Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Here's the news - who cares if it is true?

Emma Jane Kirby (no relation) is a journalist with the BBC.  She filed this article called "The City Getting Rich from False News" about a small Macedonian city which has been found to be a rich source of communications that are being called "false news".  

Macedonia is a country just north of Greece.  The Kirby article agrees with other reports on motivation for false news claims that I have heard about before.  The whole business seems to be related to what was called "yellow journalism", a practice that I was taught was noticed in the US during the time of the Spanish American war of 1898.  You can look "yellow journalism" up in Google or Bing.

It is the "purposely making wild exaggerations and sensational claims" for the purpose of increasing sales, then of newspapers but today, mouse clicks on web pages.  If I agree to advertise your flower shop on my web pages, I may charge you for advertising based on the number of clicks on the pages bearing the wild stories and ads for your store.  If I reveal that I am an alien life form or that I am the love child of Grandma Moses and Bugs Bunny, if I have enough imagination and nerve, I may concoct a story that entices you and many, many others to see what I have to say.  You may be happy with the number of people who have seen your flower shop coupon and I will be happy with the money I get from you and others.

The BBC reporter says the Macedonian teens are not the only members of Twitter and other digital media using tactics that have been earning them multiples of the average income in their town.  She quotes the authors of the 'false news' items as saying," Americans loved our stories!  Who cares if they are true?"

We generally say that writing fiction is different from announcing my alien heritage as fact and alleging that I have documentation to support my extra-planetary origin claim.  Lies, false speech, libel and slander are old practices going back at least to Old Testament days.  We are again called upon to use investigation and validation and confirmation and common sense to sort what we want to believe from what we don't.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Nagging, puzzling questions

Today, we saw Jeremy, star of the Sunday comic Zits, twisting and turning, drumming and daydreaming.  He was in some sort of stew, some kind of agony.  Finally, he turns to his mother and says,"I need you to nag me into action."  You can probably see for yourself here:


But if you are late a day or two, the strip I am referring to is Dec.4, 2016.

Today, Lynn spent a good bit of time talking to relatives and shopping online in an effort to find just the right table for a family that wants a table for Christmas.  They already have a table but they need a puzzle table.  Some years back, Lynn wanted and received a 6 ft by 2.5 ft. sturdy business/conference type table.  Why?  To use as a puzzle table.  What's a puzzle table?  A table that works well, fits where it is desired to fit and allows a fan of jigsaw puzzles to leave pieces of say, a 1500 piece puzzle sitting out on the table, to be fitted together to make the picture shown on the box.  It can take weeks, at a rate of an hour a day, to assemble all those pieces so the table needs to fit somewhere in the house where it will be convenient but not in the way.

I have gotten interested in human evolution.  I realize that wars and harems and pogroms and genocides effect who mates with whom and what sorts of babies are produced and how long they live and how well.  But I have been warned that what can seem irrelevant or miniscule can be important without looking or seeming important at the time.

So, here is what I want to know: how much has human history, human achievement been affected by nagging?  In the long run, has nagging been a more powerful force than, say, warfare or slavery?  Do other animals nag?  When did nagging first arrive?  Who are the most effective naggers: wives, husbands or teens?

I also want to know how much human evolution has been affected by puzzles, especially jigsaw puzzles laid out for the family community to assemble in odds and ends of time.  If you choose a representative set of 100 families and give 50 of them nice puzzle tables, will we find greater cohesion, better team work, more love in the table owners?  I may start a Kickstarter project for funds to back research on these important questions.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fwd: Maps that show us who we are (not just where we are)

I watched the Danny Dorling twice.  I think it is great example of good, modern information.  It may be helpful for the many people who are feeling down and depressed about the earth today.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: This week on TED.com <no_reply@ted.com>
Date: Sat, Dec 3, 2016 at 10:27 AM
Subject: Maps that show us who we are (not just where we are)
To: olderkirby@gmail.com

Earth as it truly is ... Open in your browser
This week on TED.com
December 3, 2016

Danny Dorling: Maps that show us who we are (not just where we are)

14:07 minutes · Filmed Apr 2016 · Posted Nov 2016 · TEDxExeter

Danny Dorling invites us to see the world anew, with his captivating and insightful maps that use data in new ways, to show Earth as it truly is -- a connected, ever-changing and fascinating place in which we all belong. You'll never look at a map the same way again.

Playlist of the week

Adventures in mapping

Maps don't just tell you which street to turn left on. Maps convey information that shapes our lives -- and whisk our imaginations to new lands. Watch »

12 TED Talks • Total run time 2:28:47

This week's new TED Talks

Born out of a social media post, the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked discussion about race and inequality across the world. In this spirited conversation with Mia Birdsong, the movement's three founders share what they've learned about leadership and what provides them with hope and inspiration in the face of painful realities. Their advice: Join something, start something and "sharpen each other, so that we all can rise." Watch »

Joe Lassiter is a deep thinker and straight talker focused on developing clean, secure and carbon-neutral supplies of reliable, low-cost energy. His analysis of the world's energy realities puts a powerful lens on the stubbornly touchy issue of nuclear power, including new designs for plants that can compete economically with fossil fuels. We have the potential to make nuclear safer and cheaper than it's been in the past, Lassiter says. Now we have to make the choice to pursue it. Watch »

Urban planner Ryan Gravel shares the story of how his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, rallied to build a massive urban park that will transform an abandoned railroad track into 22 miles of public green space called the Atlanta BeltLine. The places we live aren't inevitable, he says -- and if we want something different, we need to speak up. Watch »

Soap operas and telenovelas may be (ahem) overdramatic, but as Kate Adams shows us, their exaggerated stories and characters sometimes cast light on the problems of real life. In this sparkling, funny talk, Adams, a former assistant casting director for As the World Turns, share four lessons for life and business that we can learn from melodramas. Watch »

Read more on ideas.ted.com

Science: What would you do with a home DNA testing machine?
One answer: Grow better truffles. Read how one farmer is using science to grow one of nature's most prized wild foods.

Wisdom: Ancient techniques to cope with climate change »
How to cope with our new wild weather? By learning from our elders

Culture: The strange, surprisingly radical roots of the shopping mall »
How could an avant-garde European socialist inadvertently create the mall? Steven Johnson explains ...

Quote of the Week


We create our "others." As parents, as neighbors, as citizens, we witness and sometimes ignore each other into being. We chose ways of relating to each other that got us here. We can choose ways of relating that get us out."

Anand Giridharadas
A letter to all who have lost in this era
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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Reading our experiences more accurately

Every now and then, someone gets interested in inner calm and its cousins and other relatives.  The high intensity lives that many people lead are one source of a desire for inner peace and contentment.  The general buzz about meditation and mindfulness is a related prod toward interest in inner calm.  Some people take up a bit of yoga and find that stretching and postures are helpful but so is the quiet stillness that is part of the closing of many yoga sessions.  Any of the religious, self-help or counseling groups or lessons or renewals can lead to an interest in emphasizing or developing ways to calm oneself and improve self knowledge.  Any of these paths can lead to an interest in having a better relation with your mind and feelings.

So, there are several ways to get an interest in a better relation with your own mind.  If a person got such a interest, what would be a way to work toward that?

After considerable experimentation, here is what I recommend:

  • Sit still in an upright position for 10 timed minutes (set a timer to ring but out of sight, maybe behind you)

  • Keep your gaze fixed on an inanimate object or point.  Any intersection of lines within your field of vision can serve as the point.  

  • Work at keeping your attention on the selected point.  Attention is built in us to refresh itself and our whole alert system tends to scan the environment for dangers and interesting things.  When your attention jumps to street sounds or tummy rumbles or anything but the selected point, return your attention to the target.  Do so calmly, without rancor or defeat or rage or anything: just return your attention to the same spot.

  • It can help to let yourself stay alert for any movement in the point or inanimate object.  Of course, you won't see or hear any but you are practicing focusing your attention on one thing, as continuously as you can manage.

  • You are not trying to achieve anything during this period: not solving problems, not uniting with cosmic forces, just attending, just paying attention, just being, as they say

  • For many, probably most people, these 10 minutes are impossibly long.  Feel free to substitute a "2" for the "10".  My wife feels that her mind works in such a way that she achieves healthier, happier, more useful results if she uses "15" instead of "10".

Over time, you notice faster, clearer awareness of your thoughts and feelings.  How much time?  Hard to say: maybe a week of daily practices, maybe a month.  It is best if you can just give yourself a short period daily.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Wow! Moment

I have been listening to the energetic Robert Greenberg in his Great Course "Music Fundamentals".  I habitually listen to several dozen pieces of classical music over and over, mostly while working in the kitchen.  By chance, we also got to attend the Point in Time Ancient Music concert recently.  They played music from the 1400's and the next few centuries onward.

It seems to me that maybe old music has more fans among people I know than old art or old literature.  I remember reading about efforts to write signs and warnings about radioactive material which would be understood easily and quickly by people in 1000 or 10000 years.  Several authorities doubted it would work and they cited the difficulty modern English users have with Chaucer's writing from about 700 years ago.

It may say something about the human ear and the human mind and emotions that older music can still matter and be appreciated.

This morning, I played Rossini's overtures and a passage by a violin reminded me of a moment in the late 1970's when I was playing something by an outstanding violinist.  My older daughter had been playing the violin for something like a couple of years.  She came into the kitchen just as the music began with a skilled and strong beginning on the violin.  She paused and just said,"Wow!" as the music reached her.

I was impressed that her intelligence and music awareness allowed her to instantly recognize high quality in the performance.  I think the piece was Paganini's (1782-1840) 24 Variations and I think the violinist was Itzhak Perlman.  I tried to track down the music and the moment but wound up ordering a copy of a CD. It is surprising how a moment like that can stick in memory and inspire a search through our house and online to see what I can recollect of what happened.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Personal and local technology

These day, the word "technology" usually brings to mind something that runs on electricity, has a screen, a keyboard and involves Microsoft, Apple or Linux.  Google brings up a definition for the word that says it is about applying scientific and engineering knowledge to industry and the creation of machines and equipment.

I am of a transitional generation.  More or less by chance, I began my doctoral program with some work in the computer language called Fortran.  The experience was probably a challenge for the professor as well as his students.  It was only a 1 credit course but the teacher kept changing the course requirements and it took the class of 4 or 5 students three years to complete them to his satisfaction and before he modified them yet again.  

I came to the campus to teach but while I was settling in, I was offered a half-time position to be the first academic computing director.  Most people had no idea of what a computer was or could do at that time.  This was well before the internet.  Computers were a whiz at collating, printing and calculating. They were not networked in any way and stood all alone, doing not much.  In 1984, nearly 20 years later, we got our first home computer.  It had two disk drives, one for the program disk and one for the data disk.  

I taught statistics for many years.  At first, we used a calculator, then a spreadsheet.  Built-in functions enabled us to get means and standard deviations with great accuracy and great speed.  The chancellor of the university took it upon himself to buy a desktop computer and a basic word processing-spreadsheet-database piece of software for each faculty member, even those who didn't want it.

It wasn't really until the emergence of the smartphone that we reached the current state of most people looking at screens most of the time, walking or sitting.  We are actually just beginning to enter the state of everyone looking up everything all the time for facts and ideas and references and dates.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Can I have a word?

My stepfather used to say that it seemed I had been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.  (You remember, those machines that played flat discs larger than CD's that made music and the occasional story.)  He meant that I seemed to speak often.  You may realize that it isn't considered manly in some circles to talk very much.  The manly man acts and doesn't need or use spoken words much.  Sylvester Stallone exemplified the idea when the beautiful Vietnamese woman saved his life, shooting his nasty guards to death and leading him to freedom and safety.  He muttered,"What you did back there: Thanks."

The motto of the state of Maryland translates "Manly deeds, womanly words" but to be less sexist, is sometimes rendered "Strong deeds, gentle words."

In reading about changes in the world that brought us into the current era, communication by several means and the emergence of public and social media of communication stand out.  Communication and its relatives, persuasion and advertising, especially rapid communication and effective persuasion, can have a big effect on what we think and do.  A friend wrote this morning about the battle of New Orleans being fought after the war ended because the combatants were unaware of the peace agreement.  American politics and the lives of many families changed because of the slow speed with which information could be sent.

When you speak within my hearing, provided I am paying attention, your words may affect my ideas, my plans, my emotions.  If I love you or fear you, you may have an immediate effect on my mind and my actions.  But even if I don't know you, your statement of the quality of a certain brand may guide my spending.  Maybe it won't be until I hear some other statement or see an ad, that I decide that brand is what I want.  Your endorsement may have tipped the balance or initially alerted me to that brand's value.  Modern methods enable me to hear your voice and see you speak after you have died or when you spoke or wrote long ago.

We may be fascinated with strength but everyone finds that the pen is mightier than the sword, that words of alliance, of team-building, of inspiration are required to unify large groups and carry out big projects.

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