Dangers of Being a Head Miner

Dangers of Being a Head-Miner     The fleet of seven mining ships carrying just under one thousand workers landed at each of the seven entrances. Long, dark snaking tunnels down into the depths, inside which, the miners knew, sat the precious stuff they were seeking. It was a green crystalline structure called mucisium. It was the main ingredient in their power systems and was, thus, considered priceless. Millions of miners were lost each year trying to find deposits and recover mass quantities of mucisium, but without it progress of their civilization would halt, so the loss was deemed acceptable.

     As usual, the ships each settled down just inside the entrances and began to unload. Maxillar listened to the excited chatter over the radio as he unloaded. He had been on hundreds of missions, thus he now sported the title of Head-Miner. The buzzing excitement just after landing was his favorite part. How much were they going to find here? Each site was different. What lurked in the depths of this one? he wondered, carrying the large chest full of cutters and setting it down next to the others like it.

    If Maxillar had learned anything so far it was that one never knew what they were going to find. More often than not, they landed, sealed off regions to stabilize the pressure and went to work for a few days, then left without much incident and a cargo hold full of mucisium. On occasion, though, there were complications. Every time he thought he had seen it all, he ran into something new, and he knew that it was only a matter of time before one finally got him. Sometimes, drastic fluctuations in pressure would bust open seals and carry workers off in a gust, that was one of the most common ways to lose guys, blown right out of the opening and they were gone. Twice, so far, a similar thing had happened but with mass quantities of warm salt water that seemed to come out of nowhere and dissolve their partitions and wash workers away. Luckily for Maxillar, he hadn’t actually been in those sections when they got washed out, otherwise he wouldn’t have survived to mine another day.

     Sometimes there were even other creatures in there, especially near the entrances, one might expect to meet some company, often in the form of a large cylindrical creature that they called dactyls. The dactyls would just poke their heads in, break things, then leave. Maxillar’s team had lost a few ships to those. On a few occasions Maxillar had even run into impenetrable barriers of foreign material that looked like they had been there for eons. Try as they might, no tool they had made much of a dent, so the miners had to forsake the idea of pushing any deeper in that passage in search of the precious green material.

     Finishing unloading his portion of the ship onto a dolly, Maxillar started the process of navigating the equipment down the nearest tunnel. As he made his way into the narrower tunnel, he began to hear the rhythmic drum beat of the cavern walls, and it reminded him of the time, when he was new, that he slipped and dug his pick-ax into the cavern wall, almost dying in the resulting flood of red gooey liquid that pored out of the hole. The same red gooey liquid responsible for the thunderous “lib-lub lib-lub” of the passageways.

     The passage grew more and more narrow until he finally met with three other miners, already unloading the goo used to set up the partitions.

     “I’ve got cutters for you,” he said over the radio.

     One of the miners was in the process of saying, “I have a bad feeling about this one, Steve, make sure to seal it up tight.” So Maxillar didn’t get a thank you, exactly, but a head nod served the purpose. This was not a new conversation. Working in such dangerous conditions made some individuals skittish. Others just liked to repeat that they though something bad was going to happen, then when it eventually did, they could say “See guys, I told you.”

     Maxillar turned and headed back toward the ship to bring another case to another passage, and that’s when he heard the rumble.

     He ducked low and grabbed hold on a small protrusion near the base of the wall. He hoped his hold would be sufficient as the powerful gust of wind hit him from behind. Sure that his purchase would hold, he started to turn and look upwind, but before he could complete the action, he was struck by one of the miners he had just interacted with. The two of them tumbled helplessly down the passage, and out through the opening to their doom.

     Jerry looked at himself in the mirror after blowing his nose. His eyes were a little bloodshot, and his head felt like it was going to explode. “Welcome to spring,” he said to himself in the mirror, not an ounce of joy in his voice. “the time of year for pretty flowers and allergies.”

     He could feel his sinuses starting to block up already, this one was going to hurt.


Government Efficiency


“There was a time’n a big dead alien corpse in the middle’a town would’a brought tourists, stead of run’n ’em off,” Fred said tossing his shovel into the back of the pickup.

“I know Fred, I was here too,” Harry replied, knowing that Fred was going to tell the whole thing anyway. He lifted the handle on the passenger side door, trying to find the sweet spot that would open the latch. He wiggled it a little mumbling “every damn time,” when it didn’t open right away. As always, just when Harry was starting to think that the latch might not open this time, there was a click and the door swung out.

As the latch functioned it washed away any thoughts he had been having about putting in a maintenance request to have the lock fixed. By the time he had settled down on the seat of the city work truck he had completely forgotten any inconvenience the latch could potentially cause and wouldn’t think about it again until the next time he muttered, “every damn time…”

Fred climbed in behind the wheel, slipped the key into the ignition, then glanced over at Harry as he tried to turn over the engine. He wasn’t really looking at Harry, he was listening to the engine as it went through the motions of complaining about its age, then eventually puttering to life.

“I mean, ‘s not just the tourists it’s chas’n off,” he said, putting the old truck into reverse and pulling out of the parking spot, “I mean, the smell’s so bad people’r leave’n.”

“Yuh, I know Fred.”

“Like, what’s the name’a that famly that lived down nexta you out there’n Washington Street?”

“The Jenkins’s,” Harry sighed, looking down at his watch, then back up to peer down the street as they turned out of the parking lot, it was so early that the street was painted blue with the pre-dawn light. They were right on schedule, they always started work before the sun came up. That had been something that had taken some getting used to, but now that Harry had been doing it for so long, he kind of liked the feel of the early mornings when everyone else was asleep. Everyone, that is, except Fred, the jabber-box. Harry was pretty sure that even when Fred did sleep, that mouth probably still ran on and on and on and on…

“Yeah, the Jenkins’s, that famly’d been in town fer a long time, jus’ up an left cuz it smells so bad.”

“I was the one that told you that Fred,” Harry said.

“You did?” Fred asked, glancing over at him briefly, but then put his eyes back on the road, “guess you wood’a.”

After a rare thoughtful silence, Fred dove back in, “All I’m say’ns not right, people gett’n run outta town.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice, Fred,” Harry said for the thirteenth time that week in response to the same comment. It was true, though, since the giant corpse had landed in the middle of town the smell of its decay was all encompassing. Unfortunately, federal regulations stated that it couldn’t be moved until federal agents came out and inspected it. This was a law laid down in the early days, when it was exciting and new that earthlings were not alone in the universe- back in the days when the appearance of alien artifacts were rare. Now, though, after they had tried to attack and been shot out of the sky, there were wreckage and corpses the size of buildings scattered all over. The US government insisted, though, that they were not to be moved until federal agents got a chance to take a look. Anyone who has been to the DMV will tell you tales about the efficiency of government employees. Harry thought that, compared to these inspections, the DMV was a well oiled, beautifully smooth and painless machine.

As Harry thought this, on his way to his very own government job, working for the city, he wondered just how long it would be before they got the chance to dispose of the body. He knew that in other towns which had been visited by the feds already, they had chopped the corpses up and trucked them somewhere it could be buried or burned. Harry knew it would probably be their job- him and Fred- if the time ever came. The thought of going near the thing made his stomach churn, but he would be happy to finally be doing something to get rid of it.

As if having read his thoughts, Fred said, “I guess we’d bury it out in the landfill.”

“Yeah,” Harry said.

Fred turned the truck onto Fifth street and Harry peered between the buildings, knowing that the huge pile of rotting meat was over there, but it was too dark to see anything yet.

“Today’s water main should be just up here,” Fred said slowing down a little, “Think it’s silly that we’re routin all this water round it, rather’n just fix’n the broken pipes under the thing?”

“Some parts of town have been without water for months, we can’t wait any longer,” Harry said, the same defense to the same old argument.

“Yeah, but we should jus fix the old ones,” he said, pulling the truck up to the curb.

“Government efficiency, my friend,” Harry said, popping open the door and stepping out. It was time to get to work.

Why I shouldn’t be allowed to write exams

As many of you know, I am a physics graduate student and a TA. As a TA, I run two of my own labs and help out with the HUGE intro to physics lecture. One of my duties is to write the midterms and final exam for the class. I think, in part, I was chosen for this task because I am a writer… little did the professor realize what that meant.

In honor of finals week, the following two files are samples of the types of exam questions I wish I could write, more or less proving that I probably shouldn’t be allowed to write physics exams at all.

Final_VA is just the exam, Final_VA_KEY is the exam with solutions.





Also, if anyone is interested in the python code that I wrote to build LaTeX files for multiple versions of exams, it can be found on my github:


Edit (05/17/14): There was a typo in the solution for the last question, it has been fixed.