Monday, August 21, 2017

I tossed around whether to blog the eclipse or not. I'm not planning to deal with astronomy until 2019, but I took some pretty decent photos so I caved.

Denver was in the area of about 90% eclipse, so it was pretty nice. A few of the tribe were planning to go to the path of totality in Wyoming but didn't get to, so we had a yard party.

I set up my cell phone on a tripod with a #14 welder filter over the aperture and took the following photos.













The sun, filtering through the fir tree in the back yard also produced some nice pinhole effects.




And there was some nice iridescence in the high cirrus clouds moving into the area, but it didn't come out very well on the photos.




Still, it was a nice day with family and the last total solar eclipse that I'm likely to see in this lifetime.

I'll probably review these photographs in more detail in a couple of years.

Monday, August 14, 2017


--- Notes on logic and mathematics ---

Nature cares nothing for logic, our human logic: she has her own, which we do not recognize and do not acknowledge until we are crushed under its wheel.

Ivan Turgenev

Well, maybe not quite so negative. I don't think Nature is waiting out there to crush us under wheels, but I have said that I don't believe that Nature's primary purpose is not our convenience, so you should watch where you step.

But I don't see logic "out there". Logic characterizes reality to some extent but I've said over and over how "the word isn't the thing" and it's dangerous to forget it. Logic (and mathematics, concepts, models) is a language that we use to understand how things work in the world, and it is a very useful tool as long as we keep a firm hold on it's limitations. It is not the be all and end all of analysis. It will not allow us to formulate all knowledge (as the logical positivists hoped).

Our binary Western logic isn't even complete. There are things that doesn't fit into a nice, neat dichotomous scheme - true/false, extant/nonextant. For instance, my favorite example - the circle (Plato preferred the right triangle - whatever). It doesn't exist - it cannot exist. It's a curve which is everywhere equidistant to a single point, but such a curve would have no width. But so much of our society is built on a circle. Architectural designs, machines, symbols (anybody ever been in the winner's circle or sat in a support group?), so many circles! They don't exist but they certainly affect society as if they did. Circles exist powerfully in our minds. They exist as information, something that is nonexistence-in-existence. Eastern logic recognizes many categories of existence and can deal with categories such as information better than we can in the West.

Logic and mathematics are languages composed of words. They don't exist out there but are powerful tools of the mind to span the dimensions of reality.



Wednesday, August 9, 2017


--- Intelligence 7 ---

Yolanda U. Trapps article "Multiple Intelligences: The Learning Process in Our Students" is a decent and brief introduction to modern education. For those who associate "modern education" with the kind decried by C. S. Lewis in many of his works, this ain't it. This is more modern.

Actually, if you want a real update, The Teaching Company has a couple of lecture series. "The Art of Teaching: Best Practices From a Master Educator" presented by Patrick N. Allitt, and "How We Learn" presented by Monisha Pasupathi, will get you up to speed, but those will take you a couple of weeks, at least.

The exercises described at the end of the module are for classroom activities but they might suggest some interesting adventures. If you've never visited a nursing home, You might get permission to go to one and record some life stories. Old folks can be fascinating, and many of them love telling stories. You may even have some elderly family members that would like to tell you some tales. All the ones in my family are long gone and I sorta miss them. Grab the chance before they're gone.

There are actually organizations that invite you to take part in their adventures to record life stories, such as StoryCorps (https://storycorps.org/). You might just find out that that's your thing.

Awhile back, I tried to learn some Spanish. We have a large Hispanic population in the area and I figured it might be nice to be able to talk to some of my neighbors in their own tongue. I was devastatingly unsuccessful. I did learn that age interferes with learning new languages, but one of the exercises in this article gave me an idea. I've also wanted to brush up on my American Sign Language and I might have a better run if I combine the two goals. The act of internalizing signs might be paired with foreign vocabulary to make them both stick. The problem I had with Spanish was that, a week after I had learned a set of words, and was learning new words, I found that the older set was just, flat gone.

Next year, I plan to be looking at social sciences and languages in the area, and this might be a great adventure for me to take on. Starting now will give be a running start and I can let you know how I do.

Thomas O. Merritt's "A Multiple Intelligence Approach to the Physiology of the Brain and How Middle School Students Learn" is a good review of the structures in the brain that house the different "intelligences" outlined by Howard Gardner. He suggests looking at diagrams of the lobes of the brain (actually, all you have to do is browse "brain" in Google Images) and dissecting a cow brain - eh, you might or might not want to do that. You can likely get one from your friendly neighborhood butcher.

Here's something you can try - it usually works (but not always). If you're right handed, visualize the image of someone or something that you are very familiar with to your right, but keep your eyes fixed straight on (if you're left handed, do everything from the other side). Don't move your head or eyes and visualize the image drifting across your field of view from right to left.

Go ahead - don't read any further until you've done it.

The first time I did this, it was startling. Right at the center line in front of me, the image vanished. This was a demonstration performed by a visiting speaker in one of my psychology classes. She was a specialist in psycholinguistics.

Evidently, the eyes really are windows into the mind. They trace activity going on in the brain. The right side of the brain in right-side dominant people deal with memory and learning. The left side deals with creative activities.

So, when people are remembering some image, their eyes tend to track to the upper right field of view. When they are thinking up some new image, the eyes track up and to the left. It's as though the eyes are following the activity in the visual centers in the back and central parts of the brain.

When people are remembering in a sound, their eyes track to the right at about eye level and when they are thinking of some new sound, maybe composing a piece of music, their eyes track across to the left.

The, when people are talking to themselves, their eyes track down. Often, when someone is lying to you, they will look a little down and to the left. When people are depressed and their inner voice is making it worse, they will be looking down and to the right. The presenter told us that, often, all a depressed person has to do to "raise" their spirits is "look up". I've tried that and, by George, it usually works for me!

The last section in the Yale-New Haven module on intelligence is Judith L. Bollonio's "Multi-Sensory Manipulatives in Mathematics: Linking the Abstract to the Concrete", which has some fun things to try with mathematical manipulatives, things that illustrate mathematical concepts that you can, well... manipulate.

I'm quite fond of manipulatives. If you have a problem grasping some concept and you can find a model you can play with, that's often a great way to get a hold on it. Since I'm not dealing with mathematics right now, I won't go there, but you can be sure that, if we do get that far, I will be talking a  lot about it.

So, now back to the topic at hand. I can't take the standard IQ tests anymore. I've taken all the old ones so many times, I just know the answers. The new ones would require that I were still a practicing evaluator to use them. So, since I'm just doing it for fun, anyway, I'll just go onto the Internet, find some random IQ test, and not worry about validity and reliability.

On the other hand, if you want a challenging test, The Brain Game by Rita Aero and Elliot Weiner (1983, Harper Perennial) includes an IQ test developed by Mensa.

In my case, I found this test at the University of Cambridge.

https://discovermyprofile.com/myIQ/introduction.html;jsessionid=667B94D5277D176D35B4C60BDC489370

It seems to be a legitimate test under development and that gives me some added satisfaction of helping develop a new instrument. The introduction says that it will take from 45 to 60 minutes to take the test, so I will wait until I have plenty of time.

The test seems to be based on the Raven Matrix test, which is one of the more unculturally biased tests, having mostly performance items rather than verbal. It's called My-IQ and it was developed by Fiona Chan of the University of Cambridge Psychometrics Centre and Michal Kosinski of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Wow! That was a cool test. I scored the lowest score I've ever scored on an IQ test but it was fun.

I did notice that I have consistently scored lower as I have gotten older.

I wouldn't have given this one to one of my clients because all it gives is an IQ score and I like to have more multifactorial (multiple scores measuring different things) results, but I recommend it for recreational purposes.

Is it culturally biased? I don't know. I suspect that many of the items could have been interpreted and analyzed in more than one way and it may be that different cultures would orient people to see the items differently, but I see that they are recording where respondents are from, so they should be able to tell if there are any strong cultural biases.



--- Notes on truth ---

... in matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all as to what is particular, but only as to the common principles; [whereas in speculative matters, concerned chiefly with necessary things,] truth is the same for all men, both as to principles and as to conclusions.

Thomas Aquinas

My naive model for truth is what-is-out-there, but when people are talking about "truth" they are generally talking about something that is known. What-is-out-there, would accurately be called, "reality". In other words, if there were no conscious organism, no "knower", then there would still be reality but there would be no truth. So truth is knowledge that happens when what-is-known matches what-is-out-there. Truth is knowledge of reality.

At the surface, that sounds okay but just a little consideration will bring up an immediate problem. How do we know - how can we know - that what we think we know actually matches what-is-out-there. This has always been a problem for philosophers (and scientists, for that matter). If you don't believe it, watch The Matrix and ask yourself, "How do I know that the movie isn't the way things really are?" It can drive you to a real existential crisis.

Descartes tried to resolve this problem. He asked how he could know that what he thought of as reality was not just some sort of delusion caused by a demon. It's at the center of many religions. Hindu and Buddhism both speculate that there is a principle in the world called Maya that creates the delusion that what we perceive is real but that only a universal mind is real. Christian Gnosticism proposed that the material world is a delusion created by an evil demiurge to entrap the spirits of people in a servitude of material existence and that only spirit was real. But Descartes' answer was that, although he could never be sure about the reality of other things, he could nevertheless be sure that, since he was thinking, a thinking agent must at least be real and that, because he was thinking, he must be real.

People quickly noticed the flaw in Descartes' thought. Do character's in an author's mind think? Perhaps we are all just characters in someone else's mind. So how can there be truth if we can't even tell if there is even a what-is-out-there?

The conclusion that I come to is that we can, at least, be certain of a continuity. We have tools to test what we can all convince ourselves is the case and has always been the case as long as we have had records to archive reality. Replication, triangulation, experimental control, historical constancy all allow us to test what we might know to see if it is valid and reliable knowledge. We can at least say that, if what we believe to be the truth is not reality, then we have a common and consistent perception of reality that might as well be truth because it is the only truth we can have and, indeed, it has always served us well for truth and must be relied on to serve us in the future as truth.

It might not be completely satisfying as an answer but I'm not so sure we can do any better. Truth is the truth we have.



--- Your adventures ---

2016

Andalusia is far south in Alabama. There are no mountains near there. It's far south of the fall line. But there is a waterfall about 5 miles north of there. It's in a little town called River Falls and I was curious as to why a town that far south would be called "River Falls", so I drove down there one weekend to find out.

I asked several people if there was a waterfall in the area and no one knew until I stopped at a convenience store, ready to give it up and go back home. I asked the counter person, who didn't know but said that, if anyone did know, it would be the lady over there, a mail carrier. Sure enough, she knew and gave me directions to an impressive waterfall in town.



                                                        Photo of River Falls waterfall

It's my experience that people don't know what they have in their own neighborhoods.

Adventure can be near or far. It can be as simple as cooking a new dish or as complex as a vacation in a place that you've never visited. A surgical procedure is definitely an adventure. Do you dare go to YouTube and find a video of the same procedure?

But above all, an adventure can be a learning experience. Where are your adventures?


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Harvard Gulch

Actually, the way you design a highline canal is start at the elevation at the beginning and set a course that closely follows the contour of elevation (you know, like the lines on a topographic map) but very, very (very!!) gradually descend from that elevation. The canal follows the "highline". That way, you don't  have to pump the water. Gravity does all the work for you.

There are other canals in the Denver area. Ward canal parallels Bear Creek through Bear Creek Canyon at Morrison.

Denver was built on the high desert so it's understandable that it is concerned with water conservation. Canals are not the only artificial waterways in the area. When Denverites talk about gulches, they mean something a little different from the standard definition. Usually "gulch" is defined as a narrow v-shaped valley with steep walls cut out by a creek or what used to be a creek. The later case would be a "dry gulch". In Denver, gulches are semi-artificial stream beds. Instead of following a contour of elevation, they run straight down the shoulder of valleys to a river. I say "semi-artificial" because the original stream bed might have been diverted by the gulch (as in the case of Bear Creek Gulch, which was modified by the McBrooms to bring water to their homestead), or the stream bed might be widened or lined with concrete to avoid erosion or increase the capacity of the stream. Many of the gulches in Denver play dual purpose. They usually have a trail and a string of parks paralleling them, but primarily they serve to carry runoff water to a natural stream. They are flood control.

Harvard Gulch, East and West are two gulches that Channel water down the South Platte River valley down to the river. I hiked the Harvard Gulch West several times from Harvey Park to Ruby Hill and the river. It's a nice hike.

I followed the Harvard Gulch West today down from University Boulevard to where it disappears underground at Rosedale/Kumming City. Harvard Gulch is named that because it parallels Harvard Avenue on both sides of the South Platte. In this area, most of the streets are named for colleges (as if Denver didn't have enough colleges of their own).  Here are a few photographs.












All the water features are Harvard Gulch. Only a few of the pictures look like the regularly defined "gulch" but Harvard Gulch is rather typical for gulches in the Denver area. The last few photographs are from the high hill in Kumming City Park. The last picture is from Harvard Gulch Park. I liked the view of the thunderstorm coming in. I almost didn't get home in time!

Highline Canal

I now live on a high ridge overlooking the South Platte River valley (Well, it would be "overlooking" it if it were not for so many trees in my neighborhood - not that I'm complaining - I like trees.) On east-west streets in my area, I can look out and see Mount Morrison and, behind it, Mount Evans, still snow capped in August.

Denver is a rather disorienting place. I can look out and, it seems, down on Loretto Heights, which stood above where I used to live, yet, Loretto Heights is one of the highest places in Denver. Looking from Loretto Heights eastward toward where I now live, everything looks like lowlands, and, of course, they are. Loretto Heights is a full hundred feet higher in elevation than where I now live.

So, there is a highline canal, and there is the Highline Canal.

A highline canal is an artificial waterway that follows the natural contours of the land. In other words, you design a highline canal by throwing water on the ground and see which way it flows - maybe trench out a channel for it.

The Highline Canal in Denver begins in Waterton Canyon where it is drawn out of the South Platte River as it flows from the Rockies onto the plains. Here's the very place where it  begins.






So what in Sam hill is it doing over here on my ridge just down the street from me on a high ridge across the South Platte River valley from where it originates?




But, then, there's a 500+ foot drop in elevation from the foothills to the South Platte River, and about 400 feet difference between the elevation at Waterton Canyon and here. So the Highline Canal actually flows downhill from it's headwaters to this high ridge overlooking the South Platte River. Let me tell you - Denver is disorienting.....

Thursday, August 3, 2017


--- Intelligence 6 ---

Robert P. Echter's article, "Working With Children's Powers Not Their Handicaps" offers little in the way of adventure but the contents are worth looking  over if you work with children, especially children with academic problems.

If you have academic problems, something that makes your brain lock up when you are confronted with something new or difficult, I would emphasize the main thread of the piece - find your areas of strength and approach the problem from our strengths rather than your weakness.

In my own case, I'm dyslexic and, reading something like this paper would take so long as to be prohibitive, so I don't read it. I am perfectly capable of understanding the contents but I simply use a more effective way of taking it in - for me. I have a program called Natural Reader (https://www.naturalreaders.com/assets/software.html). Anything I can copy, and almost every format of text file will work, I can paste into this program and it will read it back to me. The voice it uses is very easy to get used to and I use it for most of my "reading". I also take advantage of the free readings from Libravox, a website that provides a wide range of books read by volunteers. When I go to bed at night, I will usually listen to a selection of classics - literature or major scientific pieces. Tonight I am listening to Balzac's, The Ball at Sceaux. I downloaded that from the Gutenberg Project as an HTML file and have copied it into the Natural Reader. It's rather long so I will likely split it into a couple of sections.

Most of the people in the job readiness classes I taught  never managed to grasp fractions in school. That seemed to be a primary barrier in mathematics - yet they seemed to have little trouble with it in our classes. The difference is that most public schools use one model of teaching only and that model is oriented toward teaching the average person with the common academic strengths. The further a person is from that average, the more difficulty they have in a standard classroom. But there are many different approaches available for learning anything.

"Learning disability" is a misnomer. A more accurate description would be "learning difference". Where I have a problem absorbing text, I have no such problem with lectures, videos, or materials that are read aloud. My memory has never been great but a memory system like the one described in The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas eliminates that problem for me.

The problem is that, what works for me may not work for you. No one perfectly fits the "model student". Learning the best approach for you will open up a fascinating world of lifelong learning, and finding the best approach is a great adventure in its own right.



--- Intelligence 5 ---

Mozart...heh.

The Mozart effect has been pretty much blown out of the water. Playing Mozart while a baby is still in the womb - well, it's a pleasant pastime and, if you think you're doing something special, more power to ya'. There probably will be some salutary effects - but it won't be the Mozart effect - sorry.

But it is amazing how even academics get caught up in new trends - Mozart, Laetrile, anti-vaccination, hyper-light particles - they come and go.

But there is, of course, something to music.

I had a bipolar friend who could not take the drug of choice - lithium. He, like many, experienced serious side effects from the drug. I and several others mentioned music therapy to him. As a result, he came completely off his medication and did fine.

One of my earliest counseling clients was completely nonverbal and rather violent when aroused. I used music therapy to "interact" with him and, eventually to much reduce his outbursts.

I have no doubt that music is very powerful in a counseling environment. As indicated in the article by Michael Vollero, "Nurturing the Body and Mind in Physical Education with Mozart", there is enough research that indicated that music has a beneficial effect on physical and academic learning, and may even improve the scores on intelligence tests (Vollero mentions a quote by Fredrick Goodwin, past director of the Institute of Mental Health, that quotes increases as much as 20 IQ points."

Well, I've said what I think of IQ scores, but I'm all sold on music.

The Doreen L. Canzanella piece, The Musical Learner: Rhythm and Reading emphasizes the use of music in learning (remember all those mnemonic songs you learned in grade school ("Thirty days hath September.....")). Again, it's an interesting article but the exercises are very specifically for kindergarten aged children.



--- Notes on language ---

Philosophy lives in words, but truth and fact well up into our lives in ways that exceed verbal formulation. There is in the living act of perception always something that glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught, and for which reflection comes too late. No one knows this as well as the philosopher.

William James

One of the greatest traps for thinkers is forgetting that words are not the things they refer to. Is language the patterns you see on a page or the concepts they engender in your mind?

Unfortunately, language is both but they are not the same and it's devilishly easy to forget that.

A word like "knowledge" does not have "a" definition. Take a minute and look it up in a dictionary, or just type "define knowledge" into your Internet browser and see what comes up. The very extensive Oxford Dictionary of the English Language will give you plenty to read. If you've never seen it, there is probably one at your local library. Ask your reference librarian about it.

Most words are like that. There is no single definition but a family of definitions - all the definitions are related but there are going to be subtle but important differences. In order to parse out what someone else means in a conversation, you have to figure out, with some precision, how they are using the words they are using, and it is very common that, what you think they mean is not quite, maybe not at all, what they actually  mean.

Language, like philosophy, is an adventure and it can be just as dangerous. In order to understand what others are saying, you have to avoid the natural assumption that you know what they  mean. The devastating thing is that, in order to really understand yourself, you have to let go of the assumption that you know what you mean. If you have ever read Plato's Dialogues, you know that the very heart of most of them is Socrates demonstrating to people that they really don't know what they are talking about. And if you haven't read them, you really should. It's a powerful  medicine to realize that you don't know what you're talking about. That's always the first step toward knowing (as Socrates advised) yourself - "the unexamined life is not worth living."



--- Cool lectures for computer enthusiasts ---

2016

The best computer science video courses I have been able to find online are the Harvard courses presented by David J. Malan, a clear and entertaining presenter.

Intensive Introduction to Computer Science (https://cs50.harvard.edu/weeks)

Understanding Computers and the Internet
(See Academic Earth's Computer Science Courses on http://academicearth.org/computer-science/)

There are also many more open courses available at Academic Earth.

The University of Washington also presents a History of Computing course with instructors Ed Lazowska, Steve Maurer, and Geoff Voelker which could not be more in-depth with guest speakers who are the history of computing. In addition to video lectures, the course is loaded with graphic slides and other materials. It is available here:

http://courses.cs.washington.edu/courses/csep590a/06au/

(The above websites were accessed 7/30/2017)