Friday, May 31, 2013

Another Growing Season

    Changes in the seasons brings on new activities and new landscapes.   As a farm boy I was accustomed to the impact of change of seasons related to the crops we grew.   There was a time to plant, a time to cultivate, a time to fertilize and a time to harvest.   I continue many years later to be tuned to the seasons of agriculture.   My commute to the Cornell Campus takes me by hundreds of acres of fertile land devoted to hay, corn and soybeans.   I delight in the start of the growing season when fields are tilled, crops are planted and the new plants emerge from the land.
A New Corn Crop Emerging
 To me every growing season is a rebirth of vigor.   If only  geezers could have more of that kind of rebirth and rejuvenation every year.   Perhaps we do have that rebirth in spirit each spring and summer in spite of our declining physical abilities.
     Although skiers tend to emphasize winter seasons as markers of elapsed time, I am more inclined to mark yearly progress in summers.   Somewhere in my reading I encountered a story about Native Americans marking the age of children and themselves by the number of summers they lived.  If asked about the age of a child they would say he or she had lived so many summers.   I am not sure that this idea is authentic but I like the thought.
    We know that each season has it's own purpose.  I am reminded of the scripture from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3:1.  "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens".
    There is a season for every activity!  Winter is to enjoy the slopes if you are a skier. Fall and Spring give us transitional periods to adjust our lives to new activities. Summer is a time to enjoy outdoor activities as well as to appreciate flowers, leafed trees and the productivity of the earth.   But now we are in the growing season.  A time to watch things grow on the land, in our yards and in our garden.   And perhaps we can also think of how we can enjoy rebirth by new activities,  renewed relationships and new insights in our continuing existence on this earth.   In spite of our age we can always be growing in one way or another.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Engineering Mind

    Just as artists have a way of viewing the world around them, engineers also have a unique perspective.   During Grandparent's day at the Lake Champlain School where two of grandchildren attend we had a chance to tour the newly acquired building for a new high school location.  The building was formally the Morgan Horse Museum and consists of a post and beam construction.   I was completely enthralled by this construction.   Not only is it a beautiful building, but it also vividly exposes the post and beam construction process.   The photos below illustrate some of the joints between braces, beams, columns and the like.   In some ways this experience was a return to my childhood farm barn that was built in the 1860's as post and beam with mortise and tenon connections.    The finish on wood of this new school was much nicer than my old barn that even had some bark on the rough hewn beams.
   The only element of the construction for the new school building that I couldn't reconcile was the wooden pins in almost all the joints were still protruding.   I would have sawed them off flush with the beam.   David the architect leading the tour said that this was the common effect in modern post and beam construction.   Is that an artistic interpretation or is it too much trouble to cut them flush?   Perhaps it is the conflict between the artist and the practical engineer!
Beams make a bold statement of strength.

Joint with Pegs Protruding.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Rediscovering Math

      I just finished my first reading of Steven Strogatz's book The Joy of X:   A Guided Tour of Math From One to Infinity.   As an engineering academic I studied a lot of mathematics.   For the most part I did very well in most of the courses.  I certainly learned enough to  answer the test questions.  However, after reading Strogatz's book I have discovered I missed a lot of the essence of mathematics.  What I did learn were the techniques and procedures that enabled me to solve engineering problems without really appreciating the beauty of mathematics.   His book has opened a whole new appreciation of not only the beauty of mathematics but also the broad scope of how mathematics effects our everyday lives.   Mathematics is not only a element of engineering practice, but it is an underpinning for medicine, finance, transportation, biology, and you name it.   Even though this book is written for the general public to enjoy,  I find my ability to fully understand the underlying concepts to be challenged.  
     I am planning a second reading before I pass this book on to my "mathy" friends.   Since this is primarily a geezer skiers blog, I will be looking for math applications to the sport of skiing in my second read.   Perhaps I need to calculate the highest speed I will attain schussing the steepest slope at my local ski area.  Or perhaps I will need to compute the mean coffee break time as a function of the quality of the snow conditions for the day.   And even more perhaps I should calculated the number of permutations of different geezer pairs riding together on the ski lift as a function of the number of geezers present.   Oh the wonder of mathematics.   Thanks Steve for opening my mind to new possibilities.