Sunday, September 30, 2018

With feeling!

Periods, commas, colons, dashes: they seem to work pretty well.  I realize that punctuation can help and I try to use it. But I think exclamation points are inadequate.  They warn that something is exciting but so do all capital letters. THIS IS IMPORTANT they say but even that needs to end with an exclamation point.

Maybe that helps to explain the rise of emoticons.  I don't use them much but I see references to a whole new set of mini-faces, tiny ghosts and other little pictures that one company or another is releasing. Personally, I find the little images too small and too difficult to decipher.  I suppose exclamations can be roughly sorted into positive and negatives types and I feel like I can usually tell which types any given picture represents. I like it better if the writer gracefully and succinctly indicates what sort of emotion is being expressed.  

I get a little impatient with myself when I post comments on Facebook from so many uses of exclamation points.  I often question whether a given phrase should be banged or not. I excuse high use by telling myself it is only to be expected that I dream up some exciting or pseudo-exciting if I am going to publicly comment to a friend.  I can get tired of exclaiming but feel a period is not right, so I end with no punctuation.

I am a guy and I have a British Isles background, so I don't go for too much emotion.  Still, I don't want to be cold and unfeeling, at least not overly so. I figured that Google Docs and Gmail would have little pictures indicating emotions.  I did a search and found these:😰 small blue face with a single tear, 👹 "Japanese ogre" 😒 Unsmiling, rather bored face. There are dozens more. I may start getting more emotional.😇 Smiley face with halo.  Look for more "con anima"!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Jects and oils and others

Does an object object?

Does a subject subject?

Does a project project?

Does a reject reject?

Does a coil coil?

Does a foil foil?

Does oil oil?

Does a boil boil?

Does a flower flower?

Does a bloom bloom?

Does a bud bud?

Does winter winter?

Does fall fall?

Does rain rain?

Does hail hail?

Does a needle needle?

Does a pain pain?

Does water water?

Does a judge judge?

Does a prostitute prostitute?

Does trouble trouble?

Does a trap trap?

Does a tumble tumble?

Does a dance dance?

Does a map map?

Does a box box?

Does a dish dish?

Does a bowl bowl?

Does a cup cup?

Does a floor floor?

Does a shed shed?

Friday, September 28, 2018

When is the holiday?

When I was in grad school, I studied subjects related to methods of research mostly.  Analysis of data is slow and ponderous without computers but computers were just then becoming available.  Our program's major professor was himself learning about computers, which at that time meant only mainframes.  Those were giant machines that would fill a normal room, were sometimes installed on specially built very level floor, and enclosed to keep them clean and at the optimum temperature and humidity.  

Our professor gave the six or so of us the assignment to produce a computer program that could give the number of days between any two dates.  Sounded ok but as time went on, we found more and more complexities, depending on which two dates were given. I wrote this about our computing adventures with the calendar back on December 27, 2015.  

Since we cussed and re-punched our computer cards to try to meet the tests of our teacher for three years, I have great respect for the scholars, calculators, thinkers, and debaters in many lands for many governments and organizations over several millennia to try and find a humanly useable system that combines in a fairly simple and straightforward way, the days, the weeks, the months and the seasons. Three cheers for the calendars!

How many days ago was that?

That course finally finished and I got my one credit in computer science.  That one credit has had a big influence on my life and Lynn's. Within a year of being hired as an assistant professor of education, I was also the director of academic computing.  Over the years, I have designed and taught courses in various aspects of computing and its relation to our lives. So has Lynn, who initially went to grad school with the idea of studying the influence of computers on typical elementary school classrooms.

This blog post was inspired by a notice in Nat Torkington's "Four Short Links" that included wrinkles and individualities of the world's many calendars.  There are enough exceptions and alternatives to make a programmer cry.

If you want to look at this interesting list of odds and ends about the calendars in use around the world, use Microsoft's Edge or Firefox. Chrome doesn't like it.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Getting shot

Google News and signs around town said that it is a good time to get a flu shot.  Lynn was busy but she interrupted herself and we took off for Walgreen's. We have been trying to get the new version of a shingles shot so we said we wanted both flu and shingles.  The shingles is a two-step, one today and one in a couple of months. Lynn hasn't had trouble with the disease but I had a mild outbreak 18 years ago. This two-step deal is supposed to be quite effective.

We were told that oldsters like us are advised to get a stronger flu shot.  But, sorry, they were out of that stuff. We got the shingles and that included a bright red band aid over the shot site.  The pharmacist said that he had been in Nigeria giving out oral polio vaccines. Babies and parents and everybody wanted one of those red band aids, as they had seen on tv.

When we got home, I called the local Wal-Mart and yes, their pharmacy gives shots and yes, they had the extra strong stuff for elders.  Lynn has been suffering a sore back and she drew the line at two shots and any possible reactions in one day. I went over and got the shot.  I was given a new sort of bandage over the shot site. It is a ring and the pharmacist put the needle in me right through the center of the ring.  He pointed out that he was not wearing gloves. He said researchers found too many cases of gloves being compromised while being put on. The special band-aid is supposed to be safer and more sanitary.

A sudden immersion in a tiny part of the American medical system.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

What am I reading?

I was quite surprised a few months ago when a friend asked what I was reading and I couldn't answer.  I knew what I needed to do. I needed to find my Kindle and look. So what does that tell me?

Maybe my memory is failing.  I am expecting it to fail. I expect that in 100 years from now, I will not remember anything.  At all. That means to me that I am on a trajectory from many memories to none. I have spurts, like the character I wrote about in the comic strip Pickles who recalled that name at breakfast one day, the name he had been trying to remember last week.  I have records, notes, photographs with dates they were taken, other paths of research that can help me remember. I have a wife, whose memories of events we participated in together rarely duplicate mine. That means her memories supplement and sometimes supplant mine.

I do have more trouble recalling a random name from the past.  I can often tell that I have the memory in my brain but I can't get it to surface.  At the time. Sometime, later, it will. But, I am also pretty sure that ebooks have changed my reading some.  Not too drastically but changed. I have many books in my Kindle. These days I may have to look to see if I do or don't have a given book.  The Kindle makes switching between books quick and easy. It makes searching a book quick and easy.

If I were a many-armed Indian goddess, I could hold several books open to a page I want to read.  The Kindle makes it more nearly possible. I tap the page I am reading in the right spot and get the home page.  That shows three of my most recent books. Another tap and I am looking at my 7 most recent reads. That not only makes switching easy, it makes comparison easy and fast.  

It turns out that I am reading several books I have read before, all about the human unconscious mind and its relation to our conscious mind and our lives.  Again, the book that keeps coming to mind is "Incognito" by Eagleman but I am also looking at Vedentam's The Hidden Brain, Fine's A Mind of Its Own and Bargh's Before You Know It.  One of the things I like about a Kindle is the ease and speed with which I can mark meaningful sentences. Those sentences are put in a single file by Amazon's software. The file can be a handy personal summary of a book.  It looks like this one, from David Weinberger's "Too Big to Know":

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Parking reconsidered

I usually think of parking the car to go into a store as a minor, somewhat mundane and boring thing.  On the local university campus, parking is a big deal. Many students live off-campus and need to drive to class, especially in Wisconsin winters.  We used to live within easy walking distance of campus but I found that quite often, I needed the car to deliver things in one direction or the other.  

Members of the learning-in-retirement organization on campus fret parking and fight parking difficulties.  One member steadily calls for the organization to somehow obtain free parking for all those with paid-up membership.  To put enough coins in a parking meter to have legal parking that lasts long enough for most presentations often amounts to more than the organization's membership fees.  Beyond that, the city government has installed parking meters on streets adjacent to the campus, in many places removing the chance to park reasonably near the classrooms without paying a fee.

But it dawned on me that the classes and conversations are the backbone of both the college experience for the 7,000 students and the organization's mostly senior citizens.  The seats in the classrooms are valuable. At the same time, the cars are also valuable. It won't work out well to simply stop the car in the middle of some street nearby and leave it there for 100 minutes.   

The evidence is piling up that ideas, social contacts and conversations are more than helpful - they are tangibly life-enhancing, life-extending.  Look it up. "Do good social contacts extend life?" You'll be impressed. So, even though we are a small city, the places to leave a car in the vicinity of the university are valuable and sought-after.  The school has an ardent parking patrol that will find your car sitting where it should not and give you a ticket that enables you to pay a fee for exercising poor judgment and underestimating the efficiency of the parking officers.

I have heard several times that while we care about classes and grades and dates and sports, we REALLY care about parking.  Put an extra coin in the meter just to be safe and to honor the importance of proximity to friendly discussions of important knowledge.  

Monday, September 24, 2018

New shows

We have a Roku streaming player that receives a signal from our wi-fi.  It is plugged into our Visio tv. We can switch between our cable input and the Roku input but we hardly ever do.  Netflix, Amazon Prime and Acorn supply shows we like and are ad-free. Once in a while, we watch a TED talk or something on YouTube.

Lynn suggested we watch the Foyle's War series again.  It has been long enough since we watched those shows that we don't remember the stories and they are all new to us again.  There are also two new shows that I like but Lynn is not in favor of: Sisters and Kim's Convenience. In Sisters, the very elderly director of a sex and fertility clinic is dying and confesses to the papers and tv stations that he used his own sperm to fertilize 103 women who came to the clinic for help.  We find out that his action resulted on 3 female babies and 100 male babies. That was roughly 20 years ago and now we are finding who is related to whom.

Kim's Convenience is the story of a small convenience grocery in Toronto run by Mr. Kim.  I like the story lines and the characters. Recently, Kim and Mrs. Kim went out for the evening and their adult son ran the store.  A teen came in and threatened the fit, wily son with a knife. The son made a deal with the robber to purchase the robber's knife. Good storyline, good show. Just as with any other family, Korean-Canadian families have changes between generations in views and goals, sometimes leaving both olders and youngers puzzled and mixed-up.

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.

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