Wednesday, June 30, 2010
When I first read of the Flower Sermon, I was amazed. All my training, experience and background had pointed in the same direction as the philosophy class: thought! Effort! Attack! Nothing had said to just rest quietly. I, like my intellectual friend, had come from a practice of 'verbalism': discuss everything from every possible angle. Even in group prayers, we were constructing and transmitting a message to Heaven. But there are other directions. Just stop and sit. As Sylvia Boorstein's title says, "Don't Just Do Something. Sit There!"
In our usual Western vigorous parlance, we might say," Zip it!" Shut up! As the Bible puts it, "Be still and know that I am God"(Psalm 46). Mark Epstein's "Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart" describes how his Western training as a psychiatrist was similarly pointed toward finding and removing sickness and imbalances. That is a good strategy for sure. Much good indeed has come from rigorous pursuit of answers and solutions. However, as with most ideas, it seems to have limits. Listening to "The Demon Under the Microscope" by Thomas Hager, I heard about the very, very rigorous efforts of German chemists to find chemicals that humans could safely ingest that would stop bacterial infections such as strep and staph. One can't listen to details of the effort and time and patience and money focused on that effort so important to all human life without respecting the Western strategy, which, by the way, is becoming a world strategy.
However, as we hear more ideas of disease marketing that searches for some condition which humans will pay for a pill to remove, a condition of human life, it becomes clear that relentless effort in one direction can lead us astray. The British psychologist Dr. Petra Boynton is one of many voices that are warning of the drift toward taking human states and marketing pills that supposedly cure or lessen them. She is referring to female sexual desire but Epstein sees the many versions of feeling empty and unfulfilled as a much more important example. The West has tried to cure that feeling while the East has welcomed it as the tip of entering into a larger life and great accord with existence.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Thought you might like to see these comments on the pleasures and pressures of being retired and deciding over and over what to do with life.
Very well said! Sometimes I think I would like to go back to work just to get a vacation day. Aren't we lucky? I love the fact that we can just do things on the spur of the moment.
To help you keep track of what day it is when you wake up, just count the days since the last FAT paper came and then you will know what day it is. Hope this helps keep you in retirement.
Great timing on this one. I received an email from a friend this morning who is entering his last week of work before retiring and is a bit apprehensive. I forwarded your thoughts to him because we have had the exact conversation.
Are you serious about finding a job in retirement? I know exactly what you mean about the freedom of choice and the demanding schedule of retirement. Sometimes I have myself so booked up with activities that I have planned to fill my time that I think how relaxing it would be to go to one place and work all day. As you probably remember, I have found retirement a challenge. We are so used to all our time occupied that we think we have to do that in retirement also. I do enjoy my part time job, but I have cut back on my volunteer activities and all those presentations, concerts, etc. that I used to fill my time. I have been writing some and have joined Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets which I find a very interesting group. And I am trying to schedule more "downtime" into my day.
I doubt you are serious about returning to work, but it is good sometimes to know that other retirees experience some of the same challenges with their schedules.
Right on! Not my choice, but caring for my hubby is a full time job with time checks throughout the day. I find that I'm slower transitioning from one task to the other.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Our older crowd is excellent at conversation, at enjoying life. We want to get together. How about dinner? Oops, they're busy. How about lunch? Sorry, we can't because we are busy. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are easily scheduled for social get-togethers. But we can't eat enough meals to meet with all of our friends and relatives.
When you are retired, you have choices. That can be a burden. Do I have anything up today? Do I want anything up today? Should I call in sick and simply not go to the latest lecture, the latest show, the latest brilliant presentation?
I have wanted to really learn a foreign language. I have studied a couple in school but when I travel, I can't understand a thing. If I manage to get out a question in a comprehensible way, I can't understand the answer. Italian! French! Japanese! Finnish! I have been retired for 5 years and made no progress with any of them.
I am going to get a job just to flee from the guilt and pressure.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
We have similar things happen here in our house. So, the time has come. We are installing high level security cameras all over, so that one machine or another can record our images and our voices all the time. No more going down to the basement only to arrive having no memory of what we were after when we started. Some of our smart young programmer friends are hard at work developing computer code that will assist us in rapid search for particular spoken words and one of us moving in a given direction. We want to be able to quickly rewind the video to a point we can hear what we said and see what we were doing.
We realize that the term 'security camera' is often associated with crime prevention and law enforcement. However, we find that a great many more moments of pain, frustration and deep chagrin come into our lives from other sources than bad guys. A little technical and private assistance in recalling what we were recently about would be very welcome if it were discreet and within our budget.
These so-called 'senior' moments are getting to be a bother and we are confident that American ingenuity and Asian manufacturing skill can produce senior assistive technology on a par with the growing set of tools that assist younger people. We will be publishing information on when and where we will accept proposals and design sketches soon. Those interested in getting in on what is sure to be the next big thing should begin now converting various funds into transferable form. We are considering accepting initial funds of $50,000 dollars in any currency.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
A couple of years ago, I had my hearing tested and was told that I had some loss in the high frequencies. They said I would be not able to hear a mosquito buzz. That didn't seem too bad but then they said that the same high frequency was the sound level needed to be able to clearly distinguish between certain explosive consonants in speech, such as the difference between "d" and "t". When we did the Brain Fitness Program, the section on hearing that difference was very difficult. Posit Science advises the person to keep trying and to make a choice as to what might be the sound, since that sort of conscious practice may bring back a little of one's ability.
When I was teaching over live television, most people assumed that the video was key. However, we found that the class could proceed all right if my voice was transmitted but with no sound, we had to abandon the session.
In some of the blogs I follow on at my blog site, there have been research posts recently on how people gauge the sexiness and attractiveness of others by their voice. Another research study said that people can fairly accurately sense a man's strength from his voice and that how it is done is unknown. The researchers checked and the ability was not related to tone or pitch.
I often think that the exact voice tone, speed and timing of delivery is a big carrier of both meaning and emotional state. I can say the words "Well, certainly" in a way that communicates I agree with someone or that I actually rather doubt what has just been said.
My teaching experiences have made clear to me just how valuable telephones in all their forms are for human communication.
I have heard that when telephones were first becoming available, someone asked why anyone would want to talk to someone they don't know and have never met. In today's world, the question seems odd. We know the value of voice communication.
I guess it is possible at some time in the future that we may have the ability to know what someone wants to say without actual sound being transmitted.The linked material says that the Defense department is working on sensors that can transmit to another the nervous impulses a speaker was planning to use to speak without there being any actually speech. They are trying to find ways for voice communication in noisy or dangerous environments.
Friday, June 25, 2010
I like to try to imagine what it was like in previous times when communication was very much slower. Today, we learn about what happens almost as it is happening. Besides, we learn about most parts of planet at the same time. A bicycle accident in South America, a volcano in Iceland, violence in Kyrgyzstan, Wall Street prices: it is all there along with background material, history, comment, explanation, debate. A couple of centuries ago, we might not hear about events in Europe for months. We might not hear about events in some places at all.
When I saw the headline The City that Can't Heal, I was intrigued. Not just by the picture but also by the evocative writing. Today, we have journalism students and graduate students studying how to write memorably, evocatively. And they really can and they really do.
These days, we have pictures, live video from all over nearly instantaneously. Again, as with the writers, the photographers and cinematographers study, research and criticize their art. They learn their art and develop advanced tools to modify, crop, enlarge their images for maximum effect.
I also wonder about the stress on modern correspondents. I imagine flying into a war zone or a disaster area and being fluent in the local language is good but exposes the reporter to the full effect of tension, fear and despair that the people there are feeling. Quickly flying home, maybe to a fine dinner and a comfortable and secure bed can elicit a bit of survivor guilt and a bit of extra pain for those still in the mess.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
In this book, one of Epstein's earliest, he discussed his inner longing durng his college years for some unnamed something that was more than what he was experiencing. His Buddhist practice began with the learning that he could just observe that longing, experience it, sit with it, acknowledge it without actually needing to become president of the world.
Having been president of the world, I have to admit the position is not all it is cracked up to be. In fact, it seems, more and more, that there is no permanent, lovely, flawless paradise anywhere. Stuff riseth and stuff falleth, good and bad. It comes at us in a mixture. Besides, it is tricky. What seems to be a clearly unadulterated good isn't so hot after all and is later found to have unwanted side effects or grows boring. Something what is clearly negative turns out to have its up side, sometimes enough of one that I don't want that "negative" to end.
Buddhism takes as fundamental its idea of there being no self. It points out that there is no part of the body or mind that is the self. The West, and America especially, emphasize self-reliance and self confidence. Both Westerners and Easterners have ideas in this area of value to the other side. It is an area where either side can grow impatient with the other.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Well, that is just plain ignorant. People are dying all over, there are incurable diseases and horrible accidents. There is pain and despair and hunger.
In the current times, we think along lines promoted in America: science and fairness. It is scientific to get all the evidence and put it all in the balance when deciding what sort of world we have, isn't it? It is biased, unfair, unbalanced to consider the world happy when so many parts of it are clearly not.
It seems to me that in truth, any reasonably short description of
- my day or
- my life or
- my body or
- my community or
- how things are going
always must be an abstraction. My thought package or my feelings or my observation will only be partial. Any of them will include what I put in it, what I allow in it. I get to decide, I DO decide, at each moment, what the story or description will be.
Deepka Chopra helped me develop a feel for the importance of our senses, including our thoughts, when he emphasized that many animals hear things we don't, smell things we don't, see things we don't. It is honest to say that what they sense and what we sense is part of the world, a very specialized story or impression. Like bloggers or poets or photographers or painters, we create our impressions all the time. We decide what we will pay attention to and what we will dismiss.
A story that I happily retain is about a young man complaining to Picasso that the artist's work was unrealistic and ugly. The man pulled a photo of his girl friend from his wallet and showed it to Picasso as example of real beauty. Picasso looked at the photo and said, "Small, isn't she?"
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
It was actually in the nutty novel "Fluke: I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings" by Christopher Moore that I first heard of the meme (rhymes with 'beam'), a notion put forth by the biologist Richard Dawkins that it makes sense to think of small cultural units that get transmitted by language, art and other means from human to human in about the way that genes do biologically. If I ask you to fill in the blanks in "Too many cooks _________ the __________", and you supply "spoil" and "broth", you have had some memes transmitted to you. I guess there has been plenty of writing and talking about the meme concept, its validity and applications but the basic idea seems valuable and applicable to human life to me.
To me, the world of artificial computer viruses constructed by humans mimics the world of biological viruses. In a similar way, our human world of ideas, themes, symbols and customs includes transmission of these items from one human or group of humans to another, mimicking genes in biology.
For the microscopic and telescopic views, we can zoom, increase or decrease the magnification, tighten or widen the shot. But the world of ideas, meanings, themes, memes and theories cannot be detected with such instruments. That world takes language and human minds and feelings to detect, decode, appreciate and participate in. Normally, units of transmission from one human mind to another might be discussed using words related to culture. That makes sense to me but little units can be transmitted without our noticing. Later, when we wonder why there is a prohibition against putting a hat on the dining table or opening an umbrella inside the house or for raising the little finger when drinking from a tea cup, the answer may be unconscious transmission, unnoticed copying from one setting or generation to another.
Monday, June 21, 2010
I am a big fan of Atul Gawande. Any discomfort we feel with his name is probably due to cultural isolation, our experience of names not including those from India and other cultures. But we are going to have to get used to new names since some of our best thinking comes from people with different cultural backgrounds.
Prof. Gawande is an important American teacher, physician and one of my favorite authors. I have read three books by him ("Complications", "Better", and "The Checklist Manifesto") and articles by him that sometimes appear in The New Yorker. I read that both of his parents, born in India, are physicians. He is on the Harvard Medical School faculty.
The New Yorker published his address to the graduating class at the Standford Medical School.
Posted by Atul Gawande
Atul Gawande gave the commencement speech at Stanford's School of Medicine last week. Here is what he told the graduating class.
Many of you have worked for four solid years—or five, or six, or nine—and we are here to declare that, as of today, you officially know enough stuff to be called a graduate of the Stanford School of Medicine. You are Doctors of Medicine, Doctors of Philosophy, Masters of Science. It's been certified. Each of you is now an expert. Congratulations.
So why—in your heart of hearts—do you not quite feel that way?
The experience of a medical and scientific education is transformational. It is like moving to a new country. At first, you don't know the language, let alone the customs and concepts. But then, almost imperceptibly, that changes. Half the words you now routinely use you did not know existed when you started: words like arterial-blood gas, nasogastric tube, microarray, logistic regression, NMDA receptor, velluvial matrix.
O.K., I made that last one up. But the velluvial matrix sounds like something you should know about, doesn't it? And that's the problem. I will let you in on a little secret. You never stop wondering if there is a velluvial matrix you should know about.
Since I graduated from medical school, my family and friends have had their share of medical issues, just as you and your family will. And, inevitably, they turn to the medical graduate in the house for advice and explanation.
I remember one time when a friend came with a question. "You're a doctor now," he said. "So tell me: where exactly is the solar plexus?"
I was stumped. The information was not anywhere in the textbooks.
"I don't know," I finally confessed.
"What kind of doctor are you?" he said.
I didn't feel much better equipped when my wife had two miscarriages, or when our first child was born with part of his aorta missing, or when my daughter had a fall and dislocated her elbow, and I failed to recognize it, or when my wife tore a ligament in her wrist that I'd never heard of—her velluvial matrix, I think it was.
The rest of his address can be read here. It is not all fun and games but worth a few minutes reading.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
A savvy friend just updated me on additional web sites and services that seem useful and interesting.
At Prezi, I guess you can make online presentations. That sounds like something a teacher or professor would want but I learned long ago that thousands of presentations are made everyday in business, schools, and most human organizations. In fact, I heard of a couple of children who made a PowerPoint presentation to try to persuade their parents to give them a bigger allowance. I haven't used the site but it sounds intriguing. I heard from my favorite gadget guru that he has given a presentation about Prezi and I know he wouldn't do that unless he felt it was pretty good. I also heard that a Boston high school teacher showed the site to a group of seniors who were graduating in 4 days and 70% of them made a presentation before graduating. Several critics complain about the more or less static presentation of slides, often with too much text per slide, and too much droning on by the presenter while a single slide sits and sits and sits in front of the audience. This page shows the Prezi services available for free and with payment for annual licenses.
I guess similar things and maybe some interactive games and such can be made at MIT's Scratch. The site says that well over a million projects have been completed on Scratch. It is available free but donations are appreciated.
An added note: Google recently added the ability to draw to its free documents service and they have had Sketch, a free 3D model drawing service for quite a while.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
The turkey poop was green. The black bear poop was large and heavy and very black. Our great grandson was pleased that it looked so real but wasn't. He held the model in his hand and asked another child if she wanted some bear poop. It looked real and she recoiled in horror. We told him not to scare the children and he switched to offering the poop to large, somber, serious-looking men. When one also recoiled, he admitted that what he held was rubber and the man looked relieved.
Michael Sullivan's book Serving Boys Through Readers' Advisory and his web site www.talestoldtall.com knows books and boys and he knows that younger boys, about elementary school age, are often interested in poop and in hunting and science that recognize and study animal poop. He lists some books on the subject that might be of interest:
Sylvia Branzei. Animal Grossology. (Price Stern Sloan, 2004)
Sylvia Branzei. Grossology. (Price Stern Sloan, 2002)
Sylvia Branzei. Grossology and You. (Price Stern Sloan, 2002)
Sylvia Branzei. Hands-On Grossology. (Price Stern Sloan, 2003)
Karen Chin and Thom Holmes. Dino Dung: The Scoop on Fossil Feces. (Random House, 2004)
We were wondering where poop models are made? Is there much of a market for model turkey poop? Are there blueprints of the design and its specifications?
Friday, June 18, 2010
When I first got Appleworks, I couldn't figure how to use the spreadsheet. I knew that I could type numbers or words into a cell on it but what good did that do? Even typing 10 in one cell, 23 in another cell and telling a third cell to show the sum didn't seem all that impressive. What was the gain of using a spreadsheet over using a handy, accurate, quick and inexpensive calculator?
It helped to hear that each of the thousands of cells in a spreadsheet is a calculator by itself.
It helped more to realize that the structure of a saved spreadsheet could convert figures in a process over and over at top speed. So, if I want to calculate the standard deviation of a group of numbers, the sheet displays that as soon as the data is entered. I can copy all of the cells that perform that operation and paste them beside the originals, making two calculators that go through the steps I want.
I find Microsoft's Excel excellent and I use it all the time. I used to keep my checkbook up to date but now my money spreadsheet is much faster, more accurate and all I do in the checkbook is record the checks. I think tracking one's money is the easiest regular operation to use a spreadsheet for.
It really is true that showing the data in a chart or graph can make features of a set of figures stand out faster and more completely than just looking at numbers themselves. Excel or other spreadsheets can graph data in many forms instantaneously.
Google docs includes a free spreadsheet that is available on any computer with an internet connection. Open Office offers a complete suite of free standard programs that includes a spreadsheet and much else. Last October, Open Office had been downloaded 100 million times.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
About 20 years ago, my wife and I spent a day driving. On the drive, we talked continuously about our explorations of the new software package she had given me for Father's Day, Appleworks. We had just gotten our first computer, an Apple II e, and I had seen a magazine story about the "suite" of programs that included the ability to word process, handle information in a spreadsheet and file information in rows and columns in a basic database. It surprised me how intimately and pleasurably two people could talk about the keyboard shortcuts and features of the program.
In a very reminiscent way, the little boy had a similar conversation in our presence the other day. We had just had a satisfying meal and the beach beckoned with its invitation to run and jump. Two other boys were doing that, too, and soon a three way conversation developed. In no time, the talk settled on a recently released video game and its challenges. I am interested in the value of video games ever since I started Everything Bad is Good for You and read that several universities have started academic departments of gaming.
The boys discussed ways they had succeeded in the game and tricks and insights that helped them rise to the next level. Our hero immediately explained what he had heard to his grandfather who immediately arranged for them to try out these new suggestions. The trial did not immediately succeed but meanwhile the grandmother went to Google, found an explanatory video showing the needed steps and target.
So, the game furnished a lingua franca for young males' discussion and social interchange while our moden media of fast broadband and video on the net supplied an enterprising pair of grandparents with the needed info to score. Yay! This modern world is ok.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
I tend to think that electricity comes from the wall and that is because mammoth planning, discussion, argument and work took place during the latter half of the 1800's in the electrification of the cities. I have read that Westinghouse and others supported using alternating electricity since they produce plenty and send it long distances but Edison hated the idea because of the dangers of such juice. I believe he electrified live cats and such in public demos to show the deadly effects of alternating current.
Waterfalls, dams and windmills can all be used to create large amounts of electricity as well as coal and other engines and turbines. An interesting sounding book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is about an African teenager who read in American sponsored libraries about how to build wind-driven electricity generation and did so.
My hero W.E. Deming stressed that 95% of human error comes from the design (or lack thereof) of the system we are operating in. We have juice for our houses now because of the discoveries of others about electricity but it also comes from the creation and operation and maintenance of co-ops and utilities companies, a distribution and billing system that we need as much as wires.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Subject: Best of The Scout Report -- 2009-2010
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of Internet Scout Project
Sent: Thursday, June 10, 2010 12:11 PM
To: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Best of The Scout Report -- 2009-2010
If you are unable to view this message, click here to visit it on the Scout website.
The list is not intended to be inclusive of all our favorites, or every great resource, but it is meant to remind our readers of some of the outstanding resources the Scout Report has covered over the past academic year. So we hope you enjoy this list, and maybe take a few minutes to revisit some of our favorite sites from 2009-2010. As always, we look forward to providing you with a new batch of fantastic resources throughout the upcoming year.
- Xeno-Canto: Bird Sounds From the Americas [Real Player]
- Nasa eClips
- Vincent Van Gogh: The Letters
- Exploratorium 40th Anniversary: Speaking of Music Rewind [iTunes]
- National Science Foundation: Science Nation [Flash Player]
- The Mathematical Association of America: Podcast Center
- Balzac's Paris: A Guided Tour
- BioEd Online: Podcasts Plus Lessons
- Nature Milestones
Feedback is always welcome: email@example.com
Vincent Van Gogh: The Letters
Exploratorium 40th Anniversary: Speaking of Music Rewind [iTunes]
National Science Foundation: Science Nation [Flash Player]
The Mathematical Association of America: Podcast Center
Balzac's Paris: A Guided Tour
BioEd Online: Podcasts Plus Lessons
From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 2010. http://scout.wisc.edu/
Copyright Internet Scout, 2010. Internet Scout (http://scout.wisc.edu/), located in the Computer Sciences Department of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides information and tools and services for finding information about the Internet to the U.S. research and education community. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this Scout Report in its entirety, provided this paragraph, including the copyright notice, are preserved on all copies.
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