Tuesday, May 26, 2015

incovenience

I am really enjoying listening to Bill Bryson read his book "One Summer America 1927".  When I listen to a book, I have to move through it at the speed of the reader.  No jumping ahead and no skimping.  I suspect that careful and detailed research might turn up interesting events for any year in the history of the US but this book certainly lists a string of interesting ones for the summer of 1927.  


Henry Ford was mentioned in an uncomplimentary way in the post linked above.  But for all his shortcomings, there is no question that the man changed not just America but the whole world.  When was the last time you were in a moving car?  When was the last time you drove?  Do you have your own car?  The gift of convenient travel by auto is the result of ideas and efforts and successes by many people but Henry Ford is definitely one of them.  Thanks, Henry!


The Model T, which was the car that changed America, partly through the miracle of down payments and regular payments thereafter, was not very convenient by today's standards:

The Model T, like Ford himself, was an unlikely candidate for greatness. It was almost willfully rudimentary. For years the car had no speedometer and no gas gauge. Drivers who wanted to know how much gas they had in the tank had to stop the car, get out, and tip back the driver's seat to check a dipstick located on the chassis floor. Determining the oil level was even trickier. The owner, or some other compliant soul, had to slide under the chassis, open two petcocks with pliers, and judge from how fast the oil ran out how much and how urgently more was needed. For shifting, the car employed something called a planetary transmission, which was famously idiosyncratic. It took much practice to master the two forward gears and one reverse one. The headlights, run off a magneto, were uselessly dim at low speeds and burned so hot at high speeds that they were inclined to explode. The front and rear tires were of different sizes, a needless quirk that required every owner to carry two sets of spares. Electric starters didn't become standard until 1926, years after nearly all other manufacturers included them as a matter of routine.


Bryson, Bill (2013-10-01). One Summer: America, 1927 (Kindle Locations 3594-3602). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.



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


Monday, May 25, 2015

Layouts and focus points

 Since I was a little kid, I have been practicing the Western convention of beginning my writing in the upper left corner of a piece of blank paper laid out in front of me.  My wordprocessing programs pile characters along a line from that point to the right edge (minus a margin) and then jump back to the left margin for another line of characters.  You know the pattern:


 

I only bother with this to explain where I get my focus point patterns from, as far as I know.  They might come from the way my little sister treated me, for all I know.


To select a visual focus for a meditation session, usually 8-10 minutes, I look for a right angle with this layout:

This would normally be the lower left corner of a piece of writing paper.  The point where the two lines meet would be the origin on a Cartesian graph. From the origin "up", we have the positive segment of the Y axis and from the origin to the right, we have the positive segment of the X axis.  I like to work with positives and I like to use a habit to get started.  In many inside settings, such points are easy to find.  One that is not too high nor too low and is likely to be stable during my 8-10 minutes will work nicely.

 

I make it a habit to use something that does not itself emit light but a point that is easy to see and one that I can recognize and find again if my mind and eyes wander, which they often do.  I want something that is not too bright nor too dim. I keep my eyes focused on the origin.


It doesn't have to be a geometric point where lines meet.  I find it is much more helpful, at least for me, if I use something to look at, somewhere to anchor my sight. The usual advice is to consciously breathe in and slowly exhale, staying very much focused on each breath.  When my eyes are tired, I can follow my breath with closed eyes but that can encourage falling asleep or at least dropping sharp focus on that origin point.


Doing this staring at a point while gently but persistently dismissing the many thoughts that try to get started is mind training.  It is the activity that students, physicians, coaches, special forces, thinkers, those in pain, those that want to happier are all doing regularly.  During the meditation, it works best to just look and breathe, not to justify the activity at that time or recall really good jokes or anything but sit and stare/breathe.


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


Sunday, May 24, 2015

It is all connected

You probably know that the Zen practitioner said to the hot dog vendor," Make me one with everything."


You might know that Carl Sagan, one of our first superstars of astronomy and cosmology, said that to make a cake from scratch, you have to first make a universe.  With everything being related to everything else, you have to more or less start at Genesis or the big bang, to have anything at all.  Good thing much of that work has already been done for us.


It is not uncommon for a person who gets a strong deep interest in say, aviation, to find himself studying all sorts of things he never imagined he would be studying.  You start out with a plane but then you are studying business, politics, merchandising, military science, psychology, physiology, anatomy, psychophysics.  Pretty soon, you are into law.  You don't want to ignore depictions of the aviation life in art, literature and music.  You need to study biology, including the life of viruses and bugs that travel on planes.  


See, it is all connected.  In fact, as David Weinberger clearly shows, it is all "Too Big to Know", but if you try, you can make quite an impressive amount of progress. 



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


Saturday, May 23, 2015

What should schools teach?

My philosophical friends are in a discussion of liberal education.  They are interested in Prof. Louis Menard's book "The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University".  He is a prof. of English at Harvard, has written several books and writes for the New Yorker fairly often.  There are certain subjects that are traditionally thought of as the liberal arts, subjects that assist in freeing the mind and habits from any narrow confinement from one's upbringing and growing up experience.  History is one of them.  Menard writes that "garbage is garbage but the history of garbage is scholarship."  

Most academic discussions of curriculum focus on college and university level education and ignore or underplay the earlier years of human life.  The truth is that there is little basic or scientific or logical evidence as to what makes an ideal curriculum. Clearly, the times, the era in which a person lives is a relevant factor.  People in the 1600's didn't study electrical engineering or computer science.  Most people today study little or no archery.  

It seems clear to me that in the US today, and maybe more so in some other places, anyone who wants to learn just about anything can do so.  There is a book called "The Boy Who Tamed the Wind" about a African young man in a village where there was no electricity who spent time in an American-sponsored library.  He learned what he needed to know and built a wind-driven dynamo that supplied the town with electricity.  

Many curriculum thinkers would ask of that boy whether he had gotten a wide-ranging introduction to mathematics and to literature.  If he knows little about world art, they might advise him to return to his library for that subject.  Music, poetry, philosophy, other languages, the sciences and many other topics might be of interest or profit sometime in his future.  

In general, curriculum has not been a hot topic over the years.  There is very little sex in curriculum thinking and nothing ever blows up.  One of the most biting and memorable books on curriculum was written in 1939, "The Saber-tooth Curriculum", describes satirically the situation where all the saber-tooth tigers are extinct but the skills involved in hunting them are still taught and still graded.  One can still fail to "graduate" with failing grades in saber-tooth tiger hunting.

As with anything else, schooling and one's future are related to one's times, one's family and the general society in which one grows up.  My mother and grandmother had little chance of studying ballet or harp.  I might well have been in sports or medicine if my dad or stepdad had been more determined that I would study those fields.



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


Friday, May 22, 2015

Lawns and all

We have half an acre for our house and garage, gazebo and shed.  The driveway takes up room, too.  What remains is no western ranch or Australian spread.  That does not stop me using a riding mower. I relish getting the grass cut lickety-split or even faster.  But what takes time is trimming.  We have prairie areas, multiple flower beds and plenty of trees, not to mention the buildings since I already mentioned them.


Trimming is a pain.  I could ignore the need but that would endanger both my marriage and the happiness and feeling of neighborhood acceptance of my wife.  So, I endeavor to do some trimming.  I like the idea of what is called a string trimmer, which is a high speed whirling string of nylon that slices off the weeds and grass along the edges of buildings, steps and beds.  These string trimmers are very popular but they tend to be a pain.


There are two types, gasoline powered and electricity powered.  I have had a gas powered snow-thrower that needs oil mixed with gas to work.  Too much oil and it can't move.  Too much gas and it goes wild, has a heart attack, runs at a ridiculous and unsustainable speed.  Getting the mix just right is a pain, triply so when some of the mix is in the tank and I am trying to guess how much more is needed.  So, gas is out.  Electricity can come from a battery or a line to the house supply.


String trimmers are always losing their string to rocks or other objects and obstacles.  Some are built to advance the string from a spool inside the head and some require a bump on the ground to advance the string.  Both kinds get jammed very easily, mostly from the string still inside the spool getting crossed with itself and unable to advance.  

The one I bought today in another spurt of hope to find a useable one that doesn't put me in a rage is a Black and Decker tool, from Towson, Maryland, where my wife and I met and went to college.  It is also where my grandfather worked for years.  Maybe it will be the answer for a smooth, useable trimmer but I got my doubts.



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


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Michael Mountain and my blog

I have a degree in educational research, measurement and experimental design.  That means I am interested in the improvement of education.  I finished that degree nearly 50 years ago, way before I learned that what might be the biggest omission from the school curriculum for most American children is the technique and rationale of meditation.  The evidence of the benefit psychologically, physically and in general for meditation is already overwhelming and gets more so every year.


As I explained to a friend the other day, there are two basic problems with meditation of the type useable and acceptable to everyone.  One is that practicing it will increase anyone's familiarity with their own mind and feelings but practice can be a little disconcerting at first.  The meditator just needs to sit still, focus on something to look at (any spot or corner or one's own breathing) and gently dismiss thoughts that come up.  The trouble sometimes is that a novice may find that keeping the focus is more difficult than expected, often to the point that the novice decides his or her mind is especially unsuited to meditation and stops trying.


The other difficulty with meditation is just that it seems so simple that it is easy to doubt the activity has any real worth.


I began this blog in 2008 with the idea of spending some time writing and explaining what meditation is, how to do it without interfering with any religion or other conviction or creed, and why it pays.  But it soon became clear that I was reaching a point where I wanted to write about and think about other things.  I realized that every moment of my life is actually a miracle.  It doesn't always feel like that or look like that but it is.  I began to see that I could stay in touch with myself and write about experiences, feelings, events, insights.  I might be able to make such writings interesting or amusing but even if I couldn't, I myself would enjoy the reflections and the activity of finding words that described and related parts of my life.


Somewhere along the line, I came across Sarah Bakewell, a London librarian and writer.  She is a scholar in the writings of Michel de Montaigne.  You only have to Google his last name and you immediately come on tons of information about this Frenchman who lived from 1533 to 1592.  His writings, even when translated into English, are clearly different from the way we think and write today.  But Bakewell, in her book on the man, "How to Live", makes clear that he was one of the first essayists in any language.  His interests and his time in history was in some ways just like ours and, of course, in many other ways, very different.  He didn't have electricity or aviation and we do.  He didn't have antibiotics and we do.  But he and his family and friends got sick, aged and died, just as we do.  There are a very large number of editions of his essays on Amazon and most libraries have copies, too.



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


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Getting some news

I wake up every morning with an empty, hungry mind.  Some of my friends turn on the television news.  We rarely turn on our television set before 7 or 8 PM.  Lynn goes through Facebook and tells me interesting or important news of friends.  I read my email.  Often, the email from friends commenting on the previous day's blog takes up some time and thought for responses.  I get daily newsletters and I am on the lookout for sources that provide what seems both valuable and interesting news and insights.


I get the PEW daily religious newsletter.  I often think it will be boring or too narrow but I keep finding that it is interesting.  I guess it should be no surprise that religion is a very strong force worldwide.  I get Time's newsletter.  It sometimes has interesting news but it is a little too full of ads.  Further, it seems their web coders are using a tool similar to that recently introduced on Netflix, which is continuousness.  Watch a Netflix tv or original with episodes and the next episode will begin whether you want it too or not.  You have to be quick to stop it, although you can stop it at any point if you want.  Similarly, the Time articles run together in what I guess is supposed to be a convenience but is an annoyance for me.


I get various newsletters from the Brookings Institute, chosen by the University of Pennsylvania's review of think tanks as #1 for several years.  Note: there are more than 6,000 think tanks in the world.


I just realized while writing this that I have not been getting the Atlantic's daily newsletter for a while and I don't know why.  I went to their web site and got engrossed in an article on the reasons for San Bernardino, California's municipal bankruptcy.  It seems to be a bad idea of indexing their police and firemen's pay to that of surrounding but wealthier communities.


I don't think I have done any sort of stellar or sweeping review of news and information sources but the question of how to do so interests me.



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


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