Tai Chi Poem on Amazon

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I’m pleased to report that the Tai Chi Poem I composed in 2015 is now available for Kindle from Amazon.com.  All sixty-two sonnets in order, together with the diagrams I composed for the poem, are now in a single digital document and available for $4.49.  You can go through the back entries of this website and find all the poems — they were composed in 2014 and published here — but now they’re available as a convenient download.

The Tai Chi Poem

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In 2014, I composed sixty-two sonnets describing the process of moving through the tai chi form that I first learned in 1998 in northeastern Connecticut.  That sonnet sequence is now available as a downloadable Kindle file from Amazon.com.

Like most of my sonnets, these are Shakespearean or Elizabethan sonnets, in iambic pentameter with a rhyme scheme running ABABCDCDEFEFGG.  Some portions of the sequence may be useful to tai chi teachers for creating effective mnemonics for their own students, but I don’t recommend trying to learn tai chi from reading the poems aloud or reciting them.  Some things are better left to professionals rather than me.  I also think the poems are quite beautiful on their own.  My goal, overall, was to create something akin or in the tradition of the traditional martial arts and tai chi manuals, a combination of simple diagrams and poetic descriptions of the movements. The work is dedicated to my teacher, Laddie Sacharko of Star Farm Tai Chi.  The tai chi poem will always be available exclusively from Amazon in print form.

Other Works

The Tai Chi Poem also joins my other book, Poems for the Behenian Stars  for $9.99 on Amazon.  This second book, a poetic exploration of the fifteen stars of H.C. Agrippa’s list of the major stars of the northern celestial hemisphere, is also available as a PDF download from Etsy for $10.  I earn more royalties from an Etsy download, but I understand that Kindle grants me access to a wider audience.  Feel free to tell your friends!

Review: Aurora

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This is a new web series on this website — every week, on Monday, I hope to post a short review to a book that I’ve read in the previous few weeks.  Some of them are older books, or read on paper; some are newer works that I’ve read digitally.  Some are political or economic tracts; some are fiction, some are related to my work in design and teaching design.  Previous entries are here and here and here.

Aurora
by Kim Stanley Robinson
Orbis Books/Hachette, published 2016
ISBN 978-0-316-37874-1 Orbit. Kindle Edition.

✦✦✦✦✦✦✧

One of the tropes of science fiction is the generation ship — stuff a few hundred humans into a spacecraft, send them off in the direction of another star at as large a fraction of the speed of light that you can muster, and then let them breed and renew their numbers over several generations until they reach their destination.  The gleaming ships become pitted and lightly damaged over the centuries of travel through interstellar space — but they arrive.  The humans emerge from their trans-abyssal womb onto the surface of a new world, and begin the colonization. The migration accomplished, the Great Deep crossed, and the process that occurred on Earth begins again, on another world, say a planet or a moon in orbit around Tau Ceti.

This is Kim Stanley Robinson’s world, though, and the master of the modern ‘hard science’ does a deep dive into all the challenges and opportunities that this kind of centuries-long voyage might take.  As the book opens, the end of the journey from our solar system to Tau Ceti nears.  But there are things that are going wrong, things that the original mission planners have not taken into consideration.  The ship has no official chief engineer, either — just a woman whose penchant and skill at fixing things, and assembling teams to fix things, is better than most other people.   Nor is there a captain, exactly; nor is the information coming out of the communications stream from Earth coherent or useful — the homeworld still sends information, but no-one is listening back home to the questions from the population aboard the Ship.  They are on their own.

Children are exposed to the idea that they are on board a ship in various ways. Some always grow up knowing they live in giant habitats strapped to the sides of a space ship.  Others are brought up in ignorance, kept away from the edges of their biomes, or from windows in the ship’s spine; then put in a spacesuit with a blackened visor, brought outside onto the hull at an appropriate age, and exposed to the wonders of the cosmos blinking by at 0.2 of c.  Some handle the dislocation well; others… not so much.  The generations have undermined the standard ideas of the hierarchy of command, and different rules apply.  And it’s less and less clear if anyone is in charge.

A variety of things are wrong.   The bacteria on board evolve faster than the plants, who evolve faster than the mammals. Each successive generation is somewhat dumber than the one before.  Learning disabilities are appearing among the population on board, and strange allergies emerge.  People are shorter than in their great-grandparents’ day.

Freya, a girl, belongs to the latest generation aboard Ship. Her mother is Devi — not the ship’s chief engineer, but the person everyone calls when something important breaks.  Her father Badim is a fun-loving guy, but Devi is angry all the time. And why wouldn’t she be? The intellectual and physical resources necessary to solve the problems of Ship are always in short supply: when the 3D printers break, that make all the replacement parts, how does one repair them?

It would be easy to write this as a science-fiction story about physics, and the story would be dull.  Yet the human problem, and the human experience, is never far from Robinson’s thoughts or writing.  How do people react to this kind of situation, where someone must farm, and someone must manage the cattle and sheep, and someone must weave… and someone must keep the spaceship going??  How are children raised, how are political decisions made, how do people find their place abroad Ship, how does Ship tell its own story?  What does history look like, sociology, anthropology?  What are the human stories?

Robinson, as usual, tells the human stories very well.  I was riveted, and stayed up until three in the morning to finish reading one night.  In the morning, well-satisfied with Robinson’s vision that he shared with us, I went outside, and kissed the frozen ground.

Behenian Stars on Amazon.com

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screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-7-50-22-pmI’m pleased to report that the Poems for the Behenian Stars poetry book is now available on Etsy as a downloadable PDF (US $10.00) file, and on Amazon.com as a Kindle file (US 9.99).  So you now have a choice of formats.  I earn somewhat more from the Etsy download than from Amazon, which I hope factors into your choice; but either way it should work to your advantage.

What do you get in this collection?

The Behenian Stars are found in the writings of H.C. Agrippa in Book II, Part 4, chapter 47 and in other sources on medieval and Renaissance astrology and astronomy.  No wonder, really: most of them are first-magnitude stars in the northern celestial hemisphere:

  1. Algol in Perseus
  2. the Pleiades in Taurus
  3. Aldebaran in Taurus
  4. Sirius in Canis Major
  5. Procyon in Canis Minor
  6. Regulus in Leo
  7. Arcturus in Bootes
  8. Algorab in Corvus
  9. Spica in Virgo
  10. Polaris in Ursa Minor
  11. Capella in Auriga
  12. Alphecca or Gemma in Corona Borealis
  13. Antares in Scorpio
  14. Vega in Lyra
  15. Deneb Algedi in Capricorn

And to this list I’ve added three other poems, honoring Fomalhaut, the only one of the four royal stars not in the list; Altair in Aquila the eagle, one of the other first-magnitude stars in the northern sky; and Alkaid in Ursa Major, a star whose spectrum helps to classify other stars and which sits somewhere between 1st and 2nd magnitude on that 6-point scale.

The poems are in the traditional formal style called an ode: three stanzas of ten lines each, organized metrically and with a rhyme scheme of ABABCDECDE.  Each poem draws on the traditional lore of both astronomy and astrology, and ends with a call to bring the influence of the star into our lives.  For magic, for poetry, for learning the northern stars, for the purpose of studying the night sky — these poems help get you to the behen (from the Arabic word for ‘root’) of naked-eye astronomy.  Reading the poems while under the night sky will help connect you to your ancestors, and to the timeless mythology that constantly rolls by overhead.

Review: The Drawing Lesson

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This is part of an ongoing book review series that publishes on Mondays: earlier book reviews are here and here.  My goal with this series is to provide access to a range of resources that I either found useful in MakerSpace teaching or that I think include philosophies and ideals that teachers should be aware of and can draw upon from time to time; or even fiction that I enjoyed.  You are welcome to recommend books to me in the comments; there’s no guarantee I’ll read any of it.  Reviews are starred on a scale of 1-7 stars, with no half-stars given (because I can’t draw in half-filled stars here).  In generally, everything I review here will be 5, 6, or 7 stars, because reasons.

The Drawing Lesson: The graphic novel that teaches you how to draw
by Mark Crilley
published by Watson-Guptill, 2016 (Amazon.com)
ISBN-13: 978-0385346337

✦✦✦✦✦✦✧

I’m a great believer in the importance of the traditional 3R’s of school — readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic, as the saying goes. But if I could add one to that, it would be Drawing.  3R+D doesn’t really have the same euphonious folksiness that 3Rs does.  But I’ve spoken here before about the Semigram, and treating drawing as a third way of understanding the world. Visual note-taking is one of those tools which we ought to do a better job of transmitting to students; but it does sometimes seems like the Ars Notaria (the art of taking notes, the art of the scribe) is really the Ars Notoria (the notorious arts, black magic, necromancy).  And yet, through technical drawings, through electronics diagrams, through images, through flow diagrams and pictures, we all use images to tell stories — sometimes well, sometimes poorly.

And that brings me to this book. Mark Crilley has written and drawn a graphic novel about getting drawing lessons.  It’s a brilliant take on a complicated issue — if you want to be an artist, it requires every bit as much practice as it does to be a good writer; or a good mathematician. The skills of drawing require as much attention as the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The story opens with a young boy, David, encountering a much older woman named Becky in the park near his house.  David wants to draw better than another kid in his class who draws the best Lamborghinis ever; Becky just wants to be left in peace to draw.  The kid’s enthusiasm overwhelms her, though, again and again.  She winds up giving nine lessons on drawing to David: in proportioning his drawings, in learning to see, in understanding negative space, in simplifying, and in creating compositions.  At every step of the way, she reminds him of earlier lessons — and foreshadows the later ones.

The book is elegantly expressed (I read the Kindle edition), in that both David’s drawings and the encounters with Becky start off at the same quality. David is past the stick-figure stage that I learned from @davegray and his teachings on mark-making; but he’s not yet a master artist by any means.  Yet, as the book unwinds toward its conclusions, David’s drawing become better and better; and the encounters with Becky remain the same.  There’s an unmistakable awareness here that Scott McCloud captured in his book, Understanding Comics (William Morrow, 1994), that sometimes the art in a comic book serves the story, and sometimes the art IS the story.  Crilley has captured that balance here, by showing David’s gradual improvement as an artist against a relatively standard backdrop of his relationship with his teacher Becky.  

This isn’t a textbook, but each chapter does end with homework. There’s a clearly defined lesson, and an expectation of follow-through on learning drawing skills.  The ‘homework’ isn’t unusually difficult or terrible, but it has to be done in order to get better at drawing. It’s really nice to see David’s work improve; but it’s also nice to realize that our work could improve in the same way.

Chapbook: Poems for The Behenian Stars

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I’ve published a chapbook.  It’s a digital PDF that you can download (and choose to print, if you so desire, for your Book of Shadows, your poetry binder, your vademecum, your 3-ring circus of astrological or mythological lore.

The Poems for the Behenian Stars is available immediately through my Etsy store for $10.00. It’s a collection of eighteen poems — for magic, for praise, for learning the stars, for learning to read and recite poetry, for supporting me.  The poems will take you on a journey through some of the astrological lore, imagery and powers of the Behenian Stars, while waking you up to their power in the world.

Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 7.50.22 PM.pngAnd what are the Behenian Stars, I hear you ask?  Well, they’re a list. They’re most of the brightest stars in the Northern Celestial Hemisphere (I’ve added three to the traditional list of fifteen), and they range from Caput Algol, the snake-haired head of fierce Medusa in the constellation of Perseus, whose baleful eye allegedly wreaks havoc at first but then brings protection… to Sirius in Canis Major, the dog-head of Orion’s hound, who grants us peace-making and mediation skills.

Whether you’re a magician, an astrologer, an astronomer with a penchant for poetry, a poet with a penchant for astronomy, or just a lover of the other poetry on this website — here’s a collection for you.  None of the poems in this chapbook has appeared on this website before, and likely won’t ever.  They’re a secret testimony, a hidden hymnal, and a way to begin your study of the stars!

I hope you enjoy them.

Book: Your Starter Guide to MakerSpaces

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This is a book review. It’s part of a new series on this blog that began last week.  I hope you find it useful.

Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces
by Nicholas Provenzano (@TheNerdyTeacher)
Blend, published 2016
ISBN-13: 978-0692786123 (Paperback) N.B. I read the Kindle edition.

✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✧ ✧

I’m deeply interested in MakerSpaces, of course, and I make quite a lot of things myself.  This is a fairly short book, as well, and more of a workbook than a true book.  As the author titles it, it’s a Starter Guide, not an exhaustive examination of the topic.

Yet given how many times I say, “I teach about and in makerspaces,” that the response is “What’s a MakerSpace?” both Nick and I have a good deal more work to do (fair warning, Nicolas Provenzano and I follow one another on Twitter) in bringing this idea to the masses.  It’s not part of the common lingua franca yet, and it could be and should be.  But that means that we have to do the job of educating the public, and stakeholders in schools and libraries and other institutions that could have MakerSpaces successfully.

The book contains eight short chapters:

  1. What is Making?
  2. I know what Making is; why should I care?
  3. Where does a MakerSpace go in a school?
  4. Making allies
  5. What goes in a MakerSpace?
  6. MakerSpaces and Project-Based Learning
  7. Failure and MakerSpaces
  8. Final Thoughts

He also concludes with information about his own identity as a Maker and teacher, and how to reach out to him and use his skills as a teacher-educator in your own institution. Which is awesome.

One of the things that I didn’t benefit from, that readers of the paperback edition may enjoy, is that this is a workbook.  As any good Maker will tell you, the interaction process between the thing that you make, and the audience you make it for, matters.  That’s certainly true here. Even in the Kindle edition, the illustrations and workbook pages give you the opportunity to engage with the book by writing your own (offline) lists and make your own mind-maps of the things that the book inspires in you.

The book’s primary audience is a teacher, particularly one who is already invested in the idea of project-based learning (PBL), or who has support within her institution for a change to a more hands-on program that involves building and creating within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields.  I’ve argued elsewhere that it should be STEAMED (adding Arts, Entertainment, Design) but very sensible commentators have responded to that.

Provenzano admits that this is not a book for an advanced practitioner, but a starter guide.  It’s not systematic, but rather it’s a combination of encouragement, first-hand accounts from a MakerSpace-as-classroom that he himself ran, and top-level considerations of equipment, toolkit, and mental attitude that help MakerSpaces get launched and succeed.  This kind of teaching and learning is valuable and important, though I wish he’d included more discussion about budgeting and financial planning for MakerSpaces, because money (where it comes from and how to get supplies, tools and equipment with it?) and time (how does the MakerSpace avoid burning out the teacher[s] who run them?) are rarely addressed in MakerSpace books and articles to nearly the extent they need to be.

That said, Provenzano does address a number of important points, like the scale or size of a MakerSpace, what equipment and tools it needs to have, and how much access a school should/could provide to its student body to use the space.  He addresses the process of finding allies for a MakerSpace program, in the student body and administration, in the parent and alumni community,  and in the local business climate.  The book concentrates to a high degree on what is wrong with schools, and shows some cheeky rebelliousness — but this is often the only posture a would-be change agent can take in the modern American school climate: if schools weren’t doing anything wrong, there wouldn’t be a need for MakerSpaces, would there?

All the same, Provenzano’s points echo my own sense of Maker work in schools. Hands-on practice with tools, with materials, with construction and design process, all help make students and teachers into more well-rounded, more competent and capable people. They’re more skilled at solving problems outside their own usual wheelhouse,  because they’ve solved problems involving physical materials and invisible forces (like the flow of electricity through a circuit, or the arrangement of parts so a thing stands on its own).  I think this is a great book for teachers or librarians starting out, who have curiosity about how to get a program started; and I’d happily recommend Provenzano to come to your school or library to help your MakerSpace get started.

Poem: For Jupiter & Saturn

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On Thursday this week, there’s an unusual astrological moment.  Jupiter will be in the third decan of Libra, and — 120° away or at a Trine Aspect, in the language of astrology — Saturn will be in the third decan of Sagittarius.  The two large outer planets, one governing expansion and rulership and the other governing discipline and boundaries, will be in a highly-beneficial relationship called “mutual reception” where each reinforces the other:  Jupiter granting expansiveness of ideas and courage in the face of challenges; and Saturn reinforcing discipline and deliberateness to accomplish difficult tasks.  A friend of mine, A.A., is undertaking a special operation, and this is composed for his work.

Hail, great lords of the outermost darkness,
stern Saturn in the skull of a stallion,
Jove at the center of spinning swiftness!
Guiding stars who lead this treasure galleon,
I glory in your lights and praise your Names.
For you, old one, with great discipline rule
the mariner’s careful contemplation
and the discipline that achieves results.
Jupiter — riding ocean like a pool,
remaining steady amid gyration,
the cheerful captain whom the world exalts!

Now each of you in palaces reside
where your dignities sit, enthroned in grace,
and each of you also may hear and heed
the other’s degrees, turned to each friend’s face.
Secret allies in steadiness of will,
and unafraid in the tumult and strife
of all the hazards of troublesome years:
when all is wording ’round, you remain still —
charting out the course of a mindful life,
and steering true, like clever engineers.

Great and glorious, reliable, stern —
steady and sure as the music of spheres:
make this ship a home, and often return:
be my bankers, my cautious financiers,
who grow my wealth and keep my accounts black,
avoiding the wave-troughs of debt and waste,
while leading me through confusion and cheat.
When the winds change, guide me to the new tack;
then help me face the gale properly braced,
with an agile ship, and sea-ready feet.

 

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