Sunday, March 24, 2019

Webpage manners

We are still in the beginning of the web.  Yes, DARPA and communicating scientists were using computers to communicate and cooperate quite a while back.  Lynn and I used the worldwide web in 1990's but it was still just beginning, at least in my world. These days, I use two indicators, websites that businesses depend on that are hosted by Facebook and the existence of personal websites.  If a writer or professor or teacher has a website that is under their control and they have published information on it, that person seems well situated for modern communications to me.

But in this country and some others, enough people are browsing the web and shopping from the web and using it for their personal business that many groups are getting interested in selling their products and promoting their ideas with it.  So, we have the current experiences of doing a search for, say, the boyhood conditions of Christopher Columbus. We can find a website or document with interesting information on what we want. We can start reading the document but we get interrupted.  

Imagine someone sitting on the bus or train with you.  That person is reading a magazine or newspaper but you want to sell him a nice knit hat that you made.  You pull the hat from your bag and slide it across the magazine he is looking at. Beside the audio experience of hearing him utter some ugly words, what else is a likely reaction?  What are the odds that he will say,"What a nice hat! How much to buy it?" I advise you to find a different approach.

The problem of getting your knitting bought ("marketing") by a web browsing person is similar the problem of robocalling.  I am not an experienced caller but I have experience as the callee. Most calls to my phone disconnect when they or their equipment can detect the call has gone to voicemail.  On the web, there doesn't seem to an effective mechanism to stop pushing their ad across my reading.

I get the feeling that more and more sellers and promoters try to have their webpages coded aggressively.  If you suddenly insert an ad across the page, and if you lock up the machine so I can't easily get around your insert, do you figure I am going to like your product, your company and your manners?  In many cases, the reader view in Firefox with strip off distractions and show me the main page I want to read. When I am using a different browser or otherwise don't have reader view to work with, I will say goodbye to you and your stuff.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

One word or another

I wanted something different to listen to. I just reached into the shelf and pulled out a CD.  It was Verdi's choruses. I have head several of them multiple times and I thought it might be good to listen to this version one I rarely play.  Some of his strike me as my experience with Wagner has: loud, booming and incoherent. But what is sometimes called the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" is lovely.  It is sometimes referred to as "Va, Pensiero".

Long ago, I thought I might try someday to master Italian, Finnish and Japanese since the spotty knowledge I have of those countries, those people and their history intrigues me.  I did study Latin for two years in high school. I thought "Va, Pensiero" might mean "Go, Thinker" but Google Translate said it means "go, thought". That didn't tell me much so I searched for a translation of the piece.  The first translation said the words are part of a phrase that means "Fly, thoughts on golden wings". While searching, I found this page at the New York Metropolitan Opera

The video shows an impressive set on the Met stage.  Hebrew slaves, held captive in Babylon, sing their longing for their homeland, in the Verdi opera "Nabucco", whom we sometimes call Nebuchadnezzar, (605 BC to 562 BC).  

I was struck by the emotional difference between "go, thoughts" and "fly, thoughts, on golden wings".  Sometimes, it is not the thought that counts but the words chosen.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Same old thing

Let's start with a math-ish fact.  It is the same one that Heraclitus referred

to when he made his famous remark that "You can't step into the same river twice."  You know what he meant: the river now is not the river then. The waters are different waters.  I bet you wish you had said that.

Ok, in a way, he wasn't alone.  He said that around 500 BC but the Buddha was onto the same thing.  We sometimes hear that the Buddha said, "Everything changes." Or, we hear "Nothing lasts" or we hear "This, too, shall pass."  But this means what you always thought: Each morning is a brand new day. You may seem the same as you were yesterday but you are a little different.

We can actually go beyond mornings: each moment is a new one.  You are a bit different that when you began reading this post. Now, we start getting into judgments.  You and the river and the morning are a little different, ok, BUT there are only little differences and they aren't important.  Well, maybe. Maybe this is the morning you agreed to meet for breakfast. Maybe the river is a little cleaner or maybe a little higher, what with spring melt and all.  What is important, like everything else, can change. The day doesn't seem important but then, later, you realize this was the first day you tried out that new app, the one that led to your new friendship.

You may feel that this day, your stuff, your life is the same old thing.  Feel again. Think again. Look again. There are things happening that are exciting, fun, scary, one of a kind.  Aren't those books due? Is today payday? Does the car need an oil change?

As I wrote back in 2016,

Our friends have a plaque on their door that says on this spot in 1864, nothing happened.  Today might be the anniversary of nothing happening. Can you remember that day when nothing happened?  No, of course not. Something happened every day, every morning, every evening, every night.

Whew! Just thinking about all that can be tiring.  Maybe you need to sit down. Just sit and savor this special moment: it's new, it's unique and it isn't going to last.  Grab it now and taste it.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Others among us

I was driving along a pond this morning when I had the impression something was quite near beside me.  I turned my head and there was a full-sized heron just taking off.

When you are so close to that bird in the midst of its takeoff, the sensation is like being near an airplane that is just getting airborne.  So big, so complex, so quiet, so confident.

There is a museum in Alabama that shows a heron and a dolphin side by side.  Both animals are six feet tall but the bird weighs 6 lbs. while the dolphin weighs 600 lbs.  Google says that the heron usually lives about 5 years while some dolphins live 55 years.

Something that big and that impressive gets me thinking about the wildlife around us.  We sometimes have deer in our yard. Around us, there have been bears but not in our neighborhood.  We get all sorts of small birds and sometimes, an eagle. It is not all big animals, either. As the snow melts, impressive tunnels are revealed, made by voles. Their tunnels are deep impressions in the grass bed but are open on the top.  They run around under the snow cover. The voles are quite secretive and rarely seen but their nibbles of our squash or tomatoes are easy to see and irritating.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019


We took our first walk outside in a long time today.  Of course, as it gets warmer, doing that will be less of a novelty, but today's walk was the first in a month or more.  We walked about a mile and a half. The temperature is in the low 40's but there is a bright blue sky and nice sunshine.  The snow is quite bright in the sun but has melted in large spaces. The landscape is dotted like a Holstein cow.

There were some places where snow melt covers the roadbed with water but it is quite shallow.  We walked right through it.

The neighborhood is notably spotted with downed pine tree branches.  Strong winds, heavy wet snow and low temperatures combined to put big weight on branches and keep it there.  Many branches gave way under the strain. The branches lie on the ground around the trunks and look like the result of tree trimmers but it is just Nature at work.

Walking, good air, sunshine combine to put a smile on Lynn's face.  You can see her getting energy and spiritual lift from being outside and in motion.  Good for her husband, too.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Can you tell one from the other?

About ten years ago, I wrote about the Lady Tasting Tea test

It is a detection test. Can the customer tell if he is tasting trout or tilapia? If not, maybe we can substitute one for the other.  It is similar to the Turing test, named after the British mathematician who said if humans can't distinguish the output of a computer from the output of a human, the machine is as good as the human.  The Loebner Prize is a contest to see if various computer programs can be judged to be humans by human judges. (I guess there has been at least one instance where a human was judged to be a computer, because the judges thought no human could know that much.)

I think the subject of what can be distinguished from what matters in many areas.  A basic subject these days is human consciousness. What human consciousness is and what it isn't is itself a difficult and debated question.  It is roughly the human ability to imagine and to be aware that what is in the mind is an imagination. Susanne Langer said decades ago the mentioning a man's name to a dog causes the dog to become alert and wag its tail while mentioning it to a person causes the person to ask "What about him?"

We say a person is unconscious if he seems "unresponsive", if he seems inert, doesn't speak. We ourselves can imagine, remember, describe in spoken or written words thoughts, formulate questions, show a personality, that is, a perceived continuity of tastes, emotion, quirks.  Some people are worried that we will find at the innermost point of human brains, nothing but chemicals. We can be afraid that we will lose our "soul", our humanness, our essence. The book "Incognito" by Eagleman impressed me with how much of our body and our life is not accessible to our mind.  Our brain, yes, but not the "conscious" mind.

Deepak Chopra went out of his way to explain that the heart is not a pump because it responds to emotion.  Great fear, beat faster. But I suspect that at some level at some time, we are going to find that we are very, very, very advanced automatons.

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