Archive for the ‘Random thoughts’ Category

Early this summer I had a student ask me a question by e-mail: “Do you think it is truly possible for someone to find the correct answer to the Drake Equation? If so, how would they prove it?”

After some research I gave the following reply:

“”The equation was written in 1961 by Frank Drake, not for purposes of quantifying the number of civilizations, but as a way to stimulate scientific dialogue…”(1) Therefore, the terms in the equation are considerations of what would have to be known in order to quantify (that is, count) civilizations. It is a thought experiment, and since we cannot go to many of those places (or probably any of them) because the distance is too great for even several lifetimes of travel [“Hey, grandkids, the goal of this mission when we started out 60 years ago was for you to visit two planets around the third star from our home star, Sun, to see if there is anybody living there. We’ll be there 40 years or so after your grandchildren are born.”], the whole scheme is pure speculation. In fact, I would go a step further and say that it is not even useful speculation.

So, to answer your question, no, it can neither be solved nor checked (proven). Based on my belief in the God of the Bible, I believe that it is not even a useful thought experiment. The Scripture says,”in as much as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28) Since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), and since “Christ…offered once [died]”, then if any civilizations did exist, they would be without hope because God has not redeemed any of them. Instead, I think that it means they do not exist. And because of the distance we cannot know if they exist. The whole thought experiment becomes fruitless, a deceptive worldview way of avoiding the real truth about how [we got here and how] we “die once” and need that salvation.

A better thought experiment would be to explain how the rocks and ice we see confirm what God said about a worldwide flood in Genesis 6-9. Check out the “Lost Squadron” that landed on Greenland(2). Ask yourself some questions. 1) How deep were the “Lost Squadron” airplanes under the ice? 2) How long did it take for the ice to accumulate? 3) In how long of a time could the whole ice sheet have accumulated at that rate? 4) Has the rate of accumulation always been the same? 5) Is there any evidence for the rate of accumulation changing? 6) Comparing these estimates to the “declared age” of ice cores in Greenland, is there a problem with the present explanation of how the ice sheet got there?”

I think you will realize that the standard explanation for what the layers in the ice sheets means is flawed. Therefore, distractors are thrown up to keep us from seeing the logical fallacies of the ill-conceived conclusions masquerading as a scientific theory. There are many worthy thought experiments to be done. Einstein was particularly good at those, but much of today’s theoretical science is lacking in a creativity that adheres to truth as its basis, instead heralding false agendas and distracting from useful science. Let us be done with having any part of that.

1- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation

2- https://creation.com/the-lost-squadron

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“Write it down so that you won’t forget.” My son replied, “You write it down for me. You’re better at making list.” I had never thought about it. I just write lists because I have to get chores done and fit in recreation. So, it is true that I have developed somewhat of a list making procedure. It is not complicated or profound, for if it was, it would only make getting things done less likely. I understand calendars, planners, cellphone notifications and the like, but for various reasons they don’t quite work for me. Mostly they don’t work  for me because they are cumbersome and elsewhere when I need them.

I make lists on little pieces of paper that I cut from recycled paper. I have the privilege of using a paper cutter and a little filing box in which to store blank ones that sits on the kitchen counter. I have three types of lists: daily, weekly (mid-range), and long-term. I don’t always have all three or even two, depending on what is happening, but frequently I do. Now, you may not see the wisdom in this separation of lists, thinking, “How does that exclude complexity and facilitate availability and convenience?”  Well, I make the list on the run, stick it in whatever pocket of whatever pants or shirt I happen to be wearing and update it as tasks are completed, change, or need to be added. Just as you transfer keys and wallet when you change clothes, I move the list, too. For easier viewing of the list, so I don’t overlook an item, and in order to show progress and completion, I bullet the items with a blank. Additionally, I indent sub-items with a blank, “grocery lists” and the like.

I give an example by way of a recent daily list in the picture below. As an item is completed, I place a check in the blank, as shown for weeding, P, and going on a run. If an item is in progress, for example, an attempted phone call or message left, I place a tally mark in the blank. You can see that on the second attempt I mark complete and the time of the appointment, which I transferred to the family calendar on the kitchen counter at the first available opportunity. The same sequence occurred for the e-mail. I must have wanted a reply before I marked it complete. Zeph had two tallies on this Monday, as I was in the process of studying for a sermon (which you may listen to at “The Day of the Lord in Zephaniah” ). I had one tally mark next to comfrey,  because I had begun to root a cutting so that someone else could benefit from the healing properties of comfrey by having a plant just outside their door as I do. I am not a slave to my lists. I did not continue to tally this item because the circumstances quickly enabled me to remember to water the cutting daily. In two weeks it was standing upright in the pot and I took it to its new owner with instructions for planting it. It rained that day and I was not able to mow, so I decided to try again on Wednesday. I could not make an appointment with Dr. O because she was out of town for the whole week. 


A Daily List

By the end of the day, I had more items on the list completed, but rarely do I complete all items. On occasions when I do finish a list, I celebrate. I’m not into purposefully making short, easy list so I get to celebrate more. I simply have too much to accomplish. Therefore, to reduce clutter, I make a new daily list that will include the few items that did not get done. Items like Dr. O get put on a mid-range list for later completion. Bills that need to be paid by some due date, perhaps within a month or longer, and maintenance items are listed on the long term list, part of the infamous “honey do” list, which is either the calendar or a slip of paper with the calendar. If very little of list is done, I just add a few items and reuse it the next day.

Some readers of the this blog entry will think the whole idea of writing about lists is silly. However, a few people may pick up some hints about how to organize their lives. It is not the exact method that is the point but what works efficiently for you. Use what you can; ignore what you can’t. Secondly, I decided quite some time ago that I would blog about what interested me and about daily life. This blog entry satisfies both ends. Thirdly, I intend my blog to be a journal and open book of who I am and who I am becoming. I frequently give glory to God in my blog entries, not because I think it is an “ought” or “should”, but because I am so thankful for God’s work to regenerate, redeem, and reform me. Becoming a a disciplined, efficient, thoughtful person are characteristics I hope He is working in me for His glory and the mutual good of my neighbor and me. A life well thought out is well lived, and that is best done with a starting point of “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs 9:10 

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It is very possible that you do not know what you fear most because you have not confronted that situation yet. There is also depth of fear and extent of fear, by which I mean absolutely horrifying as opposed to what you most guard against because it is constantly in your thoughts consciously or subconsciously. 

Evidently, I speak of the latter when I say what I most fear. I most fear being publicly humiliated for being incompetent and unprepared. I say evidently because occasionally I have dreams about just such things. I tend to have two kinds of dreams, those that may or may not seem significant, based on my emotional state after I awaken, but that I can’t remember any detail about, and those dreams that are very clear in every detail and seem to be communicating something profound to me or about me.

This morning was an occurrence of the latter. I am a science teacher. For some, what seems to me, a silly reason, I always have a few moments of first-year teacher nervousness about the first day of class (a tale tale indication of my greatest fear?). Now in terms of the school year, the dream I am about to relate to you is a mid-summer nights’ dream, making it all the more curious that it should happen, since school should be the last thing on my mind.

I was in a old school building that was very well remodeled. It was between classes of the last period of the day on the first day of class. I was required to rove to a different class this period, which when I have been required to do is the most bothersome thing to me, probably because it always involves some level of not being prepared for class when it begins. On the way there students in the bathroom were involved in some unknown rowdiness which my appearance and stern voice immediately dissipated. This further delayed my arrival to class. The students began filing out of the bathroom. I recognized most of them and many of them went into the classroom that I was entering. As we entered the tardy bell rang. The room was large with the classroom set-up at one end. Students were already in their desks. I knew all of the students, having had most of them the previous semester and others the year before. All of the students had attempted, out of a social habit that I have observed that makes them feel more comfortable, to sit in their previously assigned seats. Everything was in order except for one desk missing on the front row, so that a student assigned last year to that desk was sitting on the floor where the desk would have been. As I walked to the front of the room all faces turned toward me and the immediate thought came to me, “Why are these students here? I have had them all, most of them last semester, and they all passed (didn’t they?)?” I came to the desk, seeing that it was very neatly organized with every office supply gadget you could want and organizers for many colorful highlighters and markers. As I surveyed this wonder and the fact that there was not one piece of my papers, syllabus or otherwise, on the desk, the thought occurred to me, is this Earth and Environmental Science class that I have exclusively taught the last few years or the Chemistry class that I was told I might be teaching? If I ask the students which it is they will know that I am unprepared, not because I don’t know the subject, but because I have no materials to hand out and no lesson prepared. If it is Earth Science, I’ve done it so many times recently that I can totally wing it, but if it is Chemistry, as likely these “repeating” students imply, I’m clueless where to begin even though my head is filled with Chemistry facts. I stood overlooking the smiling faces in front of me, students who had likely taken Chemistry because they liked me as a teacher before, waiting for a spark of inspiration.

The dream ended by me awakening, lying flat on my back in the pleasant morning light and coolness, wondering what I would do next, and wondering why such dreams persist in my consciousness. Evidently, I fear being humiliated publicly for being incompetent and unprepared. Given that fact, should I share this dream?

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Numbers make sense out of our world. They quantify otherwise incoherent information. On occasions they reveal interesting patterns of symmetry. They may prevent us from taking flights of qualitative fancy should we happen to heed their steadying implications.

I was silly enough to pull over a few nights ago to take a picture of my odometer because of some symmetry I saw. It is in no way magical and not even uncommon to observe symmetry in numbers. It isn’t even a palindrome, for example, when expanding (x + y)^2  the coefficients of the resulting polynomial are 1,3,3,1.


Then there was the one I ask my son to take a picture of in his car while I was driving (more about that when I get the pictures downloaded from the phone).


I had posted a time for my one mile some time back. I have struggled with increasing my distance. I seem always tired or something not quite right. Finally, I made three miles recently. It was not pretty. It is amazing how much slower I am than a year and a half ago. Chock it up to old I guess, even though it seems more like some type of induced physiological inefficiency (I ought to name some syndrome after that- IPIS (pronounced eye-pis)- Induced Physiological Inefficiency Syndrome. It makes a good excuse.)


Another trip on the road to pick up my wife who was visiting our daughter while I was away for the weekend with one of our sons (not a sentence yet), caused me to reflect on white lines. Strictly speaking, since they were white and it was daytime, they were reflecting on(to) me, but you get the idea. Have you ever wondered how many dashed center lines there are per mile on the interstate, and if the number is consistent? The first time I considered this seriously was on a trip to Oshkosh with a Scouting Outward group. A discussion came up about ways of thinking and perspectives. I made the point that people need to try to find several ways of solving a problem to see if the answers match. Then I proceeded to say I knew of three ways to estimate the length between the beginning of one stripe and the beginning of the next. Challenged that I could not, I pulled the van (driving again) over onto the shoulder, hopped out and paced off between the beginning of one stripe and the next (parallel on the shoulder). Then I got back in and counted the number of stripes in several measured miles (little green mile markers help) for repeatability, which I then explained as precision. Next I traveled at 60 mph, that is, a mile a minute, and had several people count how many stripes passed (relatively speaking (frame of reference)) every 10 seconds and then had them multiply by 6. Finally, as a bonus, I noticed a semi-trailer labeled 53′, as they frequently are, and estimated what fraction of that length the distance between beginning of stripes was. Well, I’m here to tell you that in NC, the distance between stripes is fairly consistent, with approximately 120 stripes per mile, at about 44 feet between the beginning of one stripe and the next. Now I imagine that there is a spec somewhere that delineates this distance and that the instructions for the stripe painting driver go something like “traveling at 40 mph, set the frequency of stripe painting at one stripe every 0.75 seconds for duration of 0.2 seconds (Can you figure out how long I am estimating the stripes to be?) All of that historical background was for the purpose of clearing my mind of the first time I seriously estimated the distance to refer to what I discovered about counting them today.

Actually, looking at and identifying sight of each stripe in order to count it is hard to do. After messing up several times, I opted for a simpler and more primitive method. Instead of looking directly at the stripes, I looked directly ahead (good idea when you are driving, eh?) and caught sight of the flash of contrast as each stripe disappeared at the bottom corner of my windshield. It felt almost like an involuntary response that I was counting rather than stripes. I got more interested in the process and why it is more efficient and more accurate than the result I was obtaining, though that result came out the same after several tries. Catching the peripheral vision flash method excluded the fully intentional recognition of individual stripes for the simpler counting of flashes. I understand that certain infrared missile guidance systems look for changes in heat signature rather than positive IR ID of targets. As an after note, I found out on that trip to Wisconsin those years ago that the stripes are closer together there, especially on WS toll roads. Is it a random change of the dials for the paint truck or a different spec for some legitimate reason like fog or snow? After allowing my brain to go with what comes to it in a paragraph like this one, I always wonder how many people who started this article read this paragraph and how many rolled their eyes as they did read it. I attribute readership of such wonderings to staunch friends and deep seated geeks.

Speaking of geeks and numbers, I just watched an informative YouTube video on rocket engine comparison. The main take away from the video for me was the number and complexity of considerations to engineer anything. Such a video can open your mind to the breadth of design considerations. If you like, you may check it out at “Is SpaceX’s Raptor engine the king of rocket engines?”

I like numbers and symmetry and beauty because they point to God. Galileo Galilei said, “[The universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language…” And concerning his astronomy, Johannes Kepler said, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” It has long been realized that math is the language of science, leading to an understanding, albeit at times ever so dim, of how God organized the universe. Math and Science and Art should be our means of giving glory to God, not detracting from it.


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I like big adventures as much as the next person: A trip to an exotic, far off place; a expedition into an unknown place of exploration; a purpose driven service for others. But daily life rarely presents such big adventures unless you can re-orient your perspective to sum all of the small discoveries and opportunities into the whole. Following are a few very small joys in which I partook in the last week. They are neither big nor even the best of the week, but they are the ones for which I had a camera and the appropriate occasion to use it.

I walked out in the yard on a pleasant Spring evening, beyond the large hedge bush, where I had forgotten that I had transplanted a daylily last fall because of crowding where it was formerly. There was a bright surprise on the other side of the bush. Spruce or forest green is my favorite color, but a light golden yellow is a close second. (I never know what to call this color. It’s not gold leaf; it’s too orange to be yellow and too yellow to be orange; it doesn’t quite seem like amber.)

Twin Beauties

My wife is a particularly  good cook and all the better because she tries new dishes. My palate is never bored. After a new and good dinner the other evening, I pushed back from the table a bit to savor the moment, noticing the patterns of pinewood, stainless wear, and Corelleware. Oak grain is perhaps my favorite and most interesting grain though admittedly curly maple is quite intricate. Walnut grain is rich. Pine knots are the most interesting part pine grain. When placed in pairs on a veneer such as a plywood, the parallel knots can may interesting pictures of faces. Patterns on forks and plates can be gaudy for my taste but French curves are tasteful if not overdone. For instance, consider the persistence of Paisley’s, a French curve derivative.

Unity and Contrast of patterns, colors, and materials

Mallard Ducks are common and “garden variety”, but have you ever looked closely at the decorations on a male Mallard? I reminds me of the verse: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.” (Luke 12:27) Conversely, I only saw two Mallard’s paddling upstream against the current. Where are the thousands of birds and the teaming fish in the river? Once migrating flocks blackened the skies. What have we done?

From orange, webbed feet to yellow, dabbling bill, he’s a well decorated flier

One of the activities my wife and I do most consistently beyond chores is walking on our local Greenway. This is where we saw the ducks. Only a few moments later, my wife was asking me what kind of tree was beside the way. This got me to looking up a little more than usual. Though I do like to look up in the trees, I usually do it more when sitting or lying. As the picture reveals I saw a little different variety on a large oak trunk near the path, a few feet above usual line of sight. I told my wife to come back and see it. She exclaimed and gave it wider berth. I stayed behind to snap a few pictures. I had more close up pictures but black is black and the context of trunk and path seemed more informative.

For perspective: approximately 4 1/2 feet Black Snake

I am thankful to God for occasional brushes with small joys in nature and relationships and comforts to keep life interesting. Catalog your small joys like the old hymn says: “Count your blessings; name them one by one. Count your many blessings; see what God hath done.”

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I took more time convincing myself to do a chore than I used doing the chore. Why? I knew that I didn’t have the skills, tools, or experience to do a very good job. But that has rarely stopped me before, so why the hesitation? Well, the results are quite visible and frequently so, too. I consoled myself by saying that it would be functional if not fancy. The repair rescued the object from deteriorating into uselessness. The result of my repair was adequate and I am mildly satisfied with the result. There is nothing wrong with something looking good and functioning well. And if you can have a better look without excessive money or time or pride, I’d say go for it. But not everything you own has to look “just so”. Functional will do.

My short poem that resulted from these thoughts took a turn from my consideration of the project I did. I don’t know if they quite correlate, but I think the thoughts in the poem are worth considering.

Functional not fancy is the way to go
Enduring not faddish I do prefer so
Beautiful not fashionable, better you know
Prudent not frivolous, the best seed to sow

In so doing no good advice away throw
Not reap consequences of wild oats you sow
Not wasting life on what may glimmer and glow
Savoring peace in your heart to spread and grow


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It’s Marvelous Monday! Just before I stepped back out into the refreshingly crisp and slightly breezy 32 degree morning, I spied the signed that read “…Learning Commons, Encouraging collaboration, exploration, and creation. Supporting lifelong learning since 2007.” I proceeded to my parking lot duty station to stand watch just after 7:15 AM, making my school a kinder and gentler place to be. My mind began to stir with thoughts and comments I had with a student the Friday before concerning the way we do school. As the Sun rose above the small ridge behind the school into a nearly cloudless sky and a songbird repeated his song, my thoughts came together. 

Lifelong learners
They tell us we should be
But how do you touch the heart
By compulsion and decree?

Critical thinking skills
Synthesis to high degree
But without facts in their toolbox
What hope that they will see?

College is a must
AP courses, advanced degree
But where is creativity
Without time to explore and be free?

Learning is for high pursuits
For wisdom for you and me
But when will we understand
Growth of the spirit is key?

Look the look, play the part
Be all that you can be
But have you learned of heaven
To be eternally set free?

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