Sunday, July 31, 2011

Them or me?

There are times when I get so turned on by someone's cheer or statement, that I really want to go into long-lecture mode.  Truth be told, I often do go into long-lecture mode. Then, as friends know, I engage in the academic practice of citing the sources of my evidence and mentioning several books that relate to what I am saying.

But Just Listen and What Really Helps make clear that the most helpful thing for friends is to just listen.  (See?  I did it again.  I am thinking that one or two readers of this blog might be interested in more authoritative and experienced voices on the subject of when and how to listen so I insert the titles linked to Amazon pages.  Don't let that distract you, please.)

I think there are several different sorts of impulses that interfere with full listening.  As happens to me sometimes, the speaker's idea or enthusiasm inflames my imagination and my eagerness to augment and extend what they are saying.  I am often able to concentrate on the person's inner guidance and let it emerge, but if I get worried that maybe I am not doing enough to empathize and offer solace, I may hog the floor with further statements of sympathy or even advice about what the person should do about what is vexing them.  I try to remember Sylvia Boorstein's advice "Don't Just Do Something, Sit There".  And there is the ubiquitous "saving from error" impulse, where your statement clearly shows you have incorrect ideas and I try to persuade you to mend your ways and take up the path of the right way.  

We are reading The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose, a journalism major from Brown University who transers to the Jerry Falwell school called Liberty University to see what a rather heavily Christian Fundamentalist campus is like.  He does not have a background in that religion, having grown up with liberal Quaker parents.  The best thing about the book is his ability to note and experience positive aspects ot the atmosphere, student conduct rules and curriculum.  He volunteers for a school-sponsored trip to Daytona Beach during spring break specifically aimed at converting vacationing college students there to take up the path thought by the evangelists to be the only route for avoiding damnation after death.  The mission is a very stressful one and not very successful.  Despite the convictions of those on the mission, those approached do not in general appreciate the message delivered.

When someone has a problem, I want to listen.  On social occasions where others want a show or a statement, talking may be appreciated.  In college classes, where people have paid to find out something from me, I may have a duty to have a message and give it.  But as educators and parents find out, the old idea of what is expressed is impressed, statements often have their strongest effect on the speaker.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Germs and all

I  like to think that the birds and the squirrels and the black bears and the hornets are outside and not in the house.  But I know that spiders, house flies and other creatures are inside and get inside.  Furthermore, the little devils multiply.

I have read that Pasteur held a public demonstration of the presence of germs around us and that ladies gasped and fainted once they understood.

I think Van Leeuwenhoek is credited with discovering how to make a microscope.  I read that he was a weaver and weavers had magnifying glasses to see tiny bits of their work.  Anton began looking at pond water with such a glass and found all sorts of tiny creatures in it that he hadn't known were there.  Over time, the message finally got through that there are many sorts of life that are too small for us to see or experience.  More study revealed that this layer of life contains forms that can and do kill us and rot us or make us sick.  However, it also contains forms that we depend on to help us digest food.

When we have trouble with our digestion (needed, of course, to keep us alive) we sometimes purposely take in foods that we know contain micro-organisms but ones that benefit us, as with yogurt and Culturelle. The book "Life on Man" lists many sorts of life that lives on us, both inside and on our skin. The book The Demon Under the Microscope by Thomas Hager is a good one for some insight into the fight to understand and control very small critters.

As I age, I expect my body has more trouble recognizing and successfully interfering with attempts by other sorts of life to use me for fuel and energy.  As I look out the window, I see a mother robin feeding three chicks six feet away.  I am confident that she and her babies will not live through 7 decades and I wonder what her body and habits do to minimize trouble with the tiny sorts of life.

I have read that the total weight of earthly bacteria is far greater than the combined weight of humans and that doesn't even count the microscopic larger-than-bacteria forms.  Yet, the small forms are important in the food chain and in transforming the dead bodies of plants and animals back into soil and the elements.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wisdom of the East

Oh my gosh!  Another reference, another egghead topic.  Sorry, I don't seem to be able to help it.  I have trouble finding tv shows and movies that grip me.  You have to remember that I am old and wise and experienced.  I have been around the block, climbed mountains, hacked my way through the Bolivian forests, hunkered down in Arctic storms, and like that.  I've read a lot of books and lived through several lifetimes so it isn't that easy to find new subjects to explore.  

Having done all that, mostly in my imagination, I was taken with Prof. Grant Hardy's course Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition. It was clearly a way to get into intellectual traditions and thinking that I had heard was rich and varied.  I have had no training or experience with the enormous cultures of India, China, and Japan, and the many other interesting Eastern nations such as Vietnam, Korea and Thailand.

About 53 years ago, as a freshman at college, I came across a book explaining some of the thoughts of "Lao Tzu", now more commonly written "Laozu".  I didn't know that the name meant "old master" and referred to a Chinese teacher who lived 600 years before Jesus.  I was taken with the contradictory statements I read such as "one must roll up his sleeves without baring his arms."  I wasn't fully certain what was meant but I understood that indirection, patience, non-action, waiting can be very helpful and fruitful in all sorts of ways and moments.

There is such a long, rich tradition of philosophical thought in the nations of the East and yet, our educations generally ignore the whole thing.  One of my longtime favorite authors is Jacques Barzun, born in France into a highly placed and cultured family and came to the US as a young scholar.  He once listed six authors that he admired and benefited from and the list included William James.  That comment alerted me to pay attention to the American psychologist and philosopher.  About 1900, James cautioned about too forceful and urgent an approach to life, saying that one should not pull up young plants to examine their roots to see how they are doing.  Prof. Hardy just the other day mentioned basic sayings in Chinese that stem from Confucius, Laozu and writers of that time, 200 years before Christ.  One of the sayings says don't tug on the young plants to "help" them grow; it will just kill them, not help them. 

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Friday, July 29, 2011

I want more ways to be wrong

I find that Kathryn Schultz in Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error has more interesting things to say about being wrong that I ever knew were possible.  I have read the mantras:
  • Mistakes are a sign of genuine progress in science and related fields.  Thomas Edison is reported to have said that he had not failed but had discovered 10,000 things that don't work.  It's like the yell "Clear" when the NCIS or FBI or CSI are searching for baddies in a house and shout that the room they are in has no enemies in it.
  • If you aren't making mistakes, you aren't trying hard enough or sometimes, you aren't taking enough risks.

Schultz has much more interesting and provocative things to say about error than these typical statements one hears.  Here she is at the TED Conference.  

Being wrong comes naturally to a man, you know, the sort of creature that if he is alone in the forest and says something, he is still wrong.  I have been wrong quite often about many things and I look forward to a bit of delicious error each day.

She notes that we all know the feeling of being wrong but that is when we REALIZE we have quite recently been wrong.  When we are actually wrong, it feels and looks just like being right.  And the moment you realize you are wrong, you aren't wrong in that same way.

I copied the highlights from Being Wrong from the Kindle highlights web site and put up a web page of them here.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Can I get extra gluten?

I know it can be very serious if someone has celiac disease.  I read recently of a 55 year old man who was very sick and in serious danger of dying.  He kept deteriorating and nothing seemed to help.  Then, someone thought to test him for sensitivity to gluten.  Bingo!  That was the problem.  When he stopped getting gluten, he made fast progress toward health.

I guess anyone can develop an adverse reaction to gluten at any age.  More and more, I see gluten-free products.  Noticing some in a store, my brother-in-law wondered if he could get extra gluten.  He wondered what is done with gluten that is removed from grain products.  Trying to get extra gluten might be of interest one way or another.  

I am have a similar question for caffeine.  I saw a picture in a Scientific American article once of a man with an actual shovel heaving great loads of some sort of grayish goo out of a vat and the caption said he was shoveling caffeine.  I wonder what is done with caffeine that is removed from coffee and other sources.  

It seems that the question "Can I get extra gluten?"  is not silly, although the answer in many typical grocery stores in the states might be "Not from us".  The gluten is a major source of the protein and is used to raise the protein level of some vegetable foods, according to this article in the Wikipedia.  

Various articles I looked at said that diagnoses of gluten sensitivity are on the rise and gettting sick from the stuff is no joke.  Shampoos are being made that are specifically gluten-free, both so that a child with the sensitivity who gets some shampoo in the mouth during hair washing won't get sick and also to help people with stronger sensitivity who react to the presence of gluten on their skin.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Insert ___________ scene here

Somebody calculated the horsepower or wattage or energy expenditure of keyboarding errors made in the US in one day.  It's enormous. Similarly, I want to call attention to certain parts of books and movies and tv shows that are quite redundant and may be a waste of precious resources.  I am thinking of sex scenes, fight scenes, auto chases and ticking bomb scenes.  I would also like to offer dance scenes as an additional possibility.

Before the days of very explicit scenes, things were handled differently.  Sunday evening, the Roman detective Aurelio Zen showed his inamorata through the new apartment he had gotten her.  It was delightful and far nicer than any she had ever expected to live in.  She gazed at his manly face and muscular body with gratitude and pleasure and asked in a low growly purr, "Is there a bedroom?"  In the older way, the two would have grasped hands and walked through a door, which they would shut behind them.  The next scene would be a discontinuous cut to the next day where Aurelio would be tying his necktie while they chatted, she from the bed.

But as Dr. G. says, but noooooooooo!  Today, we follow them into the bedroom and watch them use their mouths to smear saliva over each others' faces.  We watch her hands unbutton his shirt while his hands.. . You know how it is done.  You have done it.  You have seen various scenes of such activity before.  Do you want to watch yet another enactment stressing how much these two like each other and how eager each is for the other's body?  Yes, the better workmen manage to keep the microphone boom and the extra camera out of the scene but more footage on biology?  How about we just insert a slide:

Insert Sexy Scene Here

Similarly, when the hero and the villain eye each other, crouch warily and begin circling, looking for vulnerabilities (in that hero, HA!), a slide

Insert Fight Scene Here

could save not only precious environment resources but many old bar mirrors, staircase railings, and bottles of whiskey, not even mentioning trips to the emergency room and calls to the insurance adjuster.  Slides about car chase scenes would save other cars and drivers, many water hydrants and gallons of precious city water, glass store fronts and pedestrians who thought that the sidewalks were for them and not cars.  Those bomb scenes where our hero sweats about whether it is the blue wire or the red one while the red digits descent toward zero could be replaced by a slide.  Further, I nominate gyration scenes where the sound system pounds away while we are shown young women and men thrusting their pelvises at us to be hidden behind a single silent slide.  Granted the savings would result in shorter programs and movies but that would be a plus, giving us all an opportunity to silently meditate or pray for 10 minutes out of every 30 of a show.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

American women are a good investment

American women are a very good investment: skills, drive, patience, bravery besides tasting good.  Wives can rescue you: mine did just this past week.  

Actually, I am a fan and a follower of women of all types, ages, nationalities, classes and religions.  I am aware of the Chinese fascination with the feminine.  Walter Ong quotes a Chinese document that says the female always wins because of her greater quiet.  I know that some assaulted wives or suppressed women executives don't feel that they have won or are winning.  But see the latest Time cover article on pressure on American males, the sidebar "The Masculinity Mystique", and the parallels with the pressures on women to be everything (supersuccessful executives and sexy bedmates and loving -but tigerish moms, etc.) that have been with us since the 1970's.

But, I digress.  I have been having knee trouble and can't jog or even walk very far.  Biking is ok and I checked the weather before heading down the trail for its end three and a half miles away.  But, by the time I turned around, sprinkles were falling.  Within a couple of minutes, sheets of water were cascading down on me and lightning was quite frequent.  The wind was severe and a little past the halfway point, a blown-down tree blocked the trail.  Another biker and I tried to move it but it was too heavy.  We had to lift our bikes over the branches to continue.  I had just remounted and was anticipating what the open spaces beyond the trees might hold for me in the way of stronger wind and being a better lightning rod, when Yay!  Our van pulls up driven by a friendly wife!!  Rescue!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Thanks for being thoughtful and brave and strong and bailing me out.  And, yes, thanks for being gorgeous and ardent, bearing our children, cooking our meals, earning a PhD, washing our clothes, decorating our house, and all the other things a gentleman never mentions but often thinks about.  

If you don't have an American woman, you might want to try to get one.  They don't come cheap and they require lots of maintenance and allegiance but they are a good investment.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Monday, July 25, 2011

four or five or more spaces we are always in

Four or even five spaces we are always in: the astronomical space, the earth crust space, the atomic space but don't forget the imagination space and the emotional space.  Maybe cyberspace, too.

When I wrote some ideas in meditation, I included words about where we are.  I included the entire space of the universe, the heavens and the subatomic space of our atoms and the space in them.  I mentioned the skin of the orange, the little rind of water and soil on the outside of our planet ball, where we all live.  But I didn't think of two other spaces or worlds that are very important to us and that I visit quite often.  I am thinking of my head space and cyberspace.

Many people divide one's head space into at least two parts, the rational and the emotional.  We could also decide to separate out the conscious from the unconscious or subconscious.  What I "have on my mind", preparing dinner, say, may be quite different from the anticipation I am feeling about seeing a promising film tonight.  Further, my conscious mind might be thinking of lentils while another part of my brain is regulating my blood pressure and sending signals that there is an insect crawling on my neck.  

In physical space, we can indicate location with three numbers: latitude, longitude and altitude.  So long, that is, if we have an agreed-on point from which to measure such as the Greenwich Observatory and sea level.  With appropriate points of origin from which to measure, maybe we can indicate whether we are on land or not with a further number, bringing us to four numbers.

Legend has it that Descartes was lying in bed one morning watching a fly.  He realized that a scale along the length of the room, one along the width and one dangling from the ceiling to the floor could be used to indicate the location of the fly at any moment as it flew about.  Thus was the bridge built between geometry and algebra, allowing lines and shapes and curves to be written in numbers and then calculations could be done with the numbers.  That lovely invention set the stage for Newton and Leibnitz to invent the calculus.  

Today, researchers are quite used to working with entities that are specified by many numbers.  Since Descartes' invention, understanding the geometry of spaces, curves and angles has been extended from sets of three numbers of specification to many readings on the fly or whatever is being studied.  It is a bit beyond us just now to specify the cognitive and the emotional state of a person right along with the physical location but the day may come when we are used to dealing with a standard people space of ten or 20 variables or dimensions.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mental fatigue and refreshment

Any topic gets exhausted.  There is a limit to our interest and willingness to read, study and examine it. Thus, we move from topic to topic.  Maybe we return to important topics from time to time.

Much like food.  I have often thought that one way to decrease appetite is to eat the same food at every meal.  Cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I haven't had the strength to try that but I bet I would find my appetite falling.  

When I started blogging, I wanted to try to make up for a hole in my teaching.  I taught research methods that might lead to improved educational practices.  But, over time, I found that the most valuable thing to learn was not statistical analysis or experimental design but meditation.  I know it sounds weird, dumb even, and those who are ready to add, subtract and compute are not accustomed to believing that something as spiritual as meditation can matter to their work. It is a topic, like sleep or personal hydration, that in most circumstances, strikes people as a ho-hum, uninspired or highly irrelevant subject.

I thought making the right explanations and helpful persuasion to try the practice would take time and many entries in a place of writing.  But I didn't count on my own motivation.  I am committed to meditating daily with my wife, who has a similar commitment.  However, my own commitment to the practice was not enough to keep up my appetite to find yet another angle for writing about sitting quietly for 13 minutes or so.  Once I started looking at a broader spectrum of subjects and ideas, I found a rich source of energy in myself for topics and composition of posts.

I found the same thing as a student.  I could study any topic for 30 to 60 minutes.  Then, my attention began to waiver.  But, stretching a bit and then taking up a different subject, whether or not the first one had been given sufficient effort, refreshed my energy level and concentration.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Logon and password

It could certainly be said that we live with an oversupply of communication devices.  Further, individual devices tend to get more capabilities and features over time as the manufacturers try to make their products more valuable.  Phones are computers and computers are phones, tv and can still actually compute.  TV can show the computer interface, the view seen on a computer screen. One device becomes others.

Over time, it has become more and more important that we be able to quickly (if possible) verify that we are indeed the person we are "supposed  to be", the actual owner of the account or machine, the intended user and not a thief or hacker.  So, we have the practice of using a name, often a user name rather than our legal familiar name, and a password.  Legal names have several problems including the one that there may be other people who have exactly the same name I have.  Besides, it is fun to give myself a new name just for use with the machine so I may be "Green Rabbit" or "Tiger Tongue4".  

Many sites now require that the logon or user name be an email address.  It is also common to have three conditions for an acceptable password: it must be 8 or more characters, it must contain both small and capital letters and it must contain a number or special character.  Advice on making a secure or "strong" password sometimes states that a good procedure is to write out a sentence and take the first letter of each word in the sentence for the set of characters to be used as the password.  It is always advised to avoid character sets that are actual words in use such as "Mother" or "Password".

Of course, more and more services and offers and supposedly free newsletters and special deal notifications want a more personal relationship with each contact person.  Some of those will be naturally attractive or of interest to any given individual.  Such a person can accumulate a very large number of logon names and passwords.  A large number of them can be difficult to keep track of and there are a number of ways to deal with that proliferation, although none seem to be entirely satisfactory.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Focus, trance, deep concentration

Lynn sometimes drives for 3 hours to see her mother in the nursing home and then drives for 3 more hours back home.  The last time she did it, she listened to music on her iPod both ways.  Much of the music we own has been put on our iPods so she has a wide choice.  She really got into some of the music, especially 'Experience the Divine", a 1993 album of Bette Midler.  She listened with deepest pleasure to "From a Distance", "Hello in there" and "The Rose".  

At home, she played all three pieces for me and I listened attentively.  I had heard The Rose before and liked it but I had never listened to the others, the most entrancing for both of us being "From a Distance".  I marveled at the sensitivity and imagination of the lyrics of all three songs, which are sung by Midler but not actually composed by her. It surprised me how difficult it was to track down the name of the lyricist for a song but I may well be missing a tool or some knowledge on how to check and verify.  I see that the song was very high on several charts but was also on some charts for being a very bad song, sometimes rated as one of the worst.

We have owned that album for years and we have had our music on iPods for a couple of years.  Yet, it was this summer that Lynn really paid attention to it.  It is just fascinating how things can go along unnoticed or unused for a very long time and then suddenly, boom!  Big focus.  

Really concentrating on a piece of music, maybe listening to it several times, reflecting on the lyrics puts me in mind of Flow, the book by Michael Csikszentmihalyi, psychology professor at the University of Chicago.  This is a well-known book and started the use of the word "flow" to mean roughly the same thing as being truly "in the groove", flying effortlessly through a task or experience.  

Lynn was so moved by the experience of deeply listening and "getting into" the music that her face clearly showed a glow when she told me about what she had listened to and how it had made her feel.  Since the same sort of magical cloud from music often envelopes me while I cook or do the dishes, I know how satisfying it can be.  Talk about putting on the armor of God!  A friend once said that he could bear any upset during a day when he had run.  Listening to the English version of "The Elixir of Love" by Donizetti or the North German Band marches or Beverly Sills singing to "Robert, the Devil" can lift me to an unshakable mood for several hours.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Guest post about Tuesday night

Guest post from Lynn Kirby:
The robin babies were coming out of their shells today, but I didn’t have time to enjoy them.

Last night we had a storm, another violent one with strong winds, almost constant lightning, and really wet. This morning I emptied my rain gauge and it had more than 5 and a half inches of water it. The two underpasses in town were filled with water all day, and one of them had 2 cars with just the tops of their roofs sticking out. Trees were down everywhere, and power was out all night and almost all day for a large part of town. Many streets were closed because of fallen trees or fallen signs. (I was awakened at 12:30 a.m. by a phone call from the emergency system in town telling us not to leave our homes.) Neighbors on both sides of us had trees down in their yards, and this morning I found stuff belonging to one of them in our yard.

Our granddaughter’s neighbor’s tree fell into  our granddaughter’s yard (Heather) in the middle of the night, leaving a broken fence, a ruined vegetable garden, and a downed live electric line. After waiting all day for the power company to fix it, they told her since it was on private property, they have to have it fixed privately, aside from turning off the power on that line and turning it back on when they receive a signed statement from an electrician that all the work has been done and is safe.

People in the whole town had very little sleep last night, because of all the noise of the storm. It was not a tornado, because all the trees and signs, etc., fell in a southeast direction, not scattered. But the winds were still very high.

With a temperature of 97 today and no power for air conditioning, Libby’s daycare was not able to open, so she spent the day with us. Wednesday is also the day we have Noah here all afternoon. Heather and Patrick and their 2 kids also spent the day with us. In the afternoon, Patrick’s parents came and visited for about an hour, too. It was actually kind of fun, but far more hectic than these two oldsters are used to, and we are both relishing the quiet around here right now.--
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Similar but different

Eric Temple Bell wrote "Men of Mathematics" in 1937. It is a fun way to
stroll through some of the history of mathematics. You may think that
history is bad enough and math is worse so that the history of mathematics
would have to be extra-boring. I once thought so. But in my college days,
I was interested in the mental gymnastics mathematicians have gone through
to arrive at our present-day rich array. John Kemeny (math professor and
later president of Dartmouth, inventor of the important computer language
BASIC) realized that the ordinary mathematics curriculum of arithmetic,
algebra, trigonometry, geometry and calculus was too limited. So he began a
new field of math usually called "finite
Kemeny emphasized that more mathematics has been invented and applied
the invention of calculus 300 years ago than all the math up to that time
but school kids never hear about it.

Eric Temple Bell organizes the history of mathematical thinking along two
major strands and shows that mathematics can be helpfully viewed as
alternating views of reality: continuous or discontinuous. The current
digital age is deeply rooted in the discontinuous side but motion, whether a
cannon ball or a rocket ship, has been very helpfully viewed as continuous.

Humans often have difficulty with multiples: twins, triplets, several
sources. See the movie
consider the problems that would emerge if you cloned yourself four

Statistics can be viewed as the study of variation, as in the multiple
measures of men's heights or the weight of salmon, or of anything that shows
itself in multiple forms. The old approach, and a good one, is to
substitute some sort of average for multiple observations. So, we could say
that men tend to be 5'10" or 6'. The average is always a model or a myth,
clearly not equal to many real-life examples.

Statisticians have many strategies for dealing with variation and
multiplicity but once in a while, none are needed. When the weight of the
lightest man is greater than the weight of the heaviest salmon, you can stop
right there, even if you don't really know what a man or a salmon is. With
a situation of no overlap between the two groups, you are dealing with a
statistically significant difference without even using statistics. True
that the salmon differ and so do the men, but you can use the rule that the
light examples are salmon and the heavy ones are men.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Father of the idea

I remember being part of a discussion on the possible emergence of democracy in what was then referred to as "Red China".  Someone asked who, or from what source, the Chinese would get the idea of democracy, often said to be exemplified by the way America conducts itself.  The question seemed nutty to me.  It seemed to imply that people need examples in order to be able to get an idea.

I admit that examples, analogies and metaphors can be a big help.  We learned in the history of psychology class that there has been a long debate about the getting of ideas.  If we are born as the famous tabula rasa ,  (which is usually translated as "blank slate" but I think means "shaved or smooth slate", the state of being without thoughts, images, or instincts) totally open to experience as it comes, we face the famous question of "Are we formed by our natures or by our nurtures?"

I listen to professors and intellectuals state that Aristotle or Pascal or somebody was the father of this idea or that idea.  I have my doubts.  I understand that scholars and investigators can't find any statement of a given idea earlier that such and such a date, and that after that date, several commentators made statements about the idea in question.  But I am deeply suspicious that all the thinkers and writers and speakers after a given instance were aware of and motivated by the so-called "father" of the notion.

I think that sometimes an idea is a natural development of human situations and conditions and is in the local air.  The book "Books that Changed the World" states that each of the books cited had predecessors that just didn't grab much attention and successors that just didn't last either.  One particular book, whether it is in the area of national power or germ theory or whatever, happens to catch fire and get lots of attention.  But it doesn't really follow that everyone who had the idea got it from the big daddy or the first enunciater of the notion.  

In "The Roots of Coincidence" by Arthur Koestler, he mentions experiments where people sat at group tables in a large ballroom and drew sketches and doodles.  In some parts of the room, very similar drawings emerged without any explanation or communication between people.

People can think and they do.  Generally, all scholars agree that Newton and Leibnitz created the calculus independently.
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Monday, July 18, 2011

Doing better

Mickey Edwards has an article in the current July/August issue of The Atlantic magazine called "How To Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans".  Edwards served in Congress for 16 years and has taught law and journalism at several important universities.  He has quite a few articles in the Atlantic archives.  I mention this article because it may be of interest and some aid to the several relatives and friends of mine who seem to be a bit despondent and/or angry about our government.  Any local or state government is important but the federal government concerns us all and just about nobody is happy with it these days.  

It helps me to use examples and pictures from books like Ken Follette's Pillars of the Earth and Robert Graves's I, Claudius to compare and contrast life today with what humans have done in other times and places.  If you don't want to go back to the middle ages or ancient Rome, you can just go back to the days of the early American settlers.  Try Let the Hurricane Roar or the books of that woman's mother, the very famous Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The point is that we can handle what is going on, just as people did with extremely trying, damaging and scary times before.

I find it helpful to remember that a major difference between early times and now is what can generally be called the media.  You know, tv and the internet and magazines and movies.  One major function of the media is to convey the news, the 'north-east-west-south' of local and more distant happenings.  But whether you have politicians in Washington or news organizations at different points around the planet, it is natural that they will compete with each other for prominence and dominance.  And, as people will do, they think ahead and try to solidify any prominence, dominance or advantage they get to make it last longer, permanently if possible.  

So, we get political bodies shirking the messy jobs of laws and their execution and interpretation to spend more time and energy on gaining  political power over their opponents.  We get news organizations shirking the news to work out ads and messages and modes and headlines that will land the most readers and Twitter and Google+ 'followers', with little regard for normal old everyday news events.  (For an interesting side note on the effect of the media and publicity and human interest, see this post on the Chilean miners after their rescue.)

If you want to see some professional and interesting recommendations for fixing two-party government, take a look at the Mickey Edwards article linked above.  At a minimum, you will see that you are not alone in feeling that we could be doing better.

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

Sunday, July 17, 2011

odds and odds and an end

Keeping bits of blogs that keep showing themselves of interest to me furnishes me with something like my own news service.  Weekends may be a bit static for blogs, which might not be new posts until the work week.  Still, several caught my eye this morning.

Jerry Apps is a retired UW professor and the author of many books.  He specializes in Wisconsin farming life, especially its history and the experience of living it during the last 100 or or so years.  The blogs listed on my page are steadily re-arranged so that the most recently updated ones are at the top.  I look down the column of snippets until I have looked at all those I haven't seen before.  The Jerry Apps blog has a recent post on trees, namely, bur oaks.

I don't see how anybody can be indifferent to trees.  I recall hearing that Georgia O'Keefe, the famous woman painter, was not inspired by outdoors scenery in upstate New York.  She complained there was nothing but green everywhere, unlike the New Mexico desert with a much broader palette of actual hues and shades.  But most people feel what seems to be appropriately reverend and respectful of the big earthly plants that probably figured in human evolution and have given us shelter, shade, fruit, nuts and building material for millenia, not to mention the importance of their bodies as a source of heat and light to humans.

Wired magazine runs around 8 to 10 blogs/columns on a very wide selection of topics, mostly having to do with things that use wire to conduct electricity.  This column on caricatures and their connection to computer facial identification got my attention.  As it says at the beginning, humans are exquisite at recognizing faces but computers have a much tougher time.  Not only do we want machines to recognize lost children but not those who are not lost, and criminals on the run, and terrorists but we want to be able to do that in poor light while they are moving and at a distance.

Finally, another Google service to mention: SketchUp, a 3D drawing program that is basically for design.  My granddaughter and grandson-in-law have professional experience as house and home designers.  They used SketchUp for a basic design for the house layout they want.  It is a free program and looks like something I should learn more about.  Being able to create a 2 dimensional drawing of a 3 dimensional object or scene and rotate the scene quickly and easily is appealing, even if I have little current need to be able to do that.

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

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Round and round

We watched "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and it made me think of comments on explanation theory in the Duncan Watts book "Everything is Obvious Once You Know the Answer".  Watts is a sociologist and a physicist and specializes in analysis of networks, social and otherwise.  He is part of the Yahoo research department and naturally wants to understand and predict human behavior, especially in large groups, such as internet audiences and political parties.  

At one point in his book, he dismisses many criticisms and even explanations of events among people as basically circular.  He quotes Lynne Truss, the author of the book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves", when asked why her book on English grammar and punctuation was so popular.  "My book was such a big success because a great many people bought it."  

Watts says that many social phenomena are basically one of a kind events, with unique combinations of factors that cause them to happen but which are basically unpredictable.  Better predictions may be created some day but so far, many important and surprising events were not foreseen, even by those who study that type of event professionally.  I guess the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of Soviet communism is an example.  As Watts points out, after the fact, it is much, much easier to assemble a list of factors that clearly affected the situation but after the fact vision is naturally much sharper that foresight tends to be.

Circular definitions and obscuring language are not new.  Jacques Barzun explained in the 60's that earlier scientists stated that some drugs put people to sleep because of their dormative powers.  However, it is wise to cut such language a little slack.  It may not be helpful and it may falsely satisfy but it may lead some investigators to posit a substance or process, creating an idea or theme or possibility that inspires research that is ultimately useful and enlightening.

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fwd: A Good Murder Mystery

Subject: A Good Murder Mystery

It happened @ the '94 Annual Awards Dinner for "Forensic Science, (AAFS). I think the forensics were better than the Caylee [murder?] by her mother Casey Anthony!

 Unbelievable ...

   For those who have served on a jury, this one is something to think about. 

 Just when you think you have heard everything!!
 Do you like to read a good murder mystery?  Not even Law and Order would attempt to capture this mess.

   This is an unbelievable twist of fate!!
 At the 1994 annual awards dinner given for Forensic Science, (AAFS)
 President Dr. Don Harper Mills astounded his audience with the legal complications of a bizarre death. 
 Here is the story:-
 On March 23, 1994 the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound to the head.
 Mr. Opus had jumped from the top of a 10-story building intending to commit suicide. 

 He had left a note to the effect indicating his despondency.
 As he fell past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast   
 passing through a window, which killed him instantly.

 Neither the shooter nor the deceased was aware that a safety net had been installed just below the eighth floor level to protect some building workers and that Ronald Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide the way he had planned.
 The room on the ninth floor, where the shotgun blast emanated, was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing vigorously and he was threatening her with a shotgun.  The man was so upset that when he pulled the trigger, he completely missed his wife and the pellets went through the window, striking Mr. Opus.

 When one intends to kill subject 'A' but kills subject 'B' in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject 'B.'

 When confronted with the murder charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant, and both said that they thought the shotgun was not loaded.  The old man said it was a long-standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun.  He had no intention to murder her.

 Therefore, the killing of Mr. Opus appeared to be an accident; that is, assuming the gun had been accidentally loaded.

 The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple's son loading the shotgun about 6 weeks prior to the fatal accident.  It transpired that the old lady had cut off her son's financial support and the son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that his father would shoot his mother.  Since the loader of the gun was aware of this, he was guilty of the murder even though he didn't actually pull the trigger.
 The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.

 Now for the exquisite twist...

  Further investigation revealed that the son was, in fact, Ronald Opus.
 He had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder.  This led him to jump off the 10 story building on March 23rd, only to be killed by a shotgun blast passing through the ninth story window.

 The son, Ronald Opus, had actually murdered himself.
 So the medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.
 A true story from Associated Press!

Monday, July 11, 2011

three topics

Less control might be better sometimes

I read about one or more towns in Germany, Holland and other places removing traffic lights and traffic control signs.  I wasn't sure how it would be.  Evidently, London has tried some of that, too. The other day, I experienced something related.  I live near the biggest shopping center around.  Small by metropolitan standards, but large and busy for us. The road in has several lanes.  Nearby construction required the traffic lights and other electrical devices be turned off for a while.  In the meantime, stop signs were put up.  Normally, the lights have two lanes of cars, about 20 or more, waiting for their signal.  Without the lights, cars moved more quickly through the main intersection.  Each driver reached the road edge, noted which cars on other sides of the intersection were there already, and waited for them to move through.  The flow was smooth, steadier and faster than with the lights.  Notably so.  

Forgetting what I like

During my life, I have repeatedly been surprised that a book or a food or a friend that I like very much can slip from my mind.  I didn't think I could be as enthusiastic about something or someone and at the same time, forget.  When Lynn took my usual car for a week, I went out of my way to be sure I had everything out of it that I use regularly.  Still, when I went to the gym, I forgot my precautions and decided instead to assume I had failed to move my gym pass to the other car.  I thought the gatekeeper at the counter might be a stickler for the rules so I took the precaution of bringing the necessary fee for a single use drop-in.  I was right.  The counter-keeper could not see her way clear to admit me based on remembering me from other days.  I produced the required $5 and she happily admitted me.  Thinking, my usual tool, about the two vehicles and my oversight, I remembered how carefully I had removed what I usually use.  I went out and checked the trunk of the car I still had.  Yep, there was the pass I could have used but had forgotten.  Don't blame my age.  I was fully capable of such forgetting as a 4th student 62 years ago.  I proved it at the time.

Shorter and better

I wrote about my friend getting me interested in text messages on phones.  They may be quite abbreviated but abbreviation, condensation, compactness are my middle names!  Thinking about shortened things, including me, I began recalling ideas and hopes for brevity I have run into.  Like many others, I am a fan of "Father Guido Sarrducci".  The comedian's routine about covering a 4 year college education in five minutes relates to trying to condense and speed up the acquisition of knowledge. You can see a benefit of such attempts right off: one examines everything carefully and with a critical eye.  Can anything be omitted, still keeping the value of the whole, while getting to something shorter, faster and less expensive?

People are wise to be wary of condensations.  The shorter version of a novel or an opera might go by faster but be terribly less gripping, moving, attractive.  A great meal gulped down in a hurry is a horrible perversion of what it could have been.  Still, I'm on the lookout for good shortcuts.

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

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