Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Trying to think deeply

There is a book that was popular with computer people and systems analysts at one time.  I think it was Peter Senge's "The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook" that introduced me to the 5 why's.  The idea is simply to ask "Why?" five times successively about a problem or a process.

"I want to have dinner at Sam's."  


I like Sam's.


They have good walleye.


That is only three Why's and we could go off into why the walleye is good or why Sam offers the fish in the recipe and format he does.

What this approach has taught me over the years is that humans usually don't or can't think very deeply.  We normally can't go even five levels down in our thinking.  This is something which little kids play with when they get the Why? bug.  

When I think of analyzing a chess game, I know it will be to my advantage to think ahead.  I can see I could do this and that he will probably do.  But there are many other things he could do, some of which I don't think of and some of which I think he would not do.  That is only one move and a response.  I realize if I were more cautious and more patient and maybe if I had a bigger and better brain, I would ponder more, think out the moves he could make and how I would respond.  But the thinking and the probabilities can all be done away with by taking an actual move and seeing what actually follows.  

I did my dissertation on applying decision theory approaches and models to the problems of school administration.  I have never been a school administrator but some work by others established a set of problems that were typical of what were being faced at that time. The formal approach to making a good decision asks for a list of all possible choices for the decision and the value of making each weighted by the probability that the value will be achieved.  In real life, we never have all the possible decisions, much less all the accompanying values and probabilities.

Analysis paralysis sets in while I ponder my response to the presentation of the idea of dinner at Sam's.  It is quicker and far more cooperative to agree and eat at Sam's.

Collaborative communication

I get something from O'Reilly every few days about computing.  A big field and one that is expanding rapidly is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the related Machine Learning.  Ever since the IBM computer called Watson beat humans in the Jeopardy-type game, there has been media attention on the subject of computers thinking.

The other day, I saw an O'Reilly article predicting an explosion in AI from "cross pollination".  I thought "That's it!" That's what humans do.  Call it cross pollination, call it brainstorming, call it group discussion, call it communication and stimulation.  You have seen it in groups of 5th graders, college students, young adults drinking together in a bar. Somebody makes a comment, maybe a joke.  Somebody comments on an article in the news.  In no time, the comment and the article are combined into a new thought.  The new thought triggers further statements and some pipe dreams.  Keep this up and it is definitely possible that somebody will  walk away with an inspiration, a determination, a question for Google, a new proposal for the boss.

I think some people say that the process is enhanced with wine or other drinks.  Some people say that stuff interferes with clear thinking and rapid repartee.  You usually need a well-balanced group.  They can't be too locked onto standing out or putting each other down but at least several of them need to be willing to shoot from the hip, toss out ideas and reactions without too much care or footnoting or hesitation.  I think it works better with a group of five to eight.  A full classroom of 25 or 30 is too many for much interchange per person.

This process in a live group of people sitting together in the same room works well and has for millennia.  However, with modern computers and the world wide web, it can be done with people who are sitting at their keyboards or talking to their smartphones.  With Google Translate or other tools, including live translators in the group as in the United Nations, it can proceed among people who don't speak the same language.  We even have instances of "crowdsourcing" where a problem or a challenge is thrown open to all comers.  Anyone interested can join the effort, regardless of background or experience or rank.  There have been some impressive examples of successful solutions through crowdsourcing.


We have internet "trolls" here and there, malevolent people bent on destroying or interfering with a group cohesion and communication.  You can look up the subject in Google or other search engines and in Amazon books.  It is true that some online communicators can be intimidated or worse by the right nasty comment or threat or ridicule.  However, I think ways and means of dealing with deliberate intent to wound or destroy or silence a contributor are being developed all the time.  Artificial intelligence can help there, too.

Monday, August 29, 2016

From Arthur and friends


These are classified ads, which were actually placed in U.K. Newspapers:

8 years old,
Hateful little bastard.

1/2 Cocker Spaniel, 1/2 sneaky neighbor's dog.


Mother is a Kennel Club registered German Shepherd.
Father is a Super Dog, able to leap tall fences in a single bound.


Also 1 gay bull for sale.


Must sell washer and dryer £100.


Worn once by mistake.
Call Stephanie.


**** And the WINNER is... ****


Complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica, 45 volumes.
Excellent condition, £200 or best offer. No longer needed, got married, wife knows everything.

Statement of the Century
Thought from the Greatest Living Scottish Thinker--BillyConnolly.
  "If women are so bloody perfect at multitasking, How come they can't have a headache and sex at the same time?"  

Children Are Quick


TEACHER: Why are you late?
STUDENT: Class started before I got here.
TEACHER: John, why are you doing your math multiplication on the floor?
JOHN: You told me to do it without using tables.
TEACHER: Glenn, how do you spell 'crocodile?'
TEACHER: No, that's wrong
GLENN: Maybe it is wrong, but you asked me how I spell it.
(I Love this child)
TEACHER: Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?
TEACHER: What are you talking about?
DONALD: Yesterday you said it's H to O.
TEACHER: Winnie, name one important thing we have today that we didn't have ten years ago.
TEACHER: Glen, why do you always get so dirty?
GLEN: Well, I'm a lot closer to the ground than you are.
TEACHER: George Washington not only chopped down his father's cherry tree, but also admitted it.
Now, Louie, do you know why his father didn't punish him?
LOUIS: Because George still had the axe in his hand.....
TEACHER: Now, Simon , tell me frankly, do you say prayers before eating?
SIMON: No sir, I don't have to, my Mum is a good cook.
TEACHER:  Clyde , your composition on 'My Dog' is exactly the same as your brother's.
Did you copy his?
CLYDE : No, sir. It's the same dog.


(I want to adopt this kid!!!)
TEACHER: Harold, what do you call a person who keeps on talking when people are no longer interested?
HAROLD: A teacher.
Due to current economic conditions the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

My Twitter hobby

Ebooks from Amazon can be read on a Kindle reader, an Amazon Fire tablet, a computer or other tablets such as an iPad.  It is easy to mark any passage that seems noteworthy and the highlights can be sent to your email address.  In addition, passages can be sent to Goodreads, to the Amazon collection of highlights, to Facebook and to Twitter.

I have found Facebook a little too pushy in asking me all the time if I know this person or that.  But I do use Twitter and have about 2900 short comments in @olderkirby on Twitter.  Whether I am sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, at home in the living room or waiting for an oil change in the car, I can come upon a moving sentence or gripping description and can send it onto Twitter.  I have about 160 followers on Twitter and they each get every comment ("Tweet") I post.

I only look at my Twitter account once or twice a week and I am confident that I miss much of what others post.  So, I imagine that many people skip over what I post, too.  But the posted comments make a good collection of notes from books I have read that are of interest to me, at least.  Twitter will download all the tweets a user has made in one file.  It is interesting to look over what I have noted in the years past.  I started using Twitter in 2012 so my notes don't go back very far.  It is fun, nevertheless, to look over the record of day-by-day highlights and comments I made about a book a while back.

It is a very common comment to note that a book is a trip, a ship, a voyage to somewhere else.  That is what reading often feels like to me.  Just now, I am listening to the audio form of "Lab Girl" by Hope Jahren, a 40 something scientist who has won awards for her work.  I am only in the beginning of the book but I can see that much if not all of her work is about plants. She has already said some gripping things about plants, such as there is 600 times as much life on land on this planet as there is in the ocean.

But for a scientist, Hope Jahren writes personally as well as professionally.  She has already taken me on a walk from her scientist father's labs in the community college of a small Minnesota town to her house and explained how she feels about her ftown, her house and life in a Scandinavian family.  Although I am listening to the book, I also bought the electronic version of the print format, which I use to look in more detail about her comments and from which I can post tweets of parts that interest me.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Please rate your transaction with us

I live in a small but active town.  I don't get to a large metropolis very often.  But even living somewhat disconnected, I find that I seem to be living more and more in a storm of new pleadings for assessments and evaluations.  

I went to the bank to get some $100 bills.  The good-looking young teller asked me how I would rate my transaction with her. On a scale of 1 to ten.  

I have spent many hours, reading, writing, thinking and talking about rating and grading.  That subject is closely related to the subject of measurement, which leads to types of scales.  So when I am asked to rate my transaction, several hours of lecture and discussion are waiting in my head for delivery.  We could get rather detailed about nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio scales.  We could ask for information about where my rating of our transaction will go and who will be authorized to know how I rated.  Will I be asked to justify my rating?  In court?  

The most succinct advice on grading I ever saw was that of John Holt, an American teacher who wrote several books about teaching.  He advised giving everyone an A.  I am confident that such advice would not sit well with quite a few parents and citizens.  But that, good advice or poor, is what we move toward with the wave of customer feedback and evaluation that we are experiencing.

The young teller told me that all she wanted to know was whether I would rate my bank transaction a "10' or not.  I have been told during several requests for evaluative feedback that any rating below the highest one will be considered a failure.  Some clerks and operators begin to tremble as they relay the horrible fate meted out to those who receive a rating below the highest possible one.  

America is devoted to a gung-ho, energetic, vigorous attitude, even when it is inappropriate.  At times, it takes confidence (We got confidence!!), strength (Feel this muscle!!) and flexibility (We are flexible as a scatter rug!!!) to use a low-key, respectful and demure (Demure is our middle name!!!! And even more exclamation marks than that!!!!!).  Alas, lacking the strength to show calmness and respect, most of the organizations I deal with assert very energetically that anything below "Perfect" will be dealt with…..  I just wanted some $100 bills and she was cute, respectful, and efficient.  She gets a 10 and so do you.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Maybe we were too excited

I was surprised when I realized that both Karen Armstrong and I had strong disturbances on the way to our occupations.  She entered the convent at 17 and stayed there for 7 years.  The way she tells it, she was often at odds with the regimen and the procedure expected of her.  I entered a teachers college at the same age but didn't have courses aimed at teaching as such until a couple of years later.  Armstrong explains that she asked what exactly she was supposed to do since some days the beginners were told that very strict obedience was the key to advancing successfully but other days, they were berated for not using their own intelligence and common sense.  

I had courses on the subject of teaching in preparation for teaching elementary school and asked edged and probably impertinent questions about the logic and coherence of what was being taught.  An exasperated professor gave me a library call number and told me to take a look at the book.  When I saw the book was The Authoritarian Personality by Adorno and others, I felt a jolt.  I think the professor was telling me that I was being too strict and cross-examining the curriculum and activities too minutely.

There seem to have been similarities between my desire to walk on water as a heavenly teacher and Armstrong's desire to be united with God.  Both of us were probably overly excited and elated and too determined to be and do two or three times what was called for to reach our goals and then some.  Lynn knew me through all of this and tried to tell me to relax. My mother told me the same sort of thing.  But an older professor of geography calmly asked how long I had been student teaching when I was ready to quit and go to some other school where I would find a more suitable major.  I told her I had been student teaching for six weeks.  She asked how long I thought she had been teaching.  At the time, I thought she looked as though she was a couple of centuries old but I had the manners and respect to say I didn't know but that I thought she had been teaching a long time.  

She advised me to finish my degree and teach for at least two years.  That seemed sensible and I went on to become a professor of education and teaching.  I would have been astounded to know that was in my future as Armstrong would have been astounded to know that she would go on to become the foremost writer about religion in the modern world, translated into 45 languages.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


I am always fascinated by intelligence breaking out.  A class is going along calmly when a student asks a question or makes a comment that stays with you.  That evening, you are still thinking about it.  Often the words hit the teacher very differently from the way they do the student or the others there. It is probably because the teacher has gone over the material many times and knows there are multiple avenues that some students have in the past explored that this group hasn't been drawn into.  I often taught statistics to a class of 80 to 100 students.  The lessons were tapes and so were exactly replayed for each class.  Just when I thought I had seen it all and that no twist, turn or misunderstanding was yet to be invented, I would be shown some new idea or question or puzzle or angle.

No subject can really be explored to all possible limits, to all the edges that might be reached in all possible discussions and considerations.  When the ancients say that the world is one, they aren't kidding.  You can indeed get from a gumdrop to nuclear physics, the history of diplomacy and to all aspects of the diseases of honeybees.  It's just that you will tire or expire or divert to the tv or the dinner table before you manage to get to all the edges of the subject.

I just finished re-reading "The Spiral Staircase" by the famous scholar of religion, Karen Armstrong.  It surprises the heck out of me that I was so thunderstruck by the book, given that I had read the whole thing before.  I remembered that she entered a convent, was rejected as unsuitable for the life required there, worked on her doctorate, failed to obtain the degree and became the author of many books on religions, including "A History of God".  But I was completely surprised by the effect on me of sentence after sentence.  The writing seems so very accurate and piercing, the author's concentration and openness and awareness of herself and others seems so complete, original and clear.

Being that you are you and I am me, you may not get quite so taken by the book as I was.  Still, if you are looking for a short, clear history of a human life, full of awareness of what youth, early maturity, and empathy for all the many ways people live and feel and fear are about, "The Spiral Staircase" might fill your needs.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Not to mention the Greeks

Innocence, insularity, inflexibility, habit and rhetorical devices

I get purpose and fun writing my blog.  So, I urge my friends to do the same thing.  However, if they do, I will certainly try to read what they write and respond to it, at least some of the time.  The situation would be similar to having a group of student papers that need to be read and graded.  Much of the time, a simple grade is not very helpful or interesting.  It is usually better for the student if there is also a comment or clarification that helps the student know why that grade was given.

That is what I was thinking about when I wrote Monday's blog post entitled "Why I would appreciate it if you didn't read this".  A friend thought I might be using some of the rhetorical devices used by one of the current presidential candidates.  I sent her comments to another friend who studied and taught rhetoric and persuasion.  Since that exchange, those two have helped me become aware of this article

https://thinkprogress.org/donald-trump-may-sound-like-a-clown-but-he-is-a-rhetoric-pro-like-cicero-ac40fd1cda79#.nctc1xrop and of this list of rhetorical 'devices' or speaking strategies


The next time I say to a person that I simply can't allow myself to pick on someone of very low intelligence, the next time I tell you about an incident and simply stop in the middle, leaving the impression that I am overwhelmed and just can't continue, think of the ancient orators.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Optimism and the history of formal risk

A friend wonders if it is possible or rational or logical to be optimistic about the future.  I say it is and that being optimistic can be an evidence-based stance.  Another friend has spent his career in finance and assures me that the actuaries and mathematicians and statisticians and bankers who designed social security got each and every assumption wrong.  

When you are planning, you have to make assumptions.  It is all very well to say you won't make any assumptions but you have to.  If you are planning financial payments in the future, you are assuming that the customer or subject of the plan or somebody will be around and in a position to make use of the funds.  You have to make some assumption about prices and needs.  Basically, you have to guess what portion of current earnings should be set aside for the future.  Saying nothing needs to be set aside or that all income must be saved are both unacceptable.  So, some portion between 0 % and 100 % will be proposed.  

Nutty as it may seem, one of the first things some planners do is ask how long you will live.  How do you know?  You don't but depending on your age, your health, your parents and grandparents and siblings, you can make an estimate.  These days

Calculators: Life Expectancy - Social Security


Social Security Administration

A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3. ... About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of …

So, more people are living to greater ages than ever before.  The above link says that 10% of people reaching 65 will live to 95 and you can bet (betting is the only way to plan!) that a good portion of that group will live to be 100 years old.

Ok, the next question is What sort of life quality will I have in old age?  Vegetable or marathoner?  Will I do yoga or will I have a feeding tube?  The wiley planners had experience with people so they added another question: What portion of people will simply get tired of working and paying into the system?  They estimated 20% and you can bet they had to justify that guess based on data and experience.  

My finance friend said that the real portion turned out to be 4%, one fifth the estimate.  

So, this means that humans are living longer, living better and healthier and happier lives and continuing to pay their bills.  So, don't bet against them.  Go with the odds.  They are going to face big challenges but they are used to that.  They are going to be around, nevertheless.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Why I would appreciate it if you didn't read this

It would be easier on me if you don't read this.  And if you do read it, don't tell anybody, ok?  You see, just as a speaker can burden many listeners, a writer can write once and be read by many people.  Each of them can feel that they did the writer a favor by spending a little of their life time decoding and digesting his assembly of marks and that therefore he owes them a return favor.  One of these days, all the readers are going to write, too, and I will have a mountain of reading I am obliged to consume.  I am getting older and I may not have the time or energy to read through all those posts and emails and letters and web pages and texts.  

It gets even worse with modern equipment.  These days, any iPad can very quickly create a video that takes more time to watch than a few pages take to be read.  So if people create sound files or video files, it may take more of my days to listen or watch them all.  

If you are a sensitive person, you may run into the Emily Dickinson problem.  She created sensitive, insightful poems in a new form that influences poetry to this day but between shyness, modesty and lack of publishing success, she decided that the creation of purpose and the structure of a poem and the selection of the exact words she would use was helpful and satisfying enough that she didn't want the bother of publishing or reactions and criticism of others.  So, she created poem after poem to be put in a drawer, where her sister and later scholars found them.  

I take this blog first and foremost to be a place where I explain what has been happening in my mind and my life.  In that sense, the writing is for me.  Doing it enriches my life and decorates what happens.  Writing more or less rather changes a 2 dimensional picture into a 3 dimensional one, giving experiences in and out of me some depth, some perspective, some appreciation.  I thought at first I might like to take the Emily Dickinson approach but my ego wanted to show off a bit, my social self thought I would like comments once in a while and I really did want to spread the news that daily meditation is cheap, fast and very helpful.  Google Drive and Google Blogger are good places to store my writing and give me a chance to look at what I wrote a month or a year ago.

We all have thousands of choices each minute as to what to think about, what to look at and listen to.  So, despite the title of this post, it is fine with me if you read down to here but I am confident that you will enjoy it if you write your own posts.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Arranging your thinking the way you want it

Sometimes, you just get taken over by events.  A loved one is sick or worse, an unexpected bill looms up, a trusted machine or arrangement breaks down.  Of course at such times, you are going to be upset.  I have a theory that women are more likely, and maybe more able, to accept upset into themselves and be quite upset, for a while.  Maybe ten minutes, maybe three hours, three days or three years.  But, after that, they can often put the upset aside and decide if something should be done or rather, the issue be shelved, tossed or recycled somehow. Men often simply swallow any emotional reaction and immediately attack the problem.  Both methods have their advantages and costs.

But if things are going reasonably smoothly and no personal issue needs urgent attention, it may be a good time to arrange your thinking.  A good first step is conscious and attentive quiet.  This is the first step for many religious people and for those who simply attend to their minds, watching to see what comes up in maybe a five or ten minute period.  After a few minutes of open thinking, I like to go get a pencil and paper.  I often find a pencil is conducive to natural jotting down key words and phrases.  I have enough experience eliciting and nourishing ideas to know that it is disgustingly easy to get a good idea and forget what it is in the next minute.  A few notes can really help. And don't tell me it happens because I am old.  I was just as quick at forgetting good ideas when I was 15.  

A piano keyboard offers a wide range of possible notes.  In the same way, you can arrange a thinking background with any emotional tone you want.  Having some music of the right tone can help.  Making the right stretches for a few minutes helps very much.  Some people do a few dance steps to a good beat.  You can select the atmosphere and perspective you want.  You don't have to be pointed in the direction that the major news organizations set.  

It is not wise to stick with a steady diet of smiley faces and puppy videos, just as it is unhealthy to limit yourself to a diet of codfish oil and cow's liver.  Thus, many of world's wisdom and mind experts advocate facing what you have.  Not just in your mind but all around you, behind you, above you.  What's up with your part of world?  If it looks like nothing much, try to look deeper since there is always a lot happening that the CBS and Fox News reporters and editors have passed over or not heard about or simply didn't have space for.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A good group

In about a week, we will resume activities with our local "learning in retirement" group.  It uses the name L.I.F.E. from the phrase "Learning Is ForEver".  Personally, I prefer using some other word than "learning" to convey the nature of the activity.  There are three types of activities actually.  We have social and organizational meetings where we just get to know each other and business meetings and curriculum meetings, which are the organizational heart of LIFE.  The most frequent and fundamental activity is a presentation by someone, commonly a local expert, professor or official on a subject of interest.  

These presentations or lectures are arranged by members of the curriculum committee during the university semester prior to the actual dates of presentation.  We usually arrange about 80 of them for various days between late August and mid-December or mid-January to early June.  Given a period of about 120 days, that means we usually have a presentation of some sort two days out of three.

We don't pay the presenters but we often find that people enjoyed giving a talk to our group.  Attendance is scheduled before the series of classes begins in a kind of college registration online or thru the mail.  We have about 25 of 400 members at most presentations.  The audience knows the topic and has read 1 or 2 sentences describing the intent of the talk before registering for it.  Many of the attendees are retired faculty or college administrators but we have many other backgrounds represented, too.

Those attending are a good group and experienced thinkers and questioners.  Most presenters are comfortable taking questions at any time during the talk and this group uses the option.  Although a young person might look at the gray and white heads and assume a somewhat inert selection of minds, it only takes a few minutes before the room is humming with questions.  We have had presenters explain that they are not used to lively and attentive questioning.  When they teach college students, a much younger group, they are not facing an audience with the background and genuine interest and experience of life that our group provides.  

There are groups like L.I.F.E. associated with many colleges and universities throughout the US, Canada and Europe.  They are often referred to as "learning in retirement" or Third Age groups.  No matter what you have studied or how you have spent your life, there are dozens of other paths you might have taken.  It can be fun to see what other jobs and pathways are like.

Friday, August 19, 2016

We are way more than that

It seems as though many voices are asserting that this is a time of crisis.  Depending on what is meant, there do seem to be several serious dangers and negatives around.   Take your pick: climate, politics, economic inequality, social inequality, personal shame, personal guilt, fear, infirmity.  But I am confident that living in a crisis mode, being on the alert, is only possible for a limited time.  You remember the boy who called "Wolf!" too many times.  Eventually, people are going to ignore the warning.  

You can try harder to rouse the group, scream louder and at a higher pitch, but there is only so much alarm in us.  It is not easy these days since everybody has something they are alarmed about, something they feel I should be alarmed about.  The larger issues, like the money supply or dependence on fossil fuels, no matter how frightening, are matters that I really can't do much about.  I have written to my congressman and I am biking to my job but these efforts are limited and have not had a noticeable effect.  I am told that if the Chinese, the citizens of India would join the Europeans and charge higher prices for fuels and stop trying to have a motorized life, it would help, except for those in the world who depend on fuel sales for a living.  

You may benefit from realizing that in today's world, voices and font size and color and a captivating blast of a strong beat are completing for human attention.  Others want to get their petitions signed too and still others are trying to get people to worry about their cause.

But we are way more than that.  We have been creating a life for ourselves for millennia and we have faced very big dangers and very deep ignorance.  We have all sorts of patience and forbearance and fortitude.  We have intuitions and allies and inventiveness.  We have the best tools our kind has ever had so try not to worry too much.  You have heard of YOLO or Y.O.L.O. = you only live once.  It is true that over time part of you may emerge as some other animal or plant but for this lifetime, don't spend all of it gnawing your fingernails and trembling.  Take some time each day to kiss those you love, to taste something good, to feel gratitude for all you have.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Refreshing my life

When browsing the web, I get a file of code which the browser translates into the web page.  If I do a little calculation or make other changes, I may have to refresh the page.  In Gmail, if new messages come in while I am on the page, I can get them a little faster if I refresh the page.  Many browsers use a symbol like this for refreshing:

It can be quite small and in both Firefox and Chrome, it is black, not red.  Clicking on the refresh button tells the software to retrieve a more recent file from the same source and replace the older one with that newer, updated one.  Changes since the last version will then be evident.

Between Sinclair Lewis's "Main Street" and listening to Jack Kornfield's "The Inner Art of Meditation", I am prompted to refresh my brain, my idea, my life.  Kornfield is one of the most famous teachers and authors in America on the subject of improving life with better use of our attention.  Another very famous teacher is Jon Kabat-Zinn.  Both of them advocate raisins.

Not for the nutritional value but as a basis for deep attention to eating.  Take one raisin and look it over carefully.  Weird little thing!  They say it used to be a grape.  After getting to know its appearance, take a tiny bite.  Bite slowly, deliberately, carefully, consciously.  Pay attention to the action and to the taste.  Hold the bit in the mouth a while.  Swallow slowly using full awareness of what is happening and what you are feeling.

Whether it is brushing my hair or washing my face or choosing a shirt, tying my shoe or pouring a drink, I can immediately find anything renewed and refreshed by paying careful, deep, slowed attention.  Standing up, sitting down, using tableware - everything can be renewed whenever I am tricked by repetition into assuming I really know what I am doing, where I am living, what is happening.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Two rules for improving conversation

I am promoting two rules.  The first is "No more discussion, writing, talk, videos, movies, plays - nothing any further about World War II. " I realize it was a big deal in many parts of the world, that it was a heck of a challenge to the US and even more so to Russia.  I know that many lost their lives, there was pain, and loss and fear.  But enough!

The second is no discussion of nor reference to the coming presidential election.  Yes, elections matter and yes, even for people not in or near the United States, the election has importance and affects things.  But the long, grueling months of palaver, conferences, debates, challenges, explanations, cover-ups, uncoverings, rebuttals, defences, comparisons and whatever I have skipped over out of fatigue and grumpiness have taken their toll.  Most of us know who and what we are voting for and what and whom we are not voting for.

So, enough about WW II and enough about the coming election.  The guys at lunch informed me that these two rules, taken together, eliminate conversation.  I disagree.  We have our brains and we have our senses.  The brains will deliver ideas and enquiries and the senses will show us information and sensations from the world.  Between our minds and our perceptions, we will discover that a great many fascinating things are happening above, beyond, over, behind, through and below anything to do with WWII or the coming election.  People still fall in love without reference to either of these way-overdone topics.  They can see and appreciate and learn and discover, they can invest, spend, save, accumulate and sell without either topic.

I am confident there will be challenges but, Folks, it will be worth overcoming them.  We will be all the richer, all the happier with a little discipline, a little concentration and some effort.  Go!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Somewhere better

The basic story of a young man is a quest.  He grows big enough, strong enough and hungry enough for adventure so he leaves home and goes off toward some promising place.  It may be the kingdom next door, it may be across the sea, it may be to the capital, some big city where things happen, things that are important and exciting.  Typically, as we follow this story, we begin to like the young man and hope he succeeds.  If he does succeed, we cheer and consider him a 'hero'.  You can look up Joseph Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces" to see a scholar look over the whole tradition in many different places, sources and forms.

You can sympathize with someone born with a bee under their shirt that gives them the heebie-jeebies, the itch, the certainty that they need and merit better and more exciting surroundings than they have, whatever they are.  Lynn and I both finished "Main Street", the story of a Minnesota town much like the town and the locale in which the author, Sinclair Lewis, was born. Lewis was the first of 13 Americans to be awarded the Nobel prize for literature.  The man was a writer and could make a reader feel that he was in the presence of someone he knew using just a few words.

Lewis' hero is a woman.  Lynn used to say that "lioness" was the sort of gender-laded term that we could do without.  If you want, you can call Lewis' main character a heroine.  We both concluded that the heroine definitely had adventures and had matured over the years to the extent that she could see both Gopher Prairie and the US capital city had advantages and disadvantages, that life can be joyous and tragic and wonderful and terrible in both places and anywhere else.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Getting to know some Americans

Lynn suggested "Main Street" by Sinclair Lewis to her book club for this month.  The book was published in 1920, nearly 100 years ago.  It is a famous book by the first American Nobel laureate in literature.  We began with my reading the book aloud and it was fun but we ran out of time.  So, we are finishing the book individually with silent reading.

It is available in Kindle form from Amazon for free.  It is a marvelous read and worth careful and concentrated reading.  Lewis slips in barbs subtly and with no warning and I think it would be easy to miss them.  His depiction of the way people are, their wiles, honestly, dishonesty, search for significance and status is gripping.  I am reading along and suddenly he ups and socks me across the face with a wet fish!

I have made several Tweets from the book, an easy thing to do with a Kindle reader.  The first one was:

Main Street is the climax of civilization. That this Ford car might stand in front of the Bon Ton Store, Hannibal invaded Rome and Erasmus wrote in Oxford cloisters. What Ole Jenson the grocer says to Ezra Stowbody the banker is the new law for London, Prague, and the unprofitable isles of the sea; whatsoever Ezra does not know and sanction, that thing is heresy, worthless for knowing and wicked to consider.

If you are not in the mood for more Olympics or more politics, you may enjoy getting to know some of the residents of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota.  I am confident that living in an apartment in Edinburgh at 44 Scotland Street or in Hong Kong or Geneva or Vancouver would be to be among similar personalities and comments and outlooks.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Fwd: What does a planet need to sustain life?

Several items might be of interest.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: This week on TED.com <no_reply@ted.com>
Date: Sat, Aug 13, 2016 at 10:42 AM
Subject: What does a planet need to sustain life?
To: olderkirby@gmail.com

Define "habitable," please. Open this email in your browser
This week on TED.com
August 13, 2016

Dave Brain: What a planet needs to sustain life

13:42 minutes · Filmed Sep 2015 · Posted Aug 2016 · TEDxBoulder

"Venus is too hot, Mars is too cold, and Earth is just right," says planetary scientist Dave Brain. But why? In this pleasantly humorous talk, Brain explores the fascinating science behind what it takes for a planet to host life -- and why humanity may just be in the right place at the right time when it comes to the timeline of life-sustaining planets.

Playlist of the week

Reconnect with nature

Get inspired to go out and rediscover the wonders of the natural world with these talks that will give you a new lens on wild things. Watch »

10 TED Talks • Total run time 2:21:04

More TED Talks

If you want to build a business that lasts, there may be no better place to look for inspiration than your own immune system. Join strategist Martin Reeves as he shares startling statistics about shrinking corporate life spans -- and shows how to apply six principles from living organisms to build resilient businesses that flourish in the face of change. Watch »

Our poop and pee have superpowers, but for the most part we don't harness them. Molly Winter faces down our squeamishness and asks us to see what goes down the toilet as a resource, one that can help fight climate change, spur innovation and even save us money. Watch »

African growth is a trend, not a fluke, says economist (and former Finance Minister of Nigeria) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. In this refreshingly candid and straightforward talk, Okonjo-Iweala describes the positive progress across the continent, and outlines eight challenges African nations still need to address in order to create a better future. Watch »

Machine learning isn't just for simple tasks like assessing credit risk and sorting mail anymore -- today, it's capable of far more complex applications, like grading essays and diagnosing diseases. With these advances comes an uneasy question: Will a robot do your job in the future? Watch »

Read more on ideas.ted.com

Essay: I'm an Iranian-American Muslim. Here's how that works
Hilarious notes from comedian Negin Farsad

Online: The one thing you should do right now to protect your privacy
And why teenagers might be smarter about online privacy than you think

Science: How your microbes influence your love life
Why it's not entirely your fault you're attracted to that terrible person

Quote of the Week


A lot of times, whole categories of innovation -- ones that can help us live more beautifully -- turn out to be illegal. Today's regulations and codes were written under the assumption that best practices would remain best practices, with incremental updates forever and ever. But innovation isn't always incremental."

Molly Winter
The taboo secret to healthier plants and people

more news from TED speakers

Catching up: A visit to big-cat filmmakers Beverly & Dereck Joubert
Watch their 2010 TEDWomen talk about saving lions

Making-of: How we filmed a TED Talk from a war zone
Watch Marwa Al-Sabouni's powerful talk filmed in Homs, Syria

New projects: What's JR doing down in Rio? Making giant athletes
Watch JR's talk as he accepts the 2011 TED Prize

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