Today's Orlando Sentinel features, on its opinion page, a wonderful article by guest columnist James O. Cunningham: What's wrong with America? 'Dear Sir, I am'. The link takes you to the front page, from which you could click to page 12—or maybe not; it's not clear to me which parts the newspaper makes available to non-subscribers. But the Sentinel also makes it possible to clip and save articles, and this one deserves wider publicity, so I've included it below. If you find the print too small, click on the image for a larger version. (H/T Porter, who grabbed my attention by mentioning the Chesterton quote.)

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 17, 2017 at 10:32 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 0 times | Comments (0)
Category Politics: [first] [previous] Random Musings: [first] [previous]

Google frequently suggests, through my phone, articles that it thinks I might find interesting. Most of the time it's not even close: Really, I don't want to know what President Trump tweeted, any more than I wanted to hear what President Obama said on Saturday Night Live. I consider both to be inappropriate venues for a President. But recently Google was whang in the gold, with its suggestion of the video below from musician Rick Beato.

Not the whole video, actually. Mostly it's about acquiring the musical skill known as perfect (absolute) pitch, and why Beato believes it must occur during a child's first two years of life. He makes a good case, but it's a controversial point, and he apparently takes no account of recent studies demonstrating neuroplasticity in adult brains—something previously considered to be impossible. In any case, Beato himself doesn't mean adults can't develop really, really good relative pitch and get quite close to absolute pitch; after all, he has created several YouTube videos on how to do just that. But babies ... they're still something special.

The part of the video I find most intriguing is from the 6 minute point to about the 13 minute point.

One thing that surprised me, although in retrospect it should not have, is that Beato's son's acquired his ability to discern and remember pitches well before he knew any note names. But this post is not really about perfect pitch. It's also not about me feeling guilty for the opportunities lost with our children, and certainly not about making anyone else feel guilty for their own omissions. We do what we can with what we know at the time, and regrets are part of every parenthood contract. My concerns now are more general and philosophical.

What strikes me here—and it confirms what I've learned from other sources—is that our teaching habits are upside down.

Apparently, what helps babies learn is complexity. Materials with high information content. Unexpected twists and turns. So what do we do? We simplify everything for children. We give them baby talk, controlled-vocabulary books, and three-chord songs, when their brains are craving adult conversations, complex language, Bach, and jazz. Sure, they learn anyway: Babies are so desperate to learn they'll use whatever tools they can get their hands on. But despite the best of intentions, we are building cages where we should be opening doors.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 15, 2017 at 6:23 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 23 times | Comments (1)
Category Education: [first] [previous] Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] Music: [first] [previous]

Warning: This is an unabashed Grandma-brag—but it has a generally-applicable point as well.

One of my recurrent themes here is the truth that children can do and be so much more than we usually expect of them, from toddlers to teenagers. While our thirteen-year-old grandson's accomplishment is not on a par with commanding a captured naval vessel at the age of 12, nor with captaining a trading ship at 19, I'm quite proud of him—and his parents.

alt

In his right hand is an oak board, similar to that from which he made the object in his left hand, which, when painted, will replace the barber-pole coat rack at a local barbershop.

When he approached the barber, who had advertised for someone to do the work, it took guts and skill to negotiate the commission, not to mention to persuade the barber that a young teen could do the job.

It was an ambitious project, and required working with some heavy-duty power tools—radial arm saw, lathe, planer, and jointer—knowing not only their operation, but proper safety equipment and procedures as well. It was a time-consuming job that required patience. persistence, and focus. That's pretty impressive at an age when many consider him too young to fly unaccompanied on a commerical airplane, to own a knife, or even to stay home alone.

He can cook full meals, too, and I don't mean just heating things up in the microwave.

Is he some sort of genius?  Of course he is, he's my grandchild!

But seriously, what distinguishes him the most from many young people is opportunity. His parents didn't just turn him loose among those dangerous tools, unprepared. He's been helping in the workshop (and the kitchen) since he was a toddler. So have his siblings. The kind of training that produces skills of this sort requires patience and persistence on the part of parents, too—and even more so, a willingness to stand up for the right of children to fly in a society determined to clip their wings.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 13, 2017 at 10:16 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 84 times | Comments (5)
Category Education: [first] [previous] [newest] Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] [newest] Random Musings: [first] [previous] [newest]

I'm so glad that the ending of the Space Shuttle program did not mean the end of being able to watch launches from our front yard.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 6:58 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 32 times | Comments (0)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous]

The article may be a little heavy-going, but I know some of my readers will love it. It's not often number theory makes the headlines: Mathematicians Discover Prime Conspiracy. Maybe it's the idea of conspiracy—that always sells.

Two mathematicians have uncovered a simple, previously unnoticed property of prime numbers — those numbers that are divisible only by 1 and themselves. Prime numbers, it seems, have decided preferences about the final digits of the primes that immediately follow them.

Among the first billion prime numbers, for instance, a prime ending in 9 is almost 65 percent more likely to be followed by a prime ending in 1 than another prime ending in 9. In a paper posted online today, Kannan Soundararajan and Robert Lemke Oliver of Stanford University present both numerical and theoretical evidence that prime numbers repel other would-be primes that end in the same digit, and have varied predilections for being followed by primes ending in the other possible final digits.

The discovery is the exact opposite of what most mathematicians would have predicted... Most mathematicians would have assumed ... that a prime should have an equal chance of being followed by a prime ending in 1, 3, 7 or 9.

Soundararajan was drawn to study consecutive primes after hearing a lecture at Stanford by the mathematician Tadashi Tokieda, of the University of Cambridge, in which he mentioned a counterintuitive property of coin-tossing: If Alice tosses a coin until she sees a head followed by a tail, and Bob tosses a coin until he sees two heads in a row, then on average, Alice will require four tosses while Bob will require six tosses (try this at home!), even though head-tail and head-head have an equal chance of appearing after two coin tosses.

Soundararajan wondered if similarly strange phenomena appear in other contexts. Since he has studied the primes for decades, he turned to them — and found something even stranger than he had bargained for.

What does this mean for ordinary mortals? Who knows? It may mean nothing ... or it may lead to the next big break in cryptography. With math, anything's possible.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at 10:04 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 54 times | Comments (2)
Category Education: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

J. R. R. Tolkien said that Leaf by Niggle was the only one of his stories that wrote itself. It has long held a special place in my heart, though it has none of the majesty and glory of his Lord of the Rings books.

I hope the copyright holders will forgive me for the rather long quotation below. It is only the beginning of the story; the best part is yet to come, and I strongly urge you to find your own copy and read it all. Mine is included as part of "Tree and Leaf" in The Tolkien Reader. Apparently there is a stand-alone version, but unfortunately nothing for Kindle.

As I said, the best part, the really beautiful part, comes later in the story. But this beginning captures so perfectly the dilemmas of creative people: How to balance the demands and pleasures of "real life"with the deep-seated, sometimes almost desperate need to "work, for the night is coming" on one's own, particular calling. At least, this is my own experience, and, I'm convinced, that of Tolkien himself. Perhaps other creative people, of whom I know many among my readers, will find a resonance here.

And then go and read the Rest of the Story for encouragement.

There was once a little man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it. He knew he would have to start some time, but he did not hurry with his preparations.

Niggle was a painter. Not a very successful one, partly because he had many other things to do. Most of these things he thought were a nuisance; but he did them fairly well, when he could not get out of them: which (in his opinion) was far too often. The laws in his country were rather strict. There were other hindrances, too. For one thing, he was sometimes just idle, and did nothing at all. For another, he was kind-hearted, in a way. You know the sort of kind heart: it made him uncomfortable more often than it made him do anything; and even when he did anything, it did not prevent him from grumbling, losing his temper, and swearing (mostly to himself). All the same, it did land him in a good many odd jobs for his neighbour, Mr. Parish, a man with a lame leg. Occasionally he even helped other people from further off, if they came and asked him to. Also, now and again, he remembered his journey, and began to pack a few things in an ineffectual way: at such times he did not paint very much.

He had a number of pictures on hand; most of them were too large and ambitious for his skill. He was the sort of painter who can paint leaves better than trees. He used to spend a long time on a single leaf, trying to catch its shape, and its sheen, and the glistening of dewdrops on its edges. Yet he wanted to paint a whole tree, with all of its leaves in the same style, and all of them different.

There was one picture in particular which bothered him. It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots. Strange birds came and settled on the twigs and had to be attended to. Then all round the Tree, and behind it, through the gaps in the leaves and boughs, a country began to open out; and there were glimpses of a forest marching over the land, and of mountains tipped with snow. Niggle lost interest in his other pictures; or else he took them and tacked them on to the edges of his great picture. Soon the canvas became so large that he had to get a ladder; and he ran up and down it, putting in a touch here, and rubbing out a patch there. When people came to call, he seemed polite enough, though he fiddled a little with the pencils on his desk. He listened to what they said, but underneath he was thinking all the time about his big canvas, in the tall shed that had been built for it out in his garden (on a plot where once he had grown potatoes).

He could not get rid of his kind heart. "I wish I was more strong-minded!" he sometimes said to himself, meaning that he wished other people's troubles did not make him feel uncomfortable. But for a long time he was not seriously perturbed. "At any rate, I shall get this one picture done, my real picture, before I have to go on that wretched journey," he used to say. Yet he was beginning to see that he could not put off his start indefinitely. The picture would have to stop just growing and get finished.

One day, Niggle stood a little way off from his picture and considered it with unusual attention and detachment. He could not make up his mind what he thought about it, and wished he had some friend who would tell him what to think. Actually it seemed to him wholly unsatisfactory, and yet very lovely, the only really beautiful picture in the world. What he would have liked at that moment would have been to see himself walk in, and slap him on the back, and say (with obvious sincerity): "Absolutely magnificent! I see exactly what you are getting at. Do get on with it, and don't bother about anything else! We will arrange for a public pension, so that you need not."

However, there was no public pension. And one thing he could see: it would need some concentration, some work, hard uninterrupted work, to finish the picture, even at its present size. He rolled up his sleeves, and began to concentrate. He tried for several days not to bother about other things. But there came a tremendous crop of interruptions. Things went wrong in his house; he had to go and serve on a jury in the town; a distant friend fell ill; Mr. Parish was laid up with lumbago; and visitors kept on coming. It was springtime, and they wanted a free tea in the country: Niggle lived in a pleasant little house, miles away from the town. He cursed them in his heart, but he could not deny that he had invited them himself, away back in the winter, when he had not thought it an "interruption" to visit the shops and have tea with acquaintances in the town. He tried to harden his heart; but it was not a success. There were many things that he had not the face to say no to, whether he thought them duties or not; and there were some things he was compelled to do, whatever he thought. Some of his visitors hinted that his garden was rather neglected, and that he might get a visit from an Inspector. Very few of them knew about his picture, of course; but if they had known, it would not have made much difference. I doubt if they would have thought that it mattered much. I dare say it was not really a very good picture, though it may have had some good passages. The Tree, at any rate, was curious. Quite unique in its way. So was Niggle; though he was also a very ordinary and rather silly little man.

At length Niggle's time became really precious. His acquaintances in the distant town began to remember that the little man had got to make a troublesome journey, and some began to calculate how long at the latest he could put off starting. They wondered who would take his house, and if the garden would be better kept.

The autumn came, very wet and windy. The little painter was in his shed. He was up on the ladder, trying to catch the gleam of the westering sun on the peak of a snow-mountain, which he had glimpsed just to the left of the leafy tip of one of the Tree's branches. He knew that he would have to be leaving soon: perhaps early next year. He could only just get the picture finished, and only so so, at that: there were some corners where he would not have time now to do more than hint at what he wanted.

There was a knock on the door. "Come in!" he said sharply, and climbed down the ladder. He stood on the floor twiddling his brush. It was his neighbour, Parish: his only real neighbour, all other folk lived a long way off. Still, he did not like the man very much: partly because he was so often in trouble and in need of help; and also because he did not care about painting, but was very critical about gardening. When Parish looked at Niggle's garden (which was often) he saw mostly weeds; and when he looked at Niggle's pictures (which was seldom) he saw only green and grey patches and black lines, which seemed to him nonsensical. He did not mind mentioning the weeds (a neighbourly duty), but he refrained from giving any opinion of the pictures. He thought this was very kind, and he did not realize that, even if it was kind, it was not kind enough. Help with the weeds (and perhaps praise for the pictures) would have been better.

"Well, Parish, what is it?" said Niggle.

"I oughtn't to interrupt you, I know," said Parish (without a glance at the picture). "You are very busy, I'm sure."

Niggle had meant to say something like that himself, but he had missed his chance. All he said was: "Yes."

"But I have no one else to turn to," said Parish.

"Quite so," said Niggle with a sigh: one of those sighs that are a private comment, but which are not made quite inaudible. "What can I do for you?"

"My wife has been ill for some days, and I am getting worried," said Parish. "And the wind has blown half the tiles on my roof, and water is pouring into the bedroom. I think I ought to get the doctor. And the builders, too, only they take so long to come. I was wondering if you had any wood and canvas you could spare, just to patch me up and see me through for a day or two." Now he did look at the picture.

"Dear, dear!" said Niggle. "You are unlucky. I hope it is no more than a cold that your wife has got. I'll come round presently, and help you move the patient downstairs."

"Thank you very much," said Parish, rather coolly. "But it is not a cold, it is a fever. I should not have bothered you for a cold. And my wife is in bed downstairs already. I can't get up and down with trays, not with my leg. But I see you are busy. Sorry to have troubled you. I had rather hoped you might have been able to spare the time to go for the doctor, seeing how I'm placed: and the builder too, if you really have no canvas you can spare."

"Of course," said Niggle; though other words were in his heart, which at the moment was merely soft without feeling at all kind. "I could go. I'll go, if you are really worried."

"I am worried, very worried. I wish I was not lame," said Parish.

So Niggle went. You see, it was awkward. Parish was his neighbour, and everyone else a long way off. Niggle had a bicycle, and Parish had not, and could not ride one. Parish had a lame leg, a genuine lame leg which gave him a good deal of pain: that had to be remembered, as well as his sour expression and whining voice. Of course, Niggle had a picture and barely time to finish it. But it seemed that this was a thing that Parish had to reckon with and not Niggle. Parish, however, did not reckon with pictures; and Niggle could not alter that. "Curse it!" he said to himself, as he got out his bicycle.

It was wet and windy, and daylight was waning. "No more work for me today!" thought Niggle, and all the time that he was riding, he was either swearing to himself, or imagining the strokes of his brush on the mountain, and on the spray of leaves beside it, that he had first imagined in the spring. His fingers twitched on the handlebars. Now he was out of the shed, he saw exactly the way in which to treat that shining spray which framed the distant vision of the mountain. But he had a sinking feeling in his heart, a sort of fear that he would never now get a chance to try it out.

Niggle found the doctor, and he left a note at the builder's. The office was shut, and the builder had gone home to his fireside. Niggle got soaked to the skin, and caught a chill himself. The doctor did not set out as promptly as Niggle had done. He arrived next day, which was quite convenient for him, as by that time there were two patients to deal with, in neighbouring houses. Niggle was in bed, with a high temperature, and marvellous patterns of leaves and involved branches forming in his head and on the ceiling. It did not comfort him to learn that Mrs. Parish had only had a cold, and was getting up. He turned his face to the wall and buried himself in leaves.

He remained in bed some time. The wind went on blowing. It took away a good many more of Parish's tiles, and some of Niggle's as well: his own roof began to leak. The builder did not come. Niggle did not care; not for a day or two. Then he crawled out to look for some food (Niggle had no wife). Parish did not come round: the rain had got into his leg and made it ache; and his wife was busy mopping up water, and wondering if "that Mr. Niggle" had forgotten to call at the builder's. Had she seen any chance of borrowing anything useful, she would have sent Parish round, leg or no leg; but she did not, so Niggle was left to himself.

At the end of a week or so Niggle tottered out to his shed again. He tried to climb the ladder, but it made his head giddy. He sat and looked at the picture, but there were no patterns of leaves or visions of mountains in his mind that day. He could have painted a far-off view of a sandy desert, but he had not the energy.

Next day he felt a good deal better. He climbed the ladder, and began to paint. He had just begun to get into it again, when there came a knock on the door.

"Damn!" said Niggle. But he might just as well have said "Come in!" politely, for the door opened all the same. This time a very tall man came in, a total stranger.

"This is a private studio," said Niggle. "I am busy. Go away!"

"I am an Inspector of Houses," said the man, holding up his appointment-card, so that Niggle on his ladder could see it. "Oh!" he said.

"Your neighbour's house is not satisfactory at all," said the Inspector.

"I know," said Niggle. "I took a note to the builders a long time ago, but they have never come. Then I have been ill."

"I see," said the Inspector. "But you are not ill now."

"But I'm not a builder. Parish ought to make a complaint to the Town Council, and get help from the Emergency Service."

"They are busy with worse damage than any up here," said the Inspector. "There has been a flood in the valley, and many families are homeless. You should have helped your neighbour to make temporary repairs and prevent the damage from getting more costly to mend than necessary. That is the law. There is plenty of material here: canvas, wood, waterproof paint."

"Where?" asked Niggle indignantly.

"There!" said the Inspector, pointing to the picture.

"My picture!" exclaimed Niggle.

"I dare say it is," said the Inspector. "But houses come first. That is the law."

"But I can't . . ." Niggle said no more, for at that moment another man came in. Very much like the Inspector he was, almost his double: tall, dressed all in black.

"Come along!" he said. "I am the Driver."

Niggle stumbled down from the ladder. His fever seemed to have come on again, and his head was swimming; he felt cold all over.

"Driver? Driver?" he chattered. "Driver of what?"

"You, and your carriage," said the man. "The carriage was ordered long ago. It has come at last. It's waiting. You start today on your journey, you know."

"There now!" said the Inspector. "You'll have to go; but it's a bad way to start on your journey, leaving your jobs undone. Still, we can at least make some use of this canvas now."

"Oh, dear!" said poor Niggle, beginning to weep. "And it's not, not even finished!"

"Not finished?" said the Driver. "Well, it's finished with, as far as you're concerned, at any rate. Come along!"

Niggle went, quite quietly. The Driver gave him no time to pack, saying that he ought to have done that before, and they would miss the train; so all Niggle could do was to grab a little bag in the hall. He found that it contained only a paint-box and a small book of his own sketches: neither food nor clothes. They caught the train all right. Niggle was feeling very tired and sleepy; he was hardly aware of what was going on when they bundled him into his compartment. He did not care much: he had forgotten where he was supposed to be going, or what he was going for. The train ran almost at once into a dark tunnel.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 8:25 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 53 times | Comments (2)
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

I suppose many visionaries were also potty mouths, and I also suspect Elon Musk's new rocket dream, the BFR, owes its name as much to Roald Dahl's Big Friendly Giant (BFG) as anything. Dahl was a potty mouth, too, just not as obvious about it to his intended audience.

Be that as it may, Musk dreams big.

 

This Daily Mail article explains his plan to revolutionize earth transportation.

Musk said the vessel would both take off and land vertically, like a space rocket, and for Earth travel, will take off from floating launchpads moored outside major cities. 

It would fly most routes - New York to Tokyo, for example - in about 30 minutes, and anywhere in under an hour, and Musk says the 'cost per seat should be about the same as full fare economy in an aircraft.'

The science fiction fan in me says, "It's about time!"

The realist in me says, "I'll believe it when I see it."

The cynic in me says, "Those impressive flight time numbers fail to take into account the time it takes to get to the launchpad and through security screening, which is what really drags down today's transportation times."

Nonetheless, it seems as if the future of my beloved childhood science fiction novels is coming closer, for good and for ill.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 1, 2017 at 9:13 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 65 times | Comments (0)
Category Travels: [first] [previous] Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

I normally don't click on those "sponsored" Facebook posts, but Princess Awesome caught my eye more than once. Pink, purple, twirly, pretty skirts and dresses with dinosaurs, math, trains, space creatures and above all pockets. It's about time. They're pricey, but any company that understands that pockets are essential gets major points in my book.

We are Princess Awesome because butterflies are awesome and so are airplanes. Because monsters are awesome and so are twirly skirts. Because girls are awesome and girls get to decide what it means to be girly.

Me?  As a child, I wore pants when I could (still do), and since school required girls to wear dresses or skirts, my mother (wonderful woman!) made them for me and always included pockets.  But I have four granddaughters who love dresses, and pink, and purple, and twirling, as well as many things commercial clothing usually reserves for boys.  Plus math, which even boys are generally deprived of when it comes to seeing their favorite things on their pajamas.  (I designed and special-ordered Joseph's pi shirt.)

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 29, 2017 at 9:03 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 97 times | Comments (3)
Category Reviews: [first] [previous] Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

My father would have considered himself a patriotic man. Even though he never served directly in the military—the government having considered his engineering skills to be important for the Manhattan Project, instead—he certainly respected those who did. And he loved our country.

But I think he, along with many of his generation, knew that love of country is too important to be taken too seriously. I hope his National Anthem story makes you smile today.

Washington State being a Land Grant college, we were required to take two years of Reserve Officers Training Corps. Even though there was a war in Europe, the ROTC program was not taken very seriously.

I played in the ROTC band and we spent fall and spring practicing music and marching as we played every Friday for the ROTC parade. The hardest part of that life was playing for parading units at a rate of 120 steps per minute rather than the 160 steps per minute for the college marching band.

In the wintertime we received training in close order drill but it still was rather easy military training. Every spring an ROTC encampment was held during the daytime. During the encampment we attended no classes and went home at night. The Engineering and Infantry units spent the day with military procedures and problems and the band sat on a hillside in the shade and practiced its music. A favorite pastime was to wait until there were large groups marching and then play a waltz.

The only time there was any trouble came one time when we were serious about what we were doing. We were practicing The Star Spangled Banner. That brought down the wrath of the military people because everyone had to stop what he was doing and stand at attention.

In 1941 things became much more serious, but I was no longer involved.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 8:43 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 73 times | Comments (0)
Category Politics: [first] [previous] [newest] Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Music: [first] [previous] [newest]

"These are your presents, and they are tools, not toys." With these words, Father Christmas hands the Pevensie children the weapons with which they will battle evil in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.

The very best toys are indeed tools. Children use them to craft the adults they will become. Here's an article from three years ago that illustrates how favoring boys over girls with a particular type of toy/tool (computers) led directly to the "gender gap" among coders that developed in the mid-1980's.

A lot of computing pioneers — the people who programmed the first digital computers — were women. And for decades, the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than the number of men. But in 1984, something changed. The percentage of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged, even as the share of women in other technical and professional fields kept rising.

Early personal computers weren't much more than toys. You could play pong or simple shooting games, maybe do some word processing. And these toys were marketed almost entirely to men and boys. ... This idea that computers are for boys became a narrative. It became the story we told ourselves about the computing revolution.

In the 1990s, researcher Jane Margolis interviewed hundreds of computer science students at Carnegie Mellon University, which had one of the top programs in the country. She found that families were much more likely to buy computers for boys than for girls — even when their girls were really interested in computers.

This was a big deal when those kids got to college. As personal computers became more common, computer science professors increasingly assumed that their students had grown up playing with computers at home.

The girls had fallen behind before they even set foot on campus.

"I remember this one time I asked a question and the professor stopped and looked at me and said, 'You should know that by now,' " she recalls. "And I thought 'I am never going to excel.' "

Nor is the phenomenon limited to computing. Upon taking her first course in optical engineering at the University of Rochester, our daughter found herself at the head of the class in the mathematics, but woefully behind her male classmates when it came to practical electronics. Our other daughter marvelled at her husband's facility with bicycle repair ... and his total lack of fear when tackling a new matter of practical handiwork. He had grown up working on such projects.

Not all boys do, but there's definitely a gender bias, perhaps because fathers are more likely to teach such work to their sons. Probably, too, girls are more susceptible to the fear of doing something wrong: it has long been known that when something goes wrong, women are likely to blame themselves, while men generally assign responsibility to the inanimate object. "I'm so stupid; I broke the dish" versus "The stupid dish slipped and broke."

Whatever the reasons, what is perfectly clear is that how our children play shapes their futures. By  no means am I advocating that parents should take still further control over their children's "free" time, as if preschool, after-school activities, computer camps, and travel soccer weren't enough of an intrusion. But perhaps every family's education budget should include plenty of toys that are actually high-quality tools—from art equipment and musical instruments to construction tools and electronics.

Everyone has an education category in the family budget, right? If not, you should; in the meantime, clue in the grandparents when they ask for gift suggestions.

Perhaps even more important than useful tool/toys would be to give our children the gift of freedom from the fear of making a mistake. Let them "waste" the expensive paints and paper; be prepared to see many repair jobs end with parts all over the floor before they learn to put anything back together; let them know by word and your example that making mistakes is an important part of learning. Our young neighbor became the go-to computer resource for our school district well before he graduated, because in middle school he had fearlessly crashed his home computer system over and over again, turning repeatedly to my husband for rescue—until he surpassed his teacher.

I wish I had been better at this when our children were young. With age comes wisdom, and what we lack in opportunity to implement our theories, we gain in opportunities to promote them.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at 9:16 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 92 times | Comments (0)
Category Education: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

"I don't believe in Climate Change."

"I can't believe I live in a country where so many people don't believe in Climate Change."

What is this, a new religion? Since when did scientific theories take on the status of gods?

By turning scientific theories and investigations into a matter of faith—all sides are guilty of this—we usually miss the point, which in the case of climate change could be a fatal mistake.

Bear with me here.

It is unlikely in the extreme that an asteroid of disastrous size will hit the earth in any time frame mankind should worry about. But NASA is watching, and working on possible ways to deflect any space object of significant size that threatens our planet. They're not panicking, but they're observing and preparing.

On the climate change issue, we're doing the opposite. That particular "asteroid" might not be the disaster that is panicking so many people—or it might just smack right into us while we're busy squabbling and calling each other names.

"You pitiful, moronic, flat-earthers! You stick your heads in the sand and care more about making money than about the health of our planet, not to mention all those people who are having their homes and their livelihoods washed away."

"You elitist idiots! You censor opposing viewpoints, know nothing about the lives of the working class, and would put our culture and our families at risk for the sake of some unproven computer models."

And somewhere, in a place where glaciers and icebergs don't stand a chance, Satan is laughing.

We argue, sometimes with good reason, over questions about the changing climate: It this something new, or a recurring phenomenon? How much of the change is due to manmade causes, and how much is natural? Which measurements and which computer models are most accurate? How much can we trust computer models? 

If you believe the questions are all settled, you don't know science. In science, questions are only settled until contradictory data comes along. Close your mind, and you close the doors to knowledge, growth, improvement, and all that is good about scientific inquiry.

Whatever the truth is behind all these questions, what should be do about it? Should we let nature take its course (man is, after all, part of nature) and simply adjust to the changes, as we have since the beginning of time? Or should we, as responsible, rational human beings, observe, prepare, and (without panic) take reasonable measures to deflect this incoming asteroid?

We don't need all the answers to take action, but we do need to start pulling together on this. Right now we're too busy throwing insults at each other and letting our own beliefs blind us to what other people are saying.

If I were the president of the United States—and I know many of you are convinced that I could do a better job than our current president, so pay attention—here's what I'd do. I would assemble a group of leaders (I hesitate to say "committee," but I guess that's what it would be) representing a wide variety of perspectives on the loosely-defined subject of climate change. Much care would be taken creating this group, because they would need to be able to work together without acrimony. I would begin by polling a large variety of leaders, asking, "Make a list of people who challenge your position on climate change, but for whom you still have respect, and with whom you think you could work together for the common good."  If a person responded that there is no one in the opposition whom he or she respects, that person, no matter how renowned, would be excluded from my committee. As much as possible, I would balance opposing viewpoints, because the committee as a whole must have credibility with all the American people: we all need to believe our position is being heard—and so do the hare-brained idiots who oppose us.

The purpose of this committee would not be to rule on the unanswerable questions, but to consider what can, and what should, be done to mitigate the changes we are observing. If the changes are due to human actions, of course it is our responsibility to see that we minimize the harm ("we" being everyone from individuals to corporations to governments). But even if they are 100% due to natural causes (excluding man), isn't it the nature of rational man to attempt to make beneficial changes to natural phenomena? We build fires, domesticate animals, invent air conditioning, develop vaccines, improve agriculture, use umbrellas. The question is, how to get the most benefit with the fewest negative consequences.

This is a sample what I would want the committee to consider:

  • What undeniable climate-related changes have happened? Stay away from speculation, such as "Global warming is causing more (or fewer) hurricanes," no matter how tempting; stick with clearly documentable facts, such "Glacier X has retreated by Y meters in the last 40 years." Consider everything from sea levels to weather patterns to geographical and biological changes, and come up with a list that everyone on the committee can agree on.
  • Do these changes point in a specific direction? How do they compare with previous trends? Are they accelerating or decelerating? Again, pare the answer down to something all can agree on.
  • What is the reliability of the various computer models used to make predictions from these trends? This will be tough to agree on, given our experience with hurricane path prediction models, but no one said being on this committee was going to be easy ... just important.
  • What are the probable impacts of these predicted changes? Consider everything.
  • What changes can be made that will slow the progress of harmful trends? This is to be a dream list, from the accumulated efforts of individuals to corporate actions to governmental edicts, of what could theoretically make a difference, and how much of a difference each might make.
  • What is the probability that each of the above changes could actually be implemented?
  • How effective would the resulting partial compliance be?
  • What would be the risks and costs associated with those changes? Consider job loss, price increases, economic and governmental instability, national security, anything that would negatively impact compliant individuals and nations.
  • What can be done to help those who will be impacted by present and future climate changes?
  • What can be done to help those who will be impacted by efforts to mitigate climate changes?

The most important job of the committee would be to speak with a single voice to all the people, with their diverse views on the issue of climate change. The members must hammer out something that they agree on, if there is to be any hope that the rest of us will pull together.

What's the best climate policy? One that people will get on board with. Most people are willing, even proud, to make sacrifices, if they believe (1) the cause is important, (2) their actions will make a difference, and (3) the sacrifices are not unevenly distributed.

NASA's efforts to prevent a catastrophic asteroid crash are based on the idea that a small push, given in the right way at the right time, can deflect even a massive body. If they were to push at the wrong time, in the wrong way, or when a push was unnecessary, they could set up a worse disaster still. If they were to spend their time squabbling over how to do the job, the asteroid could easily get too close for even a massive push to make any difference.

Let's find a way to do this, and do it right.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 23, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 82 times | Comments (0)
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Delivery by drone is here—or rather, in Switzerland. Swiss Post and Matternet—which despite the name's similarity to Matterhorn, is based in California—have set up the first autonomous drone delivery system.

I remember a discussion, back in the late 1980's, I believe, about how much the world had changed during Porter's grandmother's lifetime, from the beginnings of automobiles to the Space Shuttle, from the invention of radio to television as a major social influence.

Being not at all prescient, apparently, I remarked that there had been no such dramatic changes in our own time. Sure, there had been improvements in technology, but they were incremental, rather than major breakthroughs that changed the lives of ordinary people. The space program seemed to have sputtered; we weren't flying excursions to the moon, let alone anywhere else. We had personal computers, e-mail, a very primitive version of the Internet, and even primitive mobile phones ("car phones") ... but these were very limited, the province of nerds and hobbyists. They hardly touched the lives of ordinary people.

Little did I know that we were poised on the brink of astonishing changes. I had forgotten two important factors: (1) we were still young back then, and (2) the other technological changes we now take for granted, like cars and airplanes and television, did not have a major impact overnight. They, too, started with a very limited, if enthusiastic, user base.

Excursions to the moon, on the other hand, seem as far away as ever.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 21, 2017 at 8:19 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 75 times | Comments (0)
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

When we moved to this neighborhood more than 30 years ago, we considered buying a house on the street shown in the news story below. Instead, we opted for a home one street over, of significantly higher elevation. Today that's looking like a very good choice.

Children, being the delightful people they are, find joy where the more knowledgeable and responsible adults find worry. They remember the togetherness of huddling in a hallway, listening to a hurricane rage outside, while their parents were wondering if a tree was going to crash through the roof. They remember the delight of the family sleeping together by the living room fire during an ice storm, and using marshmallow sticks to toast bread over the coals, while their mother fretted over how to get the baby clean diapers with no power to run the washing machine. They recall the thrill of riding their bicycles through knee-high water, while the neighbors dealt with flooded yards.

Irma's flooding in our neighborhood was the worst I have seen here. The hurricane that provided the biking adventures for our kids flooded the river so badly that a nearby bridge on the main road had to be closed, yet the water was not nearly as deep in our neighborhood as that from Irma. Flooded yards you may have to expect when you live next to a river, even a small one, but flooded houses are causing people to ask why. I suspect that recent reconstruction of the water/sewer/road system in our neighborhood left behind a glitch in the drainage, but that may be difficult to prove. Then again, the bridge has been upgraded and raised, too, so maybe we did just get that much more water—we're not usually on the east side of the hurricane.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 at 8:39 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 80 times | Comments (0)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [newest]

Our children, who grew up in Mickey's Backyard, and whose favorite of all the Disney World parks was always EPCOT, may enjoy the memories evoked by this National Geographic article about the Netherlands: This Tiny Country Feeds the World.  (Thanks, Eric, for tweeting this.)

In a potato field near the Netherlands’ border with Belgium, Dutch farmer Jacob van den Borne is seated in the cabin of an immense harvester before an instrument panel worthy of the starship Enterprise. From his perch 10 feet above the ground, he’s monitoring two drones—a driverless tractor roaming the fields and a quadcopter in the air—that provide detailed readings on soil chemistry, water content, nutrients, and growth, measuring the progress of every plant down to the individual potato. ... The global average yield of potatoes per acre is about nine tons. Van den Borne’s fields reliably produce more than 20.

Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Since 2000, van den Borne and many of his fellow farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent. They’ve almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses, and since 2009 Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut their use of antibiotics by as much as 60 percent.

Seen from the air, the Netherlands resembles no other major food producer—a fragmented patchwork of intensely cultivated fields, most of them tiny by agribusiness standards, punctuated by bustling cities and suburbs.

Climate-controlled farms enable a country located a scant thousand miles from the Arctic Circle to be a global leader in exports of a fair-weather fruit: the tomato. The Dutch are also the world’s top exporter of potatoes and onions and the second largest exporter of vegetables overall in terms of value.

The brain trust behind these astounding numbers is centered at Wageningen University & Research (WUR), located 50 miles southeast of Amsterdam. Widely regarded as the world’s top agricultural research institution, WUR is the nodal point of Food Valley, an expansive cluster of agricultural technology start-ups and experimental farms. ... Ernst van den Ende, managing director of WUR’s Plant Sciences Group, embodies Food Valley’s blended approach. A renowned scholar with the casual manner of a barista at a hip café, van den Ende is a world authority on plant pathology. But, he says, “I’m not simply a college dean. Half of me runs Plant Sciences, but the other half oversees nine separate business units involved in commercial contract research.” Only that mix, “the science-driven in tandem with the market-driven,” he maintains, “can meet the challenge that lies ahead.”

Could this be the start of a new, more sustainable, Green Revolution?

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 18, 2017 at 7:44 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 86 times | Comments (1)
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Food: [first] [previous] Conservationist Living: [first] [previous]

People tell me they couldn't move to Florida because they can't stand our bugs. Me, I'll take our giant cockroaches any day over ticks.

I grew up in Upstate New York. I spent much of my free time in the woods near our house, and hiked with my father all over the Adirondack Mountains. Never in my life did I see a tick of any sort until a visit to Connecticut after I graduated from college. Now, apparently, ticks are everywhere in the Northeast (and more). The worst a roach ever did to me was to scuttle into my bra when I was prone on the floor searching under the kitchen cupboards. The worst a tick has done to me was to give my little grandson Lyme disease, a far more serious, and much less amusing, situation.

Ticks freak me out. I don't know where this infestation came from, and I'm not happy about it.

But just when I started thinking that "extinction is forever" would be a great idea for all tick species, I read this: Oxford University researchers say ticks are a "gold mine" for new drugs.

It's possible that the extinction of any species, even the most apparently useless, annoying, or even dangerous, deprives us of some great, as yet undiscovered, benefit.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 15, 2017 at 9:00 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 167 times | Comments (7)
Category Health: [first] [previous]
Go to page:
1 2 3 ... 149 150 151  Next»