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Valence comes from the Latin, meaning strength.

In Chemistry it refers to the combining strength of an element and is usually used in reference to valence electrons. Those are the outer shell electrons that form chemical bonds. In one extreme, ionic bonding, atoms either donate or accept electrons to form charged particles called ions, which are attracted to one another. In the other extreme, atoms share electrons, called co-valent bonding. You could say that they have a certain ambivalence, that is, both sides showing strength. This sharing may exhibit equivalence, as in a carbon-carbon bond, or it may show varying degrees of inequality as in the nearly balanced sulfur-selenium bond or the more extreme imbalance of a boron-oxygen bond.

Equivalence is evidently a state of affairs we desire or want to understand. A simple Wikipedia search of equivalence* lists the numerous ways we have scientific, economic, and psychological laws of equivalence and principles of equivalence in most areas of life. We have a prevalence and desire for equal or shared strength within our systems.

Furthermore, we should be discussing the seroprevalence of COVID-19 as compared to the symptom and severe symptom prevalence in our population so that we may come to a reasoned conclusion about opening our struggling economy. We lack strength as a society if we do not move forward, but continue to give in to the voices of fear, manipulation, and ambivalence.

On a more positive note, I like Valencia oranges, which were named after Valencia, Spain. That’s a strong name, but this hybrid orange was developed in California when it was still part of Mexico, by a Mexican citizen, who named it after sweet oranges in Spain.**

Thus, you have a stronger appreciation for the latent valency of the term.***

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivalence

**https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valencia_orange#History

***https://www.quora.com/What-is-latent-valency . You will have to judge the strength of the hidden pun.

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You are right or left hand dominant because of genetics, right?

When I was six years old, my oldest brother began to teach me how to play baseball. It was simple catch at first. I wanted a glove. My brother seemed to think that I threw as well with my left hand as with my right hand. He insisted that I should throw left-handed. I got a left-hand glove. He said lefties make pitchers who are harder to hit off of and make good 1st basemen. I was learning to write, shoot basketball, eat with a fork and pick up a cup with my right hand, and kick balls with my right foot. I definitely had right hand preference, not only because of the many everyday things I do right-handed, but also because fine motor skills are much more developed in my right hand. I definitely do not consider myself to be ambidextrous, but here I am throwing baseballs, footballs, and skipping rocks with my left hand and doing everything else right-handed.

As time has progressed I have learned to hammer nails and split wood with either hand. I hammer more accurately right-handed but go at it left-handed sometimes in order rest my right. The inside of my wrist on my right forearm has a muscular budge missing on the left wrist from pounding nails and wedges. Learning a skill with the other hand is tedious and sometimes dangerous. I split wood with both hands simultaneously, but the hand on top is the preference and lead hand. For the sake of working longer and working both sides of my body, and particularly my back, I alternate hands.

Which leg of your pants do you step into first, right or left? Which arm of your shirt or blouse do you put on first, left or right? Which way do you cross your legs or fold your arms or clasp your hands? Which one is on top? You have a preference, a handedness, a brain side preference.*

But you can change the level or preference and the balance of strength and coordination. In a number of sports and skills, equal strength and grace are needed by both hands and both sides of the body. Try putting the opposite leg into your pants first. It is hugely awkward the first few times you do it, but with time you feel more coordinated. I alternate regularly. Cross your arms or legs or fingers the opposite way. It feels weird but makes new connections in your brain as you practice it.

There are some things I will not try both ways for safety reasons. I tie my rope and belay when climbing the same way every time so that I may do it correctly without thought in an urgent situation. For the belayer these situations are frequent. As a result, I can and do have conversations while belaying and still catch my partner every time. But climbing requires strength, coordination, and flexibility in all four limbs and in many combinations. That takes work. I can only imagine how a good dancer or ice skater leads into a move with equal grace on either leg. A good pianist must be able to play the melody and complex harmonies with either hand and trade back and forth as the score of music demands. These activities and many others require practice and consideration.

Here is another childhood story that applies to my three brothers and me. Our mother taught her young sons to put their belts on clockwise, that is, starting through the loop right of the button. Traditionally in the U.S., men wear their belts counterclockwise and women wear their belts clockwise. Supposedly this originated with women dressing their men and men opening cloaks to draw swords. I did not know all of this detail until I was challenged as to why I wore my belt “backwards”. Now to increase coordination, I wear my belt both ways, alternating from one day to the next.

So, handedness is definitely genetically gifted but is environmentally altered and may be altered and attenuated by intentional effort. As I have argued here, I think it is useful to strength, coordination, grace, flexibility, and skill to do so.

*The right hand is operated by the left brain and visa-versa.

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Blue Ridge Parkway Milestone

I enjoy the occasional foray into the realm of etymology. Word origin provides insight into the many and varied meanings and connotations of words and metaphors. There is a humorous twist on the origin of the terms mile and milestone. I assumed that since mile is a thoroughly English measurement of distance that the word, though perhaps not the concept, came from bloody ole England. Afterall, the U.S. is the only major country in the world to still be using the English system. But no, when traced back, mile comes from the Latin mil, or one thousand, which is quite base ten, or metric. Milestones then were stone markers called mille passus, meaning one thousand paces (1), along Roman roads. They were first placed every one thousand steps along the Apian Way out of Rome. Even then they would not have actually paced off the distance, but would have used a standard chain or rope length, the stade (eight stades to a mile). (2)

Etymology was only a small part of why I’m writing this blog entry, but it is fascinating. Metaphorically, milestones are visual, emotional, mental, or group markers for significant events or changes. Milestones typically include salvation, graduations from educational institutions, marriage, arrival of children, job changes or promotions, retirement, lifestyle changes, or significant personal goals reached like weight loss or the first marathon. The term can be overused, particularly in the business and education worlds it seems to me, and there is definitely a difference in significance levels from eternal to trivial. Nonetheless, the idea is solid and shows up in Scripture, even promoted by God (Joshua 4:1-7), and used by prophets (I Kings 18:31, I Samuel 7:10-12).

I have been privileged to have many profitable and enjoyable  milestones in my life, and a few significant ones of late. All five of my children are now married and I have just recently retired.

I passed a small milestone in blogging, which I only inadvertently realized while rereading a few blog entries. This very entry is my 500th blog entry. Having written in this blog since July of 2007, it is quite an accomplishment for me to have continued with only a few months in all of that time of not publishing at least one entry. In fact, the average number of blog entries per month over the that period of 13 years has been just over three entries. It causes me to muse upon why I would be so consistent for so long. The obvious answer is a love and a need of the this forum. I need an outlet for my thoughts and love this particular one that is potentially interactive (3). It gives me a voice, an influence, if ever so small, and a sense of not forgetting what experiences and insights God has so graciously given to me, that is, an online journal. It may hopefully be part of my intellectual inheritance to my children and grandchildren.

But a question arose in my mind: Would a milestone be a milestone if we were unaware of it? I don’t think that this is the existentialist argument about a tree falling in the forest (4), because we are talking about a metaphor for the perception rather than a physical mile marker. When I consider this idea, it reveals to me how dull and fickle our perceptions are. They are dull because we do not perceive significant events that have eternal consequences for good or for ill (John 3:7-8), and they are fickle in that we may see them as significant in one situation and for one group or person but not for another or not at another time. What revealing of missed opportunities and privileges may be ours when our lives are reviewed in eternity. I am thankful for God’s grace to test all things by fire and reveal those works which were by and for Him (I Corinthians 3:10-15, 21-13), for I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

So, I conclude this 500th mille passus of sorts with one further testimony to God’s goodness in my life. He has been and will be at work in my life to bring it to a good and completed conclusion (Philippians 1:6), not because I am deserving or always willing or cooperative or able, but because He is good and powerful and has attached me to His riches by His grace. To Him be all praise.

 

1) How our mile got to be such an odd number, 5280 feet, is more complicated, though the origin of the whole measurement seems to have been the Roman’s copying of the distance around a Greek stadium track for running events, and thus the unit stade.

2) I wonder if they had workers who held signs for travelers to avoid collisions in construction zones?

3) Oh, that it were more so, that I had to moderate multiple comments, questions, reprimands, and encouragements on each entry. Alas, life is busy.

4) If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? Being a Christian and a student of Science but not an Existentialist, I would retort that of course it makes a sound. It vibrates air particles, following God’s physical laws.

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While driving a short distance to run at my local Greenway, I turned on the radio to hear the beginning of a TED Radio Hour presentation on NPR about the idea that “Everything Is A Remix”, a web series and idea by Kirby Ferguson. The host of “Science Friday”, Ira Flato, asked, “Is there really nothing new?” Mr. Ferguson said, “The Big Bang.” This line of thinking dissonated with me because of the worldview conflict, and because it is only correct in a way undisclosed by either of those speaking. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” But what about beyond the sun? And what does this mean, anyway?

Mr. Ferguson’s point is that any song you hear has an association to an earlier song. He generalizes his maxim to say no thought or attempt at creativity is original. The only creativity is found in remixing it to make it your own and make it fresh. Johannes Kepler wrote, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.” My conclusion to Kepler’s quote is that God has made us in His image, which includes creativity, but our discoveries are repeats of a limited nature of His thoughts and plans. We receive joy and He receives glory when we explore, create, discover, and acknowledge.

Create beauty in visual or musical art forms, God has been there already. Create beauty in prose or poetry. He has known it long since. Create sacrificial love and moral purity. He has perfected it. Create novel questions and solutions. He has mused upon and answered them all. The Humanist will be offended by what seem to him or her a deterministic regurgitation of God’s ways. I rather find joy in discovering what He has done.

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The following blog entry was written several months ago, but the mental state of the time, the ambivalence about publishing it, the time constraints to finishing it, and the arrival of better emotions and thoughts prevented me from publishing it until now. Now it is time and it will add some balance and veracity to my blog by telling more about who I am. People enjoy a good story, but how about a melancholy tome? It may be instructive to those who don’t struggle with this problem and encouraging to those who do.

I have been struggling with a touch of depression lately. I purposefully state it that way because it is nothing compared to times past. It will be passing, which I can say with confidence because I know how to get help and from Whom. But is it depression or could it be, particularly since I say passing, discouragement? Or might it be desperation? Now I could refer to the dictionary and sort these out, but I am going to give a personal, experience based definition, which may not ring true for you, or better yet, may ring all too true and give you encouragement and tools for dealing with them or it, as the case may be.* These definitions will by no means be totally devoid of knowledge gained from study.

In my experience, depression is an emotional background noise or foreground roar that is hard to define in terms of its source, and harder still to get rid of. Many people excuse it as a chemical imbalance that is not of the person’s doing. I believe that chemical imbalance is a problem for some people, but even then there are ways out, most of which don’t involve drugs in the long-term.** It is not helpful to dwell on the depression itself, but it is profitable to study your own modus operandi during depression for the purpose of recognizing when there is an onset. You are experiencing one of my quirks of depression by reading this passage. When I am depressed, I get very wordy, verbose, articulate, long-winded, redundant. That is most likely the source at present of my long sentences. Another way I deal with depression is to become very silent, but because I have learned to attack it, I now do the opposite and become verbal. Oh, that is the reason for quirk #1. And here is a help for you, dear friend, if you suffer with depression. Talk yourself out of it, not by any random droning of your voice, but by declaring out loud truth. The form it takes in me most often is singing hymns. So, I knew that I was dealing with mild depression this morning because I felt compelled to sing. The odd thing about my singing is that I can be loud and enthusiastic and crying, either inside or literally, all at the same time. I don’t know if the crying is repentance, thankfulness, remorse, release, or sadness, but I do know that if I sing long enough the cloud dissipates. That occasionally is too much for my wife because she is a stroke victim and the continual sound and language overloads her aphasic processing. If it is a hymn that I know well, whistling works so that I can think about other things or tasks simultaneously, but whistling is particularly problematic for my wife.

Desperation is more easily recognized and pinpointed. I was desperate yesterday because I had so much paperwork to do and a sense that it would never end. Perhaps that was part of what brought on today. Planning ways to lessen the load, spread it out, or see light at the end of the tunnel are ways I usually deal with that short-term irritant. Finding the purpose in the mundane and repetitive and distasteful makes it more palatable. Procrastinating is something we have all done to avoid what we don’t like to do, but it is counterproductive because it just prolongs the mental desperation. Desperation, then, usually comes from a fear, be it fear of purposelessness or fear of harm by whatever traumatic or long-term means (e.g. old age for example).

Discouragement can be short-term or long-term and its source obvious or not. Unfulfilled goals and dreams are the source of most of my discouragement. Inability to do something at a higher level of my own making or meeting someone else’s expectations can weigh heavily on me at times but do not usually cause discouragement. I guess that I understand that despite my attempts to be exceptional in various areas of my life, I am just a “common Joe” with perhaps a little better than average ability. I am profoundly limited in some areas. Failure or rejection are high on the list of what brings discouragement to many people.

In all of these areas, particularly depression, I have several coping mechanisms that are my go to’s. I have already listed 1) identifying when I am depressed by things I do and think when depressed and 2) singing my way out of that mode. For me, and these must be specific for you individually, I 3) rock in a rocking chair and think, 4) write to organize my thoughts and identify how I am feeling, 5) talk it out to others***, 6) walk, 7) do anything active, particularly climb, run, bike, or hike, 8) experience nature, contemplating God’s goodness, and 9) organize and propound truth on any subject, though theological and scientific areas are my most common subjects. What is your coping mechanism? Don’t know? Try one of mine. Experiment with things that are true and good (Philippians 4:8). Make them edifying pursuits, not destructive ones like drugs, alcohol, binge eating, binge videos or computer time, or pornography or illicit sex. Look for a way out, not a way further in.

I have purposely separated my last help for depression, desperation, and discouragement: 10) Spend time in prayer specifically about the source of your feelings, or about the emotion itself in the absence of knowledge of the source. To not just be talking to yourself, several things must be true: 1) You must be a believer in Jesus as your Savior, 2) You should be seeking to be repentant of sin, and 3) You should seek to discover what expectation you have that has not been given you by God and give it up to Him. Frequently either #2 or #3 is the source of the depression. If #1 is true, then you have power given to you by God to repent of sin (I John 1:9) and overcome temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). 4) Persist in prayer until you get past distraction, temptation, doubt, and waiting. Your circumstances may not change, as God sees fit, but your peace and joy can return in the midst of the sorrow.

Life is a journey with a destination rather than a destination only. Therefore, be patient with yourself. Conversely, don’t let yourself off the hook in the sense of ‘oh, everybody does it’. Instead, seek to make progress. Growing requires effort, but in the same way as you can not pull yourself up by your boot straps, you need an outside force, the power of God, to make real and lasting progress. May God enable you with His power to grow and may you find those coping mechanisms that work for you to ease your pain by pointing you to truth.

*Long sentences are so fun to attempt, because they are so easy to get wrong, particularly concerning commas, and therefore challenging. I think mine are right.

**How could I be so unfeeling and arrogant as to suppose I can make declarations about others people’s difficulties? Well, not only because I have studied this issue, but because I have personal experience with serious, dare I say, clinical depression, I am speaking up. You may need drugs to steady the boat, but they are a poor way to propel it forward.

***Thank you for your patience, friends.

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I love to observe the beauties of nature. Some of the following pictures are from before the pandemic and many are part of my coping mechanism since it has started. The first picture shows algae with what I believe to be a brown spore case. If I am wrong, I wish some algae expert would set me straight.

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Algae under a microscope

Cameras can be deceptive. The pizza place was actually rather dim with little points of light. We enjoyed the cauliflower crust pizza with organic toppings of veggies and cheese.

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Upscale Pizza place with my Valentine

It is convenient that my son has several downed trees in his side yard that I have cut off of a few times. I had never been so low on wood, oh, except for the time many years ago when I had been sick for several months and nearly ran out. At that time a friend felt sorry for me and brought some wood. The present wood is dry and off the ground with very little rot. The day was pleasantly cool for work.

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A little more wood needed

I gave one of my 9 year old Sunday School students an adult coloring book. The next Sunday she showed me the following:

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Sunday School student’s art

A mobile lab comes to our school each semester to do a DNA Electrophoresis Lab with our Biology students. It is a very effective use of their time.

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DNA Electrophoresis Lab

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migrating DNA in a gel

A friend of ours from Bible School days came by to visit. She is retiring from many years of missionary work in the Philippians. It has been a privilege to be in contact with her all of these years, following what God has been doing with and through her.

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A friend and missionary

All of the previous pictures were pre-pandemic. The following ones are various fresh air excursions since warning to keep apart from others. The trillium are going wild in a little triangle of woods about 1/2 mile from my house where I frequently walk.

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Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

I like the beauty of my own yard in Spring as well.

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Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

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Just a week before the restrictive stay at home orders came, my daughter and two grandchildren came to visit.

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He can look so serious

Only 3/4 of a mile from the house is a small waterfall in a draw (small vale or notch for those of you from a different neck of the woods) surrounded by wooded suburbia.

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Neighborhood waterfall

We hiked one day to a much larger waterfall. It is a short but steep walk, which I would have thought nothing of had it not been for the little ones to help along. We have had so much rain lately that the ground keeps giving water.

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Upper Creek Falls

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Mama enjoys time outside, too

I can’t paint a still life, but I can appreciate one.

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Colors, Contrasts, and Tones

When my daughter went home, my granddaughter wanted to stay. We did several fun and relationship building things. When we went to the climbing gym I told her to watch me climb at first, knowing that she takes time to warm up to things. After about 45 minutes of following me around, she asked if she could have some climbing shoes. She was really quite good.

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More time together

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Only thing lacking was confidence

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roughed up a little

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Historic times

My wife is a wonderful cook. The only problem is her food doesn’t last long around our house with me there.

 

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Yet another fabulous dish from my favorite chef

On the way back from a doctor across the state line, I decided to stop for a leg stretcher. In warm weather it is one of the best and most crowded swimming holes.

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good flow

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Elk River Falls

Two more backyard blooms and a small neck of the woods trillium follow:

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Backyard Beauty

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Pontentilla sp.

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There is little for perspective, but this huge, perhaps 12″+ in diameter.

At 5 PM on this very day, they were closing down many outdoor venues, specifically including climbing areas. I went and got in a quick session since both gyms and crags are closed for the foreseeable future. So much time to go and so little availability.

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Mushroom Boulder

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View from just behind the boulder

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Galax

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Bloodroot and Wood Sorrel

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Wood Sorrel

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Bloodroot

Having not been outside much to climb lately, I was mostly shutdown by problems that I could previously do. I enjoy climbing for the mental and physical aspects. I needed some success before I went home and this is a good boulder for it.

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Warm-up Boulder

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Shelf Fungus

I bought this ground cover only last Spring and it is covering the ground!

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Verbana sp.

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Red Dogwood

I don’t know why it is named after a snake, but the vividness and pattern of the white lines on the leaves are fascinating:

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Rattlesnake Plantain

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Fiddleheads

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Mayapple

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Wisteria

Many trees can be identified to the species by how they are shaped. Even sometimes their reaction to heavy pruning still comes out identifiable. One bright blue day I took pictures of 8 or 10 treeforms. I won’t bore you with the lot of them but the general idea is there.

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Spruce treeform

If you know what fractals are, then you will see why I mention them before the white oak tree picture.

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Oak treeform

To end this random array of flower arrangements and outdoor excursions and such I give you one more flower that grows by my backyard shed. Enjoy what little joys and beauties you are afforded. They help you deal with the sad and ugly moments of life. They are gifts from a gracious Father who loves beauty and blessing.

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Star of Bethlehem

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From last Thursday until Monday afternoon I either drove or rode in a car for about 35 hours. The reason for the trip was well worth the effort and the company and conversation were stimulating and substantial. But it did remind me of a time when I could aptly describe the a trip as purgatory.

When I was in college I studied spiders.* Deep into a research project, my major professor realized that she needed some DNA samples in order to verify her hypothesis and realization that she was dealing with two different species of spiders. It was not the field research season- Summer- so she decided to send me on a Kamikaze bus trip to collect samples. 

I took a Trailways bus from Knoxville, TN, to El Paso, TX. Wait, it gets worse. I slept overnight in the Trailways headquarters bus terminal in Dallas, TX. I carried a box of the approximate dimensions of 18″ x 18″ x 36″ tall containing a DeWar flask full of liquid nitrogen. The purpose of this container was to quick freeze collected spiders at my destination, Southwest Research Station (SWRS) in the Chirichahua Mountains of southeast Arizona. I could not flip the Dewar flask on its side since this would lose its contents. Bus drivers wanted to insist that I put it in the undercarriage luggage compartment, but it was too tall to stand upright. Much of the trip it sat upright in a seat beside me, but when the long distance bus became a commuter bus from Memphis to Little Rock and beyond, with standing room only, I had to hold it upright in my lap. Drivers and riders alike must have thought I was carrying a bomb. In every little town across Texas we would stop under a street light where the many insects circled around, waiting for a new driver or passengers to board. In El Paso I had to catch a taxi to the airport in order to rent a car for the remainder of the trip.**

My previous visit to SWRS had been pleasant and un-rushed. This trip was during colder weather at a station without heat, quickly collecting and marking specimens and returning to El Paso for another taxi ride back to the bus terminal and more time aboard a bus. The green of the East never looked so good, the Mississippi River so welcoming, or Knoxville so beloved. I felt as though I had escaped the dark tunnel of purgatory for real life again. I like adventures, even those that are spontaneous, but sometimes one gets more than he bargains for.

*That could be the beginning of many of my stories.

**It was not possible to transport a full Dewar flask on an airline.

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I had a conversation today that was weird. I don’t mean the contents but the timing and process. I had decided that I was far enough distant from injury and sickness to try to start running again today. I had intended to walk a 1/2 mile, run a 1/2 mile, and walk back 1 mile. Just as I approached the entry to the Greenway, a man, perhaps in his late 30’s or early 40’s walked by at a moderate pace, followed by what I estimate to be a 9 year old boy, running to catch up. Both sported headphones, his avocado green and his son’s white. I was walking faster than them and slowly was catching up. As I followed, I thought how the father should remove his headphones and just talk to his son. As if on cue, the father uncovered the ear toward his son and glanced back at his son and said, “It will quit hurting soon, I promise.” His son took off the speaker toward his father and replied, “But it hurts.” “It will stop hurting, I promise,” he rejoined, and put his head set back on. In my mind I imagined, based on the evidence of the conversation, that the boy had a stitch in his side. I wondered how I might be able to encourage the boy if the father and I were to trade places. Such a thought came to me possibly for two reasons. I commented to my principal a few days ago, about a student of mutual acquaintance, that one of the things I dislike most is wasted potential, particularly in someone who has so much potential to waste as the topic of our conversation has. The other reason was the rarity with which I have succeed in spurring anyone, and particularly young people to try hard. When it has happened, I have wondered how it happened, and why it doesn’t at other times. So, as I paced along to gain passage by this father and son, my thoughts went as follows. “Son, walk the stitch off, and then push on. Finding your limits increases endurance and pushing your limits increases toughness.” At this point we had traversed one tenth of a mile, indicated by a blue 6 x 6 post off to the left. Just as I was two steps behind the father, and as if all of my thoughts had been part of the audible conversation in which I had not been involved, he turns and says to me, “I don’t want to walk the whole Greenway. This is enough for my needs,” glances at me and turns sharply. I replied that the whole of the Greenway is a nice walk and said over my right shoulder, “Well, enjoy. Have a good day.” He waved and was off, but the conversation was not quite over in my head. He was content to have enough. Now contentment is good, but I don’t want to be content about everything, because some contentment is denial or laziness or weakness of spirit or I don’t know what. I don’t know what the man meant and have no reason to think ill of him, but I want to be content with what God has given me but not content to merely hold it, or bury in the ground like the lax servant (Matthew 25:24-29). I want to grow. Now growth looks different at different stages of life. Sometimes maintaining is more than enough to keep you busy, and as we get older that is not even possible. But as I slide into final departure from this world into the glories of the next, I am determined to not be content with a quick slide, if God so allows it, but grow by maintaining physical and mental and emotional and spiritual health to extent that effort might allow. And concerning the spiritual health, I may even grow as I better understand the fleeting nature of life here. That does not mean that I will or should give in to lax and lack luster living as I approach the other side. All of the other healths may increase my spiritual health as well, because I am not a dichotomous* or trichotomous (etc.) being, but one whole person focused increasingly on the mark.

And I appreciate God’s humor when I understand it. My thoughts fell away as I turned thoughts of walking into the increased intensity of running after so long a time off from running. Then I turned to walk the one mile back, enjoying the gentle breeze and quiet walk. At six tenths from the end it began to rain lightly. The sky looked threatening and I didn’t know what was moving in, so I ran the last 1/2 mile*.* I stopped at the car, did a hurried stretch and jumped in. Before I could drive out of the park, not 30 seconds later, it poured. So, you want to push your limits, be tough? Then run, now!

The only additional thought I had on the whole subject was, with whom was I having a conversation: myself, God, the father and his son, or all of the above?

*A dichotomous view of the human is the heresy of the Gnostics and others. They thought spirit was good and body was bad. But God has created both and declared both good. Yes, we have fallen into sin, but the spirit as well as the body is in sin. God brings our spirits into life and will resurrect a glorified body. Not only is this theology a problem for my understanding of me, it also caused the Gnostics to believe that Jesus was not fully God and fully Man, but only appeared to be a man, not really existing in the flesh to be hugged or crucified.

**A slight shortcut at this point alleviates one tenth of mile distance.

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Early this summer I had a student ask me a question by e-mail: “Do you think it is truly possible for someone to find the correct answer to the Drake Equation? If so, how would they prove it?”

After some research I gave the following reply:

“”The equation was written in 1961 by Frank Drake, not for purposes of quantifying the number of civilizations, but as a way to stimulate scientific dialogue…”(1) Therefore, the terms in the equation are considerations of what would have to be known in order to quantify (that is, count) civilizations. It is a thought experiment, and since we cannot go to many of those places (or probably any of them) because the distance is too great for even several lifetimes of travel [“Hey, grandkids, the goal of this mission when we started out 60 years ago was for you to visit two planets around the third star from our home star, Sun, to see if there is anybody living there. We’ll be there 40 years or so after your grandchildren are born.”], the whole scheme is pure speculation. In fact, I would go a step further and say that it is not even useful speculation.

So, to answer your question, no, it can neither be solved nor checked (proven). Based on my belief in the God of the Bible, I believe that it is not even a useful thought experiment. The Scripture says,”in as much as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28) Since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), and since “Christ…offered once [died]”, then if any civilizations did exist, they would be without hope because God has not redeemed any of them. Instead, I think that it means they do not exist. And because of the distance we cannot know if they exist. The whole thought experiment becomes fruitless, a deceptive worldview way of avoiding the real truth about how [we got here and how] we “die once” and need that salvation.

A better thought experiment would be to explain how the rocks and ice we see confirm what God said about a worldwide flood in Genesis 6-9. Check out the “Lost Squadron” that landed on Greenland(2). Ask yourself some questions. 1) How deep were the “Lost Squadron” airplanes under the ice? 2) How long did it take for the ice to accumulate? 3) In how long of a time could the whole ice sheet have accumulated at that rate? 4) Has the rate of accumulation always been the same? 5) Is there any evidence for the rate of accumulation changing? 6) Comparing these estimates to the “declared age” of ice cores in Greenland, is there a problem with the present explanation of how the ice sheet got there?”

I think you will realize that the standard explanation for what the layers in the ice sheets means is flawed. Therefore, distractors are thrown up to keep us from seeing the logical fallacies of the ill-conceived conclusions masquerading as a scientific theory. There are many worthy thought experiments to be done. Einstein was particularly good at those, but much of today’s theoretical science is lacking in a creativity that adheres to truth as its basis, instead heralding false agendas and distracting from useful science. Let us be done with having any part of that.

1- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation

2- https://creation.com/the-lost-squadron

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“Write it down so that you won’t forget.” My son replied, “You write it down for me. You’re better at making list.” I had never thought about it. I just write lists because I have to get chores done and fit in recreation. So, it is true that I have developed somewhat of a list making procedure. It is not complicated or profound, for if it was, it would only make getting things done less likely. I understand calendars, planners, cellphone notifications and the like, but for various reasons they don’t quite work for me. Mostly they don’t work  for me because they are cumbersome and elsewhere when I need them.

I make lists on little pieces of paper that I cut from recycled paper. I have the privilege of using a paper cutter and a little filing box in which to store blank ones that sits on the kitchen counter. I have three types of lists: daily, weekly (mid-range), and long-term. I don’t always have all three or even two, depending on what is happening, but frequently I do. Now, you may not see the wisdom in this separation of lists, thinking, “How does that exclude complexity and facilitate availability and convenience?”  Well, I make the list on the run, stick it in whatever pocket of whatever pants or shirt I happen to be wearing and update it as tasks are completed, change, or need to be added. Just as you transfer keys and wallet when you change clothes, I move the list, too. For easier viewing of the list, so I don’t overlook an item, and in order to show progress and completion, I bullet the items with a blank. Additionally, I indent sub-items with a blank, “grocery lists” and the like.

I give an example by way of a recent daily list in the picture below. As an item is completed, I place a check in the blank, as shown for weeding, P, and going on a run. If an item is in progress, for example, an attempted phone call or message left, I place a tally mark in the blank. You can see that on the second attempt I mark complete and the time of the appointment, which I transferred to the family calendar on the kitchen counter at the first available opportunity. The same sequence occurred for the e-mail. I must have wanted a reply before I marked it complete. Zeph had two tallies on this Monday, as I was in the process of studying for a sermon (which you may listen to at “The Day of the Lord in Zephaniah” ). I had one tally mark next to comfrey,  because I had begun to root a cutting so that someone else could benefit from the healing properties of comfrey by having a plant just outside their door as I do. I am not a slave to my lists. I did not continue to tally this item because the circumstances quickly enabled me to remember to water the cutting daily. In two weeks it was standing upright in the pot and I took it to its new owner with instructions for planting it. It rained that day and I was not able to mow, so I decided to try again on Wednesday. I could not make an appointment with Dr. O because she was out of town for the whole week. 

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A Daily List

By the end of the day, I had more items on the list completed, but rarely do I complete all items. On occasions when I do finish a list, I celebrate. I’m not into purposefully making short, easy list so I get to celebrate more. I simply have too much to accomplish. Therefore, to reduce clutter, I make a new daily list that will include the few items that did not get done. Items like Dr. O get put on a mid-range list for later completion. Bills that need to be paid by some due date, perhaps within a month or longer, and maintenance items are listed on the long term list, part of the infamous “honey do” list, which is either the calendar or a slip of paper with the calendar. If very little of list is done, I just add a few items and reuse it the next day.

Some readers of the this blog entry will think the whole idea of writing about lists is silly. However, a few people may pick up some hints about how to organize their lives. It is not the exact method that is the point but what works efficiently for you. Use what you can; ignore what you can’t. Secondly, I decided quite some time ago that I would blog about what interested me and about daily life. This blog entry satisfies both ends. Thirdly, I intend my blog to be a journal and open book of who I am and who I am becoming. I frequently give glory to God in my blog entries, not because I think it is an “ought” or “should”, but because I am so thankful for God’s work to regenerate, redeem, and reform me. Becoming a a disciplined, efficient, thoughtful person are characteristics I hope He is working in me for His glory and the mutual good of my neighbor and me. A life well thought out is well lived, and that is best done with a starting point of “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs 9:10 

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It is very possible that you do not know what you fear most because you have not confronted that situation yet. There is also depth of fear and extent of fear, by which I mean absolutely horrifying as opposed to what you most guard against because it is constantly in your thoughts consciously or subconsciously. 

Evidently, I speak of the latter when I say what I most fear. I most fear being publicly humiliated for being incompetent and unprepared. I say evidently because occasionally I have dreams about just such things. I tend to have two kinds of dreams, those that may or may not seem significant, based on my emotional state after I awaken, but that I can’t remember any detail about, and those dreams that are very clear in every detail and seem to be communicating something profound to me or about me.

This morning was an occurrence of the latter. I am a science teacher. For some, what seems to me, a silly reason, I always have a few moments of first-year teacher nervousness about the first day of class (a tale tale indication of my greatest fear?). Now in terms of the school year, the dream I am about to relate to you is a mid-summer nights’ dream, making it all the more curious that it should happen, since school should be the last thing on my mind.

I was in a old school building that was very well remodeled. It was between classes of the last period of the day on the first day of class. I was required to rove to a different class this period, which when I have been required to do is the most bothersome thing to me, probably because it always involves some level of not being prepared for class when it begins. On the way there students in the bathroom were involved in some unknown rowdiness which my appearance and stern voice immediately dissipated. This further delayed my arrival to class. The students began filing out of the bathroom. I recognized most of them and many of them went into the classroom that I was entering. As we entered the tardy bell rang. The room was large with the classroom set-up at one end. Students were already in their desks. I knew all of the students, having had most of them the previous semester and others the year before. All of the students had attempted, out of a social habit that I have observed that makes them feel more comfortable, to sit in their previously assigned seats. Everything was in order except for one desk missing on the front row, so that a student assigned last year to that desk was sitting on the floor where the desk would have been. As I walked to the front of the room all faces turned toward me and the immediate thought came to me, “Why are these students here? I have had them all, most of them last semester, and they all passed (didn’t they?)?” I came to the desk, seeing that it was very neatly organized with every office supply gadget you could want and organizers for many colorful highlighters and markers. As I surveyed this wonder and the fact that there was not one piece of my papers, syllabus or otherwise, on the desk, the thought occurred to me, is this Earth and Environmental Science class that I have exclusively taught the last few years or the Chemistry class that I was told I might be teaching? If I ask the students which it is they will know that I am unprepared, not because I don’t know the subject, but because I have no materials to hand out and no lesson prepared. If it is Earth Science, I’ve done it so many times recently that I can totally wing it, but if it is Chemistry, as likely these “repeating” students imply, I’m clueless where to begin even though my head is filled with Chemistry facts. I stood overlooking the smiling faces in front of me, students who had likely taken Chemistry because they liked me as a teacher before, waiting for a spark of inspiration.

The dream ended by me awakening, lying flat on my back in the pleasant morning light and coolness, wondering what I would do next, and wondering why such dreams persist in my consciousness. Evidently, I fear being humiliated publicly for being incompetent and unprepared. Given that fact, should I share this dream?

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Numbers make sense out of our world. They quantify otherwise incoherent information. On occasions they reveal interesting patterns of symmetry. They may prevent us from taking flights of qualitative fancy should we happen to heed their steadying implications.

I was silly enough to pull over a few nights ago to take a picture of my odometer because of some symmetry I saw. It is in no way magical and not even uncommon to observe symmetry in numbers. It isn’t even a palindrome, for example, when expanding (x + y)^2  the coefficients of the resulting polynomial are 1,3,3,1.

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Then there was the one I ask my son to take a picture of in his car while I was driving (more about that when I get the pictures downloaded from the phone).

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I had posted a time for my one mile some time back. I have struggled with increasing my distance. I seem always tired or something not quite right. Finally, I made three miles recently. It was not pretty. It is amazing how much slower I am than a year and a half ago. Chock it up to old I guess, even though it seems more like some type of induced physiological inefficiency (I ought to name some syndrome after that- IPIS (pronounced eye-pis)- Induced Physiological Inefficiency Syndrome. It makes a good excuse.)

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Another trip on the road to pick up my wife who was visiting our daughter while I was away for the weekend with one of our sons (not a sentence yet), caused me to reflect on white lines. Strictly speaking, since they were white and it was daytime, they were reflecting on(to) me, but you get the idea. Have you ever wondered how many dashed center lines there are per mile on the interstate, and if the number is consistent? The first time I considered this seriously was on a trip to Oshkosh with a Scouting Outward group. A discussion came up about ways of thinking and perspectives. I made the point that people need to try to find several ways of solving a problem to see if the answers match. Then I proceeded to say I knew of three ways to estimate the length between the beginning of one stripe and the beginning of the next. Challenged that I could not, I pulled the van (driving again) over onto the shoulder, hopped out and paced off between the beginning of one stripe and the next (parallel on the shoulder). Then I got back in and counted the number of stripes in several measured miles (little green mile markers help) for repeatability, which I then explained as precision. Next I traveled at 60 mph, that is, a mile a minute, and had several people count how many stripes passed (relatively speaking (frame of reference)) every 10 seconds and then had them multiply by 6. Finally, as a bonus, I noticed a semi-trailer labeled 53′, as they frequently are, and estimated what fraction of that length the distance between beginning of stripes was. Well, I’m here to tell you that in NC, the distance between stripes is fairly consistent, with approximately 120 stripes per mile, at about 44 feet between the beginning of one stripe and the next. Now I imagine that there is a spec somewhere that delineates this distance and that the instructions for the stripe painting driver go something like “traveling at 40 mph, set the frequency of stripe painting at one stripe every 0.75 seconds for duration of 0.2 seconds (Can you figure out how long I am estimating the stripes to be?) All of that historical background was for the purpose of clearing my mind of the first time I seriously estimated the distance to refer to what I discovered about counting them today.

Actually, looking at and identifying sight of each stripe in order to count it is hard to do. After messing up several times, I opted for a simpler and more primitive method. Instead of looking directly at the stripes, I looked directly ahead (good idea when you are driving, eh?) and caught sight of the flash of contrast as each stripe disappeared at the bottom corner of my windshield. It felt almost like an involuntary response that I was counting rather than stripes. I got more interested in the process and why it is more efficient and more accurate than the result I was obtaining, though that result came out the same after several tries. Catching the peripheral vision flash method excluded the fully intentional recognition of individual stripes for the simpler counting of flashes. I understand that certain infrared missile guidance systems look for changes in heat signature rather than positive IR ID of targets. As an after note, I found out on that trip to Wisconsin those years ago that the stripes are closer together there, especially on WS toll roads. Is it a random change of the dials for the paint truck or a different spec for some legitimate reason like fog or snow? After allowing my brain to go with what comes to it in a paragraph like this one, I always wonder how many people who started this article read this paragraph and how many rolled their eyes as they did read it. I attribute readership of such wonderings to staunch friends and deep seated geeks.

Speaking of geeks and numbers, I just watched an informative YouTube video on rocket engine comparison. The main take away from the video for me was the number and complexity of considerations to engineer anything. Such a video can open your mind to the breadth of design considerations. If you like, you may check it out at “Is SpaceX’s Raptor engine the king of rocket engines?”

I like numbers and symmetry and beauty because they point to God. Galileo Galilei said, “[The universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language…” And concerning his astronomy, Johannes Kepler said, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” It has long been realized that math is the language of science, leading to an understanding, albeit at times ever so dim, of how God organized the universe. Math and Science and Art should be our means of giving glory to God, not detracting from it.

 

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I like big adventures as much as the next person: A trip to an exotic, far off place; a expedition into an unknown place of exploration; a purpose driven service for others. But daily life rarely presents such big adventures unless you can re-orient your perspective to sum all of the small discoveries and opportunities into the whole. Following are a few very small joys in which I partook in the last week. They are neither big nor even the best of the week, but they are the ones for which I had a camera and the appropriate occasion to use it.

I walked out in the yard on a pleasant Spring evening, beyond the large hedge bush, where I had forgotten that I had transplanted a daylily last fall because of crowding where it was formerly. There was a bright surprise on the other side of the bush. Spruce or forest green is my favorite color, but a light golden yellow is a close second. (I never know what to call this color. It’s not gold leaf; it’s too orange to be yellow and too yellow to be orange; it doesn’t quite seem like amber.)

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Twin Beauties

My wife is a particularly  good cook and all the better because she tries new dishes. My palate is never bored. After a new and good dinner the other evening, I pushed back from the table a bit to savor the moment, noticing the patterns of pinewood, stainless wear, and Corelleware. Oak grain is perhaps my favorite and most interesting grain though admittedly curly maple is quite intricate. Walnut grain is rich. Pine knots are the most interesting part pine grain. When placed in pairs on a veneer such as a plywood, the parallel knots can may interesting pictures of faces. Patterns on forks and plates can be gaudy for my taste but French curves are tasteful if not overdone. For instance, consider the persistence of Paisley’s, a French curve derivative.

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Unity and Contrast of patterns, colors, and materials

Mallard Ducks are common and “garden variety”, but have you ever looked closely at the decorations on a male Mallard? I reminds me of the verse: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.” (Luke 12:27) Conversely, I only saw two Mallard’s paddling upstream against the current. Where are the thousands of birds and the teaming fish in the river? Once migrating flocks blackened the skies. What have we done?

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From orange, webbed feet to yellow, dabbling bill, he’s a well decorated flier

One of the activities my wife and I do most consistently beyond chores is walking on our local Greenway. This is where we saw the ducks. Only a few moments later, my wife was asking me what kind of tree was beside the way. This got me to looking up a little more than usual. Though I do like to look up in the trees, I usually do it more when sitting or lying. As the picture reveals I saw a little different variety on a large oak trunk near the path, a few feet above usual line of sight. I told my wife to come back and see it. She exclaimed and gave it wider berth. I stayed behind to snap a few pictures. I had more close up pictures but black is black and the context of trunk and path seemed more informative.

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For perspective: approximately 4 1/2 feet Black Snake

I am thankful to God for occasional brushes with small joys in nature and relationships and comforts to keep life interesting. Catalog your small joys like the old hymn says: “Count your blessings; name them one by one. Count your many blessings; see what God hath done.”

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I took more time convincing myself to do a chore than I used doing the chore. Why? I knew that I didn’t have the skills, tools, or experience to do a very good job. But that has rarely stopped me before, so why the hesitation? Well, the results are quite visible and frequently so, too. I consoled myself by saying that it would be functional if not fancy. The repair rescued the object from deteriorating into uselessness. The result of my repair was adequate and I am mildly satisfied with the result. There is nothing wrong with something looking good and functioning well. And if you can have a better look without excessive money or time or pride, I’d say go for it. But not everything you own has to look “just so”. Functional will do.

My short poem that resulted from these thoughts took a turn from my consideration of the project I did. I don’t know if they quite correlate, but I think the thoughts in the poem are worth considering.


Functional not fancy is the way to go
Enduring not faddish I do prefer so
Beautiful not fashionable, better you know
Prudent not frivolous, the best seed to sow

In so doing no good advice away throw
Not reap consequences of wild oats you sow
Not wasting life on what may glimmer and glow
Savoring peace in your heart to spread and grow

 

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It’s Marvelous Monday! Just before I stepped back out into the refreshingly crisp and slightly breezy 32 degree morning, I spied the signed that read “…Learning Commons, Encouraging collaboration, exploration, and creation. Supporting lifelong learning since 2007.” I proceeded to my parking lot duty station to stand watch just after 7:15 AM, making my school a kinder and gentler place to be. My mind began to stir with thoughts and comments I had with a student the Friday before concerning the way we do school. As the Sun rose above the small ridge behind the school into a nearly cloudless sky and a songbird repeated his song, my thoughts came together. 

Lifelong learners
They tell us we should be
But how do you touch the heart
By compulsion and decree?

Critical thinking skills
Synthesis to high degree
But without facts in their toolbox
What hope that they will see?

College is a must
AP courses, advanced degree
But where is creativity
Without time to explore and be free?

Learning is for high pursuits
For wisdom for you and me
But when will we understand
Growth of the spirit is key?

Look the look, play the part
Be all that you can be
But have you learned of heaven
To be eternally set free?

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While sitting quietly the other day, I noticed once again a print of an ink stippling on my wall. It was given to me by the artist, Paul S., over 35 years ago. I offer my students the opportunity to interpret its meaning each semester. They have little context for understanding what the picture could mean. As you read the poem by which I tried to interpret it, consider three details: when it was drawn, over 40 years ago; the fact that the wind up key was not in the original drawing (added to soften the message); the driver is a self-portrait of the artist:

Business on parade
Corporate charade
Self-importance stance
Condescending glance

All dressed to impress
Picture of success
Lean and hungry look
Sales castling rook

Off to war we go
Corporate G.I. Joe
Competition war
Watch our profits soar

Take seriously
Capitalist free
Make a better place
Of our world and race

Bosses all are we
We work for a fee
All cogs in the wheel
We stagger and reel

Get on the bus
That’s left even us
Once to camp and play
Now late at work stay

Thus we bid adieu
Commitments renew
Now hard on the track
Taking business flak

business on parade crop

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My students were preparing to take their big semester test. Besides trying to calm some of their nerves and instill confidence, I also wanted to persuade them to not rush either for reasons of nerves or apathy. After my little speech, this poem began to come to me.

Take your time
Please don’t hurry
Do it right
Don’t end in a flurry

Patience now
‘Tis a virtue
Hand to plow
Follow through

Carefully
Wisely proceed
Clearly see
Then the deed

Measure twice
Cut but once
Planned it thrice
Prevention’s ounce

When you’re done
As you should
Quite the run
It was good

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Heat acts like an invisible fluid that washes over and penetrates through any barrier. The reason I thought about it this morning was the temperature in the house, the difference in temperature from outside, and the feel (comfort level) in the house.

The thermometer, placed on the counter in the center of the house, said 68 degrees, which is a reasonable indoor temperature. But should I start a fire in the stove? Ultimately, for most people, the answer to that question depends on comfort level. Ignoring the real psychological components of comfort level, comfort level depends on heat flow rate.

Heat flow rate is the reason for heat index and chill factor in weather reporting of temperature. An inanimate object feels neither extra hot when it is humid nor extra cold when the wind is blowing. The temperature at which it settles is determined solely by the average rate of vibration of its molecules (i.e. temperature). 

But when an object like a thermostated heater or warm blooded mammal or human is warmer than its surroundings and produces heat to maintain that difference, heat flow rate is crucial to comfort and even survival.

For a fuller understanding of this concept. let us posit two facts:

  1. Heat always flows from warmer to cooler.

  2. Heat Flow Rate is     Screen Shot 2018-12-08 at 6.05.10 PM,

where Q is heat, t is time, K is conductivity, dT is change in temperature, and l is length (distance or thickness) of heat flow, and the combination of dT/l is the temperature gradient.

Since in winter I heat with wood for the purpose of keeping us warm and feeling warm, I will consider the situation of heat flowing out of our bodies. Unless I am sitting by the woodstove, I am warmer than the room and heat is leaving me.

The greater the area (A) of my skin exposed to the surroundings, the faster I cool off. For this reason, you don’t expose flesh to the air on an extremely cold day because the heat flow rate is so great from any area of  your body that it can’t provide enough heat to prevent your flesh from freezing.

The greater the temperature difference (dT) between me and the environment cooling me, the faster I cool off. Our bodies are constantly radiating heat to the cooler surroundings. If you have ever worked in an unheated building with a concrete floor, you know that it is very hard to keep warm. You can feel the concrete zapping heat out of you (you radiating to it, in fact).

The shorter the distance (l) for the heat to flow to reach the cooler temperature, the faster I cool off. The thickness is the reason thicker insulation works better. More thickness of a substance that slows heat flow rate slows it more. Insulation, be it pink or down or quilt is really just a function of how much non-convecting air is trapped in the insulating layer. Air is an excellent insulator, which brings us to the next component.

And the better the material is at conducting heat (thermal conductivity (K)) off of me, the faster I cool off. Conversely, the reason air is poor conductor of heat is the distance between molecules. On the other hand, since it is a fluid, it is a decent convector (heat transfer by flow of a fluid), and it provides little resistance to radiation, since there is less matter than most materials to absorb or radiate back the heat. When you put a warm hand on a cold, wooden table it won’t feel very cold, but on a cold, metal appliance it will. This increased flow happens because the metal has a far greater thermal conductivity than an insulator like wood.

Soooooo, back to my question. Should I start a fire when the core of the house is 68 degrees? Considering this situation, I ask myself several questions. What is the temperature outside? Is there a strong wind cooling the house? Is there cloud cover to prevent cooling at night or prevent warming during the day? Is there a temperature trend up or down from the present reading of 68 degrees because of internal or external changes to the house? About this time, those of you who have thermostats that do all of this “thinking” for you should stop taking it for granted. It is a relatively old technology, but not an altogether simple or trivial one.

In terms of comfort level, it can be 68 degrees in the core of the house and feel quite chilly because the outside is removing heat rapidly. This situation will result in the peripheral (near the outside walls) temperature being several degrees cooler.  I used to have my indoor/outdoor thermometer on a window sill. It consistently read cooler than the one I have now. My new thermometer wouldn’t fit on the sill. It would probably be easier to not think about it if I had a thermometer in the center of the house and on the window sill. Then I would have an approximation of the heat flow rate out of the house, but that would make me less truly aware of my surroundings. I have to walk past the central thermometer and past the window to get to the refrigerator and the stove to make my breakfast anyway, so I feel the temperature difference from core to periphery. I do not, however, usually think much about the various components of heat flow rate, because I am only barely awake at 5:15 in the morning.

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Not time for a fire, yet (I need to reset the clock.)

P.S. If you read this far, I surmise that you are either a science geek or a particular friend. Either way, thanks for reading, and glory to God for His ordered universe and minds to make sense out of it.

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My son and I had a conversation nearly 2 months ago now about the most influential people in the world. I do not remember what precipitated the discussion, but it was not in a vacuum. When he was young our family had watched an A&E program named “The 100 Most Influential People of the Millennium”. It began with #100 and built up as they approached their #1 pick for the years 1000 to 2000 A.D. (If you want to see the list, click here. And if you are not really interested in my commentary but want to look at my list, scroll to the bottom.) After much discussion, my son suggested that we challenge the extended family, with whom we would be gathering in a little over a month for Thanksgiving, to make their own lists so we could discuss it after dinner. The A&E list is ranked and we said that each person could decide if they wanted to do that. Additionally, we purposely stated that each person should interpret what kind of influence, who was influenced, and when they were influenced, in making his/her list. I wrote these things in an e-mail to the family e-mail group, not mentioning the A&E list but admonishing participants to not confer with others so that the lists would be more varied and produce more discussion. When I saw the good-hearted discussion on the e-mail replies, I took the additional step of asking two colleagues at my work, who I knew to have different worldviews than my family, to make their lists for the purpose of contrast.

I am happy to say that the whole scheme brought about significant discussion. It was interesting to watch the phases of interaction. After a brief explanation on my part as to how the challenge had occurred, with inclusion of the A&E list, family members began comparing who was on most lists. Next there was a discussion of the rationale behind various member’s lists (more about that in a moment). Then we progressed into names we supposed to be possibly unique to our own lists, asking others if they included them, and if not, why not. It occurred to me that in order to make a really good list you would need a plethora of perspectives. I made the mistake of mentioning that this procedure would work best in a committee. There were some of the strongest opinions about the pitfalls of committees, like slow and argumentative, but they also have the advantage of collaboration and consensus. Since the whole of this blog entry is commentary, I would also add that collaboration is an overused buzz-word and politically correct requirement of public interaction these days. Frequently, isolated, deep contemplation, followed by sharing is more efficient and brings better results, but woe be unto the educational ‘facilitator’ who broaches that perspective.

The rationales for selecting candidates for the 100 lists varied with as many people as participated. My oldest son, who completed his list mostly in his head while working, stated that he did not know enough about the East and confined his list to people who influenced Western Culture. He also said that most lists would not sufficiently include the influence of Christians for now and eternity, so his list is heavy (not meant to imply too heavy necessarily) on Christians. He also said that he had trouble limiting his list to 100 people so his first list had 211. Actually it had more than that because in certain listings he put multiple names, for example the founding fathers of the U.S. His brother added accomplishments onto his list, persuaded him to reduce his list to 200, but then added 25 he thought his brother had left out. It was a collaboration within the individual lists.

I also found mulitple listing unavoidable on some subjects so that I have Watson and Crick for DNA, and Wilbur and Orville for the airplane. But I opted to try to find one revolutionary idea or execution of an idea as representative of a thought or influence, for example, Philo Farnsworth invented the scanning television. His was not the very first or the exact one that number in the millions by the time I was a child, but he broke ground toward a practical, modern TV. I also tried to include significant people from the East. I too am largely ignorant of the East, but I think that it helps tremendously that we were limited to 1000 to 2000 A.D., because many of the formative, significant names in the East are more ancient. For all of this, it is curious that we chose to emphasize what affected our culture, our time, and ourselves the most. Compared to the A&E list, I think we were more far-reaching and inclusive than they were. Some of their picks were simply politically correct, narrowly influencing idealogues and icons of cultural fad. It is good to realize that you are being narrowly focussed on what surrounds you, but be more inclusive tends to adding people that were not really influential, just an influence on some small group you don’t want to leave out.

The chore of ranking these people was the hardest part, and I gave up after #31, because it began to seem ridiculous to me. The whole exercise of ranking may be equally so. I did find it much easier to rank within groupings of types of influencers, for example, spiritual, inventors, scientists, leaders and politicians, literature and the arts, and philosophers. And this is the list I have included below.

I found the whole process stretching, challenging, and enjoyable, with the discussion with family particularly so. If you have a few minutes, peruse my list and give some feedback on why you think certain people should or should not be on my list. Happy listing.

Leon’s Most Influential People of the 1000-2000 AD  (ranked within Groupings)

Spiritual Leaders

  1. Martin Luther (started the Reformation)
  2. John Calvin (Reformer and Theologian)
  3. William Tyndale (English Bible)
  4. Hudson Taylor (Missionary to China)
  5. Billy Graham (Worldwide Evangelist)
  6. George Whitfield (Early American Evangelist)
  7. Charles Spurgeon (Prince of Preachers)
  8. Luis Palau (Latin American Evangelist)
  9. John Wyclif (English Reformer)
  10. Mahatma Gandhi (Indian Holy Man)
  11. Ignatius Loyola (Jesuit founder)
  12. Mother Teresa (Nun to poor of India)

Inventors

  1. Johannes Gutenberg (Moveable Type Printing Press)
  2. James Watt (Inventor of the Steam Engine)
  3. Thomas Edison (Inventor)
  4. Guglielmo Marconi (Wireless)
  5. Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir (Internal Combustion Engine)
  6. Orville and Wilbur Wright (Airplane)
  7. Henry Ford (Assembly Line, affordable car)
  8. Werner von Braun (modern rockets)
  9. Henry Bessemer (economical steel process)
  10. Charles Goodyear (Vulcanized Rubber)
  11. Alfred Nobel (High Explosives; Nobel Prize)
  12. G. LeTourneau (Earth Moving Equipment)
  13. Christiaan Huygens (Pendulum Clock)
  14. Bartolomeo Cristofori (Piano)
  15. Jacques Cousteau (Aqualung, ocean preservation)
  16. John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley (Transistor)
  17. Alexander Graham Bell (Telephone)
  18. William Cullen (Refrigeration)
  19. Theodore H. Maiman (LASER)
  20. Philo Farnsworth (Scanning TV)
  21. Bill Gates (Software Developer)
  22. Alexander Parkes (Thermoset Plastic)
  23. Daguerre (Photography)
  24. George Washington Carver (Agriculture)

Scientists

  1. Isaac Newton (Laws of Motion and Gravity)
  2. Michael Faraday (Electromagnetism: motor)
  3. Albert Einstein (Relativity)
  4. Charles Darwin (Evolution)
  5. Louis Pasteur (Germ Theory and Vaccination)
  6. Gregor Mendel (Genetics)
  7. James Watson/Francis Crick (DNA)
  8. James Clerk Maxwell (Electromagnetic Equations)
  9. Galileo Galilee (Motion and Astronomy)
  10. Johannes Kepler (Elliptical Orbits)
  11. Nicolaus Copernicus (Heliocentric Solar Sys)
  12. Rene Descartes (Philosopher, Mathematician, Scientist)
  13. Roger Bacon (Sci.Method, gunpowder to West)
  14. Dmitri Mendeleev (Periodic Table of Elements)
  15. Niels Bohr (Atomic Model/Quantum Mech)
  16. Edward Jenner (vaccination)
  17. Alexander Fleming (Penicillin)
  18. Pierre and Marie Curie (Radioactivity)
  19. William Harvey (blood circulation)

Government/Political Leaders

  1. William the Conqueror (Conquered Britain)
  2. Mao Zedong (Chinese Communist Revolution)
  3. Suleiman The Magnificent (peak of Ottoman) 
  4. Gustav II Adolf (Supported Protestant States)
  5. George Washington (General/President)
  6. Genghis Khan (Mongol Empire)
  7. Adolf Hitler (Nazi Germany)
  8. Simon Bolivar (Liberator of South America)
  9. Pol Pot (Mass murder in Cambodia)
  10. Queen Elizabeth I (Queen of England)
  11. William Wilberforce (Ended Slavery in Britain)
  12. Napoleon Bonaparte (Defeated Europe)
  13. Vladimir Lenin (Russian Revolution)
  14. Peter the Great (Modernized Russia)
  15. Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence)
  16. Fredrick the Great of Prussia (Peak of Prussia)
  17. Mustafa Ataturk (Liberalization of Turkey)
  18. Abraham Lincoln (Civil War)
  19. Martin Luther King Jr. (Civil Rights Movement)

Explorers

  1. Christopher Columbus (rediscovery of New World)
  2. Marco Polo (European trade with China)
  3. Ferdinand Magellan (Explorer)
  4. Hernan Cortes (Conqueror of Aztec Mexico)
  5. James Cook (Explorer)

Literature, Music and the Arts

  1. William Shakespeare (Playwright, Writer)
  2. John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress)
  3. John Milton (Paradise Lost, Writer)
  4. Johann Sebastian Bach (Baroque Composer)
  5. Dante Alighieri (Divine Comedy)
  6. Leonardo da Vinci (Inventor, Sculptor, Painter)
  7. Charles Dickens (Novelist)
  8. Michelangelo (Painter/Sculptor)
  9. Wolfgang Mozart (Composer)
  10. Ludwig van Beethoven (Composer)
  11. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Writer)
  12. Leo Tolstoy (Novelist)

Philosophers

  1. Thomas Aquinas (Christianity &Greek thought)
  2. Carl Marx (Marxism)
  3. John Locke (Social Contract)
  4. Sigmund Freud (Psychoanalysis)
  5. William Blackstone (Law)
  6. Immanuel Kant (Transcendentalism)
  7. Soren Kierkegaard (Existentialism)
  8. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Political)
  9. Friedrich Nietzsche (Nihilism)

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One of the projects I am involved in is the development of a trail behind our school. Given the committee’s desire to include the community, churches, and 4 schools in the development and use of the trail, I suggested naming it the Enola Community Trail (ECT). And so it is. The timing of this community trail was sequential to a student initiated emphasis on helping others, exercise, and the outdoors. An English teacher at my school took  their idea and coupled it with a trail I had already developed in the woods behind our school. (I may ask her to guest blog that huge side of the story.) She asked me how we could use the trail to get students outside and moving.

The idea for a trail originated with a class I taught for about 6 years called Advanced Biology. I basically wrote the curriculum, a fact that I should not admit to in public. That was probably the demise of the class, since it did not have a state mandated test and didn’t have an approved, curriculum specialist, set curriculum.

Now that doesn’t mean we didn’t work and learn, because there is nothing I hate worse than wasting time. In fact, if a class of 30 students wants to pack up 5 minutes early, I point out that they are intending to waste 2 1/2 man-hours of work. The class included the indoor studies like dissecting cats (once or twice a piglet and shark as well) along with a body organ quiz and extended discussion on binary classification, using stereoscopes to identify student made collections of insects, spiders, wildflowers, and also trees as the season allowed, preparing powerpoint presentations about a body system to present to the class, and researching and writing a paper on an organism of the student’s choice which included characteristics, ecological importance, range, population (including level of endangerment), and usefulness for food, medicine, shelter. The outdoor studies included making collections, trap and release studies, game cameras, succession and soil studies, reflections, creek studies (from dissolved oxygen and macro-invertebrates to erosion) and building projects. We built two bridges, one to cross a creek and one to cross an erosion ditch, two bird nesting boxes with a camera in one, and a pole with bat box and raptor nesting site above. Behind the school there was a small kudzu patch, a large briar patch, two old fields overgrown with trees (one dog hair stand and one with young trees and vines so thick you couldn’t see 15 feet), a monoculture of Eastern White Pines, a large lawn, a hay field, a riparian zone and creek, a small intermittent wetland, and a patch of what seems to be virgin forest (…or at least long undisturbed. It is still there with old growth trees next to a meander in the creek at the odd corner of 5 properties. Mayapples, Doghobble, heavy leaf cover, and 10+ varieties of large hardwoods grace the scene. I call it ‘Beauty Spot’.)

To access these places I had the students begin to build a trail. It was a narrow, single-track path, with two grades cut into the side of banks with mattocks and shovels. The students dug, trimmed, cut, sweated, and occasionally played in the creek. We would frequently stop to talk about a spider someone saw or wildflower, or a bird overhead, or the change in type or smell of the dirt. At first the students whined about the work, but by halfway through the semester they would beg to go out and work, or sit and talk about nature.

One project was fun to surprise the students with. I would lead them down to ‘Beauty Spot’, a solid 1/2 mile walk from our classroom. Then I would explain that they were to lie down in the leaf litter to look, listen, smell, and feel the surroundings for 10 minutes in stillness and silence. It was very difficult to convince them that it is OK to lie down in the leaves. Questions of bugs, snakes, spiders, filth, and more were common. I usually had to plop myself down and call for them to lie down around me. Then I would quiet them and say no talking or movement, or we start over. When I called time, I told them to write down as many things in their journal as they could remember. Next we discussed what we observed. I added as many other things as I could to help them see the need to hone observation skills. Several students would reflect then or later that it was the most amazing outdoor experience they had ever had. I was always amazed since I have spent many hours over many years doing just this, especially on backpacking trips. The opening of their minds and hearts to the significance and love of nature I called ‘Affective Biology’.

I guess we would have run out of trail building and significant maintenance eventually, but it didn’t happen in the six years I had the class. One regrettable reason for this continuance of need to maintenance the trail was the growing kudzu patch. I wrote above that is was a small patch. I warned and pleaded about the coming doom to the wonderful variety of habitats in such a small area, but to no avail. I even had borrowed a goat from a student’s grandfather to test the idea of goats controlling kudzu. In this preliminary study, we checked on the goat every school day to give it water. It was confined in a ten by ten, portable chain link enclosure. That little goat could denude 100 square feet of ground with chest deep (on a human) kudzu every 3 days. Oh, to have a little flock with fencing and small shed to solve the problem ecologically and educationally. Instead, the goat was stolen by a ‘concerned’ student and her uncle who thought we were being cruel to animals by ‘experimenting on a goat’. Never mind that kudzu is nutritious and edible by humans as well as goats. It was quite a surrealistic scene when the goat was returned a week later before the eyes of the class and grandfather.

To say the Advanced Biology class was the best part of my teaching career is an exaggeration and misunderstanding. It was good because of the challenge to me to find new things to study, the truly hands-on activities that didn’t include more than about 3 or 4 lectures from me the whole 90 days, the time outdoors, and the change I saw in students. But the best part of education is the interaction with young people at their moments of wanting to understand the world around them, the meaning of and best way to live life, and humor and warmth of relationship. You have to plow through a load of interaction that is anything but that to experience it, and it doesn’t seem worth it much of the time. I have had those significant discussions with individuals and whole classes in all of the various classes I’ve taught. You just have to seek it and wait for it.

So, I guess this whole blog entry is a side-track, since the title has been largely neglected thus far. When others got involved, they envisioned more of a walking, jogging, eight feet wide greenway style trail, and so it is becoming. In reality, it does not detract from my original intent of nature studies in various habitats, because the trail mostly traverses the growing kudzu patch and might hopefully be the final demise of the same. “Beauty Spot” is still there and the creek is largely undisturbed. The new trail may even result in an outdoor classroom and a wetland/catchment basin to solve an erosion problem. 

One of the problems of such a project like this is conveying and passing on vision. You might have thought I would say getting funding, but as individuals and organizations understand our vision, they want to help. But how do you get the wider community excited about something they can’t see or is only partially formed? It is as if you must reach critical mass of manifest vision before the many contribute money and manpower. We may be approaching that mass, or at least, we hope so.

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