight. I answered, requested to turn the aircon down, and asked why there was such a stench outside. “Low tide, sir.” He chuckled, amused. “Comes from the bay, only here, near the Kai Tak airport.”

Henrique Gomes

OLLI member and OLLI Writers Group Coordinator

Views and comments from the members of OLLI at NC State