Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Older knockouts

It seems funny that a squirrel can be strongly attracted to another squirrel while I am not.  That sort of attraction goes on in many species and it doesn't involve me. Like many people, I can't tell one sex from the other in many species but luckily for their future, they can.  I meet women, over the age of, say, 75, that are SO cute.  At the same time, men in their 30's and 40's treat the cutie as though she is their mother: polite, respectful and somewhat distant. 

Benjamin Franklin advised liaisons with older women since his experience with them was that they are so grateful.  It is very nice to earn the gratitude of older women, I am sure, but I think too many are victims of a combination of biology and modern marketing.  The problem might be called "The Cindy Crawford syndrome".  She is the famous model who is quoted as saying she herself wished she looked like Cindy Crawford.  She meant that the basic Cindy was very different from the Cindy that gets photographed after hair and makeup people work her over only to hand her over to lighting and current fashion experts who adjust this and highlight that.

We are getting ready for a family photograph from a very experienced professional photographer.  We have had a picture by him before and we know he knows his stuff.  He sent us a PDF of advice on preparation, the best clothing, time of day, etc.  He advised those of us who wear glasses to visit an optician to have the lenses removed from our eyeglasses so the camera wouldn't find light sparkling on our lenses.  

Many older women have different shapes from the standard hourglass figure.  They may be unable to convince themselves that a pot belly and wrinkled skin are attractive but I think older men might be able to change their minds.

When I meet an older cutie, I can see the attractiveness, the intelligence, the precious jewel that she is.  I behave myself.  Many older cute women have had a lifetime of attention from men and don't need any more of that.  However, if I got a part in a play to act attracted to them, I feel I could do a creditable job easily.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Web work with phone and computer

Google newsletters have emphasized over the last few years the increasing role of web traffic by mobile phones instead of computers.  I am not sure what they refer to "mobile phones" with this topic since I suspect that only "smart" cell phones can show images and use web browsers.  Before I got a chance to write today's post, I got a somewhat suspicious email on my iPad.  The display only showed the supposed sender's name but it didn't seem like the sort of message that friend sends.  I went to my computer and looked at the same email message but on the computer, a much more powerful machine than a smartphone or tablet, the sender and the sender's email address were displayed.  It was immediately clear that I was right - this was not a real message from my friend but a fake and one that included a link.  I could go through some maneuvers to check where the link leads but I skipped that.  

The point is that displays and possible actions are not identical on phones and on computers.  The computer is getting to be older fashioned but it is more powerful than a phone and the display can show more.  It wasn't very long ago that I found in my blog settings a section for making the blog look good and easy to use on a mobile phone.  I just looked at my blog on Lynn's iPhone and the display is indeed quite different from the one on a computer.  When I have written about the blog archive and the blog search window and their location on the display, I was describing the computer display.  

There is a choice at the bottom of the smartphone display to see the web version and that version shows a search window and an archive but they don't show in the main phone layout.  

When you look up my website, called "Kirbyvariety", other items come up but the actual display of the site is just about the same on the phone as on a computer.  When following a theme or a subject, you may want to use both a phone and a computer if you can.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The end, etc.

In 1972, The Limits to Growth was published.  It explained that by 2025, tough conditions would hold: air pollution, over-population, scarce food, water shortage - not good times.  My friend is a historian, especially of science.  We discussed the problems and created a course on the future.  We didn't know what the future holds but we did have quite a few predictions from several types of writers, ancient and more recent.  

When I joined the American Educational Research Association, I became a member of their sub-group on the future, which is, of course, a very broad subject.  I am officially an old person, well into the end period of life.  Naturally, I expect to die sometime in the next 20 or so years.  That expectation can slant my thinking about the future.  

When I was a kid, we had television but it was only broadcast for a couple of hours a day.  There were movie theaters and of course, plays but no movies on tv.  No internet, just emerging air travel, no cell phones.  So, things were different then.  It is clear that I am a wonderful person so why shouldn't people my age and background worry?  We are wonderful and grew up in conditions different from today so how can others become wonderful in different conditions?

Probably things are just going to go downhill and everything good will fall apart, fail and cease, don't you think?

So, we have

  1. I'm going to die and so are you, sometime.  That can be a downer.

  2. There are fearful ideas and groups right here on our planet and that doesn't make me feel good.

  3. What with taxes and expenses and an ongoing need to eat, I may run out of money.  Yuck!

  4. My body is aging and weakening.  Not good.

If you put on your thinking cap, you may be able to add to this list.  It has been fashionable to be alert to downers and worries since olden times, so join in and hurry up about it!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Recent movies

We watch tv most evening.  We bought a Roku streamer five or six years ago and very rarely watch broadcast tv.  We have tended to have a favorite series, like Foyle's War and Dr. Martin.  Lately, we have felt the need for something new and different.  There are enough full length movies on Netflix and Prime Video (Amazon) to keep us busy for the rest of our lives and for that very reason, are a bit daunting.  I usually feel that a sentence or two of description and the art or photo are enough to give me a clue as to the worth of watching.  Still, it is not easy for two critical people to use their intuition and decide on something to watch.  

We did agree on these and they seem worthy of mention.  All but "Boy" were on Amazon Prime Video.  The Roku streamer lets us link up to various services and we have 60 "channels" but mostly use Netflix, Prime Video, Acorn, PBS/WPT and Kanopy.  

"The Bookshop" is the story of a recently widowed woman opening a bookshop in a small British town.  It has the usual up and down of a story and was fun to watch.

"The Park Bench" is entirely filmed with two characters sitting on a park bench, a grad student tutor (quite pretty and quite intellectual) and her undergrad student tutee.  Well done and memorable.

"Cas and Dylan" stars Richard Dreyfus as a physician recently diagnosed with inoperable deadly cancer and Tatiana Maslany as a young 20's woman who gets entangled in the physician's plan to drive across the country.  

"Boy" was chosen from the offerings on "Kanopy", a service I learned about from two filmophile friends.  I had been told by them that I need to open an account and have my library card handy but when I went to add Kanopy to our other 59 Roku choices, it just came up without further fuss or identification.  

"Boy" is a New Zealand film and features Maori actors.  It is a peek at a boy's life at about age 10, set in more or less current times.  It is clear that the boy is experiencing tough times, with a recently deceased mother, a father who comes and goes while avoiding responsibility and entertaining too many daydreams.  It is not especially upbeat or down but gave me plenty to think about in the way of children's resiliency and hopes. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Guest blogger: K. Ames on replication and conclusions

Ames comments on my blog sometimes and often writes something of special value and insight.  Here is his comment on the blog of 6/24/20 about research results that don't replicate, https://fearfunandfiloz.blogspot.com/2020/06/research-replication-and-value.html

Years ago, my UW-Madison mentor, Michael Hakeem, had the audacity to criticize the Zimbardo experiment in his Criminology class. This was tantamount to heresy and he paddled alone against the opinions of the day and was excoriated for daring to suggest the results and conclusions were flawed. He brought up well-reasoned arguments and insights. It was decades before the world seemed to catch up to him and now we have, at best, divided opinion as to the design, action, and conclusion of the experiment (see Ben Blum - Medium.com). I can state without equivocation, undergrads in the Sociology Department were eager to swallow Zimbardo's conclusions whole. It fit what we already wanted to believe. Finally, proof!

I have a friend who was a prof at THE Ohio State University in public health. He resigned, discouraged, because of the funding sources (many by corporations or interests who wanted a pre-existing conclusion or opinion merely verified), and the inability to find funding for replication studies. There is no money in repeating another's work, he found. He would muse that there is a significant chance the cigarette companies of the 1950s could today find the "scientific" backing they'd need to demonstrate the positive health effects of smoking. Money leads to predictable results, he claimed, and he wanted no part of that machine.

We trust in "science," but we need to be better consumers of that science - and that is hard, hard work. I don't think we're up to it.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Pictures and a video

This is a good time of year to concentrate on what we can see.  I like to have downloads go to my computer "desktop".  I realize it is only a metaphoric desktop but I like the feeling of seeing what is on my computer.  I finally got around to clearing files off, storing a copy of each on my external hard disk.  One of the files I have a copy of is this video that seems quite impressive:

"Asian social distancing" [There are two flower images below]


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Research, replication and value

There are strong pressures on writers and researchers to be exciting, to be profitable, to find new and useful ideas.  There are standards as to what passes as a new fact.  In physical sciences, there is a great deal that is unknown.  Finding a new truth is difficult but finding a new truth that is deeply useful is quite a bit more difficult.  

Research, as a deliberate, paid occupation, is a relatively new sort of work anywhere.  If you look at the history of universities, you find most of them focused on the past, on the wisdom of those who lived in earlier times.  What is called "the rise of science" has taken centuries.  What is called the scientific method has taken several centuries.  Modern laboratories use approaches to experimentation and analysis that were unknown a few years ago.  

It is often useful to distinguish research involving people and that not involving people.  So, we have the physical sciences and the social sciences where we can include medicine, psychiatry and psychology and other human-related subjects like sociology, political science and archaeology.  Since we can often make money or get votes or donations when we uncover new and useful insights into people, we may find that scrutiny is lighter and the urge for speed and exciting language is greater when discussing the people sciences and their work.  

Over time, certain experiments and the published results explaining what was done and what was concluded gain fame.  Just the other day, a friend mentioned Milgram's experiment.  He assumed that the others in the group were familiar with an experiment where people were told to increase what was said to be painful to another person on the basis of the authority of a person in a white coat.  https://duckduckgo.com/?q=milgram+experiment

Sometimes, I run into a mention of Zimbardo's prison experiment.


In some cases, experiments which have been taken to show this or that about people have failed to replicate.  More recent researchers have tried to duplicate the experiments but failed to get the same result that has influenced instruction and activity for years.  The general problem of taking some well-known and influential experiment and trying it again without getting the famous textbook result is often called the current "replication crisis".  

The Wikipedia has a good article on our discovery that some of the truths we have uncovered about people may not be correct;


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Picking through the collection

My iPad has a Chrome app but also a "Google" app that is the same thing except that it seems connected to something or someone that sends me "cards", articles plus links that might be of interest.  One of the regular articles is a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon:

I have read that Bill Waterson stopped creating the cartoon in 1995 but there is an elaborate online site for seeing the Calvin cartoon of the day.  The idea of a massive archive of cartoons waiting to be parceled out by the day got me thinking of my archive of blog posts.  

I often think of my previous posts, currently over 3000 of them. https://fearfunandfiloz.blogspot.com/

Sometimes I look up a given date or search for mention of a topic in these daily writings.  

But my wife was a school librarian at both elementary and secondary schools and was an assistant professor of school librarianship.  She and other librarians are often faced with the task of "weeding", getting rid of items that are so popular their covers are falling off and need replacing (if the budget can support the purchase), getting rid of items that are badly out of date (the US job outlook for 1953), getting rid of items that have taken up precious shelf space for 38 years and never been checked out.  

"Housing the collection" may be a problem if it gets too large so the librarian keeps working to make the collection useful, attractive and valuable.


So, what about my collection of blog posts?  Historians and educators from the 25th century have urged me to keep every scrap of my writing - you know, for future analysis, comparison and humor.  As a statistician and evaluator, I am confident that a blog I write today is not the best of all the posts I have.  So, why not go through them all and select the best and re-post them?  Because the best today is not the one I select as outstanding tomorrow.  The news, the feel, the tone of a day is unpredictable until that day arrives.  But I am interested in what would be better, more accessible, more applicable than what I write today.

Monday, June 22, 2020


I got new valuable and fun insights from "Incognito" by David Eagleman.  So, I started reading "The Brain: The Story of You".  The author makes it clear that our brains and our perception apparatus (nerves, vision receptors and translators, hearing system) have things happen, like light hitting our retina or sound waves moving hairs in our inner ear, that the body translates into pictures or sounds in the brain.  It takes time for the perception in the sense organ to be changed into nerve impulses and for the impulses to travel to our brains and be combined with knowledge and expectations and predictions.  So, the upshot is that we are always working in the past.  

He says that the bang from a starter pistol can be decoded by the sprinters and used as a signal to take off in less time than a flash takes as a starting signal but sound still takes time to travel and to be decoded.  So, yes, the runners cannot begin the race until after the starter pistol has been fired.  

I am a student of delays and their effect.  I have known two professors who habitually delayed speaking noticeably longer than normally expected.  I might say,"That is a nice car you are driving."  No response, no response, no response.  I might add,"I used to have a car like that".  One of these habitual delayers might say," Thanks".  The effect was like those instances when the speech in a movie is out of sync with the picture.  Sort of the case where the butler opens the door, beckons the visitor inside and then we hear the doorbell ring. It takes a while to connect the latest statement not with my last comment but the one before that.

You can see the confusing effect of delays with a computer working with a network experiencing heavy traffic.  You type "Happy birthday to you" or you are pretty sure that's what you type but the monitor show "Happ" so you figure something has gone wrong and you type "y birthday to you" but suddenly and belatedly "HappHappy birthday to you"pops up on the monitor.  Timing matters and delays can confuse.  Eagleman points out that the brain scientists are studying how the brain manages to get hearing, sight and touch synchronized so that we hear, see and feel in the right sequence and experience them all together.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Summer solstice and Father's Day

June 21 along with other 21st days is the date that I learned the seasons change.  Here is the "north" we are very aware of warm and cold, even though the cold has not been as severe lately and the warm has been as warm or warmer.  It is not just temperature, of course.  The summer solstice and the tilt of the earth's axis give us longer days and shorter nights, which affects our lives and our moods. 

It seems to me that more daylight hours and the beginning of summer is not an unmixed blessing.  I guess the older I get, the more confidence I have that I can list several positives and several negatives about anything.  In the case of daylight, warmth and seasons, I can't make up my mind whether I am glad to have the solstice or sorry to have the approach to the winter solstice begin already.  

I just saw an article a bit ago on ways to actually be happier and the psychologist recommended three items: acceptance, gratitude and not making an explicit effort to be happier. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/liking-the-child-you-love/202006/3-ways-truly-feel-happier

 I have found, as many ancient sages in several different times and places have advised, that accepting the way life works, the way I work and the way others behave helps enormously.  I was very pleased to be a husband and a father and I still am.  However, if death, disease or divorce had intervened, I would work on myself to accept that and be grateful for any good aspects that come my way.  

A Google search pinpoints the exact moment of summer solstice as being 

June 20 at 4:44 PM central (daylight) time.  

If you missed it, you can still be grateful to have it and accept its passing and moving on to next year.


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Trypanophobia - guest blog

Dr. McGlone recently retired as a director of campus libraries.  She writes the blog "Where is my watch?" https://vmcglone.blogspot.com/


Trypanophobia is the extreme fear of needles.  I am referring to the injection and blood drawing needles, not the knitting needles.  I like knitting needles, but those other needles...not so much.  There are a lot of reasons for my fear, but I think the primary reason goes back to my childhood.  

I have written here about my mother, the medical doctor.  For whatever reason, probably for the sake of convenience, my mother acted as our family doctor.  This included giving us all of our immunizations.  I did not do well with that.  I have a very vivid memory of my mother dragging me out from under the bed where I was trying to escape.  She had my ankle in one hand and the needle in the other.  Ugh. 

My mother was often on the telephone.  We had phones all over the house to enable her to  answer quickly one emergency after another.  One time, she was in the middle of her office hours (her office was in our home).  She was rushing from the living room back toward her office when the phone rang.  As I watched, she hurried to pick up the phone with one hand and somehow jabbed her other hand with the needle she was holding.  Just thinking about it makes me woozy.  Blech.

Over the years and my various medical adventures, I have met good and bad responses to my phobia.  Some doctors and nurses are understanding and patient.  Some are not accustomed to dealing with my brand of crazy.  Recently I had to have an IV in preparation for a medical procedure.  I explained, as I always do, to the nurse/technician/whatever he was, that I do not do well with needles, and that I would be looking away while he inserted the IV.  He said, "OK," then got the IV going somehow.  Sadly (for me), the next thing he said was, "It popped out."  It popped out.  When I awoke (and I was REALLY out, in a deep sleep of a dream about Moses and Noah and the Ark), I was surrounded by many white- jacketed folks.  They all agreed that I didn't need that IV after all.

I hate needles so much that I always begged my medical providers, including my dentist, to proceed with my care without anesthesia.  Some of them tried it, sometimes it worked.  My childhood dentist went along for a while until my screaming got to him.  His exact words were, "God damn, it, Vicky!!!"  From then on, he would not treat me unless I got the Novocaine.  

In an ill-conceived plan, I decided to cure my phobia by giving blood.  That adventure ended with the nurse advising me that it would be in everyone's best interest if I served my community in another way.  It seems that having all the staff attending to my hysteria wasn't helpful for them or beneficial to other donors.  

I know these damned implements are a medical necessity, but I don't have to like them.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Writing for unknown audiences of unknown size

Why write every day?  Why list five or more possible subjects or ideas and then write about one of them?  Who is going to read the writing?  Who is going to care?

I don't know.  I know that 48 people looked at the blog yesterday on its web page.  Only 48?  I can't make a living off of 48 viewers. But, I am not trying to.  I did email the blog to 79 people.  There may have been overlap.  Some of the 48 web page viewers might be the same people that received an email.  Some people don't want to read the post for yesterday and deleted it without reading.  Others started reading but got interrupted.  Most of those will probably not return to finish reading.  

I have lots of experience working with students young and old who were asked to read something.  Did they?  Who knows?  What did they remember?  Who knows?  Remember?  What did they get out of reading the blog?  Who knows?  Let me tell you a secret: Nobody knows "what they got out of it"!!!  They don't know and I don't know.  How come?  Because when a person reads or hears or thinks something, it is never quite clear what the material does, what it relates to, how and when and why it might be useful.  

A person might read a comment that jars their memory of a book they have been meaning to get to.  It might be a book that I never heard of, but reading my blog got them remembering it.  They might read a line in my blog that gets them to write or call a friend.  That might happen without the caller or the callee ever realizing something in the blog motivated the call.  Or, instead of a call, maybe a purchase or a trip or a new resolution to do or not do something.  That's the thing.  The world is a complicated place and things are related to each other in multiple ways.  

These considerations make me somewhat indifferent to audience size.  Sure, if one person reads my blog that is not the same as having 10,000 readers. I have never actually had ten thousand readers. I have had 169069 readers visit my web site in the 12 years of its existence but that isn't many.  It is about 38 a day over the whole time.  

But so what?  Maybe I helped several people see life differently.  Maybe I inspired a little love or a little hope or a little happiness.  Try it yourself.  

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Giving each breath some personality

Larry Rosenberg wrote "Breath by Breath".  Between his book and other sources I have read, I grasp the idea that one anchor for my attention can be a breath I take. Attention anchors are useful since they can show me when I have let my attention wander.  Attention is built to wander in case my hair catches on fire or something, I want to notice and take measures.  But I do want to be aware of where I am putting my attention.  I don't want to be the toy of big corporations or electronic doo-dads or bright colors.  I don't mind paying attention to any of them at times but I like to be aware of what I am doing.  

I developed the habit of keeping my gaze fixed on the lower left corner of some rectangle in my sight.  Keeping my attention there helps me notice when I have wandered off to la-la land or into fond memories of lovely picnics or whatever.  Since I use a computer often and pay attention to the monitor to see what I have typed, my eyes, which are aging, get tense and tired.  So, using my breath as a focus of attention allows me to shut my eyes and give them a rest while still practicing attention awareness.  But you can see the problem.  Breaths are very much alike, one being difficult to distinguish from another.

Breath after breath, pretty soon they all seem the same.  I can count them and I often do.  I can imagine a rosary or some similar aid and think of my hands holding a series of markers but I want to give my breaths some character.  I can breathe deeply and instead, shallowly.  I can breathe in thru my mouth or in thru my nose.  I can use either to exhale.  I like to try letting my body and chest breathe itself.  We have natural circuits that keep us breathing while asleep or watching a thriller or listening to a conversation.  When things are calm and I am in the right groove, I can let me breathe myself.  

When I do that, my chest takes rather shallow breaths, does so quickly and easily and inhales and exhales without a lot of fanfare or effort.  Several breathing exercises I have tried extol deep breaths, breaths that use a relaxed belly and even expand my sides.

I have tried exhaling with some force but I find that nearly all exhales fail to take all of the air out of my lungs.  If I exhale forcefully and continuously, letting my chest collapse completely, I can still purse my lips and blow out, enough to be able to feel breath on my hand.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020


When I see movies or drawings from other periods of time, I see different sorts of clothes on women.  Ancient Rome:


1920's American bathing suits for women:


When I see a woman in an ancient Roman gown, I think I am looking at someone who was accepted as well dressed and appropriately garbed.  When I see a woman in a 1920's bathing suit, again, I am confident that she and others thought she was attractive and appropriately clad.  

But, I want to turn my attention to other types of fashion, not just women's clothing or any clothing for that matter.  Our trip to Cuba brought this non-clothing aspect of fashion, habit, acceptable things and procedures to mind sharply.  Several friends said I should look out for good Cuban cigars when we were there.  We did have a visit to a cigar factory, a place with cigars were made by hand, rolled by experienced fingers.  I had heard from friends at home that some of them liked a Cuban cigar now and then.  But we had been from one end of the 800 mile island to the other and I didn't remember seeing a single cigar being smoked.  I mentioned it and was told that cigars "had fallen out of fashion".  

Wow!  So, in addition to science and medicine and climate and economics and other forces, there is something in human affairs called "fashion."  I know we have designers and design teachers at the university.  I can imagine that some sellers have certainly said or implied that I can be up-to-date if I buy their goods. I know that smartphones have eclipsed computers ( suspect convenience and portability, not to mention lots of efforts and complaints and invention have fingerprints all over the change).  I know that tail fins on cars have disappeared.  But those are mostly appearance.  

What about compact discs and even DVD's (digital video discs)?  They are being shoved out by streaming.  I am pretty sure there is some literature on the change from horse power to automobile power changing the market for buggy whips.  Some changes in technology are probably due to better convenience but there may be some that seem unexplainable except by considerations of fashion, up-to-date-ness and the desire to be thought of as a with-it, sharp person.  I think the opposite of being in the forefront (wherever that is) may be being "passé", which my computer says is defined as "no longer fashionable, out of date").  Such a state reminds me of that described as "irrelevant", as in that philosophy is irrelevant.  That sometimes means the philosophy pertains to other matters but it sometimes means I simply don't want to deal with it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

My quick visit to Heaven

It was just like they said.  Lots of soft white clouds to sit on, harpists beautifully plunking away. They said I wouldn't need shoes and it was true.  The clouds were a delight to walk on, soft and a little springy.  I won a visit for up to a year by being extra-good.  But you know what happened?  The place began to wear on me.  

No political divisions, no diversions, no distractions - just peace, bliss, satisfaction and happiness, lots of happiness.  You know, it can get to be hard to take.  Sure, the first ten weeks or so, all the calm was wonderful.  But slowly, I began to wish for a little dirt, a little tension.  I never thought I would miss pointless arguments and regular rhythms of accusations, denials but all that sympathy, deep understanding and commiseration!  I mean how much can a person take?  

I actually began to seek a bit of discomfort, maybe a little sin.  I am not a high level person - never have been.  I began to overeat.  I drank too much nectar.  Started betting with my neighbors: who would have the most doves in the yard, the sweetest roses - that sort of thing.  I started getting tremors.  I had increasingly severe headaches.  No more smiles!  No more deep and meaningful empathetic comments of support and durned understanding.

I gave up my lodging a bit early.  I really couldn't take any more.  I found out I am not a good candidate for heavenly living.  Tomorrow, I have a conference with my lawyer to try to work out an agreement that I don't have to spend eternity in that place.  I just couldn't do it.  It would kill me.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Verbalized profanity as a useful anesthetic

A little girl needed a tube into her arm but she was too resistant to allow the nurse to do her job.  The girl's father was an expert dentist, a specialist who dealt with shots and tubes and fear every day.  He took her aside and asked if she was old enough to know the bad words that Mommy and Daddy sometimes used.  Yes, she knew them.  Good!  The nurse needs to do her job so you can get well.  This time, when she begins, "I want you to use all the bad words you know.  Say them forcefully and go through them over and over until I tell you to stop."  She did apply her knowledge of bad words and she was able to concentrate on saying them repeatedly and with relish, distracted from fear and discomfort.  

One meets the word "distraction" often these days and it is usually in warnings against being distracted instead of attending to one's work or one's goal or one's homework.  Those of us who use computers often find that various means are used to suddenly show us a picture of a very good-looking member of the opposite sex as a lure to buy a book, watch a movie or play a game.  We are often warned against being distracted and urged to concentrate our attention on the goal, whatever it is or should be.  

What is a distraction?  What counts against good use of our attention?  Sure, if you are assigned 25 long divisions and you vere off to play Minecraft, you have been distracted.  Does it count if I cut myself badly and ask you to get me a Band-Aid?  Will I approve when you say you are sorry but just now you are engaged in your homework and must concentrate?  

Even our basic nervous systems are such that we are happy to drop the long divisions and RUN! when a saber-tooth tiger leaps out after us.  What counts as an important job can suddenly be demoted in favor of an alternative action, as in triage.  It is true that with a modern smartphone, with "notifications" (I just got an email from HER!), with surprise insertions of ads and tempting pictures of chips and beer, I can find myself off doing something else "Before I Know It" (Bargh, 2017)

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Less Dave and more Jane

For a book club I am in, I began Dave Eggers' "A Heartbreaking Story of Staggering Genius".  I didn't know anything about Eggers but I thought he was a humorist.  I started the book but after 20% of it, I decided I didn't want to read further.  I am surprised since my daughter told me years ago that she gives a book 50 pages before she decides she doesn't want to read more of it.  It turns out that 20% is 48 pages.

Then, the other night, we looked through movies supplied with our Amazon Prime membership and I saw the title "Miss Austen Regrets".  Years ago, I heard the Cole Porter song "Miss Otis Regrets", which was sung in a way that intrigued me.  I keep running into Miss Austen, that is Jane, the well-known author of "Pride and Prejudice" and other novels.  I knew my wife had read some of the Austen novels but I haven't.  The movie "Miss Austen Regrets" reminded me of my increasing interest in this Jane Austen (1775-1817), who keeps popping up.  I saw the movie "The Jane Austen Book Club" and quite a while ago, I watched the movie "Pride and Prejudice", starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.  

I contacted my friend, an retired professor of English, in a state of some exasperation, since I started reading Austen's "Mansfield Park" to Lynn and we both had trouble understanding the language.  It is written in English but by my standards, twisted and opaque wording.  My friend advised me to switch to "Persuasion" or some other Austen book.  She told me that I would soon get used to the language.  

She was right.  I read the first two chapters of Persuasion aloud and we both felt we knew what was going on and enjoyed being part of it. We met the heroine Anne's father and we learned that he and others in the story place a great deal of emphasis on the social rank of the people they socialize with and pay attention to.  I suspect that if I were part of the social group in that time, I might be that way, too.  I am a red-blooded, two-fisted, hard-driving American but in that time and place, I might feel that I only mattered in any important way if I had a title, like "baron".  I just looked up "baron" since I don't know much about nobility ranks and such.  I accidentally put in two r's and found a member of the President's family.  Of course, in that time and place, tradition and the economy and rules and regulations and customs and such might offer very few ways of standing out, looking good, and mattering.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Considering thinking

I agreed to discuss the book "Incognito" by Eagleman in the fall.  A person can accumulate plenty of knowledge without quite realizing it.  I have a blog (Fear, Fun and Filoz) that runs from a few days in 2008 to today that includes 3874 posts.  I have a website (Kirbyvariety) of about 212 web pages.  I often look at the blog and the site to see what I have been doing, what I have thought, read and written.  When I started to think about what I could say that might be entertaining, informative and helpful about our conscious and our unconscious minds, I looked in the blog and the web site pages.  I was surprised at how much I have and how much of my thinking and writing seems to be related to our minds.

Humans concentrate on their own conscious mind and on the language of others.  It can improve the picture if we think of "language" as including both our memories of what others have said and done, and our perceptions of them as people.  That is, we know others not just by what they openly say, but by comparing one appearance or comment with what we can remember of earlier statements and actions.  

Teachers easily focus on explicit parts of others since there isn't time to go much deeper with students, but teachers and anyone who interacts with other people realizes that what we see and what we are told is only part of what is going on.  

In some ways, the story of the unconscious human mind is a very old one.  We have known and discussed for centuries a mother's worry and imagination about her soldier son, or a lover's preoccupation with imagining the beloved far away.  In other ways, Mesmer and Freud and more recent thinkers and professionals have in the last couple of centuries tried to be scientific and evidence-based in studying our unconscious minds. Daniel Kahneman is the author of the book "Thinking: Fast and Slow".  It tends to equate rapid reflexive thinking with what our wiring and instincts lead us to, and slower, more complete questioning and comparison with our cognitive conscious mind work.  

It certainly helps to include the force of emotions when we are thinking about ourselves.  If I very much treasure my car, I may think about it and its care differently than if I am indifferent.  We also have the slide from explicit desire to habit.  I can train myself all the way to habit so that I reach for a cigarette or my car keys without consciously paying attention to what I am doing.  When I drive a car, I pay attention to my speed and to other vehicles while conversing with a friend.

Friday, June 12, 2020


During the time I would usually spend writing a blog post, today I spent trying to extend the usable range of our Wi-Fi signal. We have pretty good reception all over the house but Lynn recently got a new kiln.  She makes enough pottery and the old one was somewhat limited.  Her new one has Wi-Fi.  The idea is that the company that makes it can diagnose any problems that arise by studying the output from the kiln over the internet.  

The trouble is that the garage, a reasonably safe and secure place for the kiln, is too far from our modem and router to get a good signal.  My friend uses range extenders and I think I can, too.  I bought an inexpensive one and it was delivered today..It is very light and easy to move around but I have not succeeded in using the device to extend the range of the signal we get. I used to have a Galaxy tablet, a competitor to Apple's iPad but I gave it to my greatgranddaughter.  

Reading and applying what I read ran me into an app that might help.  I thought that I could use my Chromebook for Android apps and maybe I can but I couldn't find a way to do that. That meant I needed to go against my principles and download the relevant app to my iPad mini.  So far, it hasn't helped.  I will keep trying while at the same time, work to get my computer savvy wife working on the extension of our range.  It is her kiln after all.

It is not easy working with connections and signals since they are not visible or hearable so I need a sensitive and reliable device to try and detect where I have an ok signal and where I don't.  

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Writing a blog post

To write a blog post, I open Google Drive and click on "New".  I slide down to Google Docs and let go.  That opens a new word processing document.  Google Docs automatically and continuously saves what I type.  I can go back and delete, add and alter but I don't have to remember to save.  I get 15 gigabytes of storage free and I haven't used half of that in 12 years of daily blogging.  By putting my posts in Google Docs on Google Drive, I have "my own" record of them.

There are two main parts to my blog posts: the title and the body.  I have sometimes steered away from a longer title because I knew I would be typing it repeatedly.  I make many errors while typing.  In fact, after creating a post, I check it with Google Docs Tools' (a menu in Docs) Spelling and Grammar and with an aloud reading of the post to my wife.  I often use a short title and I have wished that I could keep the title and the body of the post on separate clipboards.  A few days back, I was reading the newsletter How to Geek and it explained how to have separate clipboard entries simultaneously.  

The feature is in Windows 10 and is called "Clipboard History".  That feature must be turned on.  When it is, I can copy the title using Control-c.  Then, I select the entire body of the post, either sliding the mouse over the whole text or using Control-a.  Then, a 2nd use of Control-c copies the text of the post.  The Clipboard History can hold up to 24 separate items.  When I make an email of the post, I hit the Windows key and v key for a special paste.  The title and the body are the top two items in my Clipboard History and I click on the title to paste it into the subject, hit the Tab key to switch to the body of the message and hit Window-v to get my clipboard choices.  This time, I click on the body and bang!  Done!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Numbers and school subjects

Jacques Barzun wrote "Teacher in America".  He also wrote "Clio and the Doctors".  He was a professor of history and like many in that discipline, was not used to averages, spreadsheets and quantification.  The Clio book is about the new and possibly suspicious branch of history that used quantification, statistical analysis and measures to analyze who did what back when.  

This emergence of "quants", people who use quantification and numbers for research and investigation, is similar to my appearance as a young PhD in a school of education.  Numerical analysis is a major tool in scientific investigations, especially in social and human sciences.  It is similar to gambling.  There is a book (there is nearly always a book) called "Gambling with Truth" and that is what experimenters do.  They take a group of people or fruit flies or something and smile at them.  They take another group, randomly chosen from the same population as those smiled on and frown at that group.  Then, they test both groups: who knows the capital of Botswana, who lives longer, who has the most descendants.  If the smiled-upon have a higher average or more of them know, live or procreate, there is evidence that smiling is helpful.  

Of course, in the US, there are many possible strings attached.  Those who wish to become teachers are often both required and persuaded to study their majors even more deeply and not fool about with silly research. They or their parents or taxpayers or current teachers may object to testing and research.  Humans sometimes say that everything that happens is God's plan and it is unwise and sacrilegious to test His plan.  Some will object that such testing was not done when they were kids and look how well they turned out.  Others will be deeply committed to smiling, and demand re-testing until smiling emerges as clearly superior to frowning.  

The undergraduates are busy with the other demands on their time and lives so traditionally the developing teacher runs into experimental design in graduate school, if at all.  However, the nearly arrived "quant" assistant prof can be of use in testing.  Not experimental testing but in school tests and grading.  Traditionally, after teaching something, we like to test to see if it was learned.  I wound up teaching "Tests and Measurements" but only to elementary school wannabees since other campus departments gave grades to every student without any instruction in the subject so why did their students need such a course?  The little book I used to teach the subject can be found here:


It is quite true that knowledge sometimes leads to power and scholarships and prestige.  Couple that with the notion that some babies grow to be wonderful and some grow to be despicable and you can wind up with competition for grades.  If I limit the number of high grades, then only some of the students will win one.  If I give high grades to everyone, the grades won't mean much, so what am I going to do?  I used to say, after a few years of experience, that I would work to get every student to the level of the highest grade (a smiley face in grade 2 and an A in junior year of college) in the time allotted.  I used to ask for some to turn their backs on me and my subject, so I could satisfy my critics who said I was too soft and undemanding but very few helped me out by justifying a couple of low grades.  

By the way, general discussions of quantified analysis are nicely presented in "Everybody Lies" by Stephens-Davidowitz and in "Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture" by Aidan and Michel.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Schooling for young and older

My friend said to reflect more on teaching college and graduate school over the years.  He wanted to know about how it matured.  I'm not sure it matured, that is, got better, sweeter, riper.  When a rather young man arrives at a school of education, he may be seen as a suspicious character.  What makes a youngster think he knows how to teach or how to teach teachers?  Many education faculty have taught in American public schools for a decade or so before teaching in college or graduate school.  

Incidentally, many college professors in other subjects than education don't get a chance to teach older people, only students about 18-22 years old.  That is one reason the post-WWII wave of armed services veterans who took advantage of the GI bill were a surprise to many college teachers.  I tend to use the word "professor" for any college teacher but "lecturer", "senior lecturer", "assistant professor", "associate professor", and "professor" (a.k.a. "full professor") all have specific meanings and matter to college and graduate school teachers.  The difference of working with veterans is nicely explored in what is probably my favorite book on teaching: "Uptaught" by Ken Macrorie, a professor of English at Michigan State.

An older picture of teaching takes the general stance that the only important component of the skill of teaching is the teacher's knowledge of the subject.  This theme and its cousins is nicely explored in "Fighting for Life" by Walter Ong, a Jesuit scholar, well-known as an expert on the effect of the development of writing, of any kind, on a society.  The history of higher education is the history of the wisdom of the past while the American settlers explicitly asked for the new and daring activity of "research", not on how to bear the vicissitudes of life but on the prevention of disease of their crops and animals.

The protestant movement, from Luther and others, emphasized the need to be able to read the Bible for oneself in a language that the reader could understand.  This force lead to the famous 3 R's of basic education of reading, 'rithmetic and writing.  Many busy American pioneers saw no reason to sit at a desk or stick a nose in a book once one could read, write and calculate basic operations involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  The history of support for the use of public taxes for what is now high school in just the US is interesting.  Just for perspective, about 20% of all humans alive today are illiterate.  The general question of what we ought to learn is unanswered by some, answered "everything" by others and answered "how to make money" by still others.  It is a recent development for schools and authorities and even parents to recognize how some people have special difficulties reading, speaking, recognizing emotions in those around them.  

An older approach to formal learning was to have a competent teacher SAY things while students LISTENED.  In some times and places, they were equipped by maturity, previous learning and physical equipment, to make notes about what they heard.  It was assumed by many teachers that some of the students would remember the important remarks and explanations that the learned teacher made, while the mass would remember smaller portions and a few would remember very little.  More citizens and educators today want to achieve high levels of learning among all students.  

Monday, June 8, 2020

Then and now - part 2

When I flew from my nice big city to a nice little town, I had only met a few people at my destination. A kindly professor in the School of Education had offered to give me a room until my wife could oversee the packing of our household and drive herself and our young daughters across ⅓ of the country by herself to our new residence.  However, there had been a small miscommunication and when I landed on a Friday afternoon at the small municipal airport, I found that he was not available for the weekend.  The town has more motels now but at the time, it had few and I knew none of them.  I did get a cab and I stayed in the main downtown hotel for two nights.  So, these two nights of June 7 and 8 are memorable for me, given that I was starting a new life in a new place alone.

Yesterday's post was answered by an old friend, a retired pastor, who appreciated the salute to teachers, also by a retired professor who is a specialist in philosophy and Eastern thought, and a young grandmother we met last year. Their comments encouraged me to write about the difference between teaching in K-12 American schools and teaching college and graduate students.

I had no idea when I went to a local teachers' college that I would ever attend graduate school.  I had no idea about graduate school.  I imagined, without much thought, that I would be a middle or high school teacher.  The teachers' college had limited capacity for training teachers and only trained elementary and middle school teachers.  I felt I was too manly and grown up to teach elementary school so I chose middle school.  

They gave me a list of the courses I would need to complete.  I said I had hoped to have some choice in what courses I studied.  They said there were choices in the curriculum for elementary teachers so I chose that.  I taught the 5th grade and liked doing so.  Then, someone informed me that the state required a master's degree to remain a licensed teacher after 10 years.  Thinking I had better get started, I took a class in basic guidance counseling and another in basic statistics.  I did well in the stat class and I liked it.  Not many elementary teachers like math or statistics but I had a math minor in undergrad studies and I knew I liked the subject.  I had been specializing in teaching calculation (by hand of course, no computers, calculators or spreadsheets at that time) to all the 5th graders, about 90 in all.  I taught 5th grade for 4 years. Then, my grad school advisor informed me of a scholarship program sponsored by the federal government that was to begin soon.  It was the program in ed research and experimental design.  I applied, was admitted and graduated with my doctorate three years later.

There is a bit of a parallel between education and medicine since in both areas, the individual person counts heavily.  The personality, physical body, family and cultural background matter, not just memory and intelligence, whatever that is.  I think a test tube of mercury is like any other test tube of mercury but this 5th grader is enormously different from that one.  We have enough trouble with our medical system.  Can you imagine trying to have a personal teacher for each child and adolescent?  We need the best, sharpest minds and most appropriate temperaments for teachers since they have a very demanding job.

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