9 results found for “lettersofnote”

Yours in Pixels and Prose 

“From my keyboard to yours” seems good, but then doesn’t quite make sense.

I’ve frequently linked to Shaun Usher‘s Letters of Note, a wonderful online museum containing correspondence from famous folks and other delightful missives. Recently, Usher used ChatGPT to generate 500 sign-offs across 10 distinct categories. They’re a fun read, with many of them being as amusing and whimsical as “Love & Whiskers”.

I hope you enjoy them. With a burst of 🎉 confetti 🎉, I remain your humble author, Paul Kafasis.

Live A Life Worth Living 

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

Before Julie Yip-Williams passed away at the age of just 42, she penned a letter to her young daughters. It is a remarkable piece of writing.

Walk through the fire and you will emerge on the other end, whole and stronger. I promise. You will ultimately find truth and beauty and wisdom and peace. You will understand that nothing lasts forever, not pain, or joy. You will understand that joy cannot exist without sadness. Relief cannot exist without pain. Compassion cannot exist without cruelty. Courage cannot exist without fear. Hope cannot exist without despair. Wisdom cannot exist without suffering. Gratitude cannot exist without deprivation. Paradoxes abound in this life. Living is an exercise in navigating within them.

Go and read the whole thing. You’ll be glad you did.

Longing to Touch the Lips of Men 

More than most, the past week seems to call for a drink to calm the nerves. Robert G. Ingersoll would surely have agreed.

What a World 

I’ve linked to Letters of Note a few times before, but the site is worthy of another link, because man did they have a doozy this week. Give Ken Kesey’s letter on the death of his son a read. It’s heartbreaking and perhaps tough to get through, but the ending and post-script are incredibly poignant.

Dare Mighty Things

Look at what we can do.

Last night, the United States (and all of humanity) landed a rover known as Curiosity on the planet Mars. We’ve managed to place a rover on Mars three times before, but never in such incredible fashion. The maneuvers performed on this mission read like the stuff of fantasy, or the plot of an episode of MacGyver. If you missed it last week, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory put together a fantastic video called Seven Minutes of Terror showing exactly how Curiosity’s entry, descent, and landing (EDL) worked.1

Watching that video is well, well worth five minutes, but here’s a summary of the steps it took to get Curiosity from above Mars down to its surface.

  • Eight months after being launched from Earth, Curiosity entered Mars’ atmosphere. Its heat shield withstood temperatures of as much as 2000 degrees Celsius while slowing from 13,000 miles per hour.

  • As the craft was slowed by the atmosphere, it was also self-guiding towards a very specific landing spot, constantly adjusting course to get close.

  • When Curiosity got down to 1000 mph, a supersonic parachute was deployed to continue slowing the descent.

  • After the parachute was deployed, the heat shield needed to be fired away so that the radar system could scan the ground for its landing.

  • With its parachute only capable of slowing the craft to about 200 mph, Curiosity needed to cut it off for the next stage. Rockets, thrusting away from Mars, were then used to slow the descent further and divert away from the parachute.

  • The rockets next lowered the rover towards the surface. However, due to the dust this descent stage could kick up, the rocket engines could not get too close to the surface itself. How do you place a rover on the ground, if you can’t set down on the surface?

  • Why not use a sky crane? Yes, while the descent stage was hovering above Mars, it lowered Curiosity down on a tether.

  • Finally, once the rover was on the ground, the descent stage cut itself from Curiosity and flew away for a planned crash landing safely away from Curiosity.2

So that’s how you land a one-ton, car-sized, nuclear-powered rover on a planet 150 million miles away. And oh, one other thing? Because of the 28 minute round-trip for radio signals between Mars and Earth, this all had to be done automatically, with no human intervention whatsoever. We could only sit back and wait to hear word of our success or the deafening silence which would indicate failure. Guided entry, parachute descent, powered descent, and an honest-to-goodness hovering sky crane, all pre-programmed to be able to handle anything an inhospitable foreign planet could throw at us. And we pulled it off.

Some might question why we should explore space, particularly when we are beset by so many terrestrial problems. Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger provides a wonderful response with a letter penned 42 years ago. The simple answer is that research and discovery are two of the greatest tools we have to solve problems, whether those problems are hundreds of millions of miles away or right here on Earth. It’s impossible to know what benefits we’ll reap from this incredible mission, but history tells us they will be great and they will be plentiful.

Many pictures will be received from Mars in the coming days, weeks, and months. They’ll come in color, from higher-quality cameras yet to be deployed. However, I think this prosaic shot of Curiosity’s shadow, one of the very first images it sent back, has a beauty all its own.

Curiosity on the surface

Look at what we can do.


  1. That video is archived here. It also contains the inspiration for the title of this post, which originates in an FDR speech entitled “The Strenuous Life”. ↩︎

  2. While it’s silly to anthropomorphize machinery, this still strikes me as a sad but noble death. ↩︎

The Only Dream I Ever Had in Life That Came Completely True 

Author Norman Maclean got a chance to really stick it to the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house, and did so in fine form, with this letter.

Maclean later called it, “one of the best things I ever wrote […] I really told those bastards off. What a pleasure! What a pleasure! Right into my hands! Probably the only dream I ever had in life that came completely true.”

Phil Hartman, Class Act 

I’ve linked to Letters of Note a couple different times, but perhaps you’ve yet to check it out. If so, you’re really missing out on some incredible content.

Last week, the site featured a letter to a fan/aspiring comedian from the late Phil Hartman. It may be the best thing you read all day.

The Tiger Oil Memos 

Letters of Note was previously linked back in April, and it remains a great site. Most of the letters are thought-provoking, or touching, and occasionally they’re amusing.

The Tiger Oil Memos, however, are simply incredible in their own right. Tiger Oil CEO Edward ‘Tiger Mike’ Davis sent the linked memos to his employees over the course over several years. May you never have a boss like Tiger Mike.

One of my favorite bits was this:

No one will ride in our vehicles other than company employees…What I am trying to say is no hitchhikers or free rides for family members or non-employees. They will be terminated if caught.

When read as written, Tiger Mike seems to be indicating that any non-employees found in company vehicles will be killed. It’s probable that even he wasn’t that crazy, but one never knows.

Letters of Note 

Letters of Note is a great site by Shaun Usher. On it, he gathers and posts fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos. Recently, Shaun posted an excellent reply from Conan O’Brien, who in 2003 was asked to prom by a young fan.

Conan's Self-portrait
Awkward Prom Self-Portrait by Conan O’Brien