2005, the way home: day 5

Original post: 2005-05-28: Return from Mojave, Day 5

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

Hey—I'll tell you another thing I hate about getting older: you're expected to shower. If you stay in campsites in desert Nevada and California, it's not an option. There's no water—not enough to waste on washing yourself, at least. It's the kind of dry where you wash your camp dishes with a tortilla instead of water. 

So, Day 4 of the trip was Day 1 of staying under a roof—Day 1 of having a shower. It's not a milestone-level of shower-free life, it's just that it's a weird normal from a different era. Live in the suburbs for a while and you lose a bit of that nerve—every day is shower day, and every other day is gross.

For the rest of the trip there would be relatively little camping. On that fifth night I stayed with some friends up at the University of Washington in Seattle. The details escape me—I met them in person at MIT the previous fall, or I knew them online. Either way, they were in a different chapter of the same student group I was in at Illinois: Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS).

Here's my favorite caveat to the pleasures of solo travel: whenever possible I try to tie it in with meeting up with other people that I know. And, along the way, I often meet and talk to other people who I don't know. When I started typing this paragraph I thought I was going to deconstruct the contradictions between traveling alone and meeting together. Now that this paragraph is nearing its end I don't feel anything to say about it. Traveling alone isn't about being alone, it's just easier to convince one and only one person that it's time to go here, time to go there, time to eat this, time to do that, and so on. So we're really comparing two different things here: convenience and community.

Solo: on the way up to Seattle, I took a detour to Mt. St. Helens. Mt. St. Helens is a myth. It blew up a few months before I was born (i.e., I didn't do it) yet I have a jar somewhere (I hope) of Mt. St. Helens ash that fell at my Aunt Sandy's house in Missoula. I didn't have time to give the place much more than a drive by, and a quick walk on the Hummocks Trail. It was surprising how much evidence remained of the eruption 25 years later—the remains of trees sheared off at the base, lengths of tree trunk jammed upside down into the dirt, and the enormous house-sized chunks of mountain called hummocks that were left out of place where they were deposited in 1980.

Community: I went with the UW kids (we were all kids then, eh?) to watch Star Wars Episode III at the theater.

2005, the way home: day 4

Original post: 2005-05-27: Return from Mojave, Day 4

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

By the third or fourth day of travel, the muscles start to relax, and the mind and eyes and heart open up a little. Things are easier—and easing. There's less of that hesitation before heading off—even if you still don't know where you're going, there's less friction involved in going there.
Some of it is for simple reasons: after a few days of tent folding, you get to be pretty efficient at doing it. And, no matter what it is that you've packed, the stuff that you don't need has packed itself into harder-to-reach places where it is out of the way of the stuff you do need, which is packed, although somewhat un-neatly, right where the trunk or back doors open. Reach in, grab it—put it back, shut the door, and go.

Where should you go? Drive across Oregon. In fact, do it twice—but we'll come to that later.

Before heading out from Lava Beds, there was one curiosity—representative of many curiosities across the US if you know where to look for them—that I saw on the way out. Captain Jack's Stronghold—one of the last stands of the Modoc out west. I had never heard of Captain Jack, the Modoc, the Modoc Wars, etc. I mean, it makes sense intellectually that there were people were there in California living before other people came across the land from the United States or across the water from Spain or wherever, but it's visceral when you get to pause somewhere and consider what it means. Captain Jack's Stronghold is interesting. It's just a bit of volcanic land that the Modoc had prepared into a series of sunken pathways and small caves and otherwise unfriendly territory—unfriendly if it's not your home, at least. When it's your home, you know it, and you can use the land to your advantage to hold off a much larger army—for a while, at least, longer than expected.

I don't understand it. I just appreciate the underdog nature of the thing, the resistance to a manifest destiny that claims your manifest homeland. When you walk through those volcanic passageways, what else could you feel but to feel like the defender?

From there: north to Oregon.

I had never been to Oregon before—couldn't tell you about anything that was there other than Crater Lake, which was still mostly closed due to snow at that time. I just assumed that Oregon was covered, south to north and west to east, with big ass trees. Total lumberjack country. 

But the high desert covers about two-thirds or more of the state, from the Cascades all the way to the eastern boundary. There are trees, sure, but along the route I took the trees had to fight for purchase with another long stretch of old volcanos and lava flows.

It's so weird. I didn't realize how much of the country was a wasteland—and I mean that lovingly. I mean that as someone who would drive to Death Valley anytime I was within six hours of that fantastic hellhole.

Everyone knows Portland, Oregon is weird. That's no surprise. But that's the people. The rest of Oregon is also weird—not in any remarkable way, just unexpected, I guess.

So, on that drive across Oregon, north to south, one short partial day, I stopped at a few places in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument in the Deschutes National Forest. Moving at top speed across the lava lands, there wasn't enough time to stop and see anything that was far away from the more touristed parts of the trails, which is a useless bit of self-pride, but—hey—stop and see what you can while you're getting to where you're going.

One thing I wish I had visited was the Lava River Cave, a mile-or-so-long lava tube that wasn't yet open for the season (not until after Memorial Day), but offered a "you're on your own if you go" kind of guarantee that I declined to take them up on—an unusual act of forbearance for me, but I seem to remember a residual bit of freakout from exploring the lava caves in California that appealed to my more cautious brain cells.

Black Crater
Captain Jack's Stronghold
Captain Jack's Stronghold
Big Obsidian Flow
Paulina Creek Falls
Lava Butte
Benham Falls, Deschutes River

2005, the way home: day 3

Original post: none

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

Day 3 was underground at Lava Beds National Monument, for the most part—that's what you should do, should you find yourself surrounded by lava caves.

I've been sifting through the old pictures and the old maps here, and there's one thing that has been bothering me. In 2005, I hadn't yet started playing with long exposure photography yet. So there's nothing but Very Literal Photos from this day--whatever could be captured with a flash or limited natural lighting. But there are very few photos overall, and no good ones.

Something to keep in mind for a trip there: pack your own bump camp and lights. You'll need them. Some of the walls and ceilings are ridged like fishspines and they will fillet your scalp. I bought a cheap bump cap on site at the visitor center—something with LBNM stamped on the front. And I'm pretty sure I just went into the caves with a single Maglite Mini flashlight, although it seems pretty unlikely that that would have allowed me to see anything in the caves. I see that I bought 4 D-batteries at the visitor center also, so I must have had the old Coleman flashlight I got from selling Boy Scout popcorn—so long ago I know I got that as a prize when we were still in St. David.

I would go in there like a pro now—headlamp and helmet and kneepads—and really get back in the corners.

Isn't it silly to float backwards to a time where you did something and think about how you would optimize the experience? Don't take it so serious—it's just a picture anyway. And even just looking at the existing pictures and maps lifts thoughts and feelings and memories and smells and textures and so on.

What I want to do when I go somewhere new is go go go. Hit the ground running and don't stop. But it's the wrong way to do it, really. I know it but I feel the pressure to move anyway.. What I did at Lava Beds makes more sense: spend a few days and get your feet wet. (A curious thing to say in the high desert, but...) Let the tent stay in place for more than one night. Find a place to sit with a nice sunrise or sunset—and then do it again the next day. The most surprising memory flashes are the ones where I know I was just sitting somewhere for a long time doing nothing—watching, writing, thinking, nothing. At the campsite, on top of Schonchin Butte. In front of Symbol Bridge Cave. I don't think I prefer solo travel, but this is the part of travel that I prefer solo: doing nothing. Just soaking in whatever environment. Hearing whatever sound. Tasting whatever taste (in the desert there is that metallic taste in the air—or maybe not metallic, what is it?). Watching small things crawl or fly from here to there. Blending in. Disappearing.

Valentine Cave
Valentine Cave
Hopkins Chocolate Cave
Hopkins Chocolate Cave
Skull Cave

2005, the way home: day 2

Original post: 2005-05-25: Return from Mojave, Day 2

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

On day 2 I drove from the campsite near Reno to Lava Beds National Monument in California. (Now that I'm looking at a map, I see that I was very close to Lake Tahoe, which I didn't even notice at the time.)

Here's how I like to travel: (1) find a destination; (2) find the national parks on the way to that destination (and the destination itself can be a park—bonus). I had never heard of Lava Beds NM. I only knew that I was driving north. Lassen Volcanic National Park was my first choice, but it was still under snow from that wet 2005 spring. (Finally made it to LVNP in that firesmoke summer of 2008: photos.) The next available park was Lava Beds.

(Can we just stop here a moment and admire the consistent simplicity of National Park Service park URLs? Lava Beds is nps.gov/labe. Lassen Volcanic is nps.gov/lavo. Yosemite is nps.gov/yose. And so on. *chef's kiss*)

Sometimes it's nice to know what you're getting into before you go somewhere. Other times it's nicer to just wing it. I know I've caused some of you more than a few gray hairs with my approach to things—but let's be honest: if you have the basic things you need, and you're flexible in your approach but prepared in your fundamentals (and you have enough common sense to self-evaluate honestly), serendipity will treat you well. US-395 into California from Nevada—what do you really need to know? How to identify campsites on a road atlas (it's easier than searching for them with your phone, he yelled at the kids on his lawn). How to use a credit card to buy some groceries. How to acquire a sleeping bag, tent, and cookstove before embarking. The rest is set up for you. Two hands, one wheel, two feet, two pedals (three for you adventurous souls), and off we go.

Here is a dilemma: would I recommend that you visit Lava Beds?

Give me a moment to think...


What is Lava Beds NM? It's a pile of lava tubes, lava caves, shield flows, cinder cones, and other volcanic debris. And rattlesnakes! The main attraction is below ground: you can crawl around in the lava tubes.

But would I recommend it? No. I know you. You're looking for the big thrills: El Capitán in Yosemite; Old Faithful in Yellowstone; the Grand Canyon. Are you really going to get pumped about looking at another lava tube, another lava bed where another crater pumped lava out to create another area of still-after-thousands-of-years not-able-to-support-life stretch of rock? You would hate it

I could have spent another month there, poking around, first getting as far as I could in every cave I could find, then testing out the mountain lion and rattlesnake warnings on the above ground trails. (Who was that guy talking about common sense earlier?)

It occurs to me that I've never posted any pictures from this trip, so I'm adding them to Flickr as I go along: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

Valentine Cave

Schonchin Butte

Mount Dome, from Schonchin Butte

Mammoth Crater

From Schonchin Butte

From Schonchin Butte

There are few things better than sitting on the peak of something and watching the sun set or the sun rise.

2005, the way home: day 1

On 24 May 2005 I left Mojave, California on an indirect, two- or three-week journey back to Illinois. I want to commemorate it—without judgment, without nostalgia. I can still see, without intentionally recalling, flashes of what I saw on the road. Coincidentally, it aligns with some of the earliest posts on this site, so I'll link back to them [1].

For reasons beyond my ken, I can strap myself into an automobile or a pair of shoes and wander without seeing anything of value—to other people, at least. I can tune into it just fine. Grass and rocks and highway all the way. There's something else there—there's a feeling. I don't know exactly what it is, but I'm curious about what it is, but at the same time I don't want to kill the magic by figuring it out—and then one day we evaporate like magic and there is no magic anymore. Selah.


Find a spot in my gold 2003 Pontiac Grand Am [2] among the bags and camping gear. It's a long slow trip from the moon to the heartland.

Original post: 2005-05-24: Return from Mojave, Day 1

I left a little early from the summer internship with the X PRIZE Foundation in Mojave. We were building replicas of SpaceShipOne using the original tooling from Scaled Composites there in Building 51 at the airport. So, the starting point of this journey is Graziano's Pizza (which closed in 2011—so, 16870 Highway 14, Mojave, CA). Do I remember much of that lunch? No. But I know that Fernando and Brooke aren't with us anymore. I don't know what to say about that. The people who go before you, but shouldn't go before you, are some kind of memento mori. Remember: one day you will also die. Fernando lives on in our memories. Brooke lives on in the Brooke Owens Fellowship

I'll tell you what I remember of that day: the right music at the right time.

There, pointed north on CA-58, and then west, in that scrub of creosote bushes and sand and wind turbines, ready to head up through Tehachapi and north through the Central Valley—put in the right music, the music that fits the moment, whether intended to reverberate across all these years or not:

Beck, "The Golden Age", Sea Change (2002)

Put your hands on the wheel
Let the golden age begin

So, listen—the choice of music was 100% on the mark. Driving north through the valley? Maybe the only wrong note on the entire trip. Knowing now what I wish I would have known then, I would have driven up US-395, the same road I drive in my dreams now. But I didn't know then, and opted for the fast route. But where was I headed? I didn't know. I drove north a ways, then I decided at Sacramento to drive east a ways. Up in the mountains, east of Sacramento on I-80 in May in a heavy precipitation year, it was still partially under snow, not all that suitable for camping in May. So I ended up in Nevada.


I'm OK with growing up. I mean, the pay's better, right? If there's anything I miss of the old times, other than the people, it's the freedom to just move. Where? Wherever. Justify what? No boss, no wife, no voice of reason. A vision quest—a lunatic fringe. I don't miss that now—I mean, I don't want to do it now, although I love to think about it. To evolve from that stage of life to this stage is fine—if you have principles. If you ask me now if I want to drive three weeks across the country, and if you ask me then if I want to spend my time planting a garden, you'll get the same answer. No. Same person, different times. But. Is that change abrupt? Is that change hypocritical or incompatible? No, I don't think so. But, yes, sometimes. You travel through time and you travel through space and—hey presto—there you were, here you are.

[1] This site, kirkkittell.com, dates back to... 2007? But it incorporates some other sites and blogs from before that time. Unfortunately—fortunately—not all of them. Some of them are lost to the sands of time. Lucky break.

[2] A gift from my parents—thank you. They don't make 'em like that anymore because... well, Pontiac doesn't make anything anymore. It just occurred to me that this car had its own nickname, from a spontaneous trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras conceived in Murphy's Pub in Urbana, the source of all good ideas. The name? Coffin on Wheels. Hey. I mean. It's just that. Well. It fit.

A week in review, 2020-W21


  1. Loop 1 (close): school opening dashboard (2020-05-18).
  2. Loop 2 (open): remote education for younger students with no resources (2020-05-18).
  3. A dope quality engineer, an insight into how work processes could be (2020-05-21).


  1. Phil Salvador, When SimCity got serious: the story of Maxis Business Simulations and SimRefinery, The Obscuritory (2020-05-19). (notes) Destroying a simulation can be an educational experience too, and this is how SimRefinery was meant to be played. John Hiles said that most of the trainers at Chevron wanted to use it as a conventional training tool, “but some of the more astute teachers said, ‘Let’s just get you started here by seeing if you can wreck the oil refinery, if you can abuse the inputs and the settings and essentially get fired,'” he remembered.
  2. Lee Shiu Hung, The SARS epidemic in Hong Kong: what lessons have we learned?, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (2003-08-01). (notes) When no further cases were reported, the outbreak seemed to have been brought under control. However, in mid-May there were further cases. In view of the evidence that more than one generation of cases had occurred, the WHO restored Toronto to the list of infected areas. By 14 June over 90 probable cases had been reported in this resurgence. This Canadian experience highlights the importance of continuing vigilance even when cases begin to decline.
  3. Chelsea Wald, What Do Animals See in a Mirror?, Nautilus (2017-04-13). (notes) “It’s not the ability to recognize yourself in a mirror that is important,” he would come to believe. “It’s what that says about your ability to conceive of yourself in the first place.”
  4. Peter Boumgarden and Abram Van Engen, In Praise of Classrooms, Avidly (2020-05-19). (notes) In the end, what has struck us most about online learning—with all the high-tech tools it has developed—is how little technology is actually required to teach. A classroom does not need much to do a great deal. It can be loaded with screens and plugs, as ours was, or it can be little more than a storage of desks set in the right direction. Either way, it draws us together. It creates a community. It tells students, by its very structure, that we have gathered together in this place to respond to the calling of learning. It makes room for education by being a space devoted to that activity in particular.
  5. Wendy Hanamura, By Retraining Staff, We Uncover Rare Gems, Internet Archive Blogs (2020-05-17). “It can take you down some great rabbit holes,” Mandy said. “This is the stuff I’ve been interested in my adult life. Digging in and finding information that is not readily available and sharing it. Universal Access to to Knowledge. That’s important to me because it helps so many people.”


  1. St. Louis NASA Engineer Uses Hip-Hop to Get People Interested in Math and Science, St. Louis on the Air (2020-05-15). (notes) [2:33] My math teacher asked us to write a song about the quadratic formula as one of our assignments. I came back with this rap song that everybody loved, but I noticed that I didn't have to just stick with that assignment, I could apply this to some of my other topics. And they didn't all come out like a full song, like the quadratic formula did. It would just be little things, if I needed to remember a word, I would sing it in a certain way so that when I'm in a test I think of that jingle, and boom, I have the answer. I found a way to help my mind remember things that I couldn't 'cos we were overloaded with information.
  2. Teaching Remotely During Covid-19 with Prof. Justin Reich, Chalk Radio (2020-05-13). (notes) [2:28] So I would encourage people to keep it simple. That's one principle. A second principle is to really think about how you can partner with students and in K12 with their families. So the coronavirus feels like it's something being done to us. It feels like something that we have very little control over. But our response to the coronavirus can be something that we build together. So I would encourage education leaders at every level from college provosts to elementary school teachers to school principals, superintendents -- whatever it is-- asking and partnering with everybody in the system is a really important part of responding to remote learning. What most emergency remote learning should look like is kind of a package of asynchronous materials that's coupled with lots of frequent check-ins.
  3. Will the Pandemic Cause Food Shortages?, Knowledge@Wharton (2020-05-19). (notes)


蒜的一生,实在想不出有创意的名字了!下次你们帮我想!The life of garlic~, 李子柒 Liziqi (2020-04-13).



There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com

A dope quality engineer, an insight into how work processes could be

Start: St. Louis NASA Engineer Uses Hip-Hop To Get People Interested In Math And Science, St. Louis on the Air (2020-05-15)

This episode of St. Louis on the Air roped me in because I saw "St. Louis" and "NASA engineer" in the title, and I thought: oh that's an option? I could work at NASA in St. Louis? Not true. It's about Dajae Williams, a quality engineer at JPL who claims to be the dopest person to ever work at NASA. That is such a hard sell to convince me that any QE could be dope, but after listening to the episode, I believe it. But just this one.

What does she do? It's out of control. She has a series of hip-hop songs that teach math. It's amazing. I can't go into the specifics about how using hip-hop works for delivering educational information because I don't really understand it. Outside of Del or Blue Scholars, it's mostly a blind spot as a format for me. In addition to this episode, which you should listen to, here are a few other articles/podcasts that go into her and her style:

But the interesting part to me isn't the consumption side but the creation side. From the initially referenced podcast:

[2:33] My math teacher asked us to write a song about the quadratic formula as one of our assignments. I came back with this rap song that everybody loved, but I noticed that I didn't have to just stick with that assignment, I could apply this to some of my other topics. And they didn't all come out like a full song, like the quadratic formula did. It would just be little things, if I needed to remember a word, I would sing it in a certain way so that when I'm in a test I think of that jingle, and boom, I have the answer. I found a way to help my mind remember things that I couldn't 'cos we were overloaded with information.

From this point on I'm going to crank the wheel into work processes. Feel free to open the door and jump out here.

The approach Dajae describes, writing songs to remember information, is a kids-only enterprise, right? It's ok for kids to sing songs to remember how to solve the quadratic formula, etc. But when you grow up (whatever that means), you're supposed to act like an adult (whatever that means) [1]. No song for you—especially at work. Your job is to know the content, or at least the methods, in dry, impersonal, objective terms.

How does one come to know the content? The choice of learning is often PowerPoint presentations at your desk, or PowerPoint presentations read to you by a trainer. The choice of repository for the content is often a novelesque process document, created for the purposes of compliance with a standard first, and your ability to use the info second.

Not to give away the plot, but: I hate all that.

There's Got To Be a Better Way™.

I don't see why Dajae's approach shouldn't work at work. But here's the catch. Work processes [2] have to be written differently to accommodate that. But here's the catch. Work processes are wrong in their current format, and if they were written correctly they would already be set up to be mapped to their hip-hop format.

I'm serious. I get extremely cranky about being given a 120-page document at work that's supposed to tell me how to do my job, but requires me to interpret badly written information, information split across the document, overly-verbose information, and sometimes just plain wrong information (often because of the prior three points). Processes are just software for humans. Meaning: (1) input → (2) function → (3) output. You (1) take these things, (2) do something, and (3) give these things at the end. It's a function—rather, should be a function. Instead it's gobbledygook. It's inhuman, inhumane.

But if processes were a model—a function—then you could map that model to boring ol' documents, into a song, into whatever you wanted to map it to. You could allow the user to manipulate the thing so that they could understand it, could feel it and remember it—instead of just punishing them with it. The underlying functions would be a Fact, and how individuals understood that fact could be free to imagine, so long as they represented the Fact correctly.

Sorry. That was something of a detour from the original point. I could go on about the casual incivility of work processes, but not here. But I think here's the bridge between the first and second part of the post: you need someone like Dajae to look at the old things in a different way, to do it their way, to see those hidden possibilities right in front of you that were invisible before—very different from what you were expecting, but very much solving the problem you were trying to solve.

[1] "When you grow up, your heart dies."

[2] Speaking only for aerospace here. Your mileage may vary. I'm not saying you should give the FAA your mixtape. You really should use the Boring Ol' Documents view of your model for this.

Loop 2 (open): remote education for younger students with no resources

Loop 2: Imagine you are a teacher. You have a class of 30 students with basically no home resources. You have 1 month to prepare for fully remote learning. What 3 steps do you take to prepare to effectively provide an education to your students? Add your inputs: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XBX8D75.

My own input to Loop 1 (school opening dashboard) was looking ahead to the inevitability that schools will have to rely on remote learning again. That's just an assumption, sure, but any school playbook that isn't considering that from now on is deficient. Clearly (points at everything) making it up on the fly was suboptimal. Don't even argue about whether it should or shouldn't be done—that's a separate decision—but what needs to be in place when the switch is thrown and, ready or not, there you go.

I think that the initial thought about this would be a tightly closed loop: what do I do as a teacher, what do my students do, etc. That's the main aspect of the problem, for sure. That's a tight loop where a teacher gives an instruction, a student receives it; then the student provides results, and the teacher evaluates it. But what are the interfaces to that? Who are the stakeholders? Who can provide resources? And so on. Schools are networks tightly coupled to the local community (public schools, at least), but once things have to move to online, the social distance from the local community increases somewhat, but the distance to more distant communities can decrease. So you might not care about the being-a-teacher aspect of this one, but you might find yourself interested in the stakeholder side and consider it from that angle.

Loop 1 (close): school opening dashboard

Question: Imagine you are the leader of your local school district. You can build a public dashboard that shows only one metric that you use to decide that it is OK to open up your schools for in-person classes. What metric would your dashboard show?

The purpose of the question is both to think constructively about a current issue (there's already plenty of... unconstructive thought out there about the subject) and to think about dashboards more generally. Let's go to the phones...

External inputs reduced to:

  1. Shouldn't be in this situation anyway
  2. No new cases in x days

My input:

  1. All students have means to complete studies online

I just wanted to address #1 first. Wishing to not have to make a decision about a situation instead of considering what decision to make is magical thinking. If you are in a house on fire, and you ask your companion what to do, and they say that they wish the house wasn't on fire—let that person burn. Once you're in the situation, you need to act, and you need to be able to decide how to act, what parameters are important and what parameters you can affect. Wishing for better circumstances in which to exist is worse than useless, it is detrimental.

That's all for that—small sample size for this survey, let's insult half of it, good strategy.

Let's think about the other one: no new cases for 21 days. Let's adjust that a little to get a good abstraction: no new cases among students for 21 days. From the point of view of a school, new cases are going to come from two sources: (1) inside the school; (2) outside the school. (Everything seems to apply to people who work at schools the same as students—I suppose that they're functionally synonymous, and we'll just say student.) 

You're only going to know if a student has a disease if you can test that student. Or else you'll have to use a weaker, lagging indicator: when a student shows symptoms of the disease, although this has the negative aspects of missing asymptomatic cases, and indicating sources after they've had opportunities to spread.

The issue then seems to be: (1) do you wait to find cases inside the school, and then react; or (2) do you require that all students are clear before coming back to school? (1) seems to require that you have a plan to react (and probably also good insurance); (2) seems to require that you have the capacity to test, plus another decision on what the threshold should be for letting the student body return (e.g., 80% are disease-negative) and how to handle the disease-positive cases (e.g., remote instruction for some, in-person instruction for others).

My idea for this one: I assume that there will be a second wave of cases eventually, and it may happen after class resumes in person. Assuming schools will need to be closed again is not unreasonable. If that needs to happen, how prepared are you to handle Plan B? This round of surprise homeschooling was haphazard. That it was a surprise is excusable, that it was not considered in crisis playbooks is not. Some students are going to have all of the tools, materials, etc., that they'll need to learn effectively; some will have none; most will be on the spectrum in between.

So: in between now and Round 2, I would want to know that a percentage of students (say, 90%) have been brought up to a minimum threshold level of things they'll need to be effectively taught remotely before allowing them back. Sending them away this first time was detrimental; the second time would be worse, because not only would they lose the education, but also trust in the education, especially if the adults in control didn't prepare.

Personally, I like the external feedback better than my own approach here. My approach is more like making sure the house has enough fire extinguishers (lagging the problem); the external approach is making sure the house is less likely to contain things that start fires (leading the problem).

But the question is just a model anyway, right? One factor to make a complex decision? You'll need more than one. But it just provides a viewpoint on the problem. All models are wrong, but some are useful. We're not going to solve the world's problems here, but we might develop better methods of thinking about the problems, and understanding the issues and guiding the public response and holding accountable the people who are responsible for responding. The goal is better, not perfect. To that end, send any links to better information (the best/worst ways schools are handling these issues, papers, videos, books, etc.) and we can append them here.

Output: Let's call the output of this loop: how do you balance leading and lagging indications when making a critical decision?

Next loop: I'm going to use the topical output to feed into the next loop. Imagine you are a teacher. You have a class of 30 students with basically no home resources. You have 1 month to prepare for fully remote learning. What 3 steps do you take to prepare to effectively provide an education to your students?

PS: I don't think I'll always publish the output of these openly on the site. I might just publish them in the newsletter, with a few notes here in the open. Dunno. You might just want to sign up for the newsletter then: The Captain's Newsletter.

PPS: Merlin Mann almost brings an issue home in a recent episode of Back to Work: #477: The Immediacy Filter (notes).

[25:36] John Roderick and I were talking about this yesterday on our program, and just kind of grousing--mostly John, but me too--grousing a little bit about the theater of school that we're still expected to perform with fairly small assets and space and whatever. [...] Is it that we're trying to keep our kids with the idea that they are in school? Are we trying to keep the ritual alive? Are we trying to instill the curriculum that they would be tested on? What is this in service of? Because the way we approach this can and should be extremely different for each kid, each family, based on what it is we're trying to accomplish, and I don't think that mission statement... Maybe it's in the thousands and thousands of emails that I get all the time about the most minute things that happen inside the school system.

The missing part is, in my opinion: the mission statement of what school should be is missing. If it's missing now, maybe it's always been missing? Or forgotten? Whichever the case, it's a good time to think about what it should be, negotiate it, and publish it. What's the North Star?

A week in review, 2020-W20


  1. We are a strange loop (2020-05-11).
  2. A model of the garden (2020-05-16).


  1. Gregory Stephenson, Before and After Desolation: Two Sojourns by Jack Kerouac at the Hotel Stevens, Empty Mirror (2019-05-10). In a similar fashion, Kerouac’s separate stays at the Hotel Stevens can be seen to reflect his inner division: his sincere pursuit of spiritual growth in opposition to the powerful attraction of the pleasures of the senses. This conflict – between the spirit and the flesh – is central not only to Kerouac’s life and writing but is, of course, a perennial theme in literature and, indeed, an abiding aspect of the human condition. The Desolation episode, flanked on either side by sojourns at the Hotel Stevens, is pivotal in The Duluoz Legend, as it also proved to be in the life of the author. Ahead for the author-narrator lay other rooms, further nights, days and distances, further ordeals and epiphanies.
  2. Ryan Hockensmith, 150,000 worthless baseball cards in the time of coronavirus, ESPN (2020-05-07). But I feel 10% less scared in my basement, with my cards. I don't really need them anymore. I don't even dig into them. I don't go through the many boxes, still organized alphabetically in protective plastic sleeves, or open up any of the packs I still have. I just stare at them. Some people have bubbling brooks or bird noises from the backyard that bring them calm and serenity. Me? I have 500 Pedro Guerrero cards that aren't worth the plastic cases they're housed in.
  3. Penelope Trunk, This is a great time to make a career change, Penelope Trunk Careers (2020-04-25). Now that schools are all online, kids have no patience for bad teaching. Compete with professors by taking their online course material and making it good. They don’t own the course info for Biology 101 and kids want to learn it from a YouTuber. Use John Green’s channel as an example: Content is a commodity, delivery is the differentiator.
  4. Jonah Raskin, 'Six at the Six' at 50 -- Return of S.F.'s poetic beat, San Francisco Chronicle (2005-09-30). Still, it's no wonder that the event has taken on mythical reverberations, and that in the Bay Area -- which seems to experience a poetry renaissance every 15 minutes -- all sorts of poets trace their lineage to the Six Gallery. The 50th anniversary celebrations in and around San Francisco over the next week will only add to the myth. Of course, poets need myths as much if not more than anyone else. I know I do. After years of reading and rereading the work that was performed at the Six, I've sometimes allowed myself to feel that I was there, that I saw and heard. Perhaps you've had that same strange feeling, too, no matter what coast you happen to live on, or what city you call home.
  5. Doug Adler, How a long-gone Apollo rocket returned to Earth, Astronomy (2020-05-11). Many people find the notion of discovering an intact piece of Apollo-era hardware appealing, and these feelings are amplified by the large size of the Apollo S-IVB. “Flown Apollo hardware will always be significant,” says Teitel. “We've been to the Moon nine times and most of the hardware that enabled those missions was destroyed — the Saturn V stages crashed into the ocean or were smashed into the Moon, most of the lunar module ascent stages were smashed into the Moon, and the service modules didn't return. That leaves nine command modules, all of which are on display in museums. Flown hardware has an allure simulators and non-flown items just don't have.”


  1. 477: The Immediacy Filter, Back to Work (2020-05-12). (notes) [23:08] I think there are ought to be a distinction between liking something, or hating something, as against liking or hating knowing that the thing's coming, preparing for that thing. I like doing things, I don't like having things to do.


How to Establish a Level-Grade Line for Landscaping, This Old House (2014-09-01).



There might be additional links that didn't make the cut at notes.kirkkittell.com