Thursday, October 31, 2019

Not a good day

We got a call that our greatgrandson was in an accident.  He wasn't hurt and neither was the driver in the other car but our guy's car is totalled.  That is a problem for his transportation to say nothing of the expense and upset.  

Then, while serving him breakfast, I spilled the sugar canister and an good amount of sugar fell on the floor.  I tried to get it all up with the vacuum cleaner. Hint: don't do that. The machine spewed the granulated sugar all over the place.  Lynn has mopped the floor three times and it may need another cleaning.  

So, drive carefully, and don't spill the sugar.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Welcoming the Unwelcome

Pema Chodron is an  American born grandmother at a Buddhist monastery in Nova Scotia, Canada.  She is the author of many books. She is also available in many YouTube videos.  She has just come out with a new book "Welcoming the Unwelcome".  

The most common advice that coaches and teachers give about handling difficult situations and emotions relates to the title of her new book.  Don't run, don't hide, face the problem. The 13th century poet Rumi has a well-known poem called "The Guest House" .The monk featured in the Mindfulness episode in Netflix's "The Mind, Explained" has the same message as Rumi from centuries ago.  When faced with downers and upset and irritants, invite them all in.  

You may have heard of nuns and other religious people offering their suffering to God.  If you are going to offer something, you need to face it and to recognize it. You need to name it and welcome as a cousin of other problems you and others have had.

Rejecting pain, loss and suffering, sweeping it under the rug often strengthens the problem.  Facing it, welcoming it is the most effective way of neutralizing the problem. It is pretty clear that into each life, some rain and other negatives will fall.  They can't be stopped. But, it can help to welcome the little bastards and give each a friendly tickle under the chin.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

"The Mind, Explained" - "Mindfulness" episode on Netflix

There is a series of short films on Netflix called "The Mind, Explained".  One of them is "Mindfulness" and it is a good quick exploration of the topic. You may have heard of meditation, a major, inexpensive, quick tool for knowing your own mind better.  There are several routes to practising mediation, which is an old activity that goes back thousands of years.  

To me, the simple idea of sitting still for five or ten minutes, keeping my attention on a single anchor is a basic and interesting challenge.  Surely, I can sit for ten minutes. It shouldn't be that hard. If I set a timer ("Hey, Google/Siri/Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes") and keep my attention on something I choose, I can tell when I have wandered off to daydreaming.  When I recognize that I have drifted, I return to my anchor. Repeat as necessary until the time is up.

The 20 minute film explains many aspects of the practice, from Tibetan monks to the well-known Wisconsin researcher, Prof. Richard Davidson to modern corporations, armed forces, hospitals, hospices and schools who are applying the technique.  Why do it? It is short and a good challenge, one that simply relates to the idea of "Be still and know that I am God". It is okay if you don't go along with the idea of God. Just sit yourself down and be aware of your life for 10 minutes. You can do it!

Each time you catch yourself wondering when this long T-E-N minutes will E-V-E-R be over just go back to concentrating on your anchor.  Over the centuries, the most popular anchor has probably been your breath. You don't have to breath deeply but you can. Just notice, listen, feel, your breath.  Larry Rosenberg's "Breath by Breath" is a totally wonderful book on doing this, facing demons and itches that arise while getting more confidence and experience.  

Monday, October 28, 2019


It is something of a surprise to me that social contact is so much fun and valuable.  I don't think I heard that friendships would be so important while I was growing up. I read recently that human memory works on associations so that a comment or scene can stimulate very different ideas in people.  So, a group's conversation is basically unpredictable. If I am with a group of people that like each other, the talk can go in many different directions.

If they don't like and accept each other, it is easy to get into lecturing back and forth.  You don't like my position on extraterrestrial beings and you get the notion that if you just explain the overwhelming evidence that you know, you will help me see the light.  Your fine explanation will deliver me from my situation of error while I find your recitation full of mistakes and want to counter each point you make with a correction.  

How well one person knows another is murky.  How many people one person knows is itself a rather open question.  Back on Nov. 15, 2014, I posted a blog statement that I had read that most people know about 150 other people.  When I just looked up "How many people does the average person know?", I found answers of 800 and 600. Of course, there are many ways to define knowing someone else and different definitions lead to different estimates.  I doubt that overall social relations have changed much in five years.

Humans are a communicative bunch.  It is said that writing was invented during the last 10,000 years but speech is trickier to gauge.  Evidently, reasonable estimates range from 50,000 to 2,000,000 years ago. It is clear that our brains are modified to accommodate speech and we can convert both talk and writing to feelings and understandings of others and their lives.  Talking or writing can give us a taste of the lives and circumstances and feelings of others we care about. It is quite possible that exchanging words in any way with others increases our interest and affection for them.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Optimism and over-runs in time and money

Two books that are paying off just now are "Thinking: Fast and Slow" by Kahneman and "Breath by Breath" by Rosenberg. Each of those books often gives me something to think about after reading a sentence or two.  I have the impression that we are just beginning to grasp the complexity of our minds, let alone the complexity of many minds working together and working in opposition to others.

Recently, in Thinking, I have been reading about the "planning fallacy", which is simply that actually completing a complex plan takes more money and effort and time than expected.  Here is the author's first example:

In July 1997, the proposed new Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh was estimated to cost up to £40 million. By June 1999, the budget for the building was £109 million. In April 2000, legislators imposed a £195 million "cap on costs." By November 2001, they demanded an estimate of "final cost," which was set at £241 million. That estimated final cost rose twice in 2002, ending the year at £294.6 million. It rose three times more in 2003, reaching £375.8 million by June. The building was finally completed in 2004 at an ultimate cost of roughly £431 million.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow (p. 250). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

Kahneman and colleagues are in the business of finding patterns and they have many examples of optimistic plans that wound up costing much more than originally estimated.  

I wonder if we knew what we were planning to do and its eventual cost if we would ever do anything.  I often read how much money it takes to have a baby and raise the baby to adulthood. The example above is about the Scottish Parliament Building and here is a link to the article in Wikipedia about the building:

Closer to home, there are many cases where something is planned, often because existing conditions need to be improved.  It seems likely that first planning, even by energetic, well-educated experts with high ambition will underestimate the final cost of a project. Say, let's be sure to have a health clinic on the ground floor.  We sure need to have our new building near a metro station and let's have a catering office, too. Well, sure, while we are at it, let's not build a new building. Instead, let's build three new buildings.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Beautiful leaves

It is truly fall around here.  The leaves show several kinds of beauty. Of course, there is the sort that we always hear about: the shades of colors, highlighted by the pines' steady green.  But because the last few days have been especially calm, there has been little or no wind to disturb the falling and patterns.  

As we walked around the neighborhood today, several lovely circles of leaves had been laid down around their tree trunks.  One circle mysteriously showed mostly yellow leaves on one side and most bright red leaves on the opposite side. Walking around, there was a continuous falling of a few leaves here and a few leaves from that tree over there, all in silence and easy to miss if we weren't alert. The circles are very well laid out, not irregular in height or depth of leaves.  The trees and their leaves could not have done a more impressive job laying everything out evenly, with different angles to a fallen leaf and happenstances giving an effect of both thoughtfulness and eye-catching geometry.

A black driveway under pines often shows terrific beauty.  I like to look at a nice, natural scattering and picture being handed a big basket of leaves and asked to place them as beautifully and as separately as they have fallen by themselves.  It is somewhat like looking at a Christmas tree that has been nicely decorated so that lights are spread over the surface evenly but knowing all the while that the pleasant geometry and spacing is completely natural.

The sun rises later these days and that makes it easier to catch the moments when a particular tree is simply ablaze in full sunlight, glowing a fiery orange with special but only momentary intensity.

Friday, October 25, 2019

New and exciting truths

I thought I could call it the "confirmation crisis" but when I looked up those words as a search term, I didn't find what I was looking for.  I added "in psychology" and discovered that what I was thinking of is being called the "replication crisis". 

I am a longtime fan of people, their minds, motivations, and impulses.  I had grad school minors in psychology and in philosophy. I had taught the 5th grade for four years before entering grad school.  I knew from experience that old-time observers of humans, such as the Bible and Shakespeare, and more recents like C.S.Lewis and Jacques Barzun knew a great deal about the way humans think, act and feel. I enjoyed my philosophy courses more than the psych ones, although psychophysics, the study of the human senses, was quite interesting.  

I remember seeing a list, I think compiled by Carl Rogers, of 50 truths about humans that were supposedly uncovered by psych researchers.  One related to the experiments where several conspirators announced that line A looked longer than line B and gosh, the experimental subject agreed even though it wasn't.  I imagined a minute of conversation with that person just before the event, explaining what was going to happen. I thought a minute would be enough to undo this fundamental law.  We all know about peer pressure, crowd effects, social pressures and such. 

Given the value of knowing oneself and others, the steady contact and company of others, the inner secrets one knows about oneself and the ability to infer similar wiring in others, it is difficult to uncover 

  • New and useful

  • Exciting

  • Reliable

truths about people.  New ideas may not hold up, or they aren't new or they only apply on Tuesday after 7 PM for blondes.

It's old news that people are tricky and can modify themselves and their behavior.  That is so true that many thinkers have warned that the physical world and its rules are quite different from the human world.  There is interaction between the two, sure, and one depends on the other. Still, as football teams know, if we can rely on steady, fixed repetition, we humans can often find a way to bend the rules, modify the setting or its meaning or cheat.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Here is what to worry about today

There is too much to worry about. You can't get it all done in a day and the next day brings more.  Besides you have other things to think about and quite a bit to enjoy, not to mention savouring, appreciating, remembering and communicating.  Studies show, or they should, that getting in at least basic S.A.R.C. (savouring, appreciating, remembering, communicating) is fundamental to living a good life and to helping those you love and those you care for, have a good life, too.  

Your inbox may be like mine: 3 or 4 messages on riots, volcanic eruptions, warfare, crimes and heartbreak for every personal message written by someone you know.  You may realize that we are born with nervous systems basically designed to keep us alive, at least long enough to create offspring and raise the springs to sexual maturity.  The design doesn't always work but it usually does. See the current human numbers worldwide.  

What with electronic communication, professional newshounds can sniff out tragedies and ominous possibilities in great numbers.  Customs, good manners and basic common sense still forestall or deflect some of the more shocking possibilities but as the fights for attention, readership, followers, and likes continue, we need new tools to conserve our worry powers and expenditures.  I get a CNN newsletter, which like Apple news, tries to find five points that stand out in surveying current knowledge of the world. But, I also get Brookings, Google News, Teachers College Columbia, BBC News, Num Lock News, Significant Digits. Multiple messages from Amazon come each day, e-books and paper books of course, but also for women's clothing and items either of us can re-order.  

There are many people I care about and I wish all humanity well, even if I am confident that someone is going to be rushed to the emergency room, have an insurance claim, break a loved plate or have some other unpleasantness drop into their life. Let's agree: check my blog and if I haven't mentioned anything to worry about, don't worry beyond figuring out what is for dinner.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Mom's washing machine

Lynn was thinking of her mother and the laundry today.  An article from 2010:

We have been on trips where we washed a few clothes by hand, using hand soap. The clothes were not very dirty and the water was warm enough.  Neither of us has ever washed clothes in an outdoor running water source such as a river.  

BATAVIA, Ohio ( -- Every half hour 7 million people in the world wash their clothes with Unilever products, and 6 million of them do so by hand. That rather jarring statistic, courtesy of Unilever Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed, helps explain Unilever's exit from North American laundry a few years ago: The biggest growth markets are where people are dreaming of moving up from hand washing to their first hand-cranked or semi-automatic washing machine, or are looking for lower-suds products or rinse additives that will let them make fewer or shorter trips to the well or river. 

Getting a machine that can help and having electricity to run the machine makes life lots easier.  Lynn remembers a large copper pot that her aunt boiled clothes on a stove that burned wood. When we watched "The 1900 House", we saw a London household where a maid started a fire under a giant pot quite early in the morning to eventually get the water hot enough to help clean the clothes.  

Of course, rinsing and drying on a clothesline took additional time, strength and effort.  Using a wringer was better than trying to twist each garment enough to get the water out. Getting fingers or other tender parts in the wringer was to be avoided.

Today's washers use enough centrifugal spin to accomplish some water removal and the spin dryers do the rest.

Our laundry day consists of sorting the clothes, starting the washer and using special laundry detergent.  Our machine does not alert us when it is finished but the dryer does.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

It's gonna be great

See "Factfulness" by Rosling about the increasing wealth and security of the human population.  I know it is hard to believe but in many ways it is true. You have a better and better chance of living, not to a ripe old age but to an active, contributing old age.  But, of course, there are consequences. As more people reach advanced ages, more people have the time, the money and the energy to travel. More and more people want to see this world.  The plains of the Dakotas, the ice of the Arctic, the peaks of the Himalayas, the steaming Amazon with its tapirs and toucans.

But the bad news is flying is polluting, the cost of fuel is high, the plane seats are small and skinny while you and I aren't. So, the good news is for a nice price, we can zap your brain.  You can have the full experience of international, adventuresome travel. Come to our shop. It's in the strip mall, the one vacated by the tattoo parlor. For $1199.95, we will zap you. You get to lay out on a comfortable cot for the recovery hour.  When you leave just 75 minutes later, you will have a little jet lag, memories galore, no lost bags (you will remember the scare of nearly missing your connecting flight and the short grilling at security when you forgot to put your liquids in a separate bag).  You will remember the high points and some low ones, too, just like the old-fashioned high carbon footprint method. 

Give us a call today!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Evaluation fatigue

I don't own a smart phone.  I am afraid I would checking too much stuff in Google all the time. But my friend said that just about every time he leaves a restaurant, he gets a message on his phone to judge the meal, the service and other aspects of the visit.  His comment fits with what could be called "evaluation fatigue".  

From a robot viewpoint, it may be plausible to ask each user to evaluate an experience.  For instance, 

  1. How do you feel about this blog post, up to here?  

  2. Do you feel this post is much better than most posts on this blog, about the same or noticeably worse? 

  3. Would you advise a friend to try reading this blog?  

  4. How about an enemy?

Teachers sometimes say that grading students or their work is the most unpleasant part of their job.  Visitors to a restaurant, blog readers and anyone else may feel that they are simply not interested in forming or communicating an opinion about an experience.  As I walk out of a shop or finish watching a movie, I may not be in the mood to form a judgment on the experience. I may be thinking of the cute shopgirl or my irritation with the poor fit of all the clothes I tried and have no interest in deciding, in some supposedly fair and even-handed way, what I think of the shop, its location, its prices, the variety of its goods, etc.  

I could try the John Holt method of always saying that the visit was the most exciting of my life and was unmatched by any other shopping I have done.  But I don't want to lie, I don't want to promise to get back to the questionnaire. I wasn't thinking about the shop or its goods and I don't want to talk about it.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

the air

Quite a while back, I read "The Invention of Air" by Steven Johnson.  It is about Joseph Priestly and Benjamin Franklin and the interest in what goes on when we breathe.  With research and thought, we have come to understand that the earth developed its oxygen supply over time, as plants produced oxygen and animals exhaled carbon dioxide.  

When we want to decide if someone is alive or dead, we may listen for a heartbeat but we also check for breathing.  Hearts are internal but breathing is a steady interaction between our body and the world. We can't go more than about three minutes without air to breathe, air containing oxygen, of course.  

The air, the atmosphere, our earthly space, is on my mind for two other reasons.  One is books through the air and one is air as a mental tool. I think that most of my friends steadily prefer to read paper books.  They mention the scent of a book, the heft of it in the hands. I succumbed to their approach the other day when I borrowed a book from the library. It was a book I have an interest in but when I opened it, I saw print that was uncomfortably small.  Fortunately, I can pick up my Kindle and without having it connected to anything, including the wi-fi, have the book delivered to my Kindle in less than a minute. I changed the print to a bigger, more comfortable size.

The air and breathing is a fine tool for the mind and the body.  You might think that since we breathe several times a minute, we would have smoothed out our breathing to the point that all breaths are the same.  Au contraire! If you pay careful, minute attention to the breath, you will find varying characteristics showing up in individual ways. Tiny changes in the speed, intensity, even the sound of each breath can be detected.  One can concentrate on the breath to the exclusion of other thoughts and worries, even while resting one's closed eyes.

I am omitting reference to air's downside: heavy winds that destroy.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Re-run words

Zen teachers, counselors and psychologists often counsel facing one's emotions.  It is not always easy to do that. If my impulse is to stuff the feeling under the rug, to more or less ignore my feeling as shameful or dangerous or inappropriate, I can look the other way for quite a long time.  However, people who work on such matters tend to say that "sitting with" a feeling or a dread or an itch tends to be the fastest and most secure way to deal with internal states that are upsetting.  

It is easier for me to remember the advice than to practice it but I keep trying.  Suppose I am hungry but don't want to eat yet. The nerves that send communication around the body tend to send me an eating impulse every once in a while, sometimes a short while and sometimes longer.  I use the mnemonic "Don't run" to remind myself that facing and accepting and experiencing is often more effective than ignoring or cussing at myself.

I have 3,646 posts in this blog.  I usually want to avoid saying the same old thing or harping on the same ideas over and over.  So, in preparing the post for yesterday, I used the handy search window on the blog web page in the upper left corner to try to see what I had written previously about facing problems and sitting with them consciously.  I posted "Don't run" and used the title and text as is from a previous day, January 4, 2017. I did get a couple of compliments on yesterday's words and no one accused me of plaigarizing myself.  

I don't have any strong commitment to never repeating myself.  Thinking about re-using words and phrases, I think of mantras, principles and Biblical quotes.  Some language bears repeating when appropriate. I have often quoted Psalms 100:3 "It is He that hath made us and not we ourselves".  I like the very short poem by Ogden Nash:

If called by a panther

Don't anther.

Sometimes, I am asked if I will print my blog in a paper book format.  One company said that it is too long for their software. So, I often use that search window to see what I have said on a given subject or the date list in the lower left corner to see what I wrote on a given day.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Family artists

The artwork in our house and our family and our history is improving all the time.  

Take a look:

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Don't run, face it

Too short

Too heavy

Too tall

Too poor

Too erratic

Too bookish

Too indifferent

Too weak-willed

Figure out what you are 'too ________'  Don't run from it.  

First there are advantages, some you have known for a long time and haven't thought about lately.  Some you can just now notice.

Second, you know that into each life some rain must fall.  Ok, you have been getting a little too much lately and things are going from damp to swampy.  Don't run from it.  Remember how down days were almost a comfort that time.

Third, you've got your law of karma, what goes up, comes down and what goes around, comes around.  It is to be expected.  You are paying your dues and experiencing life.

Fourth, points in heaven and attractive gray hair and admirable wrinkles.  You know you gain from suffering and from the conscious recognition of suffering while under its weight and in its grip.  Develops gravitas and maturity, proves you are all grown up and with-it.

Fifth, the other thing, too

Sixth, don't run.  Face it all, serve the problem a cup of coffee.  Sit together and face each other.  Be nice.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


I read that our minds are association machines.  I think of "tuna" and that makes me think of Pablo Neruda and a poem of his about the "bullet of the sea".  I think of "Grandma" and naturally, I immediately picture my own feisty little heavy-smoking grandmother. You almost certainly think of something different, maybe tuna sandwiches and your own grandmother.  

Erez Aidan and Jean-Baptiste Michel in "Uncharted", a book about big data analysis, state that since humans remember and associate memories, their thinking is unpredictable.  I looked up "unpredictable" and found many links but didn't run into much of substance. I have thought that committees are often unpredictable and by that, I meant surprising.  

In a sense, any event is predictable.  I predict that I will be swooped up by Martians before reaching the end of this sentence.  Oops! Didn't happen. I think that "unpredictable" is often used to mean "not successfully predicted."  Of course, unless some explicit and firm limits are set, predictions can be slippery or trivial. You may know the old Danish proverb "It is hard to make predictions, especially about the future."  I can predict that this household will run out of milk one day but without a date, it is a rather empty statement.

This matter of the life history and memories affecting what comes to mind when a topic or idea is expressed seems to explain some of the power of a group discussion.  I was amazed back in college at the humor and wit that was expressed by a group of college men watching some silly old movie. The movie wasn't much but the ideas, comments and quips stimulated by the scenes and by the quips and comments of others were wonderful.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Read her books and visit her blog sometimes

Karen Maezen Miller has several books about living life consciously.  She is an American Zen teacher and worth reading and re-reading.

Certainty and our beliefs

A friend and I are to give a talk that he designed.  He used the title "How certain should you be about that?"  I maintain that we don't really know just how certain we are about many things.  When we think about an issue, there are many ideas that come to mind and we don't usually take time to even list them all, much less evaluate in whatever way we can, how certain we are about each assumption and each assertion involved.  

I have been fascinated with the information in the book "Incognito", which is about how much of our bodies, our minds and thinking and our lives go on in secret without reaching our consciousness.  The author, David Eagleman, likens our conscious mind as the CEO of a complex operating system that only gets informed about an issue when the subconscious processes can't decide, much like a committee that gives the deciding vote on a tied ballot to the chair.

Over 50 years, I have benefited from the work of Daniel Kahneman and his deceased partner, Amos Tversky.  Those two have opened up many insights into human decision making. I still haven't finished Kahneman's book "Thinking: Fast and Slow".  I came across this passage from the book:

Most impressions and thoughts arise in your conscious experience without your knowing how they got there. You cannot trace how you came to the belief that there is a lamp on the desk in front of you, or how you detected a hint of irritation in your spouse's voice on the telephone, or how you managed to avoid a threat on the road before you became consciously aware of it. The mental work that produces impressions, intuitions, and many decisions goes on in silence in our mind. 

Kahneman discussed the work of one of my favorite researchers, Paul Meehl.  Meehl showed that the judgement of clinicians trying to select which prisoners should be given parole was inferior to a simple statistical formula in making the decisions.  Having a group of people make a decision is often the best possible way but sometimes, it can be better to use a different method, IF all that counts is minimizing mistakes.  Since people's feelings matter, that is rarely all that counts.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Blogging again

We are home from our 20th Road Scholar trip around Oregon.  It was a great trip with wonderful scenery and a fine, affectionate group.  More over the coming days.

We had a bit of a scramble getting home.  We expected to land about 3 PM but actually came home about 9:30.  The plane needed repairs. The first offer was to send us to Utah and then Michigan and then home.  Instead, we got a flight to Minneapolis and wrote home with friends.

A busy time catching up now.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Half and half and my weight

I like coffee and I have been drinking it for breakfast and lunch for decades. It tastes good and it smells good.  But for the past few months, I have been adding half and half, cream and milk to it. Too much and I can hardly taste the coffee.  But the right portion and it is different from black coffee and quite good. The surprising effect has been on my appetite and thus, my weight.  

There is no point in losing too much or trying to reach my high school graduation weight.  I wrestled so my weight was a focus of my thinking and my life. I never had much trouble being lighter than the maximum I was allowed for my weight class but I am now about 25 lbs. heavier than then.  For my joints, my flexibility and general health, I don't want to be much heavier or fatter.  

I actually have liked the taste of coffee with half and half ever since I first tasted it.  But I like the taste and smell of coffee as it, too. It was what might have been more trouble digesting and tolerating coffee that got me started with whitening it.  I enjoy having coffee with I awaken and I have another cup at lunch. I can be rather hungry but a little bit of half and half and I can go for hours without strong desire for food.  

It is obvious that my capacity for food is shrinking, too.  But I am pleased and impressed that adding that half and half can be so effective at satiating me as completely and for as long as it does.

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