Thursday, June 30, 2011

squashed by cooked trees

Every two damned weeks!  For the rest of my life!  Give me a dad-blamed break! - One in ten communications is important but nine in ten are not welcome.  My shredder is a help but it is boring to sit beside it for half an hour every day at mail time.

I can tell my software that something is trash and I don't want it.  I can tell it that the sender is no longer welcome in my inbox and that anything from that sender should be immediately deleted.  I wish I could do the same thing with my US Postal mailbox.

Whenever I get overly impatient with all the ads and pleas for money and the outlandish claims of wonderful products, I remember that those messages are peoples' lives, trying to make a dollar.  Sometimes that helps me feel a little more tolerant.  Often it doesn't work. I have read that something like 90% of the million or so emails that come into the local campus are spam.  I have not read how much it profits people from big or little businesses to advertise on paper.  I think the practice is reputed to be helpful but I am always on the outlook for better ways to control the stream of paper we don't want.

The book "How to Get Control of Your Life and Time" advocates dealing with paper as it arrives at my desk.  The author prescribes a quick decision: keep or toss.  "Toss" goes to the trash/shred bin and "keep" goes to a box or drawer.  He advocates not going to near the drawer unless really necessary.  What about when that drawer gets full?  Move it all to the same bin!  Works pretty well. I empty the drawer every two weeks, in anticipation of dusting.

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

mediapaths and incivility

I came across the term "mediapath" the other day.  I felt it was a useful invention. I am confident there are mediapaths in our world, those who crave attention for personal satisfaction or financial gain.  I think in the right place, one could find experienced professionals who will help those who are interested or feel a need to commit bizarre behavior or make outlandish statements or charges in the attempt to hit the headlines.  Once some sort of attention has been captured, it seems possible to exploit whatever is said or shown with further "explanations", howls of privacy invasion, complaints about the ever-present paparazzi and the burdens of so much attention and worldwide interest in one's life, habits and choices.

In 1962, Daniel Boorstin (1914-2004), later the Librarian of Congress, wrote "The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America".  In it, he said that the pseudo-event was invented by Senator Joseph McCarthy or members of his staff.  They made a press release that there would be a breakfast for the press on a given day.  At the breakfast gathering, a announcement was made that there would be a press conference on the afternoon of the following day.  That announcement was the sole event at the breakfast.  The breakfast was Boorstin's example of a pseudo-event, a vacuity signifying quite close to nothing at all.  The same book gave a definition of the word "celebrity": a person who is famous for being famous.

I don't get People magazine but I realize there is a fascination for others, usually those who seem wonderfully rich or loved or talented.  To me, really good poets and mathematicians and designers are more interesting than rock stars.  I don't really know much about rock stars but to me they seem mostly able to howl and jiggle.  

Within the last few months, I read about an online sales operation that wanted to get its results high in Google's rankings, which have been built on the number of other web pages that cite a particular page.  If lots of people cite your page, it will be among the first that Google shows with a given search term, or so I gather.  This sales operation went out of its way to be nasty and to give especially poor service after it found that outlandish behavior was gathering attention and increasing the chance that their shop would be found quickly in a Google search.  The article said that Google is aware of such manipulations and is trying to find ways to sort the good from the not-so-good.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Yes and no?

It is fun to listen as closely as I can to exactly what people say.  I read a while back that the governor, a former professor of speech and rhetoric, ordered his staff to write exactly and precisely what he had said orally when they reported his remarks.  Shortly after, he changed his order to tell them to clean up what he actually said so that the result was good language and easily read.  Despite his desire to have accurate reports of his statements, he also wanted grammatical press releases containing straightforward language, without any false starts, repetitions, and such tongue trips omitted.  

We can all spot little utterances in the speech of others that "weren't really meant" and should be ignored as messages.  When we listen to others speaking, we know how to apply filters and variances to take the speaker's meaning.  But what happens if we really listen, exactly?  What do we hear?  Sometimes, I hear someone say, "Yes, no" or "No, yes".  That gets my attention.  They agree and they don't ??

I have read that those raised in the tradition of the West, the nations influenced by the Greeks, Christianity, Europeans in general and so, Americans, tend to think in dichotomies.  The idea is that we have languages, logic and tradition that all focus on avoiding contradiction, speaking against ourselves.  We like to think that a horse cannot be both big and not big at the same time.  We may split the unity of the horse and think that he has a big back but not big legs but the back, we like to think cannot be both big and not-big.  We can differ in our judgments as to which category, A or not-A, something is but we usually assume it can't really be both at the same time.

I have found that sometimes the yea and nay speaker is addressing two questions: yes, this is me and no, I don't want to come over.  But I have developed an interest in noticing times when I hear both affirmative and negative, and sometimes it seems that both utterances are part of a sort of introduction.  If I say "Hi", you will probably not say "Wrong!"  The function of the utterance Hi is neither to affirm or deny.  Sometimes, when people begin a conversation, they start with "yes" or "yeah".  I think they are trying to be close to their listener, to strike a note of unity and friendliness.  Sometimes, I may change my mind.  You say, "Want to come over?" and I utter "Yes" and immediately remember that my cousin is coming here and I can't leave just now so you hear "Yes, no, my cousin is coming."  You know perfectly well what I mean.

Monday, June 27, 2011


It was a sight her husband of 50 years had never seen before.  She was lying naked from the waist down with her feet in the stirrups with a middle aged and dignified male staring between her legs and saying, "Hmm, hmm, umhumm...".  The couple had been a little concerned and he thought sitting in the office with her might help them both.  He had tried to be careful about including himself if his presence would make her uncomfortable, but she seemed ok with him being there.  Likewise, with the young nurse and the doctor.

Turns out she is fine.  But the scene got him thinking.  He was over 70 years old and had seen doctors all this life for all sorts of things.  Yet, he had never been in that physical position for a physician or for any reason.  Just a little web searching showed that some people feel the stirrups were not helpful medically or for any other reason.  Yet, it seems possible that they or something very similar might be better for a person with weak or tired abdominal muscles or for prolonged exams or procedures.

Searching for "gynecological stirrups" did not bring the same results as "gyn stirrups".  The 2nd search term brought pictures of medical stirrups in use for men and mentioned lithotomies, "stone" removal from some organs.  I also learned that colorful stirrup covers are available to lighten the mood and tone of the use of stirrups.  Not too surprising in today's world, covers are available with an ad featuring "your wording" on the foot face of the stirrup.  I am not sure how much time a patient would have to read the message but I guess it would be brief.

I had read before about the invention (Chinese, perhaps, like so much else) of the horse stirrup and the difference it made in riding and warfare.  According to this article in the Wikipedia, there is disagreement about who made what inventions when and about how much effect they had on warfare, politics, military victories and subsequent events.  

It is clear that in the matter of horse riding, the stirrup can kill if one becomes caught in it and dangling while being dragged.  After biking in Europe for a couple of weeks, I thought I would be more modern and athletic with stirrups on my bike.  When I forgot my foot was inserted in the bike stirrup and tried to dismount or even twist around too fully, I caused myself some real falls.  Even examining table stirrups have several different designs for less foot fatigue. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Choosing" by Prof. Sheena Iyengar

I wrote my dissertation on the use of decision theory as a framework for building simulations of real-world activity.  Today, making simulations of activities from forming the US budget to running a farm are common.  The simulation angle is interesting but so is the fundamental act of making a choice, of selecting from a set of possibilities, in a game or in life.

I am interested in people making choices, whether it is of someone to marry, a car to buy, or a movie or book to read. has begun offering a free sample from a book to try to give the customer a way of sampling the book, much as a customer in a bookstore might read the jacket information and a bit of the book to decide whether to buy it.  My experience with this offering so far has been mixed since the sample seems to be the first chapter but my technique of examining a paper book would not be limited to the first chapter.

I have avoided buying paper books since they usually cost more and are more trouble to care for than a Kindle version.  But I still enjoy visiting bookstores, where I tend to fall into an old habit.  I look at the books and immediately decide that most of them are not for me.  However, authors, editors, book jacket designers and adwriters are skilled at promoting their wares and I have a habit of choosing a book that might be promising and buying it.  I try to be discriminating and tough with myself but I often cave and buy.

Some months ago, I did that with The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar.  Given my interest in and knowledge of some (older) research and thinking about choice and decision making, I was attracted to the book and wanted get a feel for what it might be about.  These days, "The Art of Choosing" could be a novel or the history of a rock band.  The author's name seems like it might signal a connection to India, much like that excellent writer of matters medical, Atul Gawande.  Turns out the book is really about choice and the author is a professor of business at Columbia University.  Besides that, she is blind and has been since she was in the 11th grade when a rare retinal disease left her with only the ability to detect light.

I will get around to reading the book.  I hope it sheds a little light on what is known about choices people make.  I don't have time or inclination to read a book through to see if I want to read it.  I won't sit through a movie to see if I want to sit through it.  I have to make many choices, large and small, more or less on a hunch, an impression.  I can be fairly imaginative about ways to convince myself afterwards that the choices were good ones - whatever that means - but they are mostly guesses.  When I see that I am not happy with a choice, I do the best I can to reverse or revise it, if that is possible. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Nothin's happnin - except everything

I was never able to convince my mother that she had enough going on in her life to merit talking about it.  She thought she had nothing going on.  What was there worth commenting on?  This from an intelligent woman who had had two wonderful kids, supported them during a time when a single woman was considered more or less invisible and of little consequence.  This from a sharp mind behind good eyes kept running by a good but stern heart.  Maybe a little like Olive Kitteridge, the woman created by Elizabeth Strout.

When teaching adults, I usually find a few members of the class willing to speak out.  Generally, the older the people, the more contributors in a group.  However, there seems to be a divide between those willing to speak out and those willing to write out.  Maybe it is spelling: what a horror is I should spell a worb inkorrectly!!  But I think it is mostly a matter of what Stanford Prof. Carol  Dweck calls a state of mind, a mindset.  I suspect many people carry a conviction like my mom's that they are by definition uninteresting people living uninteresting lives.  

To me and to many infants in the world today, anyone who can see a salt shaker, reach for it and successfully grasp it, lift it, move into position over some food, add an appropriate amount of salt and replace the shaker is a marvel of engineering and ability.  I think most of my friends wouldn't have the gall to describe that particular achievement in a greeting card to other friends, even though they could and they are imaginative enough to do so with valuable and humorous insight and diction.

But remember, friends, we have the gifts of language, wisdom, experience and email!  In 300 years, you and I will not have such gifts.  I urge you to make use of them now.  Right now!  Find a pen and any old piece of paper: write a note to your pastor about how much that last sermon still enriches your thinking.  Send a message to your accountant or internist about how much their skills mean to you.  Tell her you forgive her for tagging along on that crucial date, those many years ago.  That sort of action costs very little and is worth untold dollars.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Running the whole corporation

I am not writing about becoming the CEO of your own business.  I am explaining how you are the chief operating officer of your own business.  Beyond that, you are the president of the company, the chairman of the board and the entire board.  It is a vast operation and you are responsible for it.  I refer to the mental and physical domains that you preside over.  Like a more typical CEO, you don't personally know every cell and sinew (employee) in the firm.  You can't.  There are too many and there is too much turn-over for you to keep track of them.  They have their jobs to do and for the most part, do them very well.  

I think that here in the US during the summer of an early year in the 2nd decade of the 21st century as we usually label time, there are many aspects of your duties, responsibilities and potential accomplishments.  The older you are, the more memories and achievements, good or bad, there are that have affected who and what you are.  If you are reasonably aware, there are quite a few interests and projects that you have going or are interested in undertaking.  Of course, a little thought reminds you of many you have begun but forgotten about or been distracted from or lost interest in.  

As CEO, you are more responsible than anyone else for the whole operation.  That means that your spouse, your parents, your kids, your pastor or rabbi or priest, your mayor or governor, while all members of the board with some say in what goes on around you, have neither the knowledge nor the responsibility that you have to watch over operations and guide them.  With your education and experience, your familiarity with where you have been and where you are going, you may have to say "No" to some group inside or outside of the company, when you don't feel that things are headed in the right direction.  It won't be easy.  No matter what decision you make, including attempts to make no decision, there will be a chorus of experienced and authoritative voices articulating why you must do what they advocate.  

As a fellow CEO wrestling with my own problems and projects, political infights and vagaries, confusions and competition, I salute your competence, your patience and your imagination.  I frequently use you as a model and inspiration.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ann Brashares on writing and having people read your writing

Reading and writing are of course intimately related, yet clearly not the same.  In keeping with today's blog post on doing writing and the effects of the writing activity, here is an interesting statement by the author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ann Brashares:

Ten years ago I wrote my first novel, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  I had no idea what to expect.  Well, that's not true.  I expected it would sell a few thousand copies, that I would continue on with my job and my life, and that I would forever feel proud that I had published a book.  My mother kindly set up my one and only bookstore appearance for the publication--and then she actually did the reading for me, because I had a swollen throat and a fever of 102 that day.  The audience consisted of a high school friend, a few old family friends, and a couple of people who just wanted a place to sit and read.  In the Q&A period my dad asked the one question, and my mom served cookies in the shape of pants. 

Things were different then.  Young Adult publishing was in the doldrums. Little by little the book was passed around from girl to girl and crawled up the bestseller lists until it became a success. Walking though an airport I saw a girl reading it, and I was frankly amazed.  What I hadn't expected was that people would actually read the book.  I was struck by the fact that this girl, a stranger, was joining me in this imagined space, in this story that felt so personal.  She was sharing these characters with me, but for her these girls looked and spoke in a way unique to her imagination. She was picturing the places I had described, but they looked different to her than they did to me.  She was adding her interior life to mine. 

When the book was made into a movie, I was further struck by sharing the book with a screenwriter, a director, and actors, among others. Each actor understood her character in her own way.  Each performance revealed some quality of the character that I hadn't recognized.  By now I feel as though the characters of the sisterhood belong to a lot of people.  And that is perhaps the greatest joy in bringing them back again.  For readers of the earlier books, I am eager to share our lives again now that we are older and our perspective has changed.  For new readers, I am eager to create this fictional world together in Sisterhood Everlasting.

Writing helps

Writing is a odd process.  It is recognized as one of the basic components of education: reading, 'riting' and 'rithmetic'.  Roughly speaking, it is the only one of the three that is an art, the result of artistic endeavor by the author.  Just as a painting is brush strokes and a sculpture is hammer strokes, so writing is pen or key strokes.  Which strokes is up to the writer.  I suppose most of the writing that has ever been done is meant to communicate to others, even though one can write for one's older self in a journal or diary.  

I read that the earliest writing seems to be codes that described business transactions.  I believe that the idea of each of us being a thinker and a source of ideas is itself a fairly recent development.  So it has taken ages for the notion that any human is both capable of being a writer, mastering the complex spelling and writing conventions, and also a source of thoughts worthy of time, effort and ink to take root.  I read within the last 10 years that 30% of the current world population is illiterate, not reading or writing any language.  But the notion that we all benefit if all humans have the basics of education has proved valuable and contagious.

Older people are rightly concerned about their memories.  Here is a Scientific American post on the value of writing as a tool for increasing retention of information: writing down what you can remember and then checking to see what important material was not included.  The same article discusses another tool with an important purpose: lowering one's anxiety before a test, performance or other challenge: writing down a description and explanation of one's anxieties before the event.

I am interested in being in a good relation with my subconscious mind, to whatever extent is feasible.  The book Instant Self Hypnosis by Forbes Blair advocates creating a written message to myself to be delivered to myself while in a trance.  Both writing the message and reading it with strong concentration can assist in getting ideas, resolutions and images into the mind.  My own hypnotist always emphasizes that all hypnosis is mostly self-hypnosis in that one gets into a trance in one's own mind.  Her article on creating scripts for one's self is also about what writing can do.

Both reading and writing are surprisingly complex brain activities, so much so that it was thought not so long ago that a person needed a special talent to do them, much as we might think today of the ability to draw or sing.  (Those abilities are being reconsidered as available to more of us than thought, too.)  Just compare writing and reading in an ideographic system like Chinese, where the symbol represents an idea with using our phonographic system.  In the one, I guess ideas are extracted and put together while in the other, sounds are extracted, converted into words and then ideas are inferred.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What am I ?

I am very much enjoying and being intrigued by "The Most Human Human" by Brian Christian.  It's his examination of, and participation, in a Turing contest.  Alan Turing was a British logician and computer scientist who said that a computer would be as good as a person if written communication to and from the machine was judged by people to be coming from a person.  That is the Turing test and contests are held to see what computer programs can fool the judges.  At the same time, humans are asked to communicate with the judges so there will be the possibility that the messages are indeed from a person.  A human participant can and has been judged to be a computer in some of the years.

Christian participates with the goal (I think, I am only in the beginning of the book) of being judged the most human human.  He did plenty of study and preparation to achieve that goal and the book describes the many fields of thought and people he interviewed to try to figure out the best way to show he was a human with just typed words.  For example, he researched speed dating, where people are typically face-to-face but have only five or so minutes to say who and what they are to another, who may be interested in further contact.

Some researchers in this area have found that if humans get into a typical nasty mode of speech, frequently coming out with statements such as "What, are you stupid?" or "Try not to be an asshole", it is easier for machines to be judged human in such exchanges.  They found that the childish sort of "I didn't!", "Did so!", "Didn't!", "Did!", "Didn't!", "Did!", "Didn't!", "Did!", … is quite easy to mimic.  They call such talk "stateless" meaning it is very shallow and easily mimicked by machine.  Each response depends only on the previous response, nothing more.

So what does all this have to do with the Chinese copying European towns?  It's the reactions that interest me.  As the commenters linked above pointed out, it could be taken as a compliment if somebody wants to build a replica of your picturesque little town.  It could be taken as a threat.  A threat, in fact, to your very identity, your being.  You are a citizen of Hallstatt, aren't you?  What if some Chinese person is living in a house identical to yours?  Who would that make you be?  Outrageous!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Insert beauty here

I have developed the expectation that everything she does will be beautiful.  Sometimes, it doesn't turn out that way but much of the time, her work is striking, original and inspiring.  At a minimum, a single black wall with gold-framed photos, a well-written family history, an ensemble of the right top and the right bottom.  

I suggest we all try to insert beauty in our lives.  Beautiful conversations, beautiful foods, beautiful music, beautiful scents and textures - they all lift our spirits and they all remind us of the good we experience each minute.  Give it a try: play an oldy that resounds with your soul, read a poem that has always touched your heart, shower with a friend, walk to the nearest hotel and stay overnight there.  You will see this planet and yourself differently.

See what can happen?  You not only want a gorgeous flower, like our yellow iris with the white centers in its petals, but you also want to put a good-looking leaf in the vase to spice it up into a nice little bouquet.  After the flower wilts, you try the attractive leaf by itself.  Voila, a lovely leaf, a thing of beauty.  I think much of the fun comes from trying to make your own original beauty, using what is available as well as you can.

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

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

Monday, June 20, 2011

Honey for wounds

Soft get going -

Soothing, velvety love -

I continue to be fascinated by soothing care: what it is like and how to use it and what its effects are.  The two links above touch on this subject. I suspect that even while adults might poo-poo their need for, or susceptibility to, soothing tones and strokes, they may benefit from them.   If we do benefit from a type of unconditional soothing and sympathy, it is a waste for us to maintain that we don't.

I think it would be cool if sometime in the future, rugged male athletes had a bosomy granny on the bench who would hold them close and whisper that their pain and sorrow from an injury or loss would soon pass.  If the team owners and the medical staff had good evidence that such care more rapidly elevated spirits and healed wounds, you can bet that one or more grannies would be paid big bucks or given free passes to hold those valuable players close.  Can't you just see the GSC magazine about Granny Soothing Coaches with a monthly spread on the best older lady of the bunch and her advice to newcomers to the field?

The recent blog post "Is Ass-Kissing Good for Your Health?" got my attention.  I have an Anglo background, where low levels of emotion are prized and where everyone is too tough to need or want much love or support.  The scenes of "The King's Speech" are great examples of what I am talking about.  You know:
    "Buck up!"
    "Try harder, boy!"
    "It's easy!  It's your duty.  I expect it of you."
    "You will get no respect or love from anyone unless you …"
I know that such a commanding approach can work sometimes but when it doesn't, it may be time for a different, warmer, more sympathetic approach.  (The linked article has a neat 'label' of a product that is supposed to improve one's ass-kissing or ingratiation abilities with a list of phrases that may be used.)  I realize there is a difference between the uses of ingratiation and those of soothing, but I suspect one skill is related to the other.

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

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Just a taste

The book "Sampling in a Nutshell" discusses those tough guys who disdain just working from samples.   The author advises them to inform their physician that they do not approve of making inferences just based on a sample and so, the doctor will please take all of the blood the next time blood analysis is needed.

Personally, I love samples and sampling.  Admittedly, samples and decisions based on them can be erroneous but properly used, samples are great.  

Take the iPod, the iPad, downloading movies or borrowing books from your library completely by computer.  Take getting into the stock market or jumping rope for exercise.  Whatever you are interested in, you may find a way to sample the food or book or activity just a little for just a little trouble or expense.  Find a friend to tell you how they like it, to use the advise Daniel Gilbert gives in "Stumbling on Happiness".  He has Harvard evidence that people are not good at predicting how they will feel about something in the future but that getting advice from others can be a definite aid to more accurate predictions. (He knows that most people protest that they aren't like others and can't make good use of the reactions and experiences of others.  His research indicates that this objection underestimates the usefulness of testimony from others.)

I came across the book "Little Bets" which is about sampling in the small to get information at low cost that will guide us toward things we like and use and away from things we don't.  Sampling or arranging a small project can let us know how an idea will work without getting too much involved with time or expense.

In the case of books, you get a sample of most Kindle books on your Kindle or on your computer for free.  It seems to be the first chapter, which is not always the best sample but it can give some idea.

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

Saturday, June 18, 2011

No appall's, please

Reading commentary on events and ideas, I often find that the writer first wants to explain how irritated or enraged they are by the item they are going to explain.  This happens often enough that I feel used to it.  I assume they are moved by feelings or by insight enough to write something.  Beyond that, I don't especially want much detail about the level of disgust or fear that they are about to relate.  I am not capable of simply taking their emotional level for my own.  I need to find out what they are writing about, get a satisfactory grasp of the situation and then make my own decision and have my own emotional reaction.

I definitely don't do well with instructions about how to feel about the item before the item itself is described.  One common "pre-tag" is something along the line of 'please be as appalled as I am while reading what follows'.  Trying to set me up first before telling me what is being related bugs me.  I want to tell such writers to just hold their "appall", at least until after they have delivered a report of the item they are telling about.  They may correctly intuit that I am not going to be appalled, maybe not even interested.  I feel that is just the way things go.  I don't see things their way, am not convinced of their politics or worried about their fears.  I may be willing to entertain their writing for a short time but I retain the right to form my sort of reaction.

The bumber stick that says if I am not appalled, I haven't been paying attention is even worse.  The ad that goes even further describing the very exciting movie and showing scene after dramatic scene but waits until the last moment to reveal the title of this stinker is just as bad.  

Please hold your appall to the end.  In fact, no appall's, please.

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

Friday, June 17, 2011

Other blogs

I have being enjoying keeping my eye on my thoughts, my experiences and things that happen for items I want to write about.  I have been putting somewhere between 200 and 500 words on this blog most days since I began in March of 2008.  Having retired both from teaching fulltime and from online teaching for Capella University, I first thought I would try to put ideas about meditation somewhere that interested people could see them. Over time, I realized that being retired, I was at leisure to write about whatever came to mind.  

Many of my friends are bombarded with junk mail from the U.S. Post Office, unwanted ads on television and from other sources, too.  I found I had small chance or none of getting anyone to visit my web site or blog.  The settings for creating and maintaining a (Google) Blogger blog include the possibility of inserting the email addresses of up to 10 people that posts can be emailed to.  Ten seemed a bit small since I regularly write to more like 50 people.  But the settings include an email address which can be used to email posts into a blog.  No problem.  I started emailing posts into the blog and to friends.

Naturally, I noticed the 70 million other blogs also available to be read on the web.  Since then, the figure has grown to 100 million.  As I paid more attention to the others, I began to find some of interest.  I learned about 'feeds', which are very small programs that send new posts added to a blog so that without the trouble of visiting a large number of interesting blogs, any new post is available, in one's email inbox or in somewhere else, like Google's Reader.  Or, my main blog is also a good place to have a snippet of some of my favorites appear so that people who visit my blog can also see recent postings in other blogs.  The settings allow the snippets to come up with the most recent ones at the top.  But as I learn of more and more interesting columns to read, the list has grown to about 45, too many to list on my own blog page.  

So far, I have not found a good place to simply post the snippets, much like the experience of looking over a rack of magazines, where you can see a few headlines in each but you have to delve inside for more information.  I plan to offer a local class in the fall on how to blog and I have started a new blog called "Blogging in Retirement".  For now, I am crowding that page with the full list of blogs I have been following.  I don't find them all interesting all the time, just as I read some articles in a magazine but not others.  To see the whole clickable steadily updated list, from Dr. Oz to the comedian Loretta LaRue, from Flowing Data on graphic displays of information to the Educational Optimist on Wisconsin higher education policy, click here

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

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hot wisps that burn and poof

Reading Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share, the foreword by Chris Anderson, chief editor of Wired magazine, writes in the foreword of the Ken Denmead book, that he started the GeekDad blog, part of a family of 8 or so blogs on the Wired website.  He did so because of two things:
  1. he loves science, technology and anything that comes from Japan
  2. he has five kids and "just could not bear the thought of playing Candyland one more time"

The force with which such a feeling came back to me reminded me of yesterday.  We had our rugs cleaned.  The two men are speedy and very effective but they pretty well take up the entire house, dampening all the rugs and blocking all the rest of the space with moved furniture and their equipment.  I was tired and bored and I wanted my house back.  

I try to be a good student of Zen and calm.  I try to follow the Hebrew advice of not worshipping false gods, such as some heavenly idea of getting what I think I want.  I try to follow the Greek advice of living with moderation.  But my American adolescent self and my inner infant sometimes WANT what they want and they want it NOW!  I can recognize my inner teen and my inner baby when they appear and I know who and what they are.  The three of us tried to have a calm and friendly time together for the 30 minutes or so it took the rug guys to finish and leave.  Then, poof!  The whole world was right again: sweet and fun and smooth and delicious.  

The ludicrous gap between my tortured feeling and the instant return of delight and right puts me in mind of the hours that we all put in as spouses, parents, searchers for gifts and cards, looking for misplaced keys or Kindles.  Those types of patience-testing times can burn like hot steam and as suddenly, dissipate into the air.

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Old Is Beautiful

I like the theme of accepting ourselves as we are right now.  I am trying to emphasize there are alternatives to the natural biological template we use to viscerally decide that the biologically ripe are beautiful and the over-60 crowd is at best acceptable.  I realize it is difficult to fight or even nudge biology and basic drives.  I can see that the 22-year olds have clear and inviting skin and shapes and that the 72-years do not have their shape.  

I have read that the same basic shapes and attributes that make us think of mating are the shapes that a young person would have if that person is healthy, likely to live a long life and hold their end of being parents and family.  But I know that those who have been healthy, have lived long lives and have held up their end in the family are beautiful, too.  I think the problem is that we are not wired to consider the old ones to be attractive.  Of course, many oldsters are not and have not been aiming at being attractive and they certainly don't equate being attractive in a relationship/sexy way with the worth of an individual.  However, those who have been lightning rods for attention, who have been raised to believe that the beauty of those in their 20's is THE beauty we all must strive for, can be downcast by their bodies and minds in the conditions of life after 60.

My wife knows about the beauty game and played it well.  However, she sometimes gets annoyed by the AARP magazine and other media that select those older people who look most like the young and hold them up as successful at aging.  I see the same thing in the admittedly interesting book Growing Old Is Not For Sissies and the new companion volume that just came out: G.O.I.N.F.S.II .   The first of the two books clearly shows older people whose bodies seem to be surprisingly close to what we expect of people in their 20's.  The second volume shows many of the same people, now even older, and we can see that many of them are still surprisingly like 20-year olds.  From the magazine and the books, it is easy to conclude that those photographed have 'won' and the more we are like them, the more we are 'winners', too.

I find it is difficult to find anything with people who are old and look old, celebrated for their looks.  The small stature by August Rodin, titled "She Who Was Once the Helmet-maker's Beautiful Wife" depicts an older woman but the title and her pose say that she was once something good but look at her now.  She seems to hang her head in shame, shame I bet for not being young.  Entering the linked title in Google will show many photos of the statue from many angles.

About the only art I know of that seems to celebrate the looks of the old is the British movie and later stage play, "Calendar Girls", where a group of older women make an art calendar of themselves in the nude to make something to sell for charity.   The story is somewhat along the lines of the movie The Full Monty, but the men in that story would never qualify as older.

(My copyeditor tells me that this post does not clearly state that I am advocating the beauty of those over 60.  I am advocating their beauty, especially when it diverges from that of the 20-yr old.)

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Other brains and my memory

It is easy and normal to think that you know what you can remember.  But your head might not be laid out just the way you think.  Attending my 50th high school and 50th college reunions emphasized for me that some of my memories, or prompts for them, reside in other people's heads.  Classmates from long ago (in human terms, of course) can say something that suddenly zaps my brain with a memory, one that I had no idea I harbored.  

This effect can occur with deliberate attempts, such as "Remember the time that you tried to be the goalie for a kick by Henry Lichtfuss and didn't realize your way of stopping the ball would injure your hand?"  It can occur indirectly as when Sandy writes what she was doing the summer before beginning college.  Her writing makes me reflect on what I was doing then and why.  

Several friends have commented that they might not attend reunions since they don't remember people or might be embarrassed at not recognizing friends from years back in their current, older guises.  I recommend mustering the courage to go since attending can pay off in surprising memories and in surprising stories about events that you trust others to be relating honestly but that you don't remember at all.  I recently learned of "Indians attacking a wagon" in a skit that I have no memory of at all, even though I believe the rememberer knows what she is talking about.

It can be objects that switch on memories as well as people.  I am always surprised at how immediately a photo, sometimes a poor quality picture, immediately puts me back in a time and place when I had no idea that I could so quickly recall the event and tone of the moment. Knick-knacks can do a memory job on me, too.  I just have to ask myself where I got that little brown vase or that little statue of a man and dogsled and I am suddenly the age I was, in the place I was, seeing the sights and feeling the feelings I was.

When I was 25 and 45, I was clear that I myself would not spend as much time as older people I knew discussing bodily difficulties and pains.  Now that I am getting to be older (I think these days that "genuinely older" is probably in one's eighties so I am not there yet), I am definitely interested in hearing about the body and medical experiences of others. Similarly, I thought that living in the present is right and correct but reflection or reminiscence was boring.  Yet, when a former classmate, whom I haven't seen for 50 years, says something that immediately puts me back in a funny memorable moment, it definitely is not boring.

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

Monday, June 13, 2011

Forty-three years ago

I was born in Baltimore and grew up in various neighborhoods around the city.  I felt familiar with life in a metropolitan area but I wondered about living in a smaller town.  So, when my course in the history of Western higher education convinced me that Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota had a deep dedication to the cause of education, from kindergarten to graduate school to applied research for the betterment of the society and its citizens, I kept my eye open for university positions in those states.

Forty-three years ago, we moved to central Wisconsin and I began teaching as an assistant professor of education.  My PhD in statistics, measurement and experimental design was probably better suited to match the needs of a doctoral campus since practice and tradition aim teachers at teaching practice far more than at research on education.  I had previously the 5th grade for four years, and a taught a course in educational testing at the Baltimore campus of the University of Maryland.  My first day of teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point involved two classes: undergraduate educational psychology and a graduate seminar in the writing of a master's paper.  

I had been used to thinking about, working with, and applying statistical methods of analysis to data for three years prior to UWSP teaching.  I realized that such specialized work was of interest to a few scattered people around the campus so I put a paragraph in the faculty newsletter stating my interest in discussing and working with anyone interested in statistical analysis.  That led to an offer by the campus authorities who were puzzling over just what to do with a new computer they rented from IBM for faculty research purposes.  So, for the first 18 months. I split my time between working with that machine and its potential uses, while teaching classes in teacher preparation.  

Learning about computers in my doctoral program had involved an odd 1 credit course that lasted for three years.  Four or five of us in the program bought a book on Fortran and sat with our professor every now and then as he developed his ideas about what would help him and us learn the ins and outs of computing.  The basic on-going project was to build a computer program that would calculate the number of days between any two dates he supplied us.  Just a minute ago, I used Excel in Microsoft Office 2010 to find that there have been 13,358 days between my first day of assistant professing and today.  I used technology and tools that didn't exist then.

To me, one of several fun things about teaching as a subject is that it is situated between humanness (classroom confusion, misbehavior, crushes and hatreds) and abstraction (how can the teacher track learning progress and analyze obstacles both multi-person and individual).  That allows an investigator to capture and analyze classroom life using everything from poetry to canonical correlation.  That same complexity and variation continues to show us that humans are unique and even to this day, not all that completely understood.

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

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Follow up to Stolberg of New York Times

From another blog, Clair Rivers Hadley writes:

I loved that article, Bill. Thanks for sending it along! The link
below is about Ellen Sirleaf, the first woman president in Africa
(Liberia). It underscores much of the NYT article re women in
leadership. The entire world knows of her predacessor, Robert Taylor,
But  most people would ask...Ellen who?? She's long been a hero of
Here she is, giving the commencement speech at Harvard this year.
She's a shining example of what is possible..her remarks are followed
by the President of Harvard, also a woman...well worth reading!

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