Tuesday, March 28, 2017

--- Notes on philosophy ---

Philosophy accepts the hard and hazardous task of dealing with problems not yet open to the methods of science - problems like good and evil, beauty and ugliness, order and freedom, life and death; so soon as a field of inquiry yields knowledge susceptible of exact formulation it is called science.

Will Durant

I have made the comment that philosophy itself is an adventure and even a dangerous one, so I feel compelled to make an account of my philosophical adventures here. I most certainly do not put myself forward as a philosophical role model; I do not feel that others should follow my example. I love diversity too much for that. But perhaps I do feel that others should follow my example, at least in so far that I believe that the inner life is as important as the outer and that what I think, although it may or may not be correct, is important and the consequence of my actions in the world, contingent on my beliefs, lead to consequences that spread out over the world as those proverbial ripples wrought by the proverbial pebble tossed into the water.

So I will prefix each article about my philosophical wanderings and wonderings with the quote I selected in the Philosophical Forbears program to brand me as this particular kind of philosopher.

The quote above is from my favorite chronicler of philosophy, Will Durant, who wrote the immanently readable, The Story of Philosophy.

I would say that philosophy is responsible for two kinds of investigation: rational debate and metascience.

There are important issues that may never be fully resolved. Is abortion ever acceptable? What happens to us after we die and should we even care? Is there a perfect government style? But the answers are important and philosophical debate is how we derive answers to these kinds of questions.

Metascience is the consideration of how we think about different issues. The primary metasciences are logic and mathematics. Those are the languages we, as hominids, use to evaluate real world issues, whether we use them effectively or not. And when we think about moral issues, political questions, or the technicalities of art, we use certain formalisms. Those are in the purview of philosophy.

And, when philosophies lose their subjective nature, they become sciences.

--- Bookshelves ---


The day I retired from my professional practice as a rehabilitation specialist, I walked out to my van, already packed with everything I was taking with me, drove by the power company to pay my last bill, visited the man who would clean up my apartment for me (he had a flea market business), and left Selma for good (well, I could visit some day - you never know).

This was an adventure. The snow started just south of Birmingham and never let up the whole trip. In fact, it snowed for months for most of the time after I reached my new home. I stayed over a couple of days with a friend in Missouri. I didn't think I would be able to leave because the doors of my van were frozen shut, but I banged on them and tugged on them until the ice broke. I had to climb over a tiny space in my belongings from the side door of the van before I could finish my trip through Kansas at night. That was planned. Flat country with unbroken horizons make me neurotic.

I made it to Broomfield before noon on Christmas eve of 2013.

I carried only what I could fit in my Astrovan, which was about 10% of what I had in my apartment. Months before I left, I was digitizing my library. Everything I could find as a download, I packed on CDs. I had several tapes of music I had made, many of the gospel group I had been a part of, His Own. I digitized photos and bought digital versions of movies. I kept a few physical books, but not many.

As a result, I have a digital library that many public libraries would be proud to own. Some are Kindles, which, of course, nobody owns a Kindle eBook, they just buy the rights to look at them (grph!), but I managed to replace many with legitimate PDFs and EPUBs.

So, I'll be sharing my favorites with you as I go along.

Here are a few from my generalities bookshelf.

I have a contrary nature. I've always liked things that I'm not supposed to like. I'm acrophobic, so one of my hobbies is rock climbing. I'm dyslexic, so I  like language - word puzzles, word games, etymologies, dictionaries, foreign languages. It's understandable that I would prefer the classic thesaurus to modern ones. There are plenty of thesauruses out in print and online. If you have a word processor, it probably has a built in thesaurus. But most modern thesauruses just list the words in lexicographic order and gives synonyms and antonyms. Roget's Thesaurus gives a taxonomy - word families. For instance, word number 528 is "Concealment". There are many synonyms and related nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. The next word is the opposite, "Disclosure". Both are in section II, "Modes of Communication"; which is in division II, "Communication of Ideas"; which is in class IV, "Words Related to the Intellectual Facilities. Peter Mark Roget put a lot of work in this thing. It's still printed and can be bought in book stores but it is in the public domain and can be downloaded from:

The Gutenberg Project. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=roget
or the Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/Rogets-Thesaurus

John Bartlett's Bartlett's Familiar Quotations should also be familiar to anyone who has ever had to write a paper for school. It can also be found in bound volumes and it is also in the public domain and can be found at:

The Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/shorterbartletts00bart
or the Gutenberg Project. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/27889

Norman Lewis (2014). Word Power Made Easy. The Complete Handbook for Building a Superior Vocabulary. Anchor Books: New York, NY.  There are several good vocabulary builders out there, but this is my favorite. It's a fun book that has an interesting flow to it. It effectively associates words so learned words provides pegs to hang new words on.

A Little Bit of Everything for Dummies, 20th Anniversary Edition (2011), from the Dummy series people, John Wiley and Sons, Inc. I like most of the Dummy books to start with but this wild compendium of diversity was much too much of a temptation. It may not comment on literally everything but it does go into a lot from the Boer War to dating.

The Encyclopedia Britannica Propaedia. Outline of Knowledge and Guide to the Britannica, edited and written by an army of folks at Encyclopedia Brittanica. If you can get your hands on just this volume of the huge, popular encyclopedia, it's worth it. It has a outline of human knowledge (as claimed) but it also has great articles by experts who can write well on the major divisions of knowledge. Of course, with the 15th edition of the encyclopedia in 2010, printing stopped and the company went to a digital version. It can still be perused at libraries or bought.

CK-12 is a company that produced free textbooks and they are actually quite good (or, at least the ones I've read. There are many.) A couple relevant here are the Basic Speller, by D. W. Cummings, and Journalism 101, by Nina Scott. Look at these and all those other many at http://www.ck12.org/student.

The Dewey Decimal System has an odd little section in the Generalities around 009 called Controversial Information. In a book store, it might be called the New Age section. The same material might be shelved in 130, Parapsychology, or the cryptozoology works may end up in 590, Zoology. Who knows?

But the works of Dr. Gregory Reece deserve, at least, an honorable mention here, not because they don't belong in the top 10 list, but because they don't belong here at all. They look like books about cults and magic, and weird creatures but what he writes about isn't controversial at all - it's about the way people use controversial information. So he writes about UFO cults, and Elvis cults, and Flat Earthers, and Hollow Earthers, and why people like scary stuff, and he does it with academic respectability. His books are: Elvis Religion: The Cult of the King, UFO Religion, Weird Science and Bizarre Beliefs, and Creatures of the Night, all published by I. B. Tauris.

B. J. Hollars review of Creatures of the Night,  included the following opinion on the Alabama Writer's Forum (June 2012):

"While his in-depth research does much to arm him against the ivory tower naysayers, his occasional insertion of personal experiences with the supernatural—while interesting—ultimately does more harm than good, undercutting the credibility he has worked so hard to achieve. The book is at its best when Reece refrains from the spotlight, allowing instead his facts to drive fears, rather than his fears muddying the facts."

With that, I respectably disagree. Reece isn't an armchair scholar, he leaves the archives often to research his topics in situ. It doesn't hurt to see that a reputed expert on a topic also has hands-on knowledge.

I left out an older work by Dr. Reece, Irony and Religious Belief (2002), from the Religion in Philosophy and Theology series published by J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tubingen. It is his graduate thesis which was later made available to the general public. It is a deep consideration of irony in the works of Soren Kierkegaard, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Richard Rorty. Being deep, it might be difficult, but it is also very readable. For those that enjoy such topics, I recommend it. For those that do not, read it anyway. You could widen your horizons.

Friday, March 24, 2017

--- What kind of philosopher are you? ---

There are not many philosophy computer programs around. The creations of Warren Weinstein stand out and I must again transgress my rule of not sharing website addresses - this one is just too good.


The Forbears programs are my favorite. They're like evaluations and they answer the question, "What kind of philosopher are you?"

You choose statements by philosophers that most closely parallel your own beliefs and, in the end, the program crunches the statistical numbers and tells you which schools of philosophy you might be most comfortable in. More important, you get to see who said what and why and you learn a lot about philosophical thoughts of the past in a fun and engaging way.

Some of the programs take a considerable commitment in time and they all require brain effort, but they allow you to take breaks. You can sign out and in and, after a break, start back where you left off.

If you're into philosophy, you'll like these programs.

My results?

Well, I'm pretty much middle of the road on just about everything with slight leanings toward empiricism, mysticism (that's an entertaining combination!), agnosticism, relativism, and romanticism. I'm content with that characterization. I tend to believe that our knowledge arises from our perceptions only, but that our perceptions are far more capable than many give them credit. I believe that the mysterious abides in the mundane. Although I firmly believe in God, ethical values, truth and goodness and the Terran way (comic reference, there), I don't feel predisposed to avoid questioning all that. I believe that there is an element in "all that" that makes peoples' approach to it very contingent on their culture. And I do look for, and usually find the musical, the beautiful, in the world. I'm not sure if I "inflate with drama" (as the Forbears program describes Romanticism), instead of deflating with sarcasm. My pack brother often complains about my sarcasm and I perceive myself as despising drama. Oh well, maybe "in a manner of speaking..."

I feel myself to be a follower of Aristotle in his approbation of "moderation in all things." Most philosophers seem to me to be fixated on a particular fact of reality and it leads them into error. People like Sartre, Nietzsche, and Marx seemed to me to be miserable people. Sartre saw humans' consciousness of their existence, something that they could neither avoid or explain, to be their special curse above all other beings. He said that other people are hell. I don't find that to be true and certainly the opinion is not universal among people. Nietzsche thought that evil came from all those pesky "little people" and Marx thought it came from all those pesky "upper class people." Nietzsche proposed that morality was invented by the lower class to control the upper class, who should be given free reign. Marx thought that history was purely the struggle between the lower and upper classes.

The big blow is the description of myself as an idealist instead of a pragmatist. I am a serious advocate of counting the costs, and I certainly see value as a major factor in the consideration of anything. For instance, I believe that value density should be a guide to a person's life planning. On the other hand, I've come to realize that a lot of things that I consider valuable are not necessarily valuable because of how profitable they are. I have to buckle on this one.

I could be an outdoorsman because I am a health fanatic, but I'm not. I have heart problems that demand exercise and I could let that force me out-of-doors despite the fact that I hate the out-of-doors, but I don't. On second thought, I have to admit that I'm an idealistic romantic, and on second thought, I'm okay with that.

Le miserables may be entrenched in their misery; I love this creation.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

--- The Library ---


The first step in preparing for an adventure is research. I check to see what I can expect. Looking for gemstones in sedimentary rock is normally a losing proposition. I also like to know if there are hazards I will need to defend myself from. Is there a lot of verticality; will I need to pace myself for long distances and steep slopes? Are poisonous or hostile plants and animals a potential problem?

I have always maintained a good relationship with the staff of my local public library, especially the reference staff. They can help a lot when I'm looking for specific information. I also know how to use the InterLibrary Loan. I can usually get copies of academic journal articles less expensively through a library if those journals are available to the library, and they often are.

Here is a picture of the Central Branch of the Denver Public Library,

and here are some pictures of the Bear Valley Branch, my local library.

They have a nice rooftop patio where you can sit and read.

(pictures of Bear Creek Branch Library and the central Denver Public Library)

Of course, I just like being in a library. I've worked in libraries so they feel comfortable to me and libraries are adventures in their own rights. Most public libraries are part museum. For instance, the Selma Public Library maintained a local artist gallery and upstairs was a salt water aquarium.

My local library, the Bear Creek branch of the Denver Public Library has much more than books. They have computer terminals, music disks, video disks (movies, commentaries, lectures), and graphic novels. The central library upstairs has special exhibits and houses a western history museum. It's a huge building that has a lot going on in it. Like many modern public libraries, it has a website (https://www.denverlibrary.org)

Some people don't live close to a public library and, if you're like me, you like to have a reference library at your fingertips.

The Internet itself is a vast compendium of information. The problem is that the quality of the information you find there is often not good. Anybody can post just about anything to the Internet (there are a few things they might get in trouble for posting but they usually get away with it for a short time - until someone notices what they're doing.)

I keep a sizable library of website links in my resource hub. I have links for all the topics. I am hesitant to post website links because the websites they lead to often shut down without warning and I have dead links on my website, but there are a few that I have to share. To do otherwise would be inconsiderate.

The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute site is a favorite. Aside from giving me ideas when I was a tutor, it gives me ideas for adventures. I can usually adapt a teaching module to a fieldtrip. Here's the link:


You will see me refer to it occasionally.

Do you want a reference library for your computer - dictionaries, book sources, almanacs, directories, pretty much the kind of stuff your public library has in it's reference section - MIT has it for you here:


Wikipedia has been criticized in the past for being too open for changes by people who don't know the subjects they post information about. Since Wikipedia is a huge Internet site built by its users, that's a real concern, but they seem to have worked out most of the problems and I rarely find glaring errors in the articles I use. But, then, the real power of Wikipedia is the bibliographic references at the end of each article. Here's an address:


Once you get to your language version, be sure and check all the home page. Wikipedia has several sister projects which provide things like media clips, textbooks, a library of quotations, subject curricula, software, books, travel guides, news, a species taxonomy of living things, and a dictionary and thesaurus.

Another vast Internet resource is Google. It's not just a web browser. Take a look at all these tools provided by Google:


The Internet isn't a very good place to find peer reviewed information on specific topics. In college, I had access to citation indexes that covered all the major journals and, when I left, I kept my alumni status for that very reason. But Google has Google Scholar which provides a search utility for academic resources. I use it a lot to keep up with academic articles about therianthropy.

There are many eBook libraries on the Internet. Two of the best are the Gutenberg Project and the Internet Archives, and again, both offer many services other than eBooks.

Gutenberg Project: http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page

The Internet Archive: https://archive.org

I also use an eBook management program, Calibre, that will search the Internet for eBooks. It's a free download and you can find it here:


Pueblo, Colorado is the site of the United States' depository of practical knowledge, the Federal Citizen Information Center. It is a vast wealth of how-to-do-it information and it is here:


Saturday, March 18, 2017

--- Your emotional world ---

Twas brillig in ye slythy toves
Did gyre and gimble in ye wabe:
All mimsy were ye borogoves;
And ye mome raths outgrabe.

If you have never seen this poem before, I would guess that you at least have feelings about the words, which is strange since most of the words are meaningless, or they were when they were penned. They are from the poem, Jabberwocky, from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.

In it, Carroll carefully crafted new words to convey specific feelings instead of meanings. What does "brillig" mean. It has a little of "bright" in it but somewhat "heavier". "Slythy toves" sounds somewhat sinister, a bit unwholesome. Humpty Dumpty actually explained some of the eanings in the book, but I won't give away his secret here.

The passage actually makes me feel like:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

from The Second Coming, by W. B. Yeats.

The meaning is not the point that I want to make. The point is the feeling - the emotion.

There is a psychological test composed of colored card that one picks to bring an understanding about self. It's a personality test developed by Dr. Max Lüscher and, therefore, called the Lüscher Color Test. The colors included in the short form are blue, green, red, yellow, violet, brown, black, gray. Each color has a psychological meaning. You select your prefered colors and they mean things. You do it twice and the differences mean things. Ambivalences in your life, stresses and strengths, goals and perceived barriers are all reflected in the cards. For instance, a preference for blue can indicate a preference for calm, or a need for calm, according to how you select the other cards.

My results are actually accurate in many ways - disturbingly so. But, to my great satisfaction, I've already pegged most of the danger points and have titrated them down (you chemists will know what I mean there).

Now, I'm not going to tell you my results, but take the test for yourself. I don't expect you to disclose on the Internet. There are several Lüscher Tests on the Internet. Some are free and some (which give more detailed reports) have a small monetary price (and perhaps a larger emotional price because the test can be brutally honest). Again, I will let you find your own. It should be easy and, as soon as I give you a link, that site will close.

These are all examples of how emotionally charged seemingly meaningless perceptions - nonsense words, isolated colors - can be. And that goes for all the other senses. I can't hear Jethro Tull's War Child without smelling oil paint and vice versa. I spent one summer in college and for much of that summer, in my spare time, I sweated, listened to Jethro Tull, and painted oil paintings.

The nose is separated from the brain and a major olfactory center by only a very thin, perforated plate of bone in the vault of the nose, and the olfactory bulbs send out many connections into the rest of the brain. Odors are the strongest triggers of emotions and memories that we have.

My point is that there are no neutral perceptions. All perceptions are emotionally loaded. Nothing is meaningless. You can use that in your adventuring.

Emotions color code your world. If you pay attention to the emotions attached to the elements of your surroundings, you have another layer of information. In effect, your intuition comes into relief in your perceptions.

Friday, March 17, 2017

--- Appreciation and mindfulness ---

Many people have taken art appreciation classes and many more have been through music appreciation classes. I, personally, having taken both, have never been in a class that explained what "appreciation" was. Mostly people learn names and dates, techniques and composition elements, types of art objects, etc. Is that supposed to help you appreciate the art or is that, in some mystical way, an act of appreciation?

In fact, appreciation is a mode of perceiving. There are several ways to appreciate art, and that can be visual art, music, drama, dance, a fine meal, or a sporting event.

For a while, as a vocational evaluator, my office was isolated in a building in back of the main facility building, so, when I had no client, I could have music playing as much and as loudly as I wanted and my tastes are very broad. The result is that, now, just about all music is background music. That is one mode of perception in which the perceiver is barely even conscious of an art object. It's just there as sort of a pleasant element of the environment.

Another form of art perception is pure entertainment. Art is art because it's beautiful in some way. I have only been to one concert (barring all the gospel music concerts I've been to, but seeing as I am a retired gospel musician, that goes without saying) and that was a Jethro Tull concert in Atlanta, Georgia. I went for no other reason than to hear the band. Jethro Tull puts on a very entertaining concert.

An art historian may visit a traveling exhibition for a very different reason and you may see them standing in front of one piece making copious notes. One out of a hundred people may view that piece of art in the same way as the historian.

Appreciation, whether it is of painting, or music, wines or football, is simply another way of appreciating art. It could be called immersion. And, indeed, what is being perceived doesn't even have to be art. Mathematicians can approach math as an object of appreciation. A chemist may very likely appreciate the chemical reaction that is happening in their laboratory. Appreciation implies a certain amount of passion.

An act of appreciation is prefixed by preparation. That is why there are so many names, dates, and technical terms in an art appreciation class. There is an attempt to understand the background of art objects. In 1802, Beethoven wrote his Second Symphony, a spry and jaunty piece full of musical jokes that irritated many of his critics. One wrote that it was a "hideously writhing, wounded dragon that refused to die, but writhing in its last agonies and, in the fourth movement, bleeding to death." To modern ears, the symphony sounds great and perhaps even joyful. It adds something of spice to the listener to realize that Beethoven has placed his severe gastric problems to music in that last movement.

The only way I can enjoy a football game (I am not a devotee of spectator sports), is to read histories of the players, understand the rivalries, and go into the experience as a social psychologist observing a conflict between two very serious teams of stakeholders. In a similar way, I can no longer enjoy any music fully without this "total immersion" process.

Another approach to art that is not mutually exclusive to appreciation is mindfulness. Despite the Buddhist history of mindfulness, it is a very natural "process" (or, maybe more accurately, "state"). The way Temple Grandin describes the mental processes of animals (in Animals in Translation), many people with autism, and, in my own observations, many Weres, mindfulness is very natural in nature. Briefly, I think in pictures and if I have nothing particularly interesting on my mind, I'm not consciously thinking at all. In other words, I let my environment happen to me, perceptually.

Followers of Buddhist and other contemplative disciplines often work hard many years to achieve this state of mind. Why?

Well, C. S Lewis often wrote that trying to be good could easily distract a person from actually being good. In the same way, listening to a piece of music actively can often destroy the joy of just listening to the music.

I compose and, so, I am painfully aware of what goes into music - its composition and its performance. I catch every glitch and, if it's a tape of one of my own performances, I am doubly aware of the horrible assaults I make on the musical sensibilities of my audience (whether they are conscious of them or not!). I am incapable of listening to a recording of myself without picking it apart.

But I usually, very pointedly, set the evaluative part of my brain aside when in the presence of others' artistic productions.

Most people have an internal dialog that just.will.not.stop. This is the very antithesis of mindfulness. In the mindful state, as I said above, you let the environment happen to you. You simply shut your brain's internal dialog up and let what's going on around you guide your perceptions. The result is that, without all that internal noise, you perceive and remember subtle details of your environment much better.

I had a friend send me the theme music of two anime saying that they struck him as very similar but he couldn't figure out why. When I listened to them, I could practically see that the main theme of one was the base theme of the other. When I told him, he couldn't hear the two pieces without recognizing the one in the other. A characteristic of mindfulness is that the whole mind seems to be involved in the perceiving.

And what does all this have to do with adventuring?

I propose that the ideal mindset for adventuring for the purpose of lifelong learning is a combination of appreciation and mindfulness. Learn everything that might be relevant on your adventure before you begin and then stop talking to yourself when you hit the trail. Your preparation will make you sensitive to the topic you are persuing and your mind will log all the relevant details without all the distractions involved in trying to learn.

That said, I can recommend a lecture series by The Teaching Company called Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation, presented by Mark W. Muesse (http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/practicing-mindfulness-an-introduction-to-meditation.html ). It's a pretty good introduction to how to do mindfulness. As for appreciating nature? Well, that's what this blog is all about.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

--- Open Source and Freeware ---


I use some software that I have bought and I have nothing against commercial software but I will rarely recommend it here.

It is possible to completely equip a computer using free downloads. If you need an operating system, there's Linux and if you need a graphical user interface, there's Ubuntu. For web browsing there are programs like Google Chrome and Firefox. LibreOffice is as good an office suite as Microsoft Office (and sometimes better). There is good freeware for just about anything you want to do and I want you to be able to do the things I write about even if you can't buy software, so I will be talking about freeware and inexpensive software here.

Although there is some commercial software that I have real problems with. When I became a vocational evaluator, I set out to automate my department and, of course, the fact that most office productivity suites have macro languages that allow users to program them to do specific tasks made a good office suite essential. The facility I worked for used Microsoft Office and I was happy with that for many years until they came out with Vista.

With Vista, Microsoft no longer supported their Visual Basic for Applications, which was, of course, the language of my evaluation software. There was no more upgrading for me and I lived in terror that a virus or lightening strike would destroy my computer (Well, not actually "terror". I'm made of sterner stuff than that.)

So, I have had a grudge against Microsoft ever since. My next office productivity suite was OpenOffice, which is a free download, by the way. I was more or less happy with that although it was rather unstable. You could place a number of picture files in a document, close it, and, when you reopen it, all the pictures have gone. Also, large and complex files get crankier and crankier. They tend to crash.

Looking at their forum for help in dealing with idiosyncracies, I ran into regulars who insulted people looking for help and maintained that users should not program macros in spreadsheets (my favorite part of a productivity suite).  So, I was less and less happy with OpenOffice until one day I downloaded an upgrade which wouldn't install. When I uninstalled the old version as recommended by the user forum, the new version still wouldn't install, so I no longer had a working office suite and I was in the middle of a complex programming job.

Looking for alternatives, I found that a group of disgruntled programmers split away from OpenOffice when it was bought out by Oracle and they formed LibreOffice.

I was so happy with LibreOffice that I am now going to recommend it.

LibreOffice has retained some of the instablilities of OpenOffice but the people at LibreOffice actively support the software so that much of the glitchiness has been worked out of it. Upgrades occasionally introduce new problems but they tend to be ironed out in the next upgrade. Also, most upgrades are perceptibly upgrades. I can tell that something has been done to improve the program.

The major components of LibreOffice are:
Writer, the word processor
Calc, the spreadsheet
Impress, the presentation editor
Draw, the graphics editor
Base, the database
There is also a mathematics formula editor. Many LibreOffice users also produce extensions for the package.

The primary macro language is LibreOffice's version of Visual Basic which is more powerful than the classical BASIC in that it allows the user to manipulate most of the  elements of LibreOffice but it's weaker in that it's a subset of BASIC that has dropped some  of the core commands of the BASIC language. For instance, there is no Data....Read structure. I missed that one so much that I programmed a function into DANSYS that would do pretty much the same thing. Otherwise, it's a real pain to load specific values into a matrix from code.

Generally, I enjoy using LibreOffice. It can be obtained from the LibreOffice website: https://www.libreoffice.org

A warning: LibreOffice does not have an offline help file. It has to be downloaded separately at the LibreOffice website. And the last upgrade would not access it. Hopefully the next upgrade will address that. Our Internet is glitchy and I'd like to be able to look at helpfiles when the Web is down.

There's some confusion about open source and freeware. Open source isn't freeware (some of it is and some of it isn't). "Open source" just means that the code for the software is open to the user so they can modify it to suit their needs. "Freeware" means that the software can be downloaded and used for free. There are a variety of licenses that designate what you are legally able to do with any particular program.

Often, it is considered a common courtesy that, if you like a freeware program and will continue to use it, and can afford it, that you make a donation to the creator. Some creators specifically say that they are not after donations. For instance, my statistics package is something I dreamed up for my own use and decided to make available. I don't want donations. If a creator wants donations, they generally make that plain in the description of the product.

My favorite source for freeware programs is SourceForge (https://sourceforge.net).

Saturday, March 11, 2017

--- Now you see it - now you don't ---

Optical illusions abound in nature. Have you ever been walking along on a sidewalk and seen a crack or bump in the pavement ahead only to find, when you get there, that it's only a very sharp, dark shadow? There is actually a kind of brain damage that can cause a person to regularly mistake shadows for solid things, but occasionally others can be fooled by this illusion. How about the animal carcass that turns out to be a shopping bag? The brain prepares you to see what it thinks you need to see. In other words, you see what you expect to see. Usually, it's pretty accurate - accurate enough, anyway.

Here's a picture of the Front Range of the Rockies from a nearby shopping center. The mountain in front is Mount Falcon. It's summit is 7,838 feet above sea level and it's prominence (height from visible base to the summit) is 1,812 feet. How tall is the snow covered mountain behind it?

(picture from River Point Shopping Center 10/13/16)

Here's a hint. Mount Falcon is only 10 miles from the point the photo was taken. The snow capped mountain is 30 miles away.

Okay, the trick is that the mountain in back looks smaller because it's further away and the earth's curvature hides some of the altitude. The mountain in back is Mount Evans, third highest mountain in Colorado's Front Range (only bested by Pike's Peak and Colorado's highest Mountain, Mount Elbert). Mount Evans is 14,265 feet tall with a prominence of 2,753 feet. It's almost 1000 feet again as tall as Mount Falcon.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

--- Windy Colorado ---

I've been in high winds before. Twice I've almost been blown off the bow of a lay barge in the Gulf of Mexico, and that wasn't even the hurricanes. In southern Alabama, there was both hurricanes and tornadoes. When people think of tornadoes, they usually think of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, but Alabama vies for frequency and number of F5 tornadoes.

Some of the fastest winds, barring tornadoes and hurricanes, in the continental United States have been clocked in the Denver area, especially in Boulder, Colorado. For instance, wind speeds of 150 mph were reported in the Boulder area December 4, 1978 (https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/boulder/wind.html). Winds in excess of 90 miles per hour are not that rare.

As winds blow over the Rockies from the west, moisture is stripped out of them and the cold, dry air is heavier than the warmer air of the high plains so that it just rolls off the mountains and roars down over Denver. Where there is a gap in the mountains - Boulder, Bear Creek, Turkey Creek, Waterton Canyon, the winds are compressed and funneled into the valleys extending into the plains. That's where the highest winds are.

And I live on the side of Bear Creek Valley, so when I started out to see a little Buddhist temple just off Estes Street, I was fighting a ferocious headwind. I didn't have an anemometer on me, but from the feeling of wind around a moving vehicle, I would say that it was between 30 and 40 miles per hour. It was warm, in the 50s, but sweat had no time to collect on me. When you come from a place where you don't often have to fight the wind it's surprising how much effort you have to put out to walk into the wind.

It was a nice walk, though. I'll post some pictures of the temple later when I put up an article on Buddhism in Denver.

A beaver dam that I noticed earlier in the year has been modified so that flooding won't wash it away.

I also noticed this little tableaux on Wadsworth. This tree sculpture features two bear cubs.

[bear cubs]

Why are the climbing the tree? The tree sculpture across the road has the answer.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

--- My hub ---


Did I mention that I love spreadsheets?

In addition to ledger type calculations (the "real" purpose of spreadsheets), I like them for layouts (which see my LabBooks as an example) and control documents. In the latter case, I plan to start on a toolbox spreadsheet pretty soon that has things like counters and timers and randomizers. I'll chronicle the development of that in the Mathematics LabBook.

Also, I have a control spreadsheet as a hub for the resources in my computer. I'd make a copy available but I also use it to store personal information. I can tell you a little about it, though.

It's a LibreOffice spreadsheet document. There's a page for each topic such as computer programming, language, social sciences, etc. The first page has links to commonly used general resources and links to each of the other sheets. I also have sheets of links to equipment sources, personal information, personal contacts, project plans, and a keyword index to the Yale - New Haven volumes.

Each sheet has several sections. In the upper right corner are buttons that open programs. These are macro driven. For instance, the button that opens GraphCalc is just a rectangle attached to the following macro:

Sub GraphCalc
Shell("C:\Program Files (x86)\GraphCalc\GrphCalc.exe")
End Sub

I'll go into more depth about programming using LibreOffice's version of BASIC, but this is a simple program and works exactly as I have copied it (as long as GraphCal is installed in the Program Files (x86) directory).

All LibreOffice Basic macros are either subroutines (Subs) or functions. A function returns a value, either to another chunk of code or to a cell or range on the spreadsheet. A subroutine doesn't return a value but does something in the document. This one opens a program. And subroutines need some event to activate them from a spreadsheet, like clicking a drawing (they can also be simply called by other programs.) This small program only needs a simple heading that says whether it's a sub or a function and gives the name: Sub GraphCalc.

The shell statement does all the work. It has two parts: a command "Shell", and the path to the executable file it's opening in parentheses and quotes. An easy way to get the path is to right click on a shortcut to the executable file and select Properties. When the dialog opens, the path is already highlighted, so all I have to do is press Ctrl C, which is the keyboard shortcut for copy, position the cursor after "Shell("" in my macro, and press Ctrl V, which is the keyboard shortcut for paste. I close the macro off with another quote and parenthesis and the End Sub statement and it's ready to go.

To connect the rectangle on the spreadsheet to the macro, I simply use the Drawing toolbar to draw the rectangle where I want it and, then right click on the rectangle and select Assign macro. A dialog opens up that allows me to choose the macro to attach to the rectangle.

The Shell statement works well with all executable files with the extension .exe. It works with other executable files also but there are some that it won't open, like some Java files. I just make a note that there's a shortcut in a folder I keep for such things.

Below the program links, I have a section of links to commonly used websites, then, below that, links to useful spreadsheet documents. Those are often specialty calculators. I can use LibreOffice's hyperlinks dialog to create website links and links to other documents.

To the right of the website links, I have a list of equipment in my home lab. I try to keep the material part of my adventuring simple, inexpensive, and in portable containers. I also have an inventory spreadsheet that tells me where everything is. If I have to move (as I have had to do so often in my past), I want everything to be ready to go.

Below that, I have links to my digital library - all the reference books in the topic that I commonly use. Those are just hyperlinks and LibreOffice has a command and dialog that helps construct those. It's easy.

I also have other useful information entered into cells on the spreadsheets.

This hub places everything I commonly use in my memory in one organized place so I can go right to it when I want it.

Friday, March 3, 2017

--- Need for novelty ---

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a 567 item test. Unlike many personality tests, it's not designed to tell you what you're like (since you probably don't already know that). It's designed to tell you what's wrong with you. It's a diagnostic test.

I've taken this thing five times in my life - twice as part of job interviews and three times to fine tune the software I wrote for the evaluation department I was over. As a vocational evaluator, I was not legally allowed to use the MMPI without oversight by a licenced psychiatrist. Tests are controlled like drugs. There were a lot of tests I could give, but not the MMPI. But I would get MMPI profiles in client files and have to incorporate them with the evaluation reports I sent back to the client's counselor.

I like taking tests but the MMPI just hurt my head.

When the MMPI was originally published, it included a scale called the Masculinity/Femininity Scale. This scale was originally intended to diagnose for homosexuality, which was considered a disorder when the test first came out. There was a problem though. The more it was used (It's still one of the most popular psychological tests in use.), the more people noticed that, as men aged, they became more feminine (according to the test). In fact, the scale did not measure what it was originally intended to measure. It measured the social stereotype associated with femininity and masculinity. The Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Multiphasic_Personality_Inventory accessed 3/3/17) says that the model for masculinity was the Marlboro Man and that for fimininity was Donna Reed or June Cleaver. Scary, that.

The scales have been restructured.

So, what does that mean? Is the MMPI a bad test? Well, not really, It justs means that people that give tests should know the tests intimately. For instance, they should know what the tests they use measure.

A lot of folks seem to think that tests are created by thinking up a bunch of questions to ask that would seem to measure what the test is supposed to measure and put them on paper. If only it were that easy. I designed some inhouse tests for my evaluation department and a lot of work went into them.

To create a psychological test, you start by doing what I said in the last paragraph - you come up with lots of questions that you can ask people and that should tell you what you want to know, but you don't stop there. Next, you give the test to a lot of people (the second edition of the MMPI used 2,600 people for the study group.) The statistics you get tell you things like "Which test items tell you anything useful?" "What do the test items seem to be measuring?" "How strongly do the items measure what they seem to measure?"

After you get rid of the test items that do not distinguish between people (If everyone answers an item the same way, it's pretty useless in a test) or only measure what you want to measure weakly, you give the test to a lot more people. Items that correlate strongly with each other form a scale. You can usually look at the items in a particular scale and see what they're measuring (but sometimes they throw you a curve ball like the MMPI Masculinity/Femininity scale). Then you compare the scores you get from the test with scores you get from other measures of the same things your test is supposed to measure. For instance, if you want to measure mathematics ability, you can compare the scores of your test from the students in a mathematics class with their grades. If all the numbers look okay, then you can publish your test - but it's not over yet.

Sometimes, people who use your test after it's published will notice some problems. Then, you go back to the drawing board, work out the problems, and publish a second edition. The MMPI is in it's third edition, the MMPI-2-RF (Restructured Form). Probably the most popular psychological test ever created, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale is currently in it's fourth incarnation, the WAIS-IV.

If you are taking a psychological test, you are, in a sense, competing with the many test-takers who took the test in the design phase of the test. A test that is supposed to measure manual dexterity will pit you against an expert fabricator. It actually (given that glitches like that in the original MMPI didn't get into the design) does measure your ability to handle little bitty objects. And most tests given by professionals are good tools for measuring what they're supposed to measure.

But most tests that are given by professionals are only supposed to be given by professionals, so you can't just go out and take the MMPI. There are some fun tests that are published for general use, though. Some of my favorite books containing tests are:

The Mind Test by Rita Aero and Elliot Weiner (1981) Harper Perennial
The Brain Game by Rita Aero and Elliot Weiner (1983) Harper Perennial
Know Your Own Mind by James Greene and David Lewis (1984) MacMillian Publishing Company
Who Do You Think You Are? by Keith Harary and Eileen Donahue (1994) Harper San Francisco
The Luscher Color Test by Max Luscher (1990) Pocket

Most of these books can be obtained for next to nothing online since they're "old", but they're still available the last time I checked. I included the Luscher simply because it is so much fun.

The Mind Test has a scale in it called the Desire for Novelty Scale. Just by the name, you'd think that adventurous people would score pretty high, right? So I took it and scored 4, which is low. Was it wrong?

No, the test is designed to identify people who have little novelty in their lives and are unsatisfied with that. I have plenty of adventure.