The sky's the limit on Carroll library director's curiosity

Resolution: Linda Mielke's promises to herself for the new year go way beyond the ordinary.

January 10, 2000|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,SUN STAFF

Someone Linda Mielke didn't know stopped her on the sidelines of her son's basketball game to discuss her New Year's resolution. Others nabbed her in library aisles.

Against sanctimonious pledges to save the world, lose 30 pounds and give up smoking, her resolution was, at least, refreshing, one friend told her.

But since Mielke's resolution was published in the Carroll County Times on New Year's Day, the 52-year-old director of the Carroll County library has been fending off friendly, if incredulous, stares.

"You want to know how a jet engine works?"

"Yeah. Aren't you curious when you are on the airplane?"

Mielke says she discovered late in life that she has a natural interest in how things work. Years ago, when she first started asking questions, she did it in self-defense; learning how things work was a way to handle people who speak in lingo.

Cars were the first things she mastered, she explained, because "when you go to a mechanic and you are a woman, and he starts talking about gaskets -- a gasket is only a thick piece of paper or cardboard that holds two things together so they don't leak -- and you don't know what a gasket is, you get really nervous. `Oh, my God, I blew a gasket!' "

About three years ago, Mielke realized she really did want to know how things work. Her bible became "How Things Work," by David Macaulay, with its accompanying CD-ROM, which let her see how things work.

Now she is reading a book about codes and code breakers -- to satisfy her interest in computers, which she finds a total enigma. "The guy who is credited with the first computer is actually a code breaker," she says.

The last time Mielke was on a plane, she noticed the engine dropping down was oblong instead of the round shape she'd often seen. Since then she had been wondering, "Why did they change the shape of it?"

In the middle of December, Mielke asked her daughter's college, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, to send her something about how a jet engine works.

She got back a two-page explanation. The first part she found interesting; the second part, all math -- and letters, not numbers -- she is still trying to figure out.

The subject was on her mind when a reporter called to ask what goals she'd set out for herself in the new year. "Well, actually I have two," she'd responded. "One is to never mention the acronym Y2K again. The other one is to learn how a jet engine works."

She already knows that a jet engine works with compressed air.

"Really, it is not gas that is turning the turbine," it is air, she said.

As to her other resolution, Mielke says she cannot speak. "It's out of my memory bank."

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