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Rough Science 3 New Zealand: Ellen McCallie's diary: Quakers

Updated Tuesday, 27th February 2007

Find out how Ellen approached the earthquake challenge for Rough Science in New Zealand.

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Kathy, Jon and Ellen smile for the camera Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team Day 15 - Waterproof Tent
We got a double reminder today that we are in a small town. First, Ricky, the chef who cooks for us each evening, asked how we liked Blackball and if we got to Punakaiki. He had seen us drive off the day before yesterday in the afternoon. Friends of Ricky’s ”up north” had seen us in Blackball and mentioned it to him yesterday evening. Others had heard we were heading to Punakaiki. Word travels fast in a small town.


It turns out that my challenge is more to help the others in doing their challenges. Kathy and Jonathan are making a seismograph to measure earthquake activity or the like. Mike and Mike are to spend tomorrow night on a mountain and then look for nuggets of gold on day 3 of this program. I was to help waterproof the tent Mike and Mike will sleep in.

In addition, it makes sense that the guys have something to sleep on - flax mats will do the trick here. Plus, Mike B wanted flax twine. So Kate and I headed out to collect flax. That went beautifully. We may also get some waterproofing jelly out of the flax.

Flax is a really cool plant. It was/is the Maori’s “tree of life”; it’s not a tree, but an herbaceous plant. In any case, the leaves and/or fiber from flax have been used for rope, baskets, clothing, raincoats and all sorts of weaving. The Maori also would drink the flower nectar - it’s a bird-pollinated plant that makes a lot of sweet nectar to “reward” the birds for visiting.

Making the mats was like going back in time. First to my childhood as a Girl Scout, making placemats and potholders. Second, to previous lives of generations of people since humans started using fibers. The “basket-weave” of over-under-over-under has been used for millennia. This is how our ancestors made their lives easier. They also wove in such ways as to make beautiful things.

The first mat I made was much cruder than the second. Yes, I learn from experience.

Tomorrow, I will volunteer to pan for more gold. This way I will be adding to the gold stash. 

Day 16 - Waterproof Tent
All during dinner tonight, Pippa, the assistant producer asked Jonathan, Kathy and I about what we thought the Mikes were doing, how we thought they were getting along, and did we want to be with them. Actually, we’re all outdoors people, so Kathy, Jonathan and I would have liked to be up the mountain too, albeit in a better tent.

I finished making a bit of rope this morning. After that I burned the punga tree fern aerial roots from the last program’s mechanical gold panning device and panned the ashes for gold. None - well okay, three tiny flakes. This, combined with the fact that they got so much gold out of the top of the device, means that the device worked really well and there wasn’t a need for the punga. Hoorah! We’re improving. 

Day 17 - Waterproof Tent
Cloudy, drizzling. As we were driving to the sawmill to start work this morning, Jonathan got this idea that I could make the seismograph a tent to keep it out of the rain. Kathy and the series producer, Steve, got into the idea and we were off. We had three hours to design and construct a custom-made waterproof seismograph cover that could also double as a tent in the mountains. The Mikes had had a day and a half; we have three hours. Obviously, the parameters are a bit different, but it sure gave us motivation. Plus, the seismograph did need a cover for two reasons: one, rain would smear the ink trace the seismograph was producing and that was the central feature of what Kathy and Jonathan had been working on for three days, and two, the second reason, which we hadn’t thought of at the time, was to protect the seismograph from flying debris from the dynamite explosion.

I whipped up a 5½ by 4½ foot mat from flax. Drew and Ian, the cameraman and soundman respectively, whipped up the frame. Sophie, the director, helped with both.
I love seeing the crew work on challenges. They do just as good a job, if not better, than “the scientists”, which supports our premise that science is problem solving and a way of thinking that is not limited to scientists, and in fact most people engage in the thinking processes daily. (People are typically scared of the concept of science but not scared of doing it if they aren’t told it's science.)

We did whip up a tent of sorts for the seismograph. We went to the quarry and the dynamite guys blew up rock faces and nothing showed up on the seismograph. Jonathan had talked about this possibility at the very beginning of this challenge. We don’t want a real test as they are expecting a catastrophic earthquake in this area sometime in the next 100 years. It would bury us all.

Dynamite was set off three or four times, closer and closer to the machine and it finally registered a blip when it was five feet from it. My feeling is that the seismograph was probably pretty good, but the test of its effectiveness wasn’t the right one. So it goes.





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