Saturday, February 29, 2020

Born on Leap Day

I recently met my first example of someone born on February 29, Leap Day.  I did realize earlier that such a birthday would be misleading in ordinary terms.  The woman we met said that she had experienced her birthday something like 18 times.  So, I figure in ordinary years, she is probably 18 x 4 years old.  

My lifetime has been very much affected by computers and my first instruction in computer use was in graduate school.  A small group of us labored for 3 years as explained here:

The calendar we use is the Gregorian calendar, instituted by Pope Gregory XIII and his aides in 1582.  The Pope had been advised that the Julian calendar had, over time, gotten out of whack and needed to be adjusted.  In October, he declared a given day would be followed by another date eleven days into the future. There were riots as people declared they demanded their days back. 

From an earlier post in this blog:

Researching possible challenges he might give us, we learned that in 1752, all British lands, including the American colonies, agreed to accept the calendar adjustments created much earlier under Pope Gregory XIII to correct the calendar.  The Pope's astronomers had calculated that the calendar needed to omit 11 days for better adjustment and different countries adopted the correction at different times. The British lands had riots over the correction, where some workers feared the shortened month would result in less pay.  It seems that the calendar riots resulted in full pay for that month's work.

I searched "how many different calendars are in current use".  I knew it was a tricky question. I found

There are seven calendars in regular current use around the world. They are the Gregorian, the Chinese, the Hebrew, the Islamic, the Persian, the Ethiopian and the Balinese Pawukon. The Gregorian is used worldwide for business and legal reasons. The others are sometimes used for religious and sometimes social reasons. Modern Calendars - Calendopaedia

I also found

forty calendars

According to a recent estimate, there are about forty calendars used in the world today, particularly for determining religious dates. Most modern countries use the Gregorian calendar (see the Year) for their official activities. 

A Variety Of Calendars | Calendars - Webexhibits

Friday, February 28, 2020

Being aware that I am aware awarefully

Yes, I want to be alive to my life.  Yes, I want to appreciate the good woman I live with, the wonderful daughter, grandkids and their partners and kids. They are great, they are fine and they are fun.  

I have been told to know myself.  But I have also been told that much of me is not available to my conscious mind.  I try to know parts of myself that I can but I am aging and deteriorating and shriking and disappearing.  So, I grab what I can of my disappearing self but the whole task is difficult and a little boring. I am taking it easy.  I want to be aware of my blessings as well as my hungers and lusts and desires. Up to a point - I don't want a 65 inch flat screen tv and I hope I don't get one.  

Lynn got a new kiln recently.  It costs a good bit and it is far more sophisticated than the old one. But it is surprising how much trouble the packing material causes.  There is a good deal of cardboard to cram into the trash bin, which I am hoping will be successfully emptied tomorrow. She needed a new kiln and it came quickly.  I am aware of how much it means to her to be able to create pottery and ceramic dishes and mugs. It has been a bother for both of us to choose a model, order it, pay for it, have it delivered, install it, learn to use it, and actually fire her creations. 

It is easy to look down our noses at desires and plans but we still have hungry minds, ambitions, ego and hopes.  Whether it is a kiln, a talk before an audience of elders, a blog post or a new book, we are aware that we are transient beings, not too much longer for this world.  Despite our awareness of our limits, our futures, our pasts, our joys, we merrily persist with our plans and projects.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Pain of Distance and Opportunity

I know of two friends whose children live abroad.  Both found work there that seemed attractive and both moved out of the US.  When we travel with oldsters our age, we often hear how unusual it is to have children, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren all living close by.  

When young people graduate from high school, they often plan on further education.  They may study colleges, universities and technical schools for their scholarships, graduation and placements records, and reputation.  I haven't heard much about foreign schools asking American students to come join them but I imagine that is already happening in different places.  

I did quite a bit of distance education and online teaching.  I have been told that many post-secondary education institutions are trying to grow their online offerings.  I have been retired for 15 years but even before that, I had students in foreign countries using the internet or other tools to be a student outside of our classroom.  The Netflix movie "Marriage Story" is about a modern young couple with split job aims. One of them needs the California film scene and the other one needs the Broadway opportunities.  

There may indeed come opportunities that one would be foolish to ignore but to me, the bond between two people can be far more important than career or location.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Quiet restraint

I sat next to a woman and her husband on the plane. He was big and well-shaped and good-looking.  She was very pretty. I thought she had very attractive wrists. Slender, cute, feminine. When I am served in a restaurant, I am sitting there talking when a smooth, good-looking arm suddenly appears in front of me, placing my order on the table.  

I try to be civilized.  I don't want to cause a ruckus or embarass my excellent wife.  I don't want to cause offense or sorrow. So, despite the smooth, edible-looking, delicious skin right in front of me, I don't wolf-whistle or howl or bite.  I act like I am not aware, like I am unaffected. The nuns would be quite proud.  

I blame mindfulness.  Meditate regularly, they said.  Learn to see, to feel. Be alive to life, they said.  Don't let the beauty and magnificence of the day slip by unappreciated.  Well, I followed their advice and now I am paying for it. Lovely women, magnificent men, amazing architecture everywhere, the beauty of travel, the joy of walking.  I am surrounded by wonders but I suffer them quietly, heroically.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Basking in electricity

When we were in Cuba, we experienced several flickers in the electricity.  We had a longer period without the mysterious juice last summer right at home.  In Cuba, we got so that when there was suddenly darkness, we would just freeze for 20 or 30 seconds, and it all came back.  Often, there would be a repetition or two and then, back to normal.  

It does seem miraculous to have wires that make our microwave, our lamps, our computers, our phones, our power tools and our vacuum cleaners all work.  How does the electricity know which to do?

I have written before about Estes Park, Colorado, where Stanley of the Stanley Steamer automobile supplied electricity to the town.  It says on the building housing the equipment that when they started using the stuff, nobody thought there would be a demand for electricity 24 hours a day!

We are moving toward more electrically powered automobiles.  We have electrically powered trains. Books like "Power Hungry" by Robert Bryce try to show that the power packed in fossil fuels is more than electricity can match and that humans will have to do without some of the speed and ease they are used to when we have no more fossil fuels.  We'll see.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Getting warmer

Some people can't wrap their heads around 20 below zero.  Other people say, "Twenty below? Wait until it is 60 below."  But it has been warmer lately and we appreciate it. Now, it is 45 degrees outside, somewhat balmy.  I walked outside for the 2nd day in a row. I did keep my hands in my coat pockets some but I didn't wear gloves or a hat.  It was nice.

Of course, in our garage, it is 1936° but only inside Lynn's kiln.  That is quite warm. We don't touch the machine at that temperature without a mitt to protect our hand.  

What is the highest temperature that can be reached by a substance?

Some physicists posit that the highest temperature is Planck Temperature. They claim it is the highest possible temperature that matter could theoretically exist at. It is approximately 1.41679 x 10^32 Kelvin. That's roughly 100 million million million million million degrees.Jan 7, 2012

Is there a limit on how hot something can get?

Wikipedia says at above 1.416785×1032 K, all theories breakdown. So, that is theoretical limit. In actuality, 7.2 trillion deg F is the highest known temperature, and that is in Large Hadron Collider (LHC) when they smash gold particles together.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

"Two Popes" on Netflix

We have programs we watch steadily but sometimes, we are up for a change.  We had heard that "Two Popes" was good but that was an understatement. There is no chance that I will be a main emissary of God on Earth nor that I will be responsible for a billion people's spirituality.  

Actually, no one person is or can be but the Pope comes close. I am not Catholic but the movie gives me some insight into the path to the Papacy and the continuous winnowing and sifting needed to try to set an example, lead and improve lives.  I knew a little about the Argentine troubles that Pope Francis lived through but the movie brings a bit of them back. They were very unpleasant and trying.

Two excellent actors, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce play the two popes,  Benedict XVI (Ratzinger) and Francis (Bergoglio). The dialogues between the two are stellar and I get the feeling that changes and issues in that mightly organization are sticky and would be a challenge for anyone, no matter how holy and devoted and experienced.  Just as I count it as impressive for the US to have had a African-American president, I count it as impressive for the Roman Catholic church to have its first ever New World Pope, Southern Hemisphere Pope and Jesuit Pope.  

See the movie if you can and prepare to empathize with the impossible duties of the office.  

Saturday, February 22, 2020


It came as a surprise last night.  An email told us that Grandpa was sick and could we have the greatgrandkids over here.  Sure! It was a professional development day for educators and the kids got here at 7:30 AM.  What do you want for breakfast? Pancakes! So, it's off to IHOP and pancakes, sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs.  

Back home: games, including Crunch, a dangerous, full-body form of multi-player solitaire.  Other games.

Shoveling a path to the birdfeeder so Lynn could reload it.  Playing on our snowhills and putting footprints and pathways over as much of the property as possible.  Lunch at Dairy Queen. Why are there some many kids and gray-haired caretakers? It's a professional development day.

Take Lynn to Gallery Q, where she will hostess for the afternoon.  Home to the movie: The Secret Life of Pets 2, a lesson in courage and physical agility (and animation).  Mom spent the day attaining her 2nd notch in the positive approach to working with kids. She showed up and piled the 6th grader and the 4th grader and backpacks, plastic bags, a paper shopping bag and assorted tools, devices and games into her van.  

We realize that such opportunities are not always available and we are glad we had this chance.

Friday, February 21, 2020


We are experiencing deeper cold.  Most of the winter so far, the temperature has reached 20° F but yesterday was colder and more biting.  Last night, we reached 21 degrees below zero. It is difficult to separate the images of more severe cold that we can actually feel from the knowledge of negative numbers and scales and words in reports.

We can also say that we are in the winter of our lives.  A friend wrote yesterday that nothing much is of interest anymore.  Another friend sent me a copy of an accusatory email that Mom sent, saying that further relations between parent and grownup child were now impossible since the caretaker had stolen money from the parent.  This to Mom's main caretaker who worries and frets and accompanies and helps out! (And definitely doesn't steal Mom's funds.) Caretaking burdens and dementia and physical limits and boredom are all around.

The sun is blazing bright right now and reflects off the pure white snow.  In every direction, light blasts everything. In the midst of depression and lack of inspiration, we can search for something engaging, something that matters.  We can overlook friends, hungers, achievements, and steady habits that keep us going and advancing. The sunlight is a blessing, our appetites rouse us, our habits and housekeeping continue to drive us and actually satisfy us.

I wish you a good program, a good drink, a good joke, and the eyes and ears to enjoy them.                            

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Talk next week

A week from tomorrow I am giving a talk on six books that have helped me.  They are

  • Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

  • Thinking: Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

  • Uncharted by Erez Aidan and Jean-Baptiste Michel

  • Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

  • Breath by Breath by Larry Rosenberg

  • From Gutenberg to Google by Tom Wheeler

Here is a link to a webpage of points about each book

Across the top of that page, the books are listed and the titles are links to the notes I took on that book. Sometimes, when the writing is very good, I forget to take notes or make highlights.

Each one has lots of implications for living and thinking.  I am confident that the Breath by Breath book has had the most impact on my daily life.  I use its ideas just about every waking hour.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Choosing happiness

"Incognito" alerted me to the many parts of myself that are not available to my mind. Having read other books about the unconscious, I realize that when speaking or writing, there are aspects of the processes of word choice and expression that happen without deliberate choice.  The US is approaching a national election so choice and support and opposition are in the air. A person can list what he likes and dislikes about a particular candidate but it seems to me that the process of choice is loaded with emotion and gambles.  

I ran across the book by Lisa Feldman Barrett called "How Emotions Are Made."  The subject reminds me of the book "Thinking: Fast and Slow" by Kahneman. I also like the ideas expressed by Chade-Meng Tan in his "Joy on Demand".  Using meditation and practicing examination of my thoughts and feelings seems to give me more control over my emotions, more ability to accept or reject feelings.  As I read some of the Barrett book, I used my habit of looking the author up to learn more about her and her work: where she works, what she does and what other books she has written. Looking her up led me to a TED talk by her:

I think it would be unwise and uncomfortable to be joyful all the time.  However, observing oneself, one's thoughts and most importantly, the focus of one's attention can no doubt go a long way to supply the tools and habits that enable a good mood under a wide range of circumstances.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Still going strong

Dale Carnegie published "How to Win Friends and Influence People" in 1936. publishes four charts each week, showing the most purchased and the most read of the books they sell.

The charts show fiction and nonfiction and include the number of weeks a book has been on the charts and some information about the books.  

I have written about the Amazon Charts before:

I am only writing now to highlight "How to Win Friends."  Many of the books listed have been published quite recently.  So, to have a book on the lists for 144 weeks sixty-five years after death is quite a feat. How to Win Friends is one of the most famous self-help books ever published.  It has sold over 15 million copies and was listed as #19 on Time magazine's list of the most influential books ever.

Self-help books sometimes get a poor reputation as lightweight, unscientific, obvious but in other cases, they are a real asset.  I am a fan of Kindle books but many editions of "How to Win Friends" cost $10-15 dollars and I didn't want to spend that. I wanted to get an idea of what the book said and I found the local libraries have copies or access to copies of it but I didn't want to wait until previous holds on the book allowed me to finally get a copy, including e-copies.  

Many non-fiction books have summaries that are shorter and cheaper than the original volume.  

From a summary that was free to Kindle Prime users:

Rule 1 - Don't condemn, criticize or complain 

Rule 2 - Be appreciative

Ruie 3 - Help others see how to satisfy their wants

Growth Digest, The. Summary and Discussions of How to Win Friends & Influence People By Dale Carnegie (p. 5). Kindle Edition.  

In today's US, we could certainly aim at criticizing less.  Being appreciative of life as well as of other people makes tons of sense. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Passing the time with a beat

I left my internet devices home but I saw many rural Cubans sitting in their living rooms or porches without electronic devices.  I realize my parents and grandparents did without email, Facebook and Google News. I also heard plenty of drumming and rhythmic activities as we traveled around Cuba. I got to thinking about rhythmic tapping, drumming, and dancing as a more or less hypnotic and unifying pastime.  

I think I have an ok sense of rhythm.  I was the drum sergeant of my high school drum and bugle corps.  Relatedly, the musical Amandla! - A Revolution in Four Part Harmony has a scene in South Africa during Apartheit where a white policeman interferes with a black voter in a line waiting to vote.  Immediately, the whole line of people start humming and rhythmically moving in place. The sound and the unified movement unites the group in an impressive way. The solidarity and unison motivates the policeman to move away.  

Practicing a rhythm, especially a syncopated one, can be quite hypnotic and engaging.

So, if you have nothing to do, think about making a rhythm.  It can be with your fingers on a surface such as a table or a drumhead.  It can be on the head of a box of salt or oatmeal. Tap, tap, tap, pause, taptap.

Our forefathers and mothers had no YouTube, no smartphones.  If they had come across a smartphone that someone accidentally dropped, it would have been of no use since there was no signal, no internet, no carrier company.  You can make do with a nice beat for a while.  

With a nice syncopated rhythm, you or those around you often develop a tendency to move with the rhythm.  Head nodding, weight shifting, foot tapping all lend themselves to keeping the rhythm while dusting, peeling potatoes or apples, and similar activities.  In no time, keeping a syncopated rhythm will make you feel like a dancer and your reputation as one will grow.  

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Cuba sun and trees

Cuba is further south than Florida so naturally there is a difference in weather.

Us now:

Them, a few days ago:

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Visiting Cuba

When we read that Cuba has slow and spotty internet, I thought a visit there would be a good exercise for me personally in disconnection.  It could be good for me to not Google every other thought. As you might expect, not having access to a version of the world library after being used to using it develops hunger, curiosity and even grouchiness.  I remember using various slow equipment and spotty connection and I thought I would spare myself disappointment and rage.  

Reading "Incognito" by Eagleman was very helpful in seeing that impulses and desires and routines guide me much of the time but that sometimes, I can decide on a course of behavior and stick to it.  I did not take a computer or tablet with me for the two weeks and pridefully patted myself on the back until my elbow got tired to that stretch. Naturally, when you go with a group of lively thoughtful people as Road Scholar/Elderhostel provides, you hear of books being read and some digested years ago.  I tried several times to connect both to my Kindle archive and to the Amazon Kindle store but never did.  

I think I could have connected but it is getting so that my name, my email address, and my willingness to buy things are more valuable than greenbacks and coins.  I spent last evening getting rid of 800 emails that accumulated in my inbox and I was reluctant to tax my aging brain with more information about amazing deals and low prices that will only be in force for the next five minutes.  I would have broken my plan to be disconnected at times in order to at least read descriptions of certain books that others mentioned but requests for indentification information stopped me.

We met three Cuban professors on our trip.  They had been lined up to discuss Cuban politics, architecture (and history) and music (and history).  The first man stated that we current humans spend our lives dealing with symbols and I recognized the statement definitely applies to me.  I was fully prepared to deeply rejoice when I was back in the land of a better signal, easy to use equipment and connection. I am doing that now, with gratitude.

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