Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Zip it!

When I took philosophy classes, I often felt as though I entered a place where a gang fight was all set to happen when I entered the class room.  I remember no women.  The all-male class seemed calm but ready.  I pictured someone being "weak" enough to utter a sound, perhaps a clearing of the throat.  Instantly, the fight would erupt!  "I object!"  "J'accuse!"  "But, you have forgotten...!"  Noise!  Energy!  Analysis!  Thoughts!  Voices and wit and sound.

When I first read of the Flower Sermon, I was amazed.  All my training, experience and background had pointed in the same direction as the philosophy class: thought!  Effort!  Attack!  Nothing had said to just rest quietly.  I, like my intellectual friend, had come from a practice of 'verbalism':
discuss everything from every possible angle.  Even in group prayers, we were constructing and transmitting a message to Heaven.  But there are other directions.  Just stop and sit.  As Sylvia Boorstein's title says, "Don't Just Do Something.  Sit There!"

In our usual Western vigorous parlance, we might say," Zip it!"  Shut up!  As the Bible puts it, "Be still and know that I am God"(Psalm 46). Mark Epstein's "Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart" describes how his Western training as a psychiatrist was similarly pointed toward finding and removing sickness and imbalances.  That is a good strategy for sure.  Much good indeed has come from rigorous pursuit of answers and solutions.  However, as with most ideas, it seems to have limits.  Listening to "The Demon Under the Microscope" by Thomas Hager, I heard about the very, very rigorous efforts of German chemists to find chemicals that humans could safely ingest that would stop bacterial infections such as strep and staph.  One can't listen to details of the effort and time and patience and money focused on that effort so important to all human life without respecting the Western strategy, which, by the way, is becoming a world strategy.

However, as we hear more ideas of disease marketing that searches for some condition which humans will pay for a pill to remove, a condition of human life, it becomes clear that relentless effort in one direction can lead us astray.  The British psychologist Dr. Petra Boynton is one of many voices that are warning of the drift toward taking human states and marketing pills that supposedly cure or lessen them.  She is referring to female sexual desire but Epstein sees the many versions of feeling empty and unfulfilled as a much more important example.  The West has tried to cure that feeling while the East has welcomed it as the tip of entering into a larger life and great accord with existence.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

burdens of freedom

Responses from excellent people to Retire from Retirement (All but one are retired now)
Thought you might like to see these comments on the pleasures and pressures of being retired and deciding over and over what to do with life.

This is exactly what worries me about retirement.  You should send this to AARP.

**Ha! That's exactly it!! It just doesn't feel good to have to make so many discriminations about what to do, when to do it, and who to do it with! Gad.

Very well said!  Sometimes I think I would like to go back to work just to get a vacation day.  Aren't we lucky?  I love the fact that we can just do things on the spur of the moment.


To help you keep track of what day it is when you wake up,  just count the days since the last FAT paper came and then you will know what day it is.  Hope this helps keep you in retirement.


Great timing on this one.  I received an email from a friend this morning who is entering his last week of work before retiring and is a bit apprehensive.  I forwarded your thoughts to him because we have had the exact conversation.


Are you serious about finding a job in retirement?  I know exactly what you mean about the freedom of choice and the demanding schedule of retirement.  Sometimes I have myself so booked up with activities that I have planned to fill my time that I think how relaxing it would be to go to one place and work all day.  As you probably remember, I have found retirement a challenge.  We are so used to all our time occupied that we think we have to do that in retirement also.  I do enjoy my part time job, but I have cut back on my volunteer activities and all those presentations, concerts, etc. that I used to fill my time.  I have been writing some and have joined Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets which I find a very interesting group.  And I am trying to schedule more "downtime" into my day.

I doubt you are serious about  returning to work, but it is good sometimes to know that other retirees experience some of the same challenges with their schedules.


Right on! Not my choice, but caring for my hubby is a full time job with time checks throughout the day. I find that I'm slower transitioning from one task to the other.


Monday, June 28, 2010

retire from retirement

I have decided to retire from retirement.  I can't stand the pressure.  When I had a regular job, I had a schedule.  I had obligations I felt were fun and important to meet.  Now, each day is a new slate.  That means I have an opportunity to take up something new.  I also have to watch that I don't take up too many new things or overschedule myself.  I have to check my calendar all the time since, with an irregular schedule, I don't know what is next or what I have already agreed to.

Our older crowd is excellent at conversation, at enjoying life.  We want to get together.  How about dinner?  Oops, they're busy.  How about lunch?  Sorry, we can't because we are busy.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner are easily scheduled for social get-togethers.  But we can't eat enough meals to meet with all of our friends and relatives.

When you are retired, you have choices.  That can be a burden.  Do I have anything up today?  Do I want anything up today?  Should I call in sick and simply not go to the latest lecture, the latest show, the latest brilliant presentation?

I have wanted to really learn a foreign language.  I have studied a couple in school but when I travel, I can't understand a thing.  If I manage to get out a question in a comprehensible way, I can't understand the answer.  Italian! French! Japanese! Finnish!  I have been retired for 5 years and made no progress with any of them.

I am going to get a job just to flee from the guilt and pressure.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Senior tools

My brother-in-law and my sister were having a drink in their living room.  He got a good idea about senior marketing and he told her.  It was a good idea and quite funny and they had a good laugh about it.  Now, neither of them can remember what the idea was. 

We have similar things happen here in our house.  So, the time has come.  We are installing high level security cameras all over, so that one machine or another can record our images and our voices all the time.  No more going down to the basement only to arrive having no memory of what we were after when we started.  Some of our smart young programmer friends are hard at work developing computer code that will assist us in rapid search for particular spoken words and one of us moving in a given direction.  We want to be able to quickly rewind the video to a point we can hear what we said and see what we were doing.

We realize that the term 'security camera' is often associated with crime prevention and law enforcement.  However, we find that a great many more moments of pain, frustration and deep chagrin come into our lives from other sources than bad guys.  A little technical and private assistance in recalling what we were recently about would be very welcome if it were discreet and within our budget.

These so-called 'senior' moments are getting to be a bother and we are confident that American ingenuity and Asian manufacturing skill can produce senior assistive technology on a par with the growing set of tools that assist younger people.  We will be publishing information on when and where we will accept proposals and design sketches soon.  Those interested in getting in on what is sure to be the next big thing should begin now converting various funds into transferable form.  We are considering accepting initial funds of $50,000 dollars in any currency.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Our voices carry

We often think that our sight is our main sense.  In some ways, it is.  But us older men who have diminished hearing know that our ears are mighty important, too.

A couple of years ago, I had my hearing tested and was told that I had some loss in the high frequencies.  They said I would be not  able to hear a mosquito buzz.  That didn't seem too bad but then they said that the same high frequency was the sound level needed to be able to clearly distinguish between certain explosive consonants in speech, such as the difference between "d" and "t".  When we did the Brain Fitness Program, the section on hearing that difference was very difficult.  Posit Science advises the person to keep trying and to make a choice as to what might be the sound, since that sort of conscious practice may bring back a little of one's ability.

When I was teaching over live television, most people assumed that the video was key.  However, we found that the class could proceed all right if my voice was transmitted but with no sound, we had to abandon the session.  

In some of the blogs I follow on at my blog site, there have been research posts recently on how people gauge the sexiness and attractiveness of others by their voice.  Another research study said that people can fairly accurately sense a man's strength from his voice and that how it is done is unknown.  The researchers checked and the ability was not related to tone or pitch.

I often think that the exact voice tone, speed and timing of delivery  is a big carrier of both meaning and emotional state.  I can say the words "Well, certainly" in a way that communicates I agree with someone or that I actually rather doubt what has just been said.

My teaching experiences have made clear to me just how valuable telephones in all their forms are for human communication.  

I have heard that when telephones were first becoming available, someone asked why anyone would want to talk to someone they don't know and have never met.  In today's world, the question seems odd.  We know the value of voice communication.  

I guess it is possible at some time in the future that we may have the ability to know what someone wants to say without actual sound being transmitted.The linked material says that the Defense department is working on sensors that can transmit to another the nervous impulses a speaker was planning to use to speak without there being any actually speech.  They are trying to find ways for voice communication in noisy or dangerous environments.

Friday, June 25, 2010

burdens of modern communications

I think it is pretty clear that we are living in a sensationalistic age.  On the output and competitive side, one cannot expect to be noticed unless one breaks social conventions and expectations or unless one has something superlative to say.  So, we wind up with "The Seven Words We Can't Say on Television".  Or, for superlatives, we might get "Man Drinks 1000 bottles of beer in an hour" or some other unbeatable feat.  On the input and customer side, we hear about so much, always filtered and sorted on by the writers and media so it is likely to be sensational and superlative, that our brains filter it out and our attention quickly fades from the item unless it is the most or the least or some other extreme.

I like to try to imagine what it was like in previous times when communication was very much slower.  Today, we learn about what happens almost as it is happening.  Besides, we learn about most parts of planet at the same time.  A bicycle accident in South America, a volcano in Iceland, violence in Kyrgyzstan, Wall Street prices: it is all there along with background material, history, comment, explanation, debate.  A couple of centuries ago, we might not hear about events in Europe for months.  We might not hear about events in some places at all. 

When I saw the headline The City that Can't Heal, I was intrigued.  Not just by the picture but also by the evocative writing.  Today, we have journalism students and graduate students studying how to write memorably, evocatively.  And they really can and they really do.

These days, we have pictures, live video from all over nearly instantaneously.  Again, as with the writers, the photographers and cinematographers study, research and criticize their art.  They learn their art and develop advanced tools to modify, crop, enlarge their images for maximum effect

I also wonder about the stress on modern correspondents.  I imagine flying into a war zone or a disaster area and being fluent in the local language is good but exposes the reporter to the full effect of tension, fear and despair that the people there are feeling.  Quickly flying home, maybe to a fine dinner and a comfortable and secure bed can elicit a bit of survivor guilt and a bit of extra pain for those still in the mess.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

MInds East and West

I enjoy finding writers and thinkers that know Western psychology and/or psychiatry and also know Buddhism and Eastern thought, too.  The first one I found was Harvey Aronson, a Texas psychotherapist.  His book is "Buddhist Practice on Western Ground".  I got a great deal from Jack Kornfield, especially his book The Wise Heart.  He has a PhD.  Lately, I have been reading Christopher Germer, MD, in his book "The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion".  I have had a copy of one of several books by psychiatrist Mark Epstein, MD, on my shelf for quite a while.  It's "Going to Pieces without Falling Apart".  That has not been an especially attractive title for me so it has taken a while to get around to finding out what he has to say.  The book is actually more about what we call "letting go", not demanding of ourselves or others that we act in certain ways, the ways we deem are the right or best ways.

In this book, one of Epstein's earliest, he discussed his inner longing durng his college years for some unnamed something that was more than what he was experiencing.  His Buddhist practice began with the learning that he could just observe that longing, experience it, sit with it, acknowledge it without actually needing to become president of the world. 

Having been president of the world, I have to admit the position is not all it is cracked up to be.  In fact, it seems, more and more, that there is no permanent, lovely, flawless paradise anywhere.  Stuff riseth and stuff falleth, good and bad.  It comes at us in a mixture.  Besides, it is tricky.  What seems to be a clearly unadulterated good isn't so hot after all and is later found to have unwanted side effects or grows boring. Something what is clearly negative turns out to have its up side, sometimes enough of one that I don't want that "negative" to end.

Buddhism takes as fundamental its idea of there being no self.  It points out that there is no part of the body or mind that is the self.  The West, and America especially, emphasize self-reliance and self confidence.  Both Westerners and Easterners have ideas in this area of value to the other side.  It is an area where either side can grow impatient with the other.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


We can make the world and our reaction to it more or less whatever we want.  Why not make a happy world, an upbeat world, a joyful world?

Well, that is just plain ignorant.  People are dying all over, there are incurable diseases and horrible accidents.  There is pain and despair and hunger.

In the current times, we think along lines promoted in America: science and fairness.  It is scientific to get all the evidence and put it all in the balance when deciding what sort of world we have, isn't it?  It is biased, unfair, unbalanced to consider the world happy when so many parts of it are clearly not.  

It seems to me that in truth, any reasonably short description of
  • my day or
  • my life or
  • my body or
  • my community or
  • how things are going

always must be an abstraction.  My thought package or my feelings or my observation will only be partial.  Any of them will include what I put in it, what I allow in it.  I get to decide, I DO decide, at each moment, what the story or description will be.

Deepka Chopra helped me develop a feel for the importance of our senses, including our thoughts, when he emphasized that many animals hear things we don't, smell things we don't, see things we don't.  It is honest to say that what they sense and what we sense is part of the world, a very specialized story or impression.  Like bloggers or poets or photographers or painters, we create our impressions all the time.  We decide what we will pay attention to and what we will dismiss.

A story that I happily retain is about a young man complaining to Picasso that the artist's work was unrealistic and ugly.  The man pulled a photo of his girl friend from his wallet and showed it to Picasso as example of real beauty.  Picasso looked at the photo and said, "Small, isn't she?"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Themes and memes

Knowing about the worlds we can't see or detect with our other senses is important, scientifically, religiously and philosophically.  More or less at the same stage of human history, the telescope and the microscope were invented to give us better access to worlds that are too big or too little for us to see on our own.  But another world that is not visible but is of great importance is the world of our minds, individually and collectively.

It was actually in the nutty novel "Fluke: I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings" by Christopher Moore that I first heard of the meme (rhymes with 'beam'), a notion put forth by the biologist Richard Dawkins that it makes sense to think of small cultural units that get transmitted by language, art and other means from human to human in about the way that genes do biologically.  If I ask you to fill in the blanks in "Too many cooks _________ the __________", and you supply "spoil" and "broth", you have had some memes transmitted to you.  I guess there has been plenty of writing and talking about the meme concept, its validity and applications but the basic idea seems valuable and applicable to human life to me.

To me, the world of artificial computer viruses constructed by humans mimics the world of biological viruses.  In a similar way, our human world of ideas, themes, symbols and customs includes transmission of these items from one human or group of humans to another, mimicking genes in biology.

For the microscopic and telescopic views, we can zoom, increase or decrease the magnification, tighten or widen the shot.  But the world of ideas, meanings, themes, memes and theories cannot be detected with such instruments.  That world takes language and human minds and feelings to detect, decode, appreciate and participate in.  Normally, units of transmission from one human mind to another might be discussed using words related to culture.  That makes sense to me but little units can be transmitted without our noticing.  Later, when we wonder why there is a prohibition against putting a hat on the dining table or opening an umbrella inside the house or for raising the little finger when drinking from a tea cup, the answer may be unconscious transmission, unnoticed copying from one setting or generation to another.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Graduating physicians

I am a big fan of Atul Gawande.  Any discomfort we feel with his name is probably due to cultural isolation, our experience of names not including those from India and other cultures.  But we are going to have to get used to new names since some of our best thinking comes from people with different cultural backgrounds.

Prof. Gawande is an important American teacher, physician and one of my favorite authors.  I have read three books by him ("Complications", "Better", and "The Checklist Manifesto") and articles by him that sometimes appear in The New Yorker.  I read that both of his parents, born in India, are physicians.  He is on the Harvard Medical School faculty.

The New Yorker published his address to the graduating class at the Standford Medical School.

The Velluvial Matrix

Posted by Atul Gawande
Atul Gawande gave the commencement speech at Stanford's School of Medicine last week. Here is what he told the graduating class.
Many of you have worked for four solid years—or five, or six, or nine—and we are here to declare that, as of today, you officially know enough stuff to be called a graduate of the Stanford School of Medicine. You are Doctors of Medicine, Doctors of Philosophy, Masters of Science. It's been certified. Each of you is now an expert. Congratulations.
So why—in your heart of hearts—do you not quite feel that way?

The experience of a medical and scientific education is transformational. It is like moving to a new country. At first, you don't know the language, let alone the customs and concepts. But then, almost imperceptibly, that changes. Half the words you now routinely use you did not know existed when you started: words like arterial-blood gas, nasogastric tube, microarray, logistic regression, NMDA receptor, velluvial matrix.

O.K., I made that last one up. But the velluvial matrix sounds like something you should know about, doesn't it? And that's the problem. I will let you in on a little secret. You never stop wondering if there is a velluvial matrix you should know about.

Since I graduated from medical school, my family and friends have had their share of medical issues, just as you and your family will. And, inevitably, they turn to the medical graduate in the house for advice and explanation.
I remember one time when a friend came with a question. "You're a doctor now," he said. "So tell me: where exactly is the solar plexus?"
I was stumped. The information was not anywhere in the textbooks.
"I don't know," I finally confessed.
"What kind of doctor are you?" he said.

I didn't feel much better equipped when my wife had two miscarriages, or when our first child was born with part of his aorta missing, or when my daughter had a fall and dislocated her elbow, and I failed to recognize it, or when my wife tore a ligament in her wrist that I'd never heard of—her velluvial matrix, I think it was.

The rest of his address can be read here.  It is not all fun and games but worth a few minutes reading.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Things that keep me busy

I like to listen to audiobooks on my iPod while driving around on errands.  I can play the sound in the car with a cheap wire from Wal-mart that connects to a fake cassette that fits into the car cassette player.  I can keep it charged with another cord that fits into the lighter socket and has a USB port that keeps energy flowing into the iPod.  A Classic costs $250 at Wal-mart and had 160 gigs of disc space.  A Nano costs about half that and has about 8 gigs of space.  Either will hold plenty of music but fewer audio books, which can be downloaded from, now a branch of  The downloading software for music from Amazon and from for audio books are free and both can make use of the iTunes database from Apple for maintaining and loading the iPod.

A savvy friend just updated me on additional web sites and services that seem useful and interesting. 

At Prezi, I guess you can make online presentations.  That sounds like something a teacher or professor would want but I learned long ago that thousands of presentations are made everyday in business, schools, and most human organizations.  In fact, I heard of a couple of children who made a PowerPoint presentation to try to persuade their parents to give them a bigger allowance.  I haven't
used the site but it sounds intriguing.  I heard from my favorite gadget guru that he has given a presentation about Prezi and I know he wouldn't do that unless he felt it was pretty good.  I also heard that a Boston high school teacher showed the site to a group of seniors who were graduating in 4 days and 70% of them made a presentation before graduating.  Several critics complain about the more or less static presentation of slides, often with too much text per slide, and too much droning on by the presenter while a single slide sits and sits and sits in front of the audience.  This page shows the Prezi services available for free and with payment for annual licenses.

I guess similar things and maybe some interactive games and such can be made at MIT's Scratch.  The site says that well over a million projects have been completed on Scratch.  It is available free but donations are appreciated.

An added note: Google recently added the ability to draw to its free documents service and they have had Sketch, a free 3D model drawing service for quite a while.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The pleasures of rubber bear poop

We got to the rangers' demo and discussion of snakes in time.  We listened to what they could tell us about snakes in the park: they aren't poisonous but they do bite.  Then, we looked at the exhibits in the nature center.  Stuffed crane, stuffed bear and other animals.  At the end, we saw a closed wooden box labeled "Whose poop?"  Inside were cards with an animal's name and a model of its scat in rubber or something like it.

The turkey poop was green.  The black bear poop was large and heavy and very black.  Our great grandson was pleased that it looked so real but wasn't.  He held the model in his hand and asked another child if she wanted some bear poop.  It looked real and she recoiled in horror.  We told him not to scare the children and he switched to offering the poop to large, somber, serious-looking men.  When one also recoiled, he admitted that what he held was rubber and the man looked relieved.

Michael Sullivan's book Serving Boys Through Readers' Advisory and his web site knows books and boys and he knows that younger boys, about elementary school age, are often interested in poop and in hunting and science that recognize and study animal poop.  He lists some books on the subject that might be of interest:

Sylvia Branzei. Animal Grossology. (Price Stern Sloan, 2004)

Sylvia Branzei. Grossology. (Price Stern Sloan, 2002)

Sylvia Branzei. Grossology and You. (Price Stern Sloan, 2002)

Sylvia Branzei. Hands-On Grossology. (Price Stern Sloan, 2003)

Karen Chin and Thom Holmes. Dino Dung: The Scoop on Fossil Feces. (Random House, 2004)  

We were wondering where poop models are made?  Is there much of a market for model turkey poop?  Are there blueprints of the design and its specifications?

Friday, June 18, 2010


I heard a college placement officer on NPR say that no one today should graduate from college without knowing how to use a spreadsheet.  I agree and would go a step further and say that everyone should use a spreadsheet regularly.  I hope everyone graduating from an American high school knows how to use a spreadsheet.

When I first got Appleworks, I couldn't figure how to use the spreadsheet.  I knew that I could type numbers or words into a cell on it but what good did that do?  Even typing 10 in one cell, 23 in another cell and telling a third cell to show the sum didn't seem all that impressive.  What was the gain of using a spreadsheet over using a handy, accurate, quick and inexpensive calculator?

It helped to hear that each of the thousands of cells in a spreadsheet is a calculator by itself.  

It helped more to realize that the structure of a saved spreadsheet could convert figures in a process over and over at top speed.  So, if I want to calculate the standard deviation of a group of numbers, the sheet displays that as soon as the data is entered.  I can copy all of the cells that perform that operation and paste them beside the originals, making two calculators that go through the steps I want.

I find Microsoft's Excel excellent and I use it all the time.  I used to keep my checkbook up to date but now my money spreadsheet is much faster, more accurate and all I do in the checkbook is record the checks.  I think tracking one's money is the easiest regular operation to use a spreadsheet for.  

It really is true that showing the data in a chart or graph can make features of a set of figures stand out faster and more completely than just looking at numbers themselves.  Excel or other spreadsheets can graph data in many forms instantaneously.  

Google docs includes a free spreadsheet that is available on any computer with an internet connection.  Open Office offers a complete suite of free standard programs that includes a spreadsheet and much else.  Last October, Open Office had been downloaded 100 million times.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

the families that compute together

I know a little boy who has a mom and a dad who love him very much.  I hope all the little boys in the world have the love and support this one has.  But, as teachers are constantly telling us, his whole family is actively engaged in being around him, talking to him, sharing movies and games with him, reading to him and keeping an eye on his language and activities.

About 20 years ago, my wife and I spent a day driving.  On the drive, we talked continuously about our explorations of the new software package she had given me for Father's Day, Appleworks.  We had just gotten our first computer, an Apple II e, and I had seen a magazine story about the "suite" of programs that included the ability to word process, handle information in a spreadsheet and file information in rows and columns in a basic database.  It surprised me how intimately and pleasurably two people could talk about the keyboard shortcuts and features of the program.

In a very reminiscent way, the little boy had a similar conversation in our presence the other day.  We had just had a satisfying meal and the beach beckoned with its invitation to run and jump.  Two other boys were doing that, too, and soon a three way conversation developed.  In no time, the talk settled on a recently released video game and its challenges.  I am interested in the value of video games ever since I started Everything Bad is Good for You and read that several universities have started academic departments of gaming.

The boys discussed ways they had succeeded in the game and tricks and insights that helped them rise to the next level.  Our hero immediately explained what he had heard to his grandfather who immediately arranged for them to try out these new suggestions.  The trial did not immediately succeed but meanwhile the grandmother went to Google, found an explanatory video showing the needed steps and target.  

So, the game furnished a lingua franca for young males' discussion and social interchange while our moden media of fast broadband and video on the net supplied an enterprising pair of grandparents with the needed info to score.  Yay!  This modern world is ok.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Math and me

There is a sidewalk in our town with this equation painted on it.  It is actually in the form with the 1 on the other side, showing that e to the power of i times pi = -1.

When I first saw it, I couldn't believe.  I have had lots of adventures with math.  I have had ups and downs.  In grade school, I didn't do well.  I could memorize number facts, such as 7 x 9 = 63 but I couldn't drag myself through several dozen multiplications of three digit numbers times three digit numbers.  I wasn't motivated.  

I liked high school plane geometry and I think I did ok in it.  Euclid and his gang loved logical proofs and for centuries, men thought they were reasoning as God does, at least when dealing with opposite interior angles of a line intersecting a pair of parallel lines.  Then, Riemann and Lobachevsky and others showed that Euclid was only right on plane figures and that spheres and saddles are different entirely.  Turns out God is a little bigger and trickier than we thought.  

College was fairly math free until I found I needed a minor.  Math seemed like a good bet and I took math of finance and statistics and did ok.  Teaching 5th grade, I found math was the easiest, most straight-forward subject and took much less preparation and mess than social studies or science.  I became interested in finding better ways of schooling and got a PhD in statistics and testing and that involved some math.  Not that much and with modern computers and spreadsheets, it is very easy.  Besides, it makes people think you are a brain and they don't bother you.

Many people are avid readers, sometimes of bodice rippers and Harlequin romances.  I often tried to convince them to try a math book once in a while.  They just laughed, even though there are a slew of wonderful books on who did what in math and why it matters.  I got carried away by Men of Mathematics by E.T. Bell and Finite Mathematics by John  Kemeny.  (links to free pdf of the whole thing).  Bell introduced me to some of the really great mathematicians, including the Swiss mathematician Euler (pronounced oiler) and he realized the equation on the t-shirt, often called Euler's identity, which is a truly amazing fact.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I read the other day of a photo of African teens huddled under a street light where they could see to do their homework.  They have cell phones that work but not electricity in their homes so they use a street light to see well enough to study at night.

I tend to think that electricity comes from the wall and that is because mammoth planning, discussion, argument and work took place during the latter half of the 1800's in the electrification of the cities.  I have read that Westinghouse and others supported using alternating electricity since they produce plenty and send it long distances but Edison hated the idea because of the dangers of such juice.  I believe he electrified live cats and  such in public demos to show the deadly effects of alternating current.

Waterfalls, dams and windmills can all be used to create large amounts of electricity as well as coal and other engines and turbines.  An interesting  sounding book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is about an African teenager who read in American sponsored libraries about how to build wind-driven electricity generation and did so.

My hero W.E. Deming stressed that 95% of human error comes from the design (or lack thereof) of the system we are operating in.   We have juice for our houses now because of the discoveries of others about electricity but it also comes from the creation and operation and maintenance of co-ops and utilities companies, a distribution and billing system that  we need as much as wires.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fwd: Best of The Scout Report -- 2009-2010

Subject: Best of The Scout Report -- 2009-2010

From: [] On Behalf Of Internet Scout Project
Sent: Thursday, June 10, 2010 12:11 PM
Subject: Best of The Scout Report -- 2009-2010

If you are unable to view this message, click here to visit it on the Scout website.

The Scout Report

June 10th, 2010 Best of 2009-2010

The Internet Scout staff takes an incredible amount of pride in providing pointers to some of the best online resources to our readers in our weekly Scout Report. Although we feel all of the resources we cover are valuable, inevitably there are some that stand out from the pack. In this year's 'Best of' issue we will share some of our favorite sites from the past academic year with our readers. The process of choosing which sites to include was not easy, as the interests of our staff vary as much as those of our readers. Whether it is the design of the site, the fascinating subject area and content, the site's ease of use, or its usability in the classroom, Scout staffers all have different rationale for preferring one online resource over another. Nevertheless, we were able to produce a top ten list that pleased everyone on the staff and we hope our readers as well.

The list is not intended to be inclusive of all our favorites, or every great resource, but it is meant to remind our readers of some of the outstanding resources the Scout Report has covered over the past academic year. So we hope you enjoy this list, and maybe take a few minutes to revisit some of our favorite sites from 2009-2010. As always, we look forward to providing you with a new batch of fantastic resources throughout the upcoming year.

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Best of 2009-2010

Xeno-Canto: Bird Sounds From the Americas [Real Player]

As birds continue their twittering and general noise making around the world, we here at the Scout Report are reminded of what drew us to this site. Perhaps the highlight of this excellent site is the ability to cross-reference the geographic locations of the birds, their sounds, and conservation efforts around the word. Also, we are self-professed amateur ornithologists here at Internet Scout, and making an audio tour of weaver calls from Kenya and lesser kiskadee noises from Guyana without leaving the computer is great. Visitors can use the "Random Species" link to get started, and it's easy to move around the site with the "Map Search" feature and the "Browse" option. If that's not enough, visitors can also comment on different birdcalls, and help others identify different recordings.

Xeno-Canto is a fantastic website that exemplifies how the Internet can bring together people from around the world who have a common interest. This website offers bird songs, recorded by ornithologists and amateur birders alike, of almost 4500 species from around the world. The site is divided up into "Americas", "Asia", "Africa", "Europe", and "Australasia", and visitors can click on any region they desire in the far right hand corner of any page. There are many ways to view the information in the site, keeping in mind that the English and Latin names are used to identify the birds. Under Collection, on the menu found on the left side of any page, visitors can click on the link "All Species" to see a list of all the species with recorded songs, for the region they selected or across all regions. The number of recordings of each species of bird is listed next to their name. The fun "Mysteries" link, underneath the "Participate" section also found on the left side menu, contains unidentified bird recordings, posted so others might help determine the bird in question.

Nasa eClips

Over the years, NASA has created a host of fantastic websites and the NASA eClips is no exception. The Scout staff gave their thumbs up to this series of short "eClips" for a number of reasons. First, the site is easy to navigate and the videos are easy to view, easy to understand, and well produced. Second, the wide variety of grades and topics covered is impressive. Third, we loved the flexibility that these clips provided for classroom use; their short duration makes them easy to fit in to a lesson plan or homework assignment. We also appreciated the work that went into ensuring that the material for these programs was based on national curriculum standards, including standards identified by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Last, but not least, we were impressed by the high quality teacher tools provided here. Overall, the Scout staff expects that this site would be extremely useful to students, educators, and the general inquisitive public.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are the focus of this website and it is meant to be used as a teaching tool. The site utilizes video segments to provide flexibility and inspiration for those teaching STEM-related topics to grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12. Many of the advanced grade segments are also appropriate for introductory college level courses. The collection of videos for 9-12th graders is called "Launchpad". Visitors can access it by clicking on the link in the menu on the left hand side of the homepage and view videos on topics from methane to transits to fluid dynamics. Those visitors who are no longer in the classroom, but still want to learn about space via engaging videos can check out "NASA 360 For Public" on the left hand menu on the homepage. There is a series of a dozen videos to play online or download which address such topics as "NASA in Your Home", "NASA and Pro Athletes", and "Exploration and Racing".

Vincent Van Gogh: The Letters

At the Scout Report, we are always on the lookout for compelling exhibits that reveal the true character of artists of all sorts. Truly, this site can be considered one of the best portraits of an artist we have seen in this past year. This is largely due to the site's focus on Van Gogh's abilities as a communicator across several expressive traditions. We were delighted to discover this amazing collection of letters to and by Vincent Van Gogh, provided courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum and the Huygens Institute. The site contains over 900 letters, and visitors can pick out letters of interest by period, correspondent, place, or look for those with sketches by the master himself. Visitors can also view topical essays like "Van Gogh as a letter-writer" and check out information on the print edition of these letters.

The letters written by Vincent Van Gogh have appeared many times before, but this is the first time they have appeared as part of a complete digital edition. This fascinating collection was created by the Van Gogh Museum and the Huygens Institute, and the letters were edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nineke Bakker. On the site, visitors can view the over 900 letters from and to Van Gogh, complete with detailed annotations and illustrations from the master himself. First-time visitors should definitely click on the "Quick Guide" to get an overview of the site's holdings, and then they should also take a look at the sections "Van Gogh as a letter-writer", "Correspondents", "Biographical & historical context", and "Publication History". The letters include those from many of his contemporaries, including Paul Gauguin, and of course, those lovely pieces of writing from his brother, Theo. Users can also use the search engine here to look around by keyword. Finally, visitors can also look through the "About this Edition" area to learn about the reading texts included here, the translations, and the annotations.

Exploratorium 40th Anniversary: Speaking of Music Rewind [iTunes]

Here at the Scout Report, we don't often get visitors like Anthony Braxton, Astor Piazzolla, or Philip Glass stopping by our offices. We'd love to play host (hint, hint), but in the meantime, we'll just keep on listening to the Speaking of Music Rewind podcast series created by the Exploratorium. The site is distinguished by its use of clear and compelling graphics, and a broad focus on a range of musical talents and traditions. The offerings here include extended musical conversations from the past 40 years with some of the distinguished guests mentioned above, and a few other surprises. Visitors can even get a taste of "augmented reality" in the "Surprise!" area. Also, the "Timeline" area presents a great way to learn about the history of the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco.

The Exploratorium is in San Francisco's Palace of the Fine Arts, and contains science, art, and human perception exhibits. It has long promoted museums, including its own, as informal learning centers. The 40th anniversary of the Exploratorium is, in part, being honored with monthly podcasts of the radio series Speaking of Music that ran from 1983-1992. Prominent musicians were interviewed in front of a live audience, and some of the musicians even played some music on the show. The podcasts are called Speaking of Music Rewind and a new one will come out monthly until November 2010. The website has "Upcoming", "Recent", and "Featured" sections of podcasts from which to choose. Some of the prominent artists that were guests on the show include Brian Eno, Phillip Glass, and Laurie Anderson. These podcasts can be found in the "Recent" section. In order to "browse full archive", simply click the link at the bottom the homepage.

National Science Foundation: Science Nation [Flash Player]

"Science for the People" was a tagline that caught our eye when looking at the National Science Foundation's (NSF) "Science Nation" website. The site lives up to its promise, and it's the best way we have seen as of late to learn about the NSF's activities, and more importantly, about science in general in a clear and concise fashion. Science Nation is hosted by Miles O'Brien, and visitors can view the featured Science Nation update on the homepage to get started. Recent profiles have included video features on wind power in Wyoming and the sense of "fair play" that is shared by humans and primates.

Billed as "The Online Magazine That's All About Science for the People", the online magazine Science Nation reports on important science breakthroughs. Created by the National Science Foundation, the site reports on scientific and technological developments by using video clips, first-hand reporting, and well-written articles. On the homepage, visitors can take in their latest report, and then move on down to the "Science Nation Topics" area. Here they will find reports on tornadoes, new technologies for the visually handicapped, and the effect that climate change will have on Emperor penguin populations in Antarctica. Each topic is accompanied by related images and links to additional websites of note. Finally, visitors can also sign up to receive updates from the site via email and they are welcome to send along their feedback.

The Mathematical Association of America: Podcast Center

Facets of the Mathematical Association of America's (MAA) website have been highlighted in the Scout Report a number of times, but we were especially fond of its new feature - the MAA Podcast Center. Though the site isn't the fanciest around, the content makes it well worth a number of visits. Listening to each podcast is simple: just click on a subject that interests you and you are ready to go. The site is updated regularly and, perhaps surprisingly to some, these mathematics podcasts stay abreast of current news and issues. In addition to the high quality of the content, the Scout staff especially liked the idea of being able to use a podcast in a Math classroom - something that isn't always easy to do. But thanks to the MAA, math educators can search through a variety of podcasts to find something useful for their classroom.

The Mathematical Association of America (MAA) has done an excellent service by placing this collection of podcasts online. This diverse set of podcasts consists of talks and presentations given at MAA-sponsored events, and visitors are welcome to use them in the classroom or for their own personal edification. The podcasts here extend back to the spring of 2007, and the presentations include "Why Do Golf Balls Have Dimples?" and "The Joy of Solving Equations". The speakers include experts from Brandeis University, the University of Montreal, and Macalester College. It's also worth noting that for many of the lectures, an accompanying article is available for consultation.

Balzac's Paris: A Guided Tour

Honoré de Balzac was a keen observer of the world around him, who found himself in one of the world's cultural centers during a period of great social upheaval, technological transformation, and urban change. This delightful website from the University of California, Riverside's Tomás Rivera Library is one of our favorites because of the way it immerses visitors in the life of this renowned author via period maps, unique photographs, and helpful directions. First-time visitors should kick things off by looking at the "Balzac Biography". After this, visitors can meander through the "Balzac's Paris" area, where they will find period maps, drawings, and other materials that will place them into this 19th century urban world. The Scout staff was enchanted with their visit to the site, and it may inspire a trip to the City of Lights.

Honoré de Balzac was a great lover of Paris, and he happened to live in the City of Lights during a time when the city was undergoing intense physical transformation. Admittedly, many of the city's most famous landmarks did not emerge until after Balzac's passing in 1850, but this rather emotional and provocative online exhibit takes users into the Paris that the writer knew most intimately. Drawing on its tremendous Vernon Duke Collection (which includes over 800 books, maps, and documents on the history of Paris), the University of California, Riverside Library has created this fine introduction and exploration of Paris during the life of Balzac. The site contains a number of virtual tours (illuminated by various primary documents), along with a biography of Balzac, and a detailed bibliography.

BioEd Online: Podcasts Plus Lessons

BioEd Online, from the Baylor College of Medicine, has always been a Scout staff favorite and the podcast feature of the website does not disappoint. The site is especially easy to navigate, with each available podcast clearly listed on the site with a title and a short description. Once visitors choose a title of interest, they are provided with a longer description of the podcast, a relevant photo, multiple versions of the podcast, and coordinating lesson plans, additional activities, and additional resources. The Scout staff chose this site not only because the quality of the material is so good, but also because they have made it so easy for educators to use. Visitors to the site can choose to just listen to the material directly or download the podcast for offline use. We appreciated how each of these podcasts could easily be integrated into a classroom lesson or even a homework assignment.

Baylor College of Medicine is responsible for creating this educational online resource for students, teachers, and parents. The podcast feature of the website is a new one and offers "supplementary standards-based educational activities, research information, and links." The currently available podcasts are by produced by scientists from the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI), and they address such topics as astronauts' sleep, astronauts having to diagnose their own injuries while in space, the hazards of lunar dust, and how astronauts exercise in space. Visitors will find that each podcast has a short version and long version that can be played or downloaded. Each podcast also links to lessons for grades K-12, including ones from NOVA Science, NASA, Neuroscience for Kids, and NSBRI. Visitors will also find that there are numerous activities to supplement each podcast, such as "Additional Activities/Extensions", "Additional Resources", and "National Science Standards" for grades K-4, 5-8 and 9-12.


HistoryWorld's goal is to "make world history more easily accessible through interactive narratives and timelines." The Scout staff believes this is a worthy goal and we loved spending time discovering this site. Have you ever wished you knew more about the American Revolution, Marco Polo, or sea warfare? Well if you have, this site makes it simple to find out. We appreciated how easy it was to navigate, and how accessible the information was to find and understand. Clicking on any topic found under the "Histories" tab, will take visitors to an overview page. If they are not interested in the entire history of sea warfare, but are interested in a specific period instead, a table of contents (found on the left side of the page) is made available for each topic. So, should you want to skip over the canoe as warship and move on to the 19th century, this site makes doing so a simple process. The Scout staff has spent a lot of time browsing this fascinating and educational site, and we have also taken our fair share of quizzes to varying degrees of success. Overall, HistoryWorld provides hours of educational entertainment and we are big fans.

One million words of history can seem a bit daunting, but not when it is divided into 300 narratives and 10,000 events. That's the basic format of the HistoryWorld site, which was created by Bamber Gascoigne. The narratives are all linked together, and visitors will find that the homepage rotates through different selections, including the history of painting and the history of Andean civilization, just to name a few. Visitors can click on the "Histories" link to view an alphabetical list of the subjects covered. Each narrative history contains a brief outline and a link to an interactive timeline, complete with additional links. Moving on, the site also offers a set of quizzes, which include a timer for a bit of extra drama.

Nature Milestones

The Scout staff was immediately enamored with this section of the website. This feature, Nature Milestones, highlights key discoveries that have "shaped different scientific fields and enables the wider recognition of these classic findings." There are a number of "Milestones" already available on the site and topics include DNA Technologies, Cancer, and Cutaneous Biology. The site is visually and technically appealing and we appreciated the array of resources provided with each feature. For example, their latest entry "Photons" includes an editorial to this "series of specially written articles, highlighting the most influential developments towards understanding and using fundamental properties of light and its basic units, photons." In addition, visitors will find a timeline, articles, and a collection of online photon related research papers and review articles. The Scout staff loved how easy the "Milestones" were to use in a classroom setting, as they provide basic and advanced materials that can be used by a number of introductory courses. Overall, Milestones is a great example of how online resources can be brought together for use by educators, and we always look forward to future Milestones.

What were the most important advances in cutaneous biology of the past 100 years? The Nature Milestones website provides a detailed answer to that question, along with similar responses regarding light microscopy, cancer, and gene expression. All told there are ten special features on the site, and each feature includes an interactive timeline, scientific commentaries, and a selection of articles from Nature magazine and other peer-reviewed publications. Additionally, each feature includes a list of academic advisors, sponsors, and links to external resources on the subject. Visitors may wish to use these resources in the classroom setting, as they provide basic and advanced materials that can be used by a number of introductory courses. Finally, a number of the materials are also available in the pdf format for easy printing.

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Editor Max Grinnell
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June 10th, 2010 Best of 2009-2010

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