Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fantasizing introducing wonderful to great

I guess we all have separate segments to our lives.  The biggest segment in mine has been the great portion of my life that I have been married.  But there are other parts, too.  My childhood was spent in the company of my sister, so some of my early years included people and events that she and I can both remember.  I went to an all-male high school but there are some now-mature men who shared my homeroom and our experiences together.  Some of my college years were shared with my wife but some were not.  The long period of college teaching was shared with quite a few colleagues, some of whom are still alive.

As the notable 50-year mark passes, various celebrations and memorial events help me re-connect with people who shared one of those life periods with me.  As I have gotten a chance to be with some stand-out people again, I feel a little sad that one of the loving, witty, bright people from one segment stand little chance of really getting to know and enjoy someone of the same high caliber from a different period.  I am doubtful that I can afford to house two or three of the best people from one period in a lodge somewhere with two or three from a different time, all carefully chosen by me to be new and lovely assets to each other's lives.  Even if I could scrape up the funds, I won't be able to convince the likely candidates for new friendships to re-arrange their schedules and leave their families and surroundings for a sojourn with strangers.  If I were to really apply every persuasive tool and get everyone I mentally nominate to participate, a mere month or even six might just be too short a time for the solidity and joy I feel to emerge.  

Oh, well.  I guess I will just continue to fantasize about the fun that might be available in a get-together.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Recent reading

Books we have recently finished:
  • How Starbucks Saved My Life - Gill
  • 12 Steps to A Compassionate Life - Karen Armstrong
  • The Saturday Night Big Tent Wedding Party - McCall Smith (audio book)
  •  One Was A Soldier - Spence-Fleming
  • Old Filth - Gardam
  • Dreaming: A Very Short Introduction - Hobson

There are many other books that I read sporadically.  Among the best are still "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error" by Kathryn Shultz and "The Secret Life of Dust" by Hannah Holmes.  "Being Wrong" has intriguing twists and turns and lives up to the early statement that being wrong is more interesting, offers more personal insight into yourself, and shows a lot about how our belief systems actually work.  "Dust" is amazing.  Not only are we ourselves going from beginning in dust to ending in dust but so is every other thing there is, from mice to galazies.

As a result of a Omnivoracious blog recommendation, I bought "Bossypants" by Tina Fey and "Unfamiliar Fishes" by Sarah Vowel but we haven't begun them yet.  The recommendation said that both are funny but that "Unfamilar Fishes" is quieter.

I am feeling that I need another immersion in something Buddhist or Zen-ish but I haven't quite decided what yet.  There is a growing crop of younger American writers/teachers/practitioners on the subject.  I have something by Ezra Bayda, who I know is a teacher who studied with Charlotte Beck, a writer I have benefited from.  Elizabeth Hamilton and Barry Magid are others.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Just fell apart

Imagine being a 71 year old man attending the 50th college reunion, and being told by a woman there that she had a small statue of the man himself in her house that she had made 50 years earlier.  That is what happened to me recently.  I did immediately recall the few times I had modeled for an art class.  

The modeling was done wearing wrestling tights.  It was tiring.  At one point, I wore wrestling head gear and the instructor attached cords from my head to various points around me.  The cords served as lines against which to judge angles and such.  They also made it very clear if I stirred a little and changed my position.  

It turns out that she made a small statue of the class model and used it as a book end for 5 decades.  Like me, it has aged and time has deteriorated it.  I am thankful that my real body has done a little better so far.  My head hasn't fallen off. My right foot and left forearm are still attached. 

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Marriage as a form of political rebellion

I am an Elizabeth Gilbert fan.  I didn't expect to find the book "Eat, Pray, Love" as wonderful as I did, I didn't expect to like the movie of the book starring Julia Roberts as much as I did.  The book's chapters on mediation are really good writing.

Having liked the book so much, I noticed her more recent book, Committed.  I read a short summary and was surprised.  At the end of "Eat", I thought her life was straightened out.  Not so.  She and her Brazilian businessman boyfriend had a much bigger challenge ahead.  All the details are in the book, which, like "Eat", is a true story, not fiction.  However, "Committed" is mostly an examination of attitudes toward marriage and what marriage tends to mean in different times of history and different places in the world.

When she got to the point of claiming that marriage can be undertaken as a form of resistance to society, I pulled up short.  Can't be.  Marriage is nearly always depicted as a light prison sentence for a man, even though the stats show just the opposite.  Being married helps men but not so much for women.  Still, marriage as a form of rebellion - no way.

However, with just a few sentences, Gilbert convinced me.  She said to look at marriage from the point of view of the state.  For a clearer picture, take a dictatorial, totalitarian state.  Such a state wants its citizens to be completely loyal to it.  But marriage emphasizes a different loyalty, to each other.  For a very long time, the state didn't pay attention to marriage.  I guess at first, the Church didn't either.  Well, accept for the recognition that it might be safer to have unmarriend priests to avoid that very split in loyalty.  

But over time, the Church and then the government got involved with rules and permissions and approval.  Gilbert makes a good case that the natural tendency to do so came from that same source, an attempt to hem in and harness and regulate citizens' loyalties.  Take a look at the book sometime and see what you think of her argument.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Friday, May 27, 2011

How to be computer-savvy

Want to be computer savvy?  Here is the secret: forget about being computer savvy!  I know.  There is so much you don't know.  

There is so much I don't know either.  Lynn has a PhD in instructional technology and there is plenty she doesn't know.  There is plenty everyone doesn't know.  It's just different things for different people.  I admit that the help desk crew knows tons more than my great grandson but they don't know everything.

I find I am helped by keeping in mind that the computer is a machine but one with a great deal of complexity built into it.  It may help to do a little computer programming since that may give you a feel for how computer languages express routines that the computer goes through.  

Another aid is keeping in mind that what you want to do is quite possibly something your machine or favorite program is already capable of doing since you are probably not the first or only person with the aim you have in mind.

I always get a kick out of seeing someone who is sure they are the most ignorant human there is react to being told by a friend or relative that they seem so knowledgeable.  It happens rather often, in my estimation.  In fact, one of the signs that you may be moving toward being labeled the computer guru in your group or circle is the fact that you think about how much you really know or how you can learn more or how you can make your machine do something you want.

Any time something weird happens or something good won't happen, the first rule is to try what should happen again, quite consciously and with full awareness.  If the same undesired outcome occurs, one or two more conscious attempts are called for.  The machine is not organic, it's mechanical.  But, you find have hit a wrong key or failed to get a genuine mouse click.  The machine might not have been in the state of readiness you need and supposed.  

Another preliminary step is to shut down everything properly and turn the machine off.  That can be a pain if it means you will lose something that hasn't been saved and maybe you will think of a way that work you have just done can be saved.  One of the things I like about Gmail and Google Docs is that they save automatically and frequently.  That way, I am never far from having saved what I just did.  

If things are still amiss after a 20 second or more wait and re-start, describe what is going wrong to someone.  The effort of making the description may help you think of an angle that helps and the person listening might have an idea.  Just as modern cars often need the attention of a trained mechanic, so it is not uncommon to have to take the machine somewhere to get professional help.  Having a good relation with such help is always a good idea.

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

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sure-fire way of predicting the future

In 1950, Professor E.E. Cureton at the University of Tennessee published a paper called "Reliability, Validity and Baloney".  In it, he explained how to predict the next presidential election.  

Get 1000 or more pennies and put them in a jar.  (If they won't fit, split them into several jars. For safety, use sturdy plastic jars.)  Decide on whether George Washington is to be "heads" or "tails".  Shake up all the jars and dump on a bed or something that will catch the coins.  Pick up all the coins that came up on George's side and replace them in jars. Collect the other coins and put them aside.  They are out of the experiment.  Repeat the whole operation up to the last election, saving the good predictor coins all the while and putting the losers aside.  The coins that remain are your good predictors.  Use them to predict the next election.  

This method will surely work for PREDICTING. Whether the prediction will turn out to be correct is anybody's guess.  It is equally good for predicting other sorts of events and answering questions, such as "Will it rain tomorow?"

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

simple exercises

I find that it is quite easy to experience regret in retirement.  Not so much regret about what was or wasn't done before retirement.  I was pretty busy then and didn't have time to do much else.  Besides, I was sufficiently focused on what I was doing that I didn't think about doing much else.

But come retirement, and I am free!  Free!  OK, now what?  Well, there are tons of opportunities.  And as time goes by, you discover more.  You really don't have to think all that broadly.  Just being interested in your church or in travel or in old cars or writing or any subject or two, will quickly result in tens, then hundreds of possibilities that seem attractive.  

Plenty of older people are interested, among all the possibilities, in the health of their brains.  The best book I have read about brains is still The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, MD.  The book focuses on the meaning and uses of neuroplasticity, the fact that the brain continually modifies itself to the best shape for the tasks and activities the mind and body work on.  The book, and many other sources on both brain or body, emphasize that we use our abilities or we lose them.  This can sound negative but in some cases, it seems just nature anticipated.  I read recently that a young child's brain has many more connections between its neurons than that person will have as an adult.  The brain is born for all sorts of possibilities that aren't needed by that person in that culture but the excess is dropped.

One of the best things we can do for our brains and our whole bodies is exercise.  As we age, we tend to focus on certain activities and our bodies sometimes need to stretch and accommodate large amounts of sitting and deskwork.  Just a few exercises seem to make a big difference in keeping some of the fundamental possibilities for movement and health open.  

I am a fan of resistance bands and this blog about their use.  Recently, two posts on that blog discussed exercises that have a high payoff.  The first shows the W exercise for shoulders and the clamshell exercise for hip.  The second shows a simple exercise that helps arms, shoulders and neck.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

All the answers are right in the back!

I think there is an interesting human puzzle when I think about books of crossword puzzles and sudoku puzzles.  For a while, I thought only I felt there was an interesting twist to the books.  But then, in a re-run of Cheers (4 and 4:30 CDT on Chicago's WGN channel), Woody, the young bartender from Hanover, Indiana, made a comment along the lines I have been thinking about.  He hadn't done many crossword puzzles but looked at a book of them that a customer had been using.  He said that the puzzles looked quite difficult.  Then, he noticed that all the answers were printed in the back of the book and happily exclaimed that it would quite easy to complete one.

That is sort of the puzzle, for me.  I realize how the answers are meant to be used, for checking to see if I have filled in the puzzle "correctly".  Sometimes, a puzzler takes a little, tiny, limited, quick peek for an assist with something especially far out and difficult.  I know the challenge is to fill in the diagram with mind power only.  I see that it is indeed possible to copy the answers from the back and fill it in using no imagination but just vision and finger power. Most people who do puzzles seem to work near the mind-power-only end but they could slide to the other end.  I imagine that most fans of the puzzles would find copying all the answers to even one puzzle a burden and silly.  

For educators and trainers, the question arises often: What do we really want students and trainees to be able to do? When can we feel they have learned or achieved or acquired what we are responsible for them to learn?  How many peeks at the answers are allowed before failure, a grade of D, a required repeat of the training?  What about the student who says the answers are right there and it is a waste of time and effort to learn them?  Some thinkers about children's math learning are convinced that making the kids learn the multiplication table by rote is a waste of time.  Modern computers, spreadsheets and cash registers can do the figures more accurately and faster than any child, any human.  Tougher thinkers ask about times when there is no machine available or no electricity.  The first group counters that the store won't be able to function and the office will be closed, then.  

See the puzzle?

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Monday, May 23, 2011

Another years of posts in a single file

I have just uploaded another year of the Fear, Fun and Filoz blog here.  There are now two years of posts in two separate files.  They make great bedtime reading.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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I don't always like my inner self

Living with myself is not easy.  The older I get and the more I practice meditation, knowing and facing myself, the more clearly I see many negatives parts.  I think a good case can be made that I am lazy, primitive, forgetful, impulsive, grumpy, and selfish.  

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002 and had a prostatectomy.  During the operation, they found that cancer cells might have been carried to other, unknown parts of my body.  So, I took special medicine to get my body to think that a lower testosterone level was good, since escaped cancer cells needed that hormone to live and grow.  But it has been long enough now that I don't need the medicine and my real testosterone level is back up.  Lynn says, "The old, nasty, horny Bill is back."  

A friend whose husband had the same operation and medicine afterwards asked Lynn in my presence if I had been nicer with that medicine.  It had seemed to her that her husband definitely was.

Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness gives me a rather clear view of my inner mental life.  It is not all that lovely.  Self-acceptance is all very well but who wants to accept a primitive set of emotions and impulses as himself.  It is difficult to disguise the picture as really being ok or what is to be expected from a male or an oldster.   Who wants to own up to being a big infant who only barely manages to cover up appetites and failings and tantrums?  Couple that picture with failing energy levels and muscle strength and you can see why people might shy away from too much self-knowledge.

I admit that seeing what I am like does give me a certain sympathy for others whose self-control or mask may have slipped out of place.  Various authors tell me that if I face who and what I seem to be calmly, I will be able to befriend and like my whole self.  We'll see.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Let's hear it for strawberry milk

The 4th grader likes milk.  He likes chocolate milk even more.  But a person gets tired of the same thing all the time.  He has had strawberry flavored milk a few times and it appeals to him.  So, he wonders why he can't ever get in the school lunch room.  One thing leads to another and he applies the newly acquired idea of a petition to the problem of getting some strawberry milk sold at school.  

I am impressed by the knowledge, the energy, the effort, the daring.  I asked him how many signatures he has collected.  He isn't sure.  He has several pages and so do a girl and a boy who are working on this political cause with him.  The most important of the pages includes the actual signature of the school principal.  That ought to carry some weight!

When I proudly tell some of my own friends about this project, they are supportive and wish him luck.  We realize that there may be many obstacles in the way of fulfilment.  Maybe the present situation includes a contract with a vendor who doesn't deal in strawberry milk.  There may be some administrative practice or policy that will interfere with making that pink moo-juice available.  The drink may not turn out to be popular enough to sustain sales.  Our budding politician may himself become uninterested and start petitions for espresso or to stop the sale of strawberry milk.

James Prochaska and colleagues has found that one of the best predictors of who will succeed in stopping smoking cigarettes is whether the smoker has tried to stop before.  They found that successful quitters often have to try several times before they succeed.  So, I am betting that this venture into politics, persuasion and planning will not be the last time this guy engages in an endeavor to change things.  Life is funny, not funny ha-ha, but odd and twisting in its course. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if strawberry milk does show up in that school lunch room sometime, even if it is several years after this petitioner has moved on to higher grades and schools.  Don't you be surprised if you are still around when this guy turns forty, if he is your city councilman or senator
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

70 years in the making!

We had a chance to be with friends from 50 years ago.  We observed heavier bodies, bigger stomachs, more facial wrinkles and bigger bags under the eyes.  There have been times when we felt ashamed of these features of our own bodies but now we feel differently.

Since many of the most beautiful people we know share these developments, we don't feel cast out or down or disfigured.  In fact, we are feeling figured.  

It is clear that it takes several decades for a twenty year old to develop these proud signs of successful avoidance of predators and continuing breathing.  Very likely, those make-up specialists that work on models and actors could make us think, at least temporarily, that a 20-something was part of our group.  I guess much of the original impulse to look young relates to the male sex drive.  If I were a 38 year old actress, I might work hard at looking what seems to be 28 years old.  That certainly seems to be a strategy that many actresses, and actors as well, take.

Of course, there is also the avoidance of death.  Sometimes, we fall into thinking that if we look 39, death won't see us.

I suppose politicians and other public figures find it helpful to work at keeping a figure that says 'youth' and 'energetic'.  But as the pain in our joints increases and we get hips, knees, and shoulders replaced, as we pant up stairs and wait for elevators, we know full well that we are not built the way we used to be.  However, we are finding that there would be no point to being as experienced, accomplished and satisfied as we are, and still have those capacities to run, score and mate the way we did.  We did those things and we are proud of that, but we are in a different stage now.  It can be difficult for youngsters to believe, but it can actually be a bit repetitive to even contemplate the effort, the tension, the anxiety we used to carry around.  

We are fully alive now and we like our balanced, steady lives.  We realize that it took a long life to build our present bodies and minds and it is right to bear the fruits of those lives proudly. 

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

Friday, May 20, 2011

NCIS and God

Some of my friends don't watch television but otherwise, just about everyone I know likes "NCIS", the show about the Naval Criminal Investigation Service.  (The link goes to the home page of the real Naval service.)  Since we more or less exhausted our taste for CSI and started to become fans of NCIS, I have mentioned the show to quite a few people.  Everyone seems to like it and to prefer it to its many crime and police show rivals.

I think it is the character development that does the trick.  Admittedly, Jethro is nearly as soul-dead as Horatio and other top guys, but every now and then, a little light peeks through.  We understand that he is a manly man, indeed, and that he has suffered a serious blow, that he has had to zip up even more to be able to bear his pain and still function.  But the other characters have enough personality and enough oddity to create some interest.  The lab workers Abby and Ducky sure are not carbon copies of anyone else.  DiNozzo and Ziva (last names for hunks, first for babes, but we all know not to grab Ziva if we value our joints) are both romantic and human.  McGee helps us to realize that we must never touch a computer or anything else electronic if we don't want all our personal data and account numbers in government hands.  

I haven't ever created any notable characters but I gather that a good writer must be willing to stress her creations and give them a rough time.  I am still old-fashioned enough to be turned off by too rough a time.  Struggle that is eventually overcome seems to be the essential ingredient, sufficient struggle but not too much.  

This subject reminds me of Dorothy Sayers, creator of the character Lord Peter Wimsey, and author of "The Mind of the Maker"(1944).  In that book, she compares the work of an author creating characters with what God faced in creating people.  If the story and the character is to have juice, there must be challenges, even daunting ones, but we hope there will be conquest and victory, too.  As with anything else, there are limitations.  Characters normally can't be in two places at the same time.  What we are told they have done has been done.  Unless the report of their activities is wrong, what has been done is done.  Amends or corrections can be made, maybe, but the past can't be rewritten.  The actual personality creates limits, too.  He-men normally can't be too dainty and sweet old ladies can pull a trigger but normally with reluctance and several warnings.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

That moment strikes me all over again

She was on the phone, saying "the only time I met him during my adult life was at the wedding, no, I mean, the funeral of …"  A.W.A. [as we age], important and meaningful events tend to pile up.  After a while, the pile is quite big and each item in the pile is truly large and momentous.  Coming into this human world or leaving it get to seem very similar.  The main noted event between stage entrance and stage exit is often marriage.

Of course, there are many other contenders for notice: graduation of various kinds and levels, job loss, job gain, house purchase, major relocation, adoption, divorce, major illness or hospitalization.  Eckhart Tolle says that when we write a person's dates, like "Leonhard Euler (1707-1783)", that little dash between the birth year and the death year covers a great many momentous events in that person's life.  As we think about memory, we realize that we can recall some of the big moments but not completely.  It is always a surprise to me when I am prompted to recall something that I haven't thought about for decades and suddenly remember not only the event but its impact, its holiness or level of dreadfulness.

That time you helped me at the very moment I most needed it lifted me, strengthened me, gave me energy and zest.  Even if I didn't remember it until I saw that picture or heard that comment doesn't mean at all that you weren't wonderful.  You were and I thank you, even if I only just now recall what you were and did for me.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Thursday, May 12, 2011

More Google-ology

Going along with the Google-ology theme, here is a web page that explains more.


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Monday, May 9, 2011

Getting that doctorate in Google-ology

Here is a link to the famous Google main page.  Above, after quite a lot of learning, I found a fat marker tool to mark up screen shots for purposes of drawing attention to some part of a picture. 

If you go to the linked page and click on the right-most of the circled words, the word "more", a column of additional link-labels appears. At the bottom of that column are the words "even more".  Click on those to get to this page listing MOST of Google's free services and possibilities

Of course, you can get to the page from the link right here but it pays to know how to find the page from the Google main page.  Then, you can get to the list of options from any computer anywhere.
In my opinion, Word and Excel are still the best word processor and spreadsheet for general purposes.  If you do specialized work routinely, you may find modifying some of the many options in those Microsoft Office programs is an aid in getting done what you want quickly and easily.  However, for many purposes, the Google Docs option of 'Document' is fully adequate. 

The Google Docs are saved in Google's computers and are also available from any computer connected to the internet, or "in the cloud" as computer experts like you and me say for short.  Google Docs also offers a spreadsheet, a form (used to mail some questions to contacts, Google collects their answers, and shows them to you in a table), and presentation software, much like Microsoft Powerpoint.  The Google presentation software can be rather easily transported a Google (free) web site page, where it will be available for you and others.

On the Google options page, I count 49 links.  That is a whale of a lot of possibilities and I probably have not used half of them.  However, like a great painting or movie, every service has a purpose and spending time exploring what they are for is worth doing once in a while. 

I find it a useful rule of thumb that what I get an idea to do is often an idea that others also have.  That means that Google or iPad or the worldwide web may already be offering just what I need, maybe even in a form that is fairly easy to master and at a price that appeals to me.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Sunday, May 8, 2011

New Mind

The Zen master offers the student a cup of tea.  The student holds out a saucer with the cup on top.  The master pours tea into the cup and keeps on pouring as the tea overflows the cup.  The student asks why continue pouring when the cup is already full.  The master says that the mind, like the cup, must be empty to receive new wisdom, new insight.

My friend, a scholar and PhD in French, writes

Your comment about Montaigne's advice to forget what you read reminds me of the French saying: "La Culture est ce qui reste quand on a tout oubliĆ©."  --Culture is what remains when you've forgotten everything (you've learned.)  It seems to me that Montaigne must be referring to the deeper understanding and grasp of the whole that lies beneath all the details that our memories amass (and let go of.)

I wonder if the recommendation to be slow-witted might be related to what Jesus meant when he said that we needed to become as little children.  Most of us, as adults, think we're so smart and know so much--and as soon as we hear something new we trot out all our old concepts and try to fit the new in somewhere, or to reject it, based on all the structures of thought that we've so carefully built up.  I'm aware that when I'm listening, I'm often also rehearsing everything I already think I know about the topic.  It's really not the best way to enjoy the richness of the present.  I need to keep reminding myself about "bare attention."

Another friend, an expert in administration and human relations, writes

Bill, I am reminded of the notion in literature of "willing suspension of disbelief," a term from another century that refers to the viewer/reader having to suspend independent judgment/thought about the scene/novel/poem so that one can be immersed into it.  You have probably experienced this concept watching movies.  If you try to remember pieces, judge the acting, wonder about the actor's real life or anything other than becoming one with the story and its people, you will not be able to become a part of the story.  Ultimately, we are asked to turn off our minds, our critical processes, our attention elsewhere so that we can become emotionally a part of the thing being unveiled. Even the best artistic events wither under our critical disbelief.

I went to college with the actor, Marsha Mason, and was never able to appreciate any of her movies because I could not get past my real life knowledge of her.

Imagine if we approached conversations with our loved ones with willing suspension of disbelief and became totally immersed in the conversation without separate thoughts or judgments.

As a tool for lifting spirits over too much cold weather, I wrote

Lynn is slowly getting a handle on the iPad, which in turns gives me glimpses into it and the worldwide web's parts that I wouldn't otherwise think of or find.  Yesterday, she put "laughing babies" into YouTube and looked at many videos of babies exploring the world.  Of those she showed me, I guess the now rather famous Emerson reacting to his mother blowing her nose is the most memorable.  It will put you and your family in a good mood and is just this one form of several has been viewed over 17 million times.

Watching Emerson and other babies (and also videos of kittens on the same site), I am struck again by how the new-to-this-world see the wonder in everything.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Try or just accept and enjoy?

I noticed with interest a comment Mark Epstein reports that Freud made.  In discussing the general lack of training psychotherapists in how to pay attention to a client's talking, Epstein quotes Freud "He should simply listen, and not bother about whether he is keeping anything in mind."  This really got my attention because I am interested in whether I retain the most valuable parts of a book by telling myself a passage is well done or valuable and trying to make a mental note of it or by paying good attention to the words of the book without 'trying' to remember.

Whether you are listening to a lecture you will later be tested on or just watching an NCIS episode, I think it is possible to strain to remember or instead, to just let the information flow over you, letting yourself accept and enjoy whatever strikes your imagination.  Freud was trying to describe what he thought was the most useful way to attend to the talk of a patient.  I have often suspected that just listening might be more efficient and effective than noting and sweating to retain.  Just listening, close to what Buddhists call "bare attention", just attending fully but with full openness and pleasure in what parts are pleasurable, seems like a powerful way to pluck the good parts and let those that are old news fall away.

This morning, I was looking over the interesting book "How to Live" by Sarah Blakewell.  She is described on her Amazon author page as a former Wellcome Library archivist who went over to full-time writing in 2002.  Her book, "How to Live" a comparison of the life and thought of Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) with general and modern philosophical question of life, won the National Book Critics Circle biography award in 2010.  During my life, I have often run into Montaigne's essays.  I saw the Blakewell book a while back and I tried out the new software for borrowing ebooks from my local library by borrowing "How to Live".  One of the short chapters on how to live, according to this Frenchman, is titled "Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow-witted".  

I haven't gotten to the slow witted part yet but the parallels between Freud's advice, my own questions, and the words "forget most of what you read" grabbed me.  How much of what we read is retained, how much as well as WHAT parts of our reading and all our thoughts are retained is an interesting subject.  It comes up, too, in connection with "Moonwalking with Einstein", a current book on memory champions and their techniques to remember incredible amounts of information.

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

Friday, May 6, 2011

It really hurts

It hurts more than you might think.  In Wisconsin, there has been a long winter.  Not as bad as some used to be.  When we moved here, we experienced -30° and colder.  But this year's was long, cold, dreary and limiting because of icy roads and walkways.  We know that March 21 is supposed to be the first day of spring so by the middle of March, we are thinking of robins, leaves on trees and daffodils.  But we don't get them until long after the vernal equinox.

I learned as a child that March was windy and April rainy, that such weather brought flowers.  We thought of May Day, the first of May as truly spring.  However, as noted in the musical Carousel, it is June that busts out all over in New England and here.  So, for the last weeks of March, all of April and May, we are hoping for warmth and blue skies.  That is a 10 week period or about 20% of the year.  Given that the weather is often cold again in October through the end of the year, that long, often fruitless, wait during the calendar spring for the meteorological spring is frustrating.  

This year, we ask where is the good stuff?  When will we get some?  Then, on top of the usual deprived spring, this year we get a week or two of quite depressing and nasty weather that is even worse than usual.  We had snow all day on May 3rd!  We don't like it.  We don't appreciate it.  We feel assaulted.  When we hoped for at least a day with no cold wind and some sun, to get snow, even very light snow, really hurts.  

I was out on a walk in a grumpy mood when friends drove up along side.  The driver lowered his window and called out,"We're going to Miami.  Want to go?  Hop in."  They were really headed for a store just over the hill but the sentiment and the image of not continuing to put up with being cheated, being assaulted, lifted my spirit.  I must have talked to three or four other neighbors on that walk and everyone of them was snarling about snow.  We all agreed we should not be experiencing it now.  When we get the idea or even a direct statement by our favorite weatherman that a little warmth is on its way, it is painful to have air masses and jet streams guide the treasures we hoped for somewhere else.  

Our cold air and foul weather may have protected us from the terrible tornado damage experienced in the South to some extent.  We did have more than a dozen tornadoes a few weeks ago, some north of us and some to our south.  But we are sick of poor weather, sick of being taunted by 30 minutes of sunlight every few days, sick of our winter wardrobes, which we have been wearing since September.

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

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How to torture a wife

This method works best if the wife is intelligent and adventurous.  It may help if she has a sense of style, too.  Select a wife with a PhD in instructional technology (computers and audio-visual equipment and methods).  Such a wife may feel an obligation to learn all new and emerging methods and machines.)

Start by noticing that Amazon and Netflix download movies for very little but you need a tv with a good internet connection.  So, better get a new tv.  Not too big and not unnecessarily expensive.  Spend some time looking in several different stores in her company.   Buy and install.

Ok, the new one needs its own remote control, yet the one for the cable is still needed.  Throw in one for the DVD player and one for the special devoted download connection.  Now, you have four remotes where there was essentially one before.

Now, notice that all the computers you and she use are well out-of-date as far as speed and the latest operating system is concerned.  Propose a conference with a sharp young man to support your contention that everybody who is anybody is way ahead and your household is truly out of step.  Get new computers. Try to do so while operating the new tv arrangement is still a challenge.

Meanwhile, have your cell phone company get swallowed up by competitors so that it is no longer an option.  Get new phones during several months of confusion and inoperable phones.  In the midst of the confusion, go away for more than a month, preferably to a place with little or no phone service.  Try to encourage all calls on calling cards, the ones with 10 digit numbers to get a line and 16 digits to authorize the call before the 10 digits for your neighbor across the street.

In some cases, you wil have now reached the detonation point.  You will know you have reached it when there is a sudden burst of outrage and fatigue and shouts against the modern world and the fun of new electronics.  If not, proceed to switch cell phone companies yet again, altering all numbers and procedures.  Use a new arrangement with complex sign-on and registration steps.  

It may be possible to find at this point that your own new computer needs to go to the shop for 2 to FOUR weeks.  If so, request that you share her new machine, assuring her you will be not be any bother at all and will just quietly slip in and use it during the times she isn't. That way, you can look in on her every few minutes to see if she happens to be finished with her machine for a moment.  With each peek, assure her that what you want to do on her machine can wait and that you are in no hurry at all.

Try to do all this right when she gets cataract surgery so that seeing anything, especially detail and small print, is frustrating.

If detonation has not occurred, it will at any time.  Be prepared.

[The copy editor points out that getting a newer model of her Kindle with no warning, one with new capabilities and controls, AND, without telling her, throwing in an Apple iPad2 (additional operating system!) with a pink cover and her name engraved on it may help in pushing her over the top.]

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

No charge! Free?

I have read several times that the most important word in advertising is "free".  I suppose "no charge" is rated highly, too.  

An old saying in environmental matters is "there is no free lunch."  As far as I can tell, there is no free anything.  Ok, if you give me a used toilet as a gift, there will probably not be any deduction from my checking account and no reduction in my pocket change. But to have the beautiful porcelain toilet installed will take expenditure for supplies.  In my case, labor costs too, since I don't trust myself to install plumbing fixtures.  

Katrina Keniston in her blog The Gift of an Ordinary Day quotes the famous naturalist John Muir, "Tug on anything at all and you will find that it is connected to everything else in the universe."  I think older people tend to realize that there are unseen and unexpected connections everywhere.  That is one of the reasons younger people tend to be faster: they don't realize that a wonderful "gift" has impacts that are unpredictable and some of them will be unwanted.

Today, the lady said happily, "The good news is that it is still under warranty and there is no charge."  I am glad to have no charge, no need to give away some of my greenbacks. But rearranging my schedule, driving there and back, finding that the repair itself is a bit incomplete and requires further service -- all those are "charges" against my time, my life, my car, the roads, our atmosphere, our supply of gasoline, etc.  

I have read environmental commentary that says just about nobody anywhere calculates true and complete costs.  Most environmental costs, damages and depletions are simply ignored.  I suspect that those concerned with pricing and cost analysis are trying to develop more complete and insightful accounts of the full cost of our activities.  As we pay to clean our atmosphere, handle exotic metals and compounds in life and in disposal, we are beginning to see more of the connections between our desires, our habits and the resulting costs.  Of course, many of the costs are worth paying but it helps sometimes to know what they are.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Origin of the World

"L'Origine du monde" [the origin of the world] is a painting by the French artist Gustave Courbet in 1866.  I imagine there are a great many ways to think about the painting, its history and its subject matter.  

I have noticed recently that in speaking about human males in mixed company that references to distinctively male anatomy do not faze the men but can shock the women.  Just as the tiny mouth of some very large, heavy people is in sharp contrast to the entire large body it supplies, so the small area occupied by the male-est organ as opposed to the whole body is in sharp contrast to that area's importance to us all.  Again, for women, the subject of the male-est part of a male body is likely to be of some interest, although I imagine for some others, it is repulsive or frightening.  

Somehow, the other night, we got on the subject of "being hung like a horse."  My wife told the story of a group standing around in fascinated silence at the zoo, staring at a fully aroused male elephant.  Our observant little daughter shouted out, "Look, Mommy, that elephant has two trunks!"  The group burst into laughter.  I wondered if the cute little grandson in a picture we were admiring was hung like a horse.  My question provoked a shocked gasp from some of the ladies.  

When you think about the body and its demands as well as those of civilization, you can see why it is that each of the sexes makes use of equipment in the genital area several times a day in the handling of elimination of liquid waste.  So, within each sex, the same equipment that figures so largely in making babies is a commonplace tool.  Yet between the sexes, it is a matter of mystery and in many cases, especially for males, the opposite group's sexual/urinary equipment is VERY arousing, moving, enticing, exciting, etc.  Thus, the existence of paintings such as the "Origin of the World" by Courbet.  

For men in the sexually ripe time of life, the painting does indeed show a focus, maybe, THE focus of life.  However, beyond that angle, and before you get too down on Gustave Courbet, remind yourself that aside from sex or the creation of babies, we were all babies and did actually all of us come from this origin of the world. 

Monday, May 2, 2011


Much of what I know about marketing and advertising, I learned from the books of Reis and Trout.  They say that the single most important decision about a new product is deciding on its name.  I imagine that engineers, complaint departments and accountants would disagree but I can see how the name can matter.

I see several ways that names are approached.  To me, the current worldwide communication network, including more and more ways to quickly translate from one language to another, means that nearly any word may well be used already, quite possibly in a way that will put a product at a disadvantage.  I have read that "Nova" can be said in Spanish in a way that sounds like "no va" or doesn't go.  So, that was not a good name for a car.  The habit of picturing the contents of canned goods on the label of the can was not good for baby food that had a picture of a baby on the can.  

I named my blog in the order that I thought my thoughts happened: fear first, then amusement or pleasure and finally consideration of the matter. Thus, "fear", "fun" and philosophy.  I used the more phonetic spelling of "filosofy" shortened to just "filoz".  I would probably not have used that spelling if I had known that "filoz" is a type of pancake.  When I put the word into Google, I get more than a quarter million results.

Some names are not evocative, such as "Stoneway" or Elmstone, which Google just told me is the name of a village in England.  

The computer game "Angry Birds" has been coming up in what I look at quite often recently.  My great-grandson plays the game on the iPad and I guess a couple of million other people do, too.  I wonder if there is an interesting story on the derivation of the name.  Using the game's success as a model in naming, emotional words and animal words might be combined, I guess.  But when I tried "happy snails" and "grouchy crickets", I found thousands of uses of those terms already.  But when I tried that last term without the space between (grouchycrickets) I found no uses.  That is something I have seen before, little use of wordsstrungtogether.  

I think the book "Space Between Words" says that the spaces we are used to these days were invented by Irish monks about the year 700 AD.  Before that wordswereoftenstrungtogethermakingthemmuchhardertoread.

Trying for a unique name is hard work, as is finding a name that reminds of the product.  Blogs, rock and other musical groups and, no doubt, many other projects, products and people are using up all our names at a great rate.  I hope we don't run out!

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