Thursday, April 27, 2017

--- Notes on political systems ---

It has been observed that a pure democracy, if it were practicable, would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position in politics is more false than this. The ancient democracies, in which the people themselves deliberated, never possessed one feature of good government. Their very character was tyranny.

Alexander Hamilton

When you see the suffix "-ism" on a word, you should immediately assume a double vision.

We seem to have inherited from our simian cousins a strong us-or-them mentality which is well conveyed by many uses of the "-ism". In that form, the suffix means "I'm a [whatever "-ism" is a suffix of] and we're better than everybody else." Patriotism ("I'm an American and America is the greatest country on the planet"), racism ("I'm white and white people are superior to everyone else"), male chauvinism ("I'm a man and men are superior to women") are common examples of this form.

"-ism" can also indicate a love for the group. This form is slightly different from the other and can even be laudable. For instance, I am an American and I wish greatness for my country so that it can be a  benefit to the rest of the world. I would like the American reputation to be that of friend and cooperant of the other peoples of the world.

But, like Mr. Hamilton, I don't see that democracy has worked that well in history and I can't see it as the panacea of all political ills. I have noticed that some countries have not fared so well under democratic governments.

People vary greatly in personalities so it would be very peculiar if there were not a need for a variety of governments to accommodate those differences. I think that states rights in the United States is a good idea. It would be a better idea if states did not have such a huge need to meddle in others states' business. A state is what it is and, in the US we have choice. If the political climate of one state is not to our liking, then we can move to another.

Well, that's my ideal - of course, it's my naive ideal. For instance, not everyone is mobile enough to find which state works best for them and some states, being what they are, are downright detrimental to their people. I wish people could build things such as compassion and respect for others into their governments, corporations, and such, from the inception, but unfortunately, that rarely happens.

I'm a social psychologist and one who looks at organizations as people in their own rights. Just as maturity brings certain characteristics - self control, empathy, compassion, responsibility, etc. - into a person's life, a healthy, mature organization will also show those qualities but they have to be part of the original design and they must be maintained as the organization develops or else, like an individual that regresses to a more infantile stage of behavior, the organization will go bad.

I've talked about Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety so it should come to no surprise that I value diversity even in the political realm. I think that there should be a variety of governmental forms, but there is good diversity and there is bad diversity. Good diversity builds up, bad diversity breaks down. In the same way, there is good government and there is bad government.

In all things, we should strive to be what makes the world a good place. That kind of -ism is well founded.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

--- Using computers ---


Long ago, in the late 60s, my brother was a computer technician in the Air Force. That gave me my first deep exposure to computers because I got to look through his training materials and he got permission to show us around what was then the Southeastern Defense installation. Back then, the Southeastern Defense computer was stored in a three and a half story, air-conditioned block house. The block house was air conditioned because the computer was made of vacuum tubes that would explode in the Southeastern summer if they were not kept cool. The computer could be programmed using assembly language but a lot of work was still done in machine code - all 1s and 0s.

Later, in the seventies, I took computer courses at Auburn University and even programmed as a work study student using strange languages like APL, PL-1, FORTRAN, and (Yuck!) COBOL. The computer I used was scattered across the campus. I programmed using punch cards (look it up!) but there was a new medium - paper tape that could be punched and kept in a roll until the code was compiled. A favorite program for up and coming programmers was a few lines that would make the tape punching machine spit out a prodigious pile of paper tape before an administrator could shut it off.

Back then, I would punch lines of code on paper card and carry the deck over to the computer department where I would wait a couple of days until they compiled the code. Hopefully the printout would say what I wanted it to say instead of ERROR.

In the 80s, I worked for Radio Shack and sold TRS-80 personal computers and Color Computers. My first personal computer was a 256K (that's a whopping 256 kilobytes of random access memory) Color Computer with a printer and, for external storage, a tape recorder. There were modules available that could be plugged into the side of the computer. I had an early spreadsheet and (my favorite) a synthesizer that I could program to play four-part harmonies. Some of my original pieces (now available for listening or download on the Therian Timeline) were composed on that computer. 256K - laugh if you want but that computer was more powerful than the Southeastern defense computer my brother worked on. I could program in BASIC!. A new thing at that time was a sorta cool thing called the Internet.

To that point, a computer user was also a computer programmer. Then, user friendly computer programs began coming out and, today, many, if not most computer users have no experience in programming.

When I finally began my professional life in Selma, Alabama, I was equipped with a computer with a few megabytes of RAM, a CRT monitor, and Windows 3.0. I had a job search program which always included Brain Surgeon in the list of possible jobs. I was trying to complete a Masters research project and the work computer couldn't handle my data set. By the time I retired in 2013, I had graduated to a Windows XP machine. I couldn't upgrade further because the program I had built over the 20 years in Selma to process my client information would not work on later versions of Microsoft Office. They had dropped the Visual Basic macro language I was using to program.

I have graduated now to a 581 Gigabyte computer with a Terabyte external hard drive and four CPUs, and a telephone (a telephone, mind you!) with 3.74 gigabytes of RAM  and 29.71 gigabytes of internal memory.

And I still get impatient waiting the few minutes it takes for my computer to finish doing what it's doing.

The Yale-New Haven Teacher's Instiute ( has a quaint module called "Computing" from 1981 (That's about the time I was buying my first computer). You might want to read it - it has historical interest.

But, although they used BASIC then, I still use a version of BASIC to program. The Basic that's used as a macro language for OpenOffice and LIbreOffice is both more and less powerful than the BASIC I learned as a first programming language. It's more powerful because it is able to access and manipulate just about all the objects that make up the LibreOffice productivity suite. It's less powerful because the programming part of the language is only a subset of BASIC. For instance, it doesn't have the Data....Read structure that allows BASIC to load tables of data from strings of data contained in the code. I missed that so badly that I ended up programming a couple of functions to do approximately the same thing. "Real" programmers today use languages like Python, C, Java, and Drupal.

Not long ago, a striking shift occurred in the world. Suddenly, paper was not the preferred medium for storage. Before, even with computers, you printed a text and put it on a shelf or in a filing cabinet. Now, people save everything on digital media and, if they want to send something to someone else, they send an electronic file. And there is something called a cloud in which you can save all your stuff on the Internet, in cyberspace.

I often say that my father saw more change in his lifetime than was seen in the entire history of mankind before him. I have seen more change in my lifetime than has been seen in the entire history of mankind before me. My nephew has seen more change in his lifetime than has been seen in the entire history of mankind before him. It's daunting.

When I started to college, students were required to know how to use the greatest portable ever - the (nope, not the graphing calculator) slide rule. Now students have to be effective with a calculator that does logarithms, calculus, and graphs functions. When I started to college, a four function calculator (add, subtract, multiply, and divide) was just coming down to below a hundred dollars. I still like slide rules. They don't require batteries or the sun - but now they're antiques so they cost over a hundred dollars.

Another you know what an analog computer is? Twenty years ago, analog computers were a thing.

Friday, April 21, 2017

--- First impressions ---

When I was in college, I enjoyed classes that were just helping a researcher with their research. Universities do that. It helps academicians publish instead of perish and students have fun and improve their grades. Everybody wins.

You don't believe it? Well try it out. There is a place on the Internet that you can take part in active psychological research. It's called the Online Psychological Laboratory and it's right here.

I was interested in a study called "First Impressions" so I signed up as a participant.

I......won't tell you about the experiment beforehand, just in case you want to participate.

Be sure and read the write-up under "Studies" after you do the experiment. If you're into statistics, you can download the data from various groups of other subjects and see if those results match what you expect. Feel free to use my statistics packages for LibreOffice Calc, DANSYS and DANSYSX at

(If DANSYSX is not up yet, it will be soon. It's a new expanded version of DANSYS.)

One of the big problems with psychological or social experimentation as an individual is that they usually require groups of people to participate. Students usually have access to groups (their class, families that don't mind helping with homework, groups being served by special programs at colleges or universities, etc.), but strangers look at unassociated folks askance when they start asking to fill out surveys or answer more or less personal questions. You can do chemistry or physics experiments all day and no one really cares (except, maybe, your boss at work or your significant other - "You make messes all day but you won't carry out the garbage for nothing!"), but when you start asking weird questions, that's another matter.

The Online Psychology Laboratory will give you a taste of the real thing without danger of prosecution.

By the way, when you finish one of these experiments, see if you can catch the principle explored by the experiment at work when you're out peoplewatching!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

--- Notes on selves ---

Selves are, indeed, about the strangest inhabitants of nature that one can imagine - except that, as sometimes described in philosophy, they are not even imaginable in the first place, being quite nonphysical. You cannot poke a self with a stick; the nearest you can come to that is to poke his body.

Richard Taylor

My naive conception of a self is that my self is me. That very simple and obvious construction is surprisingly fraught with all kinds of holes.

What part of myself is my self? Is my body actually a part of my self? Many people hold that the body is just a vehicle for the real self - something they call a "soul" - sorta like a car. I'm not so sure my van wasn't part of my self. I had much more "self control" over it than I had over many parts of my own body and, certainly, over many parts of my own mind. And when I let go of it, it felt a little like an amputation.

There are certainly boundary issues. Other people affect me as though they were part of me. The phrase, "You are my heart," is more than allegory. A loved one can do strange things to your heart, literally.

Many philosophical people have said some variant of "when other hurt, I hurt; when others rejoice, I rejoice." Have you ever seen someone else be injured and feel your skin crawl, your solar plexus twich, or your testicles draw up. It's a sympathetic reaction but it's quite real. You are affected by someone else's injury. Are you sure they aren't part of you? If not, how could their injury be communicated to you?

Wouldn't the world be a better place if we realized (not just "understood" but also "made real") that others were parts of us and vice versa. Would we be more careful of the damage we do?

And how do we even know that a "self" exists? That's epistemological and a topic for later consideration.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

--- Useful things ---


An advantage of walking is that you only need what you can carry, or, put another way, you only carry what you can carry. My years as a backpacker comes in handy. It's surprising how much you learn when you have to worry about size and weight.

I find that I don't have to worry too much. In the first place, I'm at that age where I can wear just about anything I want without drawing attention ("When I'm old, I shall wear purple...."). My main consideration is that I'm in Colorado which is a meteorologist's nightmare. I walked to the shopping center (less than a mile) a couple of days ago. When I left, it was warm and fair. I was chased home by a thunderstorm. That night, some folks around here was coerced into wearing sleeves. From September to June, if I go on a long hike, I have to plan to remove layers as the day goes on, and I'm never sure if I will need to. Luckily, I get hot in the upper 50s when I'm active.

It's been below freezing here and I've always worn overalls and coveralls hiking. A flannel shirt, sweater, and leather coat is the most I've ever needed for warmth. You, of course, need to plan for your weather and your body heat.

I wear regular clothes and inexpensive shoes. Socks make a difference. Shelling out for the microfibre wool and such is worthwhile if you don't like blisters and such, but I go the way of the bandaid and moleskin when I feel a hotspot developing. I've had a lifelong relationship with pain and it doesn't bother me much. Pain avoidance, I find, is a individualistic thing.

I have caps for short hikes and big, floppy expedition hats for long hikes. I've had cataracts removed from both eyes and Colorado's sun is not the same sun I knew in Alabama. It's closer and less filtered. I try to keep the sun out of my eyes and I find most sunglasses to be ineffective.

Secondly, hiking requires something to carry everything in. I'm a Rob Liefeld hiker. I like pockets and lots of them, which is one thing that draws me to overalls. I hate digging through a backpack to find a piece of equipment.

I have two backpacks, one for short, nontechnical hikes and just walking to the store - the other for long, technical hikes and for hauling back 60 pounds of groceries from the store.

I'll be distinguishing between technical hikes and nontechnical hikes. Technical hikes are project oriented, requires equipment, and usually involves the collection of quantitative data. Nontechnical hikes are more casual, requires little equipment, and usually involves observation.

My big backpack can handle a laptop and I have several laptop size inserts with pockets and straps, that can be used to outfit myself with a portable laboratory. American Science and Surplus (bless their little bitty comedic hearts) often carry those kinds of things at prices that a retiree can handle.

I also keep a couple of waist packs (or "fanny packs", if you must) for my photographic material. One of those I almost never carry on hikes because it carries equipment for the SLRD camera, which I only use for portrait photography. I would not want to have to carry that huge thing on a hike (although I wouldn't mind driving up to a ridge one afternoon with it.)

I carry two cameras. I use my regular digital camera for most of my photography. That saves batteries for my phone. That,  I use for much more than photographs. My phone camera is used for closeups, telephotos, and microphotos. It's much better and has much better stabilization than my regular camera.

The phone also carries a library of apps, guidebooks and maps that I use for technical hikes.

I like to be a model of what people on a limited income can do to enjoy their world so I try to avoid expensive equipment and activities. My most expensive piece of equipment is my laptop which, admittedly, is a little pricey, although not nearly so much as when I bought it. But I assume that, if you're reading this, you have access to a computer anyway. My computer is my home lab. I have many pieces of equipment that plugs into the USB port, things that, a few years ago, would have cost a laboratory enough that they would have to save up awhile to buy it. For instance, you can now buy a spectroscope for a computer or smartphone for less than ten dollars.

According to where you live, rain gear is important. In Colorado, definitely. In the southeast, it's a sometimes thing. And in Arizona, do you ever need it? A good, light rain jacket is inexpensive and easy to pack. I've never had any need at all for rain pants. As long as my shoes are relatively waterproof, I'm happy. Actually, I don't mind rain or being wet as long as I'm not also cold. Years working outside in the rain has made me rather blase about most weather conditions.

Werewolves don't get sick easily and heal quickly, but I carry a small first aid kit anyway, mostly for blisters. Plantar blisters plague me and I can slap a bandaid of swatch of moleskin on one and I'm good to go. I carry only what I think I might use. If I get a cut, I'll wipe it off with a moist towelette and smear on some Neosporin. I don't even cover it. If It's bleeding, I let it bleed. There's no better antiseptic/antibiotic in the world than blood. On long hikes, I carry suntan lotion (the spray on greaseless kind) because I'm light skinned and tend to burn easily, and I carry bug spray because biting insects find me tasty.

If I'm gone long, I carry a roll of toilet paper. There are many rest stops on Bear Creek - other places, maybe not so much.

I've taken to wearing a biker's mirror on my glasses, not so much for the bikers; in my area, they're very polite and warn you when they're coming up behind you, but for stalkers. We have a few furry ones who are not very much trouble but, I would want a photo. Briefly, I'm out there to observe my world and I want as much coverage as I can get.

Other than that, I choose the equipment I will need for the project I have at hand. I choose inexpensive and compact tools and I pack so that I can get to what I want when I want it.

Uh, I almost forgot one of the most important pieces of hiking equipment. I always carry an old, worn t-shirt tucked into my back pocket. I sweat a lot and that works much better than a handkerchief to keep the sweat out of my eyes. I can also twist it between the sleeves, flip it over my head so the tail falls over the back of my neck, and tie the twisted part around my forehead for a quick do-rag.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

--- Notes on God ---

By the word 'God' I mean an infinite substance, [eternal, immutable,] independent, omniscient, omnipotent, and that by which I myself and all other things, if it is true that there are other existing things, have been created and produced.

Rene Descartes

I wonder if the question, "Does God exist?" is actually a philosophical question or not. It isn't like most philosophical questions that have no solid answer that can't actually be nailed down. Either God exists, or He doesn't. There's not really any room for debate. Whether it is correct to believe that God exists.....ehhhh... maybe. That would be more of an epistemological question about belief, though, not a question about religion. "How do people think about God?" That sounds like a really good meta-religious question and it would be firmly in the realm pf philosophy.

The theodistic question, "Where does evil come from and how could a good, omnipotent, omniscient God allow it to exist?" seems to be one of those nonsense questions that philosophers get stuck on and I've written about that in my Essays on the Therian Timeline. (Here: and here: ). Of course, if you're going by the Biblical story told in Genesis, the whole world is not the place where everything was good - only the Garden of Eden was singled out as that kind of place. Without life and death, fair weather and storms, convenience and inconvenience, a planet where life can exist and thrive is literally impossible - a contradiction - a nonsense place. One thing God simply cannot do is create nonsense.

But asking whether God exists or not is like asking if Reginald Mazosky, Richard Dawkins, or Wolf VanZandt exists. It's asking about the existence of an individual who may or may not exists. We can plumb the depths of existence, I guess.

What do I think? Well, I'm a shaman and I have a spirit guide that I'm quite familiar with and who has convinced me that they are the same being Christians call the Holy Spirit. It would follow that, the Holy Spirit being the Holy Spirit of God, God exists. But there's a problem there.

I have reason to believe that not everyone has had exactly the same experiences and perceptions that I have had. That being the case (and we can talk about how we know anything at all later), we know what we know from our perceptions and I can't expect anyone to believe anything not supported by their perceptions.

So, I'm not sure that it would be possible for me (or anyone else) to philosophize about God. Of course, I could always be wrong....

But it's appropriately the Easter season and I'll take myself on an adventure Sunday and walk to the little church nearest by and celebrate this unphilosophical being in a very unphilosophical manner. "Indeed, He is risen!"

Friday, April 14, 2017

--- The confidentiality conundrum ---

Confidentiality is a central tenant of most professional codes of ethics. It's hardly surprising since the wrong information leak can do great harm to a person and unexpected consequences can turn the most innocuous information into a bomb. Further, if a counselor, physician, lawyer, or pastor can't keep information from flowing out of the professional-client relationship, how can they be trusted?

The professional-client relationship is one that has to be based on trust. The client's well being is solidly in the practitioner's hands. That makes it a very special kind of relationship. That is why I quite despise the modern trend of calling the clients of a professional, "consumers".

In the early 80s, I was on a crewboat heading out to the lay barge I was working on. I was a welder helper for a crew laying an oil pipeline about 30 miles out from land in the Gulf of Mexico. The trip gave me plenty of time to get to know a fellow passenger and to strike up a conversation. The talk drifted through several topics until it reached a volunteer job I had in the 70s working for a crisis hot line. We worked that subject over for a while until I explained why I left. One of the callers had found out my real name and address from some very subtle hints I had mentioned and began calling me at my dormitory. Since, as callers, we had to conserve anonymity, that ended my work for the hotline. I was pretty explicit about the case, feeling that a fellow passenger traveling out to a job on an oil rig could not have any connection to an event from my college days.

But his expression changed oddly and he asked, "Was her name....?" and the name he mentioned was exactly the name the caller had given me. He was her boyfriend at the time and I learned the last lesson I needed to learn about confidentiality. It really is a very small world.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

--- Field trips, hikes, and endurance hikes ---


I made the decision to let go of my van back in 2014 and I haven't really regretted the decision. There are some down sides. If I leave the house, I do so on foot (unless it's a group activity, and those are fairly rare) and I'm limited to how far I can walk in a day or two or how many bus tickets I can afford, and the money has been rather scarce since I moved to south Denver.

But, on the whole, I prefer walking to driving for reasons I've mentioned. Most importantly, I miss too much when I'm driving.

There are three kinds of walking I regularly do.

Field trips have an end goal. I walk to get somewhere and do something at the farthest point of the walk. That might be a museum, a point of interest, or an activity, like a street festival or market. I guess my regular grocery runs could be called field trips.

For a hike, the walk is the goal. I regularly walk Bear Creek Trail, looking for particular things along the way. I rarely walk to Morrison to see something in Morrison. Morrison is only part of the reason for the walk.

Once or twice a year, I take endurance hikes - particularly long or grueling hikes. I joke that it's my annual stress test. I have a heart condition and I'm not sure how much it really effects me. The only thing I can say for sure is that working in a horizontal position or on an upside-down incline doesn't work too well for me. I figure that, if I can survive one of these endurance hikes, my heart must be in pretty good condition.

But, to be honest, I just like pushing myself occasionally. I've been doing this for some time. I met my long-time hiking friend, Paul Holm, in the early 70s in a biology class at Auburn University. Our first distance hike was a walk from the West Point exit of I85 at the Alabama-Georgia state line, across Pine Mountain, to Warm Springs, Georgia, a distance of over 27 miles. That was the longest day hike we took. The Dreaded Mid-Summer Death Hike became a tradition.

Our last long hike together, before I moved to Colorado was from the southern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama about seven miles up and across Rebecca Mountain. It was a hot, dry day that improved when a line of thunderstorms moved in. When we were almost back to the cars, we found a patch of particularly juicy blackberries. That, by itself, made the pain worthwhile.

At the end of the hike, he went back home and I drove up to Mount Cheaha to camp over night. I ate at the restaurant on top of the mountain (one of my favorites), and the next morning, I checked out the Kymulga Covered Bridge, between Sylacauga and Talledega, and went to First Baptist Church in Sylacauga for Sunday School and the preaching service. After that, I drove back to Auburn and spent the rest of the day hiking and dining out with Paul.

Since moving to the Denver area, I've kept the tradition every year. In 2014, I walked from home in Broomfield to Flatirons Junction and then up the Coalton Trail, almost to the Flatirons before returning home. It was almost exactly a 12 hour walk with few short stops, so it was between 38.6 kilometers (24 miles) and 58 kilometers (36 miles). That hike was all high plains.

After moving to South Denver in 2015, I walked from home to Kipling Trail and from there up to Jewell Avenue; then I headed west to Green Mountain and across Dinosaur Ridge to Red Rocks park. A short road walk brought me to Morrison and Bear Creek Trail, which brought me back home.

After it snows a couple of times, I plan to walk to Waterton Canyon, which is south of the Denver area. One of my packmates works at River Point Shopping area, at the head of the trail system that leads to Waterton so I can start very early and cut off the Bear Creek portion of the hike. Still, it'll be well after dark before I get back home.

Friday, April 7, 2017

--- Notes on ethics ---

Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we may make ourselves
happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.

Immanuel Kant

When considering a philosophical question, I usually begin with the simplest, most naive answer I can find and then I try to figure out why the naive answer doesn't work and I modify my idea until it does seem to work. I also consider the answers given by people in the past.

"What is good," turns out to be a surprisingly problematic question. Like Judge Potter Stewart, who addressed pornography by saying, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it...", we might conveniently say, "We don't know what "good" is but we know it when we see it." But we are looking for a guide for making decisions such as, "What is the right thing to do?" and this rule doesn't help much.

Despite the fact that I chose a quote by Kant to describe my position respecting ethics, I can't quite accept his formulations for deciding how to proceed in a moral dilemma. He gave two rules:

Choose your action according to a rule that you would want to be a universal rule of ethics.

Choose the action such that humans are never an means to an end, but only an end.

The first rule seems to be a nod and a wink toward relativity. In other words, it seems to imply that there is no universal rule of ethics but that you should choose rules that you would want to be universal.

The other rule brings up some serious issues in relationships. It seems to me that things like friendship, love, marriage, and such are founded, precisely, on use. For instance, love (or some variant of love) might be defined as the intention that an other has a good life and that you are a part of the cause of goodness of their life. In other words, if you love someone, you want to be used for their benefit. You desire to be a means for the end that they are happy.

If a person is not the means of a relationship, I don't see how there can even be relationships.

My naive ethic is that what is good is that which leads to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.

Is morality relative? Is it relevant?

The Bible isn't really much help at the outset. After 40 years of study, I'm fairly convinced that the Bible isn't much concerned with any such abstract concept as what moderns mean by "morals". When the Bible says "good", it refers more to what we would mean by "fitting". It is a practical term. What is the effective way to live? How do you maintain relationships?

And my naive model has two big problems. First, "the greatest number of people," seems rather inaccessible. There are an awful lot of people out there. How in the world could one calculate what action would lead to their greatest happiness? Further, the unexpected consequence would most certainly foil any attempt to actually secure the happiness of the greatest number of people!

My house has a favored video game called Witcher III: The Wild Hunt. In it, there are many alternative tracks that can be taken. One of the intriguing parts of this game is the end credits where it explains many of the consequences of the players actions, for, many of the heroic acts invariably lead to horrible ends - just like life. As the country wise man says, "You just never know."

So, how can I patch up my model?

Well, first I can make morality subjective - we do what we think will lead to the greatest happiness of the most people, but, then, some people seem to not value happiness as the greatest good. So let's say that "the greatest good" is a subjective thing, and then I have to accept that "good" is relative.

Well, not exactly. "Good" is a word and, like all words, it has to be defined. The first step in determining what is good is to define "good". That would be about the same as establishing a goal for good behavior. Does "the good" aim toward happiness? or survival - of the individual or the species or nature? Is it power?

But once "the good" is decided, it is no longer subjective because, having established our goal, we can no longer know exactly how to get it. There is a way to accomplish the goal but complexity and chaos gets in our way of knowing precisely how to go about doing it. But "the good" is no longer relative. It is now fixed and it's "out there" to be discovered.

So, I figure that "the good" involves a two step process: the first step is subjective and relative, the second step is objective and fixed.

--- Peoplewatching ---

"Just as a birdwatcher watches birds, so
a peoplewatcher watches people. But he
is a student of human behaviour, not a
voyeur. To him, the way an elderly
gentleman waves to a friend is quite as
exciting as the way a young girl crosses
her legs. He is a field observer of human
actions, and his field is everywhere – at
the bus-stop, the supermarket, the
airport, the street corner, the dinner party
and the football match. Wherever people
behave, there the peoplewatcher has
something to learn – something about his
fellow men and, ultimately, about

Desmond Morris, Peoplewatching

Everybody is a peoplewatcher. It's ingrained. We know about ourselves largely from watching others. We used role models to model ourselves and we are reflected by other people. We understand ourselves by paying attention to others' reactions to us. Like most animals, we are intensely curious about the people around us. It makes us happy to see other people who are happy. When we see someone injured, there is the skin-crawling sensation that something has been done to us. Also, like most animals, we can learn how to do things by watching others do them.

And, if we're not careful, we can learn errors from others. How many people have been hurt intensely by others treating them as unimportant? There is a common demonstration game called "Goat". It is common in sociology and communication classes and I have even used it as a Sunday School teacher.

In Goat, one person is selected out of a group to be the goat. I usually ask for volunteers. Everyone in the group is told exactly what will happen. Everyone knows that the whole thing is completely contrived. And everyone knows that there will be a debriefing session afterward. As you will see, there has to be a debriefing. Then there is a conversation and the goat is very definitely and pointedly excluded from the conversation. People in Goat groups are always so surprised at how painful it is to be the goat. The debriefing is actually a healing session - it is always needed. Other people are intensely interesting to us, even on a subconscious basis.

It is too bad that modern courtesy prescribes not watching other people. It doesn't eliminate peoplewatching. People still do it; they're programmed to do it. They just do it subconsciously and, therefore, there are always unexpected consequences - bad unexpected consequences. How much better would it be if people were knowledgeable and practiced students of humanity - if we strove to understand each other?

I won't talk about my peoplewatching experiences because they concern other people and, unless I have the others permission, I don't talk about them...usually. When I do, I try very hard not to make others identifiable. But I will recommend some books to read before going out on an intentional peoplewatching expedition.

The author of the quote at the beginning of this blog post, Desmond Morris, wrote a serious of "Watching" books: Peoplewatching, Bodywatching, Catwatching and Cat Lore, Dogwatching, Horsewatching, Animalwatching, Babywatching, and Watching. The earlier Manwatching was expanded into Peoplewatching. I would also recommend Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson's "Animals in Translation," an intimate look at the inner lives of animals.

Most urban excursions involve ensembles of both humans and other animals and their intricate interactions. You really can't just watch the humans and understand what's going on. I would suggest reading up on the communication strategies - both verbal and nonverbal - of all the people you will be exposed to. For instance, on Bear Creek Trail, I am very likely to meet humans, dogs, or horses, and sometimes very personable squirrels and cats. They all play their parts.

Then there are mountain lions around here. I certainly want to know what they're thinking. We don't have problems with mountain lions attacking bikers and joggers like they do in some parts of the country, but they are here. It amazes me how similar the behaviors of mountain lions are to pet cats. I knew a mountain lion named "Prince" at the camp I used to work at. They had a wild animal rehabilitation unit and Prince was one of the inmates that could not be released into the wild. He didn't have the skills to fend for himself and he was far too used to having humans around. But I could tell very little difference between the way Prince behaved and the way all the other cats I have ever known behaved. Of course, the very big, real, material difference is that, if a house cat scratches you in play, you bled a little; if Prince scratched you, you bled a lot.

I've also made it a point to understand bear "language". I haven't run into a bear around here, but, again, they are here and I most certainly do not want to misunderstand a bear.

Abrantes, Roger (1997) Dog Language: An Encyclopedia of Canine Behavior. Dogwise Publishing

Berne, Eric (1996) Games People Play. Ballantine Books

Grandin, Temple and Catherine Johnson (2005) Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. Scribner: New York, NY.

Livermore, David (2013) Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are. Teaching Company, Chantilly, VA. (Video)

Morris, Desmond (1990) Animalwatching. Jonathan Cape. London

Morris, Desmond (1991) Babywatching. Jonathan Cape, London

Morris, Desmond (1986) Catwatching and Cat Lore. Arrow Books Ltd.

Morris, Desmond (1986) Dogwatching. Jonathan Cape. London

Morris, Desmond (1989) Horsewatching. Jonathan Cape, London

Morris, Desmond (2002) Peoplewatching. Vintage/Random House. London, UK

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

--- Lectures for lifelong learning ---


I've mentioned that I'm a lifelong learner. That's my hobby but saying that is like saying I only eat food. My idea of lifelong learning is to try to pick up as much and as varied information as I can in this life. Adventuring, for me is just another phase of lifelong learning.

My bookmarks for online sources of lectures make up a long list. Still, I have some favorites - more coverage, better quality - and I'll share a few with you. Four are sources of free downloads (called "opencourseware") and one is commercial but well worth every cent.

Many colleges and universities make their content available to anyone. Only their students can get credit for taking the courses but, for lifelong learners, credit isn't the important part - it's the experience and the information. MIT is preeminent. They provide opencourseware in just about every field from sailing to differential equations and medical technology. The courses vary from "Here's the books we use. Read them." to full video lectures with textbook, tests, and software. But the video lectures they do have are excellent. Here's a link:

Another excellent source of lectures is Gresham College. They have several series of special lectures, not particularly opencourseware. The topics are varied but the speakers are active in their fields, informative, and engaging. Gresham College can be found here:

Academic Earth brings together many of the best open courses from many schools. They try to keep the quality high and, for the most part, succeed. Here's a link to that site:

Another source that brings together different sources is the Wikipedia article on opencourseware:

It provides a worldwide sample of educational opportunities.

The Teaching Company is a commercial source of courses. The lecture series are rather expensive but every item goes on sale at least once during the year and, then, the prices are very affordable. The company auditions their lecturers and use customer feedback to choose future topics and lecturers. One thing I like about these products is that the lecturers are active in their fields and I almost always hear things that I've never heard before. I've never bought a Teaching Company product and regretted the purchase. Here is their home site:

Sunday, April 2, 2017

LibreOffice internal help files

Huzzah! And the crowd goes wild!

LibreOffice has fixed their internal help files. You still have to download the file separately, but it works spectacularly.

I am told by Coyote, who should know being a top rank IP specialist, that many advanced computer people prefer to use online help files for their software, but I have been pining for the ability to punch a button, whether the Internet is connected or not, and look up information about LibreOffice, and especially the Macro language.

Kudos, LibreOffice, and also thanks for quick results of bug reports.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

--- What to do with other peoples' history? ---

In the year 828, a team of Venetian merchants stole the supposed body of St. Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria, Egypt and carried it to Venice to be interred in the new St. Mark's church. In the Middle Ages, relics of a saint conferred considerable prestige on a city and St. Mark is one thing that made Venice, Italy the great business center that it was. (Peter Ackroyd (2009) Venice: Pure City, Anchor. NY , Edward Hollis (2009) The Secret Lives of Buildings, Metropolitan Books. NY) Mark was not the only saint that was stolen. St. Nicholas (Aye, that would be Santa Claus) also rests in Bari, Italy. To be accurate, the sailors from Italy only got part of Nicholas' skeleton. The rest remained in Myra, Turkey until sailors from Venice collected the rest. Turkey wants the saint back and began plans to request the return in 2009 (see the Wikipedia article here for a brief overview of the travels of St. Nicholas' bones:

March 23, Coyote, Coryn, and I went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to hear their senior curator of anthropology, Dr. Chip Colwell, talk about repatriation. An activist working for the return of cultural objects to their places of origin, Dr. Colwell is the author of Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America's Culture  and editor-in-cheif of the online anthropology magazine, Sapiens.

Until recently, museums have taken the position that, as bulwarks of science, they have the right to artifacts wherever (or however) they can acquire them. That position is now being questioned. Regardless of the side you may be on in the debate, it is not black-and-white. There are reasonable arguments on both sides. Do indiginous peoples have a right to their culture over and above the right of humanity to know the inner workings of their cultures?

Well, I won't make the argument here for one side or the other. I want to avoid the appearence of telling you what to think. I'll reserve comments for that, but I must warn you, in the comments, I may just play the devil's advocate. But I will recommend the book. It follows the story of four such items and the controversy surrounding them.

I wondered if repatriation had been an issue in the past and how far in the past, and then I remembered the story of the return of the Hebrews to Israel after the fall of Babylon to the Persians. That was recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. And I have heard that it was a policy of the Persians to return stolen items to the lands from which they were stolen by the earlier conquerors. So, it's not a new issue by any means.