Friday, April 30, 2010

Kindle use

On the last day of each month, I will send out information about books I have bought that month.  There might be something of interest or something that keys an interest you have been meaning to work on.

Since Kindle books require little in the way of paper and ink and gasoline and packaging for delivery, I try to keep book purchases to those in Kindle format.  Most of the time, the Kindle price is less than the paper price, often much less.  Besides,several branches of my family share a Kindle account, dividing the single download price per user even more.  As of now, Amazon keeps all Kindle purchases on their computers, from which they can be re-downloaded at any time.  Also, book and other sorts of files can be moved from the Kindle to a computer and stored there or on a jump drive or other medium.

A very large number of Kindle books fit on a single Kindle, well over 1,000.  That number would be more than enough for most home libraries and for most vacation reading.  Besides, from most locations in the US and the world, additional books can be quickly downloaded into the Kindle.

From what I have read, the Barnes & Noble competing product, the Nook, has similar features with the added interesting and attractive one of allowing a Nook owner to loan a book file to another Nook owner.  I don't own a Nook but I might sometime, if doing so seems worthwhile.  

Being able to switch accurately and quickly from the point of reading in one book to where you left off in another one is another feature that many users appreciate.  The Kindle allows the user to mark passages and add notes to readings without having a marker or paper handy.

I have owned a Kindle since April 2008 and in that time have downloaded about 250 books.  The count is a little slippery since a few items were purchased by other family members and a few others came from free sources such as and Project Guttenberg and don't appear in the count that Amazon keeps.  My average works out to about a book every 2.9 days.  For the sake of sanity and economy, I am beginning a personal project to consciously lower my rate of acquisition.  My wife keeps emphasizing the supposed connection between acquiring a book and actually reading it.  She and others tend to think that merely having it in my Kindle or on my shelf is not the same as reading it.  I counter that even seeing the book often gets me thinking about its subject and sometimes gets me to dabbling in parts of it, even if I don't read it fully.

For this month, I was not successful but I didn't have the limitation project launched until about halfway through the month.  I will try harder with the month of May.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

bad guy threatens good lit

Yesterday's poem by George Bilgere is about giving the characters in an important novel the day off by not reading it just now.  I like the idea that they get to rest or play or whatever when the book is not being read. 

The conception reminds me of the novelist Jasper Fforde.  Ok, his name alone is attention-getting.  On a flight across the country, I had plenty of time to see another passenger reading intently.  I make a point of noting books that people read or mention, one of my best ways of finding out about good stuff.  One of the best bookstores I have been to is The Elliott Bay Book Company.  I never miss a chance to visit there.  Their web site has good stuff, too.  Since I live 2000 miles away, it is exciting to be in Seattle.  That is where I found a CD of Boris Karloff reading Kipling's "Just So" stories - great voice, great words, fascinating vocabulary.  That is where I found "Leaving the Saints" by Martha Beck right after finishing her book "Expecting Adam" about being pregnant and a Harvard grad student at the same time.  (Click here to see an example of her fresh, well-put-together writing.)

When I went in after my flight and saw The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde as one of the staff recommendations, that was good enough for me.  I didn't think twice, as I often don't.  Here the book was recommended by professional booksellers, and good ones at that.  And, it had kept a man locked on to it for several hours, not something I see everyday.  Bought it and started reading.  After a chapter or two, I realized I was in the company of another one of the great nuts, a writer with a truly spirited imagination, on the order of Christopher Moore and Tom Robbins.

Of course, there is a bad guy.  You know what this rat, this worm, this fink, this louse does?  Get this.  Breaks into that beloved novel, "Jane Eyre", a mainstay of English lit and kidnaps an important character to be held for ransom.  Spoils the story and if he isn't paid off, that beloved book will be permanently mutilated and never be the same.  Turns out that a sharp, brave policewoman, first name Thursday, second name Next, was assigned the case and you can guess how things turned out in the end. 

Fforde is Welsh, thus the odd spelling and the magic imagination.  He has a whole series of "Thursday Next" stories and another series based on the "true" and more challenging versions of some well-known nursery tales.  Many of his books are available on Kindle.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

For Professor P. Shaw

As a lover of good stories who has failed to read many good books, I pass on this poem from the Writer's Almanac:

Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel

by George Bilgere

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel" by George Bilgere from Haywire. © Utah State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel

Instead, we sit together beside the fountain,
the important novel and I.

We are having coffee together
in that quiet first hour of the morning,
respecting each other's silences
in the shadow of an important old building
in this small but significant European city.

All the characters can relax.
I'm giving them the day off.
For once they can forget about their problems—
desire, betrayal, the fatal denouement—
and just sit peacefully beside me.

In the afternoon,
at lunch near the cathedral,
and in the evening, after my lonely,
historical walk along the promenade,

the men and women, the children
and even the dogs
in the important, complicated novel
have nothing to fear from me.

We will sit quietly at the table
with a glass of cool red wine
and listen to the pigeons
questioning each other in the ancient corridors.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Guthrie and the girl who didn't hang up her coat

I took graduate psych courses starting in 1965.  We learned about behaviorism, an attempt by mostly American psychologists to be very "scientific" and only work with observable factors when studying the mind.  Clearly, the presentation of a "stimulus", say, an electrical shock or a carrot, can be observed.  The frightened leap of the shocked animal or the bolt forward of a horse to get the carrot can also be observed.

Psych was a minor for me.  I had had 4 years of teaching the fifth grade and I was not in the mood to work quietly in a lab in the hopes that something new would turn up there that might help teachers by the year 2250.  It seemed clear to me that religious writers, thinkers and leaders, politicians, actors, tons of teachers and coaches and writers of plays and novels had a rich understanding of people and had had that grasp since the Biblical book Ecclesiastes was written, about 200 years before the birth of Jesus.

I was put off by the continual effort to model psychology after physics, usually on the grounds that physics was a successful science, whatever that means, and psychology needed to be rigorous and based on verifiable facts.  We heard a great deal about Pavlov and his dogs, who clearly taught his dogs something about the meaning of a bell ringing.  We learned about Thorndike and Guthrie and other Americans who toiled away in their labs.  There was lots of effort put into language and symbol use that would sound scientific but often boiled down to an idea that everyone already knew and understood.

One day, we learned about E. Guthrie and backward conditioning.  The dogs heard a bell and then were fed.  They learned the bell meant food.  We could study their little jaws and mouths and verify that.  A woman wrote to E. Guthrie about her daughter who came home from school and dropped her coat in the doorway, without hanging it up.  Guthrie told the woman to have her daughter go back to the doorway and put her coat where it belonged.  After hearing so much about Pavlov's dogs in excruciating detail, Guthrie's backward conditioning seemed weak. 

The process was just what my parents always required of me.  "Billy, you dropped your coat in the doorway again.  Go back and hang it up." But I didn't remember that.  I thought that the girl would benefit from some sort of reminder as she walked in the door, not afterwards.  We learned that getting the mind's attention after the fact was a slow process, slower than the forward bell first, then food next.  But I still think of Guthrie when my brain finally remembers that the trash can is in a different place now.  When I remember I have to use a new password to sign in.  It is slow.  Old habits are persistent.  But over time, with enough repetitions, I do learn.
(copyedited by L.S.Kirby)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Weather Awareness tips from The Onion

I hope this link works for you all.  This is Weather Awareness week.,7981/

Grenade or dinner?

Because we are actually wired to note and therefore think about exciting things rather than quiet things, I have been wondering about the comparative value of a lifetime of service v. a second of strong heroism.  

Say, the parents are killed and the grandmother raises the kids.  She is already past child-bearing age, which means nature didn't set her up for the high-energy needs of cooking, parenting, vigilance over friends, media, and moods that parents are called to do these days.  But Grandma is in good shape and is devoted to the kids.  So, for close to 20 years, she watches over the kids, loves them, encourages them, educates them, etc.

We switch the scene to an army patrol through dangerous territory.  The second soldier in line sees a grenade fall on the ground near him.  He has only seconds to decide what to do.  He loves his fellows and wants to protect them.  He throws himself on the grenade, taking the full explosion power into himself.

Is twenty or thirty years of effort superior to a quick death for others?  The deceased soldier is admired and praised.  The grandmother is admired some of the time by some of the grandchildren, especially as they get older and grasp what the grandmother did for them over the years.  She still has her life and the affections of the kids while our soldier has whatever fate meets him after death and some posthumous medals and citations.

She never had a chance to dive on a grenade and he never had a chance to work day in and day out on the house and the lives of the kids.

Since I know that dramatic heroism is easier to notice and remember, I try to be conscious of the quiet gifts and sacrifices that create good lives without much splash or notice.  I plan to try to get an answer at the pearly or fiery gates if I remember to inquire.
(copyedited by L.S. Kirby)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hurray for drains!

I learned the other day that the author Shakti Gawain has a first name from the 2nd wife of the Hindu god, Shiva, the Destroyer.  Several years ago, I read "The Gospel According to Biff: Christ's Childhood Friend" by Christopher Lamb.  That crazy but respectful fiction visits Jesus's boyhood and adolescent years.  Among other things, Jesus and Biff take a long walking tour of India and at one point learn about Kali, a ferocious goddess of destruction.  I thought then Who wants a god or goddess of destruction?

Creation - that's a good thing, right?  Destruction - death, sweeping fires, earthquakes, layers of hot, deadly ash flowing over land, buildings and people - really bad, right?

A couple of days ago, I could feel my poor little head was filled to the brim with reminders, plans, admonitions to get this done right away and to avoid too much of that.  I thought of buffers, something I have heard of in connection with computers and computer security. (The link takes you to pure poetry of computing, incomprehensible to me but intriguing.)  I guess it is some sort of information holding tank.  I thought of the paper The Magic Number 7, Plus or Minus 2 (1956) that says we can hold 5-9 items in our minds.  

My son-in-law is an expert builder and built our house.  He started by focusing on drainage.  Don't build in a swamp or a gully.  Avoid problems from poor drainage, collected rainwater or ice melt.  

Staying in a hotel room is unpleasant if the sink or toilet or shower doesn't drain well.

How We Die by the Yale professor of surgery Sherwin Nuland discusses the main causes of human death and how they work.  At the end of his book, he faces the often-asked question Why die?  Why can't my beloved xxxxx live and flourish forever?  That happened for a while.  Why need it stop?  Who ordered this aging/death thing, anyhow?  He points out that the next generation of life: people, animals, flowers, even planets I guess, is being born, is waiting to emerge.  

We need Shiva to clean our clocks, clear our decks, wipe the slate clean for the next message.  We need to de-junk and refresh all the time, steadily.  If we forget, that is ok.  Nature will do it for us.
(copyedited by L.S.Kirby)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Vedantam Again"

I thought I would finish up the remaining chapters of "The Hidden Brain" by Shankar Vedantam by myself.  We had been so captivated by the book and so enthusiastic that it seemed unwise to let much of the ending go by without reading it.  It got a little repetitious and boring about chapter 8 and we agreed to stop reading it aloud.  I was just going to finish it quickly and silently on my own.

It didn't work out that way.  Chapter 9 is about the IAT, the Implicit Association Test.  Maybe you are familiar with the Stroop Test, the one with color names printed in colors but the name and the color don't match.  That test is about reading the color you see instead of pronouncing the name of the color shown by the word.  Like this:


For the test, you say "red" and ignore the fact that the letters say the name of a different color.

We each spent 30 minutes or so on the IAT.  I started with the test of my bias for associating young faces with words about good things, such as joy, beauty and pleasure while putting old faces with negative words.  It is a difficult test but it only takes about 10 minutes to take.  You get confused and that is the whole idea.  Only when your rational, in-control mind is over-occupied can the hidden parts of your brain show up.  

Vedantam reports that when the psychologist Mazarin Banaji was first asked to take the test, it convinced her that she herself had unconscious biases about race that she didn't know she had.  She was amazed, flummoxed, irritated and depressed since she is a Havard professor who researches racial prejudice and teaches about trying to neutralize it.

More than 300,000 people from all over the world have taken the test.  It is free and gives your results at the end.  There are short tests about age, race, gender, body weight and sexuality.
(Copyedited by L.S.Kirby)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Microsoft working in education

Many of the daily recipients of my blog are educators or former educators.  I thought you might be interested in this on O'Reilly Radar:
statement on Microsoft working in education


isometrics instead of stretching?

I have taken yoga and it was good for me and my mood.  But, I learned that I was not very flexible.  I think I have heard that girls and women have more natural flexibility than most men.  Some people who know me joked that of course a stern, serious, focused guy like me would be unable to sit on the floor with legs extended in a V and lay his whole upper body down along a leg.  Quite a few of the women in the class do that sort of thing with apparent ease.

When I saw the book "Natural Flexibility" by Charles Kenny, MD, I was immediately interested.  It is not available for Kindle but I didn't care.  Besides, any book that contains charts or photos, especially multiple ones on a single page has been better for me so far in paper.

This book only came yesterday but it has caught me attention.  I have heard that the evidence suggests that aerobic exercise is probably the most important.  I suspect that some weights or resistance work helps me compensate for sitting around reading or computing much of the time.  I tend to put flexibility last.  I have read that I don't want to get my joints too flexible, just adequately.  My chiropractor told me once that in his mind, yoga is a form of torture. I have never been one to stretch very much, not even for the 15 to 20 seconds I have seen recommended.

This "Natural Flexibility" book is about using isometrics in place of stretching.  I guess the idea is stretching can lead to injury, although I don't think it ever has for me.  A critic of the book said he wasn't worried about injury but wants to focus on improving his range of motion.  He doubted the isometrics would do much for range of motion.

Sometimes people want to work on the flexibility of their shoulder.  One way to do that is to reach a hand down their back behind their head while reaching up the back with the other hand.  If possible, they interlock fingers of the hands.  If not, they may use a towel or a rod to bridge the space between the hands.  With stretching, the shoulder is relaxed while the other hand pulls it down some.  With isometrics, both arms pull and resist each other perfectly, with the result of no movement but with tension.

Since I have heard and read so much about the basics of stretching for muscle health, it is something of a shock to think that isometrics might be better.  The author has been practicing orthopedics for 30 years and supplies a long list of titles for further reading.

The initial steps in Brill's program in her book "The Core Program" are very similar to many of the recommended exercises in Kenny.  For instance, she recommends lying on your back at the start and pressing parts of your back into the floor.  Kenny recommends lifting your head a couple of inches and your legs a couple of inches and holding them for a count of 30.
(coyedited by L.S.Kirby)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

For today only - free Earth Day Kindle book

Many of the very low cost or free books for Kindle seem to be of low quality.  I didn't take the time to check this one out but Everyday Justice about the impact of our daily choices on the Earth's health is offered by Amazon for Kindles for free.  If you don't have a Kindle, it still makes sense to read it or look it over on your computer with the free software for looking at Kindle items on a PC or Mac or iPhone, iPad or Blackberry.

Some books grab our attention

Every day I write for this blog.  We also read a spiritual passage, meditate and write about our thoughts.  We walk or run and lift weights.  We have been recording Cheers, Wings and NCIS.  We eat and run errands.  That doesn't leave a whole lot of time to read.  Magazines come regularly and I page through every one.  Once in a while, I do wind up reading an article but usually, I page through.  That still takes up time.

Lynn likes to work a jigsaw puzzle or knit while I read to her aloud.  We started "The Checklist Manifesto" by Atul Gawande, surgeon and assistant professor of medicine.  We started "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" by Alan Bradley.  But, we put those on hold to read "The Hidden Brain" by Shankar Vedantam.  I have been looking for something on the unconscious mind and this is pretty good.  Vedantam is a science reporter for the Washington Post and of course, he writes well.  He establishes that there are many parts of us that are clearly governed by intelligence but are not conscious, such as our hormone system and our heart rate and blood pressure.  There are parts of our minds that function but are not conscious, not open to our awareness.

The whole business of thought production interests me.  I am thinking of Uncle Harold since I just unexpectedly saw a man who reminds me of him.  Then, I realize that my nephew is now old enough to graduate from college.  Oh, and I remember hearing that the nephew has a girl friend whose father is a bigwig in science.  Memories, associations, word recall, ideas come unbidden much of the time.  What prompts them?  How come I never get a thought in a language I don't understand?  How come my thoughts are often so relevant to my current needs, to the hour of the day? What goes on in the 'back' of my mind?

Vedantam explores many aspects of our behavior that are clearly driven or connected to our minds and yet are often unconscious.  Sometimes, the actions or apparent beliefs are directly opposite to what we say we believe and plan to do.  He discusses unconscious bias in children, legal proceedings, politics, mental development of fanatics and crowd behavior in emergencies.

We have a couple of chapters to go yet but I am confident that he is not going to reveal any great way to know our unconscious beliefs or control them.  I think we just have to be as alert and reflective as we can if we want some chance at avoiding being led by the nose.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading" by Paul Saenger

It is an expensive book, $82.95 from Amazon.  It is clearly not a best seller but it is interesting.  I have had it on my shelf for years, like many other books that attract me but always get pushed aside.  The book is about the history of written words and their de-coding by readers. 

It says that until about 700 AD, words were strung together likethesewordshavebeen.  In Latin class, we had text that had no capital letters and no punctuation.  We spend lots of time puzzling out where a given sentence actually began and where it ended.  But we never had to face all the individual letters being strung together.  About 700 AD, Irish monks started using the convention of leaving a small space between words and that convention made it easier for readers to read.  They didn't have to use their voices to experiment with which letters were meant to go together and silent reading was possible.  Until then, a room of readers was not silent.

Two new versions of our language are springing up.  Maybe more than 2 but the ones I have run into are the language used to communicate in the limited characters of license plates and the shorter version of language used in sending text messages.  So, we get "D8" to be read hopefully as "date" and "LOL" for "laughing out loud".

Saenger says that phonetic languages like the European ones take longer to decode than ideographic ones like Chinese.  The Chinese symbol for marriage means directly while our arrangement of symbols "m-a-r-r-i-a-g-e" means the word beginning with the "m" sound.  Our heads have to go through the process of reading the symbols to get the sound and then remember that sound-word means "marriage".

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


It's been dry here.  Our area is famous for being dry.  It is the "Golden Sands", good farming land if it is properly irrigated.  We have to be ready for the precious rain when it comes.  A good rain storm is an invitation to change, to switch to walking in the rain, letting the car get showered, catching up on recorded tv shows backed up and waiting.  We try to be agile and switch plans gracefully when it is raining or too windy for much.

We are aiming at greater agility with speed problems.  Weather switches we are pretty good with.  Required changes in speed are harder for us.  Watch us zip around a big store, getting what we need, waving at friends as we hurry past each other.  Then, we remember that we are carrying that item that needs to be returned.  The store has a fair and usable return policy.  We have the receipt and both it and the item are even in the original bag.  No problem.  We walk to the customer service area and whoa!  Several people in line waiting for service and all three clerks already working with someone.  To fulfill our plan, it is best to wait.

To WHAT?  Wait?  We hardly know the meaning of the word any more.  In truth, the clerks are quick and thorough.  People deserve full attention when they have a problem and they get it.  But, do they have to take sooooooooooo long?  Couldn't they spend some their wait time getting their credit card out so they are ready when they do reach the counter?  Are they really asking us to stand in line and wait?  Isn't there a law against having to wait like this?  We wanted to be out of here before this.  We are Americans!  Don't we have rights?  Haven't these people any idea of GOOD customer service?

Pray for us.  Send us the gift of the same agility we use with rain to use with waiting.  I know we will use it more often: traffic lights, waiting for phones to be answered, waiting to be called into the doctor's office but we really need that grace, that eye for the beauty of opportunity.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why all the zombies?

A zombie is a person who died but can still walk and talk and maybe perform dastardly deeds for an evil master.  I have seen zombies in movies and they are usually grey in color and seem somewhat low on energy although they don't seem to ever need rest.  When you walk around my town (technically a small city), you can catch sight of zombies.  Most look like teen-agers but many are in their 30's, 40's or older.  You might not think spring, with its emerging green leaves and flowers and bird song would be a time to see zombies but around here it is.  In the movies, zombies seem to operate at night but around here, they are more likely to be seen in the morning.   Our zombies don't hurt or haunt people and you can get them to smile if you ask, "What place are you in now?"

This is the 41st consecutive year that the college FM station and a group lead by Oz, the leader of the organizers, has overseen the world's largest trivia contest, usually held on the third weekend in April.  The questions can be heard on local radio, tv and over the internet.  The contest runs without interruption for 54 straight hours and many players attempt to reach zombiehood by staying awake and functioning for the whole time.  Most need to get at least some sleep.  One doesn't want to risk being incoherent or being unable to answer questions such as

"The float xxx in the 121st Parade of Roses featured snow-boarding dogs.  What was the breed of those dogs?"

If you know or remember "bulldogs", you added points to your team's score.

The zombies we have met seem to bounce back full and completely after a night or two of sleep.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Icelandic eruption and others previously

Just as the frightening and costly recession did give us some opportunities to think and act in new ways, the Icelandic volcano plume also gives us a push to think differently.  You may have more than enough information about it already but I found this short article on helpful.

All those studying volcanoes might be interested.

The darkening of the atmosphere has been historically important as explained in the link above.  It doesn't mention Mt. Toba on the island of Sumatra 74,000 years ago.  I had never heard of it until a year ago when an anthropologist explained the theory that some human intelligence traits might have been influenced by evolution and death rates caused by the Toba eruption.

There is also the book by the good writer Simon Winchester "Krakatoa" about another important eruption and its effects.  Here is a general link to info on that important event in 1883.

Sometimes the sermon interferes with cleansing

One form of mind-tending is the blank or empty form. It is used to visit other planes than our usual one, which tends to focus on words, pictures and language-based thought.  Those tools have shown themselves historically to be extremely powerful and engaging.  But as the Hindus, Buddhists and Indians have shown, they do not encompass everything there is.  They actually exclude many things that matter to our lives and affect us.

Think of riding up an elevator.  Each floor is extensive.  In fact, in this particular elevator, the floor at each stop stretches out infinitely in a flat plane.  

Many Western attempts to reach God and strip off the barnacles acquired in normal life focus on suppyling the practitioner with a message, using one that seems holy, inspired and inspiring, often from a religious source, such as the writings of a saint or the Bible.  So, if you take the elevator to the spiritual services floor, you can walk over to the Catholic or Protestant or Jewish services which will usually include prayer and listening to a passage read aloud from such a source.  Often, the reading will be followed by comments - a sermon or homily - by the leader of the service.

But there are other floors, several that have only silence and open space, no words or language.  Just quiet.  That is not necessarily better or holier, just different.  Spiritual practices and psychological housekeeping may include working at interrupting and quieting the thought stream.  The book How to Teach Physics to Your Dog uses the premise that dogs stay in the present more than we do and focus heavily on what is, right now.  It seems that animals do that.  I do believe that morality and planning and musing over memories are all important for enjoying human life.  But, pausing the flow of thought as completely as you can manage is a good way to dig deeper into yourself, while, at the same time, tuning into the total universe in which everything happens.  For de-stressing, toning up and allowing yourself to know and empathize with all your feelings and urges, try 8 to 10 minutes of sitting still, paying attention to nothing and listening attentively to the background behind it all.  You can spare 8 to 10 minutes.  Set a timer and when it rings, you are all done!

Saturday, April 17, 2010


My ideas on greeting
    1. Always greet people you haven't seen since the day before.  Greet by name if you know it and can remember it.  If not, just greet.  You can use a single word such as "Morning" or "Hi".  When I was growing up, it was bad form to say "Hey".  Now, in some places it is good form and more up-to-date than "Hi" or "Hello".

    2. If you don't get a response to your greeting, simply accept the fact calmly and go about your business.  The person may be old (like me) and unable to hear.  The person may be distracted or worried that answering will be a signal you want to snuggle up while they don't.

    3, We had healthy, good-looking farm kids cheerfully greet passers-by in a main London park.  That behavior was out of place there and alarming to big city people who work at maintaining distance.  A brief glance at the passer's eyes would have been more than sufficient.  Not greeting at all in such a situation is also good. 

    4. Greetings establish that you are bold enough and friendly enough to speak.  Once that is established, you can follow up or not, using your feel of the situation and your mood.

    5. Avoid cliches such as "I'm not awake yet" or "I haven't had my coffee yet".  Muster the energy to speak a simple, direct greeting, even if you are in no shape to converse at length.  Doing so gets people rolling along and puts a friendly, energetic charge to the air.  

Note: when a man with wrinkles and white or no hair, greets anyone but a child, he cannot safely smile too broadly or speak in too merry and bright a tone, without a risk of frightening or alienating the other, especially if the other is a male.  In the case of a child, a slight smile is often helpful.  See the movie "Home Alone" and the example set by the character Marley, Kevin's elderly neighbor, played by Roberts Blossom.  
(copyedited by L.S. Kirby)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Important Ideas from Time

I have been wanting to mention "Bandwidth is the new black gold", an article in the March 11 issue of Time magazine by Columbia University law professor Tim Wu.  As soon as I saw the title, I knew it was an important and interesting idea.  At one time, gold was the master commodity and in some ways, I guess, still is.  Later, petroleum rose to the top as a substance to fight over and worry about.  But as we move to more ways to make ourselves rich and happy without some much travel, sending the right kind of signal matters more and more.  The signal has to be in some medium and today's signal transmission uses a spectrum of frequenices and amplitudes.  That spectrum is more and more valuable and, like oil, the subject of more and more squabbling and elbowing.

The issue in question lists Ten Important Ideas for the Next Ten Years.  The ideas are relatively novel and worth knowing about and they are explained by articulate writers who justify their arguments clearly and carefully.  Yet, as modern writers tend to do, they remain interesting and accessible.

All links are live:
The Next American Century - we are leaders and may well be more so, despite our worries
Remapping the World - borders are causing lots of trouble and might be improved
Bandwidth Is the New Black Gold
The Dropout Economy - dropping out might be smarter than we though
China and the U.S.: The Indispensable Axis
In Defense of Failure - the US typically benefits from laws and attitudes accepting failure
The White Anxiety Crisis
TV Will Save the World - "forget Twitter, Google and Kindle"; world wide tv is the next big thing
The Twilight of the Elites
The Boring Age

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Drinking water

When an ape uses a stick inserted into a termite mound to pull a tasty stick of bugs to slurp, it is using a tool.  When humans build computer networks to watch over the transmission of electrical energy, they are using a tool.  Sometimes, making a manufacturing process more automatic and machine governed is called "mechanization".  Sometimes, especially in Europe, the process can be called "rationalization" since doing so requires thinking out the process in a systematic way, a way that machines can handle.   The book "The Right    Stuff" and comments in the writing of Guy Kawasaki, important in management and Mac computer literature, emphasize the difference between total mechanization where the process can run more or less by iteself, at least for a while, and tool mechanization.  Some thinkers believe that augmenting tool use is often more satisfying for people than completely mechanizing the process.  I love the theme of mechanization vs. more hand-operated processes and find it is a very valuable way to think about the essence of humans, their lives, goals and needs.  I always looked for a good text in the area.  The best book for me was "Out of Control" by Kevin Kelly but my students didn't seem to enjoy it or get much from it.

What does all that have to do with drinking water?  Personal hydration can be viewed as a natural process, like hunger or sex.  We have basic mechanisms in us to drive us to quench our thirst.  It can also be partially mechanized as when we carry a water bottle with us or when we use a clock to drink on the hour.  It can be more completely mechanized with intravenous tubing.  In college, I was not part of a big push to drink water but when I visited the soccer field 30 years later, continuous streams of water arched in the air at the edge of the field so that players could jog over and simply open their mouth and have water squirt right in.  When I visit a weight room, I see people carrying water bottles from machine to machine, sometimes drinking between sets.  In "Total Fitness" by Morehouse and Gross as in many other places such as "Eat to Win" by Robert Haas, the widespread idea is presented that drinking water often is essential to top performance physically.  In my 40's, I read Andrew Weil's mnemonic "n.a.m.a.i.s.", not as much as I should, for the statement that I don't drink as much water as I should.  This extra super-natural injunction to drink was based on the premise that by the time, we feel thirsty, we are already in a dehydrated state and should therefore drink steadyily and before we are thirsty.  

Then, thanks to an article in the Stevens Point Journal a couple of years ago I learned of the work of Heinz Valtin  Valtin is a retired nephrologist (kidney expert) and medical professor from Dartmouth.  He explained that our sense of thirst is quite accurate and that overdrinking does little for us but tax the kidneys unnecessarily.  He said there is virtually no evidence supporting the old standard, 8 oz glasses of water 8 times a day.  So, I decided to cut back on my water intake.  Then, Lynn's elderly stepdad needed died on three separate occasions from bad dehydration.  Oh, older people's perception of thirst may be less than it ought to be. Meanwhile, bad cramping in my legs caused my chiropractor to state that the most common cause of cramping is dehydration and reminded me of how some tennis pros have had to forfeit a match after reaching a state of dehydration.  

I don't expect to live forever and I don't think I want to, anyhow.  I also don't want to have to urinate all the time.  So, a happy medium is what I am currently aiming for.  Keep thirst at bay and drink about 2 points beyond that, morning and afternoons.  I haven't heard any challenges to using the urine color as an indicator of good hydration.  That, thirst guidance and energy levels are my current favored guides.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How can we motivate ourselves to exercise?

A friend asked me how we can motivate people to exercise.  I think that is a difficult matter.  Some people cannot exercise.  Some cannot do what they picture as exercise.  I think many are reasonably able bodied but don't exercise.  Some over exercise.  Another aspect of the subject is that it is usually of interest to teens and those one or two decades older.  But those that are most seriously in need may be in their 60's or more.

About four years ago, I made this presentation for a group of older people.  I have learned to consider these types of exercise:
    strength training
    other, such as explosive power and balance

I have no formal training in exercise and everything I know and practice comes from reading and experience.  In my younger years, I thought the forms of exercise were of importance in the order listed above.  I wrestled in high school and college but I was not outstanding in any important way.  I had a natural stamina and strength.  I was bored then by running and spend my practice time practicing wrestling.  I visited the wrestlers' workout room a year or so after my last semester and quickly found that I was out of shape and out of practice.  That was about 1961.  About 1966, I read a Sunday supplement article by Ken Cooper, the father of aerobics.  I was a full-time grad student at the time and had not thought about exercise.  I found I could not meet Cooper's standards for high performance but I did enjoy steady exercise.  I promised myself I would get in shape, whatever that means, and stay in shape for the rest of my life.

I am fairly short and slow.  I have never had the urge to run a marathon or even a half-marathon.  By the 1970's, I ran fairly regularly.  I told a orthopedist about my running since I had a knee injury in college that left me with no anterior ligament on my left knee.  He said that running was all right as long as I didn't over do it.  I learned that weight-lifting should be done three times a week with a day of rest following each day of lifting.  I watched a memorable Scientific American program on training and care of race horses where they discovered that the horses in general were not rested enough for optimal performance. I use the day-on/day-off idea for running 3 miles three times a week and walk the same distance on the off days.

Dr. Kenneth Pelletier says that understanding the benefits of exercise has as much medical importance as the discovery of penicillin had.  Thus, getting the patient up and walking so soon after an operation, as opposed to the old way that used bed-rest for a much longer time.

It is possible that exercising will extend my life just as much as the time it takes to exercise.  If that is true, is there any point to doing it?  For me, the answer is clearly yes.  I feel better with a steady exercise program.  I have read that life in 1850 required much more walking and chopping wood for heat.  With central heating by oil or gas and cars to move us, we have lost that required movement.  My pedometer shows 10,000 steps most days but Time magazine said that Amish farmers regularly get 18,000 steps a day while their wives tend to get 14,000.  More of anything is not always better but the right dose of movement helps the body of a food-gathering ape.  Exercise is one of the valuables we have to supply for ourselves, a requirement if we are going to watch tv, compute and read.
(Copy edited by L.S. Kirby)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A weird type of semi-fame

For the past 20 years, I have been on statewide public television.  There are 15 basic statistics lessons that run for an hour each and they run during the fall and spring semesters.  There aren't enough weeks in the summer to accommodate an additional run.   The subject is interesting and useful, to me but to 99 of 100 people, it is boring and obscure.  We made the tapes in 1989 to assist students trying to learn statistics.  At that time, there was no world wide web but tv was a good avenue to reach students.  The lessons are totally unable to compete with shoot-'em-ups and low-cut blouses.  The usual running hour is 7 AM on Sundays.

So, when I stopped for some coffee at a MacDonald's about 65 miles south and sat in my car drinking it before driving, I was very surprised when an electrical repairman stopped his truck beside me and asked if I taught statistics on television.  Nobody had ever connected me to the lessons before.  I was tickled to be recognized.  

I was a little less tickled when we went to a furniture store 100 miles away, looking for lamps for our living room.  We wandered through the large store and finally found just the lamps we wanted.  We went to a service desk and asked for assistance in that part of the store.  A salesman heard the call and came toward us.  Before we could explain what we were interested in, he froze and said, "The statistics teacher!"  We said yes, that's true and it is nice that you notice.  Now about these lamps.  "I just love your show!"  Well, gee, thanks.  Not many people do.  These lamps are just what we want.  "I watch every lesson.  It is so interesting!"  We kept working on sending our message and it finally got through.  We did get the lamps and I don't think we were insulting or nasty but it was a struggle.

My friend, an expert in educational television, has a rule of thumb that in today's tv culture, a person seems real, actual and exciting if that person's face has been seen on the tv screen and is later met in person.  

Once we spent a romantic weekend away.  One night, in the dining room of the hotel, a couple caught our eye.  They only had eyes for each other and their conversation was steady and animated.  We were charmed.  Eventually, they sensed our interest in them.  They looked over at us and the man said,"Don't you teach statistics on tv?"  It was quite surprising.

The oddest moment was when we visited a national park in Maine.  We went up to the main desk to get a map of the park.  The woman ranger asked me if I taught statistics on tv.  I was hundreds of miles away but she had been assigned the lessons in grad school.  
(copyedited by L.S.Kirby)

Monday, April 12, 2010

web logging

I wrote the other day about writing my dissertation.  At the same time I uploaded another large file.  The dissertation is slightly more than 4 mb.  The first year of this blog makes a PDF file, too, and it is slightly more than 2 mb.  Google web sites allow me to upload those files and leave them in a place where I and others can find them if desired.  At one time, files of that size (4 mb = 4 megabytes = 4000 kb.  When I first studied computing on the U. of Maryland campus in 1965, we used a hotshot computer of the day whose memory was something like 132 kb, kilobytes.)  It was just a couple of years ago that files the size of the dissertation or blog were prohibitively large and would jam many transmission systems.  Now, less so.

When I retired, I left an intense schedule behind.  I was used to handling many student emails a day and doing the related marking, commenting and crediting required of online instruction.  The local organization called "Learning Is ForEver" (L.I.F.E.) was of interest even before I retired.  Local people deliver presentations on a wide variety of topics and trips are offered to operas and plays in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.  There are many other types of excursion and adventures, too.  L.I.F.E. offered me a forum and my presentations gave me a chance to again think and speak as I did for my classes.  I often found the fun was in thinking of what to present as well as in delivering it.

Retirement was my first chance to be ok financially and do more or less whatever I wanted with each day.  I still have that opportunity daily and I have found that being my version of a columnist, thinking of whatever I want and figuring a way to say what I am thinking is energizing and valuable.  I read the other day of a columnist who wrote 1000 words every day for 60 years.  I will not last 60 years and I don't write 1000 words for my posts.  But looking over my thoughts, the news, comparing and contrasting this and that turns out to be quite satisfying.  I like to have at least a few readers and I do.  I am grateful to them and for the modern opportunity to get the motivation to churn something out regularly in a 'weB LOG'.

(Copyedited by L.S. Kirby)

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