Terence Yorks
a teaching proposal


Lightening Up -- bringing technology into harmony



   John Muir's "everything is connected to everything else", like Isaac Newton's "every action has an equal an opposite reaction", seem widely known. Yet, the utterly pervasive consequences of these quotes' most central active factor — weight — go almost wholly unappreciated. Lack of appreciation for this basic concept makes our world, and all those who share it, suffer unnecessarily.
   To redress a little of this ignorance, my multi-dimensional, mutually investigative course will delve into carefully approached lightness. Its goal is to show how lightness can become a universally positive experience, not just something useful for technology or lessening ecological impact, but how advantages reflect through art, literature, philosophy, music, and the rest of evanescent experience.

my current Alfa at Lewis Lake

       Above, a lead-in image of partially realized evolution,
even though overweight to me at 2,300 pounds, looking rather nice
in the process of trying to reduce weight,
offering a believable example of how more fun
and better functional follow thoughtfully less wasteful design,
having reached Lewis Lake in Yellowtone National Park
30 years after its original construction.


Aspects, in outline form

    machines, and the place of weight and power —
        leading to mathematical proofs of practical values for compassion

   The intellectual center will be illustrating how physics, art, and morality tie together in daily life, noting that this is not the physics of esoterica. No differential calculus is required, only basic arithmetic, and even for that there will be computer-assisted simplification, needing no x's and y's, but instead relationships built of words and visual concepts.
    Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance will be an initial study source for the concept of quality, as part of why vehicles are such a useful focus for examination. Choosing not to use fossil fuels at all may be a better ideal, but much can be learned from how they work, and much can be bettered by choosing which conveyance to use when we "need" one.
   Computer model building is not necessarily a complex art, but one whose decisions run through our lives. Formal models do not fail simply through "Garbage In Creates Garbage Out" [GI=GO]. What is chosen to be left out is as important as what goes in. Models' usefulness grows with their builders' effectiveness in tracing out all roots, analyzing which are the vital ones, but never forgetting the rest. Virtually all models do wind up being dependent on judgement calls for a few pivotal numbers, upon which results depend closely, balanced by their numerical outcomes are often being less important than the path relationships that they uncover. Knowing how to find these points can be valuable on many levels.
   Models are a dynamic process, never completed, as we are not omniscent, but still useful to help those with power realize mistakes before they hurt all of us, and help the rest of us make more appropriate decisions. Appropriately designed and illustrated, they can help even the willfully ignorant begin to realize values they might not otherwise see.

     negatives that are needed for understanding —
        but will not be dwelt upon to excess

   Thresholds we have been approaching (or have passed) are not just rhetorical precipices. The speed we are approaching the fall(s) consistently is proportional to the total weight involved, including:
   How total U.S. human-use energy flows now exceed net photosynthesis, with global climate instability (over-simply called "warming") becoming a just a leading symptom of system-level rebounds from energy wastefulness;
   Killer SUVs and semi-trucks, symbolically and practically, as the most easy-to-recognize creators of consequences from excessive and unnecessary weight;
   Soil erosion and salt buildup are among deeper and longer lasting costs, from heavily mechanized, distant-from-market agriculture;
   Most biotechnology as brute force on the molecular scale, a self-replicating set of nightmares;
   Species and ecosystem losses, including what went with the bison:
        adaptations, soil, soil nutrients, and support species;
   Human population numbers, and urban aggregation;
   "Wilderness" as presently an unfortunate reminder that one cannot get away from the intrusions of wasteful use entirely--no place in the U.S. being free anymore of noxious fumes, overflights, other carry in noise, or star killing light
All of above are tied to key reasons why we have gone so wrong:
   - (1) artificially cheap energy, which has avoiding passing on full social and environmental costs of use to either users or suppliers;

   - (2) lazy thought patterns from assuming that from seemingly getting away with what we have been doing so far, it can continue ad infinitum, and/or there are no better ways to accomplish the same goals.;

   - (3) the misleading virtues of not changing, although we are in the midst of dynamic surroundings.

Where we have gone towards right
     examples upon which more time will be devoted —
        learning from the positive, there being already too much negative in the world

   - the simplicity of line is what captures the eye, and lasts
   - Minor White, "be still until the object of your attention affirms your presence"
   - design examples, from the web, museums, books, and my own photographs
Honeymoon 1976, Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

   - the rediscovery of medieval & renaissance purity, and its slow refinement as it was brought forward to us (as both musicianship and recording/reproduction improved)
   - the "folk revolution", and bringing of not needing to be amplified singers like Robert Johnson to the rest of us
   - and the related simplicity and power of the early Beatles and Rolling Stones
   - drug interrelationships - the more refined, the more deadly - the living Dead
   - as with racing, the quest for clarity
   - contemporary Nordic music (e.g. Jan Garbarek's Rites)
   - participation/interaction, unamplified is still ideal
   - not just "you had to be there", one must focus attention
   - i.e., reduce the weight from outside

   - the supreme example of the haiku, and its visual interfaces (e.g., Chinese wall hangings)
   -Scandinavian trespass concepts (disturbance of others or the land should limit land uses, not artificial "ownership" boundaries)
   -Viking redemption (doing right regardless of present or future rewards)
Formal "wilderness" reserves as a point for reflection and comparison, places without machines for individual sanity and beauty
Industry in General
   Moving to increased effectiveness and profits from doing anything both lighter and cleaner, at every step
20th and 21st Century Inventions
   The flow of genuine progress from vacuum tube to transistor to computer chip to laptop and beyond
Sound reproduction
   - trying a set of headphones at the cost of good loudspeakers
   - less disturbance, less distortion and vice versa
   - the Klipschorn - 1 watt to produce 101 decibels in 1947, and still unexcelled, when sound should be shared
   - class E amplifiers (e.g., some designed by Carver), running cool to the touch
   - how the louder it is, the cleaner it has to be, with distortion closely related to energy waste
Building materials, insulation, and lighting
   - Frank Lloyd Wright, the next generation
   - the gothic cathedral, heavy seeming and rooted, but the openness came from lightening
   - pre-Perry Japan and the concept of beauty reflecting efficient function
   - the Shakers
   - the better Wright examples
   - our own space -- my home example, not fully evolved, but we're trying
Transportation's potential to be both fast and fun, if it would just lighten up
   - reducing weight in cars as a consistent key to racing victories, and where and when that learning has emerged on the street
- and on rail
   - e.g., the Japanese Bullet train, reflecting their ancient concept of what looks more beautiful is more functional, too, reaching more than 3 times the actual speed of American freeways, faster point to point than short-haul aircraft, with no injuries in 30 years (compare to highway carnage)
   - how, therefore, the potential for safety, comfort, and speed are inverse to the weight of the conveyance, both for users and surroundings

Economic success of the Amish and medieval multicropping
   - the old ways have much to teach us
   - Wendell Berry and his different form of accounting (e.g., Home Economics)
   - active herding and bison ranching
   - even older paths not having to be low-tech (but true high-tech is never heavy...)
   - or overtly religious to be successful
   - closer to home, replacing boring and highly toxic suburban mostly bluegrass biological deserts with a diversity of native plants and edibles

Going into "outer" space
   - the only way out of the population growth dilemma (the Marshall Savage argument)
   - the importance of weight has always been especially visible (@$50,000+/kg to launch)
   - preliminary result: even the crude, chemically-driven, spectacular launching Apollo used less fuel per total passenger miles than the average auto or airplane
   - designs to get out there more efficiently tend to benefit down here as well [lighter computers started with NASA; their output has not just been "Tang", explosions, or another bureaucracy]

In the end

What we spend on positive dreams, even when most trials don't work, is the only way to get closer to achieving them -- as long as we remember during the learning process that the goal is always to become more efficient (i.e., less wasteful) at every associated level. Doing that is also more elegant and more compassionate, if the interactions are assessed thoroughly enough...


Key internal goals
     course development

- mentioning and discussing problems in sufficient detail to understand their importance, but not dwelling excessively upon them
- enough science and simple (really) math to buttress believability (and create questions appropriately directed for further study)
- but presented in a more graphic and graspable fashion than remembered from most schools [including that numerical arguments will largely be placed inside brackets within texts, so they can be digested at leisure, as backup, or ignored completely if too frightening]
- full translation (and hotlinks in digital text) of unfamiliar terms, with thorough indexing
- backup referenced printed and digital materials that do not parrot spoken material, but parallel it in greater depth, including links to other sources of discussion and data
- overall presentation cannot be linear, since all its parts are interconnected, but will be an upward spiral, with each turn building on the last and rest
- content modifications can easily be made for specific group interests, since there are so many directions for emphases, hence, over time, discretely different versions should emerge

     why I might be worth listening to, or looking to for guidance

- Properly varied facets of education, formal—among the more obvious: chemistry (MS), physics, food science (PhD), systems engineering, computers, and ecology—and less formal including history, literature, psychology, music (from before Hildegard von Bingen to post-Björk), Tolkien and the Norse mythology behind his tales, science fiction, astronomy, meteorology, the practical mechanics of lighter cars, Pirsig, other Zen influences, photography, theater, and more, all with a wry sense of humor to keep the rest in perspective...
Gerainger Fjord, Norway, April 2000


Text, Design, and Images © 2002 by Terence Yorks

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Updated 6 November 2012

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