Thursday, January 31, 2019

All set to fight heroically

Are you ever set for a big fight, a major effort, only to find the issue is decided, the fight is settled, the war's over?

I was getting set to make a big effort to eat better.  Then, I found that my eating has been good, fine, even.  I don't need to make a big effort. First, I was beguiled by Susan Peirce Thompson and her book Bright Line Eating.  I am always looking for superior food ideas that fit in a small space. Her 2 rules, No added sugar and No flour, seemed smart and somewhat useful without being too detailed, too harsh or even too hard.  A friend had already put me onto books and YouTube videos by Dr. Jason Fung. Both Lynn and I have flirted with diabetes 2 and both of these people emphasize the value of cutting sugar and related foods from our diet.  

Not long ago, I saw a list of someone's ideas of the most addictive substances.  That list did not include sugar but sugar is often mentioned as something that too many Americans and Britons consume too much of. When my parents owned a candy store, I am confident that I did consume far more sugar than was healthy.  But now, much older, I do not find sugar or sweet tastes to be all that attractive. I wasn't clear about the sugar in fruit or foods like milk. It wasn't ADDED sugar but I suppose it is ok to skip some fruit, regardless.

I am still suspicious about any important difference between heat capture to measure calories and human digestion to actually get and use calories.  While searching here and there, I ran into the name Marion Nestle. I knew she was a professor of food and a smart viewer to food industry and fashions.  She has a blog/website called Food Politics. I got a couple of her books. She seems to find fat content, calories and such important.

I am perplexed about obesity in America.  I thought,"Ok, I will concentrate on trying to get the computer formulas to stop calling me "overweight".  I weighed myself on our good scale, had Lynn help me measure my height. Even with standing up straight, I am short of the magic six feet.  I put my weight and height into a couple of the online Body Mass Index calculators and they agreed: 26.1 I was called "overweight" twice! A little more searching and I found justification!  Such a move is not unusual among researchers with an axe to grind. Older people (that's me!) are better off with a body mass index between 25 and 27.

I don't need to fight. I am already a champ!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Cold and dangerous wind chills

It is a physical fact that wind can take more of a person's body heat than still air can.  So, the speed of the wind matters. At low temperatures, a little wind makes big difference in discomfort and even danger of frostbite.  Years ago, a friend said I was getting a white spot on the side of my nose, a sign that I was beginning to develop frostbite. He said I should get inside immediately and I did.

We have been experiencing deep cold and strong wind.  We more or less expect both during our winters. So, in a way, it is nothing new but this batch of cold weather is stronger, colder, more dangerous and more hyped than anything else we have had this whole season.  We are close to being in the heart of winter. I use the rule of thumb that any season is at its midpoint in the third month after it began. For instance, winter began in the famous winter solstice, Dec. 21. Go to the next month (January) and then the next after that (Feb.).  Take the 4th day of that month, February 4, and you have the midpoint of winter.

All that is purely on paper, not strongly connected to the world.  But as paper models go, it is pretty good. We are less than a week from Feb. 4 and this is a natural time for noticeably inhospitable weather to descend on us. But, of course, in addition to actual blowing snow and howling winds, we have human reaction.  We are built to be alert, and aware of danger, and to be excited by challenges. Right now, this computer reports the outside temperature to be -4°F. We can make it sound dangerous and seem more heroic (or idiotic) if we report that temperature in Centigrade: -20° C.  Still, we can get more alarm or pride in ourselves or both by focusing on the windchill: -24° F.

Our house has plenty of windows but for this period of cold, we are trying out a new tactic: keeping the shades down across the windows.  We don't have strong window darkening shades nor heavy insulating shades, but we do feel that the house is warmer with our shades down.

The local schools are closed and the university has cancelled classes until mid-day Thursday.  That night is expected to have a low of -25, temperature, not wind chill. But Monday, my mid-winter day, is expected to have a high of 38°F.  Positive, not negative.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Day Day

My friend read the "Days of Our Lives" post from yesterday and suggested we have "Day Day".  It is a day to celebrate that we are still breathing and we are still able to feed ourselves.  With serious tremors, we may not be able to feed ourselves, but when and where we can, let us be grateful.  Raising a hand to eye level and open and closing it several times seems a short, quick way to note our appreciation for our bodies, including our breath and vision and hearing. Some people have a strong reason to be grateful for their ability to balance themselves upright.  Others have reason to add to "feeding myself", appreciation for the ability to swallow.

My greatgranddaughter, Libby, likes the word "plethora"

(excess, abundance, overabundance, superfluity, surfeit, profusion, more than enough, too many, too much, enough and to spare, superabundance, surplus, glut, flood, torrent, deluge, embarrassment).  It is not a word I expect to hear from a 10 year old, but it is true that we have a plethora of reasons to enjoy and be grateful for our existence.

Some people seem to shy away from too much generalized gratitude and appreciation.  I am pretty sure that I still have more skills, warm memories, sensitivities and goals than I can count or be aware of.  I suppose I might have more faults, prejudices, fears and poorly-thought out positions than I can count off, too. I do seem to be in the position of a person with more money than he can keep track of.  But many of my blessings and much of my wealth cannot be created in business nor brought back by physicians.

Now that it is Day Day, just be glad.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Days of Our Lives

One of our local papers announced that yesterday, January 26, was Spouse Day.  We offered to take grandkids to dinner to give the spouses time together.

I had never heard of Spouse Day.  I don't mind inclusive language and language that conveys without any reference to sex or gender.  But I wondered what other celebratory days have been set aside for one thing or another. I wondered about a day set aside by somebody for husbands or wives.  Is there a Kid's Day? I know about Mother's Day and Father's Day but yes, there is a Husband's Day and a Wives Day. I asked Lynn if she had heard of any of them and she came back with Pickle Day.  

As usual, for today's blog post, I accumulated several different possible topics but I felt confident that marketing and religious and philosophical forces, trends and groups have already launched special commemorative days for many things.  Just now in preparing this post, I looked up "Which days of the year are not celebrations of anything?" I didn't get a direct answer but I did find this:

There are clearly many possibilities.  The web page informs me that today, Jan. 27, is "Chocolate Cake Day" but if you click on the link tomorrow, Jan. 28, you will view the page on "Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day", "Kazoo Day", "Blueberry Pancake Day" and "Data Privacy Day".  

I am not clear why we get celebratory days and months but not weeks. I imagine there may just have been a slip-up and we may get Congress Week, Library Week, and Dry Cleaning Week if we don't already have them.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Auntie Joan and older women

We have been watching "Doc Martin", a British comedy about a high-level London surgeon who develops a psychological reaction to the sight of blood.  He moves to Portwenn and practices as a general practitioner. He has the worst bedside manner a physician could have, being devoid of basic social and face-reading skills, carrying a closed mind and a cold heart.

The show is available on several streaming channels.  We watch it on Acorn TV. A subscription to Acorn works like one for Netflix and costs $5 a month or $50 a year.

We have already seen most of the Doc Martin episodes but it not difficult to miss one or to re-watch it without any memory of having seen that show 5 or ten years ago.  We have met Martin's parents and sympathize with any little boy raised by those two. Much of his boyhood was spent with his Auntie Joan who lives in Portwenn. Her intelligence and basic stability and good sense come through and we realize Martin is blessed to have a relation with her.  

Auntie Joan is played by the actress Stephanie Cole who was born in 1941.  In today's terms, she is not a beauty queen, nor a siren. In series 3, episode 4, we meet Carrie Wilson, a woman of striking good looks who seems to have been ruined by her attractiveness.  Being attractive seems to be all she can manage or think about.

You can imagine our shock and surprise when we come upon Auntie Joan and her house painter, 30 some years younger than she is, having sex.  Our straightlaced, uptight physician is as shocked and surprised as the viewers even though the message of what these two are doing is conveyed very quickly and tastefully.  Auntie and her nephew need to have a little talk and they do. She explains that she likes the younger man and he makes her feel young. So, don't be too surprised if your lovable older aunt turns out to  be alive in more ways than you imagined.

Saturday, January 26, 2019


It seems that when I was a kid, I heard more negative discussion of leftovers than I do today. Maybe people have more leftovers today.  Maybe they just accept them as a fact of life.

We have a restaurant in town that prepares excellent walleye, a Wisconsin fish.  When I have eaten there and saved some of their walleye, I know I have a good meal waiting for me.  Maybe microwave ovens have made a difference in our ability to reheat foods to just the right temperature over what we can do on a typical stove.  

There is a novel by Tom Perrotta called "The Leftovers" but it is not about food.  People are suddenly missing in large numbers and the best explanation is that The Rapture has occurred and they were swept up into heaven.  Those left behind have complaints about some of the well-known sinners being missing while such outstanding persons as ourselves are still here.

Leftover food is more common in my life as I get older.  I seem to have smaller eating capacity and maybe greater sensitivity to satiation.  The prejudice against leftovers that I used to hear about might, in part, be caused by the word.  What if we called food not eaten at a meal "Saved Food" or "Reserved Food"? Sometimes, I could cram all the food served to me into myself but I try to be aware of feeling full.  Much of the time, it seems that I can decide whether I am hungry or not. Just about every week, I eat half of what is served at lunch with the guys and save half. I tend to forget about what I bring home and am only reminded when I see the special container in the refrigerator. So, a day or so later, for lunch, I have the food I didn't eat before.

I am reading "The Calorie Myth" by J. Sailor, a book promoted by Susan Peirce Thompson of Bright Line Eating.  From wrestling and trying to be the right weight for the team, and of course, with years of experience of eating and weight gain and weight loss, I am interested in all matters of nutrition, body weight and the enjoyment of food. I know we are not doing well with obesity and even child obesity.  I imagine we will improve eventually.

Friday, January 25, 2019

485 miles of experience

My friend walked the French Way of the Camino de Santiago.  That is a multi-day hike of 485 miles. The French Way starts in France and goes to the tomb of St. James in Spain.  Medieval pilgrims seeking redemption, holiness and blessings traveled that route as well as other routes. The "French Way" is only one of the routes.

I bugged her to consider giving a talk about her experience.  She gave it some thought and agreed. She explicitly said that first, she had to decide what the adventure meant to her personally.  That is often the key: what does something mean to me (now, at this stage of my life). She wrote that her walk was not a search for answers or a direction of life but a time of awareness and drinking everything in.

When I ask people to give a talk, the first thing that comes to mind is "What will I say?"  Making that decision, putting into words or phrases or notes, what you want to say is THE valuable part of giving the talk.  Members of the audience can be distracted or still worrying about something else. The ideas that are expressed may be arresting for any number of reasons and an arresting idea can pause a listener's attention while the talk proceeds.  Yet, the construction, the situating the experience in words has already been accomplished, and that is often the most valuable and lasting part of relating an important experience.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Enough tries

Weather, contests, manufacturing, comprehension - in many areas and subjects, it is possible to see the effect of large N, situations where there are many attempts, trials, repeated events.  It is the old story that the team from the big city often defeats the team from the small town. Not because there is something magic and powerful about big city athletes but because the best of a large group will often be better than the best of a small group.  Nature tries to make a superior athlete. There are more tries in the big city so, provided the selection process, the coaches, are good at securing the best, the team from the big city will often be more outstanding.

The left diagram gives the idea of a Galton board.  It can allow beads or BB's or balls to trickle through some obstacles and fall into one of the compartments at the bottom.  The right diagram shows that multiple paths can lead to the same result, the yellow ball at the bottom, second slot from the right.  To be a top athlete, you have to fall to the right consistently. Each row of little triangles is a different variable. In athletics, they might be endurance, strength, attitude and physical coordination.  You have to have the right breaks to be good on all the needed variables.

If we pour enough kids through the triangles, we will get enough high level athletes to fill all the positions on the team.  Whether it is sports, politics, medical research or something else, enough trials will result in some very surprising results.  They may be extra good or extra bad.

This subject is nicely examined in "The Improbability Principle" by David Hand.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The pavement in front of Gallery Q

The pavement is part of the main sidewalk through our town's main section.  At certain hours, it is rather busy with people going back and forth. When Lynn is the hostess for Gallery Q, she sometimes has to shovel the snow away.  Today, she cleared it three times.Shoveling the sidewalk gives her a little exercise, right? It's be good for her, right?

We are both getting older and we are beginning to understand that fact.  She was in Costa Rica recently, and the hills and her knees didn't always get along well.  I had clear pictures in my mind of her being hospitalized in some back corner of the country with one aliment or another.  Entering our ninth decade, at any time, either or both of us may lose one or more abilities that have been part of us for years.  Of course, we don't want to slow down, or fall down, or be unable to do what we are used to doing. But various limitations befall our friends and every week or so, somebody dies.

It is not wise to limit ourselves unnecessarily or see problems that aren't there.  But it makes sense to adjust our mindsets to accommodate the new us and our new bodies.  The everyday things that are part of our lives will cease sometime, maybe in little steps, maybe abruptly.  At some time, we will be past moving or speaking or shoveling and we are trying to recognize that approaching situation. One of the best books I have seen about adjusting to one's aging is "Aging for Beginners" by Ezra Bayda.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

What is going to happen?

We all deal with the future. We have our own personal future of childhood, teenhood, adulthood and declinehood.  We can save ourselves trouble, stress and anxiety by concentrating right on the present and the fact that the past is gone and the future has not arrived.  But that is not the end of the story. Around age 4, we come to understand that somewhere far out in the future, we face death.

Some thinkers feel that understanding mortality and the fact that death lies in our future is THE fundamental marker of humans that distinguishes them for other forms of life.  

The ability to imagine, to investigate and experiment enables us to think about the future in more detail and to steer ourselves toward or away from situations in the future, at least to some extent.  I am writing this on the 21st of January, one third of our calendar through the winter season. Winter began on the day of the solstice, a day I can imagine brought wonder and awe and relief when ancient people could see that the lowering sun and the lengthening night began to reverse course.  Maybe the light would not disappear.

I have some posts about the 1972 book "The Limits to Growth" that prompted me and two fellow professors to launch our college course called "Futures."  From ancient Biblical prophets to today's worries about climate and water and poverty, human imagnations have explored ideas and images of the near and far future.

Many attempts to figure out what will happen turn out to be quite wrong.  Many predictions are too vague to know if they were fulfilled or not. Depending on what is imagined and what is meant, the messiah hasn't come, YET.  Without a date, predictions can always be said to be about a future that hasn't arrived yet.

A friend sent me a YouTube link to a talk by Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at NYU.  His predictions related to American and world business and commerce over the coming year. He starts by reviewing predictions that did not come true that he made last year.  Correct or not, his ideas are interesting.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Good day to celebrate Africa's contributions

I think when we can finally shake various fears and biases, we may be able to face the contributions of Africa to our lives.  Even though my appearance can be labeled "European-American", all twenty-two or so branches of the family of humans seems to stem from Africa, one way and at one time or another.  I just have to go a little farther back in time to find the connection between my ancestors and "African-Americans".

I am glad that my country celebrates the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.and the civil rights activists of the earlier decades.  

I feel as though I can understand the impulse to illegally and immorally capture people and transport them across the ocean from their homes to a foreign land.  I can understand the impulse even while I condemn it. I can thank those who survived and contributed to the development of my country, no doubt often unwillingly but still mightily and helpfully.  However, when I read Ira Katznelson's "Fear Itself" and saw how generations after the end of the Civil War, people were still cunningly and deliberately keeping opportunity away from African-Americans, I have a harder time saluting the Red, White and Blue.  I have a harder time believing in the good in people.

I realize that fear and pride and nastiness lurk in our hearts and may emerge at any time and place.  I do hope we can edge toward saluting and appreciating the good, the potential, the achievements, the value, the intelligence, and the beauty of all our citizens.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Myths, legends and us

Maybe you know the works of Joseph Campbell, as in his book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces."  You may have heard of criticisms of the work of Freud and others who have tried to understand the workings of the human mind and personality.  The critics have different sorts of complaints but some of them complain that actual evidence supporting theories and even practices in psychiatry and psychology is lacking, unimpressive, missing or contradictory.  As a graduate student, I found the list of "threats to validity" in Campbell and Stanley's book on experimental design memorable and helpful. The list can get a little technical but it starts with "history" and "maturation", terms that point to the past and to growth and change, to the future, too.

You can take just about any mother or K-12 school teacher and talk to them about the mysterious brains, pasts and futures of people, especially kids.  No research or analysis or expert can completely map out what a person of any age has done, can currently do or will become able (or unable) to do. When I saw how inexpensive that good writer Robert A. Johnson's books were on Kindle, I paid attention.  I have enjoyed his "Living Your Unlived Life" and quoted from it a couple of times in this blog.

As you may have guessed, my mother was a female and my sister, wife and daughters.  I understand that close to half of all humans are female. I bought Johnson's "She" and read it aloud to Lynn.  Like Campbell and Jung, Johnson concentrates on aspects of human life that are foretold or exemplified by events in old myths and legends.  To some extent, the typical experience of a human of a given age or stereotype is told in some old stories. "She" is mostly about a typical face-off between an young girlfriend or bride and the guy's mother.  I enjoyed the story and Dr. Johnson's assurance that animosity and sometimes worse can be expected between the new young woman and the guy's mother.

I watched the "Crazy Rich Asians" movie and found the story centered on just this tension.

Now, I am into "He" by the same Robert A. Johnson (deceased in the past year at age 97).  Although there are plenty of movies and references to a similar tension between a father and the intrusive guy who is making off with his daughter, "He" is about a different aspect of male life and psychology.  Johnson says that from the 1200's to now, much of young male life and development is exemplified by the legend of Parsifal and his quest for the Holy Grail. I haven't read much of the book but it certainly inspires me to stop and reflect on big moments in my life, surprising events or strong feelings or both.  Unlike careful science, legends and myths can involve explicitly magical and supernatural events. Such freedom provides a broader palette of ideas, powers, dangers and causes.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

More Marie Kondo

We wanted to watch "Crazy Rich Asians" but Amazon can't play it now. It is available elsewhere but we were interested in watching the Marie Kondo episodes on straightening up the house. I was impressed with how good and interesting it was.  She was very friendly with the couple she was helping and she brought a translator along with her in case her English was too limited.

Before she started in on the clothes scattered around, she asked the couple to thoughtfully thank their house.  Seems like a good move to me. Stopping to thank the house, to face the value and the good that comes from the house is the beginning of an important type of gratitude and thoughtful appreciation of the value and the good times, the shelter, the warmth and the centrality the house gives to their lives and their family.

Her first activity was having the couple get all their clothes, scattered about or hanging in the closet or packed in drawers and pile them all in one great pile on the bed.  Then, one garment at a time, pick it up and consider it. Does it "spark joy"? (That's the name of one of her books, "Spark Joy") Does the garment make you glad you have it? If so, keep it.  If not, it goes in the get-rid-of pile. Again, like the blessing of the house, take a moment for each piece to consider one's feelings for the item.

After all the garments are sorted, fold each one that is being kept.  Fold with concentration and respect for the piece of clothing. We saw pictures of Kondo's own kids folding their own clothes, again with respect and consideration.  She told the couple that their children would soon pick up an interest in folding their clothes. Shortly after, we saw the couples' kids doing just that.

My own thinking and that of just about everyone I know has been about duty, storage and resultant neatness.  The psychology, especially of the acts of "tidying" rather than focusing on pride in the result, had not occurred to me.  I would have thought that pictures of people straightening their house and their clothes were pictures of people doing their duty and being correct, not pictures of thoughtful people appreciating the value and the history and the stories and memories associated with their garments.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Marie Kondo, Don Anslett and stuffed spaces

I had an adult student who read Don Anslett's "Clutter's Last Stand" and found it life-changing.  As I remember, the student was an art teacher and often felt overwhelmed by the clutter and disorganization of her house or classroom or studio.  She took the book to heart and enthusiastically supported it as a key to greater happiness.

You may have seen Marie Kondo's current book "The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up" or her series on Netflix.  Her books and her Netflix series are getting high praise and attention. You can see quite a bit about her with a Google search or look at her videos on YouTube:

Only you can tell if you are burdened by the actuality, or maybe the thought, of what's in the basement, or what your grandmother would say about the condition of your closets.  One thing Anslett got into my head was that just because I toss the little brown vase that is my symbol of my grandmother does not mean that I didn't love and cherish her.

The movie "Coco" explains the Mexican-Indian tradition that my soul will be happy as long as someone living remembers me.  It's a nice idea but I know I have been worthwhile, whether or not anyone still has pictures of me.

Hoarding, having too much stuff, having to get a larger rental locker just to house stuff are problems that affect many people today.  I say "Take lessons, read Kondo or Anslett, hire someone to haul away ⅔ of your stuff and find freedom and a new start."

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Along with Gmail

My friend had trouble with his usual email. He tried Gmail as an alternative.  I wanted to tell about and show him some of the additional tools available now that he has a Gmail username and password. So, I made this page on my website:

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Guides to being good

I am a bookish kind of guy. I didn't ever set my mind to be that way.  It just happened. I like stories and I like being transported to far-away places and finding out about cells and planets and heroics and cowardology.  I am too impatient and ordinary to be overly transported by ornate poetry, but words and ideas, images and meanings matter to me.

So, when I joined the Boy Scouts (the Girl Scouts didn't want me!!), I knew the motto, the oath, the Scout laws and the related words, documents and concepts.  I wasn't hot to track bears through the forest but I was hot for books. The first merit badge I earned was for scholarship. My Scoutmaster was a wonderful person who was surprised when I applied for the badge:"There's a merit badge for scholarship?"  Looking around the internet, I find that scholarship was one of the original 57 merit badges and it is still part of scouting.

I suspect that most people know that the Boy Scout motto is "Be Prepared".  The Girl Scouts have the same motto. When I was in about the 8th grade, my stepdad gave me an article by Bruce Barton that seemed to nicely encapsulate some valuable advice.  It advised aiming to

  1. Stand at the head of the class in English

  2. Be accurate

  3. Be thorough

Being prepared, loyal, trustworthy, and practicing ten other virtues while doing "my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight" is asking quite a lot, especially what with homework, chores around the house and trying to keep up a budding dating life. But there is more: I grew up in a state whose motto is in Italian and says in English: Manly deeds and womanly words.  My high school has a motto too: The palm to who merits it.

I think I followed all this advice at times and I have ignored each bit at times.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Vague and shifting identities

There is an idea going around that a person shouldn't write about being left-handed unless he is himself left-handed.  The basic idea is that you can't really walk in another's shoes. I read Louis Menand's New Yorker article discussing a new book by Christopher Miller called "Impostors: Literary Hoaxes and Cultural Authenticity", a survey of books purportedly written by a certain type of writer (Irish, Jewish, black, female) but actually not.

Since we are living in a time of cultural face-offs, greater cultural inter-mixing and communication, what is and is not "genuine" or "authentic" is of interest.  At the same time, in a roundabout way, I got into the recently deceased Robert A. Johnson's "Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth". I read the same author's "She" recently and I am still impressed by the themes and insights that are woven into a story of a young woman's trials with her mother-in-law.  I just watched "Crazy Rich Asians" last night and the same story emerged: his mother smiles but hates the young woman 'stealing' her son.

Whether it is Johnson or David Eagleman, I see that much of what we do is guided by inner forces that are often hidden.  

Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot.

Eagleman, David. Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (p. 4). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I admire Jungian therapists who work with symbols and dreams and silent impulses explained and justified by elaborate reasons and stories created after the fact.  I see that the human ability to imagine is really very powerful and can propel me into actions and thoughts, convictions and prejudices without giving me a chance to see what is up.  I am beginning to suspect that I can hardly walk in my own shoes, or really know what it is like to be me.

Monday, January 14, 2019


You can see the effect with the death of an older person.  Say, Widow X dies. She and her husband lived in that house for 46 years.  Naturally, over that time, the attic, the basement, the back room, his shop, the garage have filled up with valuables and keepsakes and things that could be of use, once they get a little smart repair.  Now, that the owners are gone, the property needs to be put in a different condition. So most, if not all, of those spaces need to cleared out and the contents sold, given away or thrown out.

There may be a similar situation with a personal library, books present but unread and passed over many times.  Amazon and others maintain 'wish lists' of items such as books that seem promising but have not been purchased.  I have many items on my reading wish list and far more in my Kindle library.

I have been using the Pocket service connected to the New Page/New Tab choice in the Firefox browser.  I find that it is easy to add an item to the Pocket collection of web articles Pocket thinks I might like and it is difficult to find them after they stop appearing on the New Page page.  So, I have accumulated 56 articles already.

With books, tools and many other kinds of lists, I wonder about several questions.  Do I have too many items? Should I work with, digest, read, master, delete some items before adding more?  How much is this list helping me? Do I refer to it? With any listing, it is common to ask if it is complete, with nothing that should be on it, missing.  It is also common to inquire whether a list contains duplicates, is "padded", either through oversight or deliberate duplication.

With any list, I wonder how current it is?  I added an item yesterday. Should that item still be there?  I could drive myself nuts considering and re-considering each item each day.  Still, the contents might no longer be appropriate. I listed a book that sounded good but that was a year ago.  Is that book still a good choice or has it been superseded by a more recent book or a devastating attack that shows the book is worthless?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Searching, searching and researching

If a person wants to read broadly, there needs to be research for titles and categories. It is not just reading.  When my sister and I went to the movies with our dad, we researched the many movies houses in the city, considering and comparing what was on offer.  All through school, I searched for topics for papers and then searched for sources on the chosen topic. My senior high school history paper was on Senator Joseph McCarthy.  My freshman research paper was on Thoreau's "Walden" but that was rejected. I switched to foods and nutrition.

In a sense, most lessons that a 5th grade teacher teaches are the products of research.  What would be appropriate? What would be of interest? What would be challenging without being too difficult?  After three years of teaching, I discovered a requirement I hadn't known about: get a master's degree within ten years of the bachelor's degree or lose the state teaching license.  I was teaching arithmetic to multiple classes so I researched math and science master's degrees. That path looked too long and expensive but in the meantime, I started looking at research methods.  While searching, my advisor told me about a new doctoral program in experimental design, statistical analysis and measurement that was searching for candidates. I had a math minor, I taught math and I had just aced the basic statistics course.  Seemed like a natural.

It was and is.  My main professional organization throughout my college teaching was the American Educational Research Association.  I taught basic statistics to college and graduate students many times.

I guess about 80% of those students dreaded the course, having already heard it was difficult and deciding ahead of time that they wouldn't do well.  I had read John Holt's "What Do I Do Monday?" and Ken Macrorie's wonderful "Uptaught." I had written my own text for a course in grading and giving tests.  I was committed to using brains and analysis to maximize the number of students who completed all requirements to an A level. So, a very high portion of my statistics students got an A, to the point where I treasured each grade below A as proof that I examined their work carefully and held out for high standards.  

The AERA is still rolling along.  When I was last involved, a major shift was occurring was between researchers who focused on counts and scores and the newer group using qualitative, biographical and more personal interviews and evidence.  It is clear that a typical teacher has more students than can be deeply known on a personal level, while a typical parent knows only a few children deeply and personally. Further, there is a deep divide in American education that is steadily expanding to other countries between a model emphasizing obedience and memorization, and a newer model emphasizing student participation and innovation.  Further research is needed.

Saturday, January 12, 2019


There is an old division in the history of mathematics between those who more or less pushed for a picture of continuous matters and those who thought discontinuously.  Calculus and the analysis of falling objects, such as cannon balls shot from a gun, is probably a good representative of continuous process thinking while digitalization, with pictures being digitized into pixels and "moving" images on a long film of scenes, exemplifies separate and distinct but tiny or brief effects.  

Lovers can be viewed as either phenomenon, too.  He loves her steadily and continuously. She loves him that way, too.  Even when he sees her in an error state and even when he is a bother, love flows, recognizably and consciously.  Looked at discontinuously, she glances his way and he receives a signal that she likes him. He passes by her and slides his hand along her in a tangible message of love and appreciation. His ears transmit her love into his heart from occasional words and her voice.  Nerve impulses travel from her eyes to her heart as she watches him leave for work.

Cyrano de Bergerac created spells of love with his word choice but many lovers could repeat "Hello there" every time they speak to each other and still transmit affection.  In fact, simple, basic messages of very mundane content are exactly what lovers often use to start up a blaze between them. She looks him in the eye and says "Hi" and that is a unit of shocked power that hits him.  He looks back and repeats the same content and his "Hi" lasts her all morning.

What happened?  Nothing. Everything.  She spoke, stoked him, stroked him.  He spoke. He might not have. He might have ignored her unit of love.  He didn't. He was warmed by her. He spoke. He mumbled and she didn't clearly hear exactly what he said.  No matter. He delivered a unit of affection and she treasures it. Poetry, artful composition matters, don't kid yourself.  However, that is not the meat. The meat is the signals and the signalers.

Friday, January 11, 2019

What a story!

Older people sometimes wonder if they have achieved anything of importance. When I get into deep wondering about my worth, I tend to push back using flippancy.  In many societies, the traditional view is that males are clearly fine creatures and I am a male. In some religions, one traditional view is to wonder why a bipedal ape has ridden to the top of the animal kingdom.  "What is man that thou art mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:4)

One of the many difficulties in being a male human is that the joy of striving keeps ambushing, jumping out and shooting the lust for excitement, speed, victory and such into one's heart and soul.  Dr. A and Dr. K are just going to advise this itchy guy to be cool. Just hold on and wait until your wife returns from traveling, they'll say. But I am thinking of the guy, and increasingly the gal, who pulls up at a red light and suddenly starts wondering if they are living properly.  It can happen at any moment to currently living humans in any culture, at any hour, without notice or warning.

So, take notice, I tell myself.  I am a male and am a child of God, made, mind you, in the image of God.  I can get all puffed up with ego and pride but then I think of that ancient book Ecclesiastes which asserts "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity."  He wasn't referring to pride in my looks, but to futility, uselessness, pointlessness.

I think of that piercing poem by Shelley "Ozymandias", which depicts the ego and boasts of a long dead and now-forgotten and irrelevant king.  

So, which is it: am I great or am I pointless and just a dust bunny?  It's both. I am great. Nobody else is writing this helpful blog. I am a US taxpayer, a cook, a husband and a friend.  But I am deteriorating and aging. There are many people alive today that don't know about my existence and good qualities and are perfectly happy that way.  It's a story that has played before: born, lived, loved, laughed, aged and finally stopped. Nice story, glad to be in it.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Books and meeting them

I used to drive to a larger city and peruse the bookstores.  I wasn't especially attracted to the many stores that sold used books.  They were cheaper but in general I wanted books that were more recent. Sure, if reading something, I found a reference to an older book, I thought it relevant.  But events as they happen often affect what I want to know and the more recent the events, the more relevant opinions and reports by authors that had a chance to know what just happened.

I read that some institutions have considered that one needs a period of 60 years after someone's death before that life and the contributions of that person, artist, politician, writer, theorist, can be viewed wholly and in proper perspective.   Maybe we move a little faster these days and we might need only 10 years, although a person is quite different in instances of that person's life that are 60 years apart. Books are not an especially big deal. They are just our oldest format for meeting people's minds and thoughts.

I am still impressed by that article on millennials and burnout by Anne Helen Petersen

but I think a person just reaching adulthood (whatever that is) in the year 2000, or anyone else, should take books and reading in a relaxed way.  Modern communication and marketing can deliver information to you about far more books that you can get read. Just because you heard of an interesting book about your ancestors or housekeeping or parenting or investing or, or, or, doesn't mean you have to buy the book, nor look at the book in the library.  

But there is more.  I know because I get into 'more' quite often.  You and I are too smart to try to buy all the interesting books, or read all the interesting ones, but we still get lured in striving for completeness and personal control.  So, cleverly, we make lists of titles that sound interesting. Now, what with great writing and even better writing than that, we have lists that are way too long.

Sadly, we are never going to even hear of some wonderful stuff.  Think of it: there are a billion and more Indians!! There are even more Chinese!!!  You aren't going to hear about some of the totally fantastic stuff some of them write.  The sadness doesn't end there. Some of the wonderful books will break your budget. Some of them get overlooked by marketers.  

Sure, you will read (or listen to) some fine and valuable and life-enhancing books.  But, but, you will forget what they told you. While your memory is aging, the days left for you to read are dwindling!!!

But that is OK.  Really, it is OK.  Take a break. Take a nap.  Take a walk. Watch some little kids at play.  You are doing fine, you are doing your bit. You aren't responsible for all the books.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Turnabout as unending play

A double is two, right?  A triple is three. We have words that describe higher numbers, like quadruple, quintuple and sextuple.  

I have been thinking about A-B type situations.  The one that is somewhat developed as far as I know is spies.  Somebody sends a spy into the other force or group or team or society.  That person gets detected or that person listens to the talk or the propaganda or the agonies of those around him and develops sympathy for those he at first intended to spy on.  Our guy is becomes a double agent. He was working for the A side but now he is working for the B side, usually, I guess, letting B people know about his special connection to the A side and about his new B sympathies.  

I wondered if a spy can be "turned", can force or reasoning or emotions "turn" a spy into a double agent.  I thought that such a double agent might be persuaded by threats or money or something to "turn" again. I thought I would search for "triple agent" but the words came up in the search for "double agent".  The triple agent started working for A but switched to B. Now, he is turned again and becomes a triple agent, worked for A, then B and then A again.

Naturally, I want to know how high can we go?  Has there been a triple agent who switched again, so that he doubled back to working for the B side?  Are there instances of quadruple agents? Quintuple agents?

I have a similar interest in receipts, now that it is getting to be tax time.  Well, it is always tax time but for accounting purposes, the income tax is levied on my income for the past year, the one that just ended.  Ok, every instant is ending some year but let's just use the Gregorian calendar and the current practice in the US. Once that big New York ball falls, our year 2018 changes to a new year and we can start tallying up annual income and taxes for the previous year.  

Say that I gave a lovely but worn rug to the Goodwill.  New, it was worth $500 but used and worn, they value the rug at $100.  They give me a receipt, a piece of paper with writing that attests to the exchange and the associated values.  Oops, I lost the receipt. Goodwill never got a receipt from me attesting to my having received a receipt. They want more records and begin demanding a receipt from me that I got a receipt from them.  I balk at the idea and make a deal that I give them a receipt for their receipt but only if I …..

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

I should be better

I follow a local doctoral student on Twitter.  Her comments got me interested in the Read Harder Challenge from Book Riot.  She said that the challenge had gotten her reading in areas and authors different from her usual.  Then, this morning, she had high praise for this article by Anne Helen Petersen:

The linked article is long and makes for somewhat uncomfortable reading.  The tone, the drive, the goals of "productivity", "optimization" and the general frenzy to make zero errors reminds me of students who have swallowed the idea that only a perfect record is acceptable, ever.  School and school grades, plus various honors and trophies if you want to throw them in, can be taken as the highway into life, THE road from which there can be no deviation without an immediate and irreversible slide straight to hell.  

The author gives strong praise to the book "Kids These Days" by Malcolm Harris and she mentions other observers of the generations and the anxieties of younger people today.  One of the sources of worry and shame is one's age. A person over 30 years old, certainly over 38 or so, is not a child or a kid. By that age, the idea is that I should have earned more than my parents did at that age, that all my debts should be paid, and I should be happily situated in a "good life."  Again, I should have all A's, whether or not the grades are vague or arbitrary or short-sighted or wrong-headed. For those who genuinely and lovingly seek their parents' approval, even if that approval has to be inferred for a missing or deceased parent, it can be a torture to steadily sneer at one's own pace and accomplishments.  

Monday, January 7, 2019

Wait a while

I normally am not tuned into waiting.  I mean, why wait? Instead, how about NOW? But, I am beginning to change in that regard.  

First, as I mentioned, my thinking speed is slowing down.  What was that guy's name? I knew it. I think I might still know it.  I just can't think of it. That happens more often these days. But, I am finding that with a little waiting, the name comes to mind.  It doesn't seem to help speed things up if I try harder. Maybe trying harder to remember might even slow retrieval even further. The most helpful approach seems to be simple faith in my head.  I don't grit my teeth and try to demand of my brain that it give me the answer. But if I just wait, maybe twiddle my thumbs or look off in the distance, the sought-for item often slides into mind.

Second, some possible thoughts feel naughty or dangerous or blasphemous.  With a little time however, they can be handled. Internal permission can be obtained, the proper safeguards can be rolled into place and they can be managed.  At first, it can be too scary, too dark to picture what I did. But, in a little while, I can sneak a peek, see the deal and work on it. Similarly, if I am talking to a friend about his trouble getting along with someone, I find that I can mention gingerly and on a slant, that maybe some of the problem is the attitude my friend shows about the trouble. He may dismiss that possibility quickly and completely.  Then, ten minutes later, he may say "Well, maybe I could be more open about that trouble."

It is certainly not a new idea.  I often heard my parents and grandparents say "Well, give it a little time".  I just never took the advice seriously. I didn't see how a little time would matter.  Now, however, I see that minds can change, circumstances can change, and a more balanced view can emerge that produces answers, creates tolerance, cooks up some patience and mental strength that only emerge after a little while.

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