Cigar lectors still in Cuba
The National Heographic for March carries a story about cigar lectors, which author Peter Gwin terms "once a proud tradition, now a dying profession." Cigar lectors, Gwin writes, "entertained generations of workers as they sorted, cut, and rolled tobacco leaves into cigars." The lectors vanished from Florida's cigar industry in 1931. Some of them persist in Cuba, however, where they are called, of course, lectores. Gwin profiles one of them, Yuneimis Miló González, age 24.
González reads to some 200 cigar workers, male and female, as they sort, cut, and roll at Fábrica de Tabacos Francisco Donatién in Pinar del Rió, about 100 miles southwest of Havana. In the mornings, she reads novels and magazines; in the afternoons, she reads news and articles suggested by the Federation of Cuban Women. The federation is a political group that pushes women's interests where they work. Her audience members produce some 120 hand-rolled cigars apiece in an eight-hour shift.
González heard about the job in 1998 when she was studying to be a librarian. She landed it and currently earns the equivalent of about $22 a month. Her favorite authors are José Martí, the 19th-century Cuban revolutionary, and the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. She says the toughest part of her job is choosing reading material that the workers will like. González doesn't smoke, but some of her auditors smoke cigars or cigarettes while they roll.
More about pH
Will hall wrote from Springvale, Maine, about the derivation of the symbol pH (C&EN, Feb. 9, page 64). Many years ago, he says, Time inadvertently converted the expression to Ph. A chemist wrote that he was familiar with pH but wondered about Ph. Hall says the editor responded, "Time goopHed."
Definition of an explosion
Seymour Meyerson of Asheville, N.C., says that for several months during 1940–41, he worked for the U.S. Army at the Kankakee Ordnance Works near Kankakee, Ill. To help "bring me up to snuff," he writes, a coworker referred him to "Chemistry of Explosives," a book published during World War I.
The book's opening paragraph defines an explosion as "a loud noise and the sudden going away of things from where they have been." Says Meyerson, "Even now, almost a century after publication, that definition looks pretty good to me."
Weather forecast makes money
John L. Meisenheimer Sr. writes from Orlando, Fla., that China's involvement with weather forecasts (C&EN, Feb. 23, page 56) reminded him of an incident of nearly 50 years ago. At the time, he was a U.S. Air Force weather officer at Patrick Air Force Base, in Florida.
The weather guessers saw a particularly frigid arctic front heading their way. They were sure that the coming freeze would persist long enough in central Florida to damage the citrus crops. So an older Army officer bought all the orange futures he could afford and made a huge return on his investment in only a few days. Meisenheimer says he's sure that this was not the first time "a weather forecast had been used for fun and profit."
Cub baseball dies
The New York Times of Feb. 27 carries the obituary of a baseball. Monica Davey reports from Chicago. The baseball was the one that cost the Cubs game six of the National League Championship Series last October. The Cubs were five outs from the World Series when a fan, name of Steve Bartman, in the stands interfered with an opposing outfielder who was about to catch the ball but didn't. The Cubs lost that game and the next one and dropped from sight in their patented fashion.
Many solid Chicagoans, the Times's Davey reports, agreed that the Bartman ball had to be destroyed. Michael Lantieri, a special effects man from Hollywood, landed the job. At 7:31 PM, the magic moment, the ball was resting on Chicago's Kinzie Street in a tent and in a box wired to explosives. After the crowd sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," somebody pushed the button, and the baseball was gone.