Author Archives: kirk.kittell

finished reading Walden this morning

A few lines of note from the last few chapters of Walden by Henry David Thoreau (bold included by me)—

From the chapter "The Pond in Winter"—

After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some question had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to answer in my sleep, as what—how—when—where? But there was dawning nature, in whom all creatures live, looking in at my broad windows with serene and satisfied face, and no question on her lips. I awoke to an unanswered question, to Nature and daylight.

From the chapter "Spring"—

A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty. We loiter in winter while it is already spring. In a pleasant spring morning all men's sins are forgiven.

Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it.

From the chapter "Conclusion"—

The universe is wider than our views of it.

If you would learn to speak all tongues and conform to the customs of all nations, if you would travel farther than all travellers, be naturalized in all climes, and cause the Sphinx to dash her head against a stone, even obey the precept of the old philospopher, and Explore thyself.

I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagine, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

A distinction

According to Dr. Hugh Hill in an ISU lecture on astrobiology today—

  • Astrobiology is the study of the origin, dispersion, and future of life in the universe.
  • Bioastronomy is a combination of of biology and astronomy, searching for evidence of life in the universe.

This is certainly an interesting distinction—to me, at least. I had previously ascribed astrobiology to the folks at SETI which, though fascinating, never particularly interested me. Apparently, that's bioastronomy, which I could do without—let someone else worry about they why's and what's of that, someone with a sharper interest. Astrobiology? Where we came from and where we're going? That's more interesting, more useful, I think.

So I'll pass along a link I saw on NASA Watch:

Martigny, Switzerland and Chamonix, France

Full set of photos: Martigny - Chamonix, July 2006

Dave at the wheel
Full picture: An Aussie driving on the right... look out!

A9 in Switzerland
Full picture: Sunset in the clouds near Lac Leman

Full picture: Up the hill from Martigny

Full picture: Over the Martigny valley

Full picture: Hiking near Trient

Swiss Alps
Full picture: Mont Blanc

Swiss Alps
Full picture: Looking over the Chamonix valley

Swiss Alps
Full picture: Into the next valley

Swiss Alps
Full picture: Down the ridge

Dave in the snow
Full picture: Summer snowfight

Lac Noir
Full picture: Lac Noir

Swiss Alps
Full picture: Paragliding

Basic French v1

Thanks to Nathalie, one of the ISU participants from southern France, for helping me with this lesson. These phrases were conceived when riding a bus... specifically, a bus that I didn't know where it was going...

[Note: You may need to save the mp3 files to your computer to listen. I can't open them in my own browser window...]

Where is the bus to the Cathedral, please?
Ou est le bus qui va a la Cathedrale, s'il vous plait?

Does this train go to Strasbourg?
Est-ce que ce train va a Strasbourg?

Where is the train station?
Ou est la gare?

Where is the tram stop?
Ou est l'arrêt de tram?

Can you speak more slowly, please?
Pouvez vous parlez lentement, s'il vois plait?

I don't understand.
Je ne comprend pas.

Excuse me? (i.e., what did you say?)


Good night.
Bonne nuit.

People of Bakersfield, please watch your heads...

...because the X PRIZE Foundation put one of the SpaceShipOne replicas that our crew worked on up in the Bakersfield airport. Now, though I can vouch for some of the SS1 Replica Project's work, I still don't know if I would walk underneath of it...

Full picture: Up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane... it's the potential for severe cranial damage!

Photo courtesy Brooke Owens

the mayor of Strasbourg

"You don't know what you're talkeeeng about"

"France isn't what it used to be... you walk around like a foool, somebody cut you"

In search of an Irish pub last night—the most likely nonexistant Irish Times—we met a new "friend" on the way past the cathedral. Some guy—no front teeth, ratty suit—caught up to our group of six just to inform Joe Ireland that he didn't know what he was talking about. —kept hoping that the guy would shove off quickly, but he followed us for several hundred meters, giving us such important information like telling us that we should watch out, or that he would cut us, or that we shouldn't walk around like "woooo" (imagine arms flailing in the air), or that his grandparents blood was on the castle. He kept referring to it as his city, so we naturally assumed that he must be the mayor of Strasbourg.

Actually, this was all aimed at Joe. Not a surprise.

Back to class...

What I like about ISU so far...

The mixture of idealism and realism is at an acceptable ratio. I expected many, many more "space cadets" than I have met here. What's a space cadet? —a discussion for a different day, but I'll be satisfied with explaining that the other students that I've met here in Strasbourg have other interests in addition to space-related interests. This is a huge relief; going to space is an important personal goal, mostly for selfish reasons, but there are other interests that I want to include in my personal and professional life. There is a wonderful variety—and quantity—of experienced and educated people participating in the summer session program. Is it rude to admit that I didn't expect this much quality from the program? —maybe not rude, but arrogant, certainly arrogant. I barely remember what I expected, but my experiences so far exceed expectations. One example, then I will be off to lunch: many of the lecturers and other faculty—mostly borrowed faculty but some permanent—have real responsibilities in the industry. More later—food now...

ISU opening

From Peter Diamandis's opening presentation:

The average age of the engineers who built the ships—the propulsion, the structures, the navigation and guidance, the life control systems—the average age of those engineers was—do you know? 26 years old. There was no one there to tell them what could not be done. They had to make it up on their own as they went along. So I want you to remember that anything you want is possible... if you're committed to making it happen. And I want you to think about this summer session as a chance you have to put behind everything you've ever learned before. Forget about what people told you could not be done, what could be done, and figure out what you want to do. This is your chance to explore crazy ideas, wonderful ideas, ideas that in the back of your mind you've wondered, "Could I do this? Is this possible?" And the answer is that if you believe it is, it is. If someone tells you it can't happen, well, it can't happen for them, that doesn't mean it can't happen for you.