Science

Classroom Graffiti

It should be a recipe for disaster. The classroom left wide open during 7th grade lunch by a naive substitute. Seventh graders are notorious for shenanigans and poor decision making. Their favorite activities seem to be deliberately destroying things on accident and inventing new ways to bully each other. Low and behold a gaggle of 7th graders had snuck in to my classroom at some point and left graffiti splayed all across the whiteboard for me to find upon my return at the end of the day. It gave me strong feelings so I snapped a couple photos with my phone and then forgot all about it. I rediscovered the photos recently as I was going through and organizing older and older photos, trying to piece together the forgotten days of my past.

This was my white board on the day before the last day of school 4 years ago, which was coincidentally the last year I taught 7th grade science.

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This is the type of thing that makes me really love being a teacher. If only every day could end like this.

Posted for the DP Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters

 

Letters to an Angry Beast

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I took these photos at the Cal Academy of Sciences a few years back when they had a Climate Change exhibit. The above quote is from climate scientist Dr. Wallace S. Broecker. Here is a fuller quote:

The climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks,” said Dr. Wallace S. Broecker of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who was one of the first to raise the alarm about abrupt climate change. ”We don’t know whether it’s going to pay attention to the pokes. But if it does, it might rise up and do something we don’t like.” -via NY Times Archives

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 6.01.22 AM In another part of the exhibit visitors were invited to write a small note, to share some idea that could possibly help slow down changes to our atmosphere and help to save the natural environment of our planet.

My personal favorite: Cut down on Homework. Homework kills trees. Probably written by one of my students. I also like Don’t waste paper by using these. 

I love the thought that some small idea from a fresh perspective can save us all. I always tell my students that they are our only hope. The nearsighted practices of the past have gotten us into this mess, and now it’s up to you. What will you do to help save the world?

DP Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters

Overcoming Expectations

Our daily expectations are those unconsidered expectations about daily life, like the fact that the sun will rise in the morning, that my morning coffee will be delicious and probably the highlight of my day, and the fact that I will sit in mind-numbing traffic for an hour as I attempt to drive 12 miles to work. These are the expectations that we take for granted, the things we expect due to the fact they have become such regular parts of our daily lives. Expectations like these make life boring, repetitive, and depressing.  It is simple brain reflex that causes the human mind to attempt to predict what is going to happen, whether you’re watching television, reading a book, or going to work for the ten thousandth day in a row. But how boring is it to know exactly what is going to happen all the time?

If everything always plays out exactly like you think it should, then you have in essence learned nothing new. It is through the serendipitous discovery of the unexpected that the human mind finds meaningful existence in this sad little hamster wheel known as life. My 6th grade science students are always required to make a hypothetical prediction before they start each lab experiment, and sometimes they get disappointed at the end if their hypothesis is not correct, like they have failed somehow. But I always tell them that if your hypothesis is correct you have learned nothing. It is only when the hypothesis doesn’t match expectations that we have actually discovered something new. I think that this is part of the reason most people find traveling to new places and cultures so invigorating. Everything is new and unexpected. Each today truly becomes a new day with endless possibility.

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But then there are more profound expectations, the long term plans we have for ourselves and the people we care about. The path we follow toward those expectations may be unexpected. My Grandma wrote me this letter (and many others also) when I was a “hopeless” surf bum living in my van. I surfed every day and worked as a room service waiter and bartender in Santa Cruz. It was by far the happiest time of my life. I had almost zero stress, and hours of free time to write and read every single day. Even living in a costly environment like Santa Cruz I had a very low overhead. A post office box, a storage unit, and my 1975 Chevy molester van with my surfboard and coffee pot felt like all I needed. Every couple weeks I would drive up or down the coast to hang out on some empty beach or campground for a couple days. I was rich in time but poor in money. In many respects I was the most successful person I knew.

But eventually the pull of more profound expectations made me question my own happiness. I wanted more money and more prestige, like these things would make me happier. I wanted people to not think of me as a dirty vagrant living in his van. I wanted a regular job with a regular paycheck. And as I returned to school and became more and more professionally successful, a little bit more of my happiness withered away. I transformed into what other people expected me to become, but it was never really what I expected for myself. It almost felt like I had given up, succumbed to the debilitating pull of my family’s expectations for me.

Now I work more hours and make more money than ever before, but the measure of my happiness seems to be inversely related to these factors. I have saved and scratched to buy a home only to find myself now more in debt than any other point of my life. Those paltry maxed out credit cards from my days living in my van feel like the good old days of financial stability.

I’m not sure why I saved this letter from my Grandma. I reflect on it sometimes to remember where I was and where I want to be, and remind myself that the path we follow to live up to our expectations is not always the path we expect. The letter used to make me angry, but now it makes me laugh. It’s not that I necessarily enjoy having the last laugh, but I think I will in this case, even if it means I am laughing at myself.


Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Great Expectations

(This was an unpublished post that I rewrote. It didn’t end up like I expected. They rarely do, and that’s a good thing.)

Sandals, Camera and Great Expectations (by Elizabeth Thomsen on Flickr)

On Top of California

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With a camera here I stand, on top of a piece of tormented land.

Pushed and pulled, torn and bent. We went to the top and down we went,

On motorcycles from high to low, taking pictures as we go.

Badwater Basin in Death Valley, California is the lowest point in California at -282 feet  (-86 m) below sea level. Less than 100 miles away is the highest point in California, Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet (4421 m) above sea level. In between those two points is a lot of up and down of tumulted land, created by the tension and compression of the Earth’s crust as the North American and Pacific plates slide past each other on the boundary known affectionately as the San Andreas fault. The landscape is dramatic to say the least, and above all makes you realize how small you really are.

DP Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top

Mars One

Everybody was excited. Everybody had either been recruited or volunteered. I personally had responded to the ad on Craigslist. It seemed like a great opportunity, and lets face it, I didn’t have much of anything going on at home. My wife left in a huff one day and took the kids and the dog, but she of course left the cat that I hated. The cat hated me back, and had avoided my every attempt at capturing it. But even though I hated the damned cat and wanted it gone, I still fed the animal and changed the litter box, just because the cat felt like the only piece of family that I had left. When I sold the house I told the new tenants the cat was included.

When I first saw the ad it seemed like a perfect method to leave my past behind. The Mars One Mining Co was looking for employees to make the 7 month trip to Mars, to help establish the mining colony there and start new lives on the red planet. The salary wasn’t great, but all housing and food was included, and employees would be provided with a plentitude of leisure time to enjoy other pursuits, such as surfing the interwebs, exploring the Martian dunes in their patented Mars Buggies, playing golf beneath one of the numerous dome-covered courses, or just relaxing at the resort-like pool and spa built by the company.

I assumed that most of the other volunteers and recruits were trying to escape their lives on Earth for one reason or another. We had all been allowed one suitcase of belongings and no personal electronic devices. The company would provide us devices upon arrival, and any other supplies we needed would be appropriated if possible using the requisition request forms. The shuttle was buzzing with excitement of terminal losers and fallen heroes looking forward to their chances to start anew, to rebuild their lives and happiness from the ashes of broken and mistake ridden histories. Nothing more exciting than the prospect of a clean slate.

We were given instructions how to wear the mask apparatus before takeoff, which would put us into a suspended stasis during the majority of the flight. We were told that by the time we awakened we would already be on Mars, and our new lives would begin. The entire shuttle vibrated with the excited possibilities and the promises of adventure. I took one last look at Earth out of the porthole, and then carefully applied the mask and nostril tubes as instructed. I had visions of scaling the summit of Olympus Mons and standing at the precarious edge of Valles Marineris as the mask apparatus began working its magic and I faded into a dreamless unconsciousness.

It wasn’t until I awoke shackled in a cold cell constructed of red Martian rock that I realized the laws of Earthly decency apparently didn’t apply anywhere past the third planet’s gravitational influence. Needless to say, they weren’t exactly the accommodations I’d had in mind.

Mars planet 2 (Nasa image enhanced) (by J.Gabás Esteban)

Inside the Cal Academy of Science

I took my 6th grade scientists to the California Academy of Science last year. So much to see inside that magical building. So many layers inside other insides. Who would suspect that one could learn so much about the world outside by traveling inside.

For the DP Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside