Archive for the ‘Urge to Know’ category

PUTTING STEAM BACK INTO STEM EDUCATION

November 13, 2011

Recent media reports express concern over the number of college students who are deciding not to continue their science based studies. The major reasons are the unanticipated difficulty of both the math and science courses. Analysts state that the decline in solid elementary and secondary education in math and science are major contributing factors. Considering the national goals of expanding and invigorating instruction and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), this is a discouraging development.

IT’S THE TEACHERS, RIGHT? This is the motivator for all of the local, state and national efforts to tighten the methods and extent of teacher evaluations. In my opinion, with minor exceptions, we should not thump the teachers. The classic barriers of over-populated classes, curriculum goals that seek to satisfy national testing rather than student learning, and dreadfully fickle administrative guidelines that undergo school-board opinionated revisions, all turn the education process upside down. By the time all of this descends upon and around the teacher, student education has become a locked-stepped march into confusion. In spite of this, most teachers strive to teach and to inspire each student to learn. This turns a regular school day for teachers into an average 12 to 15 hour day when they really work to make learning successful and joyful.

JOYFUL LEARNING? There is an inherent stress for most youngsters during the education process; even for the super-bright ones. Making the process joyful, when suitable, reduces the stress, opens the mind and makes learning pleasurable instead of either deadly dull or frightening. In most cases, this approach is the product of highly motivated teachers who dress up their presentations (art, videos, student demonstrations, visiting heroes, etc) that far exceed the dry-as-toast curriculum dictated by the national test score mantra. All of these extra efforts are variables and in many cases difficult to consistently sustain so overall the education process FAILS with respect to future STEM success.

SO WHAT’S TO BE DONE? As and example let’s take five critical areas for consideration. These examples all presume a standardized education concept that enhances both STEM and HAMLIT education. This combination imposes a considerable demand on teachers through all elementary and secondary grades. Right now both are cut short because of the imposition of that national testing mantra. Yes, we do need to evaluate the system and how well it is serving the education of our young, but under no circumstances should that evaluation debilitate a sound and well structured curriculum. Broadly speaking the White House does not seem to recognize this educational impediment built into its mandates.

The five critical areas are as follows (The emphasis on items 1-3 are for elementary education, K-3):

  1. STEM and HAMLIT should be specifically present at the Kindergarten level, but in a most innovative way. Here the joy of learning is most important. Simple math concepts and delightful literature and music experiences should be presented in a most memorable and enjoyable way.  Young minds grab at these concepts when presented in this manner. Additionally, parents must be more actively recruited to support what is happening in Kindergarten. They should be fully aware of the program and the variety of supportive things they can do to enhance their children’s early learning experiences.
  2. STEM and HAMLIT follow the youngsters out of Kindergarten into the first stages of elementary school.  Now all children don’t learn at the same rate and not all will be serious STEM learners, but all of them will be at ease with HAMLIT when creatively presented. Yes, creative presentations. Most teachers, particularly elementary level teachers do this automatically and usually very creatively. These efforts must be extended to STEM as well. Math can be so dreadfully dull if presented in that way, but when creatively presented (using a variety of teaching aids) it can win over children that appeared not to be good STEM candidates.
  3. ENTER THE COMPUTER: Although the students may have already had some exposure (home or school) to computers, the Third Grade is the key place to begin using the computer to enhance STEM learning. Right now, there is some concerns about how effective this will be, but as the article in the foregoing link points out there are steps that, if taken, can make the computer a vital and highly productive instrument for enhancing the learning process; particularly for STEM. Teachers must be directly involved in the choice of software programs to be used. A misfit of program and teacher methods will produce a zero learning result with both frustrated students and teachers. Administrators and school-board officials must recognize this and insist on teacher input in the software selection process.
  4. ELEMENTARY LEVEL EDUCATION is critical to the full success of the youngsters through their Middle and High School experiences. A poor foundation in this area coupled with the greater student independence and learning responsibilities in these advanced grade levels can lead to a student drop-out. This is quite simply a tragedy whether the student was a good STEM candidate or more HAMLIT oriented. Dropping out is like shooting curiosity and imagination on the spot. Again, teacher instructional latitude, even with heavy computer participation, is critical. Impositions of the standard testing mantra, worrisome and severe teacher evaluations and often bumbling administrative processes can severely cripple these advanced learning experiences. So again, before harping, its the teachers, we need to carefully examine the teaching environment, the available tools and the level of administrative imposition that distracts teacher productivity.
  5. COLLEGE/CAREER PREP should actually start in Middle School and increase in supportive ways through the remainder of secondary education. Right now the push is for college from everywhere and everyone, and yet many students are either not ready or are just not interested in that direction for their future. Sound counseling on alternatives that continue to bolster the students opportunity profile should be included along with the standard college pep talks. There are a host of technical training opportunities, including the military services, that provide a student with some promising career alternatives. These should not be ignored. Additionally joint sessions with the non-college oriented students and their parents should be conducted to help prevent the forceful persuasiveness of parents fixated on college for the kids.
ALL of the above requires extensive time and effort on the part of both teachers and counselors. Again, the extremely tight schedules, mandated curriculum and standards test preparation along with the complexity of both STEM and HAMLIT subject matter demand more from teachers than neither time nor class size permit.  Yes, computers will help somewhat, but under no circumstances should they become tools to free up a teacher to perform those distracting administrative tasks. Computers are good, but they cannot sense all the nuances of each student’s learning method. Only a teacher can do that, and when he or she is intensely distracted by non-academic endeavors that alertness is muted. Guess who suffers?
Well, it is obvious that things must change, and the responsibility rests with every one of us, not just parents, teachers and board-members. All levels of government that interact with our education system must hear from us, and what we say must be in full concert with making sure that there is an ample supply of steam in the STEM program and also lots of bright words, art and stunning music in the HAMLIT program. We can then begin to bask again in the aura of bright, highly creative and dedicated young people and adults whom we so desperately need to keep us moving forward.
Well, it really all comes down to this (See video)>
About the Author: XiNeutrino (Waddell Robey) after leaving the high-tech aerospace and health science fields, he devoted a little over seven years working as both a TSS (Therapeutic Staff Support) and Therapist in Children and Family Services. Most of his time was spent in school settings with his young clients and this has given him a unique and highly informative perspective on our education system, its teachers, and the varying success of its students. Those experiences along with his independent observations and discussion with teachers and administrators have formed the opinions and recommendations expressed in this blog article.

IMAGE CREDIT: Cartoon depiction of STEM at work. Courtesy: eidmladenkaraman.com

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The Power of Nosy

October 31, 2011

Today, with the immense spread of social networks, exclaiming about nosy-ness is really a non-sequitur. We are all partial voyeurs as we “follow” the chatterings of Twitter or Facebook members. We even exercise a kind of “nosy-ness” by adding our comments to those of other network members discussing a topic, incident or opinion. All of this is participatory and so the rather unwelcome category of being nosy just does not fit or apply. Is this a good thing?

We think social networking takes an inherent natural sense of curiosity and allows it to express itself in many different ways. Yes, some of those expression may be regarded by some as nosy-ness, but the odds are those individuals are either unfamiliar with network socialization or are just extremely private individuals who carefully guard their personhood. Regardless, we are doing what comes naturally, as the image of the curious infant above illustrates. In that context, you have got to love it.

So where is the power? Well, we have seen that power as deeply moving calls for help such as the horrible Haitian earthquake or the original bold cries for change from the Arab Spring and both have had major social and political impact that has and is changing our world. Both of the foregoing are vitally important as examples of international communications that are reshaping nations. Perhaps the most universal power is the new and expanding culture-sharing that is spanning the globe. Insularity is crumbling as we come to not just make contact with, but begin to know humans from lands we have never visited and in some cases may never have heard about. This is a touching of minds and spirits that has never happened before on the scale of millions. Can this be a gateway to world peace?

Yes, there is some insularity within social networking as common interest groups form and relate. This should not be discouraged. Ideally, efforts should be made to expand those groups to reach out to include interested netmembers from various cultures, nations and politics. This is timidly happening and that timidity is due more to shyness about cultural and or political differences. Additionally, political forces, including our own, at least attempt to monitor the networks and some (like China) even restrict the scope and topic range of social networking. Believe it or not these impairments are a good sign. The politicos are cautious, worried and feeling threatened because the networks reach across most barriers and open the world to potential unity. The power and reality is that the networks and the linkages will prevail.

The New Nosy: Well, above you imply that nosy-ness is an non-sequitur;  so you are contradicting yourselves? Yes, on the surface it would appear we are, but the new nosy is just that new and different. In social networking many reach the point where they begin to share personal information including highly emotional topics. Suddenly the feeling is we are reading very personal words from a stranger. New nosy eliminates this anxiety and reticence. In the instance just described, new nosy enables us to communicate compassion by responding to the message from a “network friend” not a stranger. Another example is someone announces a significant accomplishment. We read and do more than nod; we respond with words of praise and congratulations.  Sure that is what they hoped for, but wouldn’t you also? Lastly, we have articulated expressions of political or social dismay, disapproval or approval. With new nosy, we respond with questions, with gentle arguments, and with counter-points that often create a blend of the original idea. Here again we must  ask are we at a gateway for world peace?

Summary:  Above all else, social networking and the power of new nosy ignores race, sex, national origin, religion, and ethnicity not by legislation but through the gentleness of human nature and the joy of connectivity that the network brings. Yes, some of us start out not so gentle, but the interchange of cultures, viewpoints and beliefs erodes prejudice and induces a shear joy of comradeship. So call it dreaming if you wish, but in reality it is slowly happening and we must do our very best to help the power grow and expand.  So nosy around and help strengthen the threads of world understanding and peace.

IMAGE CREDIT:

New Nosy – Image from “A Curious Baby” wallpaper http://zastavki.com

IT’S ALL ABOUT MASTERY:Practical Expertise

June 17, 2011

Literally, with the first humans, there quickly arose members who became recognized as experts. College degrees and/or graduate degrees were not around yet so expertise grew from both experience and its careful application. Has this been supplanted by academic credentials? In my opinion, absolutely not. In fact, but sadly, it continues to play a key, but less publicized role, in our sci-tech progress.

Yes, successful academic achievement is important in many areas, but is essentially competence-in-waiting. This is true all the way up to the doctoral degrees. Until we can actually work with and experience the specific domains of art, science, and pure craftsmanship we are just newbies.

Been there, done that (btdt) is not a gasp of boredom it is, in my opinion, an acknowledgement of experience either by accident or by intent. In either case, that experience produces a heightened awareness that normally enables the person to avoid new mistakes and to perform more effectively. Revered artisans in both art and technology have years of btdt under their belts that gives them the power of expertise.

In the medical sciences, doctors must complete their apprenticeships as interns and residents before they are really ready for the independent delivery of health care to you or I. Labor unions for years have used apprenticeships to build a labor force empowered by highly experienced and competent artisans. Yes I use artisan to describe all the various competencies, from bricklayer to master machinist, that a union apprentice ultimately achieves. Post-doctoral apprenticeships for new PhD graduates is another example of the careful process of inserting experience into the mastery equation.

Yes, things have changed in some ways, but the required expertise must still be in the forefront of what we design, develop, build, repair and actually operate. Today a master machinist may sit at a computer terminal creating the code to tell an automatic milling machine how to carefully carve part of the wing of giant jet aircraft. What is important is that the code carries with it all the years of expertise when that milling was done carefully and beautifully by hand.

Deep blue ocean sailing today is supported by a host of electronics that make sure we get to our destination. Let all those electronics fail, and hopefully our navigator quickly pulls out his sextant, and like the earliest of sailors looks to the stars to guide us on our way.

Bottom line is that the experiential ingredient in all that we profess is essential. We should keep that in mind when we hear some snobbish comments that put down what they term the uneducated workers. This is a horrible outcome of our stumbles away from actually making things and into trading paper. Those nations who still both revere, honor and promote craftsman skills will eventually prevail in the world economy. No house has ever stood when made from paper or cards.

Many PhDs quickly call an artisan plumber to unclog their overflowing sinks or other facilities. Most ace pilots warmly greet every master mechanic that cares for their aircraft. For certain they do not demand to know their academic credentials.

Parents, educators, industry leaders, political leaders need to understand this vital element and both promote and support it in all of our youth. Yes, some kids will become expert plumbers others will become expert physicians or scientists and we need to honor all equally and appreciatively. Hopefully we can MASTER this behavior to hold our place in the evolution of humankind.

IMAGE CREDITS:

The Handy Craftsman – The PC Gamer http://tinyurl.com/3l4pu92

THE GUARDIAN of the RMS Rhone

May 9, 2011


Excited estimates of his size and weight varied with a visiting diver’s ability to calmly assess the Guardian. The Guardian, as shown in the above image was a Goliath (Giant) Grouper that usually resided in the shaft tunnel of the shipwreck RMS Rhone. The general consensus was that he was in the range of between 600 to 800 pounds.

Not all divers referred to him as the Guardian. That was the name that a group of divers that I usually toured with had given him. To them and for me, it was a fitting name. Although he was never hostile, his girth was imposing and explorers of the shaft tunnel would quickly back away when they came upon him. Yes, he moved around, but the tunnel was his regular hang-out and that is where we would take SCUBA guests on our visit to RMS Rhone. Take a look at the image above and consider a face to face meetup with this fellow; all of which would occur in the restricted area of the shaft tunnel.  It would not be unusual to suck up at least half of your air supply during that encounter.

The dramatic and sad true story of the demise of RMS Rhone was, of course, the main attraction.  Guardian was a perfect special effect to go along with the entire history-based dive. You are urged to click here to learn more about RMS Rhone and its unfortunate end. For me RMS Rhone became the motivation for my short blog  and true adventure story, “Where Do Ships Go When They Die.”

None of our group ever made a dive tour to RMS Rhone without at least a quick hello to the Guardian. Sometimes we would not find him in the tunnel, but would find him lounging nearby in another area of the scattered wreck. The image on the left gives you some idea of the shaft tunnel area.  To enjoy more images of RMS Rhone you may go here.

One day, we arrived with a group of SCUBA visitors and regardless where we searched we could not find Guardian. This was quite unusual and we became concerned about what may have happened. Since we were conducting a tour we could not spend our entire air/dive time searching for Guardian so we worriedly continued the tour and left still not finding any sign of Guardian.

Two days later, we learned from a fellow diver that a fisherman had taken Guardian and actually had pictures taken of him and ‘his catch” at the waterfront on Tortola of the British Virgin Islands. The Guardian was gone! RMS Rhone had lost a vital part of its glorious mystery and we had lost a very much-loved friend. It has been 31 years since that happened and I still feel the sorrow and sense of loss.

Life in our watery universe is always endearing and makes an indelible impression that is rarely ever forgotten. Creatures such as Guardian and historic shipwrecks such as RMS Rhone are locked forever in our hearts.

Guardian, you are loved and missed to this very day.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Goliath Grouper: courtesy of Hooked In http://tinyurl.com/3ok9rlz

RMS Rhone: courtesy of Steve Simonsen Photography http://tinyurl.com/3reph3y

THE INSEPARABLES: SciTech and Government

May 4, 2011

Yes, this is a highly prejudicial blog article. It is pro-science and definitely proposes new ways to both strengthen America‘s SciTech prowess and at the same time elevate the general well-being of humankind globally. Some, kindly, would term this as a solicitous appeal while others would…well?

In a rampage of proposed budget slashes a deficit threatened government reacts instead of carefully enacting. Yes, enacting would address the deficit, but in a manner that sustains the core strengths of America. One of those most important core strengths is our scientific and technological prowess. Put simply, can this government sustain itself and this nation without progressive science and technology? Similarly, is there much hope for this progressive and vital core without an equally progressive government? Truly, these are inseparable partners with a desperate interdependence.

So, what do we do?

President Obama in his 2012 budget proposal increases Federal spending on SciTech by 13%. On the surface this appears good and progressive. What is not clear is where that increase, if approved, will be applied. Additionally, one must wonder where the justifications came for that increase. In other words what SciTech advice was used to make that determination?

The White House and the Congress have many resources, but there are also strong inputs backed more by whimsy and illogic that solid justifications. Most of this kind of response seeks to degrade SciTech and in doing so pushes the nation backwards. On the positive side input from strong sources, including the Congressional Budget Office, the White House budget staff, the National Academies of Science, the National Science Foundation and a host of private and university research organizations all submit supporting data for their fiscal needs.

As critically important as full funding support for SciTech is, an exclusive focus just on that issue is dangerously and terminally myopic. Yes we need to finance a full spectrum of research, including space exploration, but for this to become a fully acceptable and supported standard we must pull down the walls of scientific exclusivity. At the same time we must break through the barriers of suspicion, superstition and theological extremism that blockade SciTech progress. These are false adversaries promoted mostly by political opportunism. That’s right it comes far less from the pulpit and more from wild-card politics. The common ground is the deep spirituality that comes from new discoveries and explanations that enrich and elevate humankind and all that surrounds us. Science does not defy us, it continue to define us and in doing that we grow and evolve and glorify our place in the Cosmos.

Regardless how you chose to justify it, humankind has a mission and now we spend more time denying it and its rewards than we do in seeing the light of discovery that is shining in our faces. There is so much astounding beauty and exciting revelations out there that our SciTech selves help us to see and appreciate. It is only the unexplained that imposes fear and suspicion. With each new revelation provided by SciTech, humankind moves forward, but also closer together.

Here is the essential connection. Government must be of and by the people, and science promotes an ever-expanding environment that enhances our surroundings and thereby improves human life. Stop science, and life then diminishes and thus governance – thus extinction  Shall we vote for extinction through both poor financial management, and even poorer use of our ability to explore, discover, and thereby explain? Good governance that promotes assertive SciTech, unifies humankind with the Cosmos. SciTech and governance together from now on work to forever protect and espouse this unity. Is it mystical? No, there is no mystery. Is it spiritual? Absolutely, each new revelation strengthens us and provides an incredibly deeply spiritual sensitivity for each other and for all that surrounds us.

SciTech is vital and governance is its essential promoter and protector. They are truly inseparable. Banish either and we banish humankind.

IMAGE CREDIT: I was born into Einstein’s and Roosevelt’s age and learned to value their commitment to progress and the well-being of all humankind. The image above is courtesy of “Time Line” http://tinyurl.com/3tal7g4

READER REFERENCE: For more about scitech and the funding crises you may wish to read Parts I and II of this blog: Tag-Along Science: (1) http://tinyurl.com/3d6ez8c and (2) http://tinyurl.com/3e5txtq

THE VITAL TRANSITION: To Explore or Not To Explore

April 12, 2011

To Explore or Not To Explore, that is the question? Whether it is wiser to fall back under the darkness of fear and suspicion, or to rise up with courage and commitment to carry humankind forward and across the Cosmos? For humankind to continue to evolve we must make the transition from the darkness into the bright and glorious light of discovery. (Apologies to William Shakespeare for using a portion of his “Hamlet“)

Look how far humankind has come. It has not been easy, and it still is not easy, but fortunately there are those among us who persist and thus succeed in carrying all of us safely into the future. As expressed in an earlier blog article, Exploration;An Essential of Life, humankind is here today because of  a basic biological drive of all life to reach out and explore its surroundings. Most probably that is exactly what brought humans up from the sea to where we are today. Most importantly we are not finished!

We are surrounded by life, by energy, by natural phenomena that challenge and enrapture us. We cannot ignore their existence because we are part of it all and are driven to explore and understand. If or when we were to turn away, we turn away from ourselves.

That vital transition then is to accept the reality that we are all connected in many different ways including the entire Cosmos. This realization should be both assuring and exhilarating. Everything we do, everything that surrounds us, everything that happens in and around us is all interrelated. Sure, there are some scary parts, some mysterious parts, but there are also a multitude of inspiring and engaging parts. Summed together they represent our place in the Cosmos. To fully appreciate that relationship we must explore all that surrounds us. In exploring, we then discover and in discovering we then are compelled to explain. As we explain we add to or create science, and science is the foundation of our understanding of who we are and why we are here.

Fear disappears and suspicion and superstition are banished by reason and fact. A sense of insignificance is replaced by an awareness of our cosmic citizenship, and our important roles as explorers and explainers. We are essential, but incomplete without our acceptance of our unity with all that is the Cosmos. When that realization happens we are uplifted in joy and fulfillment. We are Cosmos.

The following video gives you an opportunity to enjoy a moment within a part of all that surrounds us.

 

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Publication Code: P6RRM3F9TBWP

CREDIT:

Image of Astronaut Bruce McCandless II who performed the first untethered space walk. Courtesy of NASA.

WE WILL GO THERE, But First….!

April 8, 2011

The “October Sky” style youthful achievement shown in the above video is a clear statement of the deep commitment to space exploration that we must achieve to again venture forth. Human spaceflight will evolve as a combination of government, private industry and both human and robotic astronauts. Right now, in this year 2011, it all looks only slightly brighter than dim. Most importantly, real and awesome success will come from the unity of effort of government and industry as well as with our international partners. We must work as one if we are to successfully go into deep space.

The following are five critical accomplishments that must become active reality if we are going to take humankind to our solar system and then out into our newest frontier – our galaxy. We must also realize that it is not a “final frontier”. We have an entire Cosmos to explore. Let’s get started.

  1. To ensure that we support a growing population of bright, young minds like those in the above video, we must both standardize and diversify our education system. This must start at the elementary level and progressively move all the way to graduate level studies. Diversification calls for strong science education, but also equally strong and inspiring education in the arts. Humankind is motivated both by dreams and by the arts (music, art, writing) that spread the word and the glory of those dreams. In all cases imagination and innovation dominate. Education cultivates and insures that domination.
  2. Solid, progressive governance is a vital ingredient of a space faring civilization. To insure both national and international political sanity we-the-people in all nations, must strive to achieve and sustain real democratic governance. To do this we must make sure that people shall prevail, and not greed and the addiction to power. The people must not let those dangers erode or even destroy that system. Not an easy task, and without an alert and devoted electorate, any nation can easily slip into pseudo-democracies dominated by only a select few. It is easy to snarl and complain, but that simply signifies a nation of people who have let things slip. Citizens committed to both democracy and to global unity have no time to snarl and complain, they are too busy and too involved in making governance work.
  3. Anyone who chooses to look up and behold the awesome glory of the night sky, or breathtaking dawns, or sunsets is easily mystified by all that overpowering beauty. Earliest humans translated those mystifying moments into expressed and treasured celebrations. These revered practices expanded and now seek to relate human morality and behavior to that mysticism. When all of those practices induce widespread compassion and a global sense of community among humankind they become strengthening and unifying. At the same time, science, equally mystified by all it sees and explores, diligently seeks to explain fully and truthfully. In both practices there are many moments of deep spirituality as we humans strengthen the bond between ourselves and all that surrounds us. For us to proceed across the cosmic seas we must achieve mutual respect and eschew distrust, suspicion and fear. We are enriched and made whole by all we come to learn. Lastly we come to accept all that proves to be true and to see it as a bond between humankind and the Cosmos. When we achieve this, we then joyfully join the cosmic community.
  4. We are not exclusive to all that is around us. We are in unity with it. Yes, all life-forms share resources and that give and take process is life-sustaining for the entire community. In this relationship, there is no malice or evil or chicanery only interdependence. When we nurture this interdependence we enrich both our lives and the community of  life that comprises this planet. If we fail in this respect we threaten the community and cause a decline in those vital resources and weaken that essential interdependence. Science calls this the process of extinction. If we seek to explore the Cosmos we must first stabilize and sustain the resource that supports that exploration. For now, for decades or maybe even for centuries to come, planet Earth (our community of life) must be protected to enable us to seek those cosmic revelations.
  5. We are not alone in the Cosmos. Yes, we have not yet made direct contact with other life-forms, but science on almost a daily basis is uncovering many clues that support the presence of life across the Cosmos. Life, in all its forms is, as stated above, interdependent and when we succeed in both respecting and protecting that reality then we are philosophically and sociologically reaching the stage where we can successfully meet other life in the Cosmos in a peaceable manner. Unlike those who first came from afar to this continent, we must not arrive to conquer, but to rejoice in our reunion with other members of the cosmic community. We must shed our warrior complex and sail that glorious cosmic sea as ambassadors of unity and peace. Remember, we are all interdependent.

Each of those five goals include within them long lists of responsibilities that we must fully exercise to meet each criterion to the fullest. In other words, we are facing an evolutionary life change. Hey, this is as it should be; otherwise, we stumble down the extinction pathway. There are a bounty of rewards as we exercise those responsibilities. Those rewards enrich us and inspire us to continue to move forward as a community of life. All of this, in my mind at least, restores and embeds hope in each of our hearts.

Lastly, the following video is a repeat, but says more eloquently than anything else who we are and why we are here and the glory that awaits us. Welcome to spaceship Earth.