Thursday, April 30, 2009

New month and invitation to Ning coming

O.K, a new month.  In the blog I have been using as a repository for these daily comments, there are 33 posts for April 2009.  I tried to post once a day but a couple of times, I did more or got mixed up.  Lynn feared that I had written about the same thing twice but I guess I didn’t do that, yet.
During April I heard from some of you I have rarely gotten emails from.  I like hearing from you whether you merely encourage me to keep writing or you have a comment, question or criticism.  I would appreciate your replying about any comment, book, practice or link from my posts you used during the past month, especially if you do it from memory instead of looking at the list.
The posts are more interesting if people throw in comments, reactions, criticisms or whatever once in a while instead of it being only me.  Up to now, you could only reply to me alone or post on the blog.  If you posted on the blog, your comments were there but a bit hidden, which is not the best format.  My friend, Prof. Slick, told me about Ning which might allow a blog sort of post with comments to be right where they can be easily read.  So, I am starting a “ning” called “Mellows”, which you are invited to join.  I haven’t actually used it from this end before so I am not sure how it will work out.  I have seen a ning used by a large group of English teachers and it seemed pretty good.  We’ll see.
In a few minutes, I will complete the web forms and send you an email through this Ning deal inviting you to join my little network called Mellows.  If you are up to an experiment, give it a shot.  If not, let me know you opt out so I can continue to send posts by regular email.  I am just doing this for the fun of it and the writing, which I like.  It has been fun and quite energizing to write daily.  I plan to keep on.


I used to see young women college students say once in a while that they were quite “hurt” by something but the energy and bared, gritted teeth they showed looked like anger to me.  I worked with young women trying to learn to teach and found they hoped the pupils liked them. I was surprised at how far they would go to avoid showing anger or saying they were angry.  I had never even thought of having children like me as a teacher.  I aimed at being successful at getting the students to know and to be able to perform.  I thought if one or two liked me, that would be nice, pleasant but not a major goal.  It seemed natural that a teacher who marks something incorrect is not always going to be loved.
I began to feel that males are taught that anger and ferocity is ok but that females are taught to be liked.  Then, I suspected that it was not just teaching that created the difference but that basic wiring or chemistry might be involved. 
Over the years, my wife found that I got too angry too often.  For about 40 years, I poo-poohed that opinion.  This past February, we got into an argument in a supermarket and I behaved rather poorly.  Since I have been more seriously meditating lately, I had to ask myself how come I let myself misbehave?  How come I didn’t look at my feelings and state them instead of acting like a jerk?  I kindled some books on anger management and looked at 6 web sites on the subject.
Over the years, Lynn and I have read most of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books but when we started “Anger: Wisdom to Cool the Flames”, I didn’t get very far into the book.  It may be clear to some that eating meat makes for anger but it isn’t clear to me.  But these new books, especially “Anger Management for Dummies” by Doyle Gentry did me a favor right at the start by stating that anger is natural and ok.  It is not a sickness nor a shameful feeling.  However, it does matter how it is expressed and how one responds to it.  As a guy, anger seems to come naturally.  But I can see that what I do with it can help me and others, or land me divorced in jail.
As a college freshman, I read “Love or Perish” by Smiley Blanton, a psychiatrist.  Blanton ended his book with three strong rules for a good life: forgive your parents for anything they did wrong or might have done, believe in something greater than yourself and accept anger and aggression as natural but in need of direction.  The weird but very honest and readable little book, "The Tapping Solution", by Roberta Temes, PhD, has helped me get a tool to keep my attention on my feelings, their level and expression instead of the content, the story line, that I am sure at the time is a terrible injustice and needs to be dealt with vigorously.  I was convinced by Gentry that I will be happier if I get angry less often and less deeply.  In talking this over with Lynn, I was struck by how deeply she hoped I would be able to get less angry.  Also, she felt that my anger soured her life and made the world seem gloomy.  Not so hot a gift for one I love.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Words aren't enough

If you try to establish a name for your web site ( or for your logon name, it turns out that all the words are taken. Jacques Barzun mentioned this problem of not enough language long ago. In “Science: The Glorious Entertainment”, he noted by in 1964 that so much progress and invention and change was happening in the world that there were too few words for describing all the new things. Thus, he said, we have the word “plastic” which is often used to mean “flexible”, “changeable”, also being used to mean “hard, inflexible”, as in a plastic water pistol. So, the word means “flexible” and “not flexible” !!!???!!
Use “website name availability” in Google to find testers for various names you might think of.
Words in English, the language of the internet, are often used already, even though English is said to have a very large vocabulary, maybe the largest. That may be partly to its history and habit of adopting words from many other languages. [Recently, I saw the statement that China has the most speakers of English of any country in the world.]
The advice for a harder-to-guess password has been to make a sentence of interest such as “My business needs a new name” and then use the initial letters of the words [MBNANN] as the name you are creating. However, in “Positioning” by Reis and Trout, the admen stated that the name used is the most important aspect of a new business so that might not work either. Combining bits of words from the sentence [Bisnan] might.

Oversupply of things to read

Every time, I look at Google Books, I get to see little or none of the book.  I do get a link to but I can get that for myself.  The first link below discusses the Google Book project and explains "orphans" or "dead souls", books out of print but still in copyright.   The 2nd two lead to the same writing by E.B. White, often considered one of the finest writers in the last century.  It was written in 1938, the year before I was born.  Wonder what he would think now?
Google book search project comment by guest blogger
IRTNOG, by E.B. White (1938)
Along about 1920 it became apparent that more things were being written than people had time to read.  That is to say, even if a man spent his entire time reading stories, articles, and news, as they appeared in books, magazines, and pamphlets, he fell behind.  This was no fault of the reading public; on the contrary, readers made a real effort to keep pace with writers, and utilized every spare moment during their walking hours.  They read while shaving in the morning and while waiting for trains and while riding on trains.  They came to be a kind of tacit agreement among numbers of the reading public that when one person laid down the baton, someone else must pick it up; and so when a customer entered a barbershop, the barber would lay aside the Boston Evening Globe and the customer would pick up Judge; or when a customer appeared in a shoe-shining parlor, the bootblack would put away the racing form and the customer would open his briefcase and pull out The Sheik.  So there was always somebody reading something.  Motormen of trolley cars read while they waited on the switch.  Errand boys read while walking from the corner of Thirty-ninth and Madison to the corner of Twenty-fifth and Broadway.  Subway riders read constantly, even when they were in a crushed, upright position in which nobody could read his own paper but everyone could look over the next man s shoulder.  People passing newsstands would pause for a second to read headlines.  Men in the back seats of limousines, northbound on Lafayette Street in the evening, switched on tiny dome lights and read the Wall Street Journal.  Women in semi-detached houses joined circulating libraries and read Vachel Lindsay while the baby was taking his nap.
There was a tremendous volume of staff that had to be read.  Writing began to give off all sorts of by-products.  Readers not only had to read the original works of a writer, but they also had to scan what the critics said, and they had to read the advertisements reprinting the favorable criticisms, and they had to read the book chat giving some rather odd piece of information about the writer  such as that he could write only when he had a gingersnap in his mouth.  It all took time.  Writers gained steadily, and readers lost.
Then along came the Reader's Digest.  That was a wonderful idea.  It digested everything that was being written in leading magazine, and put new hope in the hearts of readers.  Here, everybody thought, was the answer to the problem.  Readers, badly discouraged by the rate they had been losing ground, took courage and set out once more to keep abreast of everything that was being written in the world.  For a while they seemed to hold their own. But soon other digests and short cuts appeared, like Time, and The Best Short Stories of 1927, and the new Five-Foot Shelf, and Well's Outline of History, and Newsweek, and Fiction Parade.  By 1939 there were one hundred and seventy-three digests, or short cuts, in America, and even if a man read nothing but digests of selected material, and read continuously, he couldn't keep up.  It was obvious that something more concentrated than digests would have to come along to take up the slack.
It did.  Someone conceived the idea of digesting the digests.  He brought out a little publication called Pith, no bigger than your thumb.  It was a digest of Reader's Digest, Time, Concise Spicy Tales, and the daily news summary of the New York Herald Tribune.  Everything was so extremely condensed that a reader could absorb everything that was being published in the world in about forty-five minutes.   It was a tremendous financial success, and of course other publications sprang up, aping it: one called Core, another called Nub, and a third called NutshellNutshell folded up, because, an expert said, the name was too long; but half a dozen others sprang up to take its place, and for another short period readers enjoyed a breathing spell and managed to stay abreast of writers.  In fact, at one juncture, soon after the appearance of Nub, some person of unsound business tendencies felt that the digest rage had been carried too far and that there would be room in the magazine field for a counterdigest, a publication devoted to restoring literary bulk.  He raised some money and issued a huge thing called Amplifo, undigesting the digests. In the second issue the name had been changed to Regurgitans.  The third issue never reached the stands.  Pith and Core continued to gain, and became so extraordinarily profitable that hundreds of other digests of digests came into being.  Again readers felt themselves slipping.  Distillate came along, a superdigest which condensed a Hemingway novel to the single word "Bang!" and reduced a long article about the problem of the unruly child to the words  "Hit him."
You would think that with such drastic condensation going on, the situation would have resolved itself and that an adjustment would have been set up between writer and reader.  Unfortunately, writers still forged ahead.  Digests and superdigests, because of their rich returns, became as numerous as the things digested.  It was not until 1960, when a Stevens Tech graduate named Abe Shapiro stepped in with and immense ingenious formula, that a permanent balance was established between writers and readers.  Shapiro was a sort of Einstein.  He had read prodigiously; and as he thought back over all the things that he had ever read, he became convinced that it would be possible to express them in mathematical quintessence.  He was positive that he could take everything that was written and published each day, and reduce it to a six-letter word.  He worked out a secret formula and began posting daily bulletins, telling his result.  Everything that had been written during the first day of his formula came down to the word IRTNOG.  The second day, everything reduced to EFSITZ.  People accepted these mathematical distillations; and strangely enough, or perhaps not strangely at all, people were thoroughly satisfied, which would lead one to believe that what readers really craved was not so much the contents of books, magazines, and papers as the assurance that they were not missing anything.  Shapiro found that his bulletin board was inadequate, so he made a deal with a printer and issued a handbill at five o clock every afternoon, giving the Word of the Day.  It caught hold instantly.
The effect on the populace was salutary.  Readers, once they felt confident that they had one-hundred-per-cent coverage, were able to discard the unnatural habit of focusing their eyes on words every instant.  Freed of the exhausting consequences of their hopeless race against writers, they found their health returning, along with a certain tranquility and a more poised way of living.  There was a marked decrease in stomach ulcers, which, doctors said, had been the result of allowing the eye to jump nervously from one newspaper headline to another after a heavy meal.  With the dwindling of reading, writing fell off.  Forests which had been plundered for newsprint, grew tall again; droughts were unheard of; and people dwelt in slow comfort, in a green world.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hope you don't get re-checked

The more years since your schooling, the less you remember what you studied. The book The Unschooled Mind by Gardner tells of studies where students in college were given the final they had aced just 30 days before. The students often were unable to even pass the exam that 2nd time. Many of us had units in 3rd and 4th grade on foreign nations or the nature of the US state we lived in. We may have done a report on the imports or exports or the state flower or bird. But now, we may not even recall if we did such studies, much less the material we knew then. This situation, where we have little or no recall of previous studies is usually excused and accepted as natural and normal.
But it does present a puzzle. If it is ok to forget the content of our courses and books, how long do we have to remember a passing percentage to be acceptable citizens. Of course, if it is not ok to forget the content, we are in trouble. What if the education police show up at your door to re-administer that 7th grade exam on how a bill becomes law? What if you don't know squat about the "correct" answers nowadays? Will you be sentenced to return to Mrs. Dooley's class to note what she is saying all over again? Don't thank your stars that the old lady is long deceased. A new incarnation is even now ready to administer an even more detailed test.
No, that is ridiculous, right? Tell that to your 7th grader, that it is ok not to know "in a while" but for test day, knowledge is required. The child or her friends will quickly ask how long they must know the content. And, if it is not needed later, in "real" life, why is it needed now? I think the police and some other occupations are re-examined for their marksmanship or something on a periodic basis. Some teachers and lawyers merely have to show they are study new material -- even though it too will soon be placed in the "can be looked up if needed" category.
It's a puzzle.
One reader wrote:
This fits with a conversation I had this weekend. I do alot of my presentations with a gal married to a Northwest pilot. We were together at a conference this weekend. She was telling me about the rigorous re-training the pilots MUST do every year to maintain their license. It is so stressful, that my friend's husband has nightmares during the weeks before the training and testing. for part of the testing, the pilots are placed in various disasters and must respond to them in a manner that will save the lives of their passengers. As my colleague said, it is a stressful time for her husband, but it is a good thing to know that our pilots are kept 'fresh'.

The sting of democracy

It is all very well to talk about the freedom to vote and participate in making the laws but the truth is that it is painful.  Unless you simply refrain from participating or accept everything that comes along, you are going to experience rejection.  I suspect it is actually less painful if there is a mechanism that lets you know you are totally alone and off base.  In a committee or department meeting that uses parliamentary procedure, you know what is up when you make a proposal and it dies for lack of a second.  No one at all will even move the proposal to the discussion stage.  OK, you are really out of it as far as those people are concerned.
But when you do get a second and when you can see from faces, body language and whatnot that there is support, it can be very hard if your idea goes down in defeat.  You explain your idea, you counter statements of objection and doubt, you make it clear that your idea is a very good one that will lead to progress and improve things.  Then, there is finally a vote and you lose 25% to 75% of the group.  What is the matter with those people?  You did your best.  Your supporters did their best.  The statements were brilliant and delivered clearly and in a stirring manner.  Yet, your beautiful idea is gone!  The pain!  The disbelief!
The wikipedia is famous for being open to edits, changes and additions from anyone at all.  You can go into it and create a new article or change an old one.  However, within 24 hours on the discussion page for your article, you may find that others are in strong disagreement with your actions and have undone the neat work you did.  You can change it back but they can, too.  Again, rejection by others, outnumbered and nulled.  Painful! 
As a longtime oddball, I am quite surprised when I find myself in harmony with a majority.  It feels good, even though it makes me suspicious.  Have I made a mistake somewhere in my thinking?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Free computing

We have found in our little city of 25,000 perched in the colder north of the country, that we lose good people and good business to moving away or aging and retirement.  I wonder what is happening in computing to some of the old standbys.  Cheaper computers ($390 for a good little netbook from Amazon), free and good software such as Firefox browser and Open Office word-processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation (slides, like Powerpoint) and drawing, Thunderbird email.  Google documents are free and storable on the web and Google web sites and email are, also.  So are Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. 
To work when you want, you need access to a computer and it needs to be connected to the internet.  But advanced cellphones can do that and even my limited Alltel flip phone from Samsung can search using Google and has unlimited access to the internet for an additional $10 a month.
So, it is great to be able to access documents and add to my site from any computer hooked to the net but if everything is free, how will the smarties who build, maintain and defend all these wonders make a living?  I hope they find a successful and popular way so I don’t lose them to moving away to something else or retirement.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Books, representations, maps and music

Yesterday, I gave a presentation on the Amazon Kindle to a small group.  One of the things that delights with the device is the fun of moving from wanting a book to having it in about 2 minutes, without the use of a computer, wires, cellphone or other equipment.  The Kindle is a kind of cellphone itself and uses a system ("Whispernet") to deliver books quickly to the Kindle.  It is such a phenomenon to make this book delivery happen that it is very tempting to buy a book just to experience its almost immediate arrival. 
Yesterday after Lynn's piano lesson, we listened to Bach's "Musette" played by her and by Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma on the album "Hush".  The tune was been going through our heads ever since.  At my Kindle presentation, I succumbed to the download impulse and downloaded "This is Your Brain on Music" by the musician/scientist Daniel Levitin. You can hear it too, here,  The power of music is being explored by the Dept. of Homeland Security
Friends told me about the article on Monday in the Wall Street Journal by the very readable science writer Steven Johnson.  Johnson postulates the "infosphere" of information there is in the world, from videos to books.  He equates books on paper to the black energy of the universe, existing but not connected.
I was struck by the analogy.  This morning, I see attempts to create maps or displays that show more details of a conversation amongst many contributors.  This maps use the same analogy of the look of the heavens to depict a complex universe in the conversation.  Work on visual displays has been proceeding vigorously for decades.  See for instance, "Display of Quantitative Information" by Edward Tufte, which includes the most impressive map every drawn (in his opinion), showing the effect of the Russian army and Russian winter on the march and retreat of Napoleon's army.
Any scheme of display that would show more details of a spirited conversation, not just who is in favor and who against, but more subtle information on position and tone might help democracy, teachers, organizational officers, etc.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Using a heart rate monitor

Supposedly, a good figure for a person’s maximum heart rate equals 220 – the person’s age. 
age Max rate
30 190
40 180
50 170
60 160
70 150
It is often stated that a good training effort is between 75% and 85% of the max rate. 
I didn’t care much about these figures and still don’t.  I just try to run or jog comfortably but with effort for three miles three days a week and walk the same distance at a fairly good pace on the other days.
My doctor knows I do this and says it is good for me.  About a year ago, he said he wondered what heart rate I was achieving with my exercise.  He is a runner and so is his wife.  They run marathons and half-marathons.  I have no interest in such runs.  I am confident I would develop some difficulty or injury and I am too lazy and impatient to commit to the program or the time.  
I like the man and he did get me wondering.  I wore it a couple of times, trying not to be influenced by it.  About the same time, I read “Spark” by John Ratey, MD.  The book emphasized the value of good levels of exercise to lessen emotional difficulties in adults and children.  In “Spark”, Ratey writes of the Naperville, IL schools exercise program.  He reports the gym teacher found that the two girls that looked sluggish were actually getting high rates of effort measured by the heart rate monitors. 
Quite a few years ago when I was younger and more rigorous, a friend said he didn’t see how anyone could tell I was running since I was so slow.  Six months ago, I ran in a 5K or 3 mile run.  I was one of the very last people to finish, even behind young mothers pushing their children in carts!  Still, thanks to the monitor from for $65, I know I am working quite hard, even if I look like a turtle.  I bought one for Lynn, too.  She has been working out in an aerobics class at the Y.  She too knows she is getting a good workout regardless of the comparison with others.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

History is different for older people

I really disliked history in school and college.  As far as I could tell, it was a jumble of disorganized facts.  I did get a bit excited by my college freshman history prof who put us in the driver's seat of the emerging French nation.  He made us feel as though the trials of the king were our problem.  But, in most courses, I was lost or bored or both.
Now, things are different.  I think the first change was when it began to dawn on me that Jack Kennedy was real and part of my life while many high school and college students automatically placed him in the same shadowy background as Woodrow Wilson or Abe Lincoln.  I realized I had done the same thing with people who lived before me.  I began to think about the fact that people who lived 100 or 1000 years ago were alive like me, had hopes and fears like me, triumphed and failed like me.
Then, the story of the Japanese film Rashomon and that of the four Gospels made me start to think about the reports of history.  As a student of research methods, I saw that different analysts sliced the same data in different way and came to different conclusions.  The witnesses to the Japanese crime don't give the same story and neither do the four Gospels.  So, history must be much more questionable than my student days led me to notice.
I read "I, Claudius" and liked it very much.  A puny relative in the Roman royalty but a man with great intelligence showed how it might be possible to observe and reflect and conclude while being overlooked and scorned. 
I loved the books of Jacques Barzun, who was actually a historian and was fully aware of the multiple views that have been taken about history, particular people and the meaning, if any, of it all.  His "House of Intellect" showed me the meaning of continuous intellectual society and thought that often operates somewhat independently of money, fame and popular developments.  Barzun was born in 1907 into a wealthy French family and had a boyhood with leading people of his country in and out of his home on a regular basis.  He seemed the opposite of the other writer I loved, C.S. Lewis.  Lewis was British and lively in a British scholarly way.  Barzun seemed much fuller of pepper and humor.  We have 31 books by him in our local university library.  31!  Later, I ran into his “Teacher in America” and “Clio & the Doctors: Psycho-history, Quanto-history and History”. 
A couple of years ago, Lynn and I listened to Philip Dialeader discuss the early middle ages in his Teaching Company course . It was easy and fun to picture all the difficulties of life in those very different times.  Who knew that the great King Charlemagne wanted very much to learn to read and kept a book under his pillow but never was able to learn the tricky art?
I read Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth” and “World without End”, set in 1100 and 1300 England.  Reading them had me giving thanks for central heating, police, law, electricity and the many other features of life that make it comparatively pleasant and easy.
It seems odd that older people who already know that life is a continuous guessing game and memory is sketchy and selective can come to like history while youngsters can dismiss it as irrelevant.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ideas from impatient chef

Over the years, I have slowly gotten more interested in being a better cook.  Often, I want to have something good to eat without much effort or time spent.  Here are some ways we have been doing that.
Bill’s eggs
Lynn doesn’t do this but I love it.  So does my great grandson, who can make a breakfast for himself by himself that he likes. 
Take two eggs and crack them into a ceramic microwaveable bowl that has been sprayed with Pam.  Scramble them well with a fork.  Set the uncovered bowl in a powerful microwave and run it for 85 seconds.  Watch the soufflé effect as the eggs stand up and up but don’t run over the edge of the bowl.  Dump the result on a dinner plate and add two tablespoons of medium Pace salsa.  Enjoy, I say.
Our fast no-cook breakfast
In motels and such, we want to have a good breakfast without mess.  We learned this from a physician who likes the dish.
Mix 1/2 cup of raw old-fashioned oatmeal in a cereal bowl.  Add in ½ cup of nonfat natural plain yogurt.  Add chopped walnuts.  Add a single serving of natural applesauce.  Mix together well and eat. 
Quick lunch or dinner – ham or turkey
Remove frozen pieces of ham you sliced from your last real ham from the freezer.  Place in a microwavable bowl and thaw.  Place on a plate with toast, crackers or Triscuits for a carb addition to the meal.  Add fresh spinach leaves or broccoli flowerets for a green.
Alternative starch – brown rice cooked and frozen thaws quickly in a microwavable bowl.
Alternative protein – canned sardines or kippered herring.  Also, a nice piece of thawed whole salmon microwaves to perfection in 4 minutes.

Four types of people

In about 1980, my friend Larry told me that he had been attending some presentations that he thought I too would like.  That was the beginning of my familiarity with and use of what came to be called "True Colors"  The label can stand for several things but the link goes to one of some competing organizations that are attempting to use, spread, and train people in a simple notion of what sort of people there are.
The idea is similar to the ancient idea of the four "humors": black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood.  A person's basic personality was a result of the proportions of these four elements in that person's body.
As a result of the training and thinking we did in 1980 and on, we used in our teaching at UW-SP, a scheme that assumed four basic human personalities.  They are based on a fundamental, first look that a person uses in living life.  Basically, the scheme says we all tend to start from one of four bases: duty and obligation (Gold), feelings/emotions (Blue), action/movement (Orange) and thinking/questioning (Green).  In my reading and teaching, I came to use a rough estimate of % of the American population that tends to start each day with each of the four lenses:
Gold 50%
Blue 25%
Orange 15%
Green 10%
Golds tend to be very conscious of their obligations and whatever rules and laws apply to their lives.  Further, they tend to have a certain pride in how closely they obey the rules and a certain disdain for the many who don't reach their level of adherence.
Blues tend to be very conscious of their feelings and those of others.  Further, they tend to have a certain animosity toward the many who seem to be unconscious of the feelings of others or to ride roughshod over others' emotions.
Oranges tend to be very conscious of obstacles in their path toward fun, games including physical games and physical action.  They tend to be impatient with calls for self-revelation through speaking or writing.
Greens tend to be nerdy, to ponder everything and its brother to an extent way beyond the general norm.  They tend to be somewhat oblivious to the opinions and fashions of others.
Over the last few years, Lynn and I have not referred to these ideas as much as we used to.  We both realize that every individual is unique and displays somewhat different tendencies depending on surroundings, settings, moods, situation, etc.  Still, our lives have been strongly affected by these ideas.
These ideas stem from work by Carl Jung, the mother/daughter team of Myers and Briggs and David Keirsey.  More information is available on this web page:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Too sore

Every once in a while, I have trouble with my back.  It's not the small of my back but above my waist, near the kidneys.  I am sore and tight there now, probably from sitting at the computer too long yesterday.  It wasn't just the writing but reading blogs.  Each interesting connection leads to another and pretty soon, I have spent 5 hours doing repetitious stuff.  Lynn has her computer set to interrupt her every few minutes so she looks elsewhere and gets a little break.  I need to do the same.  We have had good experience with Break Reminder.  It can be a bother if you forget to turn it off when starting a long download but having a sore back is a worse pain.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What is the point of games?

I have never been much of a gamer.  I haven't done puzzles much and rarely played cards.   What is the point?  I'd rather read Simon Winchester's The Map That Changed the World and be there as a British railway engineer and planner begins to understand the layers of the earth.  When a 500 piece puzzle is finished, what do I actually have?
Well, I am learning.  It actually started on a cruise to the southern bits of Alaska.  Each day, the ship would publish a Sudoku puzzle.  I had learned accidentally that those puzzles depended on the placement of symbols only and that other markers than numerals could be used.  We even found a children's version that used little pictures of animals instead of the numerical characters.  We would sit together about 4 PM each day and there on the table was the day's Sudoku.  Lynn does all sorts of puzzles and she began to show me how to do them.  It became a ritual with us, do one together at drink time.  Lynn would coach me and look for errors and oversights.
Before long, I wondered about known strategies and even methods for producing the puzzles by computer.  I bought some books.  That's a natural step for me: buy some books about whatever.  They rarely hurt and usually help understand what is going on.  
Years before the cruise, I had read the latest Herbert Benson book, "The Breakout Principle".  He is the main author of The Relaxation Response, the book that helped me understand basic practices of meditation. I was surprised to read his statement that reading or knitting put the mind in a state similar to that achieved by meditation or use of biofeedback. 
I was quite aware that starting to do Sudoku was a new thing for me.  I tried to watch my feelings and attitudes as I got into doing the puzzles.  Rick Mitchell, PhD, helped me watch my attitude toward getting to a solution with a puzzle or a problem.  Keep the failure feeling low and stay with it.  Don't expect perfection and apply effort repeatedly. 
Now, a year and a half later, I love sailing through a Sudoku.  I am a wimp and only do easy ones.  I tried that business of little notes in the corners of each cell, using pencil and lots of erasing.  No thanks, too much like work.  Even with a Kappa Sudoku book of all easy ones, I get careless.  All done, I check the answers.  Errors!  Oversights!  Luckily, I know there are over 2 billion possible Sudoku arrangements, not even counting the newer, more complex forms.  I cheerfully proceed to another.  I would have to live another 5.5 million years to do work through them all.  It is a comfort when I do slide through an easy one and find it all right.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rise of cooperative technologies

I guess it more or less started with those bonfires on hilltops. Later, the telegraph ("The Victorian Internet" by Standage) and the telephone began the rapid exchange of information. Today's Facebook, Twitter and Google Latitude make possible more information transmitted faster to more people and modified or commented on or augmented by still others more and more completely and rapidly.
Government is trying to improve its websites so that help more people more quickly. "Information architecture" that considers all forms of an idea or message or campaign and its best layout on websites and paper and video and podcasts is a current hot topic. The subject produces 40 million hits in Google.
The book "Geography of Bliss" by Weiner takes Moldova to be one of the reportedly least happy places in the world. Recently, there were riots there and those riots were organized and assisted by users of Twitter and cell phones. Protesters at the G7 and G20 national summits are notorious for using all the technology they can to assist their efforts.
I recently installed the Linux operating system by Ubuntu for free. Download it and install it on a computer. It includes Open Office programs that are very similar to Microsoft Office but are free. How did these come into existence? Volunteers who know and contribute time. How did Wikipedia get more than 2 million articles while Encyclopedia Britannica has less that 200,000? Volunteers who know, argue, correct and contribute time and effort.
It is a little scary that large groups can organize very quickly but it is clearly a new sort of phenomenon and worth knowing about.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Happy Birthday

Today is the 48th anniversary of the birth of our oldest child. The little girl born that day has now been married for more than a quarter century herself. She is the mother of two and the grandmother of three. Time keeps rolling along. I am getting near the Biblical three score and ten. But these days, five score is getting to be rather ordinary. They say the universe is about 13 billion years old and that humans are something like 200,000 years old. But it is all relative, isn't it?

Last night we heard of a college student who complained that an "old guy" wouldn't pay for the painting job. How old was he? 27.

Much advice today points at enjoying the present moment for all it is worth. Still, looking back and looking ahead is part of being human. It is fun to consider the markers as we pass them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Where can we put all this shit?

There is an interesting book worth knowing about. It is called "The Big Necessity:The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters". It is written by the British writer Rose George. It seems odd at first. The whole thing is about one subject: human defecation!
Here is what one reviewer had to say about the book: “In Rose George’s hometown in England, impoverished immigrants took up residence in the new public latrines. (‘Fighting over the more spacious disabled cubicle was fierce.’) Which is worse? Living in a toilet or living without one? George bravely—and sometimes literally—submerges herself in the tragedy and occasional comedy of global sanitation. Sludge, biogas, New York City sewage: I ate it up and wanted more! The most unforgettable book to pass through the publishing pipeline in years.”—Mary Roach, author of Stiff .
See the page about the book for more 'pungent' reviews. This one by Mary Roach stood out for me since she is herself the author of "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Cadavers", which is also an odd and memorable book. "Stiff" is about the many adventures and contributions to humanity made by cadavers.
The Big Necessity has lots of shocking facts. The author relates visiting a restaurant in an African country. She asked where the bathroom was and was led by the waiter outside to a small separate building. Upon entering, she found only a white tiled room with totally nothing in it. She was confused and went back and found her waiter. He half-smiled and half-smirked and said impatiently," You just go on the floor. What did you expect? This isn't America."
George says that 2.6 billion people, more than a third of all of humans alive now, have no toilet facilities whatsoever. The book is copyright 2008. She makes herself clear:"I don't mean they have no toilet and must use a public one with queues and fees. Or that they have a outhouse or a rickety shack that empties into a filthy drain or pigsty. All that counts as sanitation, though not a safe variety. 4 of 10 people have no access to any latrine, toilet, bucket or box. Instead, they defecate by train tracks or in the forest." Milwaukee and Galway, Ireland had had pollution problems from organisms from feces getting into the water supply. Ennis, Ireland has not drinkable water from the same problem. Milan, Italy started using a water treatment plant in 2005 and Brussels, Belgium in 2003. These are advanced countries. You can imagine the situation in poor ones.
Since 1993, 935 million gallons of "pure, raw, untreated sewage" has been poured into Lake Michigan from the Milwaukee sewer system, which, she says, is designed to do exactly that dumping to avoid flooding when the sewer system gets too full of rainwater.
The book is available now and may be in your local library. Seems like a good one to request your library purchase if it hasn't. A paperback of it will be out available from Amazon on July 7.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thoughts keep coming

I will soon meet with about 60 people to discuss meditation practice with them. My idea will be to try to motivate them to meditate and do so on their own for a while. Of course, a good sized group will include people with many different motives and goals, some of which they may not even recognize themselves.
A friend told me yesterday that he looked forward to attending the session. He had gotten some information from his pastor but found that when he tried, he “couldn’t concentrate.” Other friends have said similar things.
The subject is an odd one. Sitting still, concentrating on your breathing or a spot on the wall isn’t complicated and doesn’t require much in the way of equipment. The subject of what to do and how to do it is often presented in two major forms, one in which the meditator simply puts aside thoughts of content when they occur, returning over and over to a watchful but blank state. The other way practices noting what thoughts arise, observing them for what they are and then letting them pass away.
Just about everyone I read on the subject agrees that the second approach, observing one’s passing thoughts and feelings, is more valuable for the practitioner than the first of gently shelving thoughts. However, the observation of thoughts is more difficult since it leaves the door open wider to getting hooked. The practice of mediation can do many things but in general, Americans tend to want the benefit of becoming more aware of what they are allowing to occupy their attention. Being more welcoming to thoughts, more interested in noting them for what they are about, offers more of a chance to get into allowing a given thought, feeling or image to take the mind off on an everyday and seductive trail of further thinking, analysis, entertaining and developing particular content. Such getting hooked unconsciously and unawares is what mediation practice aims to lessen.
No matter which way one starts, everyone agrees on the “magic moment” when the meditator realizes s/he has slipped into typical thinking and puts that line of thinking off and returns to bare awareness. It is that magic moment which trains the mind in self-awareness.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, MD is often credited with breaking through the resistance in Western medicine to recognizing meditation for the powerful and valuable tool that it is. In one of his most recent books, “Coming to Our Senses”, he likens the mind to the eye. We can agree that the eye sees and the ear hears. In like manner, the mind/brain thinks. The healthy ear will not stop hearing and the mind will not stop thinking. But practicing awareness of the mind’s tendencies and directions helps us live better.
I suspect some people feel they “aren’t doing it right” when thoughts continue to arise. The mind is arranged to keep producing thoughts, regardless. It is deciding whether to harbor and entertain them that is the valuable practice.
I plan to introduce the group to focusing on a visual target and returning to it when they notice they have allowed other things to occupy their vision and returning to a state of openness when they realize they have engaged in continuous thinking. I hope to persuade them that finding the need to return is not at all a sign of failure but is actually the valuable essence of the practice. Doing so for 10 minutes a day is a very valuable addition to one’s routine.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Anything exciting going on?

Anything exciting going on?
Artists and writers are often asked where they get their ideas.  Ideas, like change, come from within (mostly).  The Zen monk asked the hot dog vendor to “make me one with everything”.  Normally, this is a request for a hot dog with all the trimmings.  But Zen monks know they and all of us are already joined to everything in the universe.  Our atoms come from our food, drink and growth and they, in turn, come from all over: farms, water supplies, etc.  Their atoms come from even further all over so we are already joined to, one with, everything. 
The Zen monk paid for his hot dog with a $20 bill.  The vendor put the bill in his cash drawer and closed it.  The monk said, “What about my change?” and that is when the vendor said, “Change comes from within.”  The bills and coins won’t come from within but ideas, whims, insights and observations do.
I used to have a fun little routine with my niece, back when she was about ten years old.  I’d say, “What’s happenin’?” and she’d answer emphatically, “Nothin’s happenin’.”  “Oh, c’mon, something’s happenin.”  “Nothin’s happenin.”
Many people think that excitement comes from explosions or new cars or trips abroad but that ordinary old minutes at home or on the job are nothing special.  But swallowing or taking a few steps or seeing a bird land are all miracles.  Every minute, wonders abound on every side, above and below.  True, it takes some mental energy to spot them and appreciate them but we are swimming in a sea of marvels and we always will be.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Moving a few minutes each day

I attended a talk by a physical therapist and she explained the importance of working on the core muscles of the body, those of the trunk below the arms and down to and including the hips. I looked at books on exercise for the muscles involved and the one that seemed best was Peggy Brill and Gerald S. Couzens, "Fifteen Minutes that Change Your Life". It is clear and quick and seems useful for keeping the body in good pliable shape. Later, I was introduced to "3 Minutes a Day to a Pain-Free Life" by Weisberg and Shink. They advocate moving the spine in six ways each day. There is plenty of similarity between the two sources but naturally, you can do more in 15 minutes than you can in three. The links below show the recommended moves. You may want to modify or omit what seems inappropriate for your body or what your doctor does not recommend.

Wide-legged stance and wide-legged touch to floor

Pure fear

This blog holds all the messages I have been sending to family and friends lately.  It is named "fear" first because I think that fears arise fundamentally from our wiring.  My friend Larry said long ago that fear is faster than thought.  He cited walking along a leaf-strewn path, stepping on a branch without realizing it.  The other end of the branch jiggles a few feet away and our nervous system responds with instant fear and bodily alert faster than we realize that we ourselves are the cause of the sound and that there is no danger.
It sometimes happens that lying still in a quiet bedroom, I hear an ominous sound.  What was that?  My stomach and intestines gurgle and make a growling sound but it takes a second for me to realize "C'est moi!"
A toddler walks along a pier and can see the waves well below through a crack between the planks.  He is reluctant to put his foot on the crack, even his foot is way too big to fit into the tiny space.
In The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, a Russian patrol sub edges too close to the shore of a New England island, on the captain's orders.  He personally wants to see America because he has never seen it.  The crew tries to dissuade him but obeys, even as the sonar is warning of rocks and reefs.  Too late, the sub catches on a submerged reef and cannot be freed.  A crew is dispatched into the dangerous land of the US (at a time when the US and the USSR were indeed dangerous enemies) to find a strong enough motor launch to pull the sub free.  Rumors of odd things happening fly around the island as incidents and sightings occur.  It is Sunday morning and the men of the island are easily alerted and asked to gather for defense.  So far, nobody has actually seen anything but one man is overtaken by fright and moans, "We don't stand a chance.  We don't stand a chance."  We know that this man has no evidence but is merely in the grip of pure fear.  We also know that there is very little danger to anyone except for the possible outbreak of fear and panic-driven action.
Happy Easter to all and to all the hope that we can accept that some fears emerge from inside and some from outside but that we can face them all.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Moby Dick or Locker Room Lust

Moby Dick vs. Locker Room Lust
Many people don’t read, period.  I mean books, as opposed to the crawl strip across the bottom of the tv news.  They can read and they read signs and recipes and emails.  There is nothing wrong with that, especially in these days of alternative media such as audible podcasts and YouTube videos.  Twice in the last month, I have heard about people using YouTube to learn specific skills such as playing a given position on a soccer team and playing the guitar. 
But books, at least so far, are the most organized form of print, the longest lasting, the most widely accessible.  The actual language may be the most carefully constructed, as opposed to the language, for instance, in these posts of mine, which nearly always contain bothersome little errors that I can only spot after sending them out. The wealth and possibility of a good public library or bookstore mostly resides in the books.
Yet people who do read books are often apologetic about their reading choices.  Many students expressed chagrin when admitting they don’t read great literature such as Moby Dick but do read “Locker Room Lust”.  That was a title suggested by a student and I always assumed it wasn’t real.  (However, I just put it in Google and found 90,000 hits.)  Analysis and discussion of books is a civilized pastime and can lead to more ideas and understanding than reading alone.  But I guess schools, parents, and librarians have pushed great literature so hard that it is difficult for many to recognize and develop their own choices.
Just a few weeks ago, a mature woman said to me, “Oh, ordinarily I never read a book with an embossed cover” as she covered her book with her hand and explained that her current book was way below her usual reading standard.  I was an elementary education major in college, not an English major.  I wanted the range and freedom that comes with being open to all subjects and not a steady diet of “deeper” reading.  I find that academically admired writing really is rich in ideas and language but in general, I get more of a lift from lower-level fiction and from a variety of non-fiction.  The only required classic I ever got a charge from was “Silas Marner” in the 10th grade.  Yet, “Out Stealing Horses” by Per Petterson and “I Shall Not Want” by Julia Spencer-Fleming were genuine fun and compelling.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Movement and mood

I wanted to write about movement and mood.  Lynn urged me to give yoga a try for 5 or more years but it seemed a little hokey to me.  Then, a doctor told me that everybody tends to have trouble with the Achilles tendon as they age, except for dancers, wrestlers and yoga practitioners.  About the same time, a friend mentioned how much she was getting out of taking a yoga class.  That did it.  There were enough indications and references piling up that I thought I better look into it.  I took yoga classes for four or five years, one class a week for 90 minutes.  After a while, I knew the routines well enough that I stopped taking formal classes.
I had a great teacher, one who knew her stuff, who had practiced yoga herself and taught it for more than 13 years.  She was gentle and continuously advised us all to try each position that she recommended but only to the extent that felt right for our body, our strength and our condition.  I think most people think of yoga as a tool for increasing flexibility.  I certainly did.  Flexibility is one of the major sections of fitness and may well be the one of most importance as we age. 
I am short and have tight hamstrings, so I can't fold in half sitting on the floor or standing up.  There are lots of moves I can't do and lots of stretches that most young women can rather fully and easily while I can't do hardly at all.  I was not surprised by that but I was a little embarrassed by my continuing inability.  The teacher probably said every ten minutes in every single lesson not to worry about not bending as far as others or stretching the way others could but I still felt a little ashamed.  Then, one day, the teacher couldn't make the class and we had a substitute teacher from another town.  Right at the start, she announced that she couldn't do some of the poses very far.  I thought that was great!  Here was a teacher that had some of the same limitations I did. 
What I didn't expect from yoga was mood elevation.  We didn't do much in the class but the postures but I found that I came out of the class in a good mood.  Even when I went there a little sore or with a cold and not in much of a good mood, I would return feeling happy. 
I write this because it is just about impossible to find pictures of older people or physically limited people or stiff people doing yoga.  And yet, most anyone who can move at all, can do at least a  little bit of a stretch.  In our town and other places, there are classes of "chair yoga" and "yoga for seniors" and "chair yoga for seniors".  In the chair classes, most everything is done seated in a chair or holding on to one.  In such a class or any class, the student needs to try things slowly and stop or omit what hurts or seems inappropriate for them.
Local classes, books, videos, YouTube online videos such as this one: can lead to a practice that you can do in a few minutes every day and that will give you a lift mentally, emotionally and physically.  The point is that it is not a matter of being 24 years old and beautiful or having a stunning body.  It is a matter of feeling good.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Three free computer programs and Linux

Some computer programs worth looking at
The primary one is Firefox by the Mozilla Foundation.  Firefox is a browser, the same sort of program that Internet Explorer (the blue e) is.  It is the program that enable you to browse the internet.  It is free and quick and easy to configure so that cookies are deleted upon closing the program.  Fewer cookies means fewer databases with your name to use to email or mail you stuff.
I don't know enough about computers to know why some cookies are not deleted but cookies, especially "tracking cookies", are the "spyware" that can be used to record where you browse and send the information to companies that sell it to those who hope to sell you things.  Both of the other programs I am mentioning can detect tracking cookies.  The one that specializes in doing so is "Ad-Aware".  It, like Firefox, is free, although the maker has more complete versions that can be purchased.  My favorite computer guru recommended Ad-Aware a couple of years ago and we have been running in on our computers ever since.
Viruses, trojans and worms are all forms of "mal-ware", are actually are built to try and harm your computer or its files.  The same advisor who recommended Ad-Aware told us about AVG.  It too comes in a free form and has been used on our machines for a couple of years.  With the anti-virus AVG (which also finds tracking cookies) and Ad-Aware and Firefox, we have had pretty good run of our computers with minimal trouble.
On two of our machines (right now, we two have 5), I have used "Speed Up My PC" and I guess it has helped find and delete extra stuff I don't need.  However, I have been reluctant to buy it for Lynn since they have been so pesky about emails on their other products.  I am trying to avoid having her be bothered.  But I have also started using Outlook rules more.  They help to delete some pesky stuff upon arrival.
All of this is about Windows machines.  I have heard Macs have less security and spam problems.  I used to use Apple products exclusively but our campus used Windows much more and there is a large user base of Windows.  I think Windows products are a little less expensive, too.  We have three laptops and the oldest weighs the most and is the slowest at loading and working.  Three laptops for two people is a bit much and I started thinking about giving the oldest away.  But I have heard about Linux operating systems, an open source and free alternative to both Microsoft and Apple.  Last Saturday afternoon, I found, downloaded and installed a Linux operating system from Ubuntu .  There may be better sources but I don't know about them.  So far, my "old" laptop seems rejuvenated and faster but it might be wishful thinking on my part.

What have you read?

The most popular course I had was "Personal Reading for Professional Development".  I just wanted to talk about books but some school systems wouldn't reimburse their teachers for the tuition without some twist that implied the course would directly improve their teaching.  The notes and much of the material of the course are here
It says in Ecclesiastes that all the rivers run into the sea and yet the sea is not full.  I looked at the endless admonitions to read and assignments to be read and thought, "What about all the reading that has already been done?"  So, I asked the students not to read for the duration of the course.  For many, this was impossible but the idea at least gave them pause.  The only assignment was to make a list of what they had read, from "The Pokey Little Puppy" Golden Book to the latest thriller.  Again, for a person of 40 or more, that is an impossible request.  They knew it was as soon as they heard it.  But making a start helped.  Comparing lists being made helped very much.  It was surprising how often seeing someone else's citation of a particular book sparked an addition to one's own list.  Visiting a childhood bedroom, if it still existed, parents' attics and basements, and libraries used as a child also reminded the students of books they had read.
I asked the students to make the list in the order of the books remembered and to simply note the title and author.  In the 80's, we didn't have instant access to the Library of Congress  and  and many, many other tools that would have helped remember the author and get the title straight.  Often, thinking of a book that mattered, a student would find it and look it over or read it again.  It seemed about half the time, the original thrill repeated itself.  Half the time, the older, more mature reader felt differently.  Sometimes, the book seemed much deeper, much richer in meaning.  Sometimes, it now seemed silly or spotty and discontinuous.  The second look often brought sympathy for one's younger self.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Vitamin D

As usual, I was innocently minding my own business one day when I got a message from a man I have long respected. His name is Paul Stitt and he founded Natural Ovens in Manitowoc. Ever since the day when I read my first book attacking white flour, sugar and white rice, I had been aware of the value of watching what I eat. I had stumbled across Stitt's book "Beating the Food Giants" about trying to make a bread that was as wholesome as possible and still survive economically.

That day, Stitt's message was about vitamin D. His 37 year old son had broken his thigh bone in a biking accident. That's a strong bone and yet the doc said his son was suffering from osteoporosis. Stitt was amazed. The son drank milk, ate cheese and seemed to have a diet with enough calcium. Stitt is a biochemist and he started reading the literature. His master's is from U. of Wis. - Madison, where vitamin D was first isolated. His reading took Paul to research and publications showing that the vitamin D situation was a poor one.

People at latitudes out of the tropics don't have much sunshine, which the body uses to make vitamin D. No matter where they are, people are afraid of skin cancer and use sun lotion to block the sun from their skin. At many latitudes, including most of the US, there are months when it is too cold to leave the skin bare. Modern life is mostly situated inside, in the kitchen, at a desk, in front of the tv or game console. Besides, all that, as people age, they lose some of the ability to make vitamin D.

Research is uncovering and re-discovering connection between vitamin D and many sort of health and un-health. This page from the University of Oregon seems to be a good one at summarizing the many important relations between D and the rest of the body and its functions.

After reading Stitt's message, I asked my doctor for a test of my level of the vitamin. The analytic test ("25-hydroxy") is not a common one and it takes a little while to get results on it. When I conferred with my doctor about the test, he told me something that really grabbed my attention. He said that he had just returned from a medical conference. He admitted that, given my results, he would have informed me that I had too much D in my blood, HAD WE CONFERRED BEFORE HIS RECENT CONFERENCE. However, at the conference, he had learned more about the vitamin and our need for it. With what he learned at the conference, he needed to tell me that my D level was too low!! Same result, too high and then too low??!! You don't have to be a statistician to realize such non-overlapping, such instability of opinion, of standards is a red flag.

Over the next few years, I read everything I could about vitamin D. My doctor has become known in this area for his advocacy of getting one's 25-hydroxy result into the 50's or higher. He has sent me to tanning booths and overseen my taking 6000 units a day for a couple of years. Meanwhile, our local pharmacy has begun selling 1000 unit vitamin D pills right along side the 400 unit pills, which has been the standard for decades.

I love taking 1000 units pills daily and taking one chocolate of 2000 units from Debbie's D-Rich Foods, which was started by Stitt but has since been sold.

Lynn only takes the pills, since her level is high enough with just them and the chocolates, while tasty, provide 70 calories she doesn't want.

Some people say that the old 400 unit standard was in place because it was an amount that prevented rickets in children but that getting rickets is on the very low level of vitamin D. Much current research implies have enough in one's body does way more than merely prevent rickets. Look into the problem, get enough D, which usually means supplements since foods can't do and see what you think.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Long drives shortened

The Teaching Company has been the main source of audio books I listen to while driving around town.  The range of things I get to hear about is impressive.  No ads (nearly none, a few on buying more courses) and I get to pick the topics. 
I say, "Phooey on life-long learning."  The phrase, like many on the value of books and reading, seems over-used and unattractive.  Like happiness, my learning is often best left more or less to itself.  What I am conscious of and care about is hearing about facts and ideas that are interesting from people who know and care about what they are saying.  Not everything good in audio comes from the Teaching Company.  Garrison Keillor's monologues and recent "English Majors" and the single disc "Confessions of a Serial Novelist" by Alexander McCall Smith are good recent examples of good listening for me.  So are "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert and "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson.
But over the past few years, I have heard enlightening, comforting, stimulating talks on
        Economics of the world
        History - medieval, Chinese, Russian, American, Africa
        Literature - imaginative and science fiction, masterpieces of early 20th century (just before I was born), great books of the West
        Religion - Jesus's life, Buddhism, C.S. Lewis
        Science - general overview of all the sciences today, effect of aging on our senses
The courses usually cost about $70 each.  That is pretty expensive.  But you might ask the local library to buy some or borrow some from other libraries.
It is all listening while driving.  But doing that is not for everyone.  A friend recently started listening on longer drives.  When she finally saw the red and blue flashing lights in her rearview mirror, she found she had been concentrating on the story so deeply, she had failed to slow down for a town speed zone and failed to realize she was being pulled over.  The cop was not happy and now she won't listen.
I hope that is not the case for you.  You know you have found something good when you look for short trips you could take just to hear a little more.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Keep or toss

What to keep and what to toss?
This topic has many names:
                De-gunk or degunk
                De-junk or dejunk
                Throw away, throw out
Some names:
        Don Aslett
        Harriet Schechter
        Alan Lakein
        Jeff Lippincott
        Harold Taylor (ok, you never heard of him but his remark in one of his time management books that the only way to get your desk straight is to do it quickly without judging the value and future of each paper on it really helped me)
You can get a bigger house, file cabinet, trunk, attic, rented self storage, garage, etc. or you can trim the collection.  True of clothes, photos, computer files, stamp collection, books, letters, receipts, etc., etc.
In an age of successful weight gain and material acquisition for many, this topic of how and when to get rid of things gets to be important.  Normally, each item kept was kept for a reason, a hunch, a feeling.  Normally, over time, that justification loses some, most or all of its value.
For each item, toss or keep? Don Aslett convinced me that if I throw out the lovely purple scarf my grandma made me, it doesn’t mean I didn’t love my grandma or that I don’t treasure and honor her memory.  If you are over 50, the totally irrational thrill that comes from saving your garage from overwhelmingdom is better than sex.  Ok, nearly, but longer lasting.
But what if you throw out that paper weight and then you miss it or need it?  Believe me, you will find a way to deal with the situation.  If you are really worried, make an inventory of what you are tossing and keep track of the number of miseries you get from not having.  You will wind up tossing the list, too.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

African woman detective and other good fiction

I am a big fan of Alexander McCall Smith's series, soon to be 10 volumes, usually referred to as the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Lynn and I have listened to all 9 volumes on audio CD and have become big fans of the narrator, Lisette Lecat. The series has become an HBO program. The pilot was broadcast last Sunday and today at 7 central time, the first post-pilot episode will be broadcast.
One summer as we were about to go on a vacation to Door County, the peninsula that divides Green Bay from Lake Michigan, I bought The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency audio book. The idea of starting a detective agency on the edge of the Kalahari desert in Botswana seemed novel and possibly interesting. The illustration made me wonder what sort of detective cases would be available to Mma Ramotswe.
The language turned out to be excellent. The plotting a modern rarity, gentle but still spirited, with no gunfire, explosions, or sweaty bed scenes. Good gunfire and that has its place, I think, but who wants a steady diet of that sort of thing?
After quite a bit of this series, I read three volumes of McCall Smith's Prof. Von Ingelfeld series, which are funny and quite unusual. McCall Smith is, or was, a professor of medical ethics at Edinburgh University. He seems to like to pick on German academics but in my experience, there is plenty to pick on with academics everywhere.
I have listened to a couple of the Isabelle Dalhousie series. Being set in Scotland, they are not narrated by the wonderful South African Lisette Lecat. Of what I have read, they are the least appealing of any of his fiction.
We have listened to all four volumes of the 44 Scotland Street series. At one point, McCall Smith was having lunch with an editor of The Scotsman and made a remark that novels are not serialized in newspapers anymore, as they were in Dickens' time. The editor immediately offered to publish a novel in daily bits if Smith would write it. He undertook the task and found the daily deadline and the lack of possibility of revising what was already published more difficult than he had imagined. I think that in the best parts of the 44 Scotland Street series, his writing achieves its highest level.
Last week on Sunday, HBO broadcast the pilot for the movie series of the No. Ladies Detective Agency. The pilot ran for about 1.75 hours. Tonight, the first episode airs at 7 PM central time.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Ads and computers these days

If your computer uses Windows XP or Vista, you need Internet Explorer to get important system updates. It is possible to not use Windows for an operating system and use Linux or something else instead. Maybe you know that Linux was originally written "for fun" by a Finnish software engineer and it has blossomed into a much respected and increasingly used operating system. It is an open system that can be used and modified by all who are interested. I have considered trying to install Linux (probably available in multiple places, including "Red Hat" that took on the business of selling the system). I recently bought a very good little "netbook" computer from It is an ASUS 1000, an excellent little machine for the very good price of $375. It was mentioned in some posts as being a Linux machine

I just downloaded Internet Explorer 8. It seems to be creeping a little closer to letting people set the program as they want it.

One general problem with spam is that every once in a while, a surprise ad does indeed tell you something you are happy to learn about. And, the current media-saturated world is partly build on the assumption that people will be happy to learn of a better mouse trap. So, it has been difficult, I guess, to get people to agree on what is unwanted junk mail in your physical mailbox or the inbox of your email.
Grouchy, short-sighted, limited, in-a-rut or not, I seem to moving steadily toward stopping all contacts I don't think I want. I do look at Google news, two state newspapers, four blogs and a very active website about the modern communication/computing world. I am in contact with others face to face and by phone and email. All in all, it doesn't seem too likely that I am going to miss some wonderful development because of being isolated.

I did used to joke about the need for halting the teaching of teens about keeping up with the world and begin teaching about how to protect, defend and control who gets personal attention. Now, it is not a joke.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Older movies and younger kids

Older movies and younger kids
We recently took our lively great grandson on a trip to a dude ranch.  It was expensive but worthwhile.  The last night in an airport motel in San Antonio we watched The Return of the Pink Panther, which we had brought along in our luggage.  All three of us on one bed watched Peter Sellar's antics.  Noah thought it was pretty funny when Clouseau answered the doorbell to take a lit bomb from someone at the door.  But the scene that absolutely stopped his breathing was the quick one where the 2nd little van, disabled by bad guys, drove into a neighborhood swimming pool at the very moment a crane was removing the 1st little van from the same pool.  It is a scene that takes a split second to comprehend, to take in all the details and meanings. 
It was beautiful to observe Noah's face as he realized what had happened to the intrepid, idiotic policeman.  Noah simply laughed himself out for a moment.  He turned to look at me with a red face and tears streaming down his cheeks.  That moment was two weeks ago but it is still reverberating in my appreciation of him, humor and movies.
I often cite The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming and In the Spirit as two of my very favorite movies.  But I have Sellars's "A Shot in The Dark" and "The Pink Panther" at the ready for the first good opportunity to see strong reactions again.

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