Atria and Courtyards

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Ever since we had the ability to construct large multi-story structures, atria and courtyards have been a popular and widely-used architectural feature. Why is this feature so popular and where did it originate?


Starting back in classical Greek and Roman times, multi-story residences were constructed around an interior space.


This style continued into medieval times both with city dwellings and fortified castles.


This design element continues today in shopping malls…




office buildings, and schools.

Atrium of 450 Grand Concourse, Building C of Hostos Community College

Architects have many reasons to include these interior spaces, starting with light and openness.

However, I suspect that the origin and continued use comes down to basic engineering: large loading-bearing floors are difficult and were for many years impossible. Multi-story floors could only span limited distances between walls. By including courtyards and atria, it is possible to construct impressive facades without addressing these engineering issues.

Only in modern times have large solid structures become possible.

Here is one notable exception. The Minoan palace at Knossos, Crete from 3-4,000 years ago, looking very contemporary with it large expanses of multi-story spaces.





Musings on #Depression and #AgeingWell

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The is an introspective/optimistic post on depression in later life – transient (sad/bad day) depression, not clinical/chronic depression. The latter is a more serious topic which I am not qualified to comment on.

When I was younger, I was prone to the many afflictions of youth such as self-obsession, boredom, lack of direction, bad poetry, and depressed days. This lasted until my life progressed bringing families and jobs and promises for the future. During these middle years, I had scant time for introspection or discouragement.

I imagine this is a pretty normal sequence of events.

However, even in the midst of this normality, I’d have unexpected pauses for the classic feelings of depression: “sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, ashamed or restless.”


Whether in response to my responsibilities or benefiting various self-help programs or just dumb luck, I learned to deal with these episodes of gloom. I developed/acquired stories to tell myself  (This too will pass) and activities (jogging) that minimized the duration of these rough spells.

Today’s thesis is that this middle stage of life between growing up and growing old is the ideal time to struggle with (minor) depression. It is the period with best social support and the most distractions. The is the cow pox period for mental health. Minor mental health problems can be fought and defeated.

I believe that the busy middle stage of life is the time to to build the habits and attitudes required for later life.

As the years go on, family moves away and retirement arrives. Social life is hollowed out, and calendars and to-do lists are cleared. Life returns to the afflictions of youth: self-obsession, boredom, lack of direction, bad poetry, and depressed days. Unfortunately, all this arrives without the promise of a long life ahead.

This is a time when internal resources at critical. Once again on our own, I wonder if for some it might be too late to acquire mental health skills.

I feel fortunate that the anti-depression skills I acquired in my middle years are with me now that I really need them.

A Day in a High School Math Class #STEM #Education

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I am a California Credentialed Math Teacher and substitute teacher. Today I had the privilege of teaching math at the local high school, something I enjoy very much in my retirement.

Today was different because I had just finished reading The Confidence Code, The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know.

These two events were synergistic.

First, I was encouraged to find equal numbers of girls and boys raising their hands to my question, “Who plans use math beyond high school? Who intends to study Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics?”

It hasn’t always been like this, and I took this as an indication that efforts to interest girls in STEM fields were working. In addition to girls interested in veterinary and pediatric careers, I also found girls in interested in sports medicine and civil engineering.

I also found girls that were interested in math, but getting discouraged. This was my first opportuinity to shared what I’d been reading. Research reported in The Confidence Code has found that boys’ mathematical brain development peaks in high school while the same development for girls peaks later in college. This was encouraging news for the these girls with interest waning due to some struggles.

As I worked one-on-one with individual students, I observed the exactly the behavior that was the subject of The Confidence Code. Many of the girls did not have the confidence to attempt the assignment.

The book reports that girls/women consistently under estimate their competency, while the opposite is true for boys/men. As I explained this to struggling students, we observed that they could actually do the problems that they were avoiding. One of the girls summarized this research with, “So we just psych ourselves out.”

A second piece of research that suggested a very specific action for these girls. There was an experiment where boys tested above the girls on the first trial. On the second trial, the girls were required to answer every question, not leave any blank. In the second condition, everyone all test the same.

Sure enough I found a number of girls who skipped questions. When I sat with them and encouraged them to complete every one, just like in the experiment in the book, they discovered they knew how to work the problems and get the correct answer.

This day was encouraging for two reasons. First more girls are considering STEM fields to the point where they are willing to raise their hand and declare this position. Second the research reported in this book played out just as predicted. This book shows the way to promote success for the increased number of girls now considering STEM.

For related content:

Image credit: Joe Mabel [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tire Pressure Fiction #CarTips #Geek #Nerd #Science

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Tire pressure hoax #1 – I mentioned low tire pressure to my car dealership and they recommended Nitrogen.

Tire pressure fallacy #2 When I mentioned low tire pressure to my friends they mentioned weather. I’m in Southern California so this means a drop from 90F to 40F. Sounds like a lot, but in Kelvin which is what matters, it is only 10%.

Tire pressure confusion #3 When filling tires I remember being warned about hot and cold tires. The same Kelvin scale as before says that at highway speed heating is only about 10% pressure increase.


“Forcible sex offenses” Words you don’t want to see at your #college #women #rape

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What do Amherst, Vassar, Swarthmore, Williams, Princeton, Stanford, Wesleyan, Loma Linda, Claremont McKenna, Brown, Skidmore, and Harvard all have in common? You might think of their high academic standards, prestige, or tuition. All those might be correct, but they also all share a place on the American School Search .com list of 100 Most Dangerous American Colleges.

For people who follow this issue, they might not be surprised that the safety concern is “forcible sex offenses,” which I presume is Department of Education speak for rape. The data from the Department of Education comes with interesting caveats.

The crime statistics found on this website represent alleged criminal offenses reported to campus security authorities and/or local law enforcement agencies. Therefore, the data collected do not necessarily reflect prosecutions or convictions for crimes. Because some statistics are provided by non-police authorities, the data are not directly comparable to data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting System which only collects statistics from police authorities.

Regardless, when the data was analyzed for 6,694 campuses, only 194 received a score of F, and presumably the 100 at the bottom of the F group made the above list. For comparison, the majority of the campuses (over 4,000) were graded A.

No idea what to think? Fortunately for me, my daughters are long ago graduated, and my grand daughters are not yet old enough.

#Code. #Coding. #Coder. What is Code?

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This is an IBM 1620. I didn’t learn to program on this computer, but it was my first computer. My first project was to program the game of dots. I programmed the game in Fortran using recursive algorithms. Fortran did not support recursion: FAIL. My second projects was a graphical simulation of a four-bar linkage. FAIL AGAIN.

This was 1964 and these were ambitious projects, even for a freshman at MIT. Both recursion and graphics were still research topics for machines designed for bookkeeping and sometimes used to replace rooms of calculators. Recall that calculator originally referred to a person (aka mathematician).

Here we are a half-century later and all of a sudden, (as in deja vu all over again) the people in charge are interested in computers. Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) are rising in power and both the Millennials and Boomers feel the pressure to understand whats it all about.

Well coders, programmers, software engineers, or computer scientists have earned their reputation as asocial elitists. If you are wondering, I love to explain it to you, but old habits die hard. But give me the benefit of the doubt, maybe there is not simple explanation.

Here is a pretty good explanation:

It is so good, I wouldn’t attempt to compete with it. The catch? It is about 40,000 word, plus exercises, so a longish novella. Go on intrepid explorer, give it a try. It is excellent.

Famous Mnemonics Roy G. Biv #geek #science #nerd

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Victoria Falls 1

Roy G. Biv is the mnemonic for the colors of the rainbow, in order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. This is a less popular mnemonic as most students learn this lesson in kindergarten, so do not need the mnemonic.