Wednesday, March 31, 2010


We need 'em but they take maintenance.  Exercise in one form or another helps enormously.  So does stretching the muscle.  Many sources say it is best to stretch for 15 or more seconds but it may still help to stretch at all, for however long.

I get muscle cramps, often alleviated by stretching but magnesium helps too.  I have recurrent periods when my calves cramp but my feet, thighs and hand muscles also have their troubles.  My chiropractor said that most common reason he knows for cramping is dehydration.  I think overuse can also be related.  

Books by Peggy Brill and Heidi Shink have been helpful in suggesting exercises and stretches that help muscle strength and health.  Brill has a 15 minute or so routine and Shink has one for three minutes.  

Research holds that seriously tensing a muscle for 6 continuous seconds can build strength in that muscle.  Not all muscles can be used with weights but tensing and resistance bands are helpful, silent and inexpensive.  Progressive tensing and relaxing each set of muscles from the feet to the scalp can remind you of all the parts of your body and help you relax muscles that should not be tense.  "Storing" tension in your shoulders or brow or some place is very common and finding it and relaxing those muscles can lead to less pain.  I read about 30 years ago that inappropriate muscle tension is a major factor in hampering athletic or other physical performance.  Every muscle has an opposing muscle and if it is tense, the muscle has an extra load that interferes with performance.

I find the physical therapist Brill's "Instant Relief" especially helpful because she arranges the exercises in order of the most commonly needed stretches that answer the most common problems.  In this day of keyboarding and driving and television viewing, her clients show the types of problems that aging and sedentary bodies need help with.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Obedience vs. preparation

My mother often said that she wanted me to learn to take care of myself, to be able to function well without her.  

You can often spot low-level thinking about training by its emphasis on obedience.  The boss, the law, the rules usually have had careful thought behind them.  There is usually a good reason why they and other appropriate authorities should be obeyed.  But that is not enough.  If the parents or the boss are out of commission, can't be heard, are dead or absent, is the trainee ready to carry on?

In today's fast changing world, orders given previously may no longer apply.  Of course, there is the well-known problem that the boss or the rules are biased.  Maybe pressing the red button is not what will achieve the result every one wants.  Maybe the boss has a fascination with that button and likes to see it pressed when a little investigation will show the green button yields better results.

Humans have evolved in such a way that newborns are incapable of surviving alone and it actually takes 20 or even 30 years for a human to reach a good level of maturity.  Our founders recognized the importance of age by insisting the president had to be at least 35 years old.  However, the youngest (JFK) was nearly a decade older than that. At advanced levels of training, we often see appropriate doubt as an important part of the curriculum.  Can the trainees evaluate their instructions for appropriateness?  Do they have the right level of doubt to question directions that seem wrong?

At the university, I worked with people who had earned PhD degrees and master's degrees.  Generally, the master's takes about a year beyond the bachelor level and the doctorate three years.  Of course, in the extra time, the doctor reads more and learns more.  But my experience supported the notion that the PhD had learned a continuous background doubt, of sources, of assertions, of "facts", that could supply the right level of questioning and flexibility.  Too much doubt and there is nothing to believe in.  Too little and we have wasted thinking capacity and vulnerability to doctrine and robotization.

Monday, March 29, 2010

From a different vantage point in time

A lecturer on the history of Rome mentioned something about one era looking on a historical event with very different feelings from another era's opinion of the same event.  He used the phrase "from a different vantage point in time" and it struck a chord in me.  Reading "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett was a real experience for me and quite a bit of the impact was feelings events and their meanings from the point of view of some English of the year 1100 AD.  While I could see what life was like then, I could see at the same time, what I feel and think now.  Medicine, law enforcement, architecture, religion and many other aspects of life are really quite differently constructed 1000 years later.

Ornstein's hypothesis of our mental wiring says that we notice things that are recent, vivid, comparatively superlative and meaningful over things that aren't so much.  The first component, recency, is related to time.  We notice what happened yesterday but pay much less attention to the headlines from a week or a year ago, even if we never read them.  A big factor is our lives is habituation or conditioning.  Some people in our town were habituated to the train whistles and hardly heard them after getting used to them.  Some people were conditioned to think of trains or of the time of day when a whistle blew.  Now that the trains are silent, a new sort of adjustment is taking place.

From a different vantage point in time, the meaning and effect of a train whistle changes.  The meaning and feelings associated with the Norman invasion of England in 1066 or with the recent Haitian earthquake over time, even though the event more or less stands still in time.  It is only more or less since we may uncover tomorrow an effect or result of the quake that is new to us.  Just as it can be an eye-opening way to see changes in ourselves by re-reading a book we read 25 years ago,  we decide on the meaning of US slavery or prohibition or anything in big history or our own history against changing backgrounds and with different accompanying sound tracks.  Individually and collectively, we are different selves with different views of the past over time.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

death of a baby whale

We were in a restaurant where the large tv was playing some eye-catching scenes of undersea life.  Lynn asked what was playing the answer was "The Blue Planet", a series from BBC about the oceans and the life within.  There are five DVD's and we have probably not completed one.

The other day, we watched a mother whale and her calf on their migration from the birthing area to a richer food area.  The mother didn't eat during the birth time and had to wait to begin migrating until the baby was strong enough to make the trip.  She had carried the calf for 13 months before the birth.  When the calf was strong enough, they began.  On the trip, a pair of killer whales found them and went after the calf.  For 6 hours, the mother and calf swam with this deadly escort of predators.  According to the narration, the hunting strategy was to stay with the prey and steadily try to isolate the calf while avoiding strikes from the giant mother's tail.  

Much of the footage seemed like a ballet to me.  If I hadn't been told what was happening, I might have thought there was inter-species friendship or neighborliness going on.  The killers repeatedly tried to get between the mother and the calf and often succeeded, only to lose the chance to isolate and attack.  The mother gave the baby nudges trying to assist it but eventually, the predators succeeded.  Some bloody sea water and the baby was dead.  The killers only ate a small part of the body.  I think they said it was the lower jaw.  We saw the discarded carcass on the ocean floor, furnishing food for some worm-like creatures that live down there.

The facts that a mother whale puts that much time and effort into birth and parenting, that both whales and killer whales could spend six hours in a water-based showdown that seemed so leisurely and graceful and that so much of the carcass was not used by the predators has stuck with me.  Because the orcas were capable of hunting and the prey was a baby, it seems natural to sympathize with the baby and the mother.  But I suppose orcas and other predators have a right to life, too.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Madness and bubbles

There is a great of writing and talk about the current economic situation, which is related to a housing bubble.  "Bubble" sounds like fun and games but this sort of bubble is nasty, deadly, even.  The most famous bubble I ever heard about is the Dutch tulip mania.  There was a time in 1670 when the Dutch went bonkers over tulips.  Of course, they and lots of others are always impressed by a lovely field of gorgeous flowers announcing spring and beauty and liveliness.  But this time, interest got way out of hand.  The article linked above says that at the height of the situation, a single bulb sold for ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman!

No flower bulb is likely to be worth such a price.  But the difficulty with worth is that it depends on a market.  If someone is willing to pay $10,000 for an old note I wrote to my wife, then the note is worth $10,000.  That standard is dangerously unstable, though.  As the public television show, Road Show, shows, a person might be surprised to find a high value placed on some object in his possession when he didn't even know anyone would want it all all.  You have an old coin I hear is worth lots of money but you haven't heard that.  I buy it from you, expecting to re-sell at a fabulous price but then, the bottom falls out of my market and no one wants the coin at any price.  That is the dangerous instability.  Like the Ponzi scheme, where I send off money to someone but wait expectantly for many others to send money to me, I can spend a big amount and get nothing in return.  This last link notes pointedly that such schemes can also pay off if the government bales out some or all of the participants!

The Dutch tulip bubble is discussed by the 1847 author, Charles Mackay, in "Extradinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" and in other places, such as Michale Pollan's The Ominvore's Dilemma.  The Dutch tulip mania article linked above says that modern scholarship doubts the Mackay account.  Maybe he wrote a little more dramatically than the facts support.  The modern economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, also wrote about the Dutch tulip mania and other financial sinkholes.

Here is a fictional account of a bubble and its operation that struck me as fun to read and both memorable and instructive.  It is about losing sight of the actual worth of a goat and getting caught up in markets and speculation.

Friday, March 26, 2010

"New Year Baby"

We are overflowing with gifts and goods: food, books, magazines, movies, music, clothes, etc.  It is more than we can do to even note what we have, much less use it all.  One of the things we do to keep this flow of goods is subscribe to Netflix DVD's by mail.  We have done it on and off for years and have come across some very memorable films through them.  It has happened, though, that we keep a couple of DVD's for months and never get around to watch them.  That almost happened with "New Year Baby".  But at the last minute, Lynn said she thought we should give it a try.  I am glad we did.

We get many movie ideas from AARP's Movies for Grownups.  The link goes to the movies from 2009 but includes links to several years before that.  We often joke that movies and others things for real grownups are not about steamy sex or machine pistols but about disease, inflation and such topics that are about truly adult matters that only the more aged know matter in the long and middle run of our lives.  When we look over possible movies, we are fresh and rested and may allow our goodwill and rational mind too much sway.  So, we sign up for documentaries about volcanoes, birds, history or whatever in greater numbers that we can handle at more fatigued and tuckered times.  That is why several of the documentaries that we chose were sent back after little or no watching.  We just weren't in the mood.

But Lynn is somewhat conservative and is reluctant to send discs back without trying them.  "New Year Baby" is so genuine, honest and undecorated with fancy bells and whistles that is valuable to watch.  The Khmer Rouge years in Cambodia were not so long ago but were sufficiently murderous, Holocaust-like, that many young people find, on coming of age, holes in their history, knowledge and family trees.  Those holes are bothersome and confusing.  "New Year Baby" is the story of a young Cambodian-American woman whose parents lived through those bad times.  The parents were brave enough, smart enough and wealthy enough to agree to accompany her back to Cambodia and to forests and fields that now show no sign of the cruelty, confusion and death that attempts to create a perfect society with imperfect knowledge and principles often deliver.  It is not a long movies, about 88 minutes and has won a slew of awards.

We like to think the whole world is one, that all things are connected and related.  Just as we like pleasure and avoid pain, it is easy to like sunny days with flowers and forget about concentration camps and both human and mechanical or systemic cruelties and mishaps.  Whenever millions of people are involved, some of the troubles come from oversights, forgetting or poor education as well as the deliberate, planned and even celebrated violence that sticks in the mind more noticeably.  All over the world, cruelty and starvation make their marks in all eras.  This movie is a well-done, eye-opening and gentle reminder of the long train of pain and disturbance those negatives create.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

staying in touch with myself

I listened to Deepak Chopra about 15 years ago on his audio The Higher Self and he convinced me to get going on regular 10-minute meditation.  As time went by, Lynn and I both developed a strong interest in giving 10 minutes to sitting still and quietly each day.  Sometimes, we miss because of our schedule but mostly we do the activity.  We found more and more benefits from it, despite the fact that the period is so brief.  Some people meditate for longer periods, even several days or more, but we have found ourselves benefiting and changing for the better from just 10 minutes.  That is a short enough time that we are very reluctant to say we are too busy or can't manage to spare 10 minutes.  

That strand of activity led me to more books on meditation, Buddhism and Zen, such as
The Mindful Brain by Daniel Siegel (this was available on Kindle.  I have it on mine but it isn't now!  Must be part of the fight between Amazon and publishers over price.)

Lately, two books have really been helping me:

When I find myself silently cheering the author as I read or being struck by one "Aha!" after another, I know the book is a good one.  That has been happening lately with the Germer book.  My mother was seriously firm in her living, it seemed to me.  She was a good example of the typical English/Scottish style of standing firm with no nonsense.  That approach has been quite valuable for lots of groups for centuries but it can probably be improved on.  Germer is a psychiatrist who, like more and more medical people, is deeply familiar with both Western and Eastern practices.  Many of his comments apply to my way of living and what I saw from my mother and her parents.  I have many friends who also fit the pattern of having trouble handling negative emotions and experiences and who do so mostly be denying them, dissociating from them and hiding them.  

Germer makes clear that the flight, fight or freeze response built into us all works well for physical dangers such as a saber-toothed tiger.  But emotional pain is not well handled in that way so developing the observational ability to see what our emotions are leads to greater sympathy with ourselves and others.  He says that world travel has shown him that Americans are extra-likely to be embarrassed by feeling bad or down and are hopeful that a smile or a stiff upper lip will overcome internal negatives.  He says people have a tendency to avoid accepting themselves and instead, rigorously demand of themselves attending to others.  

The key seems to be clear observation, leading to really knowing what is going on inside.  Balanced acceptance of oneself leads to balanced acceptance of others, too.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Kindle of first No.1 Ladies Detective Agency for $1.99 until April 4

In case anyone would like a Kindle copy of the first novel in my favorite series, "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" is available for Kindle download for $1.99.  In a couple of weeks, the 11th book in the series, "The Double Comfort Safari Club" will be released.  Lynn and I don't read these, we listen to them, narrated wonderfully by Lisette Lecat, born in South Africa but recently in the US.

Any Kindle book can be read on a PC, Mac, iPhone or Blackberry if you install the free software from Amazon.


1 year of blogging

On this day a year ago, I posted a short statement that I would try a new approach on this blog.  I did.  I have tried to make a post a day since then.  I have not been entirely successful but I have 334 posts for the past year, more than 90% as many as there were days.  Until recently, I figured that making a post each day of vacation would be too much trouble or divert me from the beach to the keyboard.  I have found that doesn't happen.

I realize that many blogs are posted infrequently and irregularly.  I think that is totally fine.  None of us needs many more comments or news in our lives.  I titled my blog "Fear, Fun and Filoz" to try to imply basics like what I fear, what fun I have or want to have, and what I think of it all - philosophy or "filoz" for short.

I have long thought that I am imaginative and I enjoy picturing things in my mind.  I thought I wanted to be free to write  anything that came to mind but I wanted the posts to be short and interesting.  I am not the sort of person to merely fear or have fun.  I need to think, reflect, philosophize, analyze, compare, etc.  As Socrates is reported to have said, "the unexamined life is not worth living".  My sentiments exactly, except for me, an unexamined life is probably out of my reach.  I may be a bit of a compulsive thinker and questionner.  I have often thought that if I needed a brand or logo, I would try to use the question mark.

My first blog post was in the middle of 2006 and was about William Blake, who may have been unusual but was certainly able to write inspirationally and draw memorably.  On March 29, a year ago, I posted that I was trying to return to blogging.  Many of my earliest posts were about mediation ideas and an early post on this blog is a summary of those ideas.  As time went on, I found I wanted some sort of response sometime from somebody.  Looking into Google's blog settings, I found that I could email the blog posts to others, which would not require them to find my blog.  Then, I found that Google would only allow me 10 email addresses to do that but that I could email any number and include a special email address that would post the message on the blog web page.  That has been the best arrangement so far.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fwd: [Google Fast Flip] Google Calendar's Smart Rescheduler

I have often seen committees, secretaries and offices struggle with the problem of finding a meeting time.  Even two married people can have trouble with doing that.  I just read this and haven't tried it but I thought it might be useful to send it out.

We here have both had some problems using Google's stuff but it seems to help to remember that it is all "cloud" computing, all done in cyberspace so everything needs to work on a single page.  Leaving that page for another is a big deal.  That is why the pages are rather cluttered and have lots of small switches, links and indicators.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <>
Date: Tue, Mar 23, 2010 at 7:24 AM
Subject: [Google Fast Flip] Google Calendar's Smart Rescheduler: Great for Sneaky Secretaries o...

Sent to you by olderkirby via Google Fast Flip:

Google Calendar's Smart Rescheduler: Great for Sneaky Secretaries o...

BY Dan Nosowitz Today Google just released Smart Rescheduler, a plugin for Google Calendar, into Google Labs, and it's one of the most flat-out useful apps they've ever made. It's simple to use, but does an impressive amount of legwork automatically. Smart Rescheduler makes use of the ability to share calendars among different people: you select who you want in your meeting, and it pores through everybody's schedule to find and then rank the best times. That part seems relatively simple, although useful enough as it is--but there's much more to the app than that. It ranks the most ideal meeting time and place through a few simple questions, like which person should get the most preferential treatment, how many people are attending, location, and a user-defined window of time in which to schedule the meeting. It's not a new idea, but integrating the feature into Google Calendar, which many businesses use primarily, makes the app that much easier to integrate. It's still in the Labs enclave, which means it's still being developed and may have little quirks, but it's easy to see the feature becoming indispensible. More indispensible than the meetings it's scheduling, even....

Read full story

The Marriage of Figaro

I am listening to the popular teacher, Robert Greenberg, on The Teaching Company audio course about the history of opera.  Our American musical theater (Rogers and Hammerstein and predecessors and successors) is very popular and so is opera, worldwide.  The opera capital of the world is Italy, of course.  

Greenberg makes clear that Italian comedia del arte was a medieval predecessor of opera and the first real operas were grand affairs that were sponsored by and enjoyed by the aristocracy.  During the period of the European Enlightenment, around 1750, ideas and situations began to allow merchants and other increasingly wealthy and powerful non-aristocrats to have more of what appealed to them.  Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro is a prime example of arresting music that is still completely excellent by today's standards coupled with plot and lyrics that appeal to more widespread classes of people.  Basics of the opera are explained in the movie "Amadeus" as well as many other sources.  The opening scene of the lovers and servants in the household is a famous one.  It shows Figaro happily planning the installation of their marriage bed in a room ideally located between the bedrooms of the mistress of the house and the master.  His soon-to-be wife informs him that the room is a trap to be used by the count when Figaro is conveniently absent to force his attentions on her.  Figaro lets us know very clearly that he is outraged and more and will deal with the situation.

I have listened to the opera often and only in Italian, a lovely language that I don't understand.  Still, the tunes and expressions haunt me.  Give it a try sometime.  You can hear a short sample on the link above and there are many other ways to hear this classic that has lasted several centuries and is loved in many countries of the world.

Monday, March 22, 2010

forgetting my message

I was an elementary teacher and a fulltime graduate student during the 1960's.  I was busy with starting a family and a career and getting graduate education and paid little attention to the politics of the time.  I saw pictures and tv about anti-war demonstrations and deaths at Kent State and a bomb on the U. of Wisconsin campus but I didn't feel interested.  So, in the late 70's, when our faculty meeting was taken over by students intending a sit-in, I was not sympathetic.  We had an agenda of items that related to campus life and curriculum and little or nothing to do with national policy and military maneuvers.  

The chair had just begun the meeting when a long line of quiet students began walking through the auditorium and onto the stage at the front.  Their leader asked to have the microphone and the chair gave it to him.  As soon as he began to explain the goals of their intrusion, I felt strongly that this isolated meeting was not a valuable venue for a protest and was merely delaying our meeting.  I raised my hand and the leader recognized me, saying something like "Yes?".  I stood and walked slowly toward the stage.  I walked up the stairs at the front and came to the podium.  I reached for the mike and the leader handed it over.  I tried to look like I knew what I was doing.  But then, as I first looked at the large group of silent people in front of me, I froze.  I had had an idea of what I wanted to say to the entire assembly, faculty and students alike, but my message had flown right out of my head.  I think I said something like "I have kind of forgotten what I wanted to say", which of course did not sound heroic or leaderly or anything much.  I did get some thoughts flowing and told the students that the meeting had an agenda, was planned by busy and tired people to get some important business transacted and that the best thing they could do for themselves and the campus would be to leave.  This was more than 30 years ago but as best I can remember, there was little further discussion by anybody and the students trooped back out again.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

C.S.Lewis, exemplary Christian and Buddhist

One of the most famous and popular of Christian apologists is C.S. (Clive Staples) Lewis.  For my money, two of his best books are Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.  Mere is a collection of three presentations he made on British radio about the general, basic tenets of Christianity without regard to Catholicism or the several branches of the Protestants.  When thinking about the religion, I tend to forget about the Greek and Russian branches.  I have read Mere Christianity several times and admire the crisp, clear language Lewis creates. 

The Screwtape Letters are the letters written by an important official in the "Lowerarchy" of Hell to his nephew who is just beginning his career as a devil and captor of souls.

He also wrote the Narnia tales for children ("The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"), a space trilogy and many other books.  He wrote "The Four Loves" but actually wrote about five: affection, friendship, eros and agape (the love of man by God).  The fifth is the love of humans for their animals, such as dogs and cats.

Lewis was a professor of literature at Cambridge and Oxford and was a member of the club called The Inklings, which included Tolkien, author of "Lord of the Rings."  He was a very good thinker and speaker, despite being poor in math and possibly knowing little of the traditions and literature of the east.  One of the most basic insights of the Buddhists is the value of being aware of one's own thoughts and feelings, as in observing them.  That observing bit, that watching gives a person enough distance from her/his thoughts and feelings that there is a chance to consider them, note their tendency.  Such observation increases self-compassion, which in turn leads to all sorts of better feelings and behavior toward others.  Lewis once said that a person gains enormous power if he can develop the habit of noticing what is going inside.  He wrote that if I can learn to say to myself "I am entering the state referred to as lust", I gain a chance to guide myself better.  C.S.Lewis, Buddhist!! Who knew?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

We are all mystics

A mystic is often defined as a person who communes with and experiences the divine personally, immediately and directly.  By that definition, it seems clear to me that we are all mystics.  We all have experiences with a beautiful scene, an important moment, a loved person that shoots a consciousness through us that the world is a big and complex interrelated place.  We don't know just where it came from or how, but it seems to have a rhythm and a meaning that is quite noticeable.  Whether a person expresses this coherence and connectedness by ascribing it to God or to the Good is a matter that tends to involve meanings and doctrines, traditions and loyalties, habits and commitments.  Those elements may differ from place to place and age to age but the feelings of awe, of holiness, of the sacred come to us all, regardless of our period of history, our continent, our age or gender or nationality.

One reason for noting this is that it may alert us to the fact that over the ages, many people have had feelings and experiences that seem directly from God or some similarly important and powerful source.  It is true that tons of humans have had such experiences but been unable or unwilling to speak or write about them.  Unless a mystical experience or idea or feeling occurs to a person who can write or is an artist, it will not be recorded.  So, writings by mystics are from people who are or were literate and are or were willing to make some mention of the experience.  In some times and places, such a mention could be dangerous to a person's earthly health or that of loved ones.  Therefore, the set of records of mystical experiences is limited to only some lucky, brave or driven individuals.  But it might be a good thing to be on the lookout for things referred to as mystical and take a look at some of them from time to time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

getting my goat

I like to work with people and that interest, some lucky breaks and some guidance conspired to arrange for me to be a teacher.  At my college at the time, one could prepare for elementary or middle school teaching.  The college was not prepared to offer full training for a high school teacher.  Being interested in a manly way of life, I figured that elementary teaching was beneath me.  I mean directing little kids and all.  So, I initially opted for middle school, math/science, please.  Within a few weeks of starting college, I was advised that such a choice implied a given set of courses for all four years of college.  I definitely winced at such a rigid and preordained arrangement and inquired about the elementary major.  Finding it had a little more leeway in it meant that four years later, I began teaching the 5th grade.  

By chance (or maybe divine or demonic assistance), I unknowingly rented a house right next door to the principal of the elementary school where I taught.  Thus, I wound up riding with my principal each day, leaving our car at home for my wife and daughters.

One morning, as we drove in his bug toward the school, we were stopped by a large male goat standing in the middle of the road.  The road had drainage ditches with water in them on both sides and the grouchy-looking goat left us no room to pass.  A heavy bit of rope dangled from his neck where he had broken or chewed himself loose.  My principal was a colonel in the national guard and was used to giving orders.  "Kirby, get that goat out of there," he said.  I got out of the car wearing my teaching clothes for the day, picturing this hefty animal butting me and my duds into one ditch or the other.  I walked slowly toward the goat, planning if he charged, to try and grab his horns as they came at me.  I had no experience with goats and didn't know if a low, soothing voice would have any effect or not.  I was quite pleased that as I got near, he didn't move or threaten me.  I was able to get a good grip on his horns.  I used them to steer the reluctant animal toward the farm road that lead off to one side.  I kept my weight in front of him, making it difficult for him to lift me or do much but move toward me as I walked backwards in a crouch.  By the time, we got close enough to the stake that had held him, my legs were quite tired and I had worked up a sweat.  Otherwise, though the whole incident passed by and I have forgotten all about it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chaotic, scrambled

We live an orderly, measured quiet life.  But we do like to escape winter.  "Winter" is from a few days into the new year to the middle of March, sometimes into April.  That is too long a time for tender, tired old folks like us to do without our favorite clothes, books, music, activities and such.  That means that we have to take many possessions with us on our escape trip.  And, we have to truck all that stuff back.  And, we have to unpack it and put it all away in the right place in the closet and the dresser and the cabinet.  We have to, if we are going to ever find it again.  The box of books, the computers - yes, we each need one, really need it, the shoes, the shorts for the warm weather that never came this year, the sweatshirts and sweaters, the folding chairs - my legs are too short for most furniture and my back aches if I sit in it, the router that gives us both internet access simultaneously, the binoculars, the spices.  There is a lot of stuff, indeed.  We use two of the largest plastic tubs (33x22x14) just for most of our clothes.  We have 6 slightly smaller tubs and several bags and backpacks.

This traveling business is fun most of the time but when our clothing and food stuffs and drinks are scattered all over, awaiting the putting away while we sort through an amazing mail of magazines, catalogs, ads and bills, travel seems equal to "mountains of things to be done", to quote a woman I live with and love.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What is there to do?

A lovely and laden question!  Kids ask their mothers that at the end of a long summer.  Vacationers ask it of their concierge at the front desk.  How about push-ups?  Too hard?  Stand upright an arm's length from the wall and do one or two in that position.  With some people, the sign of looking for something to do is twiddling your thumbs.  Parents sometimes ask that their children be assigned homework by their teachers so the kids will have something to do.  Such a practice may instill a work ethic in the kids, a habit of working hard in life.

Nature has provided us with a need to sleep, eat, and breathe.  We are social animals so we have a need to talk with others or engage in mutual activities such as baseball or bridge.  As  we age, merely talking takes on more and more interest.  For one thing, we are more easily tired or we strain a muscle but talking is easy on the body.  We can take the other basics and eat together, cook together, bathe together.  There is a basic need to exercise, to use our bodies, to be able to look at a new scene.  We learned in psychophysics class that the eyes themselves have a constant tremor that is part of the vision system.  

Sure, there is walking, biking, driving around.  There is tv and reading and games and puzzles.  I have a tough time getting motivated to play games or solve puzzles but they are great fun for millions of users of all ages.  I have developed a habit of an easy sudoku a day.  I like the easy ones that nearly solve themselves, even if they aren't much of a challenge.  I enjoy doing one before I allow myself to use the margins in the puzzle book for notes on the best and most memorable events of the day.  Of course, when you are in South Dakota, take a look at the Badlands.  When you are in south Florida, visit the Everglades National Park.  It makes sense to take advantage of the attractions of an area.  Don't be like some people we know who live a few hundred feet from Windsor Castle but have never taken the time to visit it.

There is, of course, shopping and visiting restaurants.  But I find that writing a blog post for each day is very satisfying.  I have to take time to see what is on my mind and find time and energy to express the ideas in a few hundred words.  Finding sources and figures takes me all over the internet, often to sites I had no idea existed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Good and valuable versus magical and gripping

The books by Beck and Germer I mentioned the other day are good and they are valuable.  But, they are prosaic and not beautifully written.  What is beautiful and fascinating to me might not be for you.  Still, for my money, two books that are magical and gripping are "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout and "The Unbearable Lightness of Scones" by my favorite writer of good stories, Alexander McCall Smith.

Lynn told me that "Olive Kitteridge" was not a happy book but was beautifully written. I read it since I like to read some of what she reads, to know and share her world of books.  I was not prepared for the skill and subtlety Elizabeth Strout laid on me.  The stories are set in Maine.  I don't usually go for story collections and have had better experience with one story.  The first Maeve Binchy book I ever read, The  Lavender Bus, like "Olive", was a series of stories of young people near Dublin.  A character was minor in a story but was  major in a later one.  This is similar to the stories in "Olive", where she might be the focus of a story or a minor character in the next one.  Whatever, I experienced that unrelenting hunger to read the next chapter that I get from a story or character that really takes hold  of my imagination.  Olive is a big woman physically, a tough Yankee who feels all the emotions but admits to little, even to herself.  I  didn't realize that the book won the last Pulitzer prize for fiction when I read it  but I thought it was fully deserved.

"Scones" is the most recent of a series about characters who initially lived in the same apartment building in Edinburgh.  They are all memorable and interesting but maybe the most arresting ones are Bertie, a highly intelligent 6 year old boy, Irene, Bertie's modern, liberal, rigid and stupid mother and Bruce, a very good looking young man in his later twenties who is truly in love with himself, his own beauty and his own charm.  I think most readers would like and sympathize with Bertie, ache to drop Irene off a cliff and find Bruce simply breath-taking for his pride and ego.

Monday, March 15, 2010

handy little computers

About a year ago, I bought a Kindle 2 and an Asus netbook computer.  They were similar in price, about $370 each.  Since then, we have used both just about daily.  I had never heard of Asus but an article in Wired magazine told me about the netbooks and said that Asus was Asia's largest computer manufacturer.  That was good enough for me, especially since it was for sale on Amazon's web site, where I get things delivered quickly and cheaply for $60 a year.

Our netbook (smaller and lighter in weight than a notebook computer) weighs 5 lbs.  The monitor is very clear and the keyboard is a usable size.  For more serious and troublefree computing, I use an HP fullsize keyboard that connects to the computer with a USB plug.  The processor is quite speedy so programs load quickly, especially if I use Google's browser "Chrome".  When we wanted to install Microsoft Outlook on the machine, we had to buy a USB connecting CD/DVD drive since the netbook come with no floppy or CD drive.  It does come with a card drive, the sort of card used in cameras.  The slot for the card is small and I didn't notice it for quite a while.  I don't think we have ever used a card for data storage or transfer purposes since I keep files in Google Docs and my Google web site.

Tough little computers, iPads, netbooks and of course, iPhones and other smartphones are undoubtedly tools that we will be seeing, hearing about and using more of in the coming years.  Just about anything you could possibly want or need is somewhere on the internet so increasingly, a computer just needs a browser and an input/output device such as a keyboard, voice recognition or touchpad.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

comfortable self knowledge

Two books I have been reading recently are especially good on the subject of dealing with life's difficulties.  One is "Everyday Zen" by Charlotte Beck (Kindle link) and and the other is "The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion" by Christopher Germer (Kindle link).  Getting insight into one's life, thought and feelings is valuable and that is what Beck is about.  But do we really need something like compassion for our self?  

Both books emphasize that much of the suffering people experience comes from what Germer talks about as turning away from ourselves.  It seems easier to blame somebody else than to face our own fear, fear that we are too soft or too hard or too money conscious or insufficiently money conscious, on and on.  The result of sitting quietly and still for a while is nearly always a greater willingness to recognize our own feelings, which leads to fuller acceptance of ourselves as we are.  That gives us better insight into others and our similarities to them.  I have not seen a book any better than Germer's at stating in brief, clear language, steps that anyone can take to face fear or any other emotion that we would normally brace ourselves against.

It is very common for anyone to pull themselves up short and make an internal demand to change for the better.  We fiercely tell ourselves to be more honorable, more patient, whatever.  That strategy can work but it is often more effective, more interesting, more permanent and more fun to improve our ability to watch ourselves and see what we feel and what we fear.  Whether it is pain or lack of sleep or financial worries, the more clearly we can tell what we fear or picture or worry about, the better to avoid suppressing and the more accurately we can tell what we are actually doing with our minds and emotions.  Self knowledge is better than self demands.  Beck asks at one point whether we like ourselves enough to marry ourself.  

I don't want to try to say what either of these books says since they do so way better than I can.  I am merely saying to note the books and get a copy sometime when you are either in a mood to work with bothersome problems or are merely curious about an effective approach to giving yourself the kind of break, the sort of admiration you would give a lover, a mate, a beloved child or a hero that you wish to care for.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Zumba and jiggling

Lynn and I wear heart monitors after our doctor said he would like to know how high I get my heart beat while jogging.  Some authors pooh-pooh "jogging" and say that health is only enhanced by genuine running. However, at our age, hard desperate running may look like jogging.  He said that about two years ago and we rarely jog or take an exercise class without our monitors, a strap around the chest and a watch that picks up the heart rate from the strap.

The usual statement is that a person's maximum heart rate is about equal to 220 minus the person's age.  That is only approximate but for starters, it is a pretty good guide.  65% of that max is often said to the the lower threshold of aerobic exercise. 85% of that max is often given as the upper limit of aerobic work but the exact level also depends, of course, on the individual, that person's physician or trainer, the activity, current sickness, etc.

We are both impressed that she went to a Zumba class wearing her monitor and came home with close to an hour of workout recorded on the monitor at an average rate of more than 90% of her max.  Then she did it again.  We realize that she needs to rest, too.  We've found that for her, a group of others working out together to the beat of music and the example of a leader is motivating and fun.  For me, working without others around to bother or distract me is motivating and fun.

Pictures of exercise often show running, biking or swimming, the big three of areobics.  Put dancing, stooping, jumping (boxers jump rope or used to) and simply jiggling and shimmy-ing also increase heart rate and can help the body.

My friend, an expert in Indian and other eastern philosophy, describes his version of yoga as sitting in a still position and tensing and relaxing each muscle of the body, starting with the feet and ending with the face and scalp.  Doing that will not get the person to aerobic levels but it is still exercise and might be used with great age, incapacity, sickness or fatigue.  I like to read or watch tv.  It is fun and takes me all over time and space.  But to pay for that inactivity and keep me alert and healthy, it is helpful to exercise, using my current capacity to the extent I can.  I am an animal after all, one of the creations that needs to move to some extent to live.

Friday, March 12, 2010


My sister and I have both lived more than 60 years.  In that 120+ year time, we have only broken one bone, her arm.  When she was a little kid, about three or four, we had a gate across the front porch steps to keep her from getting into the street or falling or something.  I don't know how it was that she was outside the gate on the top step but she was.  She was trying to open the "protective" gate from the outside, difficult for a short little kid without much arm strength or knowledge of locking mechanisms.  She struggled with the lock and while doing so, slipped off the top step and fell to the ground, breaking her right arm.  

Little kid arms heal rapidly but the cast can get in the way.  I can still picture her pumping away on her tricycle with the arm cast laid across the handlebars.  My mother was left-handed all her life but my sister only became  left-handed while her right arm was in a cast.  In that way, she was a bit of a bridge between my mother and me.  In many sports and types of combat, which hand is dominant matters.  Our stepfather was a 'southpaw', a lefthanded pitcher.  For quite a while, I was the only right-handed member of our little nuclear family.

For all of us, bones matter, of course.  Breaking a hip is a tradition marker of the beginning of deadly decline in the elderly.  Them bones are also a part of our bods that can really last hundreds or thousands of years, given the right conditions.  Despite the general feel that our bones are like sticks or rods, they are living things and go through elaborate changes, both from growth and in repair.  I have read that bones can be slowly stretched with the right attached mechanisms.  In junior high, I realized that I was not destined to be the sexy 6 foot man I wanted to be.  I am a little past wanting to be redesigned now and it might not have been a good idea, anyhow.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

irresponsible headlines

Most mornings I read Google News and some other news web sites.  Google News selects its headlines mechanically from other sources but those sources show increasing instances of the 'bait and switch' technique.  That is the deal where you see an item advertised for an amazingly low price and immediately go  to the store, only to find that the limited supplies of the item are already sold out.  However, here is a  similar, super-value item for a higher price.

Headlines are the tools of advertising in news communication as are titles in books and other writing.  I see a headline "China seeking to end Buddhism" on the main page of the BBC.  I thought the BBC would be above bait-and-switch but I guess any source might try attracting readers with sensational or alarming headlines.  Once I get into the article, I find it is about China's ongoing attempts to suppress or eliminate TIBETAN Buddhism.  There is a big difference between the quote "China seeking to end Buddhism" and the content of the story.  I suppose writers and websters can always claim space limitations and other outside factors.

I see this phenomenon quite often as the competition for human attention - sometimes called the primary resource in today's world - continues.  I see a headline such as "Salt found to prolong life" only to find the story actually says salt MAY prolong life.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

marriage dance

Maybe my friend would not like the movie "Julie and Julia" since it is true that nobody gets shot and nothing is blown up (in the usual sense of a bomb or dynamite).  However, I recommend the movie to all men who are married or might get married or wish to reflect on marriage.  I found it a fun show to watch but I was puzzled about how it could be that much fun when it is about two women cooking.  Well, of course, cooking is important to us all.  Try eating only raw carrots for a few days for a reminder that as Michael Pollan says in The Omnivore's Dilemma, for us, variety matters.  But it is not the cooking that gets my husbandly attention.  It is the support, encouragement and delight that both husbands find in the energy, intelligence, emotional battle and creativity in which each of the two women design and work through a large, demanding and challenging project.  There were many scenes and dialogs I felt were things I experience quite often.

I just said I wanted to take a walk.  Lynn said she would enjoy walking with me but would I mind waiting 15 to 30 minutes while she finished a letter?  I started writing this post.  When she finished her letter, she said she wanted to walk on the beach and that she guessed I wouldn't want to do that.  She was right so now I am ready to walk but have been delayed a bit.  I feel my walks are often less than exciting but that they are medicine I need and want.  I think she is not motivated to do too much for medicine's sake alone and wants variety, something interesting, novel and/or beautiful, much like both Julie Powell and Julia Child.  Both husbands, Eric and Paul, understand the same needs in their wives and respond to them, although both show frustration at times with the length of their wives' projects and the emotional ups and downs that go with success and failure in cooking and writing.

At times when I feel being married is too much bother and complain of the related baggage (Latin for baggage is "impedimenta"), Lynn assures me that I don't know the half of it.  Try being a wife and mother she says.  We both know that I am not wired for much patience but it was fun watching two husbands stretch themselves toward support and celebration of the women's accomplishments.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


It got my attention yesterday when I read about a disagreement among some zen teachers. I was looking for background material on Charlotte Beck as I tried to introduce a friend to the book "Everyday Zen".  The book has given me as much or more feeling of gain in understanding myself and my mind as any in the last 10 years.  I looked up an article on Charlotte Beck in the Wikipedia and read that she designated two successors to the zen center and then later rescinded that action.

Since then, I have read about purity and impurity in various teachers.  "Impurity" usually connects to sex or money matters, thought by some or all to be improper or inappropriate. Sometimes, very strong feelings emerge when someone once thought, say, by me, for instance, to be heavenly and above both earthly and ordinary human matters, is shown not be.  When I have been thinking of someone as angelic and then find they don't really meet my definition of being like an angel, I may feel outraged or betrayed.  I like the response from my wife about other difficulties with different people on the web site "Dark Zen".  I described some of the squabbles and difficulties and she said,"Of course".  Of course of course.  When humans with heavenly and earthly attributes work with each other, they are going to be unable to hold the whole person in mind.  They will abstract the whole person into "the leader" or "the scoundrel" or "the group member". 

Of course, just because a scientist engages in behavior others don't approve, his or her results or theories may still be valid.  A detective who uncovers a crime may not pay all his taxes on time.  I admit it is difficult to steer between relevant and irrelevant records of behavior or indicators of tendencies and dispositions.  Some markers may indicate we shouldn't deal with that person and some might better be ignored.  In the Christian churches and the army and the government and all families, various actions and needs and decisions will occur, despite our doctrines and images.  That's life and although it can be a burden or an outrage, it can also be reassuring and endearing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

simple charts of days and weeks

Kids are different from adults when they haven't got the concept of clock time.  They ask when their friend is coming over and the answer is "in two hours" or "at 2 o'clock".  At young ages, that means little and the child can't read the clock face to see how much progress has been made toward the desired time.  Some lessons in elementary school are aimed at helping the pupils gained clock reading ability.  With digital clock faces, there is an additional type of learning needed.

We saw an early clock in a bell tower in England.  It was a device to strike the massive bell on the hour with the number of hits equal to the hour.  That was it, no graphic representation or figures of any sort.  No information on parts of an hour or of minutes or of seconds.  I guess they had little need then for such time details.

I have trouble telling time without any clock or watch.  Daylight and dark help some.  I read that the setting sun can be read to estimate how much time until sunset by holding one's hand up to the space between it and the sun and estimating 15 minutes per finger of sky in the gap.

Calendars seem both simpler and subtler than clocks.  I see in movies and books how a prisoner starts to mark off days on the cell wall to keep track of time.  I can completely believe in the need to do that.  I can sit down with a pad and quickly make a calendar as far into the future as I want with a pencil and something to make a straight line.  I can't make a clock or a timer that easily.  But as I get older, the calendar seems more important and clocks and watches less so.

I was surprised when I switched from Outlook to Gmail at how much I missed the calendar.  Google does have a calendar and I have set it up partially.  Still, as with any new interface, it takes some getting used to.  When both people work, a couple may have a relatively simple schedule most days.  When they are retired and their options increase, each person's calendar can get much more complex.  Starting the day with a look at the calendar events posted for it helps avoid missing something.  Looking ahead a day or a week helps get gifts and cards purchased in a timely way.  Being able to share access to each other's calendars helps in knowing when a doctor's appointment or car repair is coming up.

When I realized that the adults in the family have calendars as well as memorized birthdays in their heads, I thought it might help my great grandson to have a year's calendar with family birthdays and major holidays on it.  I doubt if he has made it a regular part of his life yet but he will someday.  Calendars have a place in all our lives.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Guest author: Lynn Kirby

What is your idea of utopia? For me, it is a world in which  there is harmony and health for and amongst all people. People who care about each other, who work for the benefit of each other, who strive to make others happy while enjoying their own lives. People who have enough and know it and are willing to share it. 

I woke up this morning thinking that if our military were as partisan as our politics, we would be at civil war. I don't know what I was dreaming, because politics is not something I ever willingly think about. To me, our country seems sick. It is divided, peopled with many who are greedy and only care about themselves and their own power, their own opinions, and making themselves wealthier than they need to be, ignoring the price their personal wealth has on others. Why can't we listen to each other with open hearts? I think the answer for me is that I feel totally beaten up, battered, and assaulted by the hatred, power-mongering and greed of so much that is said. I feel like I am going along enjoying my life with an open heart, and I get kicked in the face by "friends" and the media that want to raise hatreds (or sometimes called "awareness"). After I have gotten over the shock, it takes some time for my heart to heal, but in the meantime I feel angry at my attacker. I really don't understand why hatred and revenge are so attractive to people. Can we put aside our differences and work toward a harmonious future together instead of merely trying to win, prove ourselves right, or gain individual power?

Buddhist wisdom includes the notion that what we nurture in ourselves is what will grow. They say that each of us has seeds of every nature of emotion and character within us, both good and bad. If we nurture the seeds of compassion and loving kindness, we will have a far happier life and world than if we nurture the seeds of distrust, suspicion and looking out only for our own self-centered desires.

I have a bumper sticker on my car that says, "Don't believe everything you think."  When I meditate, I see that my mind continues to think. It thinks about things I never asked it to think about, and sometimes about things I've asked it not to. Thoughts continually arise, unbidden. Some are true, while many are just plain random. Do I really want to believe them, just because they happened to appear in my mind? And do they bear continuing if, upon honest examination, they don't fit with Good? There are things I believe in, but they have to do with loving others, kindness, generosity, nurturing others' spirits, and with caring for the Earth, our only home.

About 15 years ago, when my daughter was very, very ill and her life was in a serious downward spiral, I was sick with worry, anger, and fear. One day I had a vision, a conversation with God. In it, God took away my fear and anger and gave me trust and peace and told me to live my life using those gifts. He also promised to give me help in remembering to live in trust and peace, and I do  get a wide variety of reminders and examples, frequently. I still have a long way to go to be able to live that way all the time, but it has been wonderful when I do remember that God is there, God cares about us and will give us what we need, even if what we need is not what we think we need.  At those times, I can give my fears over to God and act in ways that are guided by the inspiration that comes through the many gifts of love and beauty I receive daily and by the inner voice that questions whether what I am doing leads to love. I can go from hour to hour, day to day, in peace. 

In my opinion, distributing combative diatribes of hatred and fear is not a good way to get our country back to health. Is it even possible to take someone seriously who can point out everyone else's faults and mistakes without finding and demonstrating a better course of action? Instead of criticizing each other, making a case to show that everything another says should be suspected for an underlying sinister cause, could we just hear each other in trust and love? After all, God is within all of us. Can we work together to find beautiful, satisfying solutions to the problems we have instead of continuing to point fingers and say it's the other side's fault? Can we try?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

thinking about time

It is fun to think about time and human life.  As little kids, a year is a long time.  For a life, 100 years is a long time.  1000 years, a millennium, is a big deal for humans, even though no one can live that long.  But through writing, art and artifacts, we know quite a bit about life 1 and also 2 millennia ago.  It is worth noting that, at least in English, 1000 years is long enough for pronunciation and vocabulary to change enough that we would likely have difficulty understanding someone speaking English of 1000 years ago, a longer period than the time since Chaucer, his Canterbury tales and the English in which they are written.  By the time we get to 10,000 years ago, we arrive at the invention of writing and of agriculture and are at about the limit of history.  Further back in time, we are in prehistory and biological history.  100,000 years or maybe 200,000 years is the period of modern humans.  Going back beyond, I know of only two further main time points.  4 million years is considered the time since any humans lived, since the famous Lucy.  Previous to that, we can think about the creation of the earth, the solar system, our galaxy and the universe.  Our sun is said to be about 5 billion years old and the universe about 13 billion years old.

I guess our European ancestors were quite upset to grasp the facts that showed our planet was not the center of the universe.  That understanding and others, even as recent as the 1920's realization that our galaxy contained 100 billion other stars beside our sun and the universe contains 100 billion galaxies, have piled up evidence that can frighten and depress us.  But our people have been facing the facts for a long time and still have the optimism and faith that we matter and will continue to matter.  As Psalm 8 asks, "What is Man that Thou Art Mindful of him?"

Friday, March 5, 2010

baby research

I recently downloaded the book The Philosophical Baby which is about new research results and insights into minds of babies.

Here is a link to a podcast (45 minutes long) on the same subject from Britain's Radio 4.  If you don't want to take the time to listen, at least look at the accompanying photo which is worth seeing.


self training

Trying to become your own teacher or coach takes effort and optimism.  The process might be made a little easier with certain knowledge.  There is evidence, contrary to what you might guess, that if you try something repeatedly and fail, you are more likely to eventually succeed that the person who decides there have been enough trials and further would be a waste.  In other words, don't give up.

Whatever you want to accomplish, consider looking up books and other resources on the subject.  A professional librarian is always worth checking with.  A person with that training might well think of possibilities that don't come to most people's minds.  Prochaska and others in "Changing for Good" not only show the value of repeated attempts but they emphasize the value of preparing to change for actually trying to do so. If you are going to walk more, or study piano or French, it helps to take a few minutes each day for a week or so and think about what you are going to be doing soon.  Picture the activity.  Think about what you need, clothes, shoes, a place to work, books, a computer, software, etc.

The Posit Science group, makers of the Brain Fitness Program and Insight, emphasize the value of conscious attention.  If you are trying to improve your ability to use your non-dominant hand or whatever, do something  with the hand in a place and at a time when you pay attention to what you are doing.  Conscious effort to pray more or cook more or change what you eat or crave brings the resources of your self and your personality to bear on the needed change.  Your patience, your natural stubborness, your sense of humor, your ability to see things in perspective can all help you with the effort to gain new abilities or habits.

The dosage matters, too.  By dosage, I mean how much you will practice, how much you will work on acquiring a new skill or outlook.  Some people get so enthusiastic that they overpractice and give themselves a bellyful of the new item, reaching satiation and overkill.  Your brain and body are quite skilled and sensitive and only need a little dose, especially at the beginning, to get the idea and get into the new work.  Working steadily, maybe once a day or every other day, without either overdoing or skipping too much, for 6 months or so, may bring welcome progress toward your goal.

If you, like me, fall in love with Italian, and spend time listening to tapes and such but quickly forget most of what you learn, you can label yourself a big, fat, silly failure.  But don't.  Keep in mind that however little of your goal you accomplished, you are still a person who tried that thing (self-hypnosis, counted cross-stitch, Thai kickboxing) and you do have a little knowledge of the subject and of yourself you wouldn't have, had you not given yourself the try.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Computer online tools - Part II

When writing a post for my blog, at one point, I composed in Outlook, Microsoft's email, and emailed the post to a group of friends and to the blog itself.  As I began to realize what is online and freely available from Google, I have changed my approach.
I open a document in Google Docs and compose.  Then, I copy the post and paste it in Google's email "Gmail".  The best thing about both Docs and Gmail is that if you type something, it is close to 100% likely to be saved.  It can be modified but it won't be lost, which is not as true in Outlook or Word.  Another feature that can be helpful is that any Gmail or Doc is available from any computer in the world that is connected to the internet.  Of course, it is all free.

Another valuable feature of both Docs (word processing, spreadsheet and presentation slides in the manner of Microsoft's PowerPoint) and Gmail is the fast and easy tool for making a link.  A link is the distinguishing feature of 'hypertext', the usual stuff you see on many webpages, where a word can be that word as well as a link to something else if it is clicked on with the mouse.  Making links to what is being discussed makes the worldwide web much more useful and quick to use.

I just wanted to have a place to write comments and explain ideas and that is what a blog (weB Log) is.  I knew that Google offers free blogging sites so I started one. At the beginning, I had no idea that I would be emailing posts to friends or that my blog site on the web would be a good place for me to look over my own selection of others' blogs what I want to keep track of.  I am now up to 18 blogs that are kept current on my site.  Each day, I check into my site to see what blogs have new posts and what they are about.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Computer tools online

In using a computer these days, the browser is an important tool.  It's the program that receives files from across the internet and opens them as "web pages" from all those valuable web sites, such as Google's main page, Google News, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and your favorite sports team or knitting circle.  For instance, wherever we go, I find that Zap2it gives a useful list of tv programs and times for that location. I have been an advocate of Firefox as a good free browser and it is indeed very good.  However, it seems to me that the browser offered by Google, called Chrome, is nearly as good in some ways and better in others.  Both browsers are said to be superior to Internet Explorer, the browser that comes with Windows and both are written to have security.  But, in using multiple computers or limited computers, speed counts.  It may be that Chrome actually takes up more of my computer than Firefox does but it seems faster at loading itself into working memory.  

Firefox can be easily set to stay in the mode that leaves little or no trace behind when visiting web sites and once set, it stays that way from session to session.  It is a little more trouble to use Chrome in that way but it can be done.  In both browsers, it is easy to look at the Options and see what tracking cookies have been left behind and remove them. (Update: just today, I found that Chrome 4.1.2, a beta release, has more permanent settings that give it about the same privacy abilities as Firefox.)

I have gotten to like Chrome since it keeps track of my favorites and gets me into them quickly.  It opens a new tab very quickly, too.  At the moment, I have 7 tabs (separate windows of different sites) open.  If something comes into my Gmail, I can see that is has and switch over to Google's free email quickly and conveniently.  Chrome has many other features that I am not really familiar with but I may get to over time.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Antlers and brains

I sometimes notice the weakness of a strength.  Whatever we specialize in tends to become more integrated into our lives.  We develop special skill in our specialty.  We get to the point where it would be hard to give up our specialty.

I am interested in cases where an animal has been caught or trapped or killed or hampered because of its specialization.  A search on Google for 'locked antlers' results in stories of antlered animals getting their antlers locked together and being unable to separate.  It may be good protection to have a big set of sharp horns on one's head but in addition to the price of weight, those horns can be a handicap.  A turtle upended onto its back may have a difficult time getting its feet back on the ground.  The ancestors of those animals developed specializations and they are good ones, borne out by the fact of the continuation of the species but a strength can be a weakness and having the strength carries a cost.

I don't know much about mental illness in other animals but the highly developed human brain, grand specialization that it is, can be a weakness, too.  Having one carries a cost.  We tend to develop the habit of trying to use our brain on every problem we have.  We tend to think all the time and have difficulty stopping, even for a short time.  We tend to talk to others or ourselves all the time and have difficulty taking a break from talking.  The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, the author that Oprah ran an online free course with, is one book on the value of training oneself into greater awareness of brain and mind use.  There are many other sources that can be very helpful in gaining some control over the mind so that thinking is a little less automatic and addictive.

Monday, March 1, 2010

beauty and night life

On a long drive, Lynn and I got to talking about interior decor.  Since her Finnish grandmother had a simple and functional house, it came to mind.  Her grandmother lived in a different era, raising seven boys as a widow during the depression on very little.  As we pictured some of the ideas for decor we had been discussing, I thought of asking Grandma if she would like that set of colors, art objects and such in her living room.  I was pretty sure that it would not have been her choice for her house.  So, who was right?  Were our ideas of beauty out of whack?

Fast forward to a passage in "Everyday Zen" (click here for Kindle link) where Charlotte Beck is envisaging a committed and organized person talking with a typical American.  She thinks of Mother Teresa being told by a young, hip American, "Mother Teresa, you could live in San Francisco instead of Calcutta.  The night life is better.  You would have better restaurants to go to.  The climate is easier."  Do you think she would be tempted to leave the "hellish part of Calcutta" where she lived and move?  If she isn't interested, does that mean that we are wrong to live there?  Or is the world and its parts different for her?  

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