Saturday, April 30, 2011


This winter, an older couple lived in a condo near us.  The man was out with friends, fishing, when he had a heart attack.  They got him ashore and to a local hospital.  Suddenly, the wife was alone, far from friends and far from any store, with only a truck that was too big for her to comfortably drive.  

He recuperated rather quickly and was soon back at their unit.  He may have been well enough to drive the 1200 miles or so home but I think their middle-aged son flew down and drove them home instead. 

The incident got me to thinking.  I am at an age where death or paralysis from stroke could happen to me at any time.  I don't expect it and I don't want it.  But it could happen.  I think we could stay home, maybe in bed, for the rest of our lives, to try and be ready for some such event.  That seems like a way to waste what we have now. 

We won't do that but it might help if I got into a routine of thinking about medical or other emergencies away from home a little more often and in a little more detail.

Having only one driver suddenly might be worth picturing.  How could we handle that?  We probably could do so but having pictured that situation beforehand might lessen the shock of being swept into it abruptly.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Fwd: March/ April Update: Brain Health Status Quo No Longer An Option

SharpBrains Logo
March/ April 2011 Newsletter
Dear Bill,

Confirmed SpeakersThe 2011 Sharp­Brains Vir­tual Sum­mit (March 30th - April 1st) gath­ered more than 260 research and indus­try lead­ers from 16 coun­tries to dis­cuss the chang­ing land­scape of Brain Health and Cog­ni­tive Fit­ness. It was a great suc­cess! Find key lessons and take-home points by Summit participants Drs. Jamie Wil­son and Luc Beau­doin by visiting our SharpBrains March/ April eNewsletter HERE.

Featured March/ April Articles
  • Who will Ben­e­fit From Cognitive Train­ing
  • Meditation and the Brain
  • Can Direct Brain Stimulation Bost Performance
  • How the Brain of a Blind Person Rewires Itself
  • How are Young Brains Affected by Stress
  • Can Weight Loss Boost Memory
  • Are the Benefits from One-Time Cognitive Training Durable 
  • The Inner Savant in All of Us
  • Driving Safely After a Stroke
  • Schizophrenia Research Leads the Way
  • Virtual Reality Games for Stroke Patients
  • Children's Self-Control and Creativity
  • Integrative Neuroscience and Personalized Medicine
  • The Longevity Project
  • Exploiting Technology and Collaboration to Enable Quality Aging
  • Brain Games to Test Your Memory
To Access these Articles at, click  HERE.

Have a great month of May,

- The SharpBrains Team
SharpBrains | 660 4th Street, Suite 205 | San Francisco | CA | 94107

"EH?" or husband-wife auditory communication among seniors with hearing loss

The couple that showed us some of the problems most clearly are both in their 90's.  He can hear almost no speech most of the time.  She has a voice that is weaker all the time, more and more wispy and light.  She makes a comment, "I like those jeans."  He knows she has spoken but hasn't decoded a word.  In a deep bass, his voice cracks out,"What?"  She repeats that she likes the jeans.  He still can't make out what she has said. "What?" Eventually, he grasps what she has said.  He is not overwhelmed with the information and concludes with "Oh."

She doesn't like silence and she has a short memory, just as he does.  In a short while, she realizes that she likes those jeans.  In a light, wispy, hard-to-hear voice, she says," I like those jeans." He can't make out …  By now, you may get the idea.  If not, repeat the text a few more times on the page and read it all aloud.  

Ok, we are not that bad off.  Yet.  I have hearing aids and was just told to wear them since they provide more input to my ears and brain and will assist them in staying on the task of hearing and understanding the speech of others.  However, as a friend said the other day, this sort of situation sure cuts down on the intimate chitchat that builds a relationship and maintains a couple's closeness.

If my wife and I are in a conversation, I can tell what she says.  However, if we are not in the same room of our small house and she wants to tell me something, I will usually fail to understand her.  I usually have to ask her to repeat what she said.  As my friend said, saying some little thing over a second time tends to take some of the spontaneous juice out it.  If it is an endearment, the repeat is a little less ardent.  

Sometimes, I have a set of words in my head that I think I heard but I know they make no sense and have a very high probability of not being what she said.  If I haven't had to ask her to repeat her words in the last 45 minutes, I may ask her what she said.  If I am already getting tiresome, I can sometimes lighten the mood by using a voice tone that says I am quoting what seemed to be her statement:"The pigs are a beautiful color today".  I know damned well that is not what she said but it did sound that way to me.  When she hears my version of her message, it breaks her up.  

So far, she is still willing to talk to me.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A second coat

A friend wrote about "Selecting What to Attend To" that she liked the post and that it coincided with what she was learning in her Yoga Teacher Training.  

I like the information in this blog post.  I am intrigued by what you say, because this is what we are studying right now in Yoga Teacher Training.  It's all so interesting.  I know this from all the meditation I have done, but I can learn something new every time I hear it.

She is, indeed, an experienced meditator but she is also a scholar.  It might be that scholarly side that allows her to patiently listen and re-immerse herself in information.

As I told her, I have a note to write about getting a 2nd coat on information and training.  Sometimes, study or learning just falls into place.  But, usually there are bumps, problems, clouds of not knowing and knots of misunderstanding or contradiction between parts of what we remember.  So, it pays to go through the learning or the drill or the book or the course or the video again.  The best way to take a course is to have taken it before.

However, if doing so seems tiresome or boring, it might do more harm than good to re-try.  I find that when I feel I have a grasp of the material but there are certain problem areas, I can usually tolerate the repetition of what I do know to try again with the troublesome parts.  And, sometimes as I am sitting through what I thought was unnecessary repetition, I realize there is quite a bit I missed or had wrong.  I also find with emotional, inspirational or spiritual material that getting another dose does me good. Listening again to a passage or re-reading it can re-inspire me as well as re-inform my brain.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Selecting what to attend to

The comedienne Loretta LaRoche advises us to put our attention elsewhere when we are being unfairly balled out.  She suggests that we stand on one foot in a quiet way.  Keeping our balance without making a big thing of it will give our minds something to do instead of buying into the put-downs being delivered our way.  Similarly, the Austrian psychiatrist Vicktor Frankel in his famous book, "Man's Search for Meaning", emphasizes that even in a concentration camp, where a person is not free, that person can still put his attention where he wants.  He can still decide how he wll view his situation and what he wants his reaction to the way he is treated to be.

Mark Epstein in "Psychotherapy Without the Self" says that fixed-point meditation alternates with examining one's thoughts and reactions in the most productive sorts of meditation.  Selecting an anchor for your attention, such as focusing on your breath, and keeping attention there, returning to that anchor each time you become aware that you have begun to attend to something else, is the best way to improve awareness of one's attention.  Improving your ability to notice what you are attending to and placing your attention where you currently want it is a very good way to exert control over sensor input, thoughts and moods.

In "The Inner Game of Tennis", Timothy Gallwey explains how often the thinking, in-charge part of the conscious mind interferes with the best physical action of the body.  When you are crossing the street mid-block, you calculate the traffic coming in both directions to allow yourself to find and use a space that opens in both lanes at once.  During that observation and preparation for crossing, your eyes and body figure out the best way to proceed.  Most people do that best when they do it silently and don't try to explain or talk about it.  So, Gallwey has made videos of people placing their explicit attention on the tennis ball as it passes over the net and strikes the ground in front of them by shouting "Hit" just as the ball hits the court.  Their eyes and feet and balance and racquet arm coordinate quite well when the thinking mind has something to concentrate on and the subconscious, non-language mind is then free to do its work.

Learning to attend to whatever aspect of the current scene you want to can free you from domination by unwanted thoughts and ruminations.

Monday, April 25, 2011

a term of infection

There have been some serious efforts to uncover and compare "memes" (rhymes with "seems" and "beams") in human life.  The idea is that a thought or quote or some other unit of human mind or society sometimes travels from person to person, nation to nation, generation to generation, just as genes do.  With more communication and covering the globe, there is bound to be faster change in expressions, styles and preferred activities and tools to complete them.

I first ran into the concept in the Christopher Moore novel, "Fluke, or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings."  That is a weird but memorable book about oceanography and Hawaii and academic field research.  The expression and concept derive from The Selfish Gene by the well-known British biologist, Richard Dawkins.  I gather that Dawkins explored the angle of explanation that takes the gene as the basic unit of life and plants and animals as the genes' way of perpetuating itself.

I am interested in cliches, especially faddish ones that come and go.  I can recognize them when I hear them, probably because I didn't used to hear them or because they are a clever construction, if overused.  Two that I have dredged up are

  • "Don't go there" or "Don't even go there" - meaning "get off this line of discussion because I don't want to talk about it"
  • "You got that right" - meaning "Right on, Brother, I totally agree".  This phrase was used to good effect in the very funny novel "Big Trouble" by Dave Barry.

Now that I write that, I am reminded that when I was growing up, I heard people say "Right!" meaning "very correct" but I never heard the "on" added.  The first I heard "right on" was on a firing range, where the spotter with a telescope reported a shot dead in the center of the bull's eye.  I also never heard people answer a roll call with "Yo" until summer camp.  Now, I hear "Yo, John" and "Hey, John" in place of "Hi, John" or "Hello, John".  

I am slowly getting accustomed to being told "No problem" when I expect "I would be happy to..." or "You are quite welcome."  My wife and I find that being told we are not or were not a problem often seems to be saying that had we been a problem, we would not have been helped.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Drinking from a broken glass

Once, I paid a professional hypnotist to put me into a trance and let me experience hypnosis.  She asked for a goal of the session.  Weight loss?  Quit smoking?  I finally settled on asking for "new eyes", greater ability to see each day and each scene and each person anew.  I am a cogitating sort of person, given to thinking and imaging and other mental antics.  I thought it would be valuable to try to lessen the influence of previous experience and preconceived notions in favor of concentrating more on the present moment and its contents, its sights and sensations.

I had (and still have) no very complete way of evaluating the result but I felt that I was able to be more in the Now, this moment, and a little less focused on what's next.  The Buddhists have many images and stories about shelving one's ideas and the past and seeing what actually IS right NOW.  

The quote in Friday's post from Thich Nhat Hahn advising quelling an argument right off instead of pulling out one's argumentative apparatus and engaging in discussion of issues and grievances used the image of putting out the fire first and finding the cause later.  Several times, I have read a sermon by the Buddha on giving medical care immediately to a man shot with an arrow and finding the perpetrator afterwards.  Both of these images can be captioned "Get your priorities straight" but that caption uses words from planning, which leads to the future again.

When a group of Americans first arrived at a Thai forest monastery, they were greeted by the abbot and given an overview of what they would study.  He picked up a drinking glass and said it was already broken.  It wasn't (yet) but he spoke of using the realization that it might be at any time to emphasize to oneself that just now, the glass was whole and usable.  It could be appreciated for its current state.

In one of Thich Nhat Hahn's books, he stated that when looking at a flower, one could see a pile of manure.  That comment grabbed me.  Why spoil a nice view with an ugly one?  His point was followed by the advice to see a flower when viewing a manure pile.  Seeing the cycle of birth and rebirth helps us appreciate that things grow, mature, die and are replaced with new life.  Ever since, I have had a lot more respect for manure and decay. They are flowers and new life under construction.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kickstarter projects

I mentioned writing about the Thich Nhat Hanh quote on arguing vs. putting out the fire, and I will, but not right now. I will post on that tomorrow.

Every now and then, something odd seems to deserve repetition and exposure and here is an example from the Wired column Underwire.  I have run into posts by Lore Sjoderburg before and thought they were interesting and well-written.  Sjoderburg says that he was born naked, helpless and unable to care for himself but eventually overcame much of that handicap.

I haven't looked at the Kickstarter website.  Just as nearly all possible combinations are Roman letters in sets of 4 to 8 are being used somewhere as a name or indicator for something, so nearly all possible uses of web sites are being employed somewhere on the World Wide Web by somebody. When you want something or have a problem, try phrasing the idea in Google's search engine and seeing where you are lead.

Alt Text blog for April 22

Friday, April 22, 2011

New things and being wise

We recently got new computers.  Soon after moving to Windows 7, I installed Amazon's free software so I could read some of my Kindle books on the computer.  The laptop weighs more than the Kindle (7.2 lbs. vs. 10.5 oz., eleven times the Kindle weight) and costs more but it is far, far more flexible.  Further, it is fully part of the World Wide Web, with all of the computing and displaying capacities currently available.

Lynn is working on the preparation of a presentation and started using online Kindle software to cut and paste some passages in a book.  When she downloaded the Kindle software, opened the book, and highlighted the passage of interest, a tool bar immediately appeared that included the ability to copy the highlighted passage.  The software did not include that ability before.  I have been standing on my head to do the same thing in several steps.  I suspected my version was out-of-date.  I uninstalled the program, re-installed from Amazon and bingo!  The new capability is right there!  

To see if I knew how to work the tool bar, I downloaded one of my Kindle books.  I have 368 books and have actually read about 20 or 30% of them.  One that I haven't read is "Anger" by the world-reknown Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Naht Hanh.  I more or less picked a place at random and found the following quote, which I will write about tomorrow. (It is about quieting anger as opposed to arguing. I love the statement "That is not wise.")

If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.

Hanh, Thich (2001). Anger (Kindle Locations 230-233). Riverhead. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Amazon Kindle to get Public Library borrowing feature

Just spotted on Google News:

Amazon Kindle to get Public Library borrowing feature

BetaNews - Tim Conneally - ‎1 hour ago‎
Amazon on Wednesday announced Kindle Library Lending, a program that will let Kindle users borrow books from more than 11000 libraries in the United States.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

books and audiobooks loaned online by local library

I am quite excited to find that my local library is now loaning ebooks online.  It also loans audiobooks online.  The Barnes and Noble reader "Nook" and the Sony ebook reader have been mentioned as capable of using the downloaded ebook files.  I haven't tried these capabilities out yet.

As I understand it, I download files of books or audiobooks to my computer and either use them on my computer or transfer them to a handy device such as a Nook, an iPod, an iPad or a Sony Reader.  The iPad is probably the most versatile of the four devices I have just listed.  However, new capabilities are being devised for devices and new devices are being invented all the time.  The Amazon Kindle is explicitly mentioned as NOT being capable of using borrowed ebooks or e-audiobooks. 

A friend at lunch asked how it would be possible to load out something in electronic form that is copyrighted.  I have heard of libraries in several part of the country doing such electronic lending and I am guessing that the file will only be usable for the 7 or 14 day loan period, after which it would become unusable.  I think fines and overdue dates will still apply.   Such tools would enable libraries to loan things without completely removing all digital rights management, as happened with the Napster software and music files a couple of years ago.

Several of my friends who are my age have complained recently that they are not in the mood for any further complexity, any new devices of any kind to do anything.  I can understand and sympathize with that position.  To me, it is not just a question of being turned off by the prospect of learning yet another device for yet another service or activity.  Between various tv and movie possibilities, various reading possibilities, various writing, filming and creative possibilities, there is little time left over to live, to enjoy a book or a movie or to write.  Too many menus and too little eating.

Not only are new services and experiences available in a steady and irritating stream, but the rate of change and innovation makes me wonder about reliability and continuity.  I am old enough to have seen friends move, retire or die, to see institutions change, consolidate or close that I am aware of the question of duration: If I learn something new and begin using it, how long before a new version emerges or something else requires new learning of superficialities that are supposed to broaden my life but actually keep me spending time on manuals and keyboards and passwords.

I have been a fairly ardent user and explorer of digital media and machines for more than a quarter of century.  So, when I am tiring of new deals and new devices and new interfaces and new procedures, I am confident that others are, too, or soon will be.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Shoe signs

I may have been foolish when I told my friend that I would disagree with her in the follow-up post.  I have heard that you can tell a lot about a person by looking at that person's footware.  I wanted to respond "Horsefeathers!" but such a remark would probably put me back in the early 1900's or even earlier.  I wanted to give evidence that I have a romantic soul and a nerd's brain but that neither follows from my black scuffed Wallabees.

But, I am re-thinking.  First, what I can tell and what more Sherlock-y types can tell are probably very different.  What do I know? My friends might have long known about my feelings and my brain from their first glance at my shoes.  

Second, no one who taught statistics (and enjoyed it!) would dare base a conclusion on a sample of only 1, even less so on a personally 'contaminated' sample.  My wife pointed out when she was in her hunting days, and for several decades afterwards, she wore heels.  But eventually she felt too much pain from them and no longer wears them, ever.  So, one thing that can be concluded from a person's shoes might be their age or the stage of life they are in.

I am a great fan of women but I have never quite grasped the reason for their apparent depth of feeling for their hair nor for their shoes.  Some very male people I have known also seem to share the convictions that their hair style or the shoes they wear have a large and important effect on others.  I have rarely had a large effect on anybody but when I have, I am pretty sure it was not from my hair or my shoes. My copy editor says that is no surprise, given my college haircut and my Lil' Abner stinky boots.  She says they were both terrible!

There is a book called "Such A Pretty Face" by a woman who was heavier than she wanted to be all her life.  Her mother and her mother's adult friends often used the title phrase in an attempt to mention a good feature and turn attention away from other details. The face tells a great deal to humans but I often feel that it is noticeably small compared to the rest of us.  Similarly, a person's posture, body language, voice tone, word choice as well as their basic intelligence and awareness of self and others have always spoken most loudly to me.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Better now at being comfortable

In response to yesterday's post on shoes, a friend writes:

A person's choice of shoes reveals a lot more about a person than one might imagine.  Or perhaps we all know ( and the shoe industry counts on) that fact.

It strikes me as super odd that women are still wearing tall and clearly uncomfortable heels. And spending enough to buy a good bike.  What attractive message are those high straps sending?  "See how tall I am"?  or "See how stoically I take pain"?

One day about 20 years ago I was in Madison at a high powered meeting--in heels, of course. We had time to walk downtown for lunch and I found that it was too painful to walk very far. That very day, I skipped lunch and went to a shoe store where I bought 6 pairs of flat shoes.  And I have been heel-free ever since. My feet still wear the scars from bad shoes in my early, less emotionally secure days, but today my good shoes do not rub it in.

After having a veritable army of shoe choices, I am down to one type of shoe for winter and one for summer.  In the winter I wear Haflinger wool slip on shoes and in the summer I wear movable huarache sandles.  Of course, I allow a little variety with tennis shoes and in my area one needs a serviceable pair of polka dotted boots.

So, yes, just look down and you will learn a lot about a person.  For me, as I have become more comfortable with myself, I have become more comfortable in my shoes.A person's choice of shoes reveals a lot more about a person than one might imagine.  Or perhaps we all know ( and the shoe industry counts on) that fact.

It strikes me as super odd that women are still wearing tall and clearly uncomfortable heels. And spending enough to buy a good bike.  What attractive message are those high straps sending?  "See how tall I am"?  or "See how stoically I take pain"?

One day about 20 years ago I was in Madison at a high powered meeting--in heels, of course. We had time to walk downtown for lunch and I found that it was too painful to walk very far. That very day, I skipped lunch and went to a shoe store where I bought 6 pairs of flat shoes.  And I have been heel-free ever since. My feet still wear the scars from bad shoes in my early, less emotionally secure days, but today my good shoes do not rub it in.

After having a veritable army of shoe choices, I am down to one type of shoe for winter and one for summer.  In the winter I wear Haflinger wool slip on shoes and in the summer I wear movable huarache sandles.  Of course, I allow a little variety with tennis shoes and in my area one needs a serviceable pair of polka dotted boots.

So, yes, just look down and you will learn a lot about a person.  For me, as I have become more comfortable with myself, I have become more comfortable in my shoes.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Walk a while in my shoes

My friend of long standing sometimes tires of reading brainy posts about the latest scientific discovery or some Buddhist insight into human mental behavior.  What is happening with me?

I email my posts to people I know as well as post them on a blog.  Next spring, I am scheduled to do a presentation about blogging so the general subject is on my mind.  I do see  that the personal is interesting.  Besides that, I feel as though effort and imagination are what make writing worth reading so what about discussing more personal subjects using some finger grease and little gray cells that Poirot often mentions?

Ok, I pick 'shoes'.  I mean I could pick 'meals' (I have been trying to lose weight and have tried various approaches to less carbs and sugar, eating more unprocessed foods and allowing more fats and proteins -- nothing much happened in 2 weeks.).  I could pick 'grounds', you know, the area surrounding the building where you live (now that the snow has melted and the temperatures are starting to climb, flowers, grasses and shrubs are making their presence felt, calling for care).

But I pick 'shoes'.  I go through a pair of Clark Wallabees in about a year.  They feel great and I can walk for a long while in them without pain or blisters.  A new pair is ready to go as is, with a very smooth interior.  They are the most comfortable, wearable shoes I know of but... They are heavy.  They look a little lumberjackish, something my wife has frowned about since our college dating years and they have a plantation crepe sole.  I don't know much about what that means other than the sole is thick (good) but wears down rather quickly.

Now, do you feel closer to me?  If this line of thought is helping, I could go on to mention the other line of shoes I wear: Time Out shoes by San Antonio Shoes.  I think of them as less clunky than my favs, but a group of dapper clothing salesmen made clear their opinions that the SAS shoes were for frontiersman while I was being fitted for pants. I could mention that the assistant to the No. 1 Ladies Detective, Mma Makutze, sometimes finds that her shoes say something to her, usually something petulant or smart-mouthed.  But that is enough for now.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I know it was him

Long ago, I read some advice from the author and politician James Michener.  He wrote Tales of the South Pacific, on which the musical "South Pacific" was based.  He wrote many other best-sellers.  In a short article in the Reader's Digest, he gave some of his rules for living.  Among them:
  • Fool around until you are 40.  Before then, you are too young to know what you are doing.  I think that is good advice and I often repeated it to anxious college seniors worried about the first decade after college.
  • Stay out of jail and out of mental institutions.  I think that is good advice but it can be more difficult than it sounds.  You may have heard of the USSR's use of mental institutions for political purposes or read "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" or seen the movie.  That is another story of justice failing and failing badly. 
Today's list of blogs being followed on Fear, Fun and Filoz includes a post on Mind Hacks called "How to Jail the Innocent."  As cleverly depicted in the movie "My Cousin Vinny," if you resemble the bad guy, you may be in trouble before you know it.  Law professor Brandon L. Garrett did a study of several hundred cases of DNA exonerating some who were convicted of crimes.  The two most likely reasons for the original convictions were false eyewitnesses (often more than one person) and false confessions.  Garrett's article in Slate explains what he knows about both causes. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Two convergences

TV, Internet and Telephones - Our local cable company offers packages that deliver tv, internet and telephone.  I've read that the cable companies are not well positioned to offer cell phone service.  But the steadily growing interchangeability of phones, tv and the internet (computers) is easy to see.  

Most of us feel comfortable with the idea of something working wirelessly.  I guess it started with Marconi and others in the late 1800's attempting to duplicate the telegraph but without the use of wires.  Now we have cell phones, signals bouncing off satellites and back to earth and entire books being entirely transmitted to receivers without the use of wires.  

My first home computer was an Apple IIe.  I thought of it as a machine that functioned as a superior typing machine, a superior calculator and a superior filing system.  At that time, my machine was not connected to any other machine, nor could it communicate with any other machine.  Now, we tend to think of a computer as mostly for communicating by means of email and web pages.  As we switched from desktop computers and printer recently to laptops and wireless computer, we are seeing what a difference through-the-air communication makes.

Paleontology, Embryology, and Genetics
The study of the life in the past, life forming in embryos and life obeying the genetic code are becoming more integrated, according to the book "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" by Sean B. Carroll.  [The "B" is important to distinguish this scientist from Sean M. Carroll, a leading astronomer and physicist.]   A steadily more complete picture of how life evolves and how the genetics governs the development of an embryo is emerging.  

The most surprising thing for many investigators seems to be that the same genetic toolkits of proteins are used in quite different animals to complete a wing or a limb.  It is clear that very different outcomes can be achieved with different sequences and locations on the body of the embryo.  The subject of molecular biology when applied to the development of embryos and the study of how such development has evolved over time is called "evo devo" for short, 'evolutionary development'.  This new and emerging subject has settled long-standing disputes about animal evolution and development.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is that you Fred?

I have been writing from time to time that I would post more irregularly but mostly, I haven't done that.  When I have something I want to post, I will.  But don't be too surprised if I skip some days. 

I posted this story/joke in my email in June 1999 and I still think of it. There is a book somewhere that might be titled "The Inside Story."  It is about human psychology.  It says that sometimes what sort of humor or cartoon most appeals to us, or is completely opaque to us and goes over our heads, can be related to our own mental makeup. 


We recently moved to a new city and went to our first football game. We arrived early and found our seats.

Not long afterward, a young fellow came in and sat just in front of us.

A short time later, we heard from far behind us someone yell "Hey Fred!"

The nervous young man jumped up and scanned the crowd. Apparently seeing no one he knew, he sat back down.

A few moments later, we heard some behind us yell "Hey Fred!"  Again the young man jumped up and scanned the crowd. Still seeing no one he knew, he uneasily sat back down.

After several rounds of this, the man began mumbling to himself.  After each additional time, the mumbling became more frantic.

Finally, hearing again the call of "Hey Fred!" The man leapt to his feet and screamed to the crowd,


Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Here is how it used to work.  The college radio station would ask a question and the players listening in would have 10 minutes or so to remember or figure out or look up the answer.  Once they had the answer, they would phone the station and give their team name and their version of the answer.  When the period had lapsed, the station would state the answer and the point value of the question.  The contest began on a Friday at 6 PM and ran continuously until Sunday at midnight.  Whoever had the most points won.

Then, along came computers.  More importantly, along came Google.  With Google's help and some other sophisticated tools, the contest changed. It got faster and covered a broader scope.  By this year, the team had 15 or twenty computers networked in the basement to look things up all over the world wide web.

The contest is very popular and includes about 12,000 people in a town of about 24,000.  The players however are scattered all over the country and in foreign countries, too.  

Between the radio and computers, both electricity and the local signal for the internet were deeply relied on.  So, when lightning struck in the middle of the night this time, cutting the power and losing the internet connection, it was a terrible blow.  But this team is resilient and experienced.  They found a nearby relative who still had power and the internet.  They moved the really important pieces of equipment to the other house.  

Out of three or four hundred teams, they usually placed about 33rd or so.  This time, with all the troubles and disruption, they placed 27th.  Near the top, passing even one additional opponent is very difficult so, of course, they are exuberant today.  They are beginning to hope for a lightning strike next year.

Monday, April 11, 2011

tornadoes and the amygdala

We are in the target zone this evening for tornadoes.  The Weather Channel website says that the state with the most tornadoes last year was Minnesota, our neighbor.  Maybe the spring fight between hot and cold air has moved north.  Whatever, it would be nice if there were no big winds.

The Playing Field blog post today is about anxiety and the use of basic fear to direct our attention to dangers and to news sources seeking readers.  It says that the amygdala is the area of the brain that processes alerts to dangers.  Since we, and most animals, are wired to be alert to dangers first, before considering the beautiful sunset or our lovely existence, we are more likely to be willing to subscribe, click, view, etc. news items with scary headlines and subject matter.

I used to wonder about finding a good news channel or magazine.  Then, I observed that even me, interested in sweet news, comforting items, peaceful stories, had a tendency to put off reading them until after I had read about tornadoes or whatever the most pressing danger of the moment is.  This blog is about fear, a basic part of animal life, and fun, the next thing to pay attention to after noting and preparing to face or handle the fear and its source.  It is also about "filoz", not the Phillipine pancake, but filozofy, philosophy, that is, thinking.  To me, the Playing Field post is another way to see the value of meditating for 10 minutes a day.  Doing so helps the mind know its fears, to get enough distance from them to put them into perspective.

Keeping thoughts on the shelf for 10 minutes a day increases one's awareness of what the attention is directed to.  As a Zen story has it, even while fleeing the tiger, we could snatch up a ripe, red strawberry and savor its taste, if we put our minds to that.  With practice, we can direct our attention successfully to what we want to be involved with instead of being manipulated by the world and marketing images.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I read that in Western religious language, the activity that I call "meditation" in this blog is often referred to as "contemplation", while "meditation" often means considering something, like a holy picture or an important quotation, repeatedly and deeply.  In presenting this quote from "Hand Wash Cold" by Karen Maezen Miller, I am thinking of "meditation" in the fixed-point concentration sense, a type of contemplation in some usage.

Because in Zen, you see, we don't meditate on anything. We don't meditate on world peace, for instance, or loving-kindness, or forgiveness, or to acquire any of the lofty virtues that we or our dastardly neighbors so glaringly lack. Meditating on something else would just stoke the conflagration up top. We might be reminded — as if we needed reminding — of what we don't have, how we don't act, what we don't like, who said what to whom and how lousy we feel because of it. We meditate instead to quench the flame on our heads, to quiet the torment and silence the roar. That alone brings salvation, peace, love, and forgiveness. How? By itself. We have a wellspring of all that within us, a deep and eternal aquifer of fire retardant, when we give ourselves the breathing room to find it.

That's what we do in Zen meditation, or zazen. Breathe. Simply breathe, attending to our own breath as it rises and falls, fills and empties, counting it from one to ten and all over again just to give our brilliant brains something to do. We do this with our eyes open, looking at a wall or the floor in front of us. It's easy to think we don't know how to do it, and easy to think we're not doing it right, but this is the way to see that thoughts like that are just — oh yeah, look at that — thoughts, and we start counting again.

I read a simple anecdote that locked itself into my brain.  I can't remember which author wrote it.  Some people on a walk noticed a monk standing on a nearby hilltop.  "I wonder if he lost something up there?", one said.  "Maybe he is lost", suggested another. After more talk, one of the group walked up and spoke to him.  "Are you lost?"  "No."  "Are you waiting for a friend?" "No."  "Well, if you don't mind me asking, what are you doing?"  "I'm standing here."

Steven Wright, that fascinating nut, says that sometimes he likes to go into a doctor's or dentist's waiting room and just wait.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Body Speak

In "The Music Man", Harold Hill wants to sell musical instruments and uses, among other tools, fear of moral degradation of the young in the new pool hall as a rhetorical tool.  The lyrics explain that useful and important tasks such as filling the water cistern and pulling up dandelions will be neglected in favor of pool hall attendance, leading to alcohol consumption and loose interaction between youngsters of opposite genders.  Maybe we used to have more basic tasks and less leisure.  Today, we have more leisure.  In addition, inventors and designers all over the world are deliberately mining every path they can think of to create the newest, latest thing.  

Google likes to present some pranks on April Fool's Day.  One of this year's is the statement that their email, Gmail, now includes the ability to read and obey gestures.  However, at the same time, we are all aware that voice tone, body language and other physical aspects of communication really do matter.  As a kid, I learned to shy away from adults who were speaking aloud to nobody around them.  I took such behavior to be a sign that such people might be dangerous or unstable.  Now, I have learned that adults in the supermarket might not apparently be near anyone but speak aloud through a Bluetooth or other device attached to their ear or somewhere which is transmitting their voice over a telephone circuit.  

But as gestures and body language and movement of the hands and other body parts become recognizable by machines, the possibility steadily grows that seeing a shopper suddenly stoop down, stand up, do a backbend and smack himself in the forehead might indicate the man is communicating.  He doesn't have a wasp in his shirt.  He is confirming a reservation!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friends and computers

Yesterday, I wrote about having too many computers: old, new, out of date and up to date.  I got several responses.

Ha!  Once you have them, those technology friends (computers, TVs, cassette players...) are hard to divest. Not only does it cost $$ to discard them, but they have important pieces of your life on them that exist nowhere else. They're like personal scrapbooks with a screen and keyboard.

The whole business of stripping the contents before trashing or selling or loaning is quite interesting.  There are programs that assist.  I used one called "Window Washer" once. We took a tv, two printers, two vcr's and a remote to the recycling center and had to pay $79 to have them taken off our hands.  
I have a rule of thumb that one always overestimates the amount of 'important' stuff on the hard disk (and in other records, computerized and not.)

That's so funny. Just yesterday a friend and I were discussing how we would like a company to invent a computer for people our age, with promises that nothing on it--software, system, formatting, nothing whatsoever--would ever ever change

A mature retired professor said to me recently,"I hate change!"  I sympathize but I am pretty sure that we only live by change.  Besides, industrial and technological and social change, there is simple aging.  Still, I imagine that less change in a computer system would find interested customers.  One reason we accumulated so many machines was my resistance to modifications that didn't seem called for.

I got an ipad today;-)

My most technologically sophisticated friend is impressed with the iPad and believes it may change computing.  He also said that iPad sales have set records for both number of sales and speed making many sales in a short time.  

Well, you're never bored!  I just treated myself to an iPad2 and am having fun playing with it.  It's seems to be an iPod with a screen that these old eyes can actually see.  I feel a bit guilty about it because I thought I could use it as an educational tool, but so far it feels more like a toy.  I've got to explore those billions of apps to see if I can find something to ease my guilt. We only have 2 computers in our house…3, if you count my new toy.

One of the gifts of life here and now is the internet and what it makes possible.  Beginning and maintaining a blog and getting and receiving emails is indeed a major factor in my efforts to remain alive and functioning.  Creating a wireless network and trying to make a single remote function on several low-end machines yesterday was not all fun but it too was not boring.  @!#$&&!

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