Sunday, September 23, 2018

Whole milk

I thought milk was simply the food that mammal mothers fed their babies.  It is that but there is much more to the story. See "Milk" by Kurlansky. The story of the human dispersion around the planet is connected with the special phenomenon of adults drinking milk.  They shouldn't be able to, since it is food for infants but some branches of humanity retain their ability to digest milk past childhood.

Milk is connected to the human understanding that there exist many forms of life on the planet that are too small for human eyes to see.  But "pasteurization" and other tools of safe food handling have changed what can be done with milk and where. About 8000 years ago, the process for making cheese from milk created a safer and more portable food.  Of course, that was early groundwork for the later rise of Wisconsin's cheese industry and that of others.

Fast forward to today's human problems with body weight and fat, the obesity problem.  It is often interesting when society or even science itself gets ideas wrong. There seems to be a growing movement toward more fat in the human diet.  From 1950 or so until lately, a popular idea has been to avoid eating fat so that arteries and veins would be less likely to get clogged. My friend advised me to read the article "Arteriosclerosis as Clogged Pipes".  I saw a reference to Dr. Sarah Hallberg's TED talk "First Ignore the Guidelines." She is cheerful, seems trustworthy and enthusiastic. She says avoid anything lo-fat or no-fat.

I was impressed yesterday to see an article in Time magazine on increasing sales of whole milk.  We have drunk skim for years but I have been drinking whole milk with full fat lately. I have read repeatedly that fat is satiating and satisfying, and after a couple of weeks on whole milk, I found that I am indeed more satisfied, even to the point of being completely uninterested in more food beyond a normal or even smallish meal.  My pants are a bit too big in the waist now.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The bot did it

I got 6-8 notices from a web site/organization saying I had unsubscribed.  I had not done so and I didn't want to. It was quick and easy to join back on again but it got old.  These guys are very sophisticated computer users. I wrote to them and asked for information about who was unsubscribing me.  

They got back with the answer.  "Bots" were doing it. Naturally, I had not considered that possibility.  Look it up. Watch YouTube videos. I found that bots, or web bots or web robots are actually scripts that some machine or other can operate. The usual term is "execute", not as in killing someone but as in carrying out a task. If you have ever tried to alphabetize a group of titles and compared the time it takes with having a spreadsheet or other computer application to the job, you have experienced the truth that computers can do it much faster.  

Much like a mailing group can enable a user to paste many email address in a message in a flash, much like a "macro" in Excel or other software can carrying out a series of steps in an instant, a bot can perform repetitive and complex tasks tirelessly and very quickly.  From what I learned, I gather that once in a while, some sort of bot goes over what I post in my blog. I guess where a message says "Unsubscribe here" with a link, the bot jumps to the task. I assume it unsubcribes me efficiently and quickly.

I am glad I learned to think of bots once in a while.  I have heard that machines, artificial intelligence and other sources of both power and frustration are advancing into my life and I think that is true.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Pocket and other recommenders

I use two browsers most days.  My computer is a very inexpensive one and has limited capacity so I try to stay aware of how many page tabs I have open at once.  Firefox is supposed to be rather independent and it is descended from Netscape, the first browser that really took me all over the web.  Chrome is Google's browser and it may be best for the many Google services and products I use, such as Calendar, Contacts, Gmail, Blogger and My Drive.  

Firefox has a new feature called Pocket.  It features rapid saving and sending web pages of interest. On the new page tab, Pocket shows recommended articles, sites and pages calculated to be of interest.  Lately, I have found that many of Pocket's recommendations are indeed of interest.

You may remember when Netflix offered a big prize to the programmer who could lift the company's accepted recommendations to a given target.  I think I read that someone succeeded. Netflix, Amazon, Kobo, and probably others I am not thinking of, offer recommendations often. They are basically ads but some attempt is made, I think, to base the recommendations on my recent choices.

I am interested in the psychology of further choices.  I am pretty sure that if I have just read an Agatha Christie novel, I am not going to choose another right away.  But if you show me a book on evolution or gravity or Stormy Daniel's grandmother's farm, I might be interested. It is hard to say what might be of interest if I only know what I am probably not interested in.  That position leaves open so many possibilities. If I am Netflix or Amazon, I will be tempted to look at the data on my recent choices.

I was charmed by Alexander McCall Smith and read many of his Botswana novels.  I haven't even checked to see if he has anything written that I want to read. Recently, we seemed to have exhausted our Roku tv choices and Lynn suggested we look at the Doc Martin series and the Foyle's War series all over again.  We watched an episode in series 3 last night of Foyle's War. We are both surprised at how little we recall from any earlier viewing. We are confident that we did see all the programs before but we rarely recall any part of the story. I don't think it is our age and memory power.  I think it is simply number and time. We watched so many shows and so long ago that it is all new.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Intentional intensification attempts

Sometimes, I don't get want I want.  I know what I want, and that is not what happens.  I am not feeling happy but I want to. I don't have enough money and I wish I had more.  I can have a great time, watch a fine show, eat a wonderful meal. They were so good, I want the next time, the next show, the next meal to be that good but they aren't.  

I am reading "Advice Not Given" by Dr. Mark Epstein.  I like his books and many other people have commented on how helpful his writing can be.  He writes here about people trying meditation:

Wanting to do it for the right amount of time, wanting to make the tension disappear, and wanting to have the next meditation be as good as the last one all represented different versions of it. My patients' wishes to "do it right" reminded me of how I felt...

Epstein, Mark. Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself (pp. 37-38). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I found a while back that physical pain could sometimes be stopped if I sat or lay still and fully concentrated on the pain.

Similarly, when I find I am hoping and wishing that things were better and more like what I want, or think I want, I can similarly notice I am wishful, or fidgety or antsy.  Many advisors warn against running away, against resistance. So, sometimes I experiment with the opposite: I try to be more wishful, more fidgety, or even antsier than I am.  When I do it right, I get a message from myself that says: "Are you nuts? You are already wishful and you want to be more so? Whatsa matter you?" Internal forces contract the wishfulness and usher it out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Developing awareness of our minds

I am giving a presentation on Thursday about developing mindfulness.  In an American environment (the only one I know), it is easy to be too enthusiastic, too vigorously committed to being the most mindful person ever.  The idea is to devote 5 to 10 minutes most days to sitting still and being quiet. During that time, meditation can be used to increase awareness of what is on the mind.  

Three different approaches to using the tool of mediation to cozy up to one's mind are often outlined.  One-point meditation tells us to focus on an anchor and notice whenever the mind drifts off the focus point.  When noticing, the act of bringing the mind back to the focus IS the moment of brain and mind training we seek.  So, in a way, drifting off into worries or hopes is a good thing since it gives a chance to train. Again, it is the moment of noticing that one is off the track that counts.

More advanced meditators can simply watch the mind's constantly shifting ideas and associations.  "Insight meditation" can be interesting and helpful but there is the danger of getting off into thinking about making dinner or some other story/distraction.  "Loving-kindness" meditation offers love and compassion and understanding and appreciation to one's self, one's loved ones and to all others.

The handout for my Thursday session is here:

The handout is entitled "Being aware of our minds with acceptance" because so many people are trying to improve this or that.  When I find that I am thinking improper or avaricious thoughts, I want to simply return to my focus without giving myself a lecture on what would be higher thoughts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

For or against?

This morning seemed to be about complexity and knowledge limits. My neighbor complained that 20% of the money he took in with his business was his, but the rest was for taxes, insurance, office upkeep and other expenses that gnawed away at his profits. I argued that the "profits" were used for his trips, his cars, his food while the 80% was to offset risks, pay his staff, pay his share for government services and other expenses that he wanted to have paid.  

Then, I went to a lecture by a professor of political science.  The idea was to help the members of his audience locate themselves politically as liberals, conservatives, libertarians, authoritarians, or centrists.  He asked us to think of our support of, or opposition to, many issues. He only had an hour and a half, and he gave us questions such as "Do you support free speech and press?"

When asked as a yes or no question, it is easy to wonder about meanings, definitions and details.  His quiz set free speech and press as opposites to anti-pornography. It didn't take long for me to feel uncomfortable with simplification of what could be, and probably is, a complex set of issues.  His aim was to help us decide where we were situated in political positions but the exercise showed me that any important political, social or government subject is quite complex. Gun control? What kind of guns?  What kind of control? Welfare or private charity? What sort of welfare, what kind of private charity? How about both?

I count myself lucky to have not been elected to represent others in local, state or national government.  I don't admire indecisiveness, but I fear I would still be researching the first subject I had to vote on long after the vote was finished and the group had decided its position.  I am glad I am not responsible for making the law as a legislator, or deciding what is best to do in particular instances, some quite snarled and odd, in court cases.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Modern twists

Yesterday, Lynn sent me a message in Facebook's Messenger about a community sign in a small Colorado community.  The sign is notable and known for its clever sayings.

Many of the sayings can be seen here:

One of them that has stuck with me is

Despite the high cost of living, it remains popular

I was struck by the fact that the sign composer, Vince Rozmiarek, has created a Facebook page for the sign.  That page has 45,000 followers.

A friend of mine has a young daughter that has 75,000 followers on her YouTube channel.  Think about that a practice of posting a single comment has attracted 45,000 followers. A young singer has 75,000.  There really are some new types of events, new types of communications, new happenings in the world today.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Serious doubts about our importance

At that point, they started to perceive themselves as meaningless fragments in an alien universe, unconnected to the Source and to each other.

Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (p. 31). New World Library. Kindle Edition.

When I read that sentence, I laughed.  I have sometimes perceived myself to be an insignificant fragment.  Yes, I have heard that I am constructed in the image of God but I have doubted that.  I mean I am not Charles Atlas (who?) or Arnold (who?). Do I matter?

In graduate school, we read a paper by R.M. Hare, "Nothing Matters".  He reports a Swiss boarder in his house who deduced that nothing really matters, while studying at the university.  With various discussions and thinking, the student decided to abandon his search to catch something mattering and get on with his life.  I wanted to ask him for his shoes or his tea. I thought I might latch onto something he refused to give me, which I would take to be counter-evidence, as clear evidence that something did matter.  

Eckhart Tolle has some valuable ideas that have helped me.  He and many others have emphasized that what is past is over and what is future is just an idea, that only what is Now, right Now, exists. It seems to me that it is a basic part of being human to have goals and desires, to plan and work to complete a plan.  

Imagine the Earth devoid of human life, inhabited only by plants and animals. Would it still have a past and a future? Could we still speak of time in any meaningful way? The question "What time is it?" or "What's the date today?" — if anybody were there to ask it — would be quite meaningless. The oak tree or the eagle would be bemused by such a question. "What time?" they would ask. "Well, of course, it's now. The time is now. What else is there?"

Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (p. 34). New World Library. Kindle Edition.

I have read Yogi Berra's response to the question "What time is it?":

"You mean now?"

I have read that dogs always have the same answer to "What time is it?" "NOW!"

Yes, we humans make good use of time measures and calculations but you might want install this from Amazon:

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Event in Dodgeville

Hi! We are back from our week in southwestern Wisconsin, the rolling hills of the driftless area of the state.  It is picturesque, lovely farmland that was not flattened and planed by the glaciers, as was the central part of state where we live.  Being in an unfamiliar place opens my eyes and returning home, I still have new eyes for what I haven't seen for a few days.

My sister is a long-standing constant in my life.  She represents continuity, from the moment I first saw her through the car window, a tiny baby in my mother's arms, to yesterday.  And just as my wife is the pillar of my life, my brother-in-law is the pillar of my sister's life. Both couples have been married more than 50 years.

The Bethel Horizons camp is owned by the Bethel Lutheran Church of Madison, WI.  Lynn has been there many times since the place emphasizes pottery instruction and practice.  Because of her connections to previous sessions in the pottery branch of the camp, Lynn received a mailing that one of the managers and some others were arranging a Roads Scholar-type activity.  They wanted to have an experimental run to see how it might fare if they ran the event later as an Roads Scholar/Elderhostel offering.

There are green rolling hills, lovely farms, a night sky filled with visible stars, and lots of deep quiet.  One surprising aspect of the event was that the four of us were the only members of the whole group who were outsiders.  The others know each other both from events at the church itself but also as members of the Bethel hiking club, whose members have traveled all over the world together.  That turned out to be an excellent and fun aspect of the event for us, since the Bethel hiking club members are quite friendly, social and accepting. They are a lively, merry bunch.

We made mugs and wall pockets (sconces) but Lynn and I agreed that our mugs and my sconce were not very high quality, and she scrunched them.  That is, she balled up the clay and returned it to the clay supply before our pieces had dried. That is a common fate in clay studios when hands, or humidity, or the lack of it, mar a piece.  We visited some cheese makers and attended a play, "The Recruiting Officer", put on by the American Players Theater. That play was the most popular show in the 1800's.

Nearby areas had torrential rains a few days before and we feared it would be a rainy week.  But the weather was stunningly perfect.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Let me help you

I have read that many religions advise people to treat others as they themselves want to be treated.  The Golden Rule has certainly been applied in many situations for a long time. It has been tested and it is good advice.  However, sometimes it is difficult to do.

Suppose you are having difficulty accomplishing something with your computer.  We both think that I do similar work on my computer regularly, and you feel that I might be able to help you.  The idea is not for me to use your computer nor mine to do something for you. It is that we would like me to assist you in finding what you are doing against yourself.  Maybe my sharp eyes and experience, coupled with yours, can spot a way for you to learn to do what you want.

You might not fully know what you want to accomplish.  As you try different things and notice possibilities you hadn't known about or thought of, your goal may change.  I may speak to you too often and interfere with your noticing what you and your machine are doing. I may be too long-winded in some of my hints or explanations, keeping you from doing the right steps at the right time. I may get off the track and launch into another telling of that hilarious time that I accidentally turned off my computer at the very wrongest time.  

Sometimes, if I tell you fine details that do lead to the success you want, you follow them closely and with concentration but are unable to remember the steps you performed the next time you try to do the work on your own. There have been times when my passenger gave me instructions to turn here and turn there and I later feared I might not recall which turns to make on my own.

I want to be valuable and helpful to you.  Sometimes, I urge you to let me help you. I can show you a better, more efficient way to accomplish almost the same thing as you want to do. So, while you are trying to work, I am chattering away in an attempt to be valuable, but am actually driving my value down and down.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Disgusting optimism

We are reading "Janesville" by Amy Goldstein aloud.  Lynn needs to hear the book because soon her book club will discuss it.  It is about the Wisconsin city of that name and the city's economic struggles with the recession of 2008, the shrinkage of the American auto industry, and the effect on the town of a major General Motors plant closing.

Janesville is a small city of 64,000 and has been involved in manufacturing since the early 1900's. It has had its ups and downs but mostly ups.  Not only that, it has shown a upbeat, can-do spirit and has had pride in functioning well steadily. There had been times with the pivotal General Motors plant had been shuttered but the plant, the city's biggest employer, always bounced back to life.

When the pivotal plant closed and did not re-open, valiant and rigorous efforts were made to use patience, imagination and flexibility to weather the storms.  It seemed to some people that it was important to stay optimistic. But in tough situations, asking people to sing a merry tune can be repulsive. Imagine a general speaking to a soldier who has been badly and painfully injured.  The general is wearing a clean uniform, is only appearing on the battlefield for a short time and will then be whisked back to headquarters. The soldier is in intense pain, has lost a leg and is bleeding badly. Suppose the general says to the soldier,"Keep smiling, son, always maintain a cheerful mind."

The soldier is going to turn away in disgust.  He needs compassion, not instruction. He is in shock and is just beginning to grapple with a serious lifetime disability. I imagine he will never forget the general nor revise his picture of an officer of low intelligence and lower leadership skills.

When some citizens of Janesville found their incomes gone, their ability to get health care gone, their food supplies meager and shrinking, they were not aided by calls to keep smiling.  They found such admonitions insulting and painful and they did not react positively.

It takes time, acceptance and patience to assist those who have experienced a nasty and damaging fall. Moving toward optimism can indeed be the right direction but it may take respect for the pain and confusion, the fear and despair, for quite a while before any cheerleading.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Important skills

There are important skills in any job, profession or occupation.  Having the basic perception abilities of seeing and hearing, good balance, adequate sleep, appropriate body weight all matter.  Traditionally, schools have emphasized reading, writing and arithmetic. These days, some skills and familiarity with computers, other connected devices and typical software such as word processing, spreadsheets and searches are often assumed.  

But both the Harvard study of men's lives, explained by Richard Waldinger in his TED talk, in my blog of yesterday's link and Google's Project Aristotle found that having good people skills is more important than anything else.  The famous marriage researcher, John Gottman, found that sympathizing and understanding one's partner was fundamental while expressing contempt is often associated with failed marriage. Sometimes, people ask if these skills are taught in school.  Sometimes, they are an explicit part of the curriculum in any school at any level of age, maturity or expertise. But most of one's early years, say, from birth to age 10 are a continuous exercise in basic interpersonal skills.

You could say, I think, that basic skills in reading others and enjoying them and playing and working with them are part of the basic human abilities.  It is certainly true that a person can lack them or even hold empathizing, commiserating, contributing to a group's efforts and such to be a waste of time or a sign of unacceptable weakness.  Today's knowledge emphasizes that good relations with other people is the single strongest contributor to both personal happiness and actual longevity.

Insights of today often focus attention on the internal emotional state of an individual.  Automatic fear, severely limited communication, zero expressions of appreciation of others are often tied to an internal state that can be examined and improved. If I think I am too dumb, too slow, too anything, to be worthy of contributions to the group or compliments to others, such a reflex or habit can limit my affection for and understanding of others.  Prof. Tina Seelig's TED talk and her book "What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20" emphasizes the value of pushing the envelope and thinking outside the box. She teaches entrepreneurship. Everybody wants to be an entrepreneur these days and daring, imagination and new and different approaches are indeed getting to be important skills.

But reliability, stability and enjoyment of self and others are still basic, too.

Monday, September 3, 2018

If you are looking for a good Kindle book, "Sapiens", an excellent review of the history of our species is $4 today

Here is the link to the Amazon page


Happy Labor Day 2018

This is TED talk on a study of men's lives that has run for 75 years.  Just watched it and it is worthwhile.

I just saw an article that asked why empathy and appreciation aren't taught more.  I include empathy and appreciation of oneself.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Where's my blue coffee mug?

It looks like this:

We both know I had it yesterday.  I must have set it down in some odd place.  I have already looked in many typical places and lots of the odd ones.  Am I being gaslighted? Did I set in down in the garage?

It is dark-ish and not giant.  Maybe it is hidden behind something else.  It is not near the ironing board [what's an ironing board?].  It is not in the basement nor the guest room. I think I got my morning walk in doing the search and the 2nd search and the others.  

Look more carefully!  Think! Think! Wonder if my brain is losing some of its function. I wonder if I should install some security cameras so I could watch myself.

I looked at the microwave.  The door was closed. When I opened it, there's my blue mug sitting calmly since yesterday noon.  This is not the first time I have put something inside and forgotten it. Believe me, it is never going to happen again.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The present is now, only now

First, I started looking at abstractions that pop up in my life:

    Generalizations, like "science", "politics"

    Large collections, like "the Chinese", the solar system

Then, I started thinking about time.  I knew that Tolle's books focus on the present moment and the fact that the past, a minute or a millennium ago, is gone.  I have read that William James, American psychology/philosophy thinker, thought that we could consider the present moment to be as long as 17 seconds.  I haven't tracked down that idea, where he got that figure or just what he was thinking about. Right now, I don't think the present moment is that long.  It only takes a shorter time to spill my milk.

Once I really started thinking about the duration of the present, I felt that it is something I feel I can sense and experience but I have a difficult time thinking about it.  Each key I strike writing this is an old action by the time I reach the period. I knew the joke that when I ask a dog what time it is, the answer is always "Now!" I knew that The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is related to the subject of now so I started re-reading his book.  I found his "Stillness Speaks" quite helpful before but this time, The Power of Now seems clear and useful. I suspect that a big piece that has fallen in place in my understanding is Eagleman's "Incognito" and his illustration of a conscious human mind as a proud traveler on the top deck of a giant passenger ship with hundreds of crew members, an experienced captain, a skilled navigator and a giant powerful engine.  The traveler has the illusion that he is conducting the voyage and is ignoring the 95% of the reason he moves. The traveler, Eagleman says is my mind, while my brain is the greater part of the cause and governance of me.

With this distinction between full brain and conscious but smaller and more limited mind, I read Tolle's remarks quite differently.  

Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. "Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the 'I' and the 'self' that 'I' cannot live with." "Maybe," I thought, "only one of them is real."

Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (p. 4). New World Library. Kindle Edition.

Friday, August 31, 2018

What happens

Two greatgrandchildren of mine and I watched "Coco".  It is a Pixar/Disney film about the Day of the Dead in Mexican culture and excellent.  It is surprisingly complex and meaningful. The movie depicts the idea that there is a Land of the Dead and a dead person lives there as long as someone living remembers them.  When the last person who remembers me dies, I will vaporize from the Land of the Dead and be no more. The concept reminds me of what I think I read about a Swahili concept I read about:

If there are people who remember me in the Coco approach, I can dwell in the Land of the Dead.  But when there are not, I am gone gone. The film shows the vapor of a person who is no longer remembered by anyone drifting off, much as smoke or fog drifts off.  I like to think that vapor, smoke or bits of my grandmother are still around. I just don't know where they are and I won't recognize them if I find them. I like to think, as Bill Bryson puts it in his book "A Short History of Nearly Everything", that cells and their constituent molecules that constitute the current living form of me will someday not longer clump together and cooperate as they do now.  

Instead my fluids will dry up and my cells will not adhere.  It's like Julius Caesar. I suspect that I drank some of the water molecules that once were part of that mighty man but tonight were in my glass at dinner.  Or maybe it was Charlemagne. I don't know. I do feel confident that I am of this world, as it is, even if I don't understand much of it, and even though I am approaching the time that I will be in a very different form than I am now.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Unusual times

Time 1

This Sunday the small local Quaker meeting planned an after-meeting picnic in a local park.  The fee for reserving a pavilion is pretty steep but, I guess by custom, if we start using some tables that are not in use in the pavilion, we can continue on.  My Quaker wife had the idea of the two of us staking out some tables about 10 AM and holding them until the rest of the meeting attenders show up about 11:45.

So, she and I sat in the quiet park pavilion and talked.  An older woman and man sitting quietly talking in the Sunday morning park!  Can you imagine? We have many experiences over the years in that park and it is one of the most scenic in the city.  That is the very park in which a fake representative of the British Crown wearing a fake but impressive uniform arrived at the little island in the Plover river and pronounced the news that the Crown was reclaiming the land despite events in the Revolutionary War.  The London native and resident was celebrating his visit among the Americans he had ushered through Britain years earlier.

Still, we had never, of a Sunday morning, in the fifty years living here, been in the park on a quiet Sunday morning, reading, talking, joking and enjoying the trees.  Now, we have.

Time 2

Both of their parents are school employees and the teachers and teacher aides are called to a day of pre-school meetings and announcements.  So, at 7:20 this morning, we were joined at home by two of our greatgrandkids while their parents went off to work. We talked about what to do with the day and the city's sculpture park was first on the list.  It is about a 15 minute drive from here. Seeing the children, the trees and puddles and wet paths, the sculptures, the greatgrandmother, many thoughts, comparisons and questions flew thru my mind.

Later, after pizza and chicken out, we played Cadoo.  I felt I had threatened my wife's cardio health when I drew the following dragon:

It was successful and got the shout from my greatgrandson: "Dragon!"  But my wife felt my drawing was hilariously pathetic and nearly laughed herself in cardiac danger.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

40 million new internet users in India each year

This item came in a snippet on my Fear, Fun and Filoz web page:

I was alerted to this article by an item in Nate Silver's 538 weekday newsletter "Significant Digits".  I am still wowed by Time magazine's list of surprising big ideas from 2010

Back in 2010, Columbia law professor Tim Wu pointed to tv as something that many of the humans of earth had not experienced.  When I think of tv, I think of being able to turn on the set at any time and watching what I want. On broadcast tv, I have to select from what is offered at that time.  With streaming, I get a much wider selection of interest but I admit that my tv gets hundreds of channels that I have not explored.

That sort of tv requires continuous, reliable electricity but wind or water power can be used to charge batteries as demonstrated by "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind".  It also requires a group of broadcasters and technicians to create content. I visited Europe more than 40 years ago and experienced intermittent electricity so I realize that what I am used to might not be what billions of India's citizens experience.  

When a foreign team of white water kayakers visited near me, one was asked what he thought of the US.  He answered that he had heard of the internet and was eager to experience it.

There are two cellphones in this picture.  Imagine what smartphones are doing to our world.  The three women pictured are all impressed with the performance and possibilities of communication, enjoyment and entertainment, not to mention the transmission of pictures of their lives and activities to others.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Sand timers and Dr. Joan Vernikos

Dr. Joan Vernikos has two books on "Sitting Kills" and "Designed to Move".  She also has her own web site and has many videos on YouTube. Vernikos was employed by NASA and had the job of watching over the health of astronauts in space.  She found that the low or very low gravity in space aged the space men and women in much the same way people age on earth but the aging in low gravity was much faster.  

Vernikos makes clear that "using" gravity, in the sense of resisting it, working against it, is important for our health.  The basic idea I have gotten so far is Move! She and many other scientists and health workers have emphasized that all the hours of sitting at a desk, in a chair to watch tv, in a chair to read, in a chair to use phones and Ipads takes a toll on our health.  Yes, the title of one of her books is "Sitting Kills". She recommends standing up, moving around, changing position, using the muscles of our bodies.

Having been warned by Vernikos, I try to move from in front of my computer every so often.  Meanwhile, the add a new browser page feature in Firefox called Pocket has been getting better and better at recommending articles online for me to read.  In the last few days, I read "Taking a stand for metabolic health" by Kathleen A. Page in the Univ. of Southern California Medical School.

I wasn't sure what was meant by "metabolic health" but it turns out the author means the metabolism of children who are overweight or obese.  The article reports on having such children try both sitting for three hours and also interrupting the hours with 3 minutes of moderate walking every 30 minutes.  Careful tests of appetite, food consumption and blood variables showed that the walking benefitted their bodies without increasing their voluntary food consumption.

I bought a three minute hourglass type timer and I have a 30 timer of the same design coming.  I intend to use them alternately while computing and blogging.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Steve Jobs and my life

I have been listening to "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson for more than 2 months.  I often get only 10 minutes played on a short drive so it can take many weeks to get through an audiobook.  When I read a book, I often stop to look up references or make notes about ideas just inspired by the words.  Even when driving, I often switch off the playing because I want to take a moment to absorb the great achievement or the insanely stupid move or comment.  This sort of appreciation and mental digestion extends the total listening time. I often buy the book in print so if I want, I can read instead of listening. But I may forego greater speed for deeper appreciation and digestion.  

I went to college to become a teacher and I did that.  During those early years, I had not heard the word "computer" so now, as I listen to the story of Jobs' life, I am impressed by how much his biography marks out my life.  I had been a campus director of academic computing for a year and I had plenty of experience working with numerical data before the struggle the Apple II computer initiated.  The large computers built by IBM gave way to smaller computers. IBM had built the giant computer I used for academic research so I was interested in their PC ("personal computer") when it came out.  After fidgeting and fretting between buying an Apple and a PC, a particular ad convinced me to try the Apple II.

We wound up buying several Apple II's and Macintosh computers and they had a big effect on my ability to write and our ability to keep track of our money.  I taught statistics and the work of statistical calculation really needs a computer. It can be done by pencil and paper but it is faster, more accurate and easier with a computer.  The work of teaching, with rolls, rosters, and grades is easier to perform, track and modify with computers. I taught testing and grading which also used computers.

I wasn't much affected by the launch of the iPod but I did follow the music recording industry's struggle with album unbundling and person to person exchange of song tracks over the internet.  My family likes games, both individual like "Angry Birds" and multiplayer like "Words with Friends" and their enjoyment was the force behind our venture into the world of iPads. It was the app store that really launched a new set of industries all over the world.  The iPhone and its commercial rivals has indeed changed the world and launched Facebook, Twitter and all the other social media. Google Thought Starter has made clear the growth of the smartphone and the extent to which it is replacing individual computer use.

Many people at Apple, Inc. and other businesses and organizations, large and small, famous and unknown, contributed to our current information and communication riches but Steve Jobs is one of the important makers and markers of our time.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

"Dataclysm" by Christian Rudder

"Dataclysm" by Christian Rudder is about data and data analysis using records on the web site OK, Cupid.  He cuts the data by sex and race, and discusses his findings. OK, Cupid is a free online dating service that has been in business for 14 years and has accumulated plenty of data about its customers and their choices.  

The social media such as, Facebook, and the many other online communication groups collect more information on people, their communications, timing, habits and goals that has ever been collected before.  Just Facebook alone has more than 1 billion users. The population of the US is one third of a billion so you can see that they interact with people for all over the globe.

I tend to highlight a book that has interesting comments.  With a Kindle, you can make highlights with a fingertip and then have a file of your highlights emailed to you.  Here are my highlights from this book:

People make choices from the information we provide because they can, not because they necessarily should.

You often get the feeling that people just don't want to know.

He interviewed people blind from birth and found the same attitudes about race as in the sighted world.

Say something especially cutting, and your followers applaud your wit.

As I pointed out earlier, by 2015, Twitter users will have exchanged more words than have ever been printed.

I have to say, just pausing to write this book, I'm sure I've lost ground.

The hardest courses I ever took were often entirely skipped by these real mathematicians. The teaching assistants in my high-level courses, the people who handled a lot of the actual instruction and all of the grading, were not only often younger than me (one was sixteen)

The citizens of most countries are usually only concerned with one constitution—their own—but Google has assembled all nine hundred such documents drafted since 1787.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

I dub thee Sir Knight

I read about North Korea allowing visitors from South Korea to enter the country, visit relatives they had not seen for a long time, and return home.  It is sad that people want to be together but have to part because of government decree. I am reminded of the topic of generalities and abstractions in our lives.

I am married.  My name is Bill.  This computer is mine but your phone is not.  The American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck wrote that she flew over New Jersey and New York.  She could see for herself that there was no border between them. She wrote that New Jersey is a "myth".  But the citizens, the government, the transportation companies and many other people and organizations live by and depend on that myth every day.  

Just today, Firefox browser program suggested I might be interested in an article that appeared in "Inverse" stating the results of a pair of scientific studies of the brain.

The studies found that our brains flicker every four seconds.  I gather that they pause, look around to check for dangers and then continue to concentrate on our knitting or driving or whatever.  It is not actually news to thinkers that we don't really see the world because of the necessary steps in the vision process but we depend on and remember our version of what we see.  Same thing with sounds, including sounds of what you say to me.

It is old information that I can't and don't fully take in a scene.  I am wired and experienced to select what seems important and note that.  I don't remember what color dress my mother wore to my wedding. I probably looked at it but didn't register as an important memory to be kept.  Before my wedding, I wasn't married. After my wedding, I was. The book "Sapiens" discusses the very large number of abstractions and myths and arbitrary decisions our species lives with and by.  Laws, customs, games and much of our lives are focused on or laid out according to ideas and distinctions we made up. I am chemically connected to my daughter but not to my wife. I live in a certain place but it is only in Wisconsin by custom and agreement.  I know there are towns near the borders of countries that have changed the countries they are in without moving. The decision that one of the countries extended to here was changed to only be extended to there.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Take a clean fork

The book "The Material World" is a tour of different places in the world.  The authors asked a family here and there to allow their belongings to be spread out on a lawn and photographed.  I remember that some people in the nation of Mali, a Saharan land-locked nation of Africa, had very few possessions.  A family from the US had many possessions.

Sometimes, our cooking and eating, maybe including some visiting guests, depletes our supply of forks or table knives. I don't remember a single time that we have needed more silverware (it's not really silver) and had to rush to re-wash some.  Of course, we have never tested the limits of our capacities, either. We may have invited as many as 20 or 30 guests for a single event but not for a sit-down dinner. Our experiments with groups have led us more and more to a couple, maybe two couples.  That size enables us to concentrate on the visitors and not spend all our time roaming around, refilling drinks.

I often make Lynn and me green tea with ginger and tumeric about 10 o'clock in the morning.  I use tea bags from The Republic of Tea and a salad fork to fish the bag from the hot water. It also is a good implement for stirring ice into the tea, which I like so I can drink it all down right way.  I realize that I can make do with a twig from the woods or a wooden stirring stick from a coffee bar.

I have had a chance to visit the Molly Brown house in Denver, Mount Vernon in Virginia and the Hearst Mansion in California.  I walked through the royal yacht used by Queen Elizabeth and the Scottish dining room where Queen Victoria visited. Of course, if a famous person comes to visit, we want to lay out a good cloth on a good table, have good chairs and a good wine, good lighting, good service and good food.  But the visits to famous abodes show me that fine art on the walls and gold-rimmed plates don't really add much to the event. Good hearts, good smiles, and good words are much more important.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Mousing through life

I noticed that what with ads, hundreds of tv channels, millions of blogs and web sites, it is easy to feel that we are swamped with information.  Often it is exciting information that we are glad to learn about. But that's the way it goes: click into Org Z and get some WOW info. Then, tomorrow or the next day (no hurry), what about checking out what Z has to say.  Pretty soon, we have the habit of checking Z. The people who collect the information there are professionals. They know a good item when they find one. They write great headlines so when we think of checking out Z, it difficult to accept the inclination to skip it today.  That book, the garden weeds, the groceries we need are all calling for help. I want to be good. I want to get those weeds, we do need more bread. How about just a quick peek?

Ninety minutes later, I notice the time, I notice that I have again gotten lured into a little of this and some of that.  Sure, I know more about the flooding and the earthquake but the weeds, the weeds, the book and the other book and the groceries.  So, I am not only swamped with information that is laid out in a habit-forming way, I am cooperating in being force-fed habit-forming drugs.  To top it off, I am cooperating with the whole deal!

More and more, I have to be firm, even nasty with myself.  Turn aside from drinking the wine of habit, the juice of excitement mixed with titillation.  I sometimes require an internet fast, a break from screens, all screens. Take a bike ride, go lift some weights, buy those groceries, get those weeds.  Once I turn away from the latest headline, I don't miss it. I find there is a bright world out there that is happy to have me. My tired eyes, my mouse-shaped hand thank me.

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