Author Archives: fatherecology

Bridging a Gap

One of Iowa’s enduring ghost stories centers around this bridge, North of Moorland in rural Webster County.

There’s nothing really certain about this bridge. There are multiple ghost stories and even multiple versions of some of the stories. Not even the name is certain.

Let’s start with the name:

  1. Bridgehunter calls it the 220th Street Overpass.
  2. Most references to supernatural phenomena refer to it as the Banwell Bridge
  3. Other accounts call it the Tara Bridge based on the former town of Tara, 2 miles to the North.
  4. At least one account refers to it as the Van Welding Bridge.

Now the ghost stories…

The oldest known account of supernatural phenomena in the area appeared in The Fort Dodge Messenger on June 5, 1893. This story refers to a ghost light that resembles a locomotive headlight on a bridge that is four miles North of the bridge that is under discussion. It is possible that this story is the basis on which subsequent stories developed. This story also states that the North Lizard Bridge is 3/4 mile North of Tara when it is actually more than two miles to the North of Tara.

The most often cited horror story associated with the bridge deals with a murder-suicide involving a mother and her three children. Most accounts are that the mother throws the three children off the bridge into the path of an oncoming train and then jumps to her death. Variations of this story include one or more of the children surviving the fall. Some accounts say that the mother hanged herself from the bridge. There is no official record of such a murder, suicide or combination thereof ever occurring at or near this bridge.

Phenomena associated with this story include a car that mysteriously appears and then disappears, people being thrown off the bridge by a ghost, disembodied heads flying through the air and the sounds screaming children emanating from the woods.

Less often cited phenomena includes being chased by a ghost rider and a Bigfoot type creature that resides in the nearby woods that sometimes is seen at the bridge.

Now for some science…

Atmospheric ghost lights have been observed worldwide since antiquity and continue to be observed to this day to which there are various explanations A seldom addressed possibility is that lights observed in this are are a product of piezoelectricity generated under specific rock strain. Quartz grains can produce something known as piezoelectricity which can create intensely bright light similar to a locomotive headlight.

A very curious coincidence is that the area where this phenomena is occurring is geologically unique in that it is right on the edge of the Manson Crater where numerous crystalline minerals are found. The Manson Crater is one of the largest impact craters in North America.

So in addition to the usual collection of causes of will-o’-the-wisp atmospheric ghost lights, there is yet another possibility that warrants investigation. Someone might even pursue this. Until such time, have fun with the ghost stories.

What About Genie?

COVID-19 has virtually everyone in a pinch to some degree, although the Bermuda has been hit especially hard by the complete absence of tourist from the island. With no cruise ships sailing and all commercial air traffic to the suspended, even Bermudians are having trouble getting home from abroad.

There has been one charter flight from Atlanta to allow Bermudians to return home and allow non-residents to leave. A second charter flight is planned to arrive in Bermuda on Friday March 15 which will be carrying 86 passenger that will have to spend two weeks in a quarantine facility upon their arrival.

The usually bustling Royal Naval Dockyard where the larger cruise ships dock, has been a bit of the ghost town since early March. The reincarnation of the Rattle & Shake is parked in a shed until further notice. All of the shops and restaurants closed as well as no ferry or bus service, has made things rather quiet at the far end of Sandys Parish.

So what about Genie (pictured right) and all the other Bermudians who make their living from the tourist trade? Of course they are in our thoughts and prayers. There are active fundraising efforts in support of Bermudians and the Ministry of Finance is doing their best to provide support.

If you’re Bermudian and would like to talk about your experiences during the pandemic, the National Museum of Bermuda would like to here from you.

Just post your story on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag: #UnitedTogetherBDA.

The Penny in the Fuse Box

Edison base electrical fuses were widely used for household electrical circuit protection prior to the introduction of circuit breakers and are still found in some older homes. When electrical fuses blow, it is important to replace the fuse with a fuse of the same amperage rating to continue providing protection to circuit. Often times, the correct replacement fuse is not immediately available and a U.S. penny could be used as substitute. Substituting a penny for a fuse did solve the immediate problem of no power in the circuit, but created a new and possibly more serious problem of no circuit protection.

Through a friend of a friend, I was introduced to Texas A&M University research associate Alexander Roitershtein Ph.D. (Alex) who among other pursuits, studies Markov Chains. A Markov Chain is a model used in the study of stochastics to describe a sequence of events where the outcome of the events are dependent only on the outcome of the previous event.

The Penny

To introduce Markov Chains, many times a series of coin tosses with two possible outcome states (heads or tails) is used. There is also a third possible outcome state of the coin coming to rest standing on edge. Because of the angular momentum of the coin when it is tossed, the chance of it coming to rest standing on edge is infinitesimally small. This outcome state is usually not considered, but it is still possible.

The possibility of the coin coming to rest, standing on edge is much greater for coins with flat edges versus coins with irregular edges. Since angular momentum weighs heavily into this outcome, small coins with flat edges like U.S. pennies and nickles are more likely to produce this outcome than larger coins with flat edges like the Israeli (NIS) half-shekel.

The Fuse Box

The electrical grid is the interconnected network that delivers electric power from the power stations where it is generated to consumers. The electrical grid is designed to be resilient and to prevent widespread outages by providing multiple paths to the consumer from power stations. Single point failures do occur and most times the outage is localized and affects only a small number of consumers.

Large scale outages happen infrequently. Compared to the number of hours that the power is on, the number of hours it is off across a large geographic area is quite small. Sort of like a tossed penny coming to rest, standing on edge just once, after thousands of coin tosses. Even following a seemingly cataclysmic transformer explosion (pictured at right) at the Con Ed facility in Astoria, it did not result in a major power outage.The photograph was taken fifteen miles away in Rockaway Beach.

Let’s examine the cascade of events that led to two major power outages that affected New York City.

1965 Northeast Blackout

The 1965 Northeast Blackout illustrates a Markov Chain of protective relays tripping and breaking the interconnected electrical grid and causing power stations to shut down.

  1. An improperly set, protective relay at the Beck Power Station in Ontario tripped and cut off power to Southern Ontario.
  2. With power cut off to Southern Ontario, other protective relays tripped resulting in the Beck Power Station shutting down.
  3. Within minutes, the electrical grid in the Northeast with protective relays tripping and the subsequent loss of generating capacity cascaded through the grid. This effectively broke the grid to the point that it consisted of disconnected islands.
  4. The subsequent load imbalances caused nearly every power station in the now, disconnected grid to shut down.
  5. Eleven minutes after the first protective relay tripped, New York City was plunged into darkness.

1977 New York City Blackout

Although the chain of event leading up to the 1977 New York City Blackout was initiated by a series of lightening strikes and not faulty hardware, it still can be described in terms of a Markov Chain.

  1. The first lightning strike takes the Indian Point Power Station North of New York City offline.
  2. The second lightening strike takes two major transmission lines North of New York City offline.
  3. The power company (Consolidated Edison) tries to bring additional generator online, but the generators fail to start.
  4. A third lightning strike takes two more major transmission lines North of New York City offline.
  5. Approximately thirty minutes after the first lightning strike, the power company begins reducing line voltage to reduce the load on the system.
  6. The only remaining major transmission line from North of New York City began to sag from being overloaded and shorted out to ground.
  7. Under the heavy load from an increasingly isolated New York City, the Long Island Lighting Company disconnected their transmission line that fed power to New York City.
  8. Protective relays on the transmission line from New Jersey tripped and disconnected power coming from New Jersey.
  9. The power company was unable to meet the power demand on its own and was in the process of disconnecting consumers when the largest generator in the system (known as Big Allis) shut down.
  10. Approximately one hour after the first lightning strike, the entire New York City electrical grid shut down.

In the paper entitled: Markovian influence graph formed from utility line outage data to mitigate cascading Alex and his colleagues use stochastic modeling to examine how cascades as those outlined above can be mitigated.

The entire paper can be accessed here.