Monthly Archives: May 2020

2005, the way home: day 8

Original post: 2005-05-31: Return from Mojave, Day 8


Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005


When I landed in Idaho on 30 May, I stayed at my grad school thesis advisor's house in Lake Fork, Idaho. Oof. I was a horrible grad student—no focus. Every time I think of it, I get a little embarrassed. Some people get into grad school with a plan to go and do something with it (e.g., be a professor), some of us get into it because it's an available next step. To compress the whole thing down to one sentence before floating on, that job in the COIL lab in grad school taught me more about practical things like using a lathe, soldering, solid modeling, etc., than any other thing I've done. Anyway, we're halfway home here, and I'm going to hide behind that to not think about my utilization of grad school as a parking lot instead of a runway. Selah.

What's in Idaho?

Nothing.

It's wonderful.

I don't remember as many specific things about this day as the previous day, but for a few things.

The first is stopping off at the White Bird Battlesite on US-12 on the way from Idaho to Missoula. I didn't seek it out, it was just at the right place at the right time when I needed to stop driving. This was where a bit of the Nez Perce nation turned back the US Army  I had never really heard of the Nez Perce nation, but I vaguely remember knowing vaguely about Chief Joseph, if only for the coda, "from where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever". But that's all. The rest of indigenous America is Dances with Wolves and Chief Illiniwek and Custer and it's all grating on my nerves a little bit here in the long shadow of George Floyd.

Obviously on 31 May 2005 George Floyd was just some dude wherever, and now he's dead and everything feels like it's running amok, like a game of nuclear dominos.

None of that was obvious in 2005. But I do remember the feeling of standing in that memorial field. Some open spaces are like that—ostensibly just a bunch of grass, but heavy with memories. You can feel Pickett's Charge if you stand there long enough. I suspect the beaches of Normandy are like that as well. At White Bird, the historical sign says something to the effect of "here the Nez Perce turned back the US Army and then whipped them back up the canyon". And what is that feeling where you can root for the underdog when they're whipping your team? 

I remember visiting Custer Last Stand when we went on a family vacation to Montana in 1988—I really still remember that. (I don't think I'm misremembering that it was called ungramatically "Custer Last Stand" instead of "Custer's Last Stand".) Every fallen US soldier had his own grave marker, wherever it was in that open field where they fell. And there was something about the openness of that grassland and the sheer number of the grave markers that leaves a question on your heart: why? Who really remembers anything directly from when they were younger, I don't know, but I don't feel like I walked away from that place feeling like my team had done the right thing. There's a nasty dose of dissonance in store for anyone who tries to square their everyday lives in the Midwest with the everyday lives of someone else out on some prairie being squared up at the end of the barrel of a gun. Maybe your mind can't give words to it, at whatever age, but something is off.

So is it a heavy feeling or a light feeling as you walk the battlefield—so much smaller than the battlefields that you think of in your mind, some Civil War or World War II slaughterhouse mayhem—but the small size and the isolation get to you if you take a quiet moment to think about it.

Really, that's all you're going to give it, at most—a quiet moment. Then you're going to get back into your car and drive somewhere else far far away. And if you get hot you'll turn on the air conditioner. And if you get bored you'll turn on the radio. And if the cavalry rides into your backyard to oust you from your home you'll do what needs to be done. These are the rules. We don't write them. We got here after thousands and thousands of years of accidents and hard work and we might not know everything, but we know what needs to be done to survive, even if it kills us.


Later I ended up in Missoula and stayed with my Aunt Sandy. It was nice. Really. I'm just lacking, for the moment, the will to think about it.




2005, the way home: day 7

Original post: 2005-05-30: Return from Mojave, Day 7


Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005


To this day, the most memorable part of this particular day is a near miss. [1]

Forest service roads are mostly empty on even the busiest days—especially in the middle of Central Oregon. Driving through the meadows and trees by yourself at daybreak, you start to get the feeling that you're the only person in the universe, cruising through time and space in a way that suggested that the place was mine and mine alone. [2] Forgive me. I was 24. I haven't kicked the habit but it was so much more concentrated then.

Anyway: the point.

Coming around a turn that I can still see very clearly in my mind—a 90-degree-or-so bend cut into a small ridge—sliding around that gravel bend because that's what you do when you grow up with access to gravel roads that bend—seeing the grill of that truck stamped like the aftermath of a red hot brand in my memory.

Holy shit.

Probably I'm just overdramatizing it in my memory. Probably it was routine. Probably I wasn't speeding as much as I thought I was. Probably I didn't get that ass end out around the front end and then grab traction just in time to slide in between the truck and the ditch on my side of the road. But. But but but. In memory. In that solemn memory vault where the lies and the truths spend their time shooting the breeze until they're called into action, that's how I remember it—a pound-your-fist-on-the-car-ceiling-and-keep-pushing-it kind of moment. I can't even imagine what the actual consequence of sideswiping a local in the middle of nowhere with no reception and no recourse would have resulted in. Utter catastrophe. Needle pricks in the hands and forearms even now. [3]

And I remember the next problem, maybe not connected to the first, but maybe borne out of the same bit of karma.

What do you do, when you're in the middle of nowhere, and you're out of gas?

Dunh dunh DUNH.

This specific detail eludes me: did I try to drive to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Painted Hills section) and then blanche and decide to get gas, or did I figure out, when I popped out of NF-12 (I think) onto US-26, that I was basically out of gas and needed to sort that out pronto? I don't quite remember. I remember the white-knuckle-but-slow-motion-and-neutral-on-the-downhills drive east on US-26 hoping that there was a gas station within range. I remember the single pump tiny-ass gas station that saved my ass. South Fork Mini Market. With that weird Oregon requirement of not being allowed to pump your own gas. I hope my younger self tipped the hell out of that guy. I don't think they're even allowed to take tips. What does it matter? Survive and advance.

These shouldn't be the memories that I retain but they're still there, and they're still fresh.

The rest of the day is still there in my memory in fresh relief as well. I wonder: is that the result of the early morning adrenaline?

John Day is badlands: yellow and red and, if you go to the Turtle Cove formation, blue. Weird volcanic spew dumped from somewhere on the weird volcanic coast, then covered up, then slowly revealed after ages and ages of erosion—and it takes ages and ages because it doesn't look like it rains out there.

I don't even—I can't.

It's an interesting place, but the recall of the place still fades in comparison to dumb young adult car problems. It's too bad. But John Day is mostly imagination anyway. You can see with your eyes the colors. But you have to see with your mind the fossils and the lives of the pre-fossil animals and the non-lives of the pre-color vulcanism and so on. The really interesting stuff isn't there, it's in your mind. The thing itself in front of you on the trail is just an image, a what-is-now, a what-you-see, but it has many what-it-is's to it. You have to accordion the place out through time to get a good feel for it.

This is all strange talk but I'm not going to edit it—this is the record as it exists in what passes for my memory. Then US-26 east and then OR-7 east and northeast to cut cross-country to Baker City, and then OR-86 past the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretative Center (too late, closed) to cut through Hells Canyon to Idaho.

This day is the fulcrum of that trip—a tipping point from the left side to the right side, from the west side to the east side, from the cautious side to the aggressive side. Selah.


[1] George Carlin, it's not a near miss, it's a near hit, etc.

[2] Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came / Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name

[3] There's only one other turn in my memory, also a gravel road turn, that evokes this much ferocity and adrenaline on recall: Depler Springs Road, near Lewistown, morning, sophomore year high school, out to pick someone up for a morning run training for track, getting the station wagon I-swear-perpendicular to the gravel road in an induced fishtail before sliding it to a stop. But can that be Depler Springs Road? Wasn't that paved? How much of memory is totally paved over with falsehoods? Should you even read this post?







2005, the way home: day 6

Original post: 2005-05-29: Return from Mojave, Day 6


Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005


Day 6: Seattle to Ochoco National Forest in Oregon

I like reading the old posts and old journals because it lifts up little details that had otherwise been forgotten. I was going to go back to Mt. St. Helens and hike around a bit but, apparently, the cloud cover was down too low that it would have been like looking at fog through fog from fog. So: no go.

I'll tell you what my superpower is, though: give me a map and I'll find you the most interesting route from Here to There. I don't know why, but I know why. When my mom worked at the ASCS office [1] back in the day, the fields and plots were printed out on paper for measurement, then we just had them at home as a neverending supply of scratch paper. Maps—black-and-white aerial or satellite images, really—were this everpresent baseline thing at home. No wonder I can see the world so easily like a map. I never thought about it before.

But, yes: give me a map, a point A, and a point B, and I'll find you the most interesting route in between. Not the shortest, not the fastest—the most interesting. Because, you see, we optimize for the wrong things. Short might make sense if you're out of gas, and fast might make sense if you need to make it to the hospital, but otherwise: why not optimize ("optimize") for something fuzzier like interest, stresslessness, novelty, etc. Oh ho: because you can't optimize for that. Or, maybe, you can, but you'd have to synthesize the variables in such a way that only the crackpots would deal with your math.

I've gone off the rails. But. No. There's an angle here.

Give me a map, a point A, and a point Z, and I'll find you points A-Y that show you something you've never seen before—in a good way.

And so, driving south past the Mt. St. Helens exit through Washington, that's what I did. Hey—can't do that, let's do something else instead. I cut south until I ran out of Washington, then I cut east along the Columbia River until it looked like a suitable place to cross. Along the way I saw an enormous group of kite surfers (at The Hatchery) taking advantage of the wind tunnel flow down the Columbia River Gorge to slalom around the whitecaps before taking flight.

Kitesurfing on a river? If the shoe fits.

From there: south. Past Mt. Hood. Back into the casual dry wilderness of Central Oregon—the high desert, the volcanic waste, the dry grass, the conspicuous lack of gas stations. (Foreshadowing.)

I...

I wish I could give you what I get out of driving across these strange (to me) but unremarkable (to anyone) places.

Playing back all these memories, and remapping all these routes, and sorting through all these pictures... I can put myself back in the seat of the Grand Am [2] and remember what it was like to feel the river gorge, then the trees, then the absence of trees. I can remember the low and then increasing anxiety of looking for the Campground sign that I was expecting to see, letting me know that it was time to turn off the highway onto a forest service road (Ochoco National Forest), and then begin the slower business of finding the campsite which had no name on the map (Deep Creek Campground), then finding (hopefully) an open campsite (right by the creek—count yr blessings).

I wonder about people who are older than me. 10 years. 20 years. 40 years. How many boring details that don't mean anything to anyone can a person hold? Is there a reason I remember what certain trees look like at a place I once stopped a car? What it felt like to drive across the interminable dry grass and volcanic rock? Why do we hold the things we hold?


[1] ASCS = Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, part of the USDA (US Department of Agriculture), later the Farm Service Agency (FSA). I had no idea until now what ASCS stood for, though it is stamped in my memory. I vaguely remember the office being in downtown ("downtown") Lewistown at the edge of my memory, then later out by the high school. I still remember the phone number: 547-2233. Tell me... tell me why we retain the memories that we retain, it's so confusing...

[2] Coffin on Wheels, Coffin on Wheels.



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.

So—

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.

Listen—

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

Wrote

  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).

Read

  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.”

Listened

  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)

Watched

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).

Photo

Upcoming


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.