Ray Bradbury's Poem Inspired by the Exploration of Mars

In May of 1971, NASA launched Mariner 9 to take picture of the planet Mars. Just prior to Mariner 9 coming into Mars' orbit, Bruce Murray hosted a public lecture and discussion at Caltech that featured a panel of authors and scientists, including Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, and Walter Sullivan. These lectures were later turned into a book of essays entitled "Mars and the Mind of Man".

Ray Bradbury's contribution to this panel was a short poem entitled "If Only We Had Taller Been". It is poignant and haunting, linking, as blogger Jurgen Wolff puts it, the dream of conquering space with that of immortality. The words of Bradbury's poem are printed below.

If Only We Had Taller Been

The fence we walked between the years
Did bounce us serene.
It was a place half in the sky where
In the green of leaf and promising of peach
We'd reach our hands to touch and almost touch the sky,
If we could reach and touch, we said,
'Twould teach us, not to ,never to, be dead.

We ached and almost touched that stuff;
Our reach was never quite enough.
If only we had taller been,
And touched God's cuff, His hem,
We would not have to  go with them
Who've gone before,
Who, short as us, stood tall as they could stand
And hoped by stretching, tall, that they might keep their land,
Their home, their hearth, their flesh and soul.
But they, like us, were standing in a hole.

O, Thomas, will a Race one day stand really tall
Across the Void, across the Universe and all?
And, measured out with rocket fire,
At last put Adam's finger forth
As on the Sistene Ceiling,
And God's hand come down the other way
To measure man and find him Good,
And Gift him with Forever's Day?
I work for that.

Short man, Large dream, I send my rockets forth
between my ears,
Hoping an inch of Good is worth a pound of years.
Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal Mall:
We've reached Alpha Centauri!
We're tall, O God, we're tall!

Recently Brain Pickings posted a YouTube video of Bradbury reading the poem. Hearing it read by Bradbury is goosebump worthy.


Last night I was listening to a podcast that was reviewing several papers and presentations from the 2015 IEEE conference on visualization, and one of the papers mentioned was related to examining the sonic topology of a poem. The authors have made their software, called Poemage, for this examination freely available. There is also a paper available here.

Anyhow, I decided to examine Bradbury's poem. Pretty pictures, although I don't know if I fully understand them. The colors have to do with the sounds, rhyming, etc. I may need to re-listen to see if the aural experience conforms to the model proposed below.


NFL Trades

The old adage that teams should trade players to teams outside their division seems to be followed by NFL teams. The data used are the 275 traded NFL players from 2010–2015 (from http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/transactions). 

Of the 275 traded players, only three were traded within the same division. Two of those players were traded from the San Francisco 49ers—Kentwan Balmer (to Seattle) and Isaac Bruce (to St. Louis). Donovan McNabb (from Philly to Washington) was the only other player traded to a team in the same division. Curiously, all three of these trades took place in 2010. 

It doesn't look like particular divisions trade to any other particular division. The distribution of trades seems to be equally spread out to the other divisions. It also appears as though divisions are trading players away at about the same rate as they are acquiring players (rather than trading players for draft picks).


Minnesota Football

Here is a plot of the winning percentage by year (since 1986) for the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team. The trend lines are the estimated polynomial (quadratic) best fit lines.

Tim Brester....yikes! Jerry Kill has definitely improved the team, but it is unclear whether the Gophers are better off now than when we were in the Mason era. We will see if Jerry's trend line continues to rise, or whether he is also on the decline.


Books and Typography

I love reading the note that appears in some books about the font in which the book was typeset. I wish it gave more information; for example the font size and line spacing. I have a type ruler that measures in picas and points (in addition to inches and centimeters), so, over time, I might try to add some of my favorites here. Note: Here the line spacing refers to the distance between the baseline of a line of text and the ascender line of the subsequent line of text. Note 2: There may be some measurement error, especially in measuring the inner margin.

Title: The Children Act
Author: Ian McEwan
Publisher: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday
Font: Garamond 3 (based on adaptation by Morris Fuller Benton)
Size: 10pt.
Line spacing: 10pt.
Line width: 9.7 cm
Inner Margin: 1.5 cm
Outer Margin: 2.5 cm

Title: Bridge of Sighs
Author: Richard Russo
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Font: Janson
Size: 6pt.
Line spacing: 6pt.
Line width: 11.5 cm
Inner Margin: 2 cm
Outer Margin: 2.4 cm


Fall (sigh)

It's almost fall. For academics fall begins not with the autumnal equinox, but with the week of orientation meetings and welcome-back faculty meetings. For me that is next week, which means this is the last week of summer.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. This is in part because I don't feel particularly satisfied with this summer.

I "accomplished" a lot this summer: Rewrote the undergraduate curriculum that we teach; published two books—the book I was co-editing and the third edition of our undergraduate textbook; put on a workshop for high school teachers from 14 different schools who will be teaching our undergraduate course this academic year as part of the College in the Schools program; had two papers that were co-authored with students accepted for publication; gave a keynote address at a conference; taught an undergraduate course; and managed to read 18 books since the beginning of June. I also watched a good bit of TV, did some gardening, and took a few naps.

Yet, I do not feel particularly ready for fall. I usually look forward to the beginning of a new semester, especially fall semester. It always feels like a fresh start—a chance to change things up. This year doesn't quite feel that way (yet). Perhaps because in order to have a start, there has to be an end. The work from the spring semester never really felt like it ended, it just continued into the summer.

So, while I feel good about what I did accomplish this summer, I am not quite emotionally ready for the semester to begin. Fall. Sigh.


Another TV Update

The last two posts about TV watching are here and here. Currently my shows include the following (in no particular order):
  • Arrow 
  • Better Call Saul
  • Black Mirror
  • Bloodline
  • Daredevil
  • Game of Thrones
  • Big Bang Theory
  • Dallas (the newer version)
  • Elementary
  • Gang Related
  • Girls
  • Gotham
  • Graceland
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Homeland
  • House of Lies
  • Longmire
  • Luther 
  • Mad Men
  • Masters of Sex
  • Nashville
  • New Girl
  • Person of Interest
  • Ray Donovan
  • Rita
  • Rookie Blue
  • Suits
  • The Americans
  • The Blacklist
  • The Bridge 
  • The Glades
  • The Killing
  • The League
  • The Originals
  • The Slap (BBC version)
  • True Detective
  • Tyrant
  • Vampire Diaries

Shows I no longer watch
    • Scandal
    • The Following
    • Walking Dead
    • Reign

    And several of my shows have wrapped or were mini-series...or I just quit watching.
    • True Blood
    • Justified
    • The Newsroom
    • Dexter
    • Californication
    • Sons of Anarchy
    • House of Cards
    • Vegas (cancelled)
    • Broadchurch (mini-series)
    • Reckless (cancelled)
    • Mixology (one season)
    • Southcliffe (one season)