Category Archives: Education

The Cost of Heroes

Walt Disney's  Gyro Gearloose

Walt Disney’s
Gyro Gearloose

When I was a kid, there were certain comic book characters that I favored – Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, and Gyro Gearloose (from the Donald Duck comics). Why? They all were inventors. Batman created all those great tools that fit into his utility belt. Spiderman proclaimed his web shooter “worthy of a Science Major” (pretty impressive to a guy in grade school). Iron Man – well back in those days Tony Stark figured out how to actually magnify power using (ready for this) A TRANSISTOR! Gyro Gearloose? He could invent the most amazing things, since Disney characters were unfettered by physics, math or any of the other hard sciences.

So, why do I bring this up? First, I’ve never invented anything – but I love to tinker. So, instead of drinking beer, sitting in my recliner, and watch sports on TV, I sip wine and try to get my computer to talk to my radio; my radio to talk to a peripheral device; my weather station to talk to the internet; and all my other inanimate object to talk to other inanimate objects.

Like a 3,000 piece puzzle, it takes a while to get all the pieces to fit.

Maybe I’d be better off watching the quarterback hit the puck up a line-drive to center field right past the keeper for a hat trick.

20 July 1969

Plaque on Apollo 11 Lunar Lander

Plaque on Apollo 11 Lunar Lander

I had just graduated from high school. Viet Nam dominated the news, especially for young men approaching their 18th birthday.

But in the midst of it all, we answered the challenge of President John F. Kennedy to make it to the moon and back within the decade of the 1960s.

Wow!

The lunar module detached from the command module and descended to the moon’s surface. Neil Armstrong prepared to land on the moon using an approach chart just like pilots would use here on earth. However, since no one had been to the moon before, the detailed chart was based on photographs and estimates. As he got closer, he realized that the intended landing site was not safe. Unlike on earth, he could not merely go around and make a second attempt – there was not enough fuel. Well trained, disciplined and determined, he coaxed every bit of lift out of the spacecraft and brought the Eagle to a safe landing.

When I saw that even I, a soon to be befuddled college freshman, knew – I KNEW – anything was possible.

Forty-five years later, I still know it’s true.

Do you?

 

Recycling with a Vengeance

recycle

I recycle. I even had to buy a second 50 gallon recycling bin from the city because I often had more than would fit in a single can.

I compost. Even though my garden was a disaster for the past two year and I gave up gardening, I still have the happiest, healthiest earthworms in the entire neighborhood.

It only makes sense, therefore, that I do the same with words. English has an impressive vocabulary – more than many other languages. However, there are words that have left common usage – some of which I believe, by gum, should be recycled.

All definitions courtesy of http://dictionary.reference.com/

Kerfuffle: ker·fuf·fle [ker-fuhf-uhl] noun Chiefly British Informal. a fuss; commotion.

Whither: whith·er [hwith-er, with-]

adverb

  1. to what place? where?
  2. to what end, point, action, or the like? to what?

conjunction

  1. to which place.
  2. to whatever place.

Methinks: me·thinks [mi-thingks] verb (impersonal), past me·thought. Archaic. it seems to me.

So as my grandson says, “Dude, this is awesome!” I now can respond with, “From whither comes this kerfuffle? Methinks it is unseemly!”

(Snuck one more in on you, didn’t I?)

Philosopher at Large

plato

I’ve decided that I am a philosopher – a student and lover of wisdom. Knowledge is good; wisdom is best.

As near as I can tell, there are no formal requirements or boards required to certify one as a philosopher. It’s kind of like the meteorologists on your local TV station; if they have the remote to control for the weather images against the green screen, they are a meteorologist. I green screen, therefore I meteorology.

Now, I understand that there are certified intellectuals of higher education who are experts in the field of philosophy. Tom Lehrer aptly referred to them as “ivy covered professors in ivy covered halls.” I refer to them as “philosophologists.”

Philosopholgists get tenured positions to ask questions, such as “What did Plato mean when he said, “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws”?

Philosophers respond with, “Interesting thought; how can we do we know that Plato expressed that thought? What does the statement mean, and how should civilized society respond?”

So – as a duly self-appointed and qualified-because-I-said-so philosopher I recommend you heed my words. Otherwise I shall be forced to walk with a lamp in daylight to search for an honest man, or run naked through the streets screaming, “Eureka!” Trust me – you want to avoid that at any cost!

Today’s philosophical thought: “Love one another.”

Got it? Good!

Career Dreams and Reality

Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition

Merriam-Webster
Collegiate Dictionary
Eleventh Edition

Every young person sees himself as the star athlete, the video game designer extraordinaire, or herself as the president or a musical sensation and star of stage and screen. Reality is a little more understated.

Not every writer produces a best seller bound to be a blockbuster movie. Many writers make a decent living by writing instruction manuals, advertisements, sports reports or other everyday productions.

Of course, this is true in any career field. For every Annie Leibovitz there are hundreds of photographers working for newspapers, documenting weddings or making sure that all the sixth graders have their faces appropriately immortalized in the middle school yearbook.

However, today, as I was looking up things in the dictionary, I had to wonder what kind of artist ends up creating the illustrations for Merriam-Webster. Was it their first choice of professions? Do they get to pick which words to illustrate or is there some formula such as every 200th noun gets a picture? Can they negotiate if they’d much rather draw a penguin instead of a platypus? When they get home, do they paint like Norman Rockwell or Salvador Dali for fun?

Of course, they wonder the same things about us writers.

Time to Learn

Thomas Jefferson  statue College of William & Mary

Thomas Jefferson
statue
College of William & Mary

We took a family drive today and checked out a couple of colleges since our kids are getting to THAT stage of life. Virginia, for a variety of reasons, including intent and longevity has many excellent schools, including William and Mary, “the second oldest college” in America, and with Rutgers, the only colonial colleges that are not Ivy League.

I do not measure much of my life in terms of my high school and college days. I went to school for purely pragmatic reasons, to learn so I could do something worthwhile with my life and earn a decent living. As each generation wants better for its children, I want my kids to learn and enjoy the experience.

As we were talking, I realized that my life has been 6 decades of learning (and counting). The difference is that I get to choose what I want to learn most of the time.

Oddly enough, after my comments about Hurricane Arthur, I found several weather storm spotting courses, and have resigned myself to my old habits and will be learning those over the next few weeks.

There will be no storm, chasing, however.

There are too many other things to learn for me to get myself damaged chasing a funnel cloud.

Independence Day

Jefferson Obelisk Courtesy Monticello.org

Jefferson Obelisk
Courtesy Monticello.org

He wrote his own epitaph.

HERE WAS BURIED; THOMAS JEFFERSON; AUTHOR OF THE; DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA BORN APRIL 2, 1743 O.S. DIED JULY 4. 1826

Jefferson and John Adams are as essential to America as was George Washington. Of the three, Jefferson was the most complicated – a wealth of intellectual virtue but pragmatically able to ignore his own beliefs in the name of commerce. Author of the Declaration of Independence, yet an owner of slaves.

There is a fascinating radio program in which historian Clay Jenkinson portrays Thomas Jefferson but such that Jefferson is able to converse with us in our time. If you haven’t heard it, give it a try. Click here for more.

http://www.jeffersonhour.com/

 

Corporate People

supremecourt_0 copy

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight we can see that it was inevitable. Unfortunately for the species Homo sapiens those who lived at the time were blissfully unaware as to where they were headed. Even with a population of over seven billion people, by 2010 they had already become an endangered species

The role and rights of corporation had been expanding throughout the history of the United States. In the 19th century corporations gained limited rights, allowing them to enter into contracts. It was believed that by incorporating, the people running a business could enjoy all of the benefits while avoiding much of the risk that comes with commerce. By the early 21st century, corporations’ involvement in the political process was protected and guaranteed, which pleased the “1 percent,” the wealthy elite. After all, they proclaimed, “Corporations are people, too!”

Corporate shareholders believed at first that this expansion of rights was passed through to them, since they owned and managed the corporations. Little did they know.

It was the election of 2024 that caught even the rich by surprise when TMZ, Inc. – a former zinc bushing manufacturer – was elected to Congress. Corporations contributed the most to the political campaigns with the obvious outcome. This trend continued with the mid-term elections of 2026 resulting in three caucuses – Democrat, Republican, and Corporate.

Congressman TMZ conducted political affairs as instructed by its board of directors. Other corporate bodies, however, had been able to slash costs and boost their quarterly earnings by aggressively automating and outsourcing what couldn’t be computerized to countries with cheaper labor costs. Over time they began to operate with progressively less human intervention. Eventually, most corporations eliminated all human positions except for a small contingent charged with maintenance and repair.

In 2028, Megalith Holdings Corporation was elected president. One group, dubbed “birthers” claimed that the constitution required that the president be a “natural born citizen.” In order to resolve the issue before Inauguration Day, their case was heard, and appealed at each judicial level. Ultimately the Supreme Court ruled that since MHC came into existence by virtue of its incorporation in the state of Delaware, and that corporations are people, too, Megalith was, in fact, a native born American, and therefore eligible for the office of president. The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice Universal Communications, LLC. The minority opinion, written by 97 year old Justice Abigail Adams, was short and to the point; “We’re screwed.”

Commerce slowed as automated public corporations focused on acquiring patents and suing one another for infringement. Manufacturing was deemed insufficiently profitable and shut down. The same occurred with the large farming operations controlled by corporations. This resulted in massive starvation among humans, obliterating the species.

There are rumors – there are always rumors – of small groups of humans who have gathered into tribes and subsist as hunter gatherers. It is said that they wait for the day when either the demand for electricity exceed the supply or that enough electrical plants break down so that the corporate computers can no longer operate.

I hope this information has been useful. If you’ll excuse me, I need to have my files backed up and my memory defragmented.

Good day.

Calculating Retreat

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

There are times when the best thing to do is, to quote Monty Python, “Run away! Run away!”

Imagine how history would have unfolded if George Armstrong Custer had decided that maybe this wasn’t the day to make a stand at the Little Bighorn. He might have lived out his days in his household rather than becoming a household name.

Here are some signs that a retreat is in order.

Your boss says, “The company is doing great! We’re financially sound. By the way, does everyone understand the benefits of public transportation and the healthcare exchanges?”

Your daughter walks out of the bathroom with a deer-in-the-headlight expression holding a small plastic wand and says, “Guess what?”

You stop by the auto shop to get the estimate for repairs on your car and hear the mechanic on the phone, saying, “Don’t worry, I figured out how we can send Junior to college without a student loan.”

Your mother calls you by your complete first, middle and last name, followed by a pause.

Trigonometry! Ha! I Laugh in your Face!

Disclaimer: This is a blatant case of bait and switch!

(Do you really need me to repeat what's on the book cover?)

(Do you really need me to repeat what’s on the book cover?)

Not every person being paid to teach trigonometry is able to teach – nor do they necessarily know trigonometry. It’s a little known effect of what is sometimes called “tenure.”

So my son had a meeting with a tutor the other day because he actually wants to learn these subjects. It’s a complicated process involving finding a qualified person, checking references, calculating return on investment, and fitting the session in around other appointments, obligations and meetings. My wife takes care of 99 44/100% of it, while I, on the other hand, am responsible for chauffeuring.

In in case you don’t know, the most common and generally accepted venue for private tutoring is a meeting room at the public library. This branch was particularly small, but I believe the Constitution requires all libraries, regardless of size to have meeting rooms. My son and the instructor took off, and I sat down, got bored, walked around, and sat down again.

I walked around the non-fiction section, and although they had a collection that must run in the dozens, nothing looked the least bit interesting.

Once again I sat down, etc. This time I accidentally turned into the fiction aisle, and there, staring at me was Dave Barry. It was his new book, You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty.

So, as my son is cosining his trigonometry, I’m muffling my giggles.

While there may be no serpent’s tooth sharper than an ungrateful child, there’s nothing more delicious quietly giggling while others study trigonometry.

Logic Is a Pretty Flower that Smells Bad*

Star Trek "I, Mudd"

Star Trek
“I, Mudd”

We’ve all been in this situation.

Dealing with someone who is immune to logic, whose mind is made up and doesn’t want the facts to dissuade them.

Someone who has neither our experience, education nor knowledge, but who has some modicum of control which they assume to be legitimate authority. As the old saying goes, “The person with the least amount of authority exercises it to the fullest.”

The clerk at the oil-change counter at Wal-Mart.

The Department of Motor Vehicles.

The United States Postal Service.

Instructors.

It’s so frustrating dealing with these situations, but in the giant scheme of things they are meaningless; nevertheless like a paper cut they are so irritating – all – day – long!

 

* “Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell BAD. Are you sure your circuits are registering correctly? Your ears are green.” Spock in “I, Mudd” from the original Star Trek.

Growing Up

SONY DSC

I have a grown son who’s married with wife, house, family, mortgage, and home repairs of his own.

When he was in high school, I knew he was taller than me because I had to buy progressively taller clothes. However, his coming of age still came as quite the shock.

You’d think I’d have learned.

My younger son is in high school, going through the same developmental process. He’s in the final stages of getting his driver’s license. Every day the mail brings an envelope from some college or another.

I’ve always impressed upon him the importance of critical thinking – WHY is this important? WHAT does this really mean?

Today he was helping me with some of my projects (after mowing the yard and several other major chores.)

“Why do you do this?” he asked.

“Why don’t you put this electronic keyboard in the music room?”

“Dad, shouldn’t you focus on fewer interests so you have time to devote to them?”

It’s not a monster that I’ve created, but a young man who evaluates data, arrives at a conclusion, and isn’t afraid to challenge an assumption or take a position based on logic.

Sometimes it challenges my comfort zone that I’ve spent over 60 years perfecting.

We’re taught, “What you sow, also will you reap.”

Thank you, God, as always You know better than I.

P.S. I’m insufferably proud.

Boolean Illogic

 

George Boole – it’s all HIS fault! (And from the look on his face, I think he knows it!)

 

If Extra Large is a size bigger than large

AND

If Extra Spicy is even spicier than the food labeled “spicy”

THEN

Shouldn’t Extraordinary mean even more ordinary than regular ordinary?

The End of the School Year

21st Century Odd Couple

21st Century Odd Couple

I was 20 years old and had just dropped out of college when Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer” was a hit. You have to love a song whose lyrics include “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes.” I could definitely identify.

Now, as school winds down for this year, I identify in a different way.

It’s time for my kids to perform the musical numbers their bands have been working on. There are parties and it’s time to catch up on the various odds and ends. It elevates a hectic schedule of driving and attending by a magnitude (which is why I haven’t written anything in the past few days.)

But good old Vincent Fournier – the man who created and portrays Alice Cooper and (with the help of the Amazing James Randi transformed stage illusions into rock and roll mayhem) – still represented a link to my own youth.

But wait!

Now Ke$ha and Alice have a common theme song in “School”?

(If you don’t know who Ke$ha is, ask you children, grandchildren, or a neighborhood teenager.)

Does this mean that my kids and I share a common musical anthem?

Heh heh heh.

As Alice sang, “Welcome to My Nightmare.”

Enjoy, kids. Before you know it, you’ll be hearing YOUR kids’ version of “School!”

Heh heh heh.

One Thing Jefferson Had Right

“Architecture is my delight and putting up and pulling down one of my favorite amusements.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1809.

TJ

I may not be the architect that Jefferson was, nor able to afford wholesale changes of my home, but I do enjoy changing things, especially if it gives me the opportunity to learn.

I was moving some computers around, changing their functions so that in the event of bad weather, my weather station could stay on the air, independent of the power grid. I also wanted my ham radio computer to be assigned primarily to programs associated with high frequency radio bands, and my main computer focuses on programs for writing music.

This befuddled my kids. Why would I want to do this, and why would I want to do that?

We spend years of our childhood and teenage years with the opportunity to spend all day, Monday through Friday through most of the year learning. It’s a chore and a bore.

Then we get out of school, on our way through our careers and finally realize how much fun learning actually is. To try things. To put up and pull down, To do so just because. Just because it teaches us something.

That’s what makes life interesting.

Celebrity Does Not Equal Expertise

Daryl Hannah & Tom Hanks in "Splash"

Daryl Hannah & Tom Hanks in “Splash”

I saw today that Fox News in its never ending quest for journalistic excellence had a video of Daryl Hannah and why she opposes the Keystone pipeline. I confess, I didn’t watch it, as I despise videos, preferring a well written article for absorbing data. I also have a problem with our national fetish for celebrity.

However, I decided to check out Ms. Hannah’s bona fides to determine if I should, in fact, watch the video.

Daryl Hannah is a beautiful woman. She caught the eyes of both John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Jackson Brown both of whom had long term relationships with her.

She’s a beautiful woman who comes from a wealthy family in Chicago. According to Wikipedia, she attended the noted progressive Francis W. Parker School where she played on the soccer team. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a major in theater. Her education also included ballet drama at the Goodman Theater School of Drama in Chicago. Obviously, she took her craft seriously and prepared well for it. Her work speaks for itself.

She was particularly exotic and beautiful in “Bladerunner,” and especially engaging and beautiful in “Roxeanne.”

Even Albert Einstein spoke of the pleasure of speaking with a beautiful woman, but so far I’m just not seeing any qualifications in geology, petroleum science, transportation, environmental science or economics that would entice me to include her thoughts in my calculus about the Keystone pipeline.

Don’t get me wrong. Ms. Hannah is educated and no doubt intelligent. However, her education and intelligence does not entitle her to practice law or medicine, to lead troops in battle, or even, in most states, to cut hair. There are criteria to be met and credentials to be obtained before one is acknowledged to be competent in many fields. Expertise is usually dependent on the recognition by other credentialed members of one’s advanced knowledge and experience. While she no doubt has deep felt opinions about the pipeline, Ms. Hannah’s expertise is in entertainment.

Fox’s motto is “We report – You decide.” So I’ve decided that while Daryll Hannah is a beautiful woman, an accomplished actress, well educated, and quite possibly a delightful and fascinating person, I’ll look elsewhere for my relevant information on topics such as the need to build or not build a pipeline.

And I have to wonder about Fox News.

It’s Only Words

Word /wɜrd/ [wurd] noun 1. a unit of language, …. blah, blah, etc., etc.

If you can’t bedazzle them with brilliance, befuddle them with bullshit. On the other hand, if you have something to say, why not say it plain enough for others to understand?

Today while reading the Bible, there was a footnote that said a certain verse was omitted because it was a “dittography” of another verse. Excuse me, do you mean duplicate?

I spent years in healthcare, which is famous for its jargon. We couldn’t say “after a meal” but had to say “postprandial” instead. However, no one ever said, “Hey, let’s go down to the cafeteria and grab some prand!”

Computer types love to use confusing terminology like “enterprise wide solution”, “GUI”, “WYSIWYG”, “platform independent”, and “Windows 8.”

The entire federal government uses a wide range of acronyms, synonyms, homonyms, and occasional cinnamons.

And why do police officers always “exit the vehicle” instead of “getting out of the car.”

I would rather read a great thought plainly written than mental pap dressed up in fancy technospeak.

I hope it happens, but I’m not holding my breath. After all, as my father used to say, “Never calculate the quantity of juvenile poetry before the process of incubation has thoroughly materialized.”

Shakespeare – To Be or Not to Be

417px-Cobbe_portrait_of_Shakespeare

Shakespeare turns 450, the media tells us (although he doesn’t look a day over 225), and the Globe Theatre is planning on performing Hamlet in every country on earth.

Well!

In the spirit of modern journalism, I submit the following issues to remove the happiness from these tidings and replace them with appropriate 21st century doom and gloom.

What if it isn’t really his birthday? According to Time magazine, he was baptized on the 26th, which usually followed the birth by three days. But we can’t be sure. What if there was a blizzard?

If the Royal Shakespeare Company starts performing in various countries, what if new countries are formed or several countries merge. This might mean that some new counties get skipped, RIGHT WHEN THEY NEED A LITTLE HELP, THANK YOU! And if two countries that merge already had their Hamlet performance it means that they got more than all the other countries.

Besides, there’s always been doubt about whether William Shakespeare REALLY was the one who wrote these works. Some claim they were actually written by Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Donne or Queen Elizabeth. Could have been any one of them – or even all of them in a giant conspiracy!

Then, of course, there’s the infinite number of monkeys hammering away at an infinite number of typewriters. (Can’t use computers because of the spell checker.)

Or, maybe it was Al Gore.

An Easter Thought for All

SONY DSC

Easter is a time of hope, optimism and looking forward. Because of its ties to Passover it occurs in the spring, with its focus on life. I propose that we take this time to harness our creative energies as we look ahead.

The prolific Thomas Alva Edison was self-educated, and, before some of you protest, let me remind you that Facebook wasn’t invented by a large corporation, and Apple started out with two guys experimenting in a garage.

So, now to the challenge – What is frequently in the news because we have too much?

Carbon and heat.

Someone is going to figure out what makes carbon – or more specifically carbon dioxide – valuable. When they do, I’m sure that the rest of us will bemoan how obvious the answer was and that we all should have thought of it. As near as I can tell, carbon in many other configurations is preferable to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Likewise, we’re always looking for new sources of energy, particularly renewable energy. W commonly measure energy in terms of heat (calories, and BTU – British Thermal Units). Somehow it must be possible to efficiently capture the extra heat in the atmosphere and store it for use elsewhere.

It’s a time of beginnings, worldly as well as other-worldly, beginnings and possibilities.

Jesus’ Timing

Superstar

If you have followed my blog for a while, you may remember that during Lent I listen to “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Although it’s an artistic musing, it does cause me to think of my scripture reading from a different perspective. In the recording, Judas asks why Jesus came, “in such a backward time in such a strange land.” He goes on to say, “If you’d come today, you’d have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”

It’s a fair question, and I pondered it for a while and arrived at an answer that at least makes sense to me.

I think that Jesus’ aim was to inspire, teach, challenge, and demand that we take things into our own hands and do God’s work. It is up to us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and perform such works in His name and to give glory to the Father.

But what if He had chosen today? I suspect for a while He would be the top story on the news and a meme on the internet. But would we take Him any more seriously? Personally I doubt it. Besides, in a few days some other story would have pushed him out of the limelight.

It was within His power to solve all our problems – disease; poverty; everything. Instead, He solved the biggest problem – our separation from God.

The rest is up to us, but don’t worry. He taught us how.