Thursday, February 28, 2019

Response time

It is not just a matter of temperament.  If you are having a conversation with your friend and she takes longer than usual to answer, you may ask if there is anything wrong.  All through the day, we have certain expectations of duration, of how long something will take. If those expectations are not met, we may take steps to investigate or correct.  

These days, we are used to phones that communicate our voices, a response voice, a text message, or show a web page that has loaded.  I read that a group charged with checking how their company's web site worked found that a given page took 21 seconds to load. See if you can hold your breath for 21 seconds.  See if the responses to key clicks or mouse clicks or finger taps take 21 seconds to respond. The investigators thought that many customers would abandon the web site if it took that long to get a response.  

Whether it is a phone, a tv set, or a remote to open your car door, there is an expected time for the response.  Without comparative data, maybe I am being too critical. Maybe native Americans would patiently wait for double that time without rancor or upset.  I do wonder if we aren't maybe a little too rushed and habituated to speed if we can't wait 21 seconds for a result. Around me, people are getting in the mood to see snow cease and spring arrive.  We still have more than 3 weeks before the official start of the spring season. Trying to push the seasons along, if only by wishing and mental means, might be affecting our desires for time to move along faster.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

23 again

We sent our saliva to 23andMe, one of the firms that analyzes DNA and tells you what they found out.  We previously did the same thing with the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project. In fact, we had them check us out twice.  I am getting so familiar with my DNA that I could do my own analysis if I had the equipment and the knowledge.

The thing that stands out for me with this 23andMe experience is the apparently endless questions I can answer if I want.  Twice I have begun answering questions (Do you get shin splints? Does the sound of other people chewing enrage you?) and eventually I just had to stop.  There was no invitation to stop. I just had to move on to something else. I have no idea how long the process might go on. I am willing to answer some more and I may.  

The Genographic guys said on the second time they analyzed my spit that I showed 6% of my DNA was Neanderthal and 4% Denisovan (look it up if you are interested).  The 23andMe guys say my Neanderthal portion is less than 4%. They also say that I have more Neanderthal elements than 75% of the people tested. What that means I am not sure but maybe it explains my attraction to big wooden clubs.  They say that my Neanderthal stuff gives me higher odds that I have less hair on my back, and I do not have markers associated with lowered odds that I will sneeze after eating dark chocolate. Now, don't you wish you had spent a hundred or so to find out great stuff about yourself?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A. Lincoln's T-mails

I just found out about Tom Wheeler's books From Gutenberg to Google and Mr. Lincoln's T-mails.  Wheeler is a former chair of the Federal Communications Commission.  I haven't looked at the Gutenberg book but I have begun the T-mails book.  

I can see that if I were to start my life over, I might head for some aspect of communications.  Speech or writing or interpretive dance, there are ways for humans to get ideas, feelings and messages to each other.  There seem to be more ways for human to do so than there are for any other animal. As an older person, I am surprised at the effects of conversation, written messages and other ways of contacting.  

Wheeler says in the beginning of his Lincoln book that the effect of the telegraph was greater and more surprising than our current set-up of text messages and Instagram pictures.  I know other authors and thinkers that stated the same thing: the telegraph was totally astounding in its day. Wheeler say three inventions helped the North in the Civil War: rifled gun barrels (for greater accuracy over a greater distance), the railroad (for moving troops and equipment from a greater range to a needed site) and the telegraph.  He says the most powerful of these was the telegraph. The book "What Hath God Wrought" by the historian Howe also says that the effect of much speedier travel for much greater loads of goods was astounding for the entire US. He also says that the effect of speedier information transfer was pivotal in making the new nation.

Monday, February 25, 2019


Yesterday was cold and windy here.  It is poor weather for electrical power systems.  We lost power (and therefore heat from our furnace, among failure of many other systems and devices).  One of those is a good connection to the internet. Takeaway message: no blog yesterday. Today is a recovery day and there is not much else to say.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Just behave yourself

I am interested in the book by David Friedman and others called "Legal Systems Very Different from Ours".  So far, I have read the first three chapters about ancient Chinese law, Roma (or 'gypsy') law and Jewish law.  The book discusses 15 types of legal systems.

The ancient Chinese legal system is said to be focused on specifying the correct punishment for an offense.  I found it surprising that some ancient scholars advocated not publishing the law. I thought knowing the law was basic to following it.  But then I thought about my parents. They didn't specify all the laws I should follow, or to which they would hold me. If I "misbehaved", I was told that had I used good judgment and common sense, I would have known not to act as I did.  Maybe growing up among unspecified, "secret" laws helped give me the quiet and cautious character I sometimes exhibit.

I read that despite trying to stipulate the correct punishment for every possible offence, there evidently were times when some person managed to commit an act that people didn't like, but was not mentioned in the law.  In that case, judges were allowed to find the offender "guilty of doing what ought not to be done."

I would not have guessed that I would get a laugh reading such a book but I did.  I read there were three kinds of executions carried out: beheading, strangulation and "death by slicing" - cuts and amputation until death ensued.  Strangulation was considered a milder punishment since the ancient Chinese, like many others, tried to take into consideration events in the afterlife. "...since mutilation of the body was held to have undesirable post-mortem consequences", dying with the body all in one piece was preferable.

Friedman, David. Legal Systems Very Different from Ours . School of Law, Santa Clara University. Kindle Edition.

The clearest case of being surprised by discovering I had broken a law I didn't realize existed was eating a piece of cherry pie in a restaurant.  After separating a small bit off using my fork, I ate it. I suddenly realized that I could simply break bite-sized pieces from all of the portion - you know, in the interest of efficiency.  My mother was very unhappy with my table manners.

Friday, February 22, 2019

More shareable life

I am not sure who first put a camera on a cellphone but it was a powerful thing to so.  A cellphone is in my pocket. My iPad is nearby and handy. Either can take pictures (or videos with sound and motion) of things happening around me. They make for a photographed life.

Take a look:

The pictures show our amaryllis as it blooms, Lynn filling the bird feeders in our back yard and snow.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Everything changed! (and it will continue)

Lynn gave a talk about living in Greenbelt as a child.  That community was the first one planned with automobiles in mind.  Since cars can be move faster than humans and weigh much more, we have to watch out for them.  The age of automobiles has been on us for more than one hundred years now. There is a big difference between being able to drive yourself and large quantities of your clothing, books, and smart devices several hundred miles at any time, and being limited to walking and some times, horse power.  A little math says that walking allows a person to cover anywhere in 19 square miles but a car allows a person to cover 10,000 times that area.

The automobile is a big part of American and other lives and has been for a while but other important features have arisen, too.  Radio and television matter. Older features such as the railroad and the telegraph seemed like magic at first - see "What Hath God Wrought" by Howe.  Getting from discovery of electricity to having it as a utility for many purposes just waiting in the wall took centuries.

The internet, in its current form, is roughly thirty years old.  The idea of using signals to converse, vote, shop, learn, create and store documents, work, and play games is a fairly new one and is still completely unknown in some places.  Birth control along with prompting girls to become highly educated and employed adults is having an effect on the birth rate, which, in turn, affects nearly every aspect of a nation.  

The Buddha, 2500 years ago, emphasized that everything changes.  So, life as we know it is not what our grandparents or their grandparents or even, Lynn points out, what we knew.  We try to live well: happily, usefully, morally. It is not always easy and sometimes it is not even possible at all.  But given our brains, our muscles and our cooperation with each other, we may manage.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Functional folding tables

It is surprising what a table can do.  Set it up in the basement for wrapping gifts or to hold a jigsaw puzzle as it is being put together.  Put somebody on top of it and give them a massage. Put your laptop on it and you have an office. We set them up in the driveway for a garage sale.  Extra guests coming to dinner can be seated. Seat your friends for a game of poker or your grandkids for Boggle.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


Today Lynn and a friend gave a talk about planned communities.  Both worked hard and long on their parts but a giant problem popped up as they began.  The classroom projector, the internet connection and related tools wouldn't work. All sorts of help was called in but basically, they had to do the whole thing from what they could remember of what they had assembled.  

Yes, we are in the age of electronic communication.  It is a new age. It can't arrange everything but many aspects of life have been altered.  Sure, older people think they can safely leave everything to the teenagers and the 20 yr olds - until they themselves start shopping online and sending each other intimate pictures.  

Lynn lived in what is thought to be the first planned community that planned ahead for the presence, convenience and dangers of automobiles.  The ability to move around, to move farther and faster, to transport more stuff all matter very much to our lives. People often use the word "technology" to mean smartphones and Instagram, as though pencils, rolling pins and gas stoves aren't technology. Many kinds of objects, materials and processes are involved by human ingenuity and human purposes.  

Ok, take sponges, for instance.

People absorb information "like sponges".  They "sponge" off each other. They use natural and manufactured sponges for all sorts of purposes, from bathing to making pottery to blotting up spills.

There are sorts of tools, products and processes going on in the human world.  You can't really expect to keep up with everything.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Ain't I a Woman? Speech by Sojourner Truth (1851)

I get something from the Library of Congress every week.  The message lists the last week's dates and cites something historical about each day.  This came in today:

Ain't I a Woman? A Suffrage Story for Black History Month                         02/12/2019                        

You are subscribed to Teaching with the Library of Congress Blog from the Library of Congress.

Ain't I a Woman? A Suffrage Story for Black History Month

02/12/2019 11:00 AM EST

Speech by Sojourner Truth delivered at 1851 Women's Convention at Akron, Ohio

Many people are familiar with the "Ain't I a Woman" speech given by Sojourner Truth, but fewer know the story behind the speech--or the different accounts of the speech and its delivery.

Amid roars of applause, she turned to her corner, leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes and hearts beating with gratitude. She had taken us up in her strong arms and carried us safely over the slough of difficulty, turning the whole tide in our favor. I have never in my life seen anything like the magical influence that subdued the mobbish spirit of the day and turned the jibes and sneers of an excited crowd into notes of respect and admiration. Hundreds rushed up to shake hands, and congratulate the glorious old mother and bid her God speed on her mission of 'testifying again concerning the wickedness of this 'ere people'.

Speech by Sojourner Truth

Delivered at the 1851 Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or Negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it. The men better let them.Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Death and related

Lynn was raised as a Lutheran and went to that church more than 40 years.  Our girls were raised there, too. Over time, she began attending Quaker meeting but retains an interest in traditional Protestant religion.  A friend told me that Nadia Bolz-Weber was very worth reading so when a different friend mentioned the Bolz-Weber book "Accidental Saints", I read it aloud to Lynn.  Bolz-Weber has an unusual background for a pastor, at least what has been the case over the last 50 years or so.

Questions of religion intertwine with every aspect of our lives and are never irrelevant.  Accidental Saints seemed good and helpful so we got into "Why Religion?" by the Princeton professor of religion, Elaine Pagels.  The book is more personal than Pagels' scholarship involving the Dead Sea scrolls and current Christian matters, explaining the very challenging life events that struck Pagels as well as her life as a scholar and religious thinker.

Discussing the use of the app "Libby" to borrow e-books from the library got me interested in trying to do that.  I had heard of "When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi. Since it was immediately available, I downloaded it.

Now I am into both books, Why Religion? and When Breath Becomes Air.  Both related to what are often called personal tragedies and called that for good reasons.  The religion professor has deep blows to her life and the neurosurgeon died young.

There are many lovely, moving and tear-inspiring passages in Breath that I could quote.  At my age, death of friends is fairly common. It makes me notice how the drive to life produces hostages.  "Hand over your wallet or I will end your life". "Slow down or you might die". "Hold on so you don't fall."

It all fits together understandably but generally people don't like to think much about their beginning or their ending.  My mommy and daddy did WHAT to get me going? I came from WHERE? When people [not ME, but "people"] come to their end [of living in their live format], what happens to them?  Listening to Bill Bryson's "Short History of Nearly Everything", I heard what has become my favorite word for me and others after death: we "dissipate" - we scatter. That's how, when you take that next breath, you might be inhaling an atom or two of my mom.  

The usual questions: what does the deceased feel?  What does the deceased think? - they may circle around us, haunt us, inspire us, but in a sense they no longer compute.  They don't apply. Sure, our memories, writings, records, videos, snapshots, drawings and conversations with others are all human tools that connect us to forms of the deceased and experiences with them and about them.  We aren't too bad at continuing to interact with parts of the deceased, but there is still a big difference between full life and its complete absence.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

I don't understand why he likes him so much

There are many men and women I admire. Abraham Verghese mentions how he admired William Osler.  But Osler very much liked the book "Religio Medici" by Thomas Browne. Written in 1647, it was a discussion of religious values and science.  Verghese, author of several current books including "Cutting for Stone" was a big fan of Osler, an important pioneer in creating modern medical practices and ideas.  He reasoned that if Osler had repeatedly mentioned how much he valued the 1647 book, Verghese should value it, too.

You know how it goes: You like Sam and Sam admires Robbins, so shouldn't you like Robbins, too?  Maybe. Maybe there is good stuff in Robbins. There must be if Sam likes him so much. But you just can't see it?  What is wrong with you?

You and Sam are different people.  Sam is Catholic and you aren't. He is older than you.  He had different parents, etc., etc. Your instinct may be that there is value in Robbins that you are missing.  Your instinct might be, on the other hand, that Sam is a fine fellow but he doesn't see the cheap or cliche or contradictory or biased side of Robbins.  

You can always keep in mind that regardless of your insight and your reaction, Robbins was a big inspiration for Sam.  Every time you see Robbins or his name or his work, you will think of Sam. It makes sense to check back every now and then.  It can happen that as you age, you see the value in Robbins more clearly. Over time, you may simply decide that the whole issue is over.  There are, indeed, hundreds of other admirable, inspiring people that you will never even hear about.

Friday, February 15, 2019

ebook borrowing

Some people are naturally frugal and wait for their turn to borrow a book. I haven't been that patient and often buy an (e-)book if the price is right.  I noted the Apple and Android app "Libby" (but not Amazon) a couple of months ago. It stood out since I have a greatgranddaughter by that name. In our town, the public library loans ebooks.  They can be downloaded to a computer but the Libby app simplifies having a book transmitted through the air to a phone or a tablet. For a Kindle Fire, the Libby app must be installed without using the Amazon app store, which doesn't carry it.  You can see the internet for details.

It is true that many popular books have a long list of people waiting a chance to borrow and read those in high demand, in either paper or e-form.  However, as an old library user, I have often found that the latest greatest can wait and that tons of super excellent books that never got much attention or that don't attract many readers because of their subject are available, beyond the hype.  I do like a good story once in a while, but the world, science, history, mathematics, and fascinating insights and wonderful language are just waiting to be discovered in every corner of a library, any library.

A friend mentioned the Libby app enthusiastically.  I have had the app on my iPad for a month or so but I have so much to read that is truly excellent, I didn't give e-borrowing a thought.  I know that in some cases, popular books have dozens, even hundreds of patrons waiting to borrow them. But I found a button that shows what is immediately available now.  I looked in the history category and saw "When Breath Becomes Air", a book I noticed a while back. I borrowed it easily and quickly sitting right here.

I mostly just wanted to go through the process and actually get a book.  I got it and started reading. The book seems related to "Why Religion" by Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton.  Both books deal with medical diagnoses of coming death, one of a toddler and one of a neurosurgeon.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valuable failures

I saw an ad for the book "The Best Place to Work" by Friedman.  There are several Friedmans and this one is Ron. He is a PhD and you can find him on Amazon but also on "Ignite80".

Sometimes, when people try to evaluate a whole school, they think about the atmosphere there.  Not the air quality but the general tone that, so far, only a human being can detect. Are the people there uptight?  Is everyone in a hurry? Do they seem terrified? Happy?

I can't say exactly what made me tap into the book but I am glad I did.  The man has been an professor and is aware that some valuable research results are printed in academic journals but that the useful practical stuff takes a long time to get combed out, translated into everyday language and published.  Friedman makes clear that he is writing about creating a satisfying, fun place to work. Doing that is not always about high pay. It is also about the actual pleasures of doing the work and interacting with the others who work there.

I have heard the saying that if you and I always agree, one of us is superfluous.  A related idea is the notion that if I am not making enough mistakes, I am not trying hard enough.  Friedman discusses mistakes and failures, which are not always the same thing. Thomas Edison's idea of using electricity to create light, as in a light bulb, is very important to our lives today.  He is supposed to have said, while searching for a way to do that, "I haven't failed - I have discovered 10,000 ways that don't work."

Friedman explains that more corporations and organizations are trying to encourage intelligent failures and lower the fear-of-failure intensity.  Some have taken the idea of a CV, a "curriculum vitae", a listing of what I have done, and change the emphasis to a FV, a failure listing. What important failures have I had?  The idea is not so much failure to stop smoking or finish that dreary book as it is to persist in trying something, like making an electric light, that could be valuable but so far, isn't.  

Intelligent planned experiments are a basic idea of research.  The failure, or clear indication that a given idea doesn't work, is as important at the success.  Psychologically and socially, we aren't as wired to celebrate failure, even important disconfirmations of ideas, as we are to dance and sing about positive results.  Many professional and academic journals are biased toward positive, exciting, clearly profitable results, even though some negative experimental results, failures to support a given hypothesis, may be more valuable for progress and understanding.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Relevance, value and personal feelings

When you watch Arnold Schwarzenegger in "True Lies" or "The Terminator," you can see a model of masculinity with little or no emotion. (In contrast, watch him in "Junior" to see him when he is pregnant and under the influence of pregnancy hormones.)  Because warriors are often called on to do scary things, the basic fear reaction is frowned upon. I am reading "The Goodness Paradox" by the excellent writer, Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham. He makes clear that we can all feel what is socially acceptable and to varying degrees, abide by social forces.

So, it can be a surprise that what matters (relevance) and what is valued (importance, value) are deeply related to personal feelings.  Your dad may have his old varsity sweater and treasure it while your mom, who definitely loves the man, thinks the old sweater is a blot on his wardrobe and should be burned.  He values it highly and she values the same thing lowly. Its value depends on the assessor.

I got into a discussion today with a friend interested in economics.  He has been reading Taleb's books. He described a probability question to my wife and a friend.  "A man has tossed a coin 99 times and it has come up heads every time. A mathematician is asked what will turn up on the next toss.  Streetwise Fat Tony is asked the same question. The mathematician says there is a 50-50 chance that head will come up. Fat Tony says it will be heads and he is very confident."  What do you think?

Taleb is a commodities and stock and financial trader, now retired.  When thinking or discussing money and finances, one can move from budgets and spending to morality, the future, and who and what is a "real" or "admirable" man.  One can move from objective areas to personal ones quite swiftly.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Kindle readers and Kindle Fire tablets

I recently bought three Kindle Fire 7 tablets.  The Kindle Fire is the Amazon answer to the iPad.  I was interested in trying to find a good and inexpensive e-reader.  The Kindle, the Nook (Barnes and Noble) and the Kobo ereaders are all quite similar to a paper book.  The size, weight and reading convenience are much like a traditional book.

The back lighting, the print size are similar if you want them to be.  Of course, the readers can hold electronic files of many books, not just one.  You can remove a file and then call it back from your archives that are stored in the company's computers.  

I bought the Kindle Fires, which are not electronic readers, because of the price.  At the time, I could buy three Fire tablets for $34 each. That low price was only available for a set of three.  I have not owned a Nook but we have several Kindle readers. The Fires are like Apple iPads in that there are many small programs and games that are free or low cost and can be loaded onto the Fire.   The Kindle e-reader itself, which is handy to be THE BOOK I am currently reading, whichever book that is, costs more than the Kindle Fire tablet. Trying to introduced the convenience of ebooks to friends makes me want to have some devices they can hold and try.  Right now, the cheapest new Kindle costs $99.

The Kindle Fire tablets can easily perform like a Kindle but there are so many extras, games, social media, camera and other distractions that reading tends to get put aside.

It is true that it is technically easy to load ebooks onto a computer and read the text there.  However, many people work at a computer and associate it with the opposite of leisure and enjoyable reading.  

Having a book-sized object that is lightweight and is kept aside just for reading is a pleasure.  There some important advantages a Kindle reader has over a paper book.

  1. It is easy and quick to make the print larger or smaller at any time.

  2. It is easy to highlight parts of the text, to send the highlights to social media, such at Twitter or Facebook. (A file of the highlights can be quickly sent to an email account.)

  3. It is easy and quick to add books to the Kindle without any additional equipment, wires or even a Wi-fi connection.  The Kindle can download books in a cellphone-like "call".

The selection of books available for Kindle is very large and the prices are generally low, often lower than paper copies.

It is often about here that I am asked if I am an agent for  I am not. I am just quite pleased to have a handy collection of many books that collectively weigh 10 oz.  

Monday, February 11, 2019

Where is the sun?

Don't be fooled.  It is getting to be time, just as Prof. Jerry Apps advises, to get out the seed catalogs and make garden plans, if that is your thing.  It's true that we are in the middle of winter and that just last week, we had some pretty seriously cold temperatures around here. But the birds and plants know that it is time for many things to begin stirring.  

It was about this time last year that I posted a series of pictures of our Amaryllis in various stages of growth.  The plant is back at it again and has been for several weeks. Lynn feels that it grew to be too long last year and was hoping it would do better but it is quite long and insistent.

It knows what it is doing better than I do but I thought I might help it when it was quite cold by keeping the blind down.  It just seems to ignore my efforts and do what it wants to do.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Cooked my bacon

I am not a big bacon eater.  Over the last ten years or so, we have come to associate bacon with our growing greatgrandson.  He asserts that he loves bacon and has at least one t-shirt that attests to its importance and value.  Lynn thought she would make a dish that needed bacon as an ingredient so we had some on hand.

It is a tasty food and I am an amateur cook who likes the microwave.  If I remember to put no metal inside and be cautious about heating times, I can usually get foods and drinks to just the right temperature without burning them or having mishaps.  So, yesterday, I asked Lynn how to cook up some of the bacon we have on hand. She advised using a good-sized platter, lined with two layers of paper towels. Place the bacon strips on the paper and cover with a top layer of two paper towels.  I zapped it 1.5 minutes, checked it, gave it another 75 seconds and then another 75 seconds.

Lynn didn't want any but I cooked and ate three strips.  Despite lots of reading and thinking, I am still not clear on how good or bad bacon and fat are for me.  It was tasty, fun and easy so this morning, I asked her if she wanted some bacon. She, like me, is cautious about fatty food but she likes bacon, too, so she said yes.  I went through the cooking more quickly today and managed to fit four strips on the platter. I made up a tray with a glass of milk, a banana, the bacon and some grapes. I took it into the bedroom but she was afraid of making a mess in the bed.  We had our breakfast at the kitchen table.

Some sources say it was a big mistake for food people to concentrate on fat, allowing sugar to emerge as a source of obesity.  Some sources seem to continue to offer advice against fat. The food and food politics professor, Marion Nestle, tries to stay on top of what research results come from companies and organizations that seem to benefit financially from the research and are often the sponsors of the research.  Nestle quotes Michael Pollan, communication professor and author of several books about food. Pollan says "Eat food, not too much. Mostly from plants." I am not sure if that is the best advice for me. It may be but between fish, seafood, meat and milk, I am surprised at how often my meals include something animal.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Downside of language

Maybe it was "The 10,000 Year Explosion" that got me thinking about language, both spoken and written.  It seems clear that much of the pleasure of human life comes from speaking to each other and from reading, especially from books, magazines and articles online.  No question, our developed language is a great tool, the backbone of our ability to plan, to cooperate, the study and learn from the past.

But like just about anything, a tool or a weapon often has some sort of downside.  A tortoise shell offers great protection but can be a trap if the animal is turned upside down.  Antlers are good, too, but not so much when two dueling animals get locked together and can't separate.  Similarly, speech and writing can be used to frighten, mislead, lie, undermine, bully and otherwise cause trouble.  

You may want to look at "Haters" by Bailey Poland.  She documents all the guff and negative comments that many women experience when communicating online.  There are many reports of teens of both sexes developing depression or worse from the comments they receive over the internet.

I am impressed at the verses in the Old Testament, especially Proverbs, that caution against slander, harmful gossip, badmouthing and lying.  So, 4 to 7 centuries before the current common period, people were already aware of the damage that can be done with speech. I suppose writing was less likely to be misused since few people could write.  

Of course, anyone can write but maybe not in a way that anyone else anywhere can read.  Keyboards and spoken commands to create writing such as Apple's Siri can carry out may change things over time.  With a little help from today's machines, I can write lies or made-up stories in a language I can't read.

I have read lately that measles, flu and other diseases are widespread in certain locations where people have used language (and example) to convey the idea that vaccines are more dangerous than particular diseases.  This strikes me as the same as the very old practice of spreading a rumor that a certain person is diseased or unclean but targeting a needle instead of a person.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Taino and me

Taino (tah-een-o) is the name of a tribe of indigenous people of the Caribbean.  They are said to be the people who lived where Columbus landed. I never heard of them most of my life.  Then, I thought I would be modern and adventurous and give the National Geographic Society a little of my saliva.  Lynn wanted to do the same thing. My results said my ancestors derived from previous life, walked around the eastern end of the Mediterranean sea, traveled north to present-day Norway, turned back and made their way south along the west coast of Europe.  My genetic markers are common among Irish and Spanish men.

Meanwhile, Lynn was storming and fuming over her impossible result. Her chart showed a path like mine up to going around the Mediterranean but then across Asia to the Bering Strait, over to North America and down.  Anyone looking at my blonde, blue-eyed, light skinned wife would be confident of Scandinavian ancestry, which we knew about, but not about Caribbean native ancestry, which we do not know about.

She fumed, deeply disappointed that her Genographic analysis was screwed up.  But, wait a minute. What about the Spanish ancestor known to have been disinherited by his family for marrying that woman?  So! That is how Taino got to be an important word, group, concept in my life. Twice, other descendants and relatives of the Taino group have contacted her.  Today, the BBC posted an article by Christopher P. Baker discussing the current Taino people of Cuba and their lives and history.

I can imagine a good-looking Taino woman wondering about those strange and frightening men who just arrived, unbidden and dangerous.  One thing leading to another and here is her descendant living in Wisconsin's winter weather, about 526 years later.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Distractions, interruptions and notifications

A friend and I agreed that we both get great ideas but often forget them.  One thing that wipes a good idea from the mind is something important that comes up.  The doorbell rings and it is a buddy you haven't seen for months! No, it's flowers to show you are appreciated.  Whatever comes up, it erases that good idea from your mind, the one you were going to put on the grocery list. No, it was the to-do list.  Darn! What was that idea?

Smartphones are often set to make a sound when a text message comes in and a different sound when someone is making a telephone call to you.  Weather warnings can be given their sound and your timer can tell you the soup is done. You may get a sound from a friend who wants to play Word Scape with you.  

There are many articles online about unplugging, letting go of the stream and the urgent messages of sales, and causes, and invitations to this gathering, that lecture and that very important march.  Smartphones, tablets and computers can be turned off. They can be muted so that no alerting noises come from them. Some people have chosen alerting signals that sound like a police siren, bless 'em.  

I spend several hours a day at the computer so when I want to get away, it is nice not to have my iPad around.  If I do, I can quickly mute it so that it doesn't bother me or anyone else. We get too many robocalls and we try to not answer if we don't know who is calling.  I don't mind a small banner beside some tablet apps indicating the number of calls or messages I have received that have not been opened.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Self tolerance

I have read about self love but that seems too strong.  I like myself and I seem to be permanently connected to myself but I can't say that I love myself.  I have read about self compassion but that seems a little too distant, clinical and Eastern. Still, over the past few months, I have paid more attention to what I have thought, what I have felt, and what I have noticed.

I have tried to apply the same standards I would in considering someone else.  I think that approach has been helpful. If I knew another person as well as I know what I have been thinking, trying, wanting, I would certainly think that person was being a sensible, likeable, friendly, valuable person.  

It seems much easier and less egotistical if I try to think of what I know of myself as applying to someone else of my age and gender.  I do see that I can explode negative streams at myself at the slightest provocation. I am not sure but it nearly always feels like when I yell at myself, I basically don't mean what I say.  

Having practiced meditation and relaxation for more than 20 years, and having read many books and articles about the subjects, I seem to be able to sense various levels of intensity and commitment in myself.  It certainly may be that I know only what anyone knows, but I think I know my feelings. I think I face my thoughts, fears and desires full on.

I seem to have different results in self examination and self communication when I simply stop and take note of my feelings of all kinds, as opposed to when I fully internally verbalize in actual sentences and questions.  When I think of explicit questions and comments I would make to another person about myself, I can tell what I might say in response. Those responses, in turn, often lead me on to further thoughts. It seems easy to be too hard or dismissive about my steadiness or my motives.  It helps to keep in mind that I don't know the future, not even five minutes ahead, and that a decision that it might be good to do X can turn to be mistaken. So, just because I abandon a task or a path does not mean I wasn't really trying when I began.

My efforts to extend at least normal kindness and tolerance to myself have given me a new respect for my own quality and effort.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Ursula grabs me

I want to write about being kind to oneself but I can't.  Not today and it is all Ursula LeGuin's fault. True, the 88 year old woman died a year ago but that doesn't mean, especially these days, that she is powerless.  Her writings are powerful, peppy and interesting. I haven't read much science fiction but I have heard of her "Left Hand of Darkness". Now I see other fiction she wrote.  Somehow, I was drawn to buy her "The Wave in the Mind", a book of her talks and essays.

I read two of the pieces while waiting for the doctor to tell me about a blood analysis from a week ago.  Nothing too shocking turned up in my blood but Le Guin's wit and wordsmithing had me laughing, giggling and smiling during my wait.  

In the first piece, "Introducing Myself", she explains that she is a man.  

I predate the invention of women by decades. Well, if you insist on pedantic accuracy, women have been invented several times in widely varying localities, but the inventors just didn't know how to sell the product. (She admits that she owns three bras and has been pregnant five times.)

Guin, Ursula K. Le. The Wave in the Mind (p. 3). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.

I read in several places that she wanted to write more books that sold well and featured women.  I don't think she felt satisfied with the amount of that she did.

In the second piece, "Being Taken for Granite", she explains that she isn't granite and should not be assumed to be granite.  She is much softer than granite and wants to be treated like mud:

And I wish that those who take me for granite would once in a while treat me like mud. Being mud is really different from being granite and should be treated differently. Mud lies around being wet and heavy and oozy and generative. Mud is underfoot. People make footprints in mud. As mud I accept feet.

Guin, Ursula K. Le. The Wave in the Mind (p. 8). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.

I wish I had written that.  Ok, my doctor actually had me fill out a questionnaire today.  It was about my gender. I have been squarely on the male side all my life and squarely on the heterosexual side, too.  Show me a hetero and I immediately get all excited and stuff.

But regardless of sex or gender, this person's brains and ideas are of strong interest.  Among many other surprising things, a book and a man and a situation I learned about decades ago are related to her family.  In 1901, Le Guin's father founded the anthropology department at the U of California-Berkeley. He was instrumental in helping the native American I learned to call "Ishi", a member of a California tribe who remained alive when all other humans who knew his language had died.  Le Guin's maiden name was Kroeber, the name of the author of two important books on Ishi. That author was Theodora Kroeber, Ursula Le Guin's mother.

Monday, February 4, 2019

In and out of my head

Many people think of silent, still meditation as an emptying of the mind.  Since the mind is continuously suggesting ideas, memories, worries, etc., the advice about meditation is often to avoid trying empty the mind or to stop thoughts.  A common excuse for ceasing to practice meditation is that one can't stop the mind, which is taken as a sign by the novice that one is unsuited for meditation.

One strategy for dealing with the activity of the mind is to concentrate on something, such as one breath or a spot on the wall.  If I were trying to swat a mosquito, I might look for the tiniest bit of motion and swat at that moment. I could wait to "catch" an inanimate spot on the wall moving, even knowing that it never will.  Trying to stay in that alert mode, all set to perceive motion of an inanimate spot could keep me concentrating directly.

Practicing some meditation every day for 25 or 30 years gets one's head very conscious of what comes to mind.  In my head, what comes to mind naturally is mostly pictures or words but not sentences. If I am just puttering around the universe, words and pictures are fine.  If I am really working on a puzzle, a problem, if I really want to think incisively, it works much better to switch to explicit questions and answers.

  • What is bugging me?  Well, Christmas is coming and I have done no shopping.  

  • Who do I want to get gifts for?  Well, let me make a list.

To stay in contact with the whole body, I move, I concentrate on my feet, I check out feelings from my head, shoulders, core, hips, legs.  It is very helpful to recognize what is physical and what isn't. My birthday is important but it is just a notion. The temperature in the bedroom is not just a notion and it is time to shut that window.  As a human, I am built to use my head and emotions. As a physical object, I need to include gravity, mass, velocity and temperature in my awareness.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Having my thoughts read

My mentally ill daughter sometimes felt that her thoughts were broadcast on a store's public address system.  Various logical questions didn't persuade her that she was mistaken.

Not so long ago, I thought I would be interested in comparative legal systems.  I know that college courses in comparative education are about the similarities and differences between the educational systems of different countries.  What age do children start school? How many years do they attend school? Questions like that are covered. I have heard that the Anglo-American system of courtroom procedure, with opposing attorneys, one for defense and one for prosecution is not used in some other countries.  I was curious about differences in what is legal and what isn't, and differences in procedure and concepts of justice, proof, etc.

Today, I received an email from Amazon advertising a Kindle book called "Legal Systems Very Different from Ours" by Friedman and others for $5. I am definitely interested.  When I saw the title, I remembered thinking I would like to know of a book about the subject of comparative legal systems. I realized that my daughter might have been convinced that Amazon can read my thoughts, knew of my interest and my thoughts, and sent me a message about their book.

I am not convinced that company, or anybody else, can read my thoughts.  Sometimes, I myself have trouble knowing what I am thinking. I did see an article the other day about turning brain waves into speech:

I have read some of "Into the Gray Zone" by Adrian Owen, who has worked for years on the problem of people being alive and conscious but unable to communicate.  I think he did use certain sorts of brain waves to detect their condition and maybe even to communicate with them. I can imagine criminal lawyers asking a judge to require a robbery suspect to wear brain wires so others can see his brain reaction to questions about where he was on the night of the crime.

I have seen items about Amazon's interest in sending people things their computers predict they want before any orders are placed.  But I think it most likely that the email about an interesting book was selected for delivery to me by algorithms that analyze data about my choices and others like me and consider the odds of my buying and the cost of sending me a message.  I may well have searched more than once for comparative legal systems.

The book starts with the sentence:

Almost forty years ago I became interested in the legal system of saga-period Iceland, a society where if you killed someone his relatives sued you.

Friedman, David. Legal Systems Very Different from Ours . School of Law, Santa Clara University. Kindle Edition.

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