An uplifting news item, poem, thought or quotation each day.
Archive of past entries

9 January 2005

The essential delusion of the West:

We feel the way we feel because of things that happen to us. Our moods and emotions are responses to circumstances outside ourselves.

The antidote:

Act directly on the self. Culture self-awareness, and learn to shape our own moods from within. Find in ourselves a core of love, confidence and profound appreciation. Allow our actions to spring from that core.

-Josh Mitteldorf

8 January 2005

Today is Stephen Hawking's 63rd birthday.  More than forty years ago, when he was diagnosed with ALS, doctors counseled him to wrap up his life.  At the time, he was an active, playful young grad student, enjoying his body to the fullest.  He loved nature, wilderness adventures and mountain climbing.  Deprived of his body, he created for himself an extraordinary inner life of the mind.  In the process, he has showed us all by example that no physical disability requires us to give up on life.  He is a living reminder that there is always the capacity to experience life fully and to contribute to the welfare of others, regardless of personal circumstances that may seem inexorably discouraging.

Hawking has been close to the center of a revolution in the way physicists think about the large-scale structure of universe, and the deep structure of space-time.  He has written popular books to share his vision with the public.

As Hawking's disease has progressed, technology has become available to keep alive his communication link to friends and colleagues, and even to support his thinking itself.  Hawking thus has a unique perspective on the usefulness of computers as aids to thinking:  "We must develop as quickly as possible technologies that make a direct connection between brain and computer, so that artificial brains contribute to human intelligence rather than opposing it.''  

He asks us to think: what if the rest of us could enjoy a similar boost in intelligence and depth of thought, with computer memories and knowledge bases seamlessly linked to our brains?  Hawking sees this as the most important technology of the 21st century:  "In contrast with our intellect, computers double their performance every 18 months.''  Thus there is no question that machines will grow to out-think humans in more and more ways.  Will computational intelligence be used to control us from the outside, or will we develop the technology to forge close connections between brain and machine, so computers become a growing extension of our own intelligence?

7 January 2005

"Do not allow yourself to be imprisoned by any affection. Keep your solitude. The day, if it ever comes, when you are given true affection there will be no opposition between interior solitude and friendship, quite the reverse. It is even by this infallible sign that you will recognize it."

-Simone Weil

6 January 2005

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

-The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran,
Lebanese philosopher and mystical poet
Born this day in 1883

5 January 2005

The Ukraine has been under the thumb of Moscow for centuries, but last week the people asserted their independence. In November, millions wore orange and marched in the streets to protest a dishonest election. In December they succeeded in winning the right to a new election, and this time, with an honest vote count, the opposition leader won.

This morning, a much smaller band of Americans from Ohio are boarding buses for Washington, seeking the same result.

4 January 2005

The earth spins on its axis every 23 hrs 56 min 4 sec.  Why isn't it exactly 24 hours?  Because, by the time the earth has spun around once, it has also traveled 1/365 of the way around the sun.  So a day "noon to noon" is longer by 1 part in 365 than the "sidereal day".  It takes an extra 3 min 56 sec for the earth to spin a little further around, to face the sun's "new position" after the earth has advanced 1/365th of the way around the sun.

It gets more complicated.  The earth's orbit is almost exactly a circle, but not quite.  It's an ellipse - slightly longer in one direction than the other.  If you draw the earth's orbit on notebook paper, the distortion is only about the width of a pencil line.  But this time of year, the earth is a little further from the sun, and traveling a little more slowly.  So noon-to-noon turns out to be a little shorter in December than it is in June.

The difference accumulates.  December 21 is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  But the earliest sunset comes the first week of December, for mid-latitudes.  And the latest sunrise - that's today!

Mornings will only get brighter from here on in...until the first week of July.

3 January 2005

"We are more willing to try the untried when what we do is inconsequential. Hence the remarkable fact that many inventions had their birth as toys."
-Eric Hofer

"Creativity arises from the taproot of child’s play."
-Stephen Nachmanovich, Free Play