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

24 April 2005

If it sometimes seems unbearable that we have to wait to see what the future holds... just imagine how boring life would be if we knew in advance.

-Josh Mitteldorf

23 April 2005

"There are profound social implications to a life in which work and play are one. When work and play merge we have a complete, unitive experience of life. When work and play are not one, we find ourselves caught in two insidious equations: first, that work equals drudgery, toil, and boredom, and second, that play equals ornament, diversion, and frippery. One measure of civilization and quality of life is the extent to which work and play are indistinguishable or fused."

- Stephen Nachmanovich, Sacred and Secular

22 April 2005

"If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life."

"Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life."

Before Rachel Carson, there were people who loved the natural world - poets and artists and explorers and naturalists - but there were no environmentalists. The idea of an organized political movement to advocate for the limitation of civilization’s encroachment on nature’s realm was Carson’s vision.

21 April 2005

Michio Kaku is one of a handful of physicists who have developed String Theory as a way to unify the 4 forces of nature.  It is a theory with a lot of appeal because so much mathematical structure comes from just a few assumptions.  So far, these structures can be seen to describe a world that shares some intriguing features with our own, but there's a lot of basic physics with which String Theory can't yet make contact.  This is the physics of elementary particles, which is presently understood in terms of a theory that has the humdrum name, the 'Standard Model'.

"The Standard Model, which represents the highest version of quantum theory (parts of it tested to 1 part in 10 billion) is supremely ugly. It has 36 quarks and anti-quarks, 19 arbitrary parameters, 8 gluons, 3 weak bosons, 3 carbon copies of quarks and leptons, and so on. It's like taping together an aardvark, a platypus, and a whale, and calling it the product of millions of years of evolution on Earth. It's a theory that only a mother can love!

"This raises a sticky philosophical question: should beauty alone be a criterion for a physical theory? Should physicists try to replace a theory, like the Standard Model, just because it is ugly? I think so. Even the originators of the Standard Model admit it cannot be the final theory."

-Michio Kaku, interviewed in New Scientist

20 April 2005

THE WORLD is too much with us; late and soon,
   Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
   Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This sea that bares her bosom to the moon; 
   The winds that will be howling at all hours,
   And are up-gather'd now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I'd rather be
   A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; 
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
   Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
   Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Wordsworth (1770-1850)

19 April 2005

Welford Castleman, a chemist at Penn State University thinks that the whole field of chemistry may be burst open, as if hundreds of new chemical building blocks were available, beyond the traditional 109 elements (or however many we’re counting at the moment). New elements beyond the 92 that are found in nature have been synthesized in the nuclear reactors, but they’re not very useful in practice because they break down rapidly, and because they’re so expensive to synthesize. But Castleman’s building blocks are clusters of atoms that stick together and behave like a single atom. He has worked most extensively with clusters of aluminum atoms condensed from a hot aluminum gas, and finds that clusters of 13, 23 and 37 atoms stick together tightly to form units with some of the properties of inert gases.  Removing an electron from Al13, he was able to make the cluster behave a little like a negative ion of chlorine.  Other size units have different properties.

The promise will be realized if someone can make stable materials – crystals – out of these clusters. "my opinion is that one of these projects will eventually succeed." Castleman says, because there is an "immense variety of chemical approaches to synthesizing new materials." He looks forward to being able to use clusters to build materials with tailor-made properties.

New Scientist article

18 April 2005

Who is Clarence Darrow
by Douglas O Linder

"How does one begin to explain this paradox, this sophisticated country lawyer, this hedonistic defender of the poor and downtrodden, this honest, devious man, Clarence Seward Darrow? It isn't easy. I can, however, offer a series of snapshots:"

Best known for his defense of John Scopes, a high school biology teacher charged with the crime of teaching the theory of evolution, Darrow was a lifelong defender of the oppressed and the downtrodden.  He set his life on course in 1894, when he "gave up a lucrative job as corporation counsel for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway to represent Eugene Debs, head of the railroad union."

"There will never be another Darrow. He was, like us all, a product of his times. For him, it was a time of class conflict so intense as to border on class warfare. It was a time during which the Radical Left-- anarchists, socialists, communists-- were at the peak of their influence. It was a time of Jim Crow, of lynchings, a time during which the Klu Klux Klan called the shots in parts of our country. It was a time of unprecedented xenophobia. It was a time of whirl and social change-- a time when the modernist notion of asking whether a behavior pleased one's own intellect began to challenge the Victorian way of asking whether the behavior was approved of by society..."

Darrow's power derived from the ability to move people with his oratory.  Quotes from Darrow himself:

"I have suffered from being misunderstood, but I would have suffered a hell of a lot more if I had been understood."

"Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt."

"Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for."

"I know, Your Honor, that every atom of life in all this universe is bound up together. I know that a pebble cannot be thrown into the ocean without disturbing every drop of water in the sea. I know that every life is inextricably mixed and woven with every other life. I know that every influence, conscious and unconscious, acts and reacts on every living organism, and that no one can fix the blame. I know that all life is a series of infinite chances, which sometimes result one way and sometimes another. I have not the infinite wisdom that can fathom it, neither has any other human brain."

-Clarence Darrow, born this day in 1857