Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Can I have a word?

My stepfather used to say that it seemed I had been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.  (You remember, those machines that played flat discs larger than CD's that made music and the occasional story.)  He meant that I seemed to speak often.  You may realize that it isn't considered manly in some circles to talk very much.  The manly man acts and doesn't need or use spoken words much.  Sylvester Stallone exemplified the idea when the beautiful Vietnamese woman saved his life, shooting his nasty guards to death and leading him to freedom and safety.  He muttered,"What you did back there: Thanks."

The motto of the state of Maryland translates "Manly deeds, womanly words" but to be less sexist, is sometimes rendered "Strong deeds, gentle words."

In reading about changes in the world that brought us into the current era, communication by several means and the emergence of public and social media of communication stand out.  Communication and its relatives, persuasion and advertising, especially rapid communication and effective persuasion, can have a big effect on what we think and do.  A friend wrote this morning about the battle of New Orleans being fought after the war ended because the combatants were unaware of the peace agreement.  American politics and the lives of many families changed because of the slow speed with which information could be sent.

When you speak within my hearing, provided I am paying attention, your words may affect my ideas, my plans, my emotions.  If I love you or fear you, you may have an immediate effect on my mind and my actions.  But even if I don't know you, your statement of the quality of a certain brand may guide my spending.  Maybe it won't be until I hear some other statement or see an ad, that I decide that brand is what I want.  Your endorsement may have tipped the balance or initially alerted me to that brand's value.  Modern methods enable me to hear your voice and see you speak after you have died or when you spoke or wrote long ago.

We may be fascinated with strength but everyone finds that the pen is mightier than the sword, that words of alliance, of team-building, of inspiration are required to unify large groups and carry out big projects.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Swahili levels of being known

I read that Swahili society considers several levels of knowing someone.

  1. I know that person and he knows me

  2. I know who that person is but we don't know each other

  3. I don't know that person but I know people who do know him

  4. I don't know that person and no one I know knows him but there are people alive now who do know him

  5. I don't know that person and there is no one alive now anywhere who does know him

These can be condensed

  1. I know him

  2. Others know him

  3. Nobody alive now knows him

I find this conception helpful with historical figures.  Take Dwight Eisenhower.  He was born in 1890 and died in 1969.  My life and that of many others alive now overlaps his in time.  I never met D.D. Eisenhower but I could have.  There are people alive now who did know him personally. But in a few more decades, all those who knew him will be dead.  At that point, we have only documents, records and such to know things about him.

Our historians and scientists probably need to offer schools and the general public revised, updated and improved terms, definitions and tools for conceptualizing periods and people of the past.  The long-running tv show Bones gives an idea of what can be done today in examining records, articles, literal bones and artifacts from the past, whether it was yesterday or 35,000 years ago.  As we know more about the past and about how to investigate the past, we get to look farther back in time.  We get to know in finer detail and in more directions and subjects.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Odd thing while getting ready

This coming Friday, I am scheduled to talk to a group about three books:

What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe

Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham

Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk

I figured out the other day that I started making presentations in 1961 in my 5th grade classroom and have been doing them more or less continuously ever since. That makes 55 years of talking to people.  Naturally, over that time, I have developed a typical routine for getting ready.  Make notes, put them in a good sequence, make a set of slides or a document to be projected onto a screen at the front of the room.

I read some every day and I like to look over what I have read for items that might be of interest and seem likely to be somewhat novel for typical adult readers.  My usual audience includes intelligent people of an age and experience that gives them very good questioning skills.  It makes sense to have some planned remarks about the books and their themes, even though I certainly don't know or understand everything in them.  When I read these books, I did not know I would later see the possibility of giving a talk about them.  

Now, in going over them, I am quite surprised at how much is in them.  I can open any of them at random and get new insights from a page I thought I had already digested.  This has been especially noticeable with the Howe book above.  I have been developing excuses I can give for not knowing what is in the books I am going to talk about. I thought I had read "What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848" but wow!  There is so much in there of high interest that I didn't know and I won't have time to talk about all the interesting parts and comments.

It is my wife's fault that I got the Howe book in the first place.  Dr. St. Maurice should take some of the blame, too.  Lynn wrote "The Reasons for Stevens Point" in 1978.  It is a video of historical background on the town.  In it, she emphasizes the difference the railroad made to the town and to transportation in general.  In the book "Death Comes to the Archbishop", the new archbishop is called to Rome from Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It takes about a year for Bishop Latour to go from Santa Fe to Rome and back and that was with the assistance of trains from St. Louis to New York.  Dr. St. Maurice made me aware of the existence of "The Victorian Internet", which is about the telegraph.

What God wrought involved a great deal more than just the railroad and the telegraph, magical, unbelievable as they were for people used to horses and sails.  I am re-reading the 928 pages with more of an eye for appreciating where we are and how we got here.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

It is important to read all the warnings and precautions first

I was surprised to learn from "Why We Make Mistakes" by Joseph Hallinan that I am not alone.  I thought with my habitual impatience and eagerness, I was more or less the only one who plunges ahead without reading the manual.  Now I find that RTFM is a well-known set of letters to stand for the exasperated growl "Read the F* Manual!".  Education professors who work with young people wishing to become teachers are familiar with the notion that many have that "If I told them, they know it".  This idea can be extended to "If they read it, they know it."  The original and the extension are quite wrong.

I read today that with a high-end automobile comes a 700 page manual.  I saw a reference that one study found that 69% of a group did not read the manual.  Why?  I suspect that our experience with manuals is that they are not helpful.  When I read that it is important to read all the warnings and precautions first, I suspect that I am being manipulated and I don't mean in a good way.  

As a consumer and end-user, I am familiar with pages of legalese which attempt to forestall any liability or culpability (I learned these terms from documents I said I agreed with but did not, could not understand) when a product exposes me to dangers and financial scams or other losses and regrets.  I am familiar with the advanced language that says, "Sorry, that didn't work as it should.  Try again later."

One of the most interesting results of a search "How many people don't read the manual?" was this
It is from an unnamed document that says
You've already unpacked it, haven't you? You've unpacked it and plugged it in and turned it on and fiddled with the knobs, and now your four-year old child, the same child who once shoved a Polish sausage into your new VCR and pressed fast forward, this child is also fiddling with the knobs, right? We might as well just break these devices right at the factory before we ship them out, you know that?"

The page from an Australian website goes on to say:
Why don't people read manuals?
There are two reasons:
First, deeply entrenched in the human psyche is a little voice that says, "You can work it out – and it will be too hard to find what you need to know in the manual anyway".
Second, they are invariably right about the manual.
Manuals are often hard to follow and some tend to bury the information that users need amongst other related but irrelevant information.

See? That's the thing about our minds, collectively the finest cognitive organs in the universe: they notice instances.  If you and I have a natural impulse to skip the manual, it is likely because we have tried previous manuals only to find that we had to fall back on that technical activity mentioned above: fiddling.  Experimenting, watching, trying and re-trying may have already shown your brain they are the fastest, most fun and least injurious approaches.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The table is set

On a tour of Scotland and Ireland, we had a chance to tour the yacht used by Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Phillip.  The crew included 20 officers and 200 crew members.  Of course, the crew included a chef (maybe more than one) and many kitchen helpers and cooks.  We saw the dining room with a table set for a large group of guests.  All the plates and glasses were perfectly lined up.  It would be sad for anyone to use anything on the table and spoil the perfect layout.

We are having our family of 12 here in a few minutes for a one-day-late Thanksgiving dinner.  We are late because various inlaws want to have their Thanksgiving dinner and some of our family members are past being able to eat two big dinners in one day.  Our friend says she is sitting down to a table of 18 but our group is probably louder than hers. When our table is set, it bears a close resemblance to the formal settings we saw on the royal yacht and some set in various castles.

I guess many women have had instruction from their moms or in school about the proper setting of a table.  We have observed the care that Hyacinth Bucket (boo - 'kay, please) uses to set the table according to scrupulous standards of placement and location.  We tend to supply only a single fork, a teaspoon and a table knife.  We usually place a glass of water at each place and sometimes a wine glass.  We have wine glasses that we use for either red or white wine.

We have had Chinese visitors who showed us that they can eat quite easily and comfortably with chop sticks.  I read that for a while table forks did not have a curve in them as most now do.  Without that curve, whatever was pierced with the tines tended to fall right off as soon as the fork was lifted.  The right curve sets the angle of the fork tines off a bit and makes the implement much more useful.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Machines and us

You know that we live on tectonic plates, that move around, creating changes in our planet.  In a way that is similar, what can be thought of as tectonic plates of thought, knowledge and changing interests, slide and move and alter our worlds of knowledge and insights.  

[ I had never mentally compared tectonic plates to areas of knowledge before.  I don't know much about earth's plates and I wondered how many there are.  I Googled "how many tectonic plates" and immediately Google showed "Seven'.]

Before being helpfully interrupted, I was remembering how, because of both knowledge industries and my own interest, I had several times found that studying human-machine interaction showed interesting and unexpected aspects of the human mind and habits.  I created a course called "Humans, Computers and Systems Analysis" but the curriculum committee doubted that there was a viable, intellectually honest course in such a subject.  We compromised on a revised title: "Humans, Computers and Educational Possibilities."

The point was to compare human functions like memory, thinking/logic/analysis and yes, emotion, with parallel functions in machines.  When thinking about how and why humans act as they do, it can be helpful to ask why evolutionary processes might have arranged us a certain way.  I am brought back to this subject because our new "family member", Amazon's Alexa.  She is the cousin or sister or something of other women you might have heard of: Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana. She is short and cylindrical.  She is mechanical and is only a "she" because the sound waves she produces sound like a human woman.  

Finding out what she can and can't do is interesting.  I thought she might be of use to a potter, who frequently has her hands dirty, and covered in wet clay or glaze and has only her voice free to use on other things, such as ask what the temperature is outside.  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Let's give thanks

The Pilgrims landed in 1620, 396 years ago.  I read they wanted to land in Virginia but because of weather and winds, wound up after more than 60 days on the ocean, much farther north.  Of course, they didn't know how to get to the Virginia colony, they were unequipped for a Massachusetts winter, which they had to face without buildings or experience.  The captain of the Mayflower wanted to return to England, naturally enough, but was persuaded to stay anchored where many of the party could still live on the boat during that first winter.

By the second November, they were much more successful, in no small part because of assistance of the local Native Americans.  When the ship did return to England, none of the group took advantage of the trip to return.  

That second November was the time of the first Thanksgiving and they had a great deal to be thankful for.  It is customary to contrast our lives, with food and friends and roads and cars and electricity and heat, with theirs and to take a position of shame for the softness of our lives.  Maybe it is all right to simply face the fact that 400 years can make a very big difference, big enough that neither we nor they could really grasp all of the differences between starting off with nothing on the shore of Massachusetts and our lives.

We face fears and uncertainties, we have limitations and difficulties.  Many of them are hidden or background troubles but they can still weigh heavily on us.  It is rather well established that being grateful is good for the body, mind and spirit.  It can help to take an inventory of what we have and what we have accomplished.  In our bodies, our houses, our accounts, our libraries, our lives and our pasts, we have lucked out in many ways.  Let's give thanks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Fwd: How play leads to great inventions

See people in their zeal to improve school grades and learning underestimate the importance of play.  Steven Johnson is a very good author and speaker with eye-opening ideas.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: This week on <>
Date: Sat, Nov 19, 2016 at 8:57 AM
Subject: How play leads to great inventions

Necessity is the mother of invention, right? Not always. Open in your browser
This week on
November 19, 2016

Steven Johnson: How play leads to great inventions

07:25 minutes · Filmed Oct 2016 · Posted Nov 2016 · TED Studio
Necessity is the mother of invention, right? Well, not always. Steven Johnson shows us how some of the most transformative ideas and technologies, like the computer, didn't emerge out of necessity at all but instead from the strange delight of play. Turns out, you'll find the future wherever people are having the most fun.

Playlist of the week

6 talks that'll inspire you to learn a new language

Open up a whole new world of possibilities and experiences with these talks that show the benefit (and fun!) of learning a new language. Watch »
6 TED Talks • Total run time 1:08:18

This week's new TED Talks

Unlock the inner workings of the world through one of the most imaginative art forms ever: mathematics. Roger Antonsen explains how a change in perspective can reveal patterns, numbers and formulas -- and create understanding of what was once a mystery. Watch »

In this lucid explainer of a complex technology (that might just change everything), Bettina Warburg describes how the blockchain will eliminate the need for banks and governments to facilitate trade. Age-old models of commerce and finance are about to change. Watch »

Now more than ever, it's important to look boldly at the reality of race and gender bias -- and how they can combine. Kimberlé Crenshaw uses the term "intersectionality" to describe this phenomenon; as she says, if you're standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you're likely to get hit by both. In this deeply moving talk, she calls on us to bear witness -- and speak up for victims of prejudice. Watch »

Let's define our students by what they can contribute, not what they lack, says educator Victor Rios. Sharing his own story of perseverance as an inner-city kid, Rios shares three ways we can shift attitudes about students who face challenges and risks -- so we can focus on their promise, resilience, character and grit. Watch »


Behavior: Why we love what we make -- even when it's not so great »
Dan Ariely on the surprising joy we feel when we make things

Biology: Should we bring back the woolly mammoth?
Meet two unlikely allies in the quest for de-extinction

Quote of the Week

We want to understand things. Understanding has to do with the ability to change your perspective. If you don't have that, you don't have understanding."
Roger Antonsen
Math is the hidden secret to understanding the world

TED Radio Hour: the food we eat

Food is more than nourishment. It's a source of pleasure and guilt — and an agent of change. This episode, TED speakers explore our deep connection to food. Listen to TED Radio Hour on iTunes »
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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A message from the Queen of the United Kingdom

A friend who is fluent in two of the world's great languages sent me a copy of the Declaration of Revocation which purports to be a proclamation from the current Queen of England.  Please keep in mind that Queen Elizabeth II is 90 years old.  She may be busy and occupied with other issues, even some matters that she considers more pressing..  That possibility makes me doubt the authenticity of this proclamation.

Still it gave me some good laughs and some interesting perspectives.  I happen to be reading "What Hath God Wrought" by Daniel Walker Howe about the new nation of the US creating itself from 1815, when it had pretty well gotten Great Britain to leave it alone, until 1848, when the issue of slavery was really beginning to cause serious trouble.  The nation was quite aware of the parallels and differences between its previous English existence and its new American development.

Below is what I received this morning.  The document bears some interesting similarities to and differences from an earlier version, which can be found here.  Whether you are happy with the recent election or not, you can see the earlier version was evidently published just after the last presidential election.

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

In light of your failure to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except North Dakota, which she does not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, Elizabeth May, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:


1. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'colour,' 'favour,' 'labour' and 'neighbour.' Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters, and the suffix '-ize' will be replaced by the suffix '-ise.' Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up 'vocabulary').


2. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as ''like' and 'you know' is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as U.S. English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter 'u'' and the elimination of '-ize.'


3. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.


4. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used for shooting grouse. If you can't sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, then you're not ready to shoot grouse.


5. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler.. Although a permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.


6. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.


7. The former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.


8. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.


9. The cold, tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. South African beer is also acceptable, as they are pound for pound the greatest sporting nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of the British Commonwealth - see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.


10. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialect in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.


11. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies).


12.. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the South Africans first to take the sting out of their deliveries.


13. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad..


14. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).


15. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 p.m. with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.

Monday, November 21, 2016

low chance of happening

I have been reading about human evolution and the influence of genetics.   An individual gene might have a low chance of being part of someone's genetic makeup and yet still manage to be present.  How can a low probability event happen?

An easy answer is have a very large number of cases where it might happen.  You may have heard the statement "If something can happen, it will eventually"  You can see that in the case of a lottery involving many people, the chance that any given one of them wins the big prize is very small. Yet, someone will win.  

A good book on this subject is The Improbability Principle by David Hand.  The really large number of trials principle of producing one or more instances of the low probability event is easily understood in the case of the lottery.  

I suspect that when people try to think of a number that might stand for the probability of a rare or unlikely event, they hesitate to use a figure lower than 10%.  When we are dealing in percentages, 1 % can seem so small as to be nearly impossible.  Yet, in the case of many important events in our lives, 1% can be a very large probability.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia article on auto deaths in the US:

You can see that many events have much lower chance of happening than 1%.  Wisconsin has about 5 million people, 5,000,000.  1% of 5 million is 50,000 or just about twice the entire population of my town including the students at the local university.  Very few events will occur for everybody in town and everybody in another town of the same size.   Because numbers much smaller than 1 in 100 can be quite important, statisticians often use a larger number for a base than 100.  Many statistics related to health and accidents are based on the number of occurrences per 100,000 instead of 100.  The names of the numbers give us a clue: one hundred thousand = one hundred a thousand times.

I have read that people often feel in their gut that if something has a probability of 70%, they have a feeling that the event is sure to happen.  That would mean that a probability of 30% is low enough to be ignored.  But it is clear that if a 1% chance can actually be pretty large, 30% can be gigantic.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Buddha-ish or Buddha 2.0

I am an American well passed the age of 70.  I like to read and I have read and benefited from reading about the ideas and teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, a man who lived in the area of present day Nepal a long time ago.  This man is often referred to as the Buddha, the Awakened One.  

Since I am an older American with an Anglo heritage and have a American Protestant background and an American public school education and since I am a dabbler, a hopper who reads and thinks in a shallow way about a large number of topics, I get as deep into ideas as seems helpful. Because times are changing and because of the nature of American life and me, some clues from the Buddha are likely to be modified for use by people like me.

Sometimes, I think or feel myself into some sort of a trap, an entrance with no exit.  Maybe a worry that is vague, scary and big.  Then, when I realize where I am mentally, I drop the whole business. Like an exit from a dream where I am engrossed and trapped by a situation.  I simply wake.  The thoughts, the worries, the facts, factoids, suppositions and fears evaporate.  They may return later.  I may very well invite them back but into a relatively civilized meeting.  

The most important words in the previous paragraph are "realize" and "wake".  When I realize, when I wake, I become aware of what is going on in my mind.  That awareness is the 'mindfulness" that everyone is getting interested in.  The army, the physicians, the students, the athletes, the businessmen are using meditation to increase their ability to look at what is happening in the mind without panic or fury or judgment or shame or elation or joy - just look and see.  When I see, I can say,"Later" and come back to the issue at a later time, if and when the issue needs further adult attention.  

Here is a link to clues for increasing mindfulness by a little practice of meditation.

It is pretty easy to increase one's sensitivity to what is going on mentally.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Can I get change for this bill?

India is a very big country with great diversity and an economy that shows promise.  Its government has made a money move to try to dry up corruption and schemes that hold things back.  It is not an easy time.

Friday, November 18, 2016

What's happening?

I have read several books related to genetics and human evolution.  One aspect of human development that has gripped my imagination is communication: speech/listening and writing/reading.  Our vocal apparatus, our ability to remember and use words from many sources, our ability to translate from one of our languages to another, all create powerful tools for sharing and developing thoughts and more. A small group of people discussing a theme is a sophisticated tool for rapid analysis of complex and interrelated problems and questions.  

I have been impressed with Biblical references to gossip and a sharp tongue.  Clearly, people were aware of the power and importance of communication and libel in those days, as they are today.  However, as well explained in "Too Big to Know" by David Weinberger, we have new forums, new ways to communicate today.  We can get people from nearly any sort of life, occupation, country, training, conviction, background, opinion talking to each other, or at least talking passed each other, trashing and insulting each other.  No matter what your credentials are, I can state or imply that you are deluded, mistaken, hoodwinked, promoting a given cause openly or secretly.  You can do the same to me.

Depending on where either of us reveals our ideas (book, blog, social media, article) others may well be motivated to join in our discussions or name-calling.  We may use a common approach these days to bolster our statements by citing references or supporters.  Right here and now, I may state that Harry Jones, President of Amalgamated Farms and Factories, Inc. completely supports and agrees with my position, even though I haven't made my position clear and even though I just made up Harry, his last name and firm.

Which brings us to "fake news".
The link goes to a Google search page of the words "fake news", which I have heard used lately, mostly in discussions about whether rumors and statements known to be fanciful influenced the recent election.  Cathy O'Neil in her blog Mathbabe, mentioned the subject of fake news today.  There have been several articles about the sources of news and information people use today.  It seems that rumors and information conveyed from one writer on Facebook or Twitter to another is a very popular way to get a handle on what is happening in the world.  

Prof. O'Neil is the author of the book "Weapons of Math Destruction", which examines the widespread use of computer algorithms in many aspects of our lives today.  In reading about fake news, I have encountered this list created by Prof. Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College of communication and news sources, sorted according to the general level of "truthiness", to use a modern term.  It is only today, I guess, that teenagers in central Europe, trying to write "clickbait" headlines could affect what people the world over think has happened.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Want to help?

I heard that an elderly woman received a phone call.  The caller told her that her grandson had been arrested in a foreign country and needed her to send him bail money.  I heard that she said,"Well, I don't have a grandson but I would be glad to help out."  The story and parallel versions are told to highlight scams perpetrated by those preying on the elderly.  But I wonder.

A man died in our neighborhood and his friends cleared out his house.  They found rooms completely stuffed with objects and trash.  He had made a habit of calling tv shows that sell things and buying their stuff.  He had told a friend that he liked having something, anything, delivered and he didn't really care about the cost.

If you found out that your grandmother was sending money to somebody who supposedly needed money, you might advise her to reconsider.  I imagine quite a few people would use strong language, more or less insisting that any such pay plan be abandoned.  Similarly, if you found out that your grandfather-in-law was buying junk just to have something delivered, you might use strong language and other measures to stop or discourage such purchases.

I am not writing to support scams or poor use of money.  It is very likely that better uses of money, spent for causes with much better credentials, could easily be found.  I am writing to say that older people may be in a position to want to help and to be able to support something they believe in.  I have read of Reverend Ike, who died in 2009, saying that you should send contributions to his ministries because doing so would make you feel good.  

I suspect that charity and support of causes and ventures can be more complicated that you might think.  If you win the lottery and you really don't need the money and all your friends and relatives are happily situated financially, now and for the foreseeable future, be a little cautious and a little slow in rushing to aid or support this group or that venture.  Being awash in cash and possibilities can be more of a headache than first appears.  Read the stories of lottery winners with little preparation for a sudden avalanche of money.  Read the stories of countries or individuals caught in euphoria and schemes when oil is discovered on their land.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Handling books

A woman said to me yesterday that she has arthritic hands and has trouble holding and using a large book.  I advised her to get a Kindle.  I think the Barnes and Noble ereader Nook and the Japanese ereader Kobo are quite possibly very good ones, too.  I have seen an article or two in Google News, my main source for what is happening, lately emphasizing the feeling of some young people that large paper books are more fun, more emphatically brainy and easier to highlight and flip back and forth in.

I am quite happy using Kindle readers and am still amazed at the technology that can allow me to shop for books while moving in a car or train.  I grant that no sensible person really needs to shop for books at such times but it is still fascinating to me.  I think Amazon does a good job at getting books converted into a good electronic form.  Such form includes the cover, the title page, the copyright page, the table of contents, the text, the index and any notes and references.  All of that in eform can be found, marked, highlighted, copied and re-found.  The type can be resized from very small to very large.  The display can be black letters on a white background or the reverse.  Such changes can be very important if a person has eyesight limitations.

Kindle readers can easily hold hundreds of books.  Sometimes, that is a distraction, knowing that you could switch to any one of the others but sometimes it is a comfort or just handy.  

With any tablet, smartphone, Kindle ereader or computer, you can read any book you have purchased.  There is such a thing as a download limit so if you download an item from your archives more than the limit, you will have to delete the item from something else or buy another copy.  However, the base price of an ebook is still $9.99 and another copy would usually not be very expensive.  If you and someone else uses readers connected to the same account, any book purchased for one of the readers can be read on the other readers.

Besides price, convenience and speed, there is the matter of physical weight, storage and dusting.  Paper books are heavy and take up space.  Electronic versions of books take up virtually no space and never need dusting.

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