Saturday, December 31, 2011

I and We

One underlying difference between cultures is a culture's location on the group-individual scale.  I have read often of the greater emphasis on group identity and group decision-making in some other cultures than mine.  The book The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar is a good one on the individual and group because she is an articulate explainer of her experience of being a girl growing up in a highly organized Indian religion with many rules and obligations.  She enthusiastically followed them all.  Then, her family moved to the US and she attended public school here.  She learned of new and quite different obligations to make good decisions and choose her own paths.  The contrast was startling.  And, formative.

Another eye-opening book on this subject is The Geography of Thought by Richard Nisbett.  He contrasts basic thought processes in the East and the West and finds the East often finds a way to picture things in cycles, rising and falling, like the clock face or the months of the year.  The West is more likely to think in terms of a line, a ladder, a progression, like a single life from birth to death.  Both ways of organizing a picture pay and both are learning more and more about using the other's methods.

Since the underlying orientation of our thinking can be quite subtle and quiet, we don't tend to notice it or the depth of allegiance we feel toward it.  Americans are used to appeals to this or that in the name of freedom and individuality and SELF development, both of the self and by the self.  Iyengar makes the interesting point that the majority of marriages on this planet are arranged by the parents or brokers or others than those who marry each other.  Yet, a central theme of my life has been the importance of choosing the right partner for marriage.  So, the idea that it might be better for someone else to choose is shocking.

True, in real life, my parents and friends definitely let me know what they think of a likely candidate.  In romantic movies, meeting the parents is taken as a big sign of strong interest.  So, as usual, one type of thinking or one way of doing things might not be as different from another as it first appears.

The recent surge in "iPhone", "iMac", "mySpace" and other advertising and product-naming strategies may emphasize the possibility of the individual.  My God-given (??) right to choose my brand of car for myself is emphasized in one or more tv ads these days.  Still, what my wife, kids, and friends say matters, too, even in the land of the red, white and blue.  It is still the place of "e pluibus unum".

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Friday, December 30, 2011

Not aware of myself

 (I had Prof. Wilson's name wrong and have corrected it.)
I am slowly reading more about the unconscious mind.  Right now, I am in Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious by Prof. Timothy D. Wilson.  Wilson starts off distinguishing Freud's version of the unconscious from more modern conceptions.  It can help to sort out the fighting and squabbling from simple expressions of the view.  Basically, the late 1800's view related to repressed feelings and desires, especially sexual ones and double especially forbidden ones such as incestuous feelings.  Wilson makes clear that a great deal does go on in our minds that we are not conscious of.  He advises thinking of our minds as a collection of city-states or modules with different functions.  Some engineer can probably calculate how much of our physical energy is consumed by processes such as intelligent governing our body processes, our creation of continuous speech and ideas versus how much is consumed by our conscious awareness and deliberate thinking.  Wilson gives me the idea that the conscious deliberation is just a small portion of the total energy used by the mind.

Freud's focus was the patient's feelings, not the other, less dramatic operations of the mind.  Wilson uses the example of a woman recently engaged to a man who had never actually faced the fact that she did not love the man.  Her friends thought it was obvious but she had not paid attention to her actual feelings.

The first book I read on modern thinking about the unconscious mind was The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam.  I have also read A Mind's of Its Own by Cordelia Fine..  All three of these books emphasize that we normally carry prejudices or heuristics, as they are referred to by Wray Herbert in On Second Though: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits.
The term "heuristics" has many different types of usage but it includes the rough rules-of-thumb that the mind uses to make decisions.  These basic rules can be somewhat simplistic or irrelevant to a given situation without our noticing it.  

Our bodies are complex structures in a weight-distribution and engineering sense.  Sitting or standing, we are constantly adjusting our muscles and bones to hold ourselves in a given position.  Only lying down in a stable position, such as "flat on our backs", would we experience little or change, fall or drop were we to suddenly lose consciousness.  Parts of the mind govern this use of muscles, normally without our being aware of the nerves and muscles.  Wright discusses a case where nerve damage robbed a man of this proprioceptive function.  He could only walk with totally continuous conscious thinking about what to make his body do.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cultured, uncultured

Listening to the dialogue of the wonderful movie "Enchanted April", I hear the old aristocratic lady, played by Joan Plowright, says that this or that is "in poor taste".  Whatever she was complaining about, I had just the moment before thought how clever and insightful the remark was.  Being brought up short by the poor taste remark, I realized much of what I approve or disapprove in human actions is related to what I have absorbed from my family and other cultural forces.  Of course, I thought of HER cultural prejudices first but then it came to me that my food choices, my music and book tastes, my dress habits, possibly the way I walk even, are all related to the culture(s) I grew up in.

When I try to see what culture does, I can tell that the usual suspects are important.  Gender relations, age relations, relations between neighbors, between friends - all relations are likely to be guided by what culture says one does in them, what is allowed, what is appropriate, how positive and negative feelings are expressed.  Of course, what foods are served and how they are prepared is affected by culture.  What is good driving and appropriate walking/strolling behavior is affected.  As someone said, in some religious places, one must not be bare-headed while in other, one must be.  Similarly, no shoes allowed in some places but required in others.  Generally, we realize that many of the 'right' things are arbitrary and could just as well be different.  Regardless, doing what is customary makes one's acceptance deeper and smoother.  Trying to do the right thing when it differs from one's habits is not easy.  I forget sometimes and I feel uncomfortable.  

A pair of German college students visited a restaurant with us.  This is a place where one is served peanuts in the shell.  The nut is cracked open with one's fingers and correct procedure is to toss the shells on the floor.  These well-brought-up students were somewhat horrified and very reluctant to follow protocol.  Eventually, they were persuaded to try the wild primitive side of life.  We took their picture simultaneously tossing the shells.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

No worries, Mate

A friend wrote advising me to think of the expected number of years of life I have left when deciding what to select to read and watch.  

Just a suggestion: Start thinking about coming to the end of your life - and your reading. THEN pick the books to which you wish to give your precious time......btw, I've found this works at any age, but becomes even more effective after 60. :)

Loving the gift of simplicity from imminent mortality  accepted.

This is sound and famous advice.  Be ready to die, accepting of death, in order to have a good life while you are still alive.  Too much time, fear and fascination spent on one's mortality can be a big waste of the energy and opportunities still left.

It is another one of those balancing things: too blasé an attitude toward staying alive and we could get careless around stoves, busy streets and such places where we need to stay alert.  But, too careful and cautious and we can't allow ourselves to get out of bed for fear of risks waiting to ambush us.  

I thought about it and realized that I do feel accepting of the end of life.  Why shouldn't I when quite few relatives and friends have already come to the end of their lives?  I've had some good examples.  I recently learned of The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley, a collection of the views and statements about death of 100 or so famous philosophers.  Those I have read agree: be friends with one's mortality to greatly lessen worries and fears.  The end will be ok.  Remember Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's comment: "Dying is easy.  It's living that's hard."

However, if there is one thing I feel sure of, it is that I can't predict what will happen inside or outside of me.  I do have some ideas of trends and likelihoods but I can see there are always surprises.  I do try to be as clear-eyed as possible about what is currently facing me.  I can see that what seems best can become boring, that I need to stay open to changes and variety.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Here are some interesting short snippets

net-wrapped Xmas trees - some tree vendors have a machine that that can wrap a tree in a net-like material for easier transporting in or on a car

camera that snaps only when you smile - some smart cameras will wait to snap the picture until the subject smiles

some smart cameras warn the photographer that the subject blinked during the shot

vocal fry entering speech - "vocal fry" is a kind of sound made with one's vocal chords.  If the voice is used to utter a very low note, the vibrations can heard almost separately.  Near the beginning of this Britney Spears song, you can hear her make a low more or less guttural sound.  That sound has been noticed in typical speech more often in New York women. Here Spears uses it to imply deep desire but in the science snippet I heard, it was used to imply deep fatigue

women's orgasms might = men's nipples in the way we got them (more or less by accident and early in developmental sequence) - evolutionary biologists  argue about the value to the species and the individual of the female human orgasm.  Science News reported a woman biological theorist examined all the current theories about the evolutional source/purpose of female capacity for orgasm.  After careful comparison of all current theories with current evidence, the only one that holds up is that its evolution is exactly parallel to that of men's nipples.  That theory concludes there is no purpose and that both develop in the body before the sex of of the individual develops.

disloyalty cards - some Singapore coffee shops are reported to be using "disloyalty cards".  A customer gets a free coffee after each of the participating 8 shops stamps his card as having been a paying customer there.

color-blindness occurs, too - despite the joys of color in our lives and choices, it is well to keep in mind that something like 8% (nearly 1 in 12) men have some form of color-blindness.  The linked article mentions many different types of color-blindness or color vision deficiency

talking African drum - I finally got around to a bit more exploring of what the Roku "channel store" means and is.  I wanted to stream movies.  So, we bought a Roku player after one of the Netflix ads in the paper container mentioned them.  When exploring a new area, I like to read and compare but I find I also benefit from some simple expenditures that provide the basis for experience.  Roku's channel store is an offering of different channels not available locally or from my cable company.  After my experience with cell phone charges and cable charges, I try to be cautious about taking on subscriptions or ongoing expenses.  But a few of Roku's channels are free.  One of those is Yale University and another is Missouri State U.  Missouri State offers include a course in World Music taught by Prof. John Prescott.  I thumbed through the lectures and found there are sets on Asian, African, East European and Latin American music.  I picked the first of three on African music.  

Prescott showed African instruments, including the "talking drum".  I thought it was especially interesting.  I was a drummer in a marching band in my all-boys high school.  I like drumming and rhythm.  This drum can be seen on the link.  It is held under the left arm and struck with a unique curved stick.  It is constructed in a way that the drummer can press on side cords, increasing the tension on the drumhead.  That is exactly the principle of the tympani, the king of drums in an orchestra, since different tensions produce different notes, hence "talking".

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Monday, December 26, 2011

MyPlate for Older Adults - nutrition recommendations

Tufts University has a long-standing place in human nutrition.  They took the government's recommendation for daily food called MyPlate and modified it somewhat at "MyPlate for Older Adults".  I realize that many readers of this blog are not older adults but for those who are or are caring for someone who is, here are some relevant links.

Some comments and criticism from a registered and practicising dietician:

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Best wishes for you and everyone

Have a good Christmas time and a wonderfilled 2012!

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Now, for later

Suppose I go into a first class restaurant for a lovely lunch.  The waiter gives me the menu and it is 500 pages of small print.  Wow!  What a forest of choices!  Each item is accurately described and hundreds sound delicious.  This is a modern place with good service and offers tiny samples of some of the foods. I do try a few and they are truly wonderful.  The lunch hour, the afternoon, the evening all go by while I read and think.  That is what I call "all menu and no meal".

I wonder if I will get sleepy and ready for bed before having a meal.

I find myself in this position more and more.  I have 538 items in my Kindle archives.  Those 538 are "in the cloud" and can be downloaded to any of my devices.  My Kindle has 293 items on it.  Any of those can be read at any time.  Each of those items is promising and seems like a good bet for me, my tastes, current interests, background, etc.  I chose each and I paid for each.  Yet, when Amazon lets me know about a "great sale", I browse through what is offered.  My sister once told me,"Bill, 70% off!  You have to buy!", meaning that now or later, I would be happy to have one or more of the items on sale and now was the time to get them at a lower price than later.  I wasn't interested in clothes but I am interested in books.

So, I spend time many days looking through the offerings at Amazon.  I realize that books for 99¢ are often about a lovely male chest on a dashing and handsome officer that will not interest me at all.  However, some of the books that haven't sold well are just what I have been looking for.

So, I spend more time, I'm afraid, shopping and purchasing and squirreling away 'for later' than I do reading.  I think the problem is spreading.  There are more and more channels of tv and more and more caches of old shows that I might want to explore.  There are too many You-Tube videos for me to watch in this lifetime but some of them are not to be missed.  More and more podcasts, music, places to go, other restaurants to try, recipes to cook, ways and places to exercise.  

The discipline of a job and career, the physical limits of the number of books I could carry used to help me stay within sensible limits.  Now I wander more, much more.  I may fall asleep to escape all the possibilities.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Modern hustle

We hustle and bustle and are steadily reminded to de-stress.  A good idea but we have solid reasons for speed and striving, rushing, hurrying, excitement.

We have more opportunities than we can even comprehend.  My Roku player is quite good.  I can spend an hour just sampling what it can bring me.  What the heck is a Roku player?

I want to get a device for my computer.  I am thinking of something that plugs into the USB port on the computer and brings a useable wireless internet connection to my machine.  I know this device exists because I used to rent one by the month.  I see them in the stores and online.  Part of the problem is that I don't know what to call it.  Without a good name, one that is in wide use, it is difficult to search or inquire.

Quite a few people, including my wife and me, wonder if they will be bored to death in retirement.  Check with them a few years after retiring.  You usually find they are very busy.  What happened?  They weren't able to tell, while working, how many attractive opportunities there are in our world today.  As time has gone on, however, this possibility and that one were recognized.  Now, the to-do list, the to-learn list, the to-try list is very long.

Opportunities to make money, be friendly, enjoy others, travel, learn, and develop are beyond counting.  Just in the area of what is called "social media", there are tons of possibilities.  Re-connect with old friends, strike up conversations with new ones, find groups in common, translate messages between your favorite language and those of others, on and on.  

I agree that taking a cell phone call in the middle of a party can be rude and is to be avoided.  But you can see what happens.  The caller is just as busy as the call recipient, who has been trying to get a crucial bit of information from the caller for days.  Now, the call means both are available right now!  At least, answer the call.  But it is so engrossing, the party person forgets where he is.  No wonder, he hasn't been able to talk to his brother since he landed, since he proposed, since the operation.  Now is the time!  Of course, he is excited and focused on actually speaking to him.

There is just too much that is delicious and exciting and fantastic and immediate to slow down!

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Exercise and cramps

It is important as we age to eke out all the exercise that we can.  Tensing any muscle for 6 seconds will strengthen it.  Moving any muscle through as much of its range of motion as you can helps you, your brain and your body stay in contact with that muscle.  Concentrating on the sensations we feel as we exercise increases the effectiveness of the movements in keeping us alive.

As we get closer to the end of our lives, there will be less that we can do.  There will probably be less that we want to do, as well.  Still, walking, biking, swimming, exercycling, using an elliptical strider (where the feet stay in unbroken contact with the footpiece, lessening knee impact) all help at keeping the body unified and in touch with all parts of itself.  Stretching, yoga, Pilates, dance all help keep muscles, joints and balance in better shape.

Balance can be improved with practice.  Good balance lessens the chance of damaging falls.

A friend told us that she had been seized by leg cramps and was advised that the water in her aquatics exercise class was too cold for her.  That may be so but it is important to make use of all the tools we have if we want to stay as spry and lively as possible.  Many people do not drink as much water and equivalent liquid as they should.  Newer evidence seems to suggest that the best tool is the color of one's urine.  Pale = adequate hydration while deep color means more liquid is called for.

It seems that most Americans get adequate or an oversupply of sodium but a person can be short of magnesium or potassium.  All three of those substances are important for good health and muscle function.  

Leg cramps can be very painful.  A year or so ago, I had a cramp in my calf so severe, it tore the muscle and took a while to heal.  Various medical people (physicians, physical therapists, chiropractor) have told me in a rather off-hand way that cramps are a sign of too little hydration or too low a level of potassium.  I have found four things helpful in keeping cramps down or gone:
  1. A banana most days
  2. Adequate water.  For me, 5-10 oz. in the morning with blood pressure pills, a pint at 10 AM and one at 2 PM and 8 or so oz. at dinner.  It used to be taught that we all need 8 oz. 8 times a day.  Now, that rule had been modified and more respect is accorded the water we get from caffeinated drinks, vegetables and other sources, thus the urine color indicator.
  3. Being aware that extra exertion is often going to result in mini-cramps as my muscles, especially leg muscles, adjust to increase load or duration
  4. Sleeping with the blankets over me but completely untucked so that I can simply swing my legs out of bed and stand to resist the progress of any cramp that tries to get started.
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Customs, pink and behavior

A friend writes more about colors, clothes, pink and behavior:

I wanted to share an experience with the color pink.  As you may recall, we went to the Kentucky Derby in 2010.  The race day before the Derby is called Kentucky Oats and spectators are encouraged to wear pink in support of the ladies.  For us, Kentucky Oats was our favorite day at the famous Churchill Downs.  The weather was beautiful and the crowd was pleasant and subdued.  Perhaps some of that civility could be credited to the color pink.  As we were walking among the crowds, I noticed a tall, muscular black man wearing the most beautiful pale pink suit.  The suit was of exquisite fabric and clearly had been tailored to fit this gentleman.  My assumptions were that he had to be a professional athlete to be that size and toned and to afford a luxury suit  in pink.  Against his dark skin, the pink suit was stunning.  That is my favorite pink memory.

The following day and the running of the Derby, pink was no longer the color and the graciousness of the Kentucky Oaks was replaced with rowdy, brawly, falling down drunkenness.  It was a rainy, and therefore, muddy mess.  We went from the sublime to the foolish.  It was enough to make us enjoy the Derby on television in the future.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Lynn wrote about colors.  An interesting subject in many ways.  I have been watching a DVD Great Courses course on genetics, taught by Prof. Lee M. Silver.  He shows that scientists can make a fluorescent dye which has the chemical properties to bind to a particular gene.  When they use it on DNA, the portion that is, say, bright blue is a given gene.  So, it is easy for the eye to see where the blue is, and relatively how much blue there is.  

Similarly, Excel can be programmed to turn every entry in a column red if it is greater than a given number or is a given word, such as "credit".  That makes searching with the eye much easier.

In "The Demon Under the Microscope", Thomas Hager tells the story of the incredible amount of research German chemists did trying to find what we call today an anti-biotic.  Hundreds of compounds were tested using dyes without the workers realizing that the dye was more important anti-biotically than what they thought was the main chemical.

In a book by a Japanese woman, I read that men in her time were against wearing red, yellow or pink as they were colors that were too feminine.  Even today, using pink as a main color to denote support for research to cure breast cancer is notable in that we have professional football players wearing pink, a color they would normally not wear.

I have seen research that showed that pink was a calming color and a good one for jail cells and similar sites where it is desired that people should be calmed.  I have also seen research that sports uniforms that are black or mostly black have been more often associated with victory in the game.

I added the extension ColorfulTabs in my Firefox browser.  It gives me different colors for the open browser windows, tabs, and the tool to color the tab whatever I want.  I often use right red for the page I am concentrating on at the time.

As a kid, I learned that pink and red "don't go together" and neither did blue and green.  Now I see many fabrics, items, uniforms, web pages, brochures, etc. that combine those colors together.  I do see that each hue comes in many shades of intensity and can vary widely.  I still am reluctant to wear red with green except to a Christmas party or blues and blacks together.  I bought a new mug the other day.  My 16 oz. one led me to drink too much coffee to sleep well.  The new one has a glaze of what is a light blue and almost a black except it is actually a deep, deep brown.  Doesn't sound that good but it is.  Lynn, with a sharp eye for color, has complimented it twice.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How to criticize the schools

Criticizing schools is easy.  Just follow these simple steps.
1.    Think of something you consider basic knowledge.  The most common way to do this is to remember the sorts of things you have seen in elementary school classrooms, such as the names of the letters in our alphabet.
2.   Find a child currently participating in school.
3.   Ask the child to name the letters of the alphabet.  
4.   Listen carefully and note with satisfaction, if the child doesn't know any of the letters.  Any faltering or error means that you are right!  The schools are failing!

We can ask some questions about the procedure.  Probably the most fundamental of them relate to the connection between answering the question correctly and the effectiveness of the schools.  The most basic question is probably "Were the schools charged with teaching the knowledge to this child at this age?"  Then, did the schools attempt to do that teaching?

Even if the child cannot name the letters or the vice-president or the smallest continent, it still may be that
  • the school was charged with that teaching,
  • did attempt the teaching and that
  • the child could and did answer the question yesterday. 
When we consider the number of facts and skills the schools are charged with teaching, we see that the curriculum is not continuous or linear.  That is, a child may know some items and not others. Any selection of known and unknown items is possible. We can also see that knowing is not a permanent state.  We all knew the names of the states' captials at one point in school but don't know them now.

Another large set of questions relates to other sources of knowledge than the schools.  We know several little children who have never attended schools but can already name the letters and give examples of words beginning with each.  If one of those children is tested using the steps above, we may get a false result from the test because of knowledge possessed but not learned from school.  Since humans are a curious species and often enjoy learning, more and more books, tv and computer activities relate to learning. So, we have more and more opportunities for non-school learning to occur.

A final area of questions is the all-important one of what is most valuable for the schools to teach.  I was nearly 70 years old before I learned to operate an iPod.  I was nearly 30 before learning to use a computer.  I learned to send text messages 6 months ago.  I learned some basic yoga when I was more than 50 years old.  I learned to meditate at 55.  Should my schools be criticized because they didn't teach these valuable subjects to me?

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rapidly changing

Things I do with my body will not affect the design of my living children's bodies.  They got all my contribution to their physical make-up at conception.  Thinking otherwise is sometimes called Lamarckism.  Of course, behavior and emotional pathways may be adopted by children as a result of the parents' behavior so that religion, politics and preferences are the sort of things which can be passed along after birth.  But childhood takes a long time and we are used to biological evolution showing its effects little by little.

Contrast that with commercial, machine and computer evolution.  Especially in today's world of programming, things can change very quickly and basically.  In the beginning of modern computing, there used to be 'boards', like pegboards or circuit boards.  They were all the same size and could be inserted into a computer interchangeably.  If we wanted to change what the machine did, we took the board out and inserted another.  Then, the method moved to punched cards.  Different punch patterns produced different functions of the machine.  Then, we got computer languages, such as COBOL, Fortran and Basic.  Now, there are many programming languages, well over 1000 of them.

The general idea is that words or symbols are used to assemble steps in a procedure.  The machine uses the code to translate the directions into the desired operation.  Of course, if we give the machine different instructions, we get a different procedure, even though the machine looks the same as before.  

It is sometimes said that everyone should have some experience programming, since a feeling for the difference between human thinking (often conceptual and visual) and machine completion of directions helps in today's world.  I admire the concentration programmers exhibit but I don't enjoy the work I have experienced programming.

As we get more aware of the way minds work, we have a stronger tendency to create change just to keep attention alive.  Beyond that, there is a huge competition to machines that are both smarter and more convenient.  Also, less expensive, if possible. One of the features of a particular Sony camera is that it won't snap a picture until the human subject smiles.  My friend's car won't lock the doors with the wife's purse in the trunk.  It balks at what might be locking the user out of the car.  Programming could change the duration of the smile required or allow a signal that the owners know there is a key in the trunk and want to doors locked anyway.

Too much change too quickly can make us very grumpy or disoriented.  So far, I haven't heard of programmers changing the way my car operates just to keep up my interest in the vehicle but it could probably happen sometime.  If OnStar can unlock the doors with a signal from a satellite, the company might someday make a game of which action or series of beeps will start the car this time.  Fun!

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cheerleading, smile-ology, and smile-istics

The way I see it, you have your cheerleading, your smile-ology, and your smile-istics.  Cheerleaders, whether pretty young women or somebody else, try to raise spirits but that includes rousing a crowd to screams for blood or physical damage.  Smile-ologists carry a clipboard and observe outcomes and results of activities.  Your smile-isticians are your technologists and they try to engineer smiles.  Of course, I am using "smile" here to mean actual happiness and buoyant spirits.

You may have noticed over the last five years or so, a run of books on happiness.  Some people give the credit for the current wave of such books to Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the U. of Penn., who felt that science had over-emphasized investigation of depression and other unhappy emotional states.  Religion takes different stances on happiness at different times and places, from the position that our job is to obey God and let happiness fall as it may, to saying it is our job to be happy. There seem to be some people who feel that anyone (else) who shows signs of too much happiness or too steady a stream of it lacks intelligence or knowledge or sobriety or virtue.

Some people say that happiness is best achieved indirectly.  Help other people, eat your vegetables and brush your teeth.  Happiness with sneak up on you but not when you search for it directly.

As we age and have more difficulty hitting home runs or acquiring a 2nd yacht, we tend to look around to see what we can do that might be fun or valuable or both.  We do observe that an unexpected bouquet of bright flowers or a friendly text that we are thinking of someone can sometimes bring a deeper smile than another necktie or birthday card.  What produces a spurt of good feeling might not be what we expected. John Stuart Mill asserted that it is better to be a human being unsatisfied than a pig satisfied, although we have no record of his actually trying pighood.  

We do see that sometimes progress, steps toward a goal, produce more happiness than its  actual achievement.  Climbing and knowing that we are rising can be as good as being at the top.

Drugging ourselves with music, mantras or chemicals so that everything seems continuously peachy doesn't seem to be the answer either.  Your best smile-isticians don't flinch at letting a few scrapes and bruises happen because they really do emphasize the joy of attaining genuine love or achievement.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Emotionally rich

Socrates gave famous advice to know yourself.  Good advice but hard to do.  Especially as we become more aware of how much happens to us, in us, and from us that is not under our conscious control or is only partly so.  Our muscles send messages that they, that is, we, our body, is tired.  The lungs can tell us our body needs to gasp and gulp air.  Suddenly, we can think of Aunt Martha and how long it has been since we called her.  But we didn't make a decision to start thinking of Aunt Martha.

Thought production especially seems mysterious to me.  When I am speaking, I think of the words to say and they are relevant to the message I want to send.  When I am mentioning my favorite cookie, words like 'cement' or 'diplomacy' do not get spoken or come to mind.  Words like 'delicious' and 'nuts' and 'raisins' do but I don't consciously pick from an array of words.

I wrote my dissertation on applications of a semi-formal theory of decision-making.  It was fun to think about rational decision making, where all the possible choices are laid out, weighted as to utility (value) and probability of happening.  But I was fully aware, even at the time, that real decisions, especially dramatically inspired ones, are not made like that.  Most of the time, we have little or no idea of all the choices we could make.  A totally terrific idea is often one that suddenly hits us, like the famous cartoon light bulb turning on suddenly, and it is likely not to be an idea we ever had before.

Even though "rational" has been a favorite word and idea about the best human thinking, we discover that reasons alone are not at the basis of decision-making and choice.  The celebrated case of Phineas Gage supports the notion that we need our emotional equipment to care enough to choose.  Gage (1823-1860) was a railroad construction worker who was the victim of an accidental explosion that drove an iron rod through his skull but did not kill him.  His case and later ones show that when the brain is deprived of its parts needed to have emotions, it is also rendered unable or nearly so to make a decision between alternatives.  When buying an item, I may choose the blue one because I like blue or think it would go well with the room colors or whatever.  But "like" and "go well" are likes, not weighed, validated, external facts.

We may wish to be able to experience our emotions and respond to them, rather than being too much controlled by them.  But, our lives would be much poorer without them.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Friday, December 16, 2011

information world

I was excited and informed by Faster : The  Acceleration of Just About Everything by James Gleick, a book that takes a broad and well-written look at humans and their production of speeds, in travel, work and elsewhere.  I had seen his book "Chaos" for years before that but I guessed that I had read enough about that subject of scientific mixing and disorder in systems.  It's an idea related to the importance subject of randomness, which is basic in statistics . However, when he recently came out with "The Information", I thought it might be a book I would enjoy reading.

A couple of weeks ago, I began watching  "The  Science of Self", a Great Course taught by Professor Lee Silver.  It is about genetics.  Silver explained that DNA merely conveys a code, information, not particular chemical substances.  He illustrated his point by stating that a woman on one planet and a man on another could have a child together without meeting or touching or exchanging substances if the code for the man's genome and that for the woman's were used to create an embryo on a third planet using their genetic codes.  

The idea fascinates me.  I realize that I am the current result of my parents' codes as well as what I have eaten, breathed, performed and experienced over the years but in a sense, I am information.  So, information got back on my hot list of topics.  I am interested in the inexpensive, brief "Very Short Introduction" book series by Oxford University.  I remembered one about information and just started it a couple of days ago.

Information: A Very Short Introduction by Luciano Floridi is an eye-opener.  I take some of his statements with a grain of salt, especially when he makes statements about basic changes in humans from their computerized and internet information streams and activities.  But he talks about the infosphere and distinguishes that from cyberspace, which is a term he uses, like most people, to mean the collection of information on computers and their cousins.  Infosphere is his term for the total of interconnected organisms related to each other by means of information exchange.  So, I guess a mosquito that has sensed my presence and I and my friend reading my text message are all members of the infosphere.

I remember that Steven Hawking, the astrophysicist and some colleague had a disagreement about whether or not information could escape from a black hole.  I am not clear what they meant but there is that term again.  Duncan J. Watts in "Everything Is Obvious, Once You Know The Answer" is a good example of a further development of data mining, text mining, where conclusions about peoples' behavior, ideas and feelings are derived from tweets and related text data.  Scientists, investigators and theorists are more aware of the presence of information, how to search and 'mine' it, and derive insights from it these days.

Floridi emphasizes that things we call "objects" are getting to be part of the infosphere.  Doors that open as I approach and lamps that light up when the sun goes down are examples of objects that are not quite as inanimate as a hammer or pair of pliers. 

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Fundamentals of life: getting a new car?  Thinking about a new car?  Don't forget the first move: new bumper stickers!  After all, first things first.  See, we try to live the fundamentals: good diet, exercise, enough sleep and bumper stickers!

Not too many!  That is a lesson from the success of Google: as with good eating, you can do more if you keep a rein on the quantity.  A bumper sticker or 2 but no more per car, please.  Otherwise, it becomes a jumble of stuff and not a message extolling whale song or whatever you care about enough to tell the world (at bumper level, of course, and only fleetingly).  

If you also care about the joys of pepper in chocolate, there are other spaces to advertise your sentiments and advice.  I saw a short article or comment where someone got interested in wireless network names.  Like the use of vanity license plates, people decide to use more interesting names for their networks.  When your computer or smartphone or iPad or Fire needs a signal from a wireless network, you can see a list of such networks that it can detect.  One might be called HarryNetwork but why not name it ChocolatChiles or HotCoco or PabloNeruda ?

There are, of course, the names used on auto licenses, those 'vanity' plates.  Some can be quite tricky to decipher.  When just the first letter of a phrase or sentence is used, the result can be even more encoded: WWJD and WYSIWYG are two examples of such usage, although not from car plates.  The first, about Jesus as an example, doesn't have a pronunciation, as far as I know, but "wizzywig" is the pronunciation sometimes used for "what you see is what you get".

Most any name can be given a sexual slant by those who wish to do so but otherwise all sorts of names and reminders to be a good person can be built into our naming opportunities.  One of my favorite passwords was the first letters of "many opportunities to see what comes next", reminding me to stay alert to new things that come along and offer excitement, fun or pleasure.  Passwords can be good moral or health reminders but can't be shared safely.  Network names are sometimes more advertisable. 

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

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