Monday, October 15, 2018

A choice

Chade-Meng Tan in "Joy on Demand" says that if I am careful and alert, I can choose my mood.

Which should I choose?


Yucky, boring!

Clouds! Smooth gray, give rain, make inside a comfortable place to be

Clouds! Dull, unexciting, depressing

Blueberries, walnuts, oatmeal, coffee!

Same damned things again

Kids are growing up! They shine, they radiate!

Kids are not on the right track.  Are they? No discipline, no respect. Not like when - Oh, I better not get into that

I'm going to be happy as a lark!

I hate larks! And happiness!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Impressions from a country too big and complex to fully grasp

A lovely article in the October 15 issue of the New Yorker, called The Great Awakening is written by a staff writer named Jiayang Fan.  It is about the Chinese writer Yan Lianke. It is also about modern China now. The province has a history that goes back to the 11th century B.C.  That is a long history, no?

The featured writer has written 6 or 8 or so books that have been translated into English. They are satires.  He is quoted as saying that "The reality of China is so outrageous that it renders any realism inert." The article states that his writings are quietly suppressed and made rare in China or are simply totally unavailable.  He is said to know no English at all except the cry "Long Live Chairman Mao", which he learned in middle school. The city of Luoyang (population 6.5 million) is close to the village where Yan grew up. His mother is 85 years old and still lives in the village.  She knows no language other than Chinese, is illiterate and knows nothing of arithmetic or calculation.

The writer Yan sends her money monthly.  He offered to send her a year's worth at once but she was horrified at the prospect of losing her motivation to proudly hobble to the local bank each month to get money sent reliably by a loving son. Display and "face" and getting the best of someone else is said in the article to be a major source of pleasure among the mother and her neighbors.  

Yan is reluctant to let others know when he intends to visit his mother because people in the nearby large city consider him to be a local boy who has made good.  Once it is know that he is in town, he is immediately invited to this banquet or that party as a guest of honor, even though he is fully aware that nobody around there has actually read his books.

Despite the fact that he gets criticized by critics, even some official censors have praised his work and asked for signed copies.  Yan is very aware of the restrictions and barriers to a good life that he has overcome, some by diligence and some by luck.

The article describes Yan's life and a recent visit to his mother and the area.  He was accompanied by the Chinese-American writer Jiayang Fan who is conversant with Chinese, local dialects and the ins and outs of current life in modern China.

After resigning from his post in the army, Yan got a position in a university in Hong Kong, a place where information and communication flows much more freely than in central China.  

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Rhyming words and poor hearing

When you have a guy in the house who wears hearing aids (me), you find that words that sound alike can alter communication in unpredictable ways.  I laughed at the structure of the argument that Prof. Harold Hill uses to persuade the people of River City that there is a sort of corruption in town that they should pay attention to.  "...and that begins with T, which rhymes with P and that stands for "POOL".

But if the woman of the house says "looks like rain", Hearing Guy can believe that she said,'something something pain'.  (She has been bothered by back and side pain lately but she is slowly healing.)

Those initial consonants carry a great deal of meaning but they only last a fraction of a second. They are easy to mis-hear, especially if we are separated by the length of the house.

We learned decades ago that the practice of "active listening" where what is being heard is repeated, best in a paraphrased form that includes some element of the stated feelings the speaker seems to be expressing, is very useful for understanding the cognitive and emotional state of another person.  So, if I have any doubt about what was said and what was meant, I often say back the basics of what I think she said.

About half the time, my version makes her laugh since it is about something she didn't mention and hasn't thought of.

Friday, October 12, 2018

This page intentionally left blank

Just found a piece of scrap paper with only the sentence "This page intentionally left blank."  If only they would insert the word "almost". It isn't blank. I looked up the quoted sentence and the search returned 26 million hits.  I am not the first one to decide there is a little puzzle there: why call the page blank when it isn't?

The most important modern logician was Kurt Gödel (1906-1978).  He was actually working in mathematics, but his work pertains to logical puzzles that go back to the Bible and beyond.  A man says, "Anything a man says is false." Is the statement, made by a man, itself false?

I guess a publisher or a teacher might deflect questions if the page bears that sentence instead of being actually blank.  In reading about blank pages that are not blank, I read explanations that tried to explain blank-but-not-blank with the words "such a page is devoid of content".  Again, bending a little and inserting "important content" or maybe "relevant content" might help. Maybe not.

Sometimes puzzles like this are represented with pictures of a snake swallowing its own tail.  One wonders how far the process can go on? The idea and the picture go back, again, to ancient times.

Just as quotation marks assist in my writing and communicating here, the idea of a different language has been used to try to separate the statement from discussion of it.  Those quote marks are so handy that we have invented "air quotes", denoted by a gesture, to indicate which spoken words are being considered separately from what is being said about them.

I notice that comedians, politicians of more than one country, and speakers are pictured using air quotes.  I suspect there there is, or will be, a doctoral dissertation on the invention, use and spread of the gesture that looks a bit like snake fangs to me.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Other groups and my limited attention

From the website 538's 10/10/18 weekday free newsletter "Significant Digits"

15 nominees

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, that bastion of cultural relevance, announced its 2019 nominees for induction yesterday. They are The Cure, Def Leppard, Devo, Janet Jackson, John Prine, Kraftwerk, LL Cool J, MC5, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Roxy Music, Rufus & Chaka Khan, Stevie Nicks, Todd Rundgren and The Zombies. Actually seems like the makings of a pretty decent playlist, to be honest. [NPR]

I realize that I am in an old generation.  I have heard of Def Leppard, Janet Jackson, and Stevie Nicks.  I am confident that I have not heard any of the music or singing from any of them or anybody else listed.  I often listen to a CD from the Musical Heritage Society: The Early Symphonies of Mozart, volume II. That piece, symphony 47, came out of the head of a 14 year old boy 248 years ago.  I like it, Lynn likes it, and listening to it and other pieces we know well puts us in a great mood as we work in the kitchen.

There are many groups, social movements and organizations that I have never been part of.  I realize there are many video and computer games and players in the world but I never made it into their ranks.  There are many music bands, local and state and national, that I have not heard or heard of. If I were a better sports fan, there are many high school, college and professional athletes I would know about but don't.  

I tend to look at some writings on the world wide web and we get some magazines delivered to the house.  I look at Google News every day and at Facebook, even since Lynn lured me onto it. I have probably 50 blogs posted on my own blog page and in Feedly, the blog post collector.  We get three newspapers from the local community, which I rarely look at beyond the headline.

My friend recently launched a new book club and I am reading the book for it.  I am continuing to read about the subconscious mind, especially books by Prof. Timothy Wilson.  

These days, that is about as much as I want to do.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Two terrific TED talks

Sometimes, I need to find something stimulating to watch.  There are some good things, tons of good things, on YouTube.  However, there are many silly things there, too, programs, subjects and characters that do not appeal to me.  My brother-in-law informed me a decade ago that I am not in THE demographic. He meant I am too old, too wrinkled, too critical, too used-up to appeal to the hottest trendmakers, the with-it sales.  I think he is right and I am proud to be too-some-many-things.

I am a fan of TED talks and I take refuge in them.  I looked at several TED talks last night and found two that I thought were interesting enough to share with Lynn.  The first was by Simona Francese, a faculty member at Sheffield Hallam University in England. She is a researcher and has been working for nine years on improving machines and software for deeper and more complete analysis of fingerprints.  Her talk shows what she can deduce from a fingerprint and that she can untangle prints that overlap each other.

The second was Prof. Stephen Webb.  He is an astronomer and walks the viewer through the evidence and reasoning behind the hypothesis that we humans are the only life form in the galaxy that are as advanced as we are.  The idea is developed more completely in the book "Rare Earth" by Ward and Brownlee, a book that Webb mentions in his talk.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Search it!

Lynn was quite surprised when her DNA results indicated Native American blood.  She doesn't look Native American but she has some Taino ancestors, a tribe in the area of the Caribbean islands. She was interested in knowing more about the tribe, especially in pre-Columbus days.  I searched Google and found some of their music.

Some people fear practicing still meditation.  They think it may undermine their religious faith.  I searched Google for "Baptist meditation", "Episcopal meditation", "Presbyterian meditation" and found many references and discussions for each of those topics.

Recently, a friend said that she couldn't talk to me since I was revealing opinions and practices not in accord with her deeply held beliefs.  She was actually joking and has continued to talk to me but her words reminded me of a general practice of expecting members of a group to avoid opinions and people who hold them that run counter to the group's creeds or leader's indications.

This rather brings up the question not of free speech but of free listening.  Maybe we should throw in a reference to free reading, too. In today's world, there are very few subjects that Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo and other search engines can't connect a search to at least some information about.  Try it: think of a weird subject or even a combination of letters and try searching for it. "Salted pictures" returns 20 million hits. I have no idea what is being meant by the term but something is. Likely, several things.  "Algebraic stones" returns 634,000 hits.

It can be frustrating to try to think of a new name or term that isn't already in use.  I am often called "Bill" although that name does not appear on my birth certificate. "How many men in the world are called Bill?" returns 485,000,000 hits.  I didn't look at all of them but I know I may be unique but my name isn't.

I don't have unlimited energy and I only keep up with Google a little bit.  I have seen that Google can give answers to personal questions. "Should I have my tonsils out?" gives 6.9 million results.  Whatever the question, modern search software can give some answers. Not necessarily good answers or personally helpful ones but some answers.  

With any puzzle or worry or possible venture, you can ask your mate, your banker or your mother about it.  But you can also spending hours procrastinating with Google.

Monday, October 8, 2018

trying to keep up with art market news

Banksy again:

2 million pounds and up

On Friday, a Banksy painting shredded itself immediately after being sold for $1.4 million at Sotheby's in London — a prank precipitated by the artist in an apparent statement against the commercialization of art and the excesses of the art market. However, the shredded painting may be worth far more now — some 2 million pounds ($2.6 million) or more, according to a website that resells Banksy pieces. [Slate]

Hurray for cheerleaders!

I like classical music, mostly Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, and Rossini.  But I am not very musical. So, I was surprised to find myself in the drum corps of my all-male public high school.  I like rhythm, I can detect the beat in most Western music and I can keep it steady. I like the sound of snare drums.

In high school and beyond, my eye noticed girls and women and my ear detected their voices.  So, it seemed natural that I could appreciate and get along with the girl flag twirlers and majorettes who were part of our drum corps.  I became the main trainer of the girls, who came from across the all-girl public high school across the street from my school.

As a high school and college wrestler, we also had cheerleaders stirring up the crowd of fans while we wrestled, but I never had enough brain space to consider them while trying to deal with wiley, slippery opponents.  Somewhere, lately, I read that cheerleading is a more or less American activity and that it is unknown in many other countries. I really enjoy taking my questions to Google search and I just asked Googled "Are there teams of female cheerleaders in other countries?'  

The answers lead me to think there is less interest in our style of cheerleading than I guessed.  Here is one example:

When we led groups of American college students on 10 week trips through Britain and Europe, we learned about American smiles.  I thought that it was big-city vs. small towns. In any big city I have been in anywhere, smiles are reserved for a specific recipient, not for general broadcasting.  But, the linked article says that some cultures feel that smiling in public makes the smiler look weak or idiotic.

The question arose for me "Do cheerleaders make a difference?"  There are many possible differences: tickets purchased, games won, victory margins.  Here is an article that estimates cheerleaders are worth four times what they get paid:

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Still pursuing the unconscious mind

Somewhere I got the idea that David Eagleman was an author worth reading.  I downloaded "Incognito" and read it. It was very good. I knew it was good enough that Lynn would like it and I read the book a second time, aloud, to her.  I found myself thinking of what I had read and describing the book to others.

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking through the table of contents on Kirbyvariety, my web site when I found this page:

I felt confident that I would not find anything listed that I was not already fully familiar with, but I was wrong.  I could recall the first two listed and the last one but I had forgotten about the two by Prof. Wilson. I have been looking at them again.  As usual, I find important ideas and examples that I feel like I have never seen before.

In the past, habits have seemed the best evidence I know about that I have an unconscious mind and that it directs many things in me.  I have read before that many procedural patterns of thought reside in the head for a long time. So, I am not surprised that I can ride a bike, as I have since I was 7 years old. Recently, the change pocket in my car got so full that my garage door remote no longer stays in the pocket and often tumbles out on the floor of the car.  Just try moving that device to a new location and see how you find yourself feeling around for it, where it "ought" to be but isn't.

Today, reading in "Strangers to Ourselves", Prof. Wilson explained that when we look at a scene, we quickly and unconsciously decide what is important and what isn't.  I am familiar with the famous invisible gorilla exercise, and I realize that my own mind or someone else can get me to pay attention to one aspect of something and miss another aspect completely.

The performer-magician Apollo Robbins is famous for his pickpocket abilities.  He is expert at getting people to pay attention over there while he picks their pocket over here.  If you look at the page linked above, you will probably also see some links to Robbins' performances.  

Buddhist and modern breath experts often mention breathing as a body process that is under unconscious control but can be temporarily taken over by the conscious mind, as when you breathe deeply and slowly for a few breaths.  The direction of attention seems to be a similar process. The eye will go to movement without conscious decision to look that way, but we can concentrate our vision on a butterfly if we want to.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Banksy and Sotheby's

I don't know how many people have been pestering me about news from the art world.  So, in response to those non-existent expressions of interest, I direct your attention to this important bit of info from "Marginal Revolution", a blog usually about economic news and ideas:

Old wonders

I read this morning that when the railroad started being available in the US, one of many consequences was that citrus fruit from California could reach parts of the US in edible condition for the first time.  Imagine tasting a good ripe orange for the first time.

I try to keep in mind the two miracles of railroad and telegraph.  Today, they don't seem that miraculous, not compared to cars, jets, internet and smartphones.  But if you read "What Hath God Wrought?" by Daniel Walker Howe, you can get a good grip on the stunning miracle of traveling at unheard-of speeds for unheard-of distances carrying impossible amounts of goods along using a train.  You can get the idea of completely unbelievable business of being able to get the exact words you choose from one coast of North America to the other in less than one minute.

We hear quite a bit about the world changing these days.  The meanings of words change, the meanings of acts like marriage, retirement, and suicide, change.  The meaning of age changes, as more people live to advanced ages and do so while remaining in good, and even in vigorous, health. But it can be fun and eye-opening to try to recapture the wonder and amazement of previous new ways and changed possibilities.

We seem to think of communication and travel changes but don't forget about medical changes.  It is true that we still have trouble with certain conditions but it is undeniably amazing what modern medicines can do.  Take a look at "The Demon Under the Microscope" by Thomas Hager to move back for a minute to a time when a scratch could mean an unstoppable infection.  Things have changed in that area since I was born.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Melting indicators, melting identities

Quite a while back, I read a comment by Spencer Wells, the director of the Genographic Project at the National Geographic Society.  The Genographic Project uses DNA analysis to indicate the path one's ancestors took from central Africa, where we began, to more recent locations.  Wells commented that the human world is getting mixed up and intermingled and that before long, one's genetic markers will not correspond to geographic markers.

This past Monday, I listened to a presentation in Waupaca's Winchester Academy about the dissolution of race.  The vice president of Lawrence University for diversity is Dr. Kimberly Barrett. Dr. Barrett is Afro-American and is the wife of a Caucasian man.  She gave figures on the expanding US census category of multi-racial citizens. The number is rising, as the intermixing of people from all over the world proceeds.  Dr. Barrett envisioned being a mother but she imagined that she would have a child that was recognized as Afro-American. Instead, her son was light skinned, blonde and had green eyes.  He looked Caucasian and she was sometimes taken to be his babysitter instead of his mother.

In America, despite many high sounding words, there has been a centuries long period of persecution and worse because of peoples' appearance, usually skin color and other features of appearance.  The "whites", "blacks","reds" and "yellows" have not gotten along well. From the superficial bit that I know about, much of the nasty history can be considered the doing of the "whites", the majority group for most of years since European Americans arrived in the Americas.  

I recently read a comment from the anthropologist Jared Diamond that there has never been a society that didn't have grades, levels, classes and other stratifications.  Maybe there never will be. Some of the populist and nationalist movements over the last century have marked segments of the population as different, disgusting and dangerous.  This sort of push to mark as negative is not new. A nobleman in times past was informed that his soldiers had a group trapped but were not sure which were our people and which weren't.  He is said to have ordered the soldiers to kill them all and rely on God to sort their souls after death. I am confident the nobleman believed our people would be passed on to paradise while the others would be sent elsewhere.  How it all worked out is not known at this time.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Do you have your hearing aids in?

Lynn says "Do you have your hearing aids in?" just about anytime I don't.  The hearing aids fit behind my ears so they are exposed to anything that hits me on the top of my head, like rain.  I haven't tried simply wearing them in the rain and as soon as I step out of the house or the car, I remove them. They cost about $2,000 each and I want them to last.  

We talk to each other often during the day and anytime I speak without wearing my hearing aids, I automatically begin to shout.  I try give myself the same sound feedback without them as with them, and that requires a higher volume. She hears me blasting away and asks me to check.  I am used to having them in and on my ears and I have to use my hands to tell if I have them in/on or not.

Over time, about six years or so, my hearing aids have gotten to be more important to our lives.  I read recently something like 75% of the people in the US who need them, don't have them. Expense is usually cited as the reason.  It probably is one of the main reasons but there are plenty of others. It takes effort to note that you don't hear what another person is saying and to ask for a repeat and clarity.  Doing that many times a day is a drag on a relationship and tiresome.

Traditionally, men have felt and been encouraged to feel that one's ears and hearing will be just fine and not to worry about high levels of noise.  Machinery is often quite loud. When I was 10, I had my ears cleaned by the camp doctor and immediately went to the rifle range, where the shots were painfully loud.  I had no idea that my hearing should be protected and took no steps to protect it. More and more, I see men working near loud trucks or driving loud lawn equipment wearing ear protection.

I have never been pleased with a restaurant or a bar or a dance with very loud music.  Yet, it is still the practice to have high volume, very high volume at social events. Google "why do fashionable restaurants play such loud music" and see for yourself.  I didn't explore many of the search results but none that I did look at gave actual data on sales or appreciation of high noise versus low.

I have mentioned before the book by Seth Horowitz "The Universal Sense".  It is about hearing all over the world and in all animals, not just humans.  It is true that many of us can read and write and don't use sound perception to do that, but it is still the case that speech is fundamental to humans and we need to be able to hear others.  There are lots of older men grumbling about not being able understand the speech of their granddaughters. I hope they visit an audiologist and get some good hearing aids. Good hearing is at least as important as driving.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Imagining paradise

In a personal or employment situation that involves steady labor, it is probably easy to dream of not having to work.  When I think of work, I tend to use the word I just did: Labor, meaning hard steady work. Work these days may involve many required steps, concentration of the mind and maybe the hands and eyes, as with a teacher who has 150 term papers to read and judge (fairly and honestly, we hope). So, for many people, paradise may include not having to work, or not having to do the work one has been doing.  

I read today of the benefits of coffee.  The author had read such praise of drinking coffee that he got excited and wrote "he was just one cup away from being invincible."  I think boys and men are more likely to think that being invincible would heavenly than girls and women would. I don't think I have many places in my life where I need or desire invincibility, which I take to mean I can't be defeated.  I haven't been defeated in a long string of days, not because I am invincible, but because I am not in contests or fights or struggles or wars.

Would I have a better marriage if I were invincible? Would my friendships be better if I could not be defeated?  Maybe, I were invincible and knew that I could rely on being that way, I might pick more fights, engage in more, say, financial competitions with other businesses, knowing that I would always come out on top.  But, I suspect that being invincible is just shorthand, just a word symbol, for no worries and only pleasantries. Whether we are imagining heaven or only pleasantries or wonderful achievements, it seems very difficult to specify all the variables one wants set just so.  

Daniel Gilbert is a psychologist at Harvard and the author of "Stumbling on Happiness."  That book relates to ordinary human attempts to imagine or specify what one wants for complete paradise, total wonderfulness.  If our attention is naturally drawn to a sore muscle, heaven might be said to be freedom from muscle pain. But most days, when we are free from muscle pain, we don't congratulate ourselves on being in heaven.  It is more likely that we are fretting about our bills or getting an oil change for the car.

I wonder if we simply aren't built for heaven, at least not a worry-free, possibly boring existence of no challenges, no needs, no rewards and concomitantly, no loses, no defeats, no worries or bothers.  I am not yet to a place of being thankful for irritations, mistakes and failures but maybe I am moving in that direction.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Direct quick Googles

I am interested in quick and direct services available in Google search.  Like this:

  1. Flip a coin

  2. Calculate body mass index

  3. Change dollars to euros

  4. Give local time at stated locations

Try it.  Just open a Google search page on a phone, computer or tablet and and type "flip a coin".  I am confident that information is available on the honesty of the flips.

As is often the case with Google searches, the wording can matter very much. It seems that one simply has to try different wording and see what works.  I tried "What can Google do directly other than flip a coin…?" and the result was poor. My wording was too long and complex.

I switched to "What can Google do?"  I already knew about what is listed above. I found several great items here

I forgot about the timer but I have already used it.  "Set a timer for 1 minute" or other times. There are other articles on odd, silly, funny or imaginative things Google can do immediately.

This too

Monday, October 1, 2018

Younger people

I am almost into my 9th decade of life.  I have greatgrandchildren so I have some experience with multiple generations.  I have daily interactions with people younger than 20 and older than 80. I continue to think that a person's age is often the most important fact about them.  Not because of aging but because of experience.

Sure, aging, sickness and death are all important, just as the Buddha pointed out millennia ago.  We age from conception on. We get sick and eventually death catches us. But it seems to me that what I experience daily, what it all means to me, has much to do with my life experience.  If I am 15, I haven't grown up completely. Usually, at that age I am still under the strong influence of my parents. By 25, I am probably full grown but I am quite inexperienced. Many people think that when they reach 40, they have entered the middle part of life.  Maybe by then, they have what seems like a genuine work history. Often, they are parents and have been married for a while, maybe more than once.

I have quoted James Michener's advice before: Fool around (he meant don't be overly focused. He was not advising sexual promiscuity.) until you are 40 since before that, you are too young and green.

Of course, many people have lived through harrowing experiences, had work successes and failures that definitely matter, started businesses and had business failures, had serious physical, mental, emotional and social events in their lives by age 40.  In general, people worldwide are living longer, communicating more and staying in better health that ever. That means that generations, different age groups, can have very different experiences. They can be lead to different habits, interests and pastimes.  

I enjoy going around mumbling, "It's not like when I was a kid."  I don't remember any family members saying that, but of course, clothing, entertainment, marriage, diet and food, transportation, money and banking and nearly anything else I can think of has indeed changed very much since I was a child.  

The idea for this post came from this story announced on Firefox's Pocket service, which shows interesting items on the Start a New Page tab:

We have seen this before in all countries and civilizations.  The elders teach A, B and C and pretty soon the young people are not only trying to actually do what those principles espouse, they fully believe them!

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