Category Archives: Education

Wise Advice


(I had written this a few days ago, but life got in the way of posting it.)

Speeches, especially speeches by politicians tend to have a powerful opening and a powerful close. The rare speech is powerful throughout; even rarer, it is short..

On this day (19 November) in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln was at the dedication of the military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In school, many of us had to memorize that speech, but too few of us could appreciate it at such a young age. Sadly, too few adults appreciate it either. I’d like to comment on two sentences in the middle of the speech, which was only two paragraphs. The first is the last sentence of the first paragraph:

The world will little heed, nor long remember, what we say here; but it will not forget what they did here.

Did Lincoln believe this? It’s quite possible given that these were merely a few words he spoke at a cemetery dedication. Maybe he believed that much of what he did went unnoticed, and that is true of all great men. History has a habit of airbrushing PhotoShopping the warts and frailties of its heroes so the person more accurately resembles the marble busts in hallowed halls; others, history relegates to the footnotes.* Hero or not, recognized or not, a great man or a great woman does what they know to be right regardless of the consequences. The truly great tend not to be on the covers of magazines or offered reality television programs. The truly great understand that there are things greater than them, so they stand by their ideals, and stand in the shadows behind them.

As it turns out, the world did heed and remember Lincoln’s address. It also remembers the important choices the man made. When some began to revise history after the Civil War, Robert Todd Lincoln, his son, charged the president’s two secretaries–who handled his communication and sat in on most meetings–to write the factual history before it was forgotten or corrupted.

The second and final paragraph began:

It is for us rather, the living, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried forward.

That was not a charge merely to those close enough to hear President Lincoln’s speech, nor merely those in attendance, or even those alive in 1863. It is meant for all of us; we are all to continue the work of upholding the ideals of a democratic republic; To continue to view all people as deserving respect. We may be a nation of laws, but the laws are intended to provide order for the citizens. Some forget “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed” as stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Surrounded by death, in the middle of a war that had split the Union, certain that he would not survive his time in office, Lincoln’s focus was to focus on the living, including us, and remind us to keep this precious gift alive.

* e.g. Millard Filmore

Cross-contaminated Art

Bay Youth Orchestra of Virginia, Wind Ensemble

Bay Youth Orchestra of Virginia, Wind Ensemble

My daughter played in a symphonic concert this weekend, and I was the designated (volunteer) photographer. I used to do a lot of photography in my younger days and still remember a thing or two. Of course that pales in comparison to what I’ve forgotten (e.g. if you own multiple digital cameras, put different lenses on them rather than trying to juggle two lenses at the same time).

Taking the pictures is the easier part, and while darkrooms are rare, many of the darkroom techniques have migrated to computer. So, when I got home, I sorted the photos. I then dodged and burned images, adjusted framing just like the old days, but without getting my hands wet. I’ve gotten used to this by taking the pictures at my kids’ soccer games. However, I began to think (always dangerous) that while sports photos are an American tradition requirement, photos of a concert are a bit different.

When you think about it, it just seems odd to use one artistic medium to share another. It’s true that music can reflect other arts—Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is an excellent example. However, it seems more difficult to work in the opposite direction. I don’t think that even a masterpiece painting could reflect a particular piece of music such that the viewer would recognize the melody. I suspect even the greatest choreographer could not create a dance that causes the audience to taste peanut butter. Mixing media is like writing a haiku explaining hockey—it just doesn’t work.*

So, my photos may not transmit, explain, or even reflect the melody, the harmony, the counterpoint, or even the thematic chords that were performed, but it does give the parents a chance to see their kids on stage.

Sometimes that’s enough.

* Although my son wrote his college entrance essay on soccer and its comparison to international relations.

You’re Wrong!


In our politically correct world, we may have lost our intellectual way. Sometimes it is perfectly appropriate and necessary to point out what’s wrong.

  1. Having a healthcare background, I tend to look for a solution based on a diagnosis, which in turn is based on symptoms. If a patient won’t discuss the symptoms, it is easy to assume that everything is just fine. On the other hand, the symptoms, when correlated with other observations can lead to an appropriate conclusion; the patient complaining of a headache may be suffering from a brain tumor—unless an examination of the patient discloses a three inch nail protruding from his skull. However, the presence of the nail does not make a brain tumor impossible.
  2. A careful analysis of any problem requires the inclusion of potential errors and oversights. A devil’s advocate is a useful technique in fact finding. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the devil’s advocate is “a person who expresses a contentious opinion in order to provoke debate or test the strength of the opposing arguments.” In hindsight, the questions about the rubber seals on the solid state boosters attached to the shuttle Challenger were not given sufficient consideration in the decision to launch. Far too often, we wish away certain problems or issues, with disastrous results.
  3. Often, particularly in politics, data is intentionally skewed and intended to result in an emotional response rather than an intellectual one. For example, a negative ad by a political action committee may claim that, “Candidate Bob Smith says he believes in the sanctity of life, but it is a well-known fact that he has eaten dead babies.” This statement is true, in a manner of speaking, since just this morning Smith’s breakfast included scrambled eggs.

A conclusion is best based on facts—”pesky things” according to John Adams. It’s important to include all available and relevant facts–the good, the bad and the ugly in the equation before attempting to determine the answer.

Oatmeal Boxes



I guess most people get flavored instant oatmeal in the individual, instant packets these days. That’s a bit too sweet for me, so I use the “old fashioned” kind; it takes about the same time—45 seconds to one minute in the microwave, and I can add just a smidge of brown sugar.

We finished one box of oatmeal today, and I looked at the empty box. I felt just a little sorry for the current generation of juvenile oatmeal eaters. They have no idea what they’re missing.

In my grandfather’s and father’s time an oatmeal box was perfect for winding a coil when making your own radio. Such radios were often assembled on a piece of wood with the components screwed to the board; when the wooden breadboard split, this was an ideal base. To this day we refer to experimenting with a circuit on a temporary base as “bread boarding.”

When I was a child, for the preschooler, oatmeal boxes made great drums—and were much quieter than pots and pans. Later, when dioramas were a fact of life for students, oatmeal boxes were perfect for towers of a castle, a grain silo, the body of a steam locomotive, or one of the stages of the rocket used to launch Apollo and Gemini astronauts.

Today it’s just an empty box.


I had to give some extra thought to this blog, if my count is right, this will be my 1,000th post, so it’s kind of special.

I thought it might be interesting if I presumed that such productivity, tenacity, or whatever actually makes me wise, and offer some advice and suggestions for all of us. Feel free to join in, or not.

  • Sit down with a copy of the United States’ Constitution and seriously read it. As written, it was not perfect (slavery, being the most flagrant example), but most of the amendments have improved it over the years. It’s really an amazing set of ideas.
  • Put down the smartphone, tablet, PlayStation, or whatever and look at the real world; talk with real people—don’t text them, actually have a friendly interactive conversation. Engage in a real game or undertake a real adventure.
  • Listen to a viewpoint that is different from your own on a subject that you feel deeply about. Really listen—with an open mind. It may not change your belief, but don’t you wonder why some people have such different ideas?
  • Take some quiet time to examine yourself with regard to Faith. What do you believe? How important is it to you? How much does it impact your actions? Why?
  • Finally, go help someone, just a little. Volunteer an hour a month with the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the local food pantry or soup kitchen. The list of organizations that depend on volunteers is long, and your participation can make a difference.

Thomas Edison or Doc Brown?

The inimitable Christopher Lloyd as "Doc Brow" in Back to the Future

The inimitable Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown in Back to the Future

I am absolutely fascinated by technology—every time I revel in the fact that I’ve learned something, I find that there is something far more interesting to learn.

I’m frequently soldering or connecting different pieces together to [fill in the blank here]. I’ve created, copied, or modified dozens of circuits, but as quickly as I build something, the next generation is available.

Thomas Edison found “a thousand ways NOT to make a lightbulb”, before he found the correct way.

Doc Brown, from Back to the Future, declared with delight that, “I finally invented something that works!”

It’s really the same—so I may be an Edison, or I may be a Doc Brown. It doesn’t matter—I’ll continue to experiment and attempt to learn. Who knows; in the process, I just might invent something that works!

Thanks, Bob, for Everything

When I was in high school, Robert Alan Gable, our assistant band director was fresh out of college and ready to rock and roll. After he finished teaching during the day, he played jazz at a night club until the wee hours. He taught saxophone, bassoon, oboe, flute, and percussion, but at the club it was sax and flute. The year I graduated, he joined Wayne Cochran and the CC Riders and we lost touch.

High school was not a particularly happy time for me, which is probably true for more teenagers than not. How did Alice Cooper put it in the song I’m Eighteen?

Don’t always know what I’m talkin’ about.
Feels like I’m livin’ in the middle of doubt.”

Bob taught me how to play tenor saxophone and bassoon, but more importantly, how to truly love music. He was a teacher and a mentor who provided encouragement that eventually grew into confidence.

Last year he was inducted into my high school’s Music Hall of Fame, and I had a chance to see him for the first time since high school; we picked up as though the hiatus had been days instead of decades. Bob’s health had failed him, which tied him to an oxygen tank and a wheelchair, and he had retired. Tom Batiuk the cartoonist graciously did a drawing of Harry Dinkle (the World’s Greatest Band Director) for the occasion. (If you don’t follow his comic strip “Funky Winkerbean,” you should.) After that Bob and I chatted on the phone every so often. We never had anything significant to talk about, but it was time shared.

The last time I called I got a recording that his number was no longer accepting calls. I expected the worst. Today I received an email with his obituary.

The journey through life is short, but we all leave footprints that mark our journey. Many of us who walked with him for part of his journey are better for it. Thanks, Bob.