Saturday, February 6, 2016

Busy again

It's an old problem.  We fight it.  We know about it.  We resist it and we guard against it but we still get too busy.  It can happen naturally despite working to avoid it.

Some nights we don't sleep too well.  By morning, we are just getting into good sleep when it is time to wake up.  We don't feel like waking up but important events call and steps need to be taken.  Of course, with the other things that need to be done, the trash cans throughout the house need to be emptied and the trash bin put out before the trucks go bye.  Two separate coffee pots of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee made.


We have a Chinese teen-ager staying with us for four days as part of the local university's program to give foreign youngsters a chance to visit the US and try northern Wisconsin.  Most of their visit is about our college of natural resources and good stewardship of the planet but a chance to be in an American home for a few days is a good element, too.  He gets to shadow a high school student and see what that level of school is like here.  

Yesterday, Lynn served fried eggs and bacon.  Would he like to try our cereal today?  She is just getting awake herself but she shows him our cereals. He requests eggs and bacon.

Her kiln is loaded and has been fired.  It needs to cool down from 2000° F and it has been cooling since yesterday.  It's cool enough now but she won't get to open it until this afternoon.  She is too busy: breakfast and yoga class in a few minutes.  

I have to get him over to the high school and zip back here to get shaved and showered for a class in a few minutes on the social media us older folks might want to use instead of boring old email and phone calls.


I did make the class and got home for lunch.  Deciding on a topic for the blog, getting it written, meditating, starting Natalie Goldberg's new book The Great Spring - all in time for a meeting with my retired philosophy prof friends and dinner out.  I think we will just get everything done by bedtime.





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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Friday, February 5, 2016

Being positive

It is a revelation that you can pick your moods.  Maybe not all the time, but most of the time.  It mostly depends on what you put your attention on.  If you see again in your mind's eye, a smile or expression of delight from a loved one, it will probably be difficult to think that life is only pain and darkness.  I am confident that there is a basic delight in being alive.  Agreed, as you age and have more trouble getting out of an easy chair, it can be more likely that you wonder if life is worth the trouble.


If it weren't a one-way door, you might be tempted to try taking a break from life.  It can be dreary and it can be a burden.  But right in the midst of loss, defeat, bad breaks and animosity, there can be sunshine, there can be fun and triumph.  Winning the lottery is fun and uplifting but it is even more fun to sketch a project or attempt a discovery and find the project works out and the discovery is right on target.


Last night, I revived my practice of copying Martin Seligman's notion of listing three positive things that happened during the day.  The main impetus for my doing that is that I find I have trouble recalling the previous day.  A day can contain a large number of different events, different moments and pleasures.  I am sensitive to small ideas and single comments.  Yesterday, I heard for the first time about sensors on many new cars that turn on a little red light in the side mirror when a vehicle is sitting in the driver's blind spot.  I can see that red light in my mind, even though I don't have that feature on my car.  It is a pleasure to learn of such good design.


We can't help having a negative bias.  It is part of the nervous system to be alert to dangers, possibilities that will terminate our living state.  They are basically more important than seeing your friend's happiness with the brownies.  Couple that fundamental, evolutionary sensitivity to negatives with my awareness that I can't jump as high, run as fast or even hear as well and you can see why it is natural to frown.


Today's summary of research from the British Psychological Society lists 216 words in foreign languages for positives, pleasures and emotional states that English doesn't have.  Quite a few have to do with pleasures such as strolling that are available in many situations without needing great wealth or equipment.




--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Thursday, February 4, 2016

from the mind

The mind, the body and the emotions interact, of course.  It is thrilling but understandable that the wrestler or boxer who is losing perks up and reverses his match when he hears the voices of buddies shouting in support.  If there is one common idea to reversing failure, it must be "Try harder".


What happens when we try harder?  We actually tighten our jaw muscles, we squint, we take a deep breath and then we make a new effort.  Michael Merzenich ("Soft-wired" and other writings) has concentrated on evidence that things in the brain change when we do an action with intention, as opposed to just taking the action off on the side while actually attending to something else.


In the West, in the US and especially these days, we are physically minded.  Not that we pay all that much attention to our bodies throughout the day, what with all that sitting, and watching screens.  But over the last centuries, we have found good things when we concentrate more on physics and less on psychics.  That concentration is still part of the mind, though, and the mind is still where much of human life focuses.  I can't be interested in the mind and its powers without the subject of placebos and nocebos coming up.  Placebos are the sugar pills and the fake medical treatments used to see what just having a belief that I am being treated for a problem does to the problem. Nocebos are negative placebos, as when you think you have swallowed the wrong pill and suffer from that belief when in fact you never took the wrong one.


The book "Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body" is a recent one on the subject.  The author is a scientist and a good writer.  She relates that some scientists felt it was unethical to withhold the treatment medicine from some patients while letting them believe they were getting or possibly getting the treatment pill.  That lead some researchers to try "honest" placebos.  Here, the doctor tells me that the pill is inert and contains nothing of power or importance.  Yep, we still get a placebo effect.  People who themselves said they understood the pill from the doctor was not powerful still did better, sometimes dramatically better than those who didn't get a pill.  Further, once the supply of powerless pills ran out, the problem with the gut or whatever returned.


I am impressed that so-called "honest placebos" are on sale, labeled as "placebo" or something more fanciful, like "happiness pills" or "princess pills". Depending on your opinion and such things, you might want to try some.


Further, some studies have more or less left the patient completely out of the equation.  In this case, half of the doctors got a pill with medicinal ingredients in it to give to their patients and half of them got a pill for their patients with no medical contents.  Again!  The patients with physicians who believed that they got the "real" pills did better than the patients whose docs thought they had given patients sugar pills.




--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Finding out what it says without reading it

Take a book like "Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind over Body" or "The Rational Optimist", some book you would like to know.  But, but, but: you don't have time.  You said you would watch the kids today.  You haven't done your housework for a week.  You want to have lunch with him and tomorrow is the best day.  You are supposed to assist at that funeral.  You are already reading [if you can call it that] those four five other books on your nightstand.


Go into lawyer mode.  Be a grad student, one of those hapless people that pay good money to be assigned all those books the prof has spent her life reading.  She wants you to discuss them in 10 days.  Yes, as an undergrad, you snubbed your girlfriend and spent the days reading and noting down important points.  But now, sharing the cooking and caring for two girls and carrying a part-time job, you really don't have time.


Time to rev up the engine, the alertness of what you are about.

  • Look at the title.  Guess what the points are that the author wants to make. Look at the preface.  What did the author say he was going to say?  Do you buy the idea?  If so, move on.  If not, look closely to see what evidence and arguments are presented.

  • Take a look at the table of contents.  See what parts jump out at you.  They might be the parts you comment on, you remember and summarize to your friends.  

  • Don't get distracted.  Ok, if you find a well-done paragraph or section, one that is gripping or extra well-written, mark it.  On a Kindle, highlight it with a fingertip


You are not a bad person if you skip!  If you can see that the page or the chapter says what you thought it would say, you are licensed to move on.  In fact, you are required to move on.


I witnessed a smart, sharp guy today say with a bit of chagrin [low grade embarrassment, shame] that he hadn't read xxxxx as he should have.  I disagree although I would appreciate it if you kept that to yourself.  A quick question, a quick answer and he was back on track.  He and I and you are old, ok, oldish, and in these our final hours, we only have time to read the highlights.  Besides, at our age, we may well forget what we read anyway.  Besides, with our vast experience and sharp critical minds, if we take the time to read the boilerplate, we may find holes in it and unanswered questions popping up and out-dated info.


It is right and just and part of our purpose in life, to stop and savor any parts that are truly beautiful.  When your throat constricts, when, as Emily Dickinson said, you get goose bumps or tears in the eye, halt.  No fooling then.  Read slowly, respectfully, hungrily.  Digest the good.  At those places, no more studying, more like inhaling.  That's where the author and you are beyond practical purpose and into beauty.  Can happen at any point in the text.




--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Steady little helper

Should you get married?  Buy a new car?  Eat more fiber? You have a ready source of advice and assistance if you use Google Search or Bing or Duckduckgo.  You may feel silly putting "Should I rent or buy a house?" into a search engine but think about it.  Many other people have the same question and they have asked it.  Those with houses to rent and those with houses for sale have web pages and other communications about their businesses. You can see what other people have said and what they have experienced.


You may be unaware that housing is cheaper somewhere you are interested in living.  You may think of alternative wording, more detail (one year lease or less or more?) and alternative possibilities (Should I engage a builder to build a house?)  Thinking of what you actually want to know and extending from what you discover can lead quickly at essentially no cost to new thinking and new possibilities.  What you want to know can change as a result of seeing the material that comes up.


Personally, I find it takes concentration and steady reminding to think of the search engine for helpful answers.  All my life, I have used reference books to try to answer questions.  Since they are not always at hand, I don't think of Google as being ready to help, an Ann Landers not just for relationship questions but for any question.  It really is surprising how much expert knowledge and help is available.  I learned to stop searching hierarchically, starting the Abraham Lincoln and then asking what year he got elected to the US Senate.  It takes a little effort to think as I begin searching that I want to know "what year Lincoln elected to US Senate?"  [1854].


Don't forget to check with YouTube, too.  Searching in YouTube may turn up results that don't come up in the basic searches.  I just put "I feel lost" in Google and got 600,000,000 results in .5 seconds.  Nobody is going to comb through six hundred million results.  Us modern sophisticates expect that a good portion of those results will be unuseable or inappropriate or lead in the wrong direction.  When I put "I feel lost" in YouTube, I get different results and only 8.6 million of them.  There is sometimes a general feeling that seeing is always better than reading but that isn't always true.  Nevertheless, a video can indeed deepen and widen thinking in ways that straight text doesn't.


So, care of ceramic knives or basket weaving or learning to sketch or saddling your horse, you will find it difficult to NOT find something helpful. Search engines and videos can be great sources of help in using your computer and other devices better.





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Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Monday, February 1, 2016

What books inspired you as a child?

Eric Barker asked this question in his blog summary today.  He asked various people what books inspired them in childhood.  I want to think about that in my own case.  

There was a series of biographies that featured a silhouette of the subject of each volume.  I know I felt rich just looking at all the titles but the one that stands out sixty years later was the one on George Washington Carver.  I was impressed by the portrait of ingenuity, imagination and diligent research.  At the time, I wasn't equipped to grasp what a genius a person would have to be to do what he did.  A black man born into slavery in the 1860's Missouri, he went on to make many discoveries about plants and their uses.


As I tried to recall books that mattered, I thought of espionage.  When I was a fifth grader, I had a romantic notion of outwitting bad guys.  In my books, the baddies were all guys, no girls.  I felt I was up to the tasks, whatever they might be.  I have tried finding again the name of a book or its author that told me about a wily fugitive from the enemy forces who managed to join those searching for him and then slip away.  I remember the Allied trick of sending a rat running across the cell of a man suspected of working for the enemy and hearing him exclaim in his native language, verifying their suspicions.


I don't trust my memory, especially for childhood books. I remember Merritt Parmalee Allen's "Mudhen", a lanky, very cool teen, outstanding for good humor and laziness.  Ever since reading about his fictional adventures, I have tried to focus on laziness, with some success, I might add.


I asked my wife about her book inspirations as a child and the first thing she mentioned was a biography of George Washington Carver!  We didn't meet until college but clearly we were being guided toward each other


--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Headlines, TOC, index, list

A large collection of books, clothes hanging the closet and folded in bureau drawers, the tools downstairs, Kindle books available on Amazon, PEW religious headlines of the day - a collection of items is a bit of a challenge.  What is here?  What do I want?  Where is it?

Image result for the long room


When we have a goal, we need some sort of guide or map.  Where are books by Ian Rankin?  When we don't have a goal, things are more diffuse.  How is the statistics section?  Anything good there?  What about books on baking and wine making?


It is easy for me to forget that either locating an item or deciding on an item, I want some sort of information quickly, a title or a sectional name like Nature or History.  Sometimes the title is an attempt to capture the book: "The Story of a Counterfeiter Who Evaded Capture."  Sometimes the title is an attempt to capture me: "Unforgettable Tales of Heroes in the American Revolution".  


In just the Amazon Kindle store, there are over 1200 items about headlines.  The reporter and the editor who work on the story of the horrible fire create a headline.  It will be listed among many other headlines.  Maybe it will be written to convey the gist of the story, that several people escaped injury , or it can be written to tease and draw, "Deaths narrowly avoided by heroic actions".


I have heard that men shoppers tend to be more focused on an item they have decided they want before they enter the store.  I have a pretty good relation with myself, my tastes and my recent foods, books, movies, etc.  My memory may supply the name of an author to track down or a subject I have been wanting to read.  Psychologists say that humans are prejudiced against being in a state of uncertainty so that may be why I speedily focus on a book, an author or a subject.  It is not just in books, either.  I tend to recall that I haven't had fish lately and then buy some, regardless of whether there is a sale on steak or not.




--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

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