The Very Spring and Root

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

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June 2012

Cross Country Rail Trip!

The day of reckoning is here. Today I leave California for my new life on that other coast. I resigned from NASA a couple of weeks ago, and am ready to start the next adventure as a high school physics teacher for Boston’s high-need urban schools.

I shipped 9 storage containers and a bicycle from my house in Quartz Hill, emptied/donated/sold the rest of the stuff in my house and handed it over to a property manager for rental, then headed up to NorCal to spend some time with the fam. We took a little coast trip to Monterey (photoset from the aquarium pending until I get my desktop up and running in Boston), and then spent some quality time for the last few days at home.

Today, I leave Sacramento on Amtrak, bound for Boston on a 4-day rail trip adventure! I change once in Chicago, where I switch from the California Zephyr to the Lake Shore Limited. I cashed in 35,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points to travel in style, gratis… I’ve got a private roomette the whole way and meals included!

Internet access will be sporadic, so tumblr updates are not likely to be often, but I will be tweeting via @quantumcowboy on hashtag #TrainXC if you want to follow along. I’m also taking video and photo along the way, also posted here when I get the desktop up and running on the other end.

Review of “The Courage to Teach”

The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life [With CDROM]The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life [With CDROM] by Parker J. Palmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More a philosophy of inner being than a manual for teaching, this is an absolutely wonderful read for anyone working in a field that involves the intersection of people and ideas (which in theory should be everybody). It does get a little esoteric and, well, new-agey. But despite this the overall message is positive, relevant, and engaging.

View all my reviews

The Dalai Lama speaks on “Promoting Inner Values”.


We live in a great neighborhood.


Parts of Mars Interior as Wet as Earth’s

The interior of Mars holds vast reservoirs of water, with some spots apparently as wet as Earth’s innards, scientists say.

The finding upends previous studies, which had estimated that the Red Planet’s internal water stores were scanty at best — something of a surprise, given that liquid water apparently flowed on the Martian surface long ago.

“It’s been puzzling why previous estimates for the planet’s interior have been so dry,” co-author Erik Hauri, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, said in a statement. “This new research makes sense and suggests that volcanoes may have been the primary vehicle for getting water to the surface.”

In just 44 days, NASA most advanced Mars rover ever, Curiosity, will land on the surface of the red planet on August 5th. This bad boy is massive for a rover… about 10 feet long, and about 4 times as heavy as the space agency’s two previous (and astoundingly successful) rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

One of the coolest things about Curiosity is its Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) sequence. This video depicts and describes it better than I could ever do, so I’ll jlet them do that.

(I will add, however, that I think it’s cool that much like the Apollo lunar lander and other landers since, they test these things in the Mojave.)

It’s a bit of a tradition at Dryden to see people off with a luncheon at Domingo’s Mexican and Seafood Restaurant in Boron, CA. It’s also a Domingo’s tradition to sing and smear flan on the guest of honor…

Many fond memories of this shack of a Mexican place in the middle of the Mojave. Lots of of students going in and out on their internship and co-op rotations had their sendoffs here, as well as retirements, birthdays, project successes, and even meeting astronauts after they landed in the Space Shuttle at Edwards. Good times, and thanks to my branch for taking me out on my last week!

[Video thanks to my friend Michelle Berger, taken on Thursday June 14th, 2012.]

Titan has seasonal weather, landforms, stable liquid lakes and rivers (probably of light hydrocarbon alkanes), a dense atmosphere that is primarily nitrogen, and a ton of water ice. Not surprisingly then, it is a prime candidate for extraterrestrial microbial life, or perhaps in a “pre-life” stage, and right here in our own neighborhood.

Um, yeah, so… why are we not outfitting our manned explorer vessel again? Or at least, oh, a few dozen unmanned probes? 


Rhea Before Titan

I don’t think anything has been more foundational to my knowledge, goals, awareness of the world, aspirations, achievements, personal character, and individual ideas about what life is and how to approach it, than the simple fact that I never stopped reading as a child.

I was blessed with a family that actively encouraged me to read, as well as extended family and friends who read to me, gave me books freely, and in other ways stoked the fires of imagination. I firmly believe that the best thing anyone and do for him or herself, no matter at what age or station in life, is to always have a book in progress.

The man who doesn’t read has no advantage over the man who can’t.
    Mark Twain

I also like:

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.
    Ernest Hemingway

Books, books…

Ok so, today I was “just browsing” and… totally blew through all $100 in B&N gift cards I got from my perpetually generous Great Aunt and Uncle. But! It’s all for a good cause. Among my purchases today, the following three education-related titles:

Also got some Rachael Maddow (Drift) and Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World). Not gonna lie, kind of have a nerdcrush on Rachael, and Carl is always a good thought-provoker (though I don’t always agree with either). Can’t wait to get cracking on these, though perhaps I should pace myself… apparently the pre-reading for BTR is about to start rolling in…

Why Einstein Was Not Qualified To Teach High-School Physics

Link: Why Einstein Was Not Qualified To Teach High-School Physics

… while at the same time we complain that not enough STEM professionals are connecting with the classroom.

On the one hand, I do very much believe that teaching is a profession in and of its own right, and superb content knowledge does not necessarily a good teacher make. However, I’m also very interested to find out how much of the rhetoric that teacher’s unions use is an accurate defense of a noble profession versus how much is self-inflated protective bullshit.

An engineer investigates this and more over the next few years, stay tuned to this blog…