Friday, August 23, 2019

There is more than just a caption

I am re-listening to Prof. Dan Gilbert of Harvard psychology read his "Stumbling on Happiness".  I remember the book as his rundown of evidence that we generally are not very good at predicting what will make us happy or at how happy something will make us.  He was talking about predictions and about comparisons of events. Were we happier when this happened or when that happened? Very slippery question!

He commented that events are like movies but have even more dimensions, also known as important variables.  They take place over time, they involve sights, sounds, smells, timing and many aspects, but what gets stored in our memory is more of a synopsis containing what we take to be the "main ideas" of the event.  We attended the wedding and were wowed by the beauty of the bride but we have no memory of what tie the pastor wore. Gilbert memorably said that synopses of movies are stored but not the full movie. When we are searching, we don't want to sit through several entire movies.  We just want a quick summary of the "main points" of the movies. We realize that quick summaries are not going to include what tie the pastor or the bad guy wore. We can't store the whole movie in our heads. There isn't enough storage room. We store captions of pictures but not the detailed pixels.

It is no wonder that some Trivia players have to take movie notes on the make of the getaway car and the amount of money stolen.  There is too much information to remember it all. That is the way our memories work: summaries of what seems important at the time.

In "Breath by Breath", Larry Rosenberg tried to avoid fidgeting in a group meditation when he was bitten by a mosquito.  The bite itched but he didn't want to move or scratch. He found that if he attended to the exact sensations that darned bite produced, they were surprisingly complex, unstable and interesting.  The itch comes and goes. It waxes and wanes but it is not steady or unchanging. Quite surprisingly varied. It is easy to say "I was bitten and it itched" but the reality was much more complicated.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Is it time?

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

We have even more things to talk of than the Walrus, the Carpenter and Lewis Carroll.  That guy was unable to watch CNN. He may well have given no thought to the future of democracy or of our home planet.

With such an array of possible topics,distractions and interests, we must be prepared to pare.  Without watching the latest tv show or reading that interesting-sounding book, without tasting all the dishes on the menu, we must march forward, resolute but continually bathed in ignorance of all the alternatives.  Stubbornly asserting our right to try without possessing all the answers and even without all the questions, let's carry on!

Blocked twice so far

I have tried sending to fewer addressees after having this bounce twice.  Bill

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Two of four batches blocked

I send my blog out in four batches.  The contents are identical but, of course, the email addresses differ.  Two of the batches this morning were marked by software some place as spam and were intercepted.  

Here is the text of this morning's blog, minus the one link I included to my own dissertation on my own web site.

I am a little worried about my attitude later. I have been good, mostly, for a long time and I think I am going to be cleared for Heaven in the afterlife.  But the thing is I can get critical. And antsy. I can just see myself noticing downsides to perfectly fine things.  

I do it now.  You show me something good and Zip! Before my next breath, I have noticed something that might be a little wrong, a little disappointing, something that is a bit imperfect or slightly off.  I am listening again to Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor, read his "Stumbling on Happiness" book. It is about the foibles humans have in the matter of finding happiness and I have them all.  

I wrote my dissertation "An Application of Decision Theory to Education" more than 50 years ago but I still recall the comments various researchers made about human reactions.  People tend to have positive or negative reactions nearly instantaneously to just about everything. True, as we age, we often get a bit wise to the wiring and temper those initial impulses to downgrade the deal.  But think of it, all eternity! I mean even peaches and butter creams could get old in that much time.

I can just see me developing a headache and being a headache.  I wonder: 

do people ever get ejected for a poor attitude?  I can see me going downhill overtime attitudently, becoming grumpier and more of a pain to all around me.  I suppose Heavenly authorities have developed some measures to deal with boredom, negativity and all. I wonder if they have some pills or something.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Rocky moments

We went to Lake Superior.  That is where you meet rocks.  They are good for throwing into the water, for taking as souvenirs, for bringing home as paper weights.

This stack of papers are prompts for blog posts.  The stack sits below a window so our rocks help the stack to stay where it should be.  The two on the left are genuine Lake Superior rocks but the one on the right is made of felt by Emily Graf of Sheepish Ewe Sometimes, Graf sews them together in a mat or rug or cushion for a chair. 

Rocks matter.  Our greatgranddaughter collected a batch at the lake but forgot them in our car.  We hastened to get them to her. Our own collection of lake rocks has lasted for years.  

Monday, August 19, 2019

Appealing in 2 dimensions

I was surprised when I looked up cartoon characters that mattered to me.  I first think of Wily E. CoyoteThat's him on the right, facing the Roadrunner.  Wily is fast and persistent but dumb and mechanically limited.  He falls when he means to stay upright, he fails to extinguish flames that he should have and he handles explosives from the Acme Co. insecurely. But what surprised me was the large number of cartoon figures I found on YouTube accompanied by what appeared to be Arabic or Russian writing.

Wily matters to me because my greatgrandson laughed heartily at the poor coyote's mishaps.  Thinking of his pleasure, I thought back to other cartoon characters I have enjoyed. Bugs Bunny, Goofy and Tom and Jerry were ok but I liked more unusual personalities more.  Snagglepuss was cocky and quick-witted.

Much of American media and culture is about speed and winning and boast.  So the little dog, Droopy, stands out. He is described as depressed but he is surprisingly capable, winning races and outwitting bad characters while retaining his slow speech and down-to-earth approach to situations. While looking Droopy up, I discovered that he has a twin brother, Drippy, and a son, Dripple.

There is a Wikipedia article on this guy that may be of interest.

Haughty overconfidence coupled with stupidity and bad luck, fast talk and nonchalance and even slow and clear-eyed views of the world can be learned and verified by well-done and memorable cartoons in any language or culture.  

Sunday, August 18, 2019


I can get a good idea for a blog post or a Google search, only to forget it.  Often, when I forget, I am unable to recall it. The best antidote I have found is making an immediate note.  I considered using my old-fashioned cell phone to make a quick voice recording but I haven't developed the habit sufficiently.  I have been carrying a typical 8x11" sheet of scrap paper folded into sixteenths and a small Palm pen:

It works better if I break off the keychain loop, making the pen even smaller and more pocketable.  

It is surprising how smoothly and rapidly the mind moves from one thing to another.  Once I get an idea, I can remember it if I make a note quickly, but there are many ways and things that can intercede. Distractions abound.  

Between alternative things to think about that come from my head and purposely colorful distractions from life around me, it is fairly easy to lose something from my mind permanently that seems valuable.  As I sit here composing, I hear music. What is playing? Who is playing that music? If I were using visiting a high traffic web site, I might find that what I was reading was suddenly covered by an ad or an article about something entirely different.  

It surprises me how many distractions there are around me.  The phone rings. Go check if it is someone I have been trying to talk to.  I don't recognize the number. Try to memorize it and look and see if that number is in my contacts.  Now what was the interesting idea I had? Gone, baby, permanently gone. 

Having been alerted by repeated events, modern practices around here and on the internet, I have gotten interested in distractions.  My wife asks me to take out the trash. "Dear, you look so good in that top! The color goes with those slacks and with your skin tone."  Slip in the right comment and maybe she will automatically take out the trash herself while she basks in her excellent choice of clothes for the day.  Apollo Robbins, that expert pickpocket and reliever of watches and wallets, shows that the right comment, the misdirecting gesture and I will forget what I wanted to think about and begin thinking about something else. 

You want to talk about gun control?  I am glad you brought that up! I like the way you stick to your agenda and keep our attention on issues that matter.  Your fix on what matters reminds me of what my sainted mother used to tell me as a boy: Don't slip and slide! Hew to the line! Let's get back to this when we meet again.  Sorry, that is all the time I have right now.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

"Gutenberg to Google"

I just finished "From Gutenberg to Google" by Tom Wheeler.  I also read his "Mr. Lincoln's T-mails" and Elizabeth Eisenstein's "Divine Art, Infernal Machine".  I have posted the hightlights I made in Gutenberg here:

I enjoyed the book more than I expected to.  I have read some of Elizabeth Eisenstein's "Divine Art, Infernal Machine" but I feel I have grasped more about moving from writing by hand to printing from Wheeler's Gutenberg.  

In today's world, how could print be exciting?  It's so commonplace, so static. Both Eisenstein and Wheeler explain that the cost of a book when written by hand was high but much cheaper when printed.  It seems natural to me to think of moveable type, but at first the notion was to make a block to print a whole page and then a new block for the next page.  People are reported to be so astounded that a given page in one copy was identical to the same page in another copy, that they figured the producers of this stuff HAD to be in league with the devil.  They weren't kidding! The printers were reported to the police for witchcraft and deviltry.

I learned that Martin Luther, much like Lincoln and the telegraph in Wheeler's other book, happened to post his complaints about indulgences at the time the printing press was available.  I didn't know that earlier complaints had been made but without the printing press or the notion of using it, those earlier complaints had gone nowhere. With the press, all of Germany had good access to the Luther theses within 15 days of their creation.  Those ideas and the speed of their spread resulted in 200 years of warfare, bloodshed and realignment of religious and polticial forces.

Wheeler does a lovely job of explaining that the telegraph and the train moving people and goods were literally unbelieveable.  People worried about the physical effects on their bodies of transporting themselves at (wait for it) 25 miles an hour!!! At a time when most people MIGHT have heard of something called electricity, word spread that messages were being sent by lightening.  It was said that messages and information could be sent across the US in less than a minute. Had to be bull!

Then, just as we were getting used to all this, along comes Marconi with his wireless, sending voice right through the air.  The air! More deviltry! Where will it all end?

Wheeler explains that all of the networks that have grown up, have tended to be centralized, much like today's hub airplane paths.  If we have a few central hangars where we can repair and shuffle passengers, we can cover vast areas with our services. But with the internet and with ubiquitous computers and smartphones, more and more of us can communicate quickly and cheaply with more and more of us. True, some of the communication may be porn or insults or hatred but much of it will not be.  In the last week, as many people looked at this blog from outside the US as looked at the blog page from inside. I have no idea if they gained from looking at it or even read it or even can read English. But not for the first time, things are changing.

Friday, August 16, 2019

An unhealthy diversity of interests

A friend was told she had an unhealthy diversity of interests.  If I get told that, I may consider the statement but I may also ignore it.  I would likely be affected by my feelings toward the teller. Whatever I felt or had recently about the person making the statement, I might be able to shorten my reflection time by asking myself what I felt about my interests.  I guess I would add in thinking about my concentration.

Am I a flitter?  Do I run from interest to interest, leaving too much undone, half done?  Since I am old enough to have had many interests, which I take to mean many things to look at, engage in, consider, I probably have had enough experience to have a grounded judgment about my behavior.  I have several credentials as an interested reader. But my parents and grandparents did not accuse me of reading too much nor of jumping from subject to subject nor flitting around among different books too much.

There is a great deal of writing on the subject of mental concentration and focus.  Much meditation language is about focusing on a single anchor but usually the anchor is an arbitrary point that, in itself, is meaningless.  It seems to me that practicing a strong focus and awareness of a single point tends to increase my ability to notice when my attention moves to something else.  For 10 minutes or so, being more aware of what I am attending to produces greater mindfulness that continues on after the practice session.

However, that single point practice often morphs over time into using a different focus, my attention itself.  If I can watch my mind's associations, its chaining from one topic to another is amazing. Take my grandmother.  I can see her now. I can move from her diminutive stature to her smoking, her comments, her history, her opinions, her love of the drama of professional wrestling on the fun new box, that 10" television set, you know, the box that weighed almost as much as she did.  Should I avoid thinking about my grandmother? Should you? Are you experiencing an unhealthy diversity of interests as you allow yourself to think of my grandmother?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

We are back

Our trip went well. 79 yr olds thinking they are 80 while taking three elementary-school-aged greatgrandkids here and there among forests, lakes, hills and memories is a great way to spend a few days.  Now the few days are spent and we are onto a more typical daily schedule. More over the next few days.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

A golden opportunity

Warning! Warning!  You aren't doing what we want.  We have advised you to take certain steps but you are continuing to not take them.  It would be better if you would click here, take our advice, answer our questions, and buy the very special offers we offer you when we offer them.  You must realize, after repeated warnings, that these special products will not be available at these special prices for very long. Please spend your money on what we advise and please let your friends know how happy you are to have taken our advice.

We have given advice to many people.  Why you lang behind in accepting our suggestions is a mystery.  It is possible that you will not continue to receive our advice if you accept messages we compose and send at our expense but fail to take the steps we earnestly advise.  You must not expect to have our advice comes at no cost while you continue to fail to follow our suggestions.  

You have the opportunity now to correct your course.  You can establish a new and impressive record of following our advice carefully and closely.  Why not seize this wonderful chance to change for the better? Your grandparents and their brothers and sisters, ancestors who contributed to this great country would be so proud if you build a solid record of doing what we advise.

This is the time to put the shameful, non-compliant past behind you and step forth into a bright future of doing what, in your heart, you know we deeply want.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Where did they put the brie?

We have three major grocery stories in our town of 25,000.  All of them are owned by chains headquartered elsewhere. Two of the three have recently undergone renovation and redesign of their layouts.  So that is why you can see people wandering the aisles with confused or unhappy looks on their faces.  

I used to be able to go into the store, walk to the Triscuits or the nuts, pay and leave.  When the store was still using its old map, there would sometimes be single pages posted at the end of every other aisle listing many of the main items people buy and the aisle number where they can be found.

Now, we are all confused and this is the time that the location sheets are missing!!  I assume the new operation is data-driven. Let's move the sugar to where the cooking oil used to be because data shows that the sales of cooking oil rise a bit when it is shelved nearer the back of the store.  I suppose the store app will give me the location of the cashews but I don't have a smartphone and I am not getting one. I have shopped in the local store for 20 years and we have not had a serious re-design before.  I hope it is at least that long before we have another one.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Why write

My friend started her own blog, "Where's my watch?".  She is writing about her life, her thoughts and her career.  I email my blog to about 70 people daily. Mind you, emailing to them is not the same as their reading my post.  Reading my post is not the same as them enjoying it or being inspired or aided in any way by it. 

I asked her why she writes and her answer reminded me of my own thoughts.  Karen Maezen Miller, a Zen teacher, posted a comment the other day from George Orwell, "seeing what is right in front of you takes unremitting effort."  Maybe, maybe not. If you think you know what is right in front of you, you might not notice some detail that seems unimportant. I am still roaming around in ideas of attending and noticing, as well as thinking about mind wandering.  I have read lots of books about attending, focusing and being aware but only one, I think, about mind-wandering, The Wandering Mind: What the Brain Does When You're Not Looking by Michael C. Corballis, a retired New Zealand psych. Professor.

The other day I was thinking about gazing and attention.  I thought of a 5 pointed star.It has 5 points that jut out from the body, each made of two short sides.  There are those 10 line segments. There are five points and five internal places where one side starts and another stops.  Ten lines and ten points for a total of 20 items. 2^20 =1,048,576 possible selections from all those items. So, a person who wanted to look at parts of the image might very well dwell on different subsets of what is there for over a million days.  That would give the person more than 2800 years of gazing targets. No wonder you select different aspects of the scene to fix on than what I choose.

That is just a simple 5 pointed star.  A whole day is much more complicated that the diagram.  I might see more money matters in my day than you see, or more environmental themes or note more social or meal-related themes.  If I had the same day twice, I might well stumble onto different subjects on the two versions of the day.  

Between my brain and my keyboard, I use different skills and neurons when I write about a theme or an idea than when I sit still and think.  It is fun and valuable to run through a set of ideas, turn them into what seem to be descriptive words, and get them on a blog page.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Infant vs. elder

Some of my friends or their mates are frail.  Babies seem fragile. "Frail" is "easily broken" and "fragile" is "easily broken, too.  I am wondering whether a 2 yr old or a 98 yr old needs the most care. I realize that most 98 yr olds have had a driving license but now cannot drive.  I am confident that not a single 2 yr. has ever driven a car. The 98 yr old may know that he used to drive and he may be in a bad mood about no longer being able or legally allowed to drive.  

If the elder is losing mental capacities, especially if they come and go, he might think that he can do some electrical work or use a hunting rifle when in fact he can't successfully.  The 2 yr. old would not normally have any idea about electricity or guns but that doesn't mean of course that he isn't going to tug on the trigger or put a metal nail file into a wall socket.

I have not had much intimate care duties of a 2 yr old nor any at all of an elderly man.  I can see similarities between a little kid and an elderly man in both behavior and care needs.  The baby may just explore everything continuously but the elder may get ideas, notions or irritations that propel his behavior or speech. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Recognition by fob

When I got my new car, I was also given a fob.  I suppose the head of the key that doesn't fit in a keyhole just kept being made larger and larger while the teeth of the key became obsolete. Eventually, I have a simple chunk of metal and electronic components that is rather heavy and expensive and makes my pants bulge oddly. 

I got plenty from reading "Incognito", a book that convinced me that my conscious mind is limited and that other parts of my brain and body can do things without my deciding to do them.  My best example has been moving the trash can in this room to a different location and then finding myself tossing a ball of paper over where the trash can used to be.

With the fob in my pocket or my hand, the car "recognizes" me.  If I try to open the door without the fob, nothing. With it, the door opens.  My hands and arms are used to finding the ignition switch and inserting the key properly.  Now there is just a button: press it (with my foot pressing on the brake) and the engine starts.  Again, without the fob close by, nothing.  

I seem to be developing a close relation with my sweet car.  It knows me and it likes me, only me.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Daniel Boone problem

I read years ago that when Daniel Boone spotted smoke from a new cabin's chimney only five miles away, he decided his neighborhood was getting too crowded.  I just read Wikipedia that the story is not true and that he was an important frontier citizen in several locales. I thought "the Daniel Boone problem" was how much citizen density one could take, but the whole thing seems to be hokum visited an innocent little boy and his imagination.  

I read that Camus said that hell is other people but when I checked with Google, I found that Sartre said that, not Camus.  But Sartre wrote the line in a play where three people have just discovered themselves to be in hell, where they were taught there would be fire and torture but learn that they are going to have to be among the company of the other people forever.

Pocket, the new page service in the Firefox browser, showed me this article today:

There seem to be many people trying to decide if they are too alone, have too much solitude, are alone too little, need more solitude.  It might be helpful to distinguish being alone with one's self and no one else, from being rather near others but without speech or other communication.  There is also the situation where one is among others, but they are talking with others only, as on a crowded busy street.

Lynn has been attending Quaker meeting since the early 90's.  The Quakers were interested in doing without the religious middlemen and sought a direct relation with God.  You can be among hundreds of Quakers and find everyone being still and quiet. Lynn also benefits from full solitude, where one is alone by oneself in a field or forest.

Personally, I can enjoy paying attention to another or a group of others without speaking.  Just looking at each other off and on can be quite satisfying. In a still group that is silently meditating and not paying attention to the presence of others, there can be both awareness of others and strong solitude. Hunters in a stand may be very quiet and still while being totally conscious of others in the group.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Mid Day of Summer

Today is the middle of summer.  Well, it's close. I guess the more specific way to calculate it is to get the date and time of the spring equinox and the date and time of the fall equinox.  Take half of that and add that amount of time to the spring date and time. Google tells me that the fall equinox will occur at 2:50 AM on Monday, September 23.  But I think of the 21st of March, June, September and December as the beginning of the seasons. Taking the 2nd month after each of these (May, August, November and February), I take the 4th day of those months as the mid point of the season.  

It seems reasonable to me that the 2nd half of summer would be hotter than the first half, what with heat deep in the land and stones and water.  I just saw an article that the last couple of summers in the northern hemisphere were hotter in the first half. I don't know what is predicted for the US Midwest this year.  I know that August, September and October are often months when big storms rise up in the Carribean area. I hope we don't have that this year but I am not especially optimistic.  

A couple of weeks ago, we had serious weather conditions in central Wisconsin.  A macroburst created very damaging winds, which knocked down large numbers of trees.  Just losing a good tree is quite unpleasant but it is much worse to have a tree crush a car or a garage or a house.  Falling trees broke many power lines, leaving people with no electricity. I realize that the pioneers had no electricity and survived but we aren't pioneers.  We were without juice for about 50 hours straight and we lost quite a bit of frozen meat and vegetables. It would be nice to not have that happen again for another quarter century.  

Sunday, August 4, 2019

"The odds were stacked against me"

"The odds were stacked against me."  I read that sentence recently. It can be surprising that odds are stacked against us in so many things.  It is true that the calculation of odd depends on the event we are talking about. The chance that I lived thru yesterday is 100%.  The probability that I live through today seems like it is less than 100%. That event is uncertain.

Reading The Tangled Wing by Prof. Melvin Konner years ago, I got a picture of the processes that go on in the developing fetus.  He described a nerve connection that needed to arc across the whole brain and connect up to an exact spot way on the other side.  A miss would result in a serious impairment. That sort of thinking made me search Google with the question "What % of American babies are born with handicaps?" I found this:

What are Birth Defects? | CDC

Birth defects are common, costly, and critical conditions that affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year. Read more about what we have learned about birth defects and how women can improve their chances of having a baby born without a birth defect.

The chance, the probability, the odds depend on what gets counted.  What gets counted depends on definition of terms. The counting depends on recognition as well.  If I keep an ace up my sleeve, it might not get counted.  

So the odds could be stated to be 32:1 that a fetus develops without a birth defect. But I notice a slight change in language: I searched about handicaps and got a result about birth defects.  I suppose if I am born and classified as not having any "birth defects" but die of alcoholism at age 50, I might have been classified as having a handicap if science and prediction were better and could see further.

Because readers of this blog have reached birth, I got to wondering what are the chances that a fertilized egg implants properly in the womb.  I have read that the chances are not good:

It is widely accepted that natural human embryo mortality is high, particularly during the first weeks after fertilisation, with total prenatal losses of 70% and higher frequently claimed.

Early embryo mortality in natural human reproduction: What the data say

Gavin E. Jarvisa

So the odds were stacked against us even making it to and through birth! I have read many times that women live longer than men.  

The numbers don't lie: women tend to live longer than men. The average American man will live to age 76, according to the latest CDC figures, while the average woman in America will live to age 81

So, you might label me as handicapped for being born male.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Stressing for health

(Since I am elderly, many of my relatives and friends are on the lookout for my demise.  That is one idea that I use to prod myself into a post in this blog each day I am home and not traveling. I began this yesterday but between grass cutting and meeting with friends on Friday, I didn 't get it written until the day of posting.  Most days, it is written by the end of the day before. Gmail has a feature where I can schedule the release for later but I do it myself.)

I have never been involved in marathons.  As a high school and college wrestler, I didn't spend much time running.  When "Aerobics" by Kenneth Cooper first inspired me to do a little running, I was in grad school after 4 years of teaching 5th graders.  I was spending no time in explicit exercise at that time but Cooper's prompting of running or jogging, walking, biking and swimming as important for health spoke to me and I have continued to get some lung and heavy breathing regularly since then.

I think some floor work: yoga, calisthenics, stretching is important and I think most people have some notion in that direction, too.  However, it seems to be a different matter with the use of weights. We have some weight here in the house but I continue to pay to be a member of a weight room.  Three or four years ago, I heard a physical education and fitness professor advise people over 65 that visiting the weight room twice a week was enough.

I have always been fascinated with "drive" and "determination", with gung-ho energy and a rah-rah attitude.  Fascinated that such feelings can put people into a mood of fierce determination and in that mood, get them to make mistakes.  I am not against emotion and high spirits but I like to keep a careful eye on where they lead. It is possible to get interested in the use of weights but to do so with pictures of Arnold Schwartzenegger or Wonder Woman in mind.  Such pictures can over-inspire, prompting the victim to seriously over-do the first couple uses of weights. The result can be injury to the body or to the mental interest in using weights.

At home with a can of soup or in a local fitness center, trying several sorts of lifts but doing the movement 8-12 times can be a nice introduction to the activity.  If a newbie has an impulse to heft a really heavy load, I say the best thing is to leave immediately. Don't exhaust yourself, don't injure yourself or drop something on your foot.  For years, I have depended on weight machines. I enjoy the convenience of setting the pin at a reasonable weight and lifting consciously and briskly and being done. Five pounds is enough to make a difference in strength.  Take the next day off. If you are under 65 years of age, repeat twice over the next week. Keep it up and slowly increase the weight a bit. Over 65, skip a couple of days, The point is to stress the body (bones as well as muscles) a bit and then be sure to give enough time for repairs to be performed.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Let's get all the words

I heard a college official say a couple of years ago that one of the most valuable things to know these days is how to use a spreadsheet.  I wrote a post in 2010 about the value of spreadsheets:

It is just as valuable today, maybe more so.  My sister got me interested in the movie "The Professor and the Madman", based on the book by Simon Winchester about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.  The work was begun in 1857. The article in the Wikipedia gives background and information about the work.

The movie brings tears to my eyes for several reasons.  One is the matter of search windows, spreadsheets, databases and computers.  

As you watch the movie, which is about many very touching sides of humanity, you see scenes of small bits of paper all over the walls of the large office being used to try to capture every word in English, its meaning and its history.  When I realize that these poor, belabored fellows were attempting this monumental task of filing and researching and noting and organizing WITHOUT OUR MODERN TOOLS (!!!!!!) of computers, electronic communication and electronic searching, I tear up.  It is not all my tenderness and empathy. Even the characters get tired and confused and wonder what they are doing. After months and months of work, they feel that they may be nearing the end of the English words that begin with "A".

I think we could say that they had a picture of what they were trying to do.  Their approach required highly literate men (evidently no women were involved for decades) but with human brains and hands alone, their project was monumental and not designed to accomplish what they hoped.  Many people worked on the project. The professor was James Murray and the madman was W.C. Minor, a highly literate American surgeon but a man afflicted with serious mental disorder.

From the little bit I have learned, it seems that some of the impetus for the project was a plan of more or less capturing all of English in an authoritative source and putting the language on a "proper" footing once and for all.  Just to give an idea of the extent of the project, the first edition was available in several separate parts over the years but the 2nd edition of 20 volumes was published in 1989. These days, the work has switched to online form and the current editor guesses that the whole thing will never be published on paper.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Thinking politics and society

Normally, I am not drawn to the subject of politics.  I used to be a 5th grade teacher and I could tell that the students in my class had political and social feelings.  What to wear, who likes whom, who admires whom, who wants to stay away from whom - all subjects that mattered, actual waves of interest and force. 

In grad school, I read about Robert Maynard Hutchins, once president of the University of Chicago at age of 29, quite young for such a position.  He said that poliitcs is the architectonic science. The idea is similar to the expression Vox Populi, Vox Deus or 'the voice of the people is the voice of God'. The trouble for a persnickety person like me is that there is no voice of the people.  Especially today, there are voices, opinions, forums for and against just about any notion or idea or thesis or directive.  

I have friends who have spent their whole professional lives thinking about politics, society and history.  I do not have a strong attraction to the subjects. They seem too general, too fluid and way too complex to offer valuable knowledge.  We have watched "Victoria" about the English queen and "The Crown" about the current queen.  

It seems to be a noble sacrifice to live as the symbol of a nation but I am very thankful it didn't fall to me to make such a sacrifice.  I guess an accepted ruler, chosen by birth and descent, can give a county a long, uninterrupted regime and maybe years of coherent rule. But, I also guess that knowing you will be the ruler leads to arbitrary governance, dictatorial decision-making.  I remember Lord Acton's statement that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely".  

Whether it is a classroom, a college, a county or a country, it seems to me that the essence of people is contradiction.  We want a new road and they don't. We want X and they hate the idea of X. But there is more: the new road costs and changes traffic patterns and has other results.  Some people lose business and hate the new road, even though they supported its construction. Some people resisted, protested, organized and labored mightily against the expenditure, the raise in taxes but now benefit from the new road's existence.  

My wife and I live in a small 2-person family and yet, our governing committee of just she and me often disagree.  We disagree about what is safe, what is kind, what is fun and much more. It is not surprising that those living in a modern Midwestern state disagree often.  Same for a nation of 340 million people. When we consider that a large group of people have different backgrounds, are differing ages, it is no wonder that the bears and pumas and moose are amazed that humans can accomplish so much together.

We are complicated and it takes us a while, maybe several decades, to see what needs to be done.  Some of my extra-terrestrial friends are betting against the continued survival of my species but I am not convinced.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Bits of time

I like to wake up about 6 AM and go to bed about 10PM.  Sometimes, I don't wake up until 6:30 but we are pretty regular about getting ready for bed at 10.  I like to have a 2nd cup of coffee at noon but I am often anticipating it from 11:30 on. It is as much the suspense of whether it is actually noon yet as it is enjoying coffee or wanting caffeine.

 With getting up, going to bed, coffee and alcoholic drinks at 4, I want to resist drift in time.  I feel organized and in control when I have a schedule and stick to it.

I was surprised to find that several books and articles on sleep mentioned going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time were valuable habits for a good sleep.  I guess that the body has a sense of what time it is and when it is time to go into sleep mode.  

Because I am a clock-watcher, there are plenty of times during the day when I have x number of minutes before I should do something.  If the number is 15 or more, I might grab my Kindle and get a page or two read. If I make the effort to set a timer, I put my mind on reading or doing a Sudoku or bringing in the mail and the bit of time zooms by.  If I try to merely stay conscious of the time slipping away, the minutes drag. I look at the clock and I still have 6 minutes before it is sensible to leave. I look later and I still have 4 minutes.  

As I read this, it seems neurotic.  Why not just do the next thing on the calendar and not worry about what time it is?  The basic answer is that people I am working with don't want me to do that, won't be available, are busy until the designated time.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Hot, well, warm news items

When I read Numlock News today, I thought it might be nice to send it out on this blog.  But some energetic smarty pants are way ahead of me and read that for themselves. Here is a link to the Numlock News archive if you want to take a look at recent issues:  Walt Hickey and Oliver Roeder write similar newsletters that are free and mailed to subscribers on weekdays.  "Significant Digits" and Numlock both collect news items having to do with important numbers in the news.


I gave my car to my greatgrandson after he passed his driver's test.  I had asked my favorite car dealer to get me set up to buy a replacement.  When he showed me the Honda Fit, he started to explain that it had been leased by an older woman who rarely drove it.  "Oh, sure," I said, "you are going to tell me this was leased to a nice old lady who never drove it over 35 miles an hour."  He paused and said, hesitantly,"Yes". It can be difficult to convey that something which is more or less a cliche is, in this case, actually true.


My sister recommended I watch "The Professor and the Madman".  It is about the creation of the first Oxford English dictionary.  It is available on Amazon TV. The history of our tools and institutions is interesting, all the more so when I realize I have used dictionaries all my life without asking how they came to be and by whom.


I have growths on my face.  I went to see our dermatologist and he said they should be called "human spots".  He estimated he sees 100 seborrheic keratosis spots a day. I don't like them. He blasted them with his little can of very, very cold nitrogen or whatever it is.  He waited a minute and blasted them again. It hurt sharply but only for a short time.


If you are interested in better items to look at, use Firefox and its associated service called "Pocket".  I have several posts on this blog about Pocket. You can find them with the blog search window in the upper left corner of the blog web page

Or look at the links here:

Monday, July 29, 2019

Use questions to see what actually is

It was only a couple of months ago that I first saw the word "influencer'.  One difference between my blog and most is that I try to avoid any sort of "monetizing".  I do have readers from other countries. Over the past week, about 200 page views have come from people in the US and abroad besides the 70 that get the blog by email.  I read that many Chinese young people want to be an "influencer". It seems an iffy job to me. I get the feeling that unless one has a million followers or subscribers, that job will not be a path to riches.  

Coaches, teachers, politicians and many others can be said to aim to influence others.  If I am spending too much time fantasizing about being a great hero, I might pay a psychotherapist to help me straighten out.  The large number of people who try to influence others is a group that is always on the lookout for more effective ways to change thinking and behavior in others. 

I have enjoyed writing a blog post every day and I have done that for about 11 years.  I just read a very experienced author who wrote that journaling each day has benefits but that it takes "patience and commitment." I suspect that calling for patience and commitment is not the best move.  Such language can be off-putting. Both of those words are somewhat general abstractions. When I do something regularly, such as re-experience the beauty and value of my wife, it doesn't feel patient or committed.  

I try to start with an open mind.  Is she luscious? Does she look like she would be satisfying to touch?  Is she witty? Does she say valuable things that I don't think of by myself? Yes, yes, yes and yes.   Conclusion: Wow! A treasure right here in the house!

I am afraid that telling people to enlist their patience and commitment is like telling them to be good.  Too general and too vague. If you want to go to the gym more often, as with appreciating my wife, I recommend questioning.  Did you go to the gym today? No? Do you want to go twice a week? Did you already go? See: it's questions. It's not teeth-gritting and perseverance.  Yes, in the long run, you show perseverance and commitment but you find those qualities and the right acts with personal questions, answering honestly and remembering what you want.

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