Yours truly in C&E News

Chemical & Engineering News is the American Chemical Society’s print organ, which is mailed to each of its 160,000-plus members weekly. Their back-page human interest column is called Newscripts. The most recent issue, dated November 21, 2011, features two chemistry-related projects from my grad-school years: my trick for using starch packing peanuts to build nil-cost molecular models, and my organic chemistry tutoring business card featuring a reversible cyclohexane chair drawing template. Always fun to see my name in actual, physical print! Thanks to C&EN staff writer Jyllian Kemsley for the ink.

LA tour guidebook cover featuring my photography

Jaak Treiman is Estonia’s honorary U.S. consul in Los Angeles. If I understand correctly, this position, among other duties, keeps him meeting and greeting various Estonian dignitaries, businesspeople, and government officials when they’re in LA. And, if the occasion warrants, showing them around the city. Which, I presume, is what prompted him to write a tour guide.

Back in March, I got an e-mail from Jaak asking if he could use one of the photographs from the novelty diplomatic bags I was selling on Etsy awhile back on the cover. At least at the time, this shot was one of the few decent photos online of anything even respectably pretending to be a diplomatic valise.

I said sure, man, just send me a signed copy when it comes out. And last week it arrived. A Diplomatic Guide to Los Angeles is on sale now, sporting my novelty diplomatic bag there on the lower-right-corner of the front cover. Looks great, if I do say so myself.

“Nobody knew anything about what was buried in the ground.”

Sorting old files today, discovered this clipping from the UT student newspaper dated 2002-10-15. I noticed the buried capsule and wrote to the inscribed address to satisfy my own curiosity, then mailed the packet of stuff they sent me to the Texan mostly so I’d have something to do with it. I had never worked as a journalist at that time, so I had no idea how easy it was to feed one a story.

The Johns Hopkins University
Applied Physics Laboratory
11100 Johns Hopkins Road
Laurel, Maryland 20723-6099

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am a Chemistry student at the University of Texas at Austin. I am writing because my curiosity has been piqued by a bronze plaque affixed to the top of a small underground concrete installation I’ve recently noticed beside the University’s moldering old WPA-era exhibit of “A Texas Dinosaur Trackway.”

The plaque, which I have reproduced photographically herein, identifies the installation as “Transit Satellite Tracking Station 002”; the fields provided to indicate the operational lifetime of the station are conspicuously blank. The last lines implore the curious, “For information write to the director.”

I am curious. I would like information: What does this installation do, and how does it do it? What function does it serve, and for whom? If it operates under the auspices of a particular government agency, to whom might I address a FOIA request?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Yours truly,
Sean Michael Ragan

I kind of hope they’ll dig it up. It’s not clear to me if the plaque was intended to mark some kind of larger installation that is no longer present, or if the “tracking station” itself is still contained in the concrete somewhere below the identifying plaque. It’s also not clear to me whether the equipment the station might contain is or is not still operational. If I were to put on a hardhat, carry an official-looking clipboard, rent a jackhammer, and go dig it up, would anyone notice or complain? If so, who?