Category Archives: Inspiration

Good Old Samuel Langhorne Clemens

Mark Twain

… better known as Mark Twain, whose stories of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn I LIVED when I was a kid.

Here’s a bit of his wisdom:

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”

“A wise man does not waste so good a commodity as lying for naught.”

“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.”

“All generalizations are false, including this one.”

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

“Do not have sex with a girl who is too strongly attached to you. If this attachment is not mutual, trust me it ends breaking plates on your head.”

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”

“Don’t wrestle with pigs. you both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

“Each man is afraid of his neighbor’s disapproval – a thing which, to the general run of the human race, is more dreaded than wolves and death.”

“Every person is a book, each year a chapter.”

“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

“Give every day the chance to become the most beautiful day of your life.”

“Human beings are the only creatures who blush – or who need to.”

“I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can’t find anybody who can tell me what they want.”

“I deal with temptation by yielding to it.”

“I find that the further I go back, the better things were, whether they happened or not.”

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. if you do, you’re misinformed.”

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

“If you want love and abundance in your life, give it away.”

“It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart: the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.”

“Its not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

“Knowledge becomes wisdom only after it has been put to good use.”

“Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that makes you smile.”

“Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.”

“Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

“One can enjoy a rainbow without necessarily forgetting the forces that made it.”

“Only he who has seen better days and lives to see better days again knows their full value.”

“Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.”

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

“The more I know people, the more I love my dog.”

“The most permanent lessons in morals are those which come, not of book teaching, but of experience.”

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.”

“The trouble is not in dying for a friend, but in finding a friend worth dying for.”

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

“To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”

“When your opinions start to coincide with those of the majority, it is time to reconsider your opinions.”

“Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions.”

“You meet people who forget you. you forget people you meet. But sometimes you meet those people you can’t forget. Those are your friends.”

“You want to be very careful about lying, otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught.”

Kurt Vonnegut’s Commencement Address

(A little gem I found in the couch cushions of my hard drive)…

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’98:

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much
possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

How to Measure the Height of a Building

Empire State BuildingSir Ernest Rutherford, President of the Royal Academy, and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, related the following story: “Some time ago I received a call from a colleague. He was about to give a student a zero for his answer to a physics question, while the student claimed a perfect score. The instructor and the student agreed to an impartial arbiter, and I was selected.

I read the examination question: “Show how it is possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer.” The student had answered: “Take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower it to the street, and then bring it up, measuring the length of the rope. The length of the rope is the height of the building.”

The student really had a strong case for full credit since he had really answered the question completely and correctly! On the other hand, if full credit were given, it could well contribute to a high grade in his physics course and certify competence in physics, but the answer did not confirm this. I suggested that the student have another try. I gave the
student six minutes to answer the question with the warning that the answer should show some knowledge of physics. At the end of five minutes, he hadn’t written anything. I asked if he wished to give up, but he said he had many answers to this problem; he was just thinking of the best one. I excused myself for interrupting him and asked him to please go on. In the next minute, he dashed off his answer which read: “Take the barometer to the top of the building and lean over the edge of the roof. Drop the barometer, timing its fall with a stopwatch. Then, using the formula x=0.5*a*t^2, calculate the height of the building.”

At this point, I asked my colleague if he would give up. He conceded, and gave the student almost full credit. While leaving my colleague’s office, I recalled that the student had said that he had other answers to the problem, so I asked him what they were.

“Well,” said the student, “there are many ways of getting the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer. For example, you could take the barometer out on a sunny day and measure the height of the barometer, the length of its shadow, and the length of the shadow of the building, and by the use of simple proportion, determine the height of the
building.”

“Fine,” I said, “and others?”

“Yes,” said the student, “there is a very basic measurement method you will like. In this method, you take the barometer and begin to walk up the stairs. As you climb the stairs, you mark off the length of the barometer along the wall. You then count the number of marks, and his will give you the height of the building in barometer units.” “A very direct method.”

“Of course. If you want a more sophisticated method, you can tie the barometer to the end of a string, swing it as a pendulum, and determine the value of g [gravity] at the street level and at the top of the building. From the difference between the two values of g, the height of the building, in principle, can be calculated.”

“On this same tack, you could take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower it to just above the street, and then swing it as a pendulum. You could then calculate the height of the building by the period of the precession”.

“Finally,” he concluded, “there are many other ways of solving the problem.”

“Probably the best,” he said, “is to take the barometer to the basement and knock on the superintendent’s door. When the superintendent answers, you speak to him as follows: ‘Mr. Superintendent, here is a fine barometer. If you will tell me the height of the building, I will give you this barometer.”

At this point, I asked the student if he really did not know the conventional answer to this question. He admitted that he did, but said that he was fed up with high school and college instructors trying to teach him how to think.

The name of the student was Niels Bohr.”

The Camera

Capturing a moment and freezing time has always been fascinating for mankind. It always required a skill to turn a moment into a lasting image. Cave drawings are the first known attempts to do just that. Over the millennia many great, and not so great, artist practiced this skill.

With the invention of the camera and film the game changed. It was suddenly much easier to trap the moment and make it last. The first photographers still had to be very skilled because you could not go to a store and buy a role of film – the first photographers made their own plates for their box cameras.

But by the 50s and 60s photography had become so easy that every American tourist traveling the world took his or her camera along. And in the recent years the prevalence of digital cameras has brought picture-taking everywhere.

The main areas in which photography is used today are snapping memory shots, documenting events and facts, and artistic expression.

Probably the most pictures take are from the first category – capturing memories. Here is the camera, especially the latest very small models, which can go everywhere and that fit into your shirt pocket. As there is, beside the initial cost for the camera, no cost involved in photo-taking, many, many photos are taken, many of which might only be looked at once before they are forgotten on a hard drive or deleted.

The second use of the camera for the documentation of events, facts and objects requires a much bigger skill level of the photographer if he really wants to create an image that tells a story or shows a situation. Point and click does not work any more. The photographer has to have the ability to isolate something specific from a sea of distraction. A wide-angle shot where, way in the background, you see the dog biting the kid while there are more prevalent objects in the foreground will not document the dog attack.

Artistic use of the camera requires a total synergy of camera and photographer. Just like the painter knows exactly how the brush will apply the paint to the canvas, so does the artistic photographer know every nuance of his tool of the trade – the camera. But just as a great painter will paint a great picture with an expensive brush or a cheap pencil, so is the great photographer able to even use a cheap camera to take great pictures.

The camera, in all three fields of application, has opened up the entry into the respective area to nearly everybody. But it still remains true that to create great pictures, great skills are required. Today’s advertisement tries to make it appear that if you spend bundles of money to purchase the latest and greatest camera, you will automatically take perfect pictures. This is certainly not the case as the photographer and not the camera takes the pictures. Lowering the bar to enter the field allows many more people to get started but only the person who sticks with it and trains himself in the art will obtain stunning results.

Synchronicity

Let us look at synchronicity, and do so without using the faith that there is something outside of me (or you, as it is you, reading this.)
 
In order to try to break the faith-based thinking, that there must be something outside of us, I will, from now on, speak with your (dear reader’s) voice: If I don’t make any faith-based assumptions, then the only fact I can be sure about is I, the reader of these lines. The writer might or might not exist as a separate entity. But the only thing I do know is that I perceive these lines and thoughts. I can not discard the possibility that these are my own creations just as images in dreams look external to me but are in fact created by me.
 
Now back to synchronicities – if they are my creations, then I created the two events, that are connected by meaning, myself in this fashion and any surprise about the connection of these events is very illogical – how could I be surprised by something that I designed and created in exactly this fashion and with these characteristics?
The cast of LOST
I contemplated this today when watching an episode of the old TV show ‘Lost.’ This is a show that just lives on synchronicities. One character, Hurley, is fighting to distinguish what is real and what is his imagination. No solution is offered to the viewer and when, in the last scene of the episode, his friend, a psychiatrist who tries to show him what is real, is shown as an inmate of a psychiatric ward, I had to admit I admired the writers for their skill to mess with my mind.
 
Running into  these shows of Lost, and this messing with my mind right after just writing my last post, I first considered this to be a “wow-synchronicity.” But on deeper contemplation there was no synchronicity, just causality – if I just wrote an article questioning the so-called reality and calling it faith-based, then – obviously – I would create incidents occurring thereafter being in alignment with these thoughts.
 
If I create my world all by myself, I can at least construct it in a fashion that entertains me and gives me a few surprises. I have to admit, though, that it is a neat trick to surprise oneself – it requires a good deal of forgetting.
 
Now I just have to figure out how I create coming events in a fashion so that it contains some challenges, but none too difficult ones that would give me suffering.

Exploring the Senses with Your Senses

In one form or another, we all have heard the old philosophical wisdom “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am), proposed by René Descartes.
 
Meditating over this statement, we eventually realize that this is pretty much all we actually will ever know with certainty.
 
To illustrate this, let’s look at a very lucid dream we might have experienced once. I, for example, remember one where I had gained many riches in the form of money or gold. Not sure what exactly it was, but I remember that I could really feel this valuable possession in my hand. If you right now take your mouse into your hand and feel its surface, its weight, its temperature – this is very similar to how I experienced these riches.
 
Then, to my great dismay, the thought crept into my mind that I will be waking up. It became more and more certain that these riches would be gone when I woke up, so I fought waking up. If you ever tried to not wake up, you know how hopeless this undertaking is. As I slid more into my waking state, the thought became more real that there was nothing in my hand, yet I could still feel it.
 
I ended up having to consciously open my hand to convince myself that nothing would fall out of it – and, obviously, nothing fell.
 
Looking back at that incident I could not help comparing it with my immediate certainty that I sit here in front of the computer screen, typing along on my keyboard and definitely feel the keys moving under my fingers. I feel my feet touching the carpet, I sense its structure and temperature – all very comparable to my sensations of the riches in my hand while I was dreaming (as I know now.)
 
Why am I so sure that my perceptions of the environment I experience now are different than my perceptions while dreaming? Looking at it philosophically, I have to admit that this certainty is completely unfounded.
 
We perceive our environment through our senses and that dream-experience showed me clearly that I can not trust my senses. There is no proof possible that this table I am sitting at is something that exists outside of me. Any means to prove its existence depends on my senses:
 
  • I can touch it – my sense of touch
  • I can see it – my sense of vision
  • Somebody describes it to me – my sense of hearing

et cetera.

There are perceptions, we would all agree, that are not quite as solid as these perceptions of elements of the physical world. Let’s take a religious perception for example, where somebody is certain that she experienced god. For this person it might be as real as the pain I feel when the hammer hits my finger instead of the nail. But most people will agree that this is a more subjective reality.
 
In principle, though, there is no difference between these perceptions.
 
Therefore you will have to accept as you read this, that the existence of a person who wrote these lines is purely a matter of faith – you believe, that there is, or was, a person who sat at his computer at one time and wrote these words – but you certainly have no proof.

Oh, You Scientists!

This interesting piece from the BBC came across my desktop the other day…

and I feel compelled to comment.

One interesting science-historical fact is from the days before the discovery of atomic forces, before we ‘knew’ that the energy produced by the sun is based on nuclear fusion where two heavy hydrogen atoms are fused into one helium atom. The energy contained in the one helium is less than that of the two hydrogen and the energy difference makes our days bright and life possible on earth.

But it is not, that before the discovery of these processes, scientists just sat there and agreed to wait for the discovery of nuclear fusion – no – they used what they knew then to explain the sun. Lacking nuclear fusion to generate heat they turned to coal, which they knew well to generate heat. So they came up with the idea that the sun is a big ball of pure coal – and it burned. They already had a good idea how big the sun was so, commandeering all the scientific methods at their disposal, they calculated how long we could depend on the sun to give is light and life. I don’t recall what the number was they came up with, but it was considerably lower that the now estimated ten billion. It did  not matter too much, as other branches of science also did  not know too much about the time it took for the current state to develop to what they could observe. And the creation of the world in five days was still a well accepted possibility.

We might smile just how cute – and wrong – science was then. But I can not help imagine scientists in a century or two who unearth this BBC video and have a good laugh.

I wonder where the humility of science has been lost so that it can now tell us with utter conviction “How the Solar System Formed.”