Trying to Make Sense 700 Times in a Row

Earth Sense appears new every week on p.2. in the Sunday Times, and online at www.gainesvilletimes.com/life.
Earth Sense appears new every week on p.2. in the Sunday Times, and online at http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/life.

“Calendars aren’t my strongest suit,” admits Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., science professor at Brenau.  “But according to the list of titles I’ve kept, the Gainesville Times has now published the 700th column I’ve written for the paper, one every week.”

It started with a need to provide more public visibility for Brenau University.  Kiefer went to see the editor of the Times and offered to write “a few” weekly columns about the weather, “maybe for as long as six months.”  In January 2000, Weatherwise made its debut, and the reaction from readers was positive.  “They enjoyed the column’s way of explaining how the current weather was coming about, and why weather prediction is never going to be a 100% accurate operation,” Kiefer said.  Suggestions from readers and students soon expanded the range of topics.  Among the unusual ones, articles about measurements of temperature inside a hot car come to mind.  Or why the piano gets out of tune just before Christmas.  Airplane crashes and the weather that brought them about.  Driving a train on flooded tracks.  The biggest caves east of the Mississippi, right here in Georgia.  Why it’s boring to sit through a hurricane.  These and many more topics with a more mainstream scientific focus continued until 2012. 

That year, Kiefer moved into the sustainability office at Brenau, and Weatherwise was replaced by Earth Sense, now online in addition to the printed Sunday paper.  Sustainability and energy use are close cousins, so an early Earth Sense explained how you could have had a better battery in your riding lawn mower.  It also, apparently, made sense to discuss the fallout of 2011 disasters, plus the new ones of 2012.  So flash floods, tsunamis, tornado shelters and aircraft icing appeared in the Times along with more benign topics like rain barrels and air mass contrasts.

“Students sometimes ask if there’s good money in it,” Kiefer says.  “Not in this case, because the primary purpose is still to provide a public service through an educational piece, while keeping Brenau in the news.  They pay me just the right amount for the column so I can buy a daily paper and subscribe to Time magazine.  That’s it.”

Often, the column has a historic or literary lead-in.  “My favorite fiction author is John Steinbeck, especially his Grapes of Wrath, and his less-known novel The Wayward Bus,” says Kiefer.  “Steinbeck had an incredible eye for the little technical things that we use in our lives, and how they sometimes come to control us instead of us controlling them.  In a way, he’s a pioneer of telling the ‘science vs. daily life’ tale.” 

Daily life at Brenau has had a regular place in both Weatherwise and Earth Sense.  Reports of the views and activities of Nursing faculty, the dean of health sciences, occupational therapy, and other fields have shown up on Gainesville’s Sunday morning breakfast tables.  Most recently, readers learned about Prof. Outtara’s views on warfare in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Prof. Art Evans’ experiences and tips for flying an F-4 fighter plane in the U.S. Air Force.  The current issue details how progress in energy savings and improvements of air quality came about so quickly in the city of Oakwood.  That column, and many subsequent ones, are found at http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/life.