Tuesday, April 30, 2019

from then to now

James Bell Pettigrew was born in 1834 in Calderbank, Scotland.  He grew up and became a professor of anatomy at St. Andrew's University.  During his 30+ years there, he wrote a book about animal locomotion. Of course, bipedalism is nice and all.  It gives us our hands to type with, knit with and such. But the locomotion that got Pettigrew's attention was the flight of birds and insects.  He knew that others had thought about flight and even tried various experiments but that they had decided air couldn't support humans. He wasn't convinced and he said so.

Later, in 1896, a young man in Ohio contracted tuberculosis.  It killed many and nearly killed him. He had a very long session of healing and bed rest, which was just about all that medicine at the time could do for his situation.  Orville Wright liked to read and stuck in bed, what else? No tv, no smartphone, no email. He read about Otto Lilienthal, a German enthusiastic about flight and gliding.

Photography was just emerging at the time so we have some pictures of Lilienthal using his gliding apparatus.  But Pettigrew's writing continued to inspire the bedridden Wright, who eventually recovered.

I looked up Pettigrew, just to learn a little more about a man who inspired an important developer of flight.  I was directed to the professor's book on Amazon. I downloaded it.

So, from 1874 to Orville's bedroom to my Kindle to your device!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Re-directing myself

It is not easy: don't eat too much, try to eat healthy foods, which are often not the ones that immediately appeal.  The ones that immediately appeal keep right on appealing, even while I am actually eating healthy foods.

It is not easy: doubting the naysayers.  They sound right, they sound helpful: watch out!!!!!!  Things are dangerous and they are getting worse!!!!! Keep your worrying cap on and maybe, with terror and tears, you MIGHT survive.

Think back: things used to be so sweet, didn't they?  Girls were girls and men were men. But now!

When I think about eating well, keeping up-to-date, and remembering, I keep meeting myself.  C'est moi! I am not actually my enemy but I do seem to have components that direct me in directions that I can out-do, if I remember what I am doing.  I finished "The Hungry Brain" by Stephen Guyenet and now we are reading "Factfulness" by Hans Rosling. Both blame my own beloved ancestors, even the ones I never met, for developing bodies and internal systems and circuitry that may well have been optimal for the time.  However, times have changed.

My great, great grandfather was probably a fine man but he never used Microsoft Office, iOs or Android products.  He never got his driver's license. He didn't know Howdy Doody or Captain Marvel. A couple more "greats" back, and we are in Europe.  No engines, no motors, poor sanitation, definite danger of starvation, keep your eyes open for dangers.

It is not a bad idea even today to be cautious, but lots has changed in the last couple of centuries.  Even in the last couple of decades. Maybe it is not unusual, but I seem to have my head set to about 1980.  The time since I turned 40 has gone by in a flash: smoothly, pleasantly, seemingly in one undifferentiated chuck.  

But Guyenet emphasizes that many of my drives are tuned to former times and different conditions.  So, how about some chocolate? Wasn't life on Gordon Road great? Rosling emphasizes that my own tendencies of mind and the inaccuracies of memory point me toward thinking things are going downhill when they aren't.  But restraining myself is not all that new. I had plenty of experiences growing up that called for self-control, consideration of others, restraining myself, taking an extra moment to ask what was the best thing to do.  

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Top of the line but ...

No other animal does all that humans do: art museums, city tours, fly groups and cargo over the oceans, create electricity and use it for dozens of purposes.  Yet, we get depressed, we get anxious, we suffer PTSD. It seems that we sometimes forget our advanced status and our top of the line abilities.

You can start a list today and put it in your journal or on your own website, some place where you won't lose it.  It is fine to squirrel several copies away in different places. The next time you start wondering if you matter, take a look at your list.  Loved by your parents? Gave a good speech in class? Snagged a great date? Married a wonderful partner? Drove all that distance? Saved all that money?  Worked all those hours?

We are better at believing in externals that others, too can see and celebrate and envy.  But what about those times in prayer, in church, meditating, simply appreciating? You might be the outstanding appreciator in town, maybe in the state.

Don't you feel embarrassed to be looking at yourself negatively when you have achieved so much?  You couldn't explain to the birds or the bears what you have done, how you have loved, what peaks you have reached in gratitude, in calm, in love, in devotion.  They just can't grasp what you have done. Forgive them. They have other tasks, other goals, other means. But at least give yourself honest credit. Take a look at Stephen Webb's TED talk or the book "Rare Earth".  It is possible that on this planet or any other anywhere, there is just no one, no one at all, that can do what you have done, are doing and will do, soon. Have some honest pride.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Sliding scales in life and in me

Ever since high school, I have heard and read about dichotomous thinking, the idea that a thing is or it isn't.  Yet many aspects of my life seem gradual. I age gradually. My money gets spent gradually. My enthusiasm waxes and wanes gradually.  Still, I was surprised by descriptions and statements in "Incognito" that depict the mind as a kind of parliament, arguing for and against an action or a stance.  Eagleman says that when the pros and cons are too balanced, the issue gets kicked upstairs to the conscious mind for a decision.

When I have seen protests or hear rhetoric for or against some idea, I often wonder at statements that plead for higher levels of emotional expression.  I thought that if I am in favor of a new highway, I am in favor. I have looked at the costs and benefits and seen which seems greater. I realize that there are some of each but I like to think that I make a decision and it is made.  Sure, if new information surfaces or new advantages or problems emerge, I can and do re-think. But the idea that my brain itself operates on a relative-pressure basis seems surprising.

Yet, it does feel that way.  I bought Antonio Damasio's "The Strange Order of Things."  I know I have more books begun than I should. I know that I don't remember too much of what I have read.  I certainly have more books in my Kindle archives than I am going to get to. I read about the book, which sounded like it is relevant to the subject of this post, and to much that I think about.  I knew it might be helpful for me. I tried to weigh the positive feelings I had about the book carefully. A new sort of precaution and analytic step I have been taking lately is to download the free sample of the book that Amazon offers.  I got the sample and started it.

The book is surprising and it is about human feelings and their place in our lives.  It is about how the ability of having emotions might have arisen naturally, and traces that development all the way back to single cell life.  Quite surprisingly, the author, an experienced neuroscientist, says repeatedly that he will move to the idea of homeostasis as the source of our feelings.  You know homeostasis, the thermostat effect of keeping the body temperature and the blood acidity and many other levels of body components where they should be, adjusting them up or down to the best level for the body.  I didn't know that was where he was going and I am surprised.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Book club push

The guys asked me to lead a discussion of the book "The Wright Brothers" by David McCullough.  When I was teaching the 5th grade, I taught a unit on the history of transportation. Going from walking to horseback to cars and trucks, while developing sailing ships and engine-driven ships was a big deal, but not as big as learning to fly.  Not just flying, but flying many people and heavy loads of cargo.

It can't be done!  It was tried many times and those trials often resulted in human deaths.  We humans just don't have the breast muscles like a robin or an eagle. Leap off a cliff with an Icarus-like set of "wings" and die!  But the Wright brothers, bicycle mechanics !, worked and worked and worked. They learned from failures, they studied aeronautics and they did it.

How many times have I flown?  We can't remember all our flights.  No deaths. We have flown with three of our four greatgrandchildren and plan a flight with the 4th this summer.  Each little kid who sees the ground retreating and grasps that we are in the air, the air, gets excited. People over the centuries wanted to do that, and now we do.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Associations and pictures, not full sentences

I found it helpful to read recently that our minds tend to work by associations of this with that, not as full sentences that make sense by themselves.  Since it is often assumed that we are both "logical" and "rational" thinkers while at the same time having emotions and being governed by them, it can be helpful to expect related topics, similar people, and impressive opposites to come to mind.  Kahneman and Tversky did famous research on our mental tendencies and Kahneman has that book "Thinking: Fast and Slow". I may form an impression and reaction to that guy in microseconds while it might take a lifetime to become familiar with his way of thinking, his background and his knowledge.  It is definitely helpful to be aware of both my immediate reaction, and also my slower thoughts and questions and impressions of him.

For most people, there is both a time lapse and a switch to a different process to find words that describe reactions or articulate in comprehensible speech questions and comments that express, at least partially, what thoughts and feelings. Depending on the filters I use, I may take some time to allow expression, either facial or oral, to occur.  In addition to filtering and examining thoughts for the results in others that seem probable, I may find my own reactions premature and based on too little time and experience.

I think there are also gender differences between people.  It is fashionable right now to focus on similarities and assert equality between the genders but my experience is that one finds differences of what motivates, what encourages and what sustains thinking and communication for women and for men.  There seem to be many similarities and no superiority but they do not seem to be identical.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Air in the tires

It is getting warmer outside and today the weather is nice.  It is a bit windy but still very nice weather. Inviting me for a bike ride.  I have enjoyed gliding along on a bike since I was about 5 years old, decades ago.

One source says that an hour of leisurely biking burns 281 calories as opposed to 232 calories for walking for an hour at 3 mph.  I was told long ago that each stroke of the pedals nourishes my knee joints. It does feel good.

So, we just did it!  Sure, we aren't John Bailiff riding way out to that observatory and back.  But we have a whole set of excuses. First, to quote my sister, we don't want to.  Second, it is our first use of our bikes in months and months. Third, we don't have an observatory way out there.  To our credit, we did hook up the electric tire pump and we did inflate the tires to the recommended 60 lbs. pressure.  And, get this! We rode at a moderate greatgrandparent pace for 15 (count 'em!) minutes. Whew!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Subjective probability

I wrote about probability before.


I hear people asking for a judgment or opinion by saying,"On a scale from 1 to 10…"  We moderns are used to using a scale from 0 to 100. We even have a symbol on our keyboards, the "per cent" sign, %, to mean we are using such a scale. "Per Cent" or "by the hundreds."  

I have read that humans have some ability to estimate ratio or proportion naturally.  They can make sense of the question "Is that dog twice as heavy as the other one" From gambling and games, emerged the impetus to think mathematically about probability.  From probability, statistics, operations research and many sciences, including meteorology, people have developed and become accustomed to using probability statements about events that haven't happened yet.  

In an attempt to be clear and definite about meanings and procedures, "frequentist" ideas of probability were used for a long time.  So, a probability of a success = number of successes/ number of successes + number of failures. But to use that definition, we needed actual numbers.  How many successes have there been? How many failures?

For many events, there are no precedents.  What are Irene's chances in the beauty contest?  She has not been in any contests before. Mrs. X thinks she has little chance while Mrs. Y "likes" her chances.  So, we ask the ladies to give us a number, a percentage if they aren't scared by the word, that represents how likely they think Irene will win.  Mrs. X gives her a 10% chance while Mrs. Y says 70%.

For a while, frequentists sneered at such numbers and especially at calculations done with them.  There are still plenty of people who have little faith in predictions or numerical expressions of chances.  However, gamblers, insurers, beauty contests officials and fans, and some psychologists pay attention. For instance, in doing my doctoral work, I read that events that have a 70% chance, in say, a game, "feel" like a certainty to many people.

Modern weather forecasting makes regular use of subjective probabilities and citizens come to expect them.  The Nate Silver numbers-based organization and website "538" recently reported they had tested themselves and were happy to have found that events they tended to give a 70% chance seemed to have happened about 70% of the time.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Spring event

We hunted Easter eggs, plastic with candy and money contents.  We found them all but not all that easily. We had a dinner with 12 guests, three of elementary school age seated outdoors in the gazebo.  We have gotten the dishes and pans done and raucous games are going on raucously in the dining room.

Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Time and TED

There is so much good, thought-provoking, valuable stuff on the internet.  There is no chance that either of us is going even find out about it all, much less read and digest it.  Beyond that, one will lift a person's spirits or answer a burning question one day will be irrelevant on another day.  

With that in mind, I still have two sources to point to:

  • TED talks

  • Time magazine

I get something from TED talks at least weekly.  This week brought the 4th summary of a TED talk conference.  


The lead item is a talk on facing grief from the death of a loved one.  Normally, a death of someone elderly isn't as shocking or wrenching as the death of a young person.  Also, a partner one is just starting out with, someone on whom you are depending to share life with, is extra painful to lose.  There are other interesting and memorable talks linked.


Every year, TIME magazine puts out an issue on 100 most influential people.  I just thought about influences on my life yesterday. It might be that few of the people mentioned are currently a big influence on your life or mine.  That's not what brings tears to my eyes with this issue. It's the authors of the items and their relation to the subject of their writing.

I love the idea of Mitch McConnell writing about who and what Brett Kavanaugh is, of Hillary Clinton writing about Nancy Pelosi, of Elizabeth Warren writing about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and especially Bill Gates writing about Tara Westover.  If you don't recognize these names, you will find it worthwhile to look them up. There is a page in the issue where Time reports the results of reader opinion polls as to who matters. One name that I didn't know there was Jacinda Ardern. She is the young prime minister of New Zealand who thrilled the world with her leadership during the aftermath of a nasty shooting in that island nation.

Saturday, April 20, 2019


My friend's last book was "Influences". Today, we discussed people, especially teachers, who influenced us.  I thought of Prof. John Lewis, who did many things, but brought my attention to the classmate to whom I have been married for 58 years.  I thought of Prof. Onion, who made the challenges facing the early French royalty trying to unify the country real by getting us to use our thinking caps to tell how to go about the job.  I thought of a third professor whose name eludes me that didn't like my attitude. I wasn't fond of his, either.

When I think of influences or rather influencers (a modern use of the term to mean someone on YouTube or Instagram is not where I am going), I think of books.  I had a fun course with graduate students, accredited and experienced teachers, about books that mattered to us sometime during our lives. I always mentioned C.S. Lewis and Jacques Barzun.  John Kemeny and John Tukey are less well-known but they helped me with my graduate studies and dissertation.

Lately, I have been influenced by "Incognito" by Eagleman and "The Hungry Brain" by Guyenet and "Our Towns" by Fallows and Fallows.  The novels of Tony Hillerman and Alexander McCall Smith. The Buddhist and Zen writings of Jack Kornfield, Dan Harris, Jay Michaelson, Charlotte Beck, Pema Chodron and Sylvia Boorstein have influenced me very much.  The history books "What Hath God Wrought" and "Fear Itself" and "Mr. Lincoln's T-mails" mattered and matter still.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Changing the subject

I am interested in the benefits of practicing keeping my attention fixed for a short period.  My attention can be under my control, at least for a while. So, I can watch a squirrel in the backyard, even while a car goes by.  I don't have to put my attention on the passing vehicle. Still, the squirrel is not all that important to me and if the phone rings, my attention will jump over to it.  I can lock myself onto the squirrel and ignore the phone, but eventually I may decide to put my attention on something else.

The paragraph above has 99 words in it and I didn't mention "meditation" once.  Practicing keeping my attention on a given anchor, such as the squirrel, is a way of increasing my awareness of what it is that I am focusing my attention on.  The 99 words also did not include the word "mindfulness", being aware of what I am actually paying attention to. If I practice attending to the squirrel, I tend to notice when I start thinking about something else.  

Many societies, religious organizations and others have practiced focusing their attention on an anchor, noticing when the attention has jumped to something else, and returning the attention to the chosen anchor until the meditation practice ends.  Anyone can do such practice. Traditionally, something other than a squirrel has been chosen as an anchor for the attention. A common choice is one's own breathing. That anchor can be used with the eyes closed, giving them a chance to rest but also increasing the risk of dozing off.

After a couple of weeks of daily practice, maybe for 10 minutes a day, one becomes more sensitive to the focus of attention.  One becomes more mindful of the mind and its activity. I can notice more easily that I spend quite a few minutes thinking about my mother-in-law.  Once I notice that, I can change the subject. I can think about my father-in-law, for instance.

Because I am a human being, one who knows he is thinking, I might decide to think about my thinking about my mother-in-law.  Why do I allow her to be the center of so much attention? Am I jealous of my wife's affection for her? What about my own mother?  What about my parenting?

I can recall that I have been thinking of my inlaws quite a bit and decide that I want to think about Mozart for a while, or dying an early death, or making another million, or writing a screenplay.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Biological impulses

One of the most helpful books I have read in the last few years is "Incognito" by David Eagleman.  He makes clear that we really do have many urges that come from our internal design. We can override them but to do so continuously is difficult.  I wouldn't be surprised if better methods of self control are invented sometime.

What surprises me is the way the internal drives emerge in our lives.  What to eat and who to consider attractive are good examples. "The Hungry Brain" is a careful, considered examination of our eating choices and drives.  My doctor can tell me that I would probably be healthier if I lost weight and I can raise a glass of beer in acknowledgement of the value of his advice. I can cheerfully join in drinking to my health.  I can agree that beer or pretzels or chocolates are unnecessary foods right while I reach for some. When somebody asks if I hadn't said I was cutting calories, the question reminds me. Yes! I am interested in more lettuce and less tiramisu. I forgot. I didn't think. I didn't take time to think.

On those occasions when I have thought, I have a tally in the back of my mind.  I have wracked up 4 lbs. of loss. Isn't it time to celebrate? After all, I don't want my life to be a drag.  C'mon! One milkshake isn't going to ruin that loss.

Eagleman mentions that male frogs are quite attracted to female frogs while I am not.  I didn't think much of the example at first, but the more I think about it, the more I see that in myself and in others. I am old. I don't have the physique that I did.  I just looked up "old men's bodies" with Google search. I did click on "images" but row after row of photos only showed men of more years, yes, but men who looked muscular and physically capable.  I admire that look. I can't help admiring it, even while I know that it is the appearance that draws admiration and mates.

It is difficult to look at older human bodies uncritically.  They have lumps where they "shouldn't" and signs of weakness.  The best example I know of is the Rodin sculpture called "She who was once the helmet maker's beautiful wife".  As an older person, I love the work and the courage of the artist and the woman to make it.  Look up the underlined words and look at the statue. Remember that a person who looks like that, not the focus of wolf whistles, is more precious to her husband and her children and her grandchildren than the lovely young woman bursting with all the signs of ripeness.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Home again

We are back from our travels.  We stayed at The Abbey Resort in Fontana, WI, in Springfield, Illinois, in Davenport, Iowa, and in Madison, Wisconsin.  If you hear that area called "fly-over country", I recommend some doubt. Whether it is a person, a book or an area, not paying attention can deprive you of fun and refreshment.  

Lynn likes to tell the routing and GPS apps to avoid highways.  She feels calmer and like she gets a better experience of both driving and viewing on back roads, less traveled roads, where the speed limits are lower.  What we are driving past is closer to us and seems more human. Because of her taste for back roads, I got to see wonderful vistas of farms and hills.

We went to Springfield to see things related to Abraham Lincoln.  We did and I learned more about his presidency, the public's views of the man, and his personal family life.  We sent out pictures of the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum, realizing that big trucks and containers on ships, trains and trucks bring us much the greater portion of what we have.  

One aspect of the telegraph and telephone systems I hadn't thought about until that museum  was the need for poles to carry the wires. Google search finds that there are about 180 million such poles in the US, which is roughly one pole for every 2 or 3 people in the country.  The information says that a treated pole can last 30 years without maintenance, or up to 75 years with maintenance. I remember the project my stepdad and I had just digging post holes for a farm fence.  The telephone poles are much bigger and heavier. Seeing an early truck especially built to dig adequate pole holds and hoist the poles in place made me realize the labor involved in our communication systems and history.

We saw the flooding in downtown Davenport and we realize that there is still flooding to be dealt with in many parts of the country.

Of course, a major reason for travelin off somewhere is to give ourselves the very great pleasure of coming home.  It is a wonderful place and we are grateful.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The last few days

Lynn Kirby

5:06 PM (12 minutes ago)
to me

The last time I wrote was about the Lincoln Museum in Springfield. On Thursday we went to the Illinois Museum. Interesting, but didn't have much we hadn't seen in other museums. We enjoyed our dinner in a chain--very good, but not one I'd heard of before--Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurants. If you ever happen upon one of them, we recommend it for the food, even though the place was too big to feel very personal. 

Friday we drove to Davenport, IA, and the only thing we did was eat dinner out at Biaggi's, which we like. Another chain. We haven't seen many eating establishments in Davenport that look particularly interesting, except some right down by the Mississippi, where we don't feel like going again. 

Today we were tourists. First we visited the 80 Truck Museum, which has trucks of all sorts starting from about 1918 through the 1960's or so. Interesting, but I'm sure we would have gotten a lot more out of it if we had known anything about trucks before we started. When it told us that this vehicle had a particular kind of engine or that kind of gears, it meant nothing to us. Got some interesting pictures, though. This one is a mail truck/snowmobile, designed to deliver mail in the mountains.


Then we went to the main branch of the public library and spent some time looking around there. We walked about 2 or 3 blocks to the river, and there is still flooding. This morning's report said it was at 15' flood stage, down from 20' yesterday, but the last block or so is still underwater. Note that the light is green, but I wouldn't go there.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Fwd: Springfield apple trees with green leaves

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Bill Kirby
Date: Wed, Apr 10, 2019 at 9:17 AM
Subject: Springfield apple trees with green leaves

Monday, April 8, 2019

Semester in Britain 1974 Memories

Lynn and I and our two daughters led 40 college students on a Semester Abroad in Britain in 1974.  We stayed in London for 6 weeks and then toured Europe for 2 weeks. I was not experienced at travel outside the US and I was not experienced in being in charge of a co-ed group.  One afternoon, in Innsbruck, we looked out our 4th floor window, over a parking lot, to see one of our group hanging by his fingers from a window ledge. We opened the window and yelled at him.

Later, he stated he had been attempting to go out one window and in through a window of his room.  Some girls had locked him out. He did manage to scramble in to safety.

Today, I met the same fellow, now 45 years older, on campus.  He has been married for more than 2 decades and the couple has taught art in many American schools around the world.  

Seeing that man reminded me of the panic I felt as a train with the students on it pulled out of the Amsterdam station. Three of the students, a girl and two guys, had left their packs and passports to go to a money changer.  The train to the coast pulled in and was ready to pull out. I was very hesitant to leave the three behind. We were to go to the coast and take a boat across the channel to England. My wife was yelling that I had the tickets for the whole group and that I should jump on the train.  I did and the car doors slammed shut. An enraged conductor slammed me up against the wall of the car, yelling that had I been injured, he would have been fired.

"We won't eat your children!", he yelled.  He told me that he would put their packs (their only luggage) off at the next station and arrange for them to get the belongings and for their crossing the channel to England. He did arrange exactly that.

I advise all faculty to lead such a trip if they get a chance.  There will be surprises and most will be unpleasant, but with good managers at home and the use of brains and whatever calm available, it will be fun and enriching.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Come from away

Our daughter told us that her favorite of several Broadway plays was "Come from Away", based on the book "The Day the World Came to Town".  We just returned from Appleton where we saw the play at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. It is clear that she has good judgment. What a show!

The words and music both were written by a wife-husband team.  The show runs 100 minutes and is performed without an intermission.  I felt like I was a piano and my emotions were being played by an expert.  Up, down, ok, down, up.

It is the true story of planes from all over being blocked from landing in the US as terrorists flew planes into New York City and Washington D.C. buildings on 9/11/2001.  The American government closed the US airspace as a precautionary move and dozens of planes with passengers from all over the world were directed to land in Gander, Newfoundland.  A total of 7,000 passengers were landed in a Canadian town on the edge of the North American continent with a population of 11,000.

There was waves of fear, confusion, and frustration.  The town didn't ask for visitors but showed as much kindness and ingenuity to house, feed and calm the visitors as possible, despite no one involved having a very clear idea of what was happening or why or where.  "Honey, 7000 strangers, in a bad mood and very upset, are coming for dinner, staying overnight and we are not sure for how long."

The show is wonderful.  See it if you get the chance.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

So it goes

We discussed the Kurt Vonnegut book "Slaughterhouse Five."  I only read half of the book, being drawn more to other books I am reading.  The abrupt setting changes, the intrusion of aliens with the power to travel forwards and backwards in time and similar aspects of the text made it seem too erratic, disorganized and even clownish.  

The book is an exploration of war, the bombing of Dresden in WWII to be exact.  The author was captured during the Battle of the Bulge and was a prisoner of war in Slaughterhouse Five in the basement.  After the very intense and deadly bombing, he witnessed the result.

The book is full of scenes and examples of cruelty, horror, bloodshed and pain.  After most of these, he writes the phrase "so it goes." I only read half of the book but I gather that he does not explain or defend the phrase as a follow-up to something quite bad.  We might take "it" in "so it goes" to mean the unfolding of life. It is quite true that life does deliver extremely unpleasant events at times. I assume the author was examining his experience of war and the memories he had of horrors.  However, considering how life goes, it seems balanced to state that when someone writes a great story, or scores a lovely goal, or hears "Yes" after a well-delivered marriage proposal, to follow up afterwards with "so, too, does it go."

Friday, April 5, 2019

Reading, predicted reading time and my buzzing mind

When I get a new Kindle book downloaded, it comes with a file that includes the predicted reading time needed to read the book.  That prediction is out-of-date for me. The file says that typically this book gets read in 8 hours and 16 minutes. I can just picture a reader sitting down at 9 in the morning and reading the last word at 5:16 PM.  But that reader is not me.

I read two sentences, maybe four, and I get an idea.  Is this author alive now? Where did the author go to school?  What else has this author written? I reach for my computer keyboard and search.  Suddenly, I get another idea, one that clearly could serve as the focus of a post on my blog.  Better get a clean sheet of paper, head it with the date and make of note of the prompt idea. Who knows how long it will be before I get back to the next sentence in the book?

I almost always read on the Kindle.  Lately, I have been concentrating on the book "The Hungry Brain" about human tendencies to seek, remember and enjoy, crave even, foods with sugar, fat, salt and the tastes of meat.  It seems that we have an epidemic of obesity in this country and other countries are starting to have the problem, too. Ok, I am reading along and the author, Stephan Guyenet, mentions Dr. David Kessler's book, "The End of Overeating."  Another diversion: is that Kessler book available on Kindle? Will I get to reading it soon? Yes? Is the price ok? Yes? Download it. Do so for sure if the book is on sale. Too expensive or not in Kindle form? Add it to the wish list.  Check to see if the local library or the campus library has a copy. If not, request it to be borrowed from one of the dozens of connected libraries in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, interesting facts or valuable sentences to remember and note get highlighted by my fingertip.  Each highlight can have a note connected to it, explaining or commenting. The highlights and notes can be sent in a single file to my email.  The email includes a PDF and a file that can be opened by Excel or Google Sheets. If I am impressed by the book, I may want to make a web page on my Kirbyvariety site of the notes.  I may think of a relative or friend that would enjoy the book and I may take time to send an e-copy to them.

A good author telling a good story or explaining helpful information may cause me to stop and ponder many times.  I have read, in the usual sense of "reading" 25% of the book (the Kindle keeps track) and I have made 24 comments.  See why the typical time prediction can be quite wrong?

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Big corporations

I hear anti-big corportation talk but I rarely hear any pro-big corporation talk.  I imagine if you work for a big corporation, you get enough pro-company comments and material.  I know that there have been times when the government has said a corporation is too big and controls too great a share of the market.  

But I am suspicious of what I hear.  I suspect that a large corporation with a clear goal and efficient, dedicated employees trying to reach that goal, contribute both to my life and to the world.  I am not sure how big a company has to be to qualify as "big". Many of the products and services I use often are possible because of large, well-organized networks of people intelligently cooperating.  I use the internet multiple times a day and I use several computers and other devices. Neither the net nor the devices would exist without large corporations that create, sell and service them. My water system, the heating of my house, my car and fuel to run it, my food and energy to cook it, the electricity that runs my lights - many cooperative efforts of educated, experienced people make all that possible.

I haven't read much about monopoly-busting or particular corporate misdeeds but I am confident there are some, both in the past and now.  Still, I suspect that the term "big corporations" is a handy one for efforts to confuse and frighten people. From childhood on, it is easy to be afraid of bad guys (and girls).  We live in an era of "content", that is, there is a widespread hunger for stories and entertainment, not to mention political talk and attempts at persuasion and the creation of loyalty as well as division.  It is much easier to construct a typical story if there is a villain to blame and fear. In some cases, it is easier to get your allegiance if you are convinced that there are people to fear, bad people with malevolent designs, and I will keep you safe.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Losing weight with zero points and Hungry Brain

I looked up "Do women gain weight more easily than men?" The results had many articles attesting to women gaining more easily.  Lynn has been watching her weight more carefully than I have been watching mine. She decided rather abruptly to be even more careful about what she eats.  We have both tried days of skipping breakfast and lunch and eating a modest dinner, but she has had experience with Weight Watchers (WW) and decided to try using their ideas.  This time, instead of attending weekly meetings, she joined the online version.

Lynn had come across the WW chart of zero points and knew that the points-per-food count was not affected by the foods on that chart.  At the same time, I am reading "The Hungry Brain" by Stephan Guyenet, PhD. I wrestled and wrestling is a sport where one's body weight is important.  Before the match, the wrestler steps on a scale with the referee looking carefully over his shoulder.

The horizontal bar has a pointer.  If that pointer touches the top of its little metal bracket, the wrestler cannot wrestle in that weight class. So I learned to be sure my weight was well below the limit.  Over the years, for that sport and for my own appearance and health, I have had to lose weight many times.

Weight losers sometimes develop a wisecrack that "if it is good (tasting), it is bad for you (if you want to lose.)"  Guyenet makes clear that the wisecrack is no joke. Our brain circuits and our taste buds have evolved in times of food scarcity and genuine starvation.  So, we are attracted to fat, sugar and salt and starch (as in chips and pretzels and pastries). So, yes, as a general rule, if you like it and want it, it is bad for losing weight.  

Enter zero point foods: vegetables, fruits, eggs, some meats.  See? No dairy, no cheese, no beef, no breads. Following WW plans, we can accumulate 23 points a day and the pointed foods can be eaten, but they count.  Guyenet describes the diets of the Kalahari !Kung and the Amazon Yanomami, who have small game, insects and vegetables and fruits. No candy bars, no ice cream, no alcohol.  

I have lost about 3 lbs. In a week and have gained new respect for the giant supply of food available to me at all times.  I have no need to make a wrestling weight limit but I like being a little lighter and plan to continue to concentrate on zero point foods.  

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

New methods in the weight room

The weight room on campus got rid of the hip aduction machine.

Some years ago, Lynn was told by a weight room attendant that machine did nothing and could be skipped.  We both suspected that advice since some weight machine company bothers to make and sell them. Anything to do with legs and thighs is of interest to me and I used the machine regularly.  

I was surprised to find it missing after the university's spring break.  The manager told me I could attach a cuff to my ankle and pull the cable at any weight.  Then, turn around and stretch the leg out to the side and pull it in. It felt good and promising.

Then, I realized that my left knee and calf would not do well with special strain on that knee, which had surgery long ago.  Today, I found a harness that will fit my thigh just above the knee and it all works. It is fun and enlivening to find new ways to work out.  The cable machines allow more free movement and I have heard that it is good for muscles and limbs to be challenged to develop stabilizing strength when using them.  Today, as I lifted in an overhead motion, my arms trembled mightily. I could lift but I could not avoid trembling and vibrating.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Being philo and sophical

A friend likes to tell the story of trailing two coeds across campus.  One was explaining a vexing problem the whole way. As they started to enter a building, the other said,"Be philosophical about it.  Don't think about it."

Philosophy is made of old words that combine to mean "love of wisdom."  In the West, the most commonly mentioned name associated with philosophy is Socrates.  You may know that Socrates is often compared to Jesus in that both were executed by a government and both are often said to have been the target of lethal slander, rumor and bad feeling.  

So, if one wants to be philosophical, maybe for just a little while, how does one proceed?  To me, the essence of philosophy in life, as opposed maybe to in a course, is questioning. In today's world, it can be difficult to separate science and scientific work from philosophical work.  I think it can honestly be said that the ancients tended to skip the modern steps of gathering data. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you can still find plenty of simple assertions that are asserted without evidence or data.  

Another major tool of philosophical thinking as Socrates is reported to have proceeded according to his pupil Plato, who could write and did, is group dialogue.  Modern artificial intelligence researchers grasp the important difference between a single person thinking, pondering, questioning and a group doing so. Even if several men with similar backgrounds consider a question, maybe "What is justice?", it can be very impressive how quickly they can make the discussion evolve.  Different minds, powered by relaxed but slightly oppositional and competitive thinking, employing their own opinions, experiences and backgrounds, can very rapidly develop an impressive array of ideas and extensions on just about any line of thought.

Modern scientific work often employs Socratic dialogue but researchers are usually trained not to go on "fishing trips", that is, have some ideas and some reasons for designing the experiments and tests you do.  Don't just gather lots of measurements and hope that they will mean something. Have some sort of a plan and have that plan discussed and criticized before gathering your data.

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