Monday, October 31, 2016

Excellent stuff that I want to send out

The TED talks summary this week contains several attractive items that may be of interest and assistance.  I know the link below contains no reference to the TED talks but it is genuine and worth at least a quick look. Each talk has a transcript where you can follow the speaker or simply read what is said without waiting for speech.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Amazon Customer Service

We have been streaming movies for more than 4 years.  We started with a Roku streamer and it is still our favorite one.  Whole companies are acquired by other companies and corporations all the time but as far as I know, the company that first sold the Roku streamer is still the one selling it now.  The streamer is a small box that sits beside our tv.  It connects to the tv with a wire and it has a power cord from a nearby electrical outlet. There is a huge variety of things to watch in Netflix and a second huge variety in Amazon TV.  Both Netflix and Amazon have gotten into the business of originals, shows that are created by one of them.  Amazon has won awards for some of its originals.  

If you set up an account with either company, you can watch all their stuff on any computer or tablet.  However, a streamer puts their sfuff on your tv without going to the bother of putting the computer near the tv and connecting the computer to the tv, usually with a HDMI cable, which tends to give the best signal and quality.  There are other channels and possibilities through a streamer that might not occur to you but I watch TED Talks or YouTube videos with our Roku sometimes.  

Two nights ago, neither Netflix nor Amazon TV worked.  Selecting Netflix would result in the channel just jumping back to the Roku home page.  Selecting Amazon worked ok until I had actually made a selection and at that point, I always got a message that there was a difficulty in playing my choice and that I should come back later.  I switched to YouTube and watched some Richard Pryor and Robin Williams videos instead.  The next night, I got the same unacceptable results.  Called my cable company.  They said the problem was not them and advised calling Roku.  I called Roku and got a nice lady with such a thick foreign accent that my impaired hearing could not decode what she was saying.  She finally got across to me that she didn't have any solution to my problem and advised me to try Amazon TV.  In fact, she connected me to an Amazon Customer Service agent.  The Amazon agent was very clear but couldn't help.  She sounded sorry that she was no help.  Then, she said,"Have you tried restarting your Roku player?"  I hadn't.  Pulled the plug and waited with the Amazon agent still on the line, timing out 20 seconds.  Plugged it all back up and Bingo!  Perfect plays on both Netflix and Amazon, although the problem was clearly the Roku itself, not Amazon.  Very good customer service!  I wrote a positive report on that agent.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


You can have your own YouTube channel for free.  You may not want one or you may be like me, and make a video with your iPad.  It runs for less than one minute and it is completely forgettable.  You can see it here:

There is a 2nd video of Lynn letting our greatgrandson chase bubbles.  That guy is 6 ft and weighs about 170 now so you know it is old.  Knowing that there are channels helps you find other videos made by the same person.  If you go to YouTube and you have subscribed to my channel (Don't bother.  Find something better.), the new 'posts' would be suggested for viewing.

I bring up the channels business to alert you to one of the features of YouTube.  I posted yesterday a link that led to a Google Think article about YouTube getting more viewers 18 and older during prime time of the day than any cable network.  I know a young woman who posts videos in her native tongue and has 65,000 fans who have subscribed to her YouTube channel.

I went to a presentation today about similarities and differences between Baby Boomers and Millennials.  A major difference is the higher and more continuous use of computers and electronics by the younger set.  However, they don't just use more technology, they use different technology.  One of the items in yesterday's post emphasizes that today's young people have their own favorites that are making their own videos about whatever and today's young people take the time to watch them.

That same big fella I mentioned above asked me if he could show me something.  Of course, I said yes.  He showed me the Adam Ruins Everything segment on gerrymandering.  I had never heard of Adam, despite his big following and the clarity of his video on gerrymandering.  I am like the lady in the video who says"Gerrymandering - that's a word I have heard and I hate it but I have no idea what it means."  Watch the segment and you will know what it means.

YouTube is an American video-sharing website headquartered in San Bruno, California, United States. The service was created by three former PayPal employees in February 2005. In November 2006, it was bought by Google for US$1.65 billion.

Whatever you are interested in, check it in YouTube.  Any music, any subject might be there. This individualized television, as opposed to "broadcasting", which has been part of our national life for about a century when you consider both radio and tv, is an important source of knowledge and explanation.  When my greatgrandson showed me the Adam Ruins Everything videos on both gerrymandering and the electoral college, I just assumed he had seen them in his high school history of the US class.  But no, he found them on his own last summer.  Try going to for a video on any subject of interest. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Google and trends in communication

My take on computing today is "Google".  I use Gmail.  I compose in Google Docs and store my docs on Google Drive.  I can access my email and documents on any computer and any computing device, such as an iPad.  I post my blog in Google Blogger.  I keep Chrome, Google's browser open all the time along with Firefox, my other browser.  I have set Chrome to open to Gmail on one page and my Gmail contacts on a 2nd page.

I get a notice from Think with Google weekly or more often.  Nearly all of the content is about the steady and dramatic change in computing from computers to smartphones.  As an example of the changes that have occurred among tv and computer users over the last few years, see this page on YouTube vs. broadcast/cable tv.  I note that one of the items on the page linked below is that many people, especially younger people, habitually use two or more screened devices simultaneously.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A nice rainy morning

It was a nice rainy morning.  We haven't had many of those lately and I welcomed it.  Most weekdays, I walk 2 ½ miles, often with friends.  When it is raining, it makes sense to show the neighbors that I am smart enough to come in out of the rain.  Rain means make yourself comfortable, have another cup of something and read.

In fact, it rained all day.  When it is raining out, a guy with glasses may want to remove them to avoid streaks and rivulets that interfere with good vision. I often wear a jacket with a hood or carry an umbrella.  Many college students simply walk through the rain but they are not usually wearing hearing aids.  I want mine to last, not rust or malfunction.  As time goes by, hearing aids make more and more of difference.  Now, when I pull them out, the sounds of the world and of course, what others are saying drop in volume and in clarity, often becoming incomprehensible.

If I were more virtuous, I might run and walk in the rain.  But I want to show the pastors and rabbis that I am not an idolater, a slave to some idea of physical fitness and longevity.  It helps my moderate approach to life to vary things a bit.  "Why We Make Mistakes" cites studies that learning is slower when the conditions and surroundings are varied but that the learning is deeper and lasts longer.  I am not trying to learn anything when I walk but I figure laying about has got to be good for something in some way, right?

Even when I drive to campus, I like to have an umbrella handy to protect my iPad as well as my hearing aids.  I want to be able to reach out of the car with my left hand and put my umbrella up before exposing anything vulnerable to the rain.  I bought an umbrella that is marked "one hand operation" but it isn't really.  The thing opens nicely with one hand but it only closes partly using a single press of a button.  I have already ordered another model but I bet it will be no better.  My new one has a stretch band to hold it closed and that is a good feature but I have to open that band for the device to unfurl.  I want one that is inexpensive, sturdy and can open its own closure band, pop open until the button is re-pressed.  Then, I want it to completely collapse and re-encircle itself with its band.  Might not get all that but those are the steps and features I want.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Credentials and quizzes

Where did you meet your spouse?

What was your spouse's grandmother's middle name?  What was her favorite food? What was her kitty's name?  What was the kitty's favorite food?  When was that kitty born?

These are the sorts of questions I get these days as I am trying to establish that I am actually the person I purport to be.  

I foresee greater depth and completeness in credentialing in the future.  We seem to be moving toward retinal ID, typing ID where the exact speed and keystrokes and typical errors identify you, device ID where the operating system, cookies still lingering on the machine and other features, taken together identify the machine.

Similarly, I am often asked to read a policy, sometimes a statement that the company promises to try to sell data about me and my tastes, proclivities and activities to the highest bidder as often as possible.  At the bottom of the statement of policy is a check box that I need to check to state that I have read the policy.  If I go directly to checking the box, the computer says "You cannot read that quickly.  Now go back and actually read our message."  

The verification and testing industry, probably a spin off of the folks who bring us the SAT test, is working on automatic generation of quizzes to try to increase the probability that I have actually read, comprehend and will remember the policy and its implications, ramifications and relation to previous policies and similar ones posted by other companies.  Their machines might create a set of quiz questions like these:

  1. In summary, what are the five main actions we have said we will take with your data?

  2. What was the copyright date of the post of our policy?

  3. What action can you take if you feel we are misusing your data?

My bank keeps my online information visible to me for a limited time only.  After a few minutes of no activity on the page, the file disappears and I have to sign in again.  That is what you can expect, only faster, with a future statement of policy.  I imagine only so much time to read the policy and then it will not be available.  Thus, I will be required to know the policy well enough that I can answer without peeking back at the message and simply repeating what I see.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Keep notes

Eric Barker 10/9/2016 from his blog "Barking Up the Wrong Tree"

"I had to take geometry to graduate high school but knowing what a rhombus is has never helped me. Nobody thought it was important to teach me about meaning. Seriously, my air conditioner came with better instructions than anything that's important in life."

I say "you never know" whether knowing what a rhombus is has helped you or not.  It might have without your realizing.  It might have but you forgot.  Gave you confidence.  Humbled you since you can't recall. For instance, you forgot that time when that cute red-head asked you what a rhombus is and it led to your first marriage.  So, that time and other times when knowing what a rhombus is have served you well got forgotten.

I am listening to "Why We Make Mistakes" by Joseph T. Hallinan.  I bought it in print and audio format but it was a neighbor's nudge that got me to focus on the book.  I like to play an audio book from beginning to end in my car while I drive around town.  My car is about two years old and it has 12,500 miles on it, which probably tells you that I don't drive all that much.  True, I don't, but keeping the iPod set to play as soon as I turn on the engine gives me many chances to listen, at least to a paragraph or two.  Why We Make Mistakes makes clear over and over that the evidence is overwhelming that we forget, we distort, we misquote.  Further, the distortions are often somehow in our own favor.  

I am reminded of Tony DiNozzo on the CSI program.  Tony went to a reunion determined to apologize to a former classmate for bullying him. When we meet the classmate, we find the man is about twice as big as DiNozzo.  Tony bullied that guy?  Before DiNozzo can speak, the man blurts out an apology for the bullying he inflicted on DiNozzo back in college.  Like your blog author who completely reversed which one of the Kirbys had sliced a hand open on a blade in the suds, DiNozzo had mentally switched from a painful position to an alternate version of the story.

Later I will give a talk on having a blog. Blog or diary, better make a note.  Partake of the 6000 year old insight and make a note.  These days, it can be quick, inexpensive and easy to retain video and/or audio evidence of what went on.  You might even want to invest in a body camera.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Beautiful fall sky

Taken by Dr. L. Kirby

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Have some respect!

Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual thinker, leader and author that Oprah Winfrey was sufficiently impressed by that she arranged for him to give a free course to others on TV and the internet.  Tolle is interesting because he uses secular language to focus on ways we can lead better, fuller lives.  One of his main themes is that we tend to think too much.

Being conscious, knowing that we are alive and knowing (more or less) who we are, is a great gift.  Our thinking is our main tool and allows for analysis of problems, mindfulness of our thoughts and feeling.  Our thinking brains handle language, form sentences to express ourselves, decode the utterances and writings of others.  Very fine tools, indeed!

However, there is far more to us than just our conscious minds.  Much of the work of speaking, listening to others speak, writing and reading takes place outside of our direct awareness.  But all sorts of processes move along in addition to communication with other people.  Breathing, healing, balancing, varying heart rate, hormones, metabolism, digestion, cell repair and death and creation and many other aspects of our bodies happen all the time.  Mostly, we don't notice.  We are still thinking about our tax bill or dinner menu or how much fun it is going to be to see cousin Milt.

It is not easy to notice that there is more to ourselves than our thinking, conscious minds.  The mind is so powerful, flexible and fun that we can engage it on any topic, use it to focus on any problem or theme.  No wonder that we tend to think that our thinking brain is all there is.  Books like "You Are Not Your Brain" by Jeffrey Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding, two MD's who use both medicine and psychological/Buddhist insights in their practices, often expand from looking at the conscious mind to looking at the whole brain.  That makes sense since aspects of our ongoing lives are affected by our habits too.  Habits can be transferred from the conscious to the unconscious.  I can develop habitual emotional states as well as perform habitual steps in a physical or mental process such as cooking or driving or long division.

So, common advice today is: Have some respect for all the parts of you and not just the mind you work with all day.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Know that place?

Some days are busy and yesterday was a good example.  I didn't get today's blog post written until now.  

This morning we talked about taking some trips.  Lynn tends to be attracted to outdoors.  I tend to see yet another lake, yet another mountain, yet another picnic table.  Sure, the actual skyline  is different but I skim, generalize and overlook.  So, trying a different approach, Lynn started looking at Road Scholar's Signature Cities program.  We have been on 15 Road Scholar trips and every one of them was worthwhile and fun.  

She tried getting us talking and thinking about cities.  I was born in a city and raised in a city of over a million.  I visited what I considered a small town, a college town, liked what I saw and wanted to teach here.  She is a suburban and country woman but understands and like cities, too.  Our town has a population of 27,000, which makes it the 28th largest city in the state.  

When we moved here, we were next-door neighbors with a banker who had moved here from years of living in a town of 448.  He felt he was adventurous, moving to our big place while we felt adventurous moving to our littler place.

I have had experience in alleys and backs of buildings. Today, I wanted to deliver some business cards to the Q Gallery and I tried to enter from the back.  That plan put me in the back of buildings clearly built 100 or more years ago.  I have lived in this town for nearly 50 years, all of them as an able-bodied adult with a car that had fuel.  I have biked and walked here but I had never even seen the sights I saw looking for the back door I sought.

I wrote in this blog about two separate visits to Florence, Italy and how different they were.  Except for seeing the Michelangelo's statue of David and the famous Duomo cathedral, they might have been visits to two different places.  The route in, the route out, the places you go and the activities you participate in can easily differ so much, it is hard to believe it was the same place.

I know some parts of my town and some parts of Hilo, Hawaii and some parts of Sante Fe, New Mexico but there are many places in each I haven't visited and don't know.  We have an attic in this house but I have never been there.  There are undoubtedly places in our yard I have never set foot.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Our Town: Stevens Point film to be shown three more times

The outpouring of interest has caught the UWSP Archives by surprise.  They are responding with three additional showings of the recently discovered 1954 film depicting the Stevens Point of the time, directed by Robert Carson, was discovered by Brad Casselberry, Assistant Archivist. There has been a tremendous show of interest in the movie from old and young citizens alike.  The first screening completely filled the theater and even a second showing was clearly inadequate.

The three additional showings are scheduled for

Tues, 11/1 at 5 PM in the DUC (Dreyfus University Center) theater
Mon, 11/7 at 6 PM in the DUC theater
Sat. 11/12 at 2 PM in the Pinery Room of the Portage County Public Library

The film lasts an hour and includes music that is copyrighted.  Copies of the film on DVD are available from the UWSP Archives for $20 each.

Great turnout and strong interest

The local university archives found a film in the back of their shelves that was made in 1954.  The film was one of several made by Robert Carson, who made films about other local towns in Wisconsin and Minnesota.  The man who oversaw the transfer from film, real actual film, to digital media, such as a DVD, had attended the recent showings of similar films in other towns featured in their own Carson films.  He admitted that our town's turnout was not like any of the others.  I know I was impressed.

I had seen notices of the film's showing in several places.  I noticed that it was being presented by the University Archives, which struck me as unusual.  I have lived here for more than 40 years and had never seen anything presented by the Archives.  To me, "archives" tends to mean old dusty boring records of stuff that has nothing to do with me or my life or today.  That aura about the concept is changing some, since my Kindle books reside in an archive and my older emails get archived.  The apps I have for my iPad are in an archive.  All of them are relevant to today and what is open to me today.  

My greatgrandson is about the age I was when the film was made.  I don't think of that time as very far back or oddly different, even though there are indeed many differences.  If you had told my 15 year old self that I would be sitting in front of my computer, typing on a monitor screen to create a blog post, I would have asked what a computer and monitor and blog post are.  I sure didn't expect for history to become so alive for me as I aged but it has.  

We have a local historical society and plenty of people who have lived to be 50 or 60 or older.  One of Lynn's first projects in her master's degree studies was the creation of a film of the history of our town.  I know that Indians lived where we do, that lumbermen and their families lived here, that it has been a center of railroading for more than a century.  Our local university has an active history department and we often turn to historians to give us information and perspective on our pasts, institutions, troubles and successes.  

The theater used to show the film holds about 360 people.  I thought I was being smart by getting there 15 minutes early but every single seat was taken.  I did look carefully.  I was told that a 2nd showing had been arranged after the first one and I learned yesterday that two more showings are scheduled soon.  When I tried to get back to my car, the traffic was so thick and fast that I could not get to the parking lot for a while.  I tried to buy a copy of the DVD but they were all sold out.  I have placed an order for one of the next batch. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What to eat and what to weigh

We went to a presentation by professional nurses who assist people in dealing with chronic disease, especially diabetes and prediabetes.

We were told that the pancreas has "beta" cells that create insulin and in some people, they lose function and the insulin supply is too low to convert the blood sugar (glucose) into energy.  I have read that the insulin ushers glucose into the cells where it can be converted.  If too much blood sugar is left in the blood, it results in the several very nasty effects of the disease of diabetes, like loss of a limb or eyesight or death by diabetic coma.  Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the US, killing 69,000 people in 2010.

They asked me specifically to sum up what I had learned from the presentation.  I said that just about every slide mentioned weight loss.  Except for mentioning health benefits of weight loss and the words "portion control", just about nothing was said that really helps.  I mentioned that Lynn and I have tried the 5:2 diet with good success.


There doesn't seem to be very good agreement between different approaches.  I keep hearing from older people, including a nurse, that older people should not be too thin, that they need "physical resources" if they get sick.  I suspect that how much fat helps is murky as is how often such a resource actually helps.  I can see that as people age and their ability to exercise drops as well as their desire to be swimming suit models, there is both lack of body means to exercise and motivation.  But these nurses said that the body mass index is best at 19 to 23.  I have read several times that 25 is the standard for most people and that people 65 and over should aim for between 25 and 30.  Even a slight change in the body mass index translates into enough body weight difference to matter, maybe to be depressing.

The nurses drew a distinction between digestion (moving the food through the body and extracting the nutrients in it) and metabolism (converting the nutrients into energy for breathing, digestion, heartbeat and circulation and movement).  I am interested in what can be said and done to allow old people to have good levels of energy.  That, too, seems to be a murky and complicated subject.  I found this in the Oprah magazine:

How much can one person's metabolism differ from another's?

If age, gender, height and body composition are the same, the variation in resting metabolism is likely to be less than 3 percent, according to Steve Smith, M.D., an Assistant Professor of Endocrinology at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center of Louisiana State University. For example, if two equally active 38-year-old women are both 5'5" and weigh 130 pounds, one might have a daily RMR of 1,800 calories and the other, 1,854 calories—an increase that only buys the second woman about two walnuts per day.

Read more:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Dealing with a very bad day

A friend wrote that she had a bad day: business mishandled, bank error, notification to come and be part of a grand jury.  What are good ways to deal with a bad day?


Making a list of the irritants is a good move, just what she did.  Letting friends know helps and that means describing the problems.  Deciding on descriptive terms uses naming and naming tends to provide a little distance and perspective.


Sometimes, the advice is to sit with the problem.  If you are experienced at meditation, you may be able to observe the problem and your own reaction to it.  The difficulty for many people is that anything to do with the troubles that have beset them tends to pull them into the story of woe or anger or fear.  Being back in the stewing doesn't usually help.  That is why writing about what happened, which requires coming up with words to describe the pains, tends to offer perspective and distance.  


You can ask "What would Jesus do?" or substitute some other figure of interest if that would be more effective.  You can ask if your friend or neighbor had the same set of headaches, what might you advise them.  The therapist Cheri Huber found that having her clients talk into a tape recorder, giving themselves advice, was very effective for them.  After making the tape, the same person found it helpful to listen to it, at the time, later or both.


In some situations, a natural tendency is to seal off the problems from oneself, to dissociate from them, pretend they didn't happen and don't matter at all.  Typical professional advice is not to run away but face the problems.  However, it may take a day or more before your inner resources allow for facing, describing, admitting the extent of the bother.


The children's book by Judith Viorst called "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day" describes a day when everything goes wrong.  I downloaded it to see what advice Alexander got but all it says is that his mother says some days are like that.  Alexander has been fantasizing about taking some action and his best idea, his favorite notion, is to move to Australia.  It can be expensive and disruptive to move to Australia and his mom says that some days are like this bad one has been, even down there.  


It can also help to note that the Buddha said more than 2000 years ago, that life is suffering.  He didn't say that it is only suffering but any sentient, sensitive being is going to suffer.  The Buddhists say that even if everything is peachy (and it won't be), a person will be worried that the peachiness will cease.  Sometimes, you just suffer.  However, suffering will earn you points later according to the law of karma.  To a large extent, you can often reduce suffering if you can let go of the ideas that the world really should turn out a given way.  If you can do that, having some other results than you expected may be pleasant.  Or, at least a surprise.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Preserving scenes


Lynn took this picture yesterday morning.  As soon as I saw it, I knew it has a haunting beauty.  I posted it on my blog and she sent it out to a group of her relatives and friends.  Quite a few people commented that the picture is beautiful.

One friend who is an artist (and quite a bit more) said she would like to buy note cards with that picture on them. Others said they would like a copy of the picture on a poster to put up on a wall in their house.  Those comments inspired me.

We have dealt with Vistaprint before when Lynn printed some business cards with them. 
​ If you have an image and I did, it can be easy and quick to put in an order for cards with the image.  Vistaprint is far from the only place where you can place an order.  They make note cards, simple flat ones for a note on the back and folded ones for a note inside.

It is impressive how many auxiliary products can be offered along with note cards or business cards.  Got an image?  They can put it on a mug, a T-shirt, a calendar, a shopping bag, a mouse pad, can coolers to keep your beer cool, pens, stickers and lots more.  You want more formal clothing than a T-shirt?  They also make polo shirts with collars.  Don't forget ball caps and hoodies.  How about a nice stamp of your image ?  Of course, they make posters large and small.  They can supply a notebook with your image on the cover.  How about a yard sign for outside and a banner across your living room?  Why not seal your letters and greeting cards with a sticker showing the image you have?

I did place an order for note cards and a mouse pad but don't tell anybody.  The shipping is cheapest if you pick "slow" so it isn't supposed to be here for a while.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What price is it?

There is a famous Yogi-ism, supposedly coined by the wordologist and Zen baseball player, Yogi Berra, which goes:

Other: What time is it?

Yogi: You mean, now?

I think that is a completely marvelous construction.  It opens the mind to the full picture of time as measure of our lives, time as relative to the sun and the diurnal cycle, a big factor in life on Earth.

I notice that the price of an item or commodity is getting to be like the Yogi-ism.  What is the price?  You mean Now?

Yes, I do mean the current price but as opposed to some notion of this time yesterday or last year, knowing the price of an item yesterday, last week or last year can be valuable information.  Still, even though we deal with fluctuating prices all the time, even expecting the price to fluctuate with the demand or desire for the item, we still expect the price to somewhat stable, momentarily stable during most moments.  There is a famous paper by Philip Warren Anderson, a physicist, published in 1972, called "More is Different".  The paper and the idea is a very valuable one for understanding the world.  The basic idea is that when you get lots and lots more of something, the situation is different in actual fundamental ways from when that something is rarer, less numerous, fewer.

I am still getting new ideas by the paragraph in "The 10,000 Year Experiment" by Cochran and Harpending.  One of the reminders they mention is that human speech is the first method of communication but it is fundamental to our lives and very powerful and important.  So, speech and by extension, writing and other means of communication such as photography and movies are a communi-sphere all their own.  

Material goods (air, water, food, clothes and many other items) are in demand all over so it is only to be expected that communication, marketing, advertising and price information are going to be included in our steady communication.  How much for that diamond ring?  How much for a new bike?  How much for that picture, that candy, that liquor, that book?

Amazon and others like the word "deal", meaning bargain, often a temporary bargain.  "I can let you have this car for the price of xxxx but only if you buy it today."  "I can let you have the car for half that if you buy it within the hour."  "Ooops, too late!  Sorry, but the price just doubled back to the one I quoted earlier."  Time pricing, also time-based pricing, as well as other names, seems to be poised for all sorts of fun and games.  

Ecclesiastes 12:12 says "Of the making of books, there is no end."  True, since we always have more comments and comments about comments.  Similarly, of the making of prices there is no end.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Foggy beauty

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Lynn Kirby <>
Date: Sun, Oct 16, 2016 at 7:57 AM
Subject: foggy picture
To: wkirby wkirby <>

Siblings and words

I am getting plenty from Cochran and Harpending's "The 10,000 Year Explosion" about the genetic changes in humans over the last ten thousand years.  These two seem to know genetics and population changes well.  They discuss one of the biggest events ever in human life: the foundation and spread of agriculture.

They sometimes drop a word or two during their discussion that grabs my attention but they don't seem to return to the point for elaboration and explanation.  Two such points have been the development of speech and sibling rivalry in connection with lactose tolerance.

When you look up "talking" or "speaking" or "speech", you find estimates of the beginning of human language one or more millions of years ago.  However, the authors I am reading mention changes and elaboration of speech and language over the last 10,000 years as a time when there was an increase in the opportunity for deception.  You know, con men and such.  Long ago, I read Jacques Barzun's chapter in "Science: The Glorious Entertainment" in which he emphasizes the development of vocabulary.  Vocabulary may not seem very important but unless you know what I mean by "bridge", I probably can't sell you a deed for the Brooklyn bridge.  Unless you know what the Eiffel Tower is, you probably won't buy my deed to it, either.

As we talk and read and look at photos more, we build up stores of concepts connected to words.  You can imagine the difficulty Pasteur had in convincing people about microscopic life when they had not heard about it nor had words to describe it.  I am not sure of the size of what might be called the 'common' vocabulary, concepts for which there are terms in most of the world's languages but I bet it is bigger today than it was ten thousand years ago. Sometimes, people think that intelligence and the size of one's vocabulary are related.  To a large extent, I guess, the more words you know the meaning of, the more you know in general.

The other instance of an arresting comment just dropped was in the discussion of agriculture and diet.  The domestication of plants was full of changes for people but at first, it meant a big change in protein.  Hunting provides meat and that provides protein.  Stop hunting and you are left at first with carbohydrates, ok as appetite quenchers but not as a source of protein.  Scientists have noted the change in some people that allows them to continue to digest milk long past childhood, although many animals and some people can only digest the milk from their mother's body until they get a little older.  At that point, it is indigestible.  Unless you develop lactose tolerance.  If you do, you can get protein from milk your whole life.

In discussing this change in some human populations, the authors mention that lactose tolerance may have affected sibling rivalry.  I had already run into sibling rivalry in two places: Genghis Khan and baby birds.  Khan had something like 13 brothers.  I read that he killed them all in order to be the only heir.  In the case of baby birds, I read that the egg that hatches first produces the most mature baby.  When the parents feed, that more mature one tends to hog up quite a bit of the food.  In some species, the more mature one pushes one or more siblings out of the nest, to their death.  I don't know how many siblings are killed by other siblings but the authors wondered if an increase in the milk supply would have enabled more of them to survive.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Power of theater

Some days I don't get to writing a blog post in a convenient way.  If I am too busy or distracted, I write when I next have time. That's what happened yesterday and this morning.

Tonight, we have tickets to "Unnecessary Farce", advertised with the line "two cops, three crooks, eight doors and the Scottish mafia" try to outfox each other.  

When I think of farce, I think of "A Flea in Her Ear".  I only saw that play once but I can still remember the many ins and outs of husbands, lovers, mistresses, police, hotel maids, officials and assorted others entering the wrong rooms at the wrong times, climbing into bed with the wrong person snuggled beneath the covers, with someone unexpected hiding under the bed, and someone else in the closet.  Some of the Peter Sellers movies or the novels of P.G. Wodehouse have the same sort of action.

Last weekend, I saw "The Book of Mormon" in an impressive theater in Appleton, about 70 miles away.  The theater was worth entering by itself, the group on the bus was fun to meet and talk with and the show was memorable, although not very complimentary to the traditional views of religion.

I read that the ancient Greek dramas were an important vehicle for public education and discussion and unification.  We have television and so theater in our private dwellings but the experience of being in a good-sized audience and feeling my own body and mind grasping the meaning of an improbable mistake at the same time as strangers all around are reacting in a similar way to the same internal process is indeed unifying and socializing.  A similar thing happens when family or friends are all sitting together in a living room watching a tv show.  Theater and the use of our human ability to see someone we know is human be someone or something different temporarily is a fundamental side of our imaginations.

Friday, October 14, 2016

I don't remember it well

We laughed at the New Yorker cartoon showing a man and woman at a restaurant table with one of them asking the other,"Which one of us doesn't like salmon?"  We laughed at the New Yorker cartoon with the guy calling across the room at a standup party,"Honey, what do I have my PhD in?"


We have been married for more than 5 decades and have had many adventures and experiences together.  It is not surprising that the memories get tangled, modified and sometimes subject to debate.  When we had only been married a year or two, we were impecunious.  We didn't have anything to use as a stake in poker late one night.  We settled on granting the winner of the hand with certification as being correct in 65% of any future disagreements.  She won.  I have since found that her memory is correct more like 95% of the time but I refuse to admit that.  


Besides, it can be boring and frustrating to play Maurice Chevalier to Hermione Gingold all the time.  You know the song: he remembers it well but has the color of her dress, the day of the week, the date and other details of the marvelous evening when it all started, wrong.  Oh, it is definitely possible that we met in Lutherville and not Towson. That she visited the campus sick bay and not the library.  It is not possible that I am always wrong.  I have a PhD, for cryin' out loud.  I simply refuse to disallow my own memories all time.  There have got to be times when she is WRONG!  I just don't know quite when they are.


Yesterday, I wrote about doing the dishes and cited the time when I stupidly plunged my hand into the suds and sliced my finger on the razor edge of the Cuisinart food processor cutting wheel.  


This morning, I hear her laughing and asked what was funny.  She said I had written about cutting my hand but that it was she who had cut her hand, not me.  As she said it, I could recall taking her to the emergency room while being annoyed with a smart woman who would plunge her hand onto a very sharp piece of metal.  So, it was indeed her blood in the soapy water and she is totally right, again.  She promises not to do that again and not to be right so much.  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Washing dishes

When I was in the 4th and 5th grade and later, my sister and I washed dishes, not an unusual chore for the kids.  When I was in college, I made a little extra cash washing dishes in the cafeteria.  I worked at a private girls camp in Vermont where I did odd jobs and washed dishes.  At home, I often wash the dishes if I didn't contribute to making the meal.

Most of the time, washing dishes at home meant a sinkful of foamy dishwater and a drying rack.  When we moved to our present house, I had a dishwasher at home for the first time.  I had dealt with large commercial dishwashers in commercial kitchens where the water was heated to very hot temperatures.  The operator needed protective gloves for his hands when touching anything that came out of the washer.

Washing dishes seems like a pretty good job.  It is basically clean and you know you are contributing to the health of those who eat with those dishes and utensils.  Washing pots and pans is a different matter.  They are more trouble to get clean, more trouble to really rinse and more trouble to dry, whether by air or with a towel.  It is not unusual to have pots that are too big to fit in the sink and have to be washed carefully to avoid getting water all over the floor and the operator.  A friend said about 50 years ago that he always feared having a soap bubble or foam drying on a pot and later being cooked into the food.  He managed to give me the bad idea, too.

Big pots can be a job to maneuver.  When I was the quartermaster for a large Boy Scout camp, my assistant and I had to haul very large pots, 50 quarts or more up and down on shelving.  I don't remember either of us ever dropping such heavy pots on the concrete floor of our warehouse or on each other but it is a wonder that we didn't.  We dealt with a variety of butcher knives and cleavers and serrated blades and we didn't have any mishaps with them but that is something else to be thankful for.  In our kitchen now, we have a variety of ceramic knives that are extremely sharp but we have managed to use them and handle them without mishap so far.  Once I stupidly plunged my hand into suds and sliced my finger open on the blade of a Cuisinart food processor.  That was bloody enough.

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