Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Using Google Search

Plenty of knowledge at your fingertips

Probably better on a computer but a phone will do.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Does he know what he is talking about ? Do I ?

Politicians, thinkers, scientists, essayists - people who make statements often seem to make statements that don't stand up to questioning.  I admit that I don't go out of my way to ask or to answer questions that occur. But I have heard of Russian attempts to influence. I have heard that many Chinese young people want to have a career as influencers, tv speakers and writers that make original ads or statements on YouTube or other platforms of expression.  

I suppose without much information that someone can imagine so advocating jello, or building with cement, or the joy of fly fishing, that manufacturers or merchandisers might be willing to pay me a small allowance for my pushing, advocating, cleverly commenting on their product.  Not long ago, a friend said that she was surprised at the idea of checking with Google. I find that any question or subject might profitably be entered into a Google search or a Bing (Microsoft) search or a Safari (Apple) search or a Duckduckgo (independent). Anything I wonder about, anything I imagine or question or wonder can be checked with any of the modern search engines.  Why I wonder, what I question, what I hope is also wondered, questioned, hoped by many others.  

So, if you have a connection to the internet, try whatever is on your mind.  Search the phrase or subject you are thinking about. I say forget Facebook for this purpose and Instagram and Pinterest. Do a search on the topic.  Any topic is quite likely to get search results that are not of interest but writing about being an influencer makes me think that I don't know much about being an influencer.  I can't name anyone anywhere who is a successful or famous or skillful influencer. So, I did a search of "influencer career" in Google.  

I feel that my life is in balance right now and I don't need any additional projects beyond what I have.  But when I hear friends, commentators, when I read authors making assertions, I wonder how up-to-date their information is.  I have quite a bit of experience thinking about the future and I know that fear, hunger for power, ego, partial reading and wild imagination causes people to believe, state, plan and advocate for ideas, statements, theories that don't hold up, are based on partial truths or none at all.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

It's been snowing

It has been snowing and it is a mild winter. Maybe with global warming, that is to be expected.  Since it has been snowing just about every day, the driveway, the animal tracks around and the sidewalks get a fresh coating of snow regularly.  The snow is beautiful and enchanting, even if it is also a pain, a bother and sometimes, a danger. When driving onto a rather busy street, there is only a moment when it is safe to enter.  If snow or slush or ice steals some of the car's traction, there could be trouble. Still, I like to take a moment to recognize beauty when it is present.

We have a heated birdbath that birds and squirrels drink from,  when they can reach the water inside. Without heat, there would be only ice.

Meanwhile, Nana studies information about her own Nana.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

All minds wander

People who discuss meditation often imply that concentration on something, such as a word or an object or one's breath is the point.  That may be but it doesn't right to me. Minds wander, attention wanders and the body supplies impulses to move and does move all the time.  The heart beats, the lungs fill and empty.  

You know we come from animal life in the jungle and forest and savannah.  You know that there are animals that also live there and some of them may be outraged that we enter their territory or frightened that we exist.  It is just biologically fundamental to stay alert and to be aware when others of our species or any other are near. Animals move so at one time, there are no grizzlies around but that is not a permanent situation.  It makes sense for our minds to take a quick check of our surrounding every so often.

It would be dangerous to develop our concentration to the point that we aren't alert to sounds, smells and sights that we need to recognize.  I have read that the #1 reason people give for not practicing meditation is that their minds wander. They try to pay attention to some anchor like their breath but then they find themselves wondering why the Packers lost or what to fix for dinner.  Instead of performing the difficult move of forgiving themselves and returning to their chosen anchor, they conclude, wrongly, that they aren't Hindu or Japanese, not Buddhist or Zen material, and drop their venture into knowing themselves better.

I call that a mistake and a loss for the concluder, since not knowing oneself and not seeing the complexity and beauty of one's mind and memories and feelings, they return to soap operas or basketball. Soaps and sports have their place, of course, but the fundamental person also deserves some close attention and yes, admiration.

Keeping the attention on an explicitly chosen target, for just 5 to 10 minutes a day, increases one's awareness of thoughts and impulses zipping through the mind. Putting off taking them up emphasizes the possibility of deciding when, where and how to consider them later if desired.  

Friday, January 24, 2020

Ingenuity and observation

If I am going to attract many readers, it would be wise to raise alarm.  That's what the boy who cried "Wolf!" found out. He overdid the practice and people started ignoring his call.  Had he been a modern writer, he might have tried a more compelling cry, maybe "Two wolves!" Eventually, his alarm phrase would have to list a larger number of wolves ("2,237 wolves approaching Smith's flock!").  A modern marketer would have advised him to monetize his call ("Wolf warning! But, first, shop at Bud's for the finest produce! An enormous pack has been spotted…)

There is just so much alarm people will respond to.  Modern communications, writers, journalists and elderly sourpusses have many more threats to list than just wolves.  Atmospheric pollution, incoming comets and space debris, foreign agents bent on undermining the human way of life and the Western/Eastern/Northern/Southern Dream - there are too many dangers, worries and calamities to list - all these frightening, depressing, scary possibilities can be used to get more readers and more subscribers.  

I suggest a little moderation.  

  1. You only have so many days to live.  Unknown number but commonly, it turns out to be lower that you wanted.  So, watch how you spend your time.

  2. It is very possible that you recall extreme unpleasantries from the past but in general, cries of Wolf! and Market downturn! and Armageddon! refer to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day IN THE FUTURE.  If such a day doesn't arrive, you will have spent your time, energy and flyer miles for a false alarm.  If it does arrive, live happily in the good time you still have.

  3. Humans have been around for a very long time.  You may have already experienced life without electricity, indoor plumbing and internal combustion machines.  Without those and the internet and Facebook and Instagram, life would be miserable, totally miserable. But, give us a little time, some researchers, some experimenters, some thinkers, and we will find ways to improve on things.  Give us some observers with clear vision and wide imagination, and we will make the best of whatever we have, and then improve on it.  

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Loon Lake

Loon Lake is a fictitious community in northern Wisconsin.  That is the area of the county where Paul Bunyan lived. In case you don't know Paul, you can look here: https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=paul+bunyan  That means that there is plenty of forest, some bears, some eagles, many lakes and cold winters.  People from Chicago and Milwaukee retreat to the "Northwoods" in summer to escape the heat and in winter to hunt deer and wild turkey.  It is an area of small towns of 10 to 20 thousand and smaller.

Lewellyn Ferris is the chief of police of Loon Lake and Paul Osborne is a retired dentist.  Paul is a widower and has two grown daughters. Paul is attracted to Lew and he dines with her often.  Paul's friend and neighbor, Ray Pradt, is an outdoorsman, fishing guide and general guy.  

The Loon Lake stories are written by Victoria Houston and they include "Dead" in the titles, as in "Dead Loudmouth" and "Dead Hot Mama".  They are available for Kindle at a low price and are probably also in your local library. Apps like OverDrive and Libby allow the borrowing of an ebook from a nearby library without leaving your chair. I realize leaving one's chair is a good idea, though, and should be carried out a couple of times a day.

There are other mentions of Houston in these blog posts but she scored again.  We were searching for a book that held our interest and was a good one for reading aloud.  We tried and dropped several before going back to Houston. Admittedly, we might be a bit biased since we are on the edge of the Northwoods, we look out any window and see the scenery that one sees in Northwood resorts.  After trying and giving up on several other books, we decided to give another Houston book a try. With all the lakes and streams in northern Wisconsin, fishing is a big deal. All the Houston books have a background of fishing and both Chief Ferris and her buddy, Dr. Osbourne, love fishing and often fish together.

Houston puts a good, comfortable story together and we quickly settled in.  We liked Dead Hot Mama and zipped through it, but now we are out in the cold, on the hunt again.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Value of talking about it

I can find statements about negative effects of Facebook and other social media but I wonder if higher levels of communication are going to bring long-range improvements to humans.  I have read that various early Americans were confident that this continent was too large for a nation and that people could not and would not communicate nor travel to meet with each other.  The 1800's and 1900's were highly affected by the emergence of railroads and the telegraph. Eventually, along came the telephone and those three communication inventions and networks to support them have changed what we know, who we know, what we say, and what we can do.

It seems possible that simply talking and writing about any difficulty tends to lead to improvement.  Sometimes, communication is expected to simply be about expressing sympathy or disagreement, positive or negative emotional language.  However, in today's world, especially given growing connections to sources of knowledge and to research, discussion can supply new ideas, new views, new possibilities, new sources and access to new materials.  

Naming a problem in order to state by voice or writing what is the matter can often be a first step to learning about it. Modern learning is often about questioning: is a certain idea correct?  Is it true? How do we know? What don't we know that would help? Who knows about this? Who has experience with this?

The printing press, about 1500, had a big effect on the distribution of knowledge and led to a big increase in the demand for and availability of books.  But it has only been a relatively short time that people have in large numbers learned to read. I read recently that only a couple of centuries back about 85% of humans could not read and that now about 85% can.  It is true that what language one reads and what country one reads in, matter. Years ago, I read a quote that a man said his native tongue was a "tomb", meaning that few books were published in his language and he hadn't learned to read any other.  But don't kid yourself: we are working on the problem of different languages and different cultures. Maybe we will come to respect and work with them.

It is commonplace to say that human minds are a wonderful tool but a small group of humans who communicate with each other makes a very powerful tool for developing ideas and improving them.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Sitting still alone

I often search my blog posts to see what I have written over the days since April 2008 about something or someone.  Today, I thought of Pascal's (1626-1662) statement that he had discovered that all of man's troubles come from being unable to "stay quietly in their own chamber." (Pensées, 139).  I have several references in this blog to the statement by the French mathematical genius. His statement is often quoted as "being unable to sit alone in a room."

I have noticed similarities between prayer, meditation, solitary self-examination and his statement from 400 years ago.  Today, a common criticism is that people sit alone in a room but using a smartphone in their hand and wi-fi or satellite connections to play games, communicate, absorb or create propaganda.  As I age, I sit alone more. I explain to myself that I have more to think about, having such a full head and greater sensitivity to a wide range of emotions, associations and considerations.  The Quaker concept of sitting still and alone, of doing nothing to distract or play, and the mindful practice on concentrating on one's breathing and returning to such concentration when I discover I am off into a subject does seem to have increased my appreciation of sitting alone and still.  

I did take the time to look up Pascal's Pensées.  There are about ten different translations on Amazon Kindle and many of them are free.  I wanted to read more of the text before and after his statement so I selected a likely edition and ordered it.  As often happens, the computers at Amazon sent a message that said "according to our records you already purchased this item."  It is a verification of the quality of my taste that I again chose the very version that I selected five years ago. Even though a member of my household feels differently, I find it quite reasonable to pay low prices for an immediate transmission of a book I want to read and having nearly 3,000 books is too much to remember in detail. I do appreciate the practice of refusing to re-sell something I have already purchased.

I found in reading a bit more widely that Pascal was thinking about diversions, much like today's Words with Friends.  In his honor, I took time to do an easy sudoku before writing this post. The diversions he mentions involve more effort and danger, such as chasing a rabbit or boar on horseback with a pack of hounds, laying siege to a city, or being the king. He wisely points to "turmoil" and excitement as the goals of diversion and believes that without diversions, we are unhappily reminded of Buddha's sickness, old age and death.  He doesn't mention our animal nature, need to move, and to feel we are contributing to our lives and those of others.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Mature works

I mean work done when the creator is "mature".  Mature is a difficult property to pin down. As I wrote previously, I got re-engaged with Beethoven's 9th symphony a couple of weeks ago.  I have a complete recording of Mozart's The Magic Flute. The Beethoven was part of an inexpensive set of all 9 of his symphony and when I listened to it carefully, I thought the bass singer sounded elderly and strained.  So, I went online to get a different version. It came a few days ago and I listened to it while driving yesterday and today. I tend to drive about 20 or 30 minutes a day so I still haven't finished it but I am close to the end.

The 9th symphony is his only symphony that includes human voice.  The Magic Flute is an opera so there is voice all the way through.  The Magic Flute is based on a fantastical story. Both have memorable tunes and vocal and instrumental highlights aplenty.  Both can be heard in YouTube videos. I find that both can be listened to repeatedly, to the point that the music is more or less memorized.  When a passage ends, and the mind furnishes an anticipation of the next part, the music is in the mind.

Mozart lived from 1756 to 1791, only 45 years and died in the year that Magic Flute was first performed.  Beethoven lived from 1770 to 1827. The 9th symphony was first performed in 1824. Neither composer was old by today's standards but both were near the end of their lives when these two works were composed and first performed.

The movie "Amadeus" tells the story of Mozart's life and the movie "Immortal Beloved" tells the story of the mature Beethoven going deaf.  Beethoven was deaf by 1816. Listening to works by either man is probably quite a different matter from the time when only in a concert hall was the music available. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Trying to improve our future

Many thinkers have considered this planet's carrying capacity.  How many humans can live comfortably depends on how they live. Right now, we have about 7.7 billion.  That extra .7 after the first seven is by itself a big number. Every tenth of a billion is another 100 million, or one-third of the US population.  Each of us wants comfort, good food, a chance to do some travel, a good education, good housing, good clothing. Without getting into the optimal number of humans,  it doesn't take long to get to the subject of the number of living humans and the rate at which they multiply.  

The largest single nation is China, with about 1.4 billion.  China can make a good claim for the title of the oldest continuous civilization on earth.  It seems a credit to that government and its people that from 1979 to 2015, they tried hard to limit their production of babies.   We watched the film "One-Child Nation" on Amazon TV and saw what a mammoth and difficult undertaking it was. Trying to limit the growth of population is a very difficult project.  Humans have basic, very strong drives to reproduce. We cannot easily tame or direct that drive. The film makes clear the difficulties in setting the rules and in enforcing them to limit population growth.  

If you want to help your country and the world and you understand the need to limit the supply of new babies, you might be asked to kill some healthy fetuses and some newborn babies.  Even if you are fully convinced that there need to be fewer mouths to feed, extinguishing life in new humans could give you permanent nightmares. We are wired to increase life, not to limit it.  With a one-child per couple policy, what about twins? Does one of them have to die? If a newborn is especially loved, who will leave the baby alive in a garbage dump?

Americans and many others in the Western world want cars, boats, planes.  Also air conditioning, heat in the winter, and continuously available entertainment.  Between the Netflix movie "American Factory" and the Amazon movie "One-child Nation", we can contrast the American ideal of fulfilment for each person in a long, happy, satisfied life with a clearer picture of life for many humans now living.  

It can help to get a clear idea of how we live, what we might do to live more frugally and with less, and how to manage our moods and hopes about our current lives and our future.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Our daughter Jill

I am thinking about my younger daughter who died at age 45.  She would be 57 now. We typically say it is unfair for someone to die young.  It is also unfair for a person to suffer from mental illness. Here is a link to a web page that Lynn wrote about her life and death.


Friday, January 17, 2020

Male Mail Duty

It can get cold in winter. We are approaching the mid-point of winter, which I take to be February 4.  After that date, winter is on the way out. That doesn't mean things are guaranteed to be easier. We can get some strong storms, heavy wet snow that breaks power and phone lines but right now, we still have more to go than we have traveled.  

We get our newspaper and mail in a box on a post at the end of our driveway.  It's not long, maybe two and a half car lengths but to get the daily deliveries, we have to go outside.  If the cold is serious, say more than ten Farenheit degrees below zero, we could open the garage door, back the car down the driveway, pull up to the mail and newspaper boxes, pull the deliveries in, drive back up the driveway and be inside the protective car the whole time.  When it is seriously cold, any wind matters.

Using the car is not something this male mail retriever (MMR) usually does.  Too much trouble. What with global warming and more erratic weather, we have actually not had the 40 degrees below zero of earlier years.  Today is one of the colder days recently and it is still a couple of degrees above zero and very little wind. Even though it is a bit of a bother to put on separate shoes so that I can remove them when I return and not track up our floors, it is better in the long run to take the time to change into outdoor shoes and then back to slip-on loafers.  The more times I expose my hands to the cold, the more likely fissures will develop, little breaks in the elderly skin that take a while to heal. If I am patient enough to get gloves and wear them I can forestall that condition. A good MMR will get the gloves and maybe a parka to the door before donning the outdoor shoes. Otherwise, there is a temptation to tromp across the floor for the gloves wearing salty, sandy soles. I have been a MMR for several decades and I intend to keep on!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Can I afford it?

I sometimes thought that if I announced the most important secret to life in my classes, a majority of the students would miss it or misunderstand it.  No matter how important a given message may be, it can be overlooked, especially in today's flood of information, deals, revelations and important messages from Mom.  

For years, I associated the word "afford" with my father.  He was the only person in my life that used the word. Now, I find the word is a good one for expressing limits.  I heard Dad use it in connection with money. That price for that purpose didn't strike him as a good idea.  

I am a follower of Google News.  I like the approach of finding somebody"s or some algorithm's selection of the important headlines of the day or the morning and offering a link to an article.  Most of the articles are ok for me to skip - just the headline is enough, for me, especially in sports and entertainment. I still like the idea of looking through my hours to find items of either thought or experience to write about.  

I don't spend much time making money, repairing cars or hunting ducks so those activities don't come up as writing subjects much. I just checked and there are a few posts about repairs and ducks.  But as happens as we age, a new affordability factor is becoming more important. That is the matter of time. Once a human has lived long enough, it makes sense to give a little thought and then more thought to the number of days likely left.  

There doesn't seem to be value in spending too much time thinking about declining time but the subject does come up.  Whereas before, I looked at Google News, now I have NumLock News, Significant Digits, Good Morning from CNN, BBC "Today's Headlines" added to ads, deals and Facebook notifications.  I know that some of the stuff I delete has something good or interesting or valuable or fun but I just can't afford to spend the time reading it all.  

Can I afford it?

I sometimes thought that if I announced the most important secret to life in my classes, a majority of the students would miss it or misunderstand it.  No matter how important a given message may be, it can be overlooked, especially in today's flood of information, deals, revelations and important messages from Mom.  

For years, I associated the word "afford" with my father.  He was the only person in my life that used the word. Now, I find the word is a good one for expressing limits.  I heard Dad use it in connection with money. That price for that purpose didn't strike him as a good idea.  

I am a follower of Google News.  I like the approach of finding somebody"s or some algorithm's selection of the important headlines of the day or the morning and offering a link to an article.  Most of the articles are ok for me to skip - just the headline is enough, for me, especially in sports and entertainment. I still like the idea of looking through my hours to find items of either thought or experience to write about.  

I don't spend much time making money, repairing cars or hunting ducks so those activities don't come up as writing subjects much. I just checked and there are a few posts about repairs and ducks.  But as happens as we age, a new affordability factor is becoming more important. That is the matter of time. Once a human has lived long enough, it makes sense to give a little thought and then more thought to the number of days likely left.  

There doesn't seem to be value in spending too much time thinking about declining time but the subject does come up.  Whereas before, I looked at Google News, now I have NumLock News, Significant Digits, Good Morning from CNN, BBC "Today's Headlines" added to ads, deals and Facebook notifications.  I know that some of the stuff I delete has something good or interesting or valuable or fun but I just can't afford to spend the time reading it all.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Time well-spent

I read biographical information this morning about Emily Hahn (1905-1997), an American woman.  She was a writer and adventurer. From what I read in today's Writer's Almanac, she did a great variety of things.  Reading the huge, highly-varied list of activities and accomplishments, I recognized what I take to be a syndrome to avoid in my own life and in my friends.  

I often think that one of the best aids I have is the phrase "It's me!"  I realize I am an American of this time and place and therefore have learned certain cultural imperatives and habits.  But beneath all that, there is a functioning body and mind that is all me. When I switched from an all-male public high school to a teacher's college, I switched from surroundings of one gender to the other.  There were a few guys at the college but many guys concentrated on being a manly man of few words. That's ok in its place, but girls are more fun, more receptive, more responsive, at least they were for me there and then.  

I met many interesting college women and have had many interesting women students and colleagues since.  But, one of the profiles that brings red flags of warning is the person who is too busy. Some people strike me as too busy to say Hello.  Why waste time when you can get right to the point?  

It turns out that what is a waste of time or any "empty" formality, and what isn't is a rather complex subject.  It also turns out that the flavor of life, the general on-going satisfaction level requires a slow enough pace that there is time to notice what is going on, to appreciate beauty and wit and humor and nostalgia.  We need enough time to share words, emotions, experiences, all sorts of communication and to do so fully.  

If I answer my political party's call for participation while researching my dog's swallowing problem while worrying about the dashboard warning light that keeps flashing in my car while carrying shame about not having read this month's novel, I am probably getting too busy.  I have not burdened myself with the goal of getting the most done, nor earning the most money, nor winning the most games. Every now and then, I start to take on a commitment that is just over the top in terms of time demand. I tend to edge toward such an obligation because I feel that it is really, really, important that I get x done by y.  That's when I remind myself that "It's me!" I am the one living this life and I am the one who pretty well knows what I think and feel. If I am going to look carefully at myself, my activities, my feelings, my needs, my commitments, it is up to me, me, ME, ME, to do so.  As Bob Newhart said, I need to stop mismanaging my time and myself.  


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Not to be taken lightly

I have had some fine moments hearing the news from Lake Wobegon.  It was part of "A Prairie Home Companion" programs which came to us over Wisconsin Public Radio.   I take Garrison Keillor to be a master of language, timing and delivery. But The Writer's Almanac comes and goes with me.  At times, it brings tears to my eyes and at other times, it can bring yawns.  It is free and it always features a poem.

I can enjoy poetry and I think the business of bards, troubadours, recitations, performances is a solid and important part of humanity's development.  Just as I am a stalker of the actual pleasure that readers report having had from Locker Room Lust v. from Moby Dick, I am interested in the reports of actual pleasure from poetry.  I take a broad definition of poetry to be very carefully constructed language, often celebrating something typically overlooked, such as the moment of pouring a bit of cream into coffee or the moment of pushing a doorbell button.  

Today's Writer's Almanac poem, Horseplay, is by George Bilgere. I have found other poems by him that I enjoyed.  Like Ogden Nash, a poet's titles for poems can be a source of pleasure above and beyond the poem.  Bilgere's Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel and Nash's To a Small Boy Standing on My Shoes While I Am Wearing Them give me a lift without even reading the actual poem.


There are shining moments in our lives that matter, that beautify, that last and sometimes a poem spotlights them, increases our pleasures in life, in our surprising selves and in our love and appreciation of others. Some of the best moments are internal ones, funny ones, as we try to point out important credentials that show that we matter.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Animals around us

This morning, I noticed a curve among the backyard trees.  It caught my eye and I looked more carefully. Yes! A deer, no, several!  All told, there were seven. It seemed that they were all young or female or both.  We often have deer footprints in our snow. They seem to like to travel along the eastern side of the property.  We don't have a dog or fences so I guess it is easy to get in and around us. The evidence sometimes supports the possibility that they shake the birdfeeder and eat the slips.  

We have many sorts of animals around.  We have seen foxes in our yard. We have squirrels and voles and chipmunks.  We have never seen bears or evidence of them, nor elk or wolves or cougars. We did have a bear up in a tree a couple of miles away several springs ago.

We don't have deep snow but there is rather complete coverage.  The band of deer rested curled up on the ground for about half an hour.  They faced in all different directions and one rather large doe stared at me all during breakfast.  I suspect that movement and sound from the house interests them. After a while, the youngsters seemed to get restless and started milling round, sometimes searching the snow for something to eat.  Near the end of their visit, one adult stood looking at the house and I went to get my iPad for a picture but they were all gone when I came back. 

Internet information said that does can be pregnant at the age of 6-8 months, which I find very surprising.  What a difference in the time required for humans! The deer gestation period is 201 days. So, as Lynn pointed out a doe can be a mother after a little more than one year of age.  

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Attractive oldsters

Crawling around, over and in the female body is so exciting and elevating for many males that we come to think of such a body as the standard of human beauty.  As an older male, I often see women in their 70's that I think are quite attractive while at the same time finding many women who seem to be 20 or 30 too young, too self-conscious, and too raw to be really attractive.  Since many of them are mothers, I am confident they understand the birds and the bees and have already had experiences I never will.  

I have a friend whose last name means "beautiful" in a different language.  I asked if her husband was "beautiful". She turned to her grandson and asked him if his grandfather was beautiful.  The 10 yr old scoffed at the silly idea and ran off. Between my reactions and his, I can certainly see that who and what strikes us as beautiful changes over time and in different circumstances.  

We watched the episode of "The Crown" where Princess Margaret picks up a young male companion, in defiance of her marital status.  We get enough views of the man and his body to get some idea of the male form that the princess finds attractive. For sure, the whole business of dilly-dallying and flirting and charming and shying away, the whole business of defying marital difficulties and palace authorities and convention is far more than just body shape or physical availability.  

But as more people of both sexes live to greater age and in better health, I think we would be smart to see and appreciate who and what people are.  We can do better than merely mourn the passing of youth. We don't need to worship only taut skin and flat bellies. With some literary and poetic help, we can learn to see both female and male beauty in more varieties than just the ones that coincide with our in-born wiring that makes us notice who would likely be a source of healthy children.


I wish Rodin or his descendants would make another stature of an elderly woman who stands proudly and confidently displays her body shaped by many years, adventures and experiences.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Visiting Cuba

At the end of the month, we are scheduled to visit Cuba, where Lynn's maternal grandmother grew up.  We will be part of a Road Scholar/Elderhostel trip, the 20th we have taken with that organization. Naturally, we will spend time in Havana but it is the inclusion of the city of Santiago on the other end of the 700 mile island that is the place with Nana grew up that prompted us.

We have gotten tickets to Miami and home from there.  We will fly from there into Cuban airspace.

We have watched "Cuba Today" and the first two of five episodes of "The Cuba Libre Story" on Netflix and we are reading the literature Road Scholar has sent us. We will probably write about the trip after returning but during it, we expect to maintain internet silence.  Access to the internet is expensive and sketchy there.

Friday, January 10, 2020

500 variables

David Weinberger discusses deep learning, artificial intelligence and machine learning in "Everyday Chaos".  His book "Too Big To Know" showed me some aspects of the internet and today's communication that helped me feel comfortable with what I know.  The book on everyday chaos and complexity is doing the same thing.

These networks can be insanely complicated. For example, Deep Patient looked at five hundred factors for each of the hundreds of thousands of patients

Weinberger, David. Everyday Chaos (p. 54). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

In class on multiple regression, a statistical technique that investigates variables effects on another, we learned about all sorts of complexity, including how a pair of variables might affect a third.    To really study the interactions of 500 variables, one could work with all the variables, all possible pairs of them, all possible triplets, etc. The total number of all the choices is 2 to the 500th power, a number with 150 zeros.  When the author mentions "insane complexity", he isn't kidding.

With today's computers, researchers are accustomed to using 5 or maybe 10 predictor variables to understand the actions of a variable they are studying.  Such a study uses multiple regression but there is a technique called "canonical correlation" where a set of predictors are used to predict more than one variable under study.  Canonical correlation was too complex for most of our research to benefit but as computers, artificial intelligence and sets of information on hundreds of thousands of examples develop, we may be able to understand our world and ourselves Abetter than ever before.

Sometimes, the game called Go is considered among the oldest and also the most complex game in the world.  Google engineers created a machine to play Go called AlphaGo. After a while, they build a 2nd version. They had the two machines play each other and version 2 beat the first one 100 times.  Gigantic complexity, beyond what humans usually even contemplate, may be coming more under human understanding and control.  

Our own brains can be considered insanely complex and humans may never come even close to understanding how they operate. 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Will you at least think about it?

Some of my friends are taken with the idea that if a lie is repeated enough, it often becomes accepted as truth.

These days, the word "lie" is thrown about often.  In some cases, you may feel that anything I say, especially on one of the topics you disagree with me about, is a lie.  I like to use the word "lie" when it appears I am putting forth a statement that I myself don't believe, Maybe that is a deliberate lie.

I may trust my old friend Sam who knows, or seems to know, quite a bit about the oil supply.  So, when I repeat that we have run out of oil, I am trusting Sam. I may omit the notation that I got my information from Sam or any other citation of the source of my knowledge or information.  You may want me to omit sources if I am always quoting a source. Too much source quoting can be a real drag on everyday conversation.  

The book "Stumbling on Happiness" by Dan Gilbert is about making choices that later result in being happy.  Gilbert emphasizes that when we contemplate a vacation in Hawaii, we picture being in Hawaii and see if the picture is the sort of thing we like (or have liked in the past).  Between what is yet to come and what others tell us, a big part of our lives relates to what we don't have direct immediate experience with. The scientific approach is attractive so I have considered living my life, maybe a good number of times through, and then selecting the most favorable course and living that one.  There are several obstacles to such an experimental approach, including the boredom and burden of living over and over. To get a reasonable sample size could take many repetitions, not including the fact that I am mortal and limited.  

If I consider a vacation in Hawaii, long enough and fully enough, enough times, I will probably become accustomed to picturing myself there so when a volcano erupts and spoiling my picture of bliss, I am all in a dither.  What now? Who ordered that? What, Toronto instead?

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Bookworms, hungry minds and information

I looked up "bookworms" and found blogs about reading, Goodreads, and related subjects.  I looked up "hungry minds" and found cafeterias with that name. On the local campus, the library has a snack shop inside called "Food for Thought."  I often meet with people over 70. Most have PhD's but some don't have a college degree. It doesn't matter. Some people just have a natural curiosity. 

I hope in this country that most people with a natural interest in things have a chance to attend school for as long as they wish.  There are more online, local face-to-face and other schooling opportunities than ever before. If you want to see interest in education, watch "The First Grader", the story of the 84 year old Kenyan man who insisted on his right to attend elementary school when his government first offered free education.  He actually was in the 1st grade.

I have met several people who were not able to attend school when younger but who still have, or later developed, or later recognized, a curiosity about this and that.  It is often touted as "lifelong learning" but I am not happy with that phrase. I prefer "exploration" and "curiosity" since many opportunities don't come with tests or deadlines and are just for fun and stretching a bit getting into some new thoughts .  For some people, it is far more fun to hear personal reactions to a trip to Morocco than to watch the pseudo-leather ellipsoid get carried yet again across that goal line.

Our local paper recently ran a front-page article by a young reporter on what 3rd graders and 8th graders are learning in their local math classes. It can be disconcerting to find that old skills have evaporated while new skills are being learned by children.  Don't be surprised if some old skills are the subject of focused re-learning. And, yes, new skills are coming along steadily. Maybe none of them are needed but some may be interesting, fun or valuable.

And, today, we have Google searching, as well as Bing and Duckduckgo.  Software that can search out nearly anything. I don't trust myself to carry a smartphone since I have the habit of running to Google every other minute to check this and explore that.  I can spend quite a lot of time comparing states and countries, learning dates of birth and death, understanding who said what when and to whom. I know I am sick and I am seeing someone for my problem.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Hitting the floor running

When you are 80 years old and retired, you lead a quiet, relaxed life, right?  Ha! Some days, we are pressured by time. On those days, we have a reason to set an alarm clock and jump into action when it goes off.  Normally, we wake up on our own, usually before 7 and typically about 6 AM. But on time-sensitive days, we don't risk sleeping late.

Our housecleaner gets here by 7 AM.  She is fast and efficient and is done in 2 ½ hours.  We have trash and recycling pickup once a week but Christmas and other holidays can interfere with the usual schedule.  Today, we had to scramble to get the trash bin, the recycling bin and a car in proper position before we get blocked by the cleaner.  None of the events are a super big deal and we could handle any modification to our intended schedule or interruption. But if we do need to take a car somewhere, it is handy to have an arrangement of vehicles that doesn't result in our being parked in.  

By 7 AM, the coffee is made, the cars moved to accommodate the cleaner's car, both trash bins walked down the icy driveway and stationed on the edge of the street, the shades up and the blog posts sent out.  We have the winter coats hung up and our various power strips and cords out of the way of the vacuum cleaner.

This particular Monday, Lynn had an appointment to walk with a friend and discuss her trip to Cuba.  This afternoon, her knitting group is assembling at our house for chatter and wool work. It is good to have a calendar to keep our events and commitments straight.  There are events most days that we need to be ready for.

Monday, January 6, 2020

contacting him

We could go to his house but he is away now.  We called him but he didn't answer. We could send his phone a text message but that phone doesn't accept texts.  We could send him an email but he never looks at his email. If we mail him a notice, we need to get his mailing address.  I could write a message and post it in my blog but that will take a long time and he still might not see it. Can we send him a telegram that will be delivered to his house? What about if we contact his neighbor and ask that our message be relayed?  He does have a smartphone but he doesn't keep it charged and it is usually set on 'Silent' so he doesn't know when he gets a call. In this day and age of communication possibilities, there ought to be a way we can tell him he inherited Uncle John's ranch but we will just have to keep trying.  He gets too many messages and he is trying to cut down on the time he spends dealing with both important and frivolous communications. He has gotten into scams a couple of times and he doesn't want that again.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Joyful driving

It is a cloudy day and doesn't look like the sort that would bring deep joy.  I took my friends to the airport and drove home alone. Lynn often mentions listening to Wisconsin Public Radio (90.9 on my FM dial) so I tried tuning in on the ride.  This was the birthday of the program Classics by Request, where listeners have requested particular pieces of music.  The program has been running for 40 years. The hostess, Ruthanne Bessman, made clear that there is a certain amount of pride in being part of such a long-running endeavor.

I was driving through farmland and small groups of houses.  Hearing great music in such scenery is very moving. I heard Wynton Marsallis playing amazing coronet in the Carnival of Venice Variations.  I heard Mozart's Symphony 1, composed at the age of 8. It may be too late for me to match him. The piece that really took me away was the 4th movement of Beethoven's 9th, abbreviated, by the London Symphony conducted by Georg Solti.  By the time he got to his 9th Symphony, I read that he couldn't hear it. I am glad I could.

Under the right circumstances, I can go into a semi-ecstatic state.  The joy of being alive, the gratitude for my life and family and friends can certainly bring tears to my eyes.  The scenery, the tune, the instruments and the heavenly voices lift me up. I am surprised at the power of the performance and my flying ability.  If you want to hear Beethoven's 9th, or just the 4th and final movement, one way to do it is to find it in YouTube. There are many recordings and performances to choose from.

Saturday, January 4, 2020


If I go out into the woods and shout, the sound dies away.  I think that is what happens. The vibrations of sound dissipate into undetectable levels.  That is the idea behind the notion of "cyberspace" or "cybersphere". If I send an email off to a non-existent address, we sometimes say it goes off into cyberspace.  We mean the realm of computer stuff that dies off somewhere. Maybe it too dissipates and dies off in multiple locations as unwanted, unrecognized, unvalued junk.  

I like a similar concept for human communications.  Think of all the human oral statements and exclamations, added to all the notes to the milkman, death warrants, birthday wishes, etc. that have been written or spoken ever.  That whole thing is the wordosphere. Much of the wordosphere has died away, just like my shout in the woods. An ancient Babylonian wife complained that her husband drank too much but her complaint has died out in the wordosphere.  Her daughter wrote to her beloved but the poem on papyrus has been lost to the ages.  

I have listened to many lectures and presentations but you should just take my word since I don't have records of what was said nor proof that I was within hearing (and was awake and conscious, but that is another story).  When I speak or write (or do interpretive dance or communicate in sign language or with gestures or suggestive pictures like emoticons -💪💪💪) the material message may be available in one form or another for seconds or centuries.  

I have read that there are about 6000 languages in use today and that one goes extinct every day.  But to complete the story of messages and words, we need to at least include Python and Fortran and other computer codes.  We should include various other codes and formats, I guess. Maybe the Cartesian way of making graphs and maps and some conventions used in making a movie or a machine and a theater to show it.  The wordosphere is very large and complex.

Friday, January 3, 2020


Sometimes it is said that if something is important, it needs to be measured. Sometimes it is said that if something is measured, attention will be paid to it.  Part of my graduate education and much of my teaching was about testing students and giving grades. The story of "standardized" tests involves Alfred Binet of France.  A similar story and approach is found in "How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business" by Douglas Hubbard.  

Whether it is intelligence or business acumen or leadership ability, measuring an intangible, especially one that matters to humans, is tricky.  I heard enough about measuring and testing to immediately be on my guard when the subject comes up.  

Here is what I wrote about this subject in 2011:
A friend wrote about intelligence.  That is a subject I used to deal with quite a bit.  My experience is that it is best to leave a blank when trying to assess someone's intelligence.  After physical science made some very impressive strides during the 1800's, psychologists wanted to do the same thing.  Alfred Binet was asked by the Paris school board to build a test that could tell whether a child was mentally capable of benefiting from normal schooling or insufficiently intelligent for it.  Louis Terman of Stanford University modified that test to create the granddaddy of American intelligence testing, the Stanford-Binet test.  

My doctorate is in statistics, experimental design and measurement, which means I had to take a grad course in individual intelligence testing.  The idea is that a piece of paper with questions and exercises on it can be printed in multiple copies and used to estimate the intelligence of each of a group of children.  Those that give the answers expected by the people or machines that mark the papers are considered intelligent. However, in certain cases, an individual test is administered.  Here, a trained person sits alone with a student and asks questions by voice and requests the student to manipulate objects.  

The problem is that the method is very, very crude.  I sometimes think of getting an umbrella down a chimney.   It will go down one way (point first and closed) but not the other (open).  In a similar way, if a child is intelligent, mostly in a verbal, logical way, the test will show that.  However, the child can be extremely intelligent but not seem so on the test. Just one of many, many obstacles is language.  If the child speaks only Spanish or Romanian, and we ask a question in English, guess what happens?

Contrast what used to be the 2 leading I.Q. tests, the Stanford-Binet and the Wechsler.  The Binet test used a conception of intelligence as logic. So, Binet asks a child, "Johnny put his pants on over his head today.  Tell me what is funny about that?" If we get an answer more or less equivalent to "well, pants are made in such a way that they cannot be donned so as to be worn in the conventional way by putting them on over the head", the child is considered intelligent.  

Wechsler used a different idea: that an intelligent mind would gather certain basic info.  He thought the child that knows that basic info is intelligent but not if the child doesn't.  So, we ask the child,"How far is it from New York to Paris?" If the child says approximately 3000 miles, we have an intelligent kid but if not, not.

There are lots of other holes, just as bad.  Beware the idea that intelligence is measurable.
Especially as time brings change, we need different kinds of intelligence.

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