The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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May 2012

Why yes actually, I’ve been known to take a sip or two of whiskey. Every now and then. A thimble-full really, and on special occasions only mind you.

Happy birthday to a war hero, former President, and among the last of a dying breed of gunslingers.

Many are fond of quoting him, but take a quick minute to reflect on this day: What would it mean if you took these words personally? How would you change the way you live your life, if at all? What if these exhortations were delivered personally, to you directly and no one else? No answer required, just the thought.

Notable quotes:

Now the trumpet summons us again -not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are-but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”-a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. […] The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it-and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to insist upon or regard that quality in its chosen leaders today – and in fact we have forgotten.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.

I look forward to a great future for America – a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.

I’m an idealist without illusions.

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.

Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.

Modern cynics and skeptics… see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.

No one has been barred on account of his race from fighting or dying for America, there are no white or colored signs on the foxholes or graveyards of battle.

Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.

— John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

This is a fantastic commencement address given by noted science fiction author Neil Gaiman. He speaks primarily of writing, but the message is beautifully applicable to any art form… including simply living life.

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.

The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

Educated to Death: 0170: Dear teachers, students, and other dissidents

Link: Educated to Death: 0170: Dear teachers, students, and other dissidents

Food for thought.. Click on the link in the reblog at the bottom of this post to take you to the full post on educatedtodeath to which I am responding.

I agree that teachers are likely the most effective way to slow or reverse the pervasive spread of disinformation, disinterestedness, and disaffection in our society. But I’m not sure I would agree with the implication (as I read it) that our times are worse in any measure than any others, or that we are on some irreversibly downward spiral into a corporate-controlled conspiracy state. 

I do see a world that, as ever, needs fixing. Some problems we have as humans may never be solved, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try… it is in the good faith effort at change, the application of moral courage in a dark world, that moves us forward as individuals and as a species. And so long as there are enough individuals who sense the urgency and rally to the call, we will persevere.

It is interesting that the more I explore the last half century or so of American society, the more I see how many of the moral questions of the 1960’s remain fervently alive today. As was the case then, the solution is to strive with purpose and all one’s heart towards what is good, and know that you did your part.

” Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. […] The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”

— John Fitzgerald Kennedy.


#education #SOSchat #revolution #occupyedu

We’ve been conditioned to do nothing more than consume. While we hear whispers of competing in a global market, and communicating and collaborating on a grand scale, these are but whispers. These are whispers that are intended to silence the would be…

Now let’s build a ship to sail it.


Triton: The Outer Most Ocean in The Solar System

A new day dawns on Triton. It’s going to be a cold one, much like the last. And the one before that… and every day since the moon settled into its present orbit around Neptune. Even the volcanoes here spew out cold gases and liquid water rather than hot magma. But below the frigid surface, which registers a temperature of -235 °C, there’s something more clement: a liquid ocean.

At first glance, Triton seems to be just another icy moon – a featureless, barren world spinning around Neptune, the outermost planet of our solar system. But Triton is different.

For one thing, it orbits Neptune backwards, moving in the opposite direction to Neptune’s rotation. It’s the only large moon in the solar system to do so. Satellites can’t form in these “retrograde” orbits, so Triton must have begun life elsewhere before being captured by the gas giant. It looks a lot like Pluto, and probably came from the same place – the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt, close to Neptune.

The Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Triton in 1989, sending back images of the moon’s frozen surface. They revealed signs of cryovolcanism – the eruption of subsurface liquids which quickly freeze when exposed to the cold of the outer solar system. As such, Triton joins a short list of worlds in the solar system known to be geologically active.

Its surface ice is unique, too: largely composed of nitrogen, with some cantaloupe-textured terrain, and a polar cap of frozen methane.


So one fundamental attitude shared by Buddhism and science is the commitment to keep searching for reality by empirical means and to be willing to discard accepted or long-held positions if our search finds that the truth is different

The Dalai Lama — The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality  (via ikenbot)

Amen, Carl Sagan.


“These are some of the things hydrogen atoms do, given fifteen billion years of cosmic evolution. It has the sound of epic myth, but it’s simply a description of the evolution of the cosmos as revealed by science in our time. And we, we who embody the local eyes and ears, and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos, we’ve begun at last to wonder about our origins. Star stuff contemplating the stars, organized collections of ten billion billion billion atoms contemplating the evolution of matter, tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and, perhaps, throughout the cosmos. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves, but also to that cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.”

Remember this day ladies and gentlemen. It may not seem like much now to most non-space-geeks… but despite everything else crazy going on in the world right now, this is what your grandchildren are going to ask you about someday. That flaming piece of machinery ascending into the sky is the dawn of humanity’s next era of exploring the stars. Congratulations SpaceX and your NASA partners on a historic milestone and a remarkable technical achievement.

Some friends and I were at dinner during the eclipse and we literally kept running out of the sushi restaurant every 10 minutes with solar glasses to take a look. Got some weird looks ourselves.

I used to quote things like this all the time, and I think its been quite fashionable for progressive-minded people to do so for the last several decades, at least since the 60’s. What I see far less of these days is people actually doing something. Then I realized that I had been arm-chairing about nobody actually doing anything about anything for years without actually doing anything about anything. So then I decided to do something about something.

Counter-culture hipster attitudes and a veneer of non-conformity are everywhere, at least here in California. I see a lot of the other end of the spectrum too, religious conservatives who have somehow managed to interpret the New Testament to support the idea that repressive socioeconomic policies, massive corporate profits, rabid individualism, and resorting to force are ever good things. If there’s one thing humans are good at as a species, its reconciling the irreconcilable… keeping calm and carrying on.

The fact of the matter is that the world is broken. But the beauty is in the fighting of it. We can love truly when there are so many forces struggling to divide us. We can pursue a life dedicated to the betterment of one’s fellow human beings, even in the face of so many influences delighting when we look out only for number one. See, that is the bribe; the price of our silence and inaction is the hedonism of convenience, the drug of indifference, an opiate made of jaded apathy. Life is just so much easier that way. And they know it, and they make money off of it.

In fact, the world has been broken for millenia, and we certainly aren’t the first generation to find that out. What I think is different now is that we expect someone else to do something about it, or worse, convince ourselves that the world is not actually worth fixing.

I’m tired of it. I’ve traded in a comfortable secure income and almost everything I own for a proverbial lance and donkey. If you need me, I’ll be in the inner city, charging at windmills built of ignorance, neglect, suspicion, injustice, and an institutionalized hypocrisy armored with exceptionalist hubris.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

— Steve Jobs

Easy to blog about or tweet links. Now what are you doing about it? Saddle up.