Once upon a time, when my oldest nephew (now 24) was young, he took my cell phone and asked to play games. I replied that my phone did not do games. True, it had some very, very basic games on it (it was a very, very basic phone by today's standards), but I wouldn't stoop to using a phone for such purposes.

Fast foward.

I'm still of the opinion that mobile phones are not primarily gaming devices, but I have been known to acknowledge their usefulness for that function, primarily in two ways: Peak brain training, and the latest addition, Word Chums. I was introduced to the latter by my grandkids during their recent visit. As I find with most video games, there's a lot of silliness to it (competitions, and accessories you can buy for your character with game coins you can earn), and you have to endure a few ads. But the ad-free version is only $4 if you find them too annoying. (You still get the silliniess.)

Word Chums is basically a Scrabble game, but in a form I find much more appealing. Instead of having to spend several contiguous hours over a game board, you can make your move and go on living your life while your opponent(s) are thinking. Or living their own lives—which means there can be hours or even days between moves. I'm fine with that. This is a game for busy people, who can find odd minutes here and there to play.

It is also a game for scattered people. I can enjoy a game with family members in Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and I'm sure even Switzerland, though we haven't tested that yet. We can have several games going on at once, with different combinations of people, all playing whenever it's convenient to them.

In real Scrabble, there are huge penalties for guessing. Word Chums lets you play around with your letters to see what works, get hints, look up meanings. "Cheat" if you wish to call it that, but I'm not a purist. It makes the game accessible for the younger ones, and even us old folks are learning new words. Who know "qi" was a word? In my Scrabble days, if you didn't have a U, your Q tile was useless. I'm happy to add this useful word to my vocabulary. I'm told it means "the energy in everything." I took a boatload of physics courses in college and never heard of it, but who cares? It works very well in this game.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 9:20 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 381 times | Comments (3)
Category Just for Fun: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

My phone was fine when I woke up this morning. But my Peel Remote app had put a floating widget on my screen ever since the last update, and today I clicked on it to get in and try to remove the annoying thing. I didn't get very far because my touch screen immediately became unresponsive. The phone wasn't frozen, but I couldn't do anything from the screen.

My go-to solution for problems of quirky machine behavior—as it has been since my PDP-12 days—is a reboot. So I pressed the power switch. Samsung users will immediately see the problem here: doing a reboot that way requires confirmation from the touch screen. Which wasn't working. I tried holding the power button down for several seconds, which works for many devices, but that had no effect.

One obvious solution would have been to remove the battery, but I didn't really want to do that with the machine powered on and (mostly) working. So I turned to Dr. Google—definitely not a solution from my PDP-12 days. I found several suggestions, and a number of people who had had the same problem with Peel Remote, even a year ago.

The easiest and most reliable solution seemed to be to press the volume-down and power buttons simultaneously for several seconds (variously suggested from 7 to 15). I'm skittish about such things, and did not want to find my phone suddenly in safe or download mode or worse, but what else was there to do? Call customer service? I've done that before, and have been leery every since, because they recommended a hard reset (which would have wiped out all my data) for a problem Dr. Google solved with no pain at all.

So I pushed the buttons.

The happy ending is, it worked. The phone rebooted. The touch screen began working again. I then turned the phone off and back on again, because ... well, because I learned a long time ago that that's a good policy after computer troubles.

I'm telling you here because I'm really telling myself here—I know from experience there's likely to be a time in the future when I'll say, "Wait, I know I had that problem before ... what did I do to fix it?" 

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 25, 2017 at 7:11 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 264 times | Comments (0)
Category Computing: [first] [previous] [newest]

Somewhere, in one of Glenn Doman's books, is an important clue to progress in any endeavour:

We arrange for the child to win.

Doman was dealing with severely disabled children. Forget walking—these kids couldn't claw their bodies forward two centimeters on a level floor. So he set them at the top of an inclined plane with a slippery surface. Suddenly, their random limb movements began to have an observable effect: they moved! Thus they began the critical process of associating their movements with results. Many of those children went on from that tiny beginning to learn to walk.

In an apparently radical change of direction, I bring you this article on Why Typography Matters—Especially at the Oscars.

alt

I never watch the Academy Awards shows, but apparently this year there was a major, embarrassing mix-up, with the best actress award winner's movie being announced as Best Picture. Designer Benjamin Bannister shows how the actual Oscar card (left) could have been designed (right) to greatly reduce the odds of misreading the card in all the excitement and bright lights. The card designer could have arranged for the card readers to win. A small change could have had great impact.

How often do we miss opportunites to make small changes that could arrange for our children, our spouses, ourselves to win? Do we somehow feel we don't deserve the help? If we have to spell out to our spouses how they can make us feel loved, it doesn't mean anything, right? Our children need to struggle for success, or else how will they grow? If we were the kind of people we should be, this—whatever this is—wouldn't be so difficult; it's cheating to make life easier for ourselves.

No, it's not.

Those immobile children who learned to walk succeeded because someone made it easier for them to make progress with their first efforts.

We use levers, wheels, pulleys, sharpened knives, WD-40 ... whatever tool or trick we can find to make our work go faster and better. That's the way progress is made. When our work goes more easily, we can do more. Plus, of course, we feel better about what we are doing and that makes us want to do more still.

Successful people work hard. They know how to delay gratification and don't indulge themselves in luxuries while building their businesses. What successful people don't do, however, is waste time with dull knives, broken pencils, worn-out machinery, people who drag them down, or anything else that hinders their productivity. They don't tell themselves, "I can make do, because I'm not that important, the work isn't that important, and I don't deserve to have better until I'm more successful with what I have." Tribulation breeds character, but unnecessary tribulation breeds frustration and failure.

What can you do to arrange for someone—yourself, your children, your spouse, a neighbor—to win? The cost might be much less, and the rewards much greater, than you think. Be creative. Until you see it, it's not obvious how an inclined surface might help a child learn to walk, nor how a small style change could prevent Oscar embarrassment.

Above all, don't wait to seek a better way until you or someone else deserves it. It's not about what we deserve; it's about setting ourselves up to do our best. If you're still stuck on your own lack of merit, think about your family. Don't you want to be your best—for them?

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 24, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 249 times | Comments (0)
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

A blog with a name like Unbiased America is automatically suspect in my view, since if there is anything more fictional than the idea of an unbiased blog—or for that matter an unbiased respected news source—I don't know what it is. Nonetheless, their article How Free Is Your State? has elements of interest.

Liberty is a great deal of what America is all about, or at least what it once was all about, and I believe the value still resides deeply in our hearts. How we define the concept, however, is one of the sad fracture lines that now divide our country. I rarely give much credence to other people's rankings of the best country to live in, the most child-friendly nation, the best state to retire to, etc. because my criteria for those categories are usually quite different from the ones used in the rankings.

That's the beauty of this Unbiased America site: it's customizable. Their own rankings, below, include many factors I either don't care about or actually care in the opposite direction. Nonetheless, I can look at the states I know something about and find a good deal of agreement on the level of freedom. Note, my New Hampshire friends, that you rank #1. Florida's not too bad at #8.

alt

But you're not stuck with the website's somewhat bizarre criteria. You can create your own customized version, picking which factors are considered, though you must choose from their selection and sometimes it's hard to tell what "freedom" means for a given criterion. I created my own, quick-and-dirty map, giving importance to things I care for, such as educational and food freedom (e.g. homeschooling and the right to buy raw milk), but not to things I consider more license than liberty, e.g. liberal gambling and marijuana laws. New Hampshire is still #1, but Florida has moved up to the Top 5.

alt

Go ahead, try it for yourself. You're still captive to the biases of Unbiased America, but you can skew them in your favorite direction.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at 9:38 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 276 times | Comments (0)
Category Politics: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

That's quite a margin he won by.

alt

A Board of Selectmen is one of those mysterious New England customs, and the Wikipedia article doesn't exactly make things crystal clear.  But the upshot is, Jon is now one third of the three-person executive that leads the town of Hillsboro, New Hampshire.  (There is no mayor.)

Congratulations, Jon.  May you never have to hold your head in your hands and groan, "I gave up ski patrol for this?"

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 8:20 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 568 times | Comments (9)
Category Politics: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

altIngathering: The Complete People Stories by Zenna Henderson (NESFA Press, 1995)

In the days of my youth, to use a common expression of my father’s, I was quite a science fiction fan. My tastes were almost exclusively for what I’d call hard science stories—those in which the science was paramount, and reasonably accurate—from authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein. But I made a few exceptions, and among my very favorites were Zenna Henderson’s fantasy stories about The People.

The People are beings from another planet who become stranded on Earth around the end of the 19th century. They are indistinguishable from Earth humans, except for their many special powers, such as lifting (flying), healing, and nonverbal communication. Henderson's stories were published individually, then gathered together into books with connecting stories woven around them (Pilgrimage: The Book of the People, and The People: No Different Flesh). Ingathering includes all these stories, plus a few more from other sources.

I once had four of Zenna Henderson's books, but in a fit of foolish decluttering I gave away my two least favorites. (Henderson's People stories are excellent, but some of her others are a bit weird.)  I don't mean the decluttering is foolish, but the mistake I made was in thinking that there was no point in keeping books I could get out of the library. Let the library be my storage site! That was a good idea, but did not take into account our library's even more foolish idea that it should only be a repository for new and popular books. Instead of seeing themselves as a storehouse of treasures old and new, they focus on books that are easy to find elsewhere and get rid of those that are hard to find but less popular. Very short-sighted, I think. That's when I radically slowed down my book-paring, when I learned that I would have to be my own museum.

I recently re-read Pilgrimage and No Different Flesh, and discovered that my copies were disintegrating. I had hoped to purchase versions for my Kindle, but there are none to be had. Fortunately, I found Ingathering on amazon.com and snatched it up.

Not only did I now have the stories preserved in a form that was not crumbling in my hands, but—wonder of wonders—included were four People stories that were new to me. To have even one new People story after all these years!

 


 

I understand the impulse to want to tie all the stories together, but re-reading them with an eye toward introducing them to others makes me realize the weakness of the "interlude" stories, at least the first one. The original tales stand well on their own, and that's the way I encountered my first one, Pottage. It's one of the best, and so impressed me that when I encountered it again much later I didn't find the interlude stories a bother. As a first-timer, I might have been tempted to say the book gets off to a slow start.

Not all the stories are of the same caliber, but most are good and some are great. In the introduction to Ingathering, I learned that Henderson's stories are today considered sentimental, even mawkish. How sad for this generation! Must everything be edgy, sad, and disturbing? Henderson's writing is well-crafted, and her fantasy is believable: that is, consistent within its own parameters, and having characters whose emotions and reactions we can understand. The best of the stories are far from sentimental: they are sublime. Beautiful, uplifting, and they pass my own personal test—they make me want to be a better person.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 17, 2017 at 7:42 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 463 times | Comments (2)
Category Reviews: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

What's the worst part of prepping for a colonoscopy?

Wait. I thought I got over the stomach flu four days ago.

What's the best part?

Two days before Prep Day the diet restrictions are turned on their heads. All those things doctors are always telling us to eat or not eat? Forget about it.

Vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain anything are OUT. Steak, dairy, eggs, ice cream, chocolate, and white bread are IN. Who said gastroenterology was dismal?

 


 

Of course, the best part of the whole procedure is that I don't have to think about it again for several more years.

What's the coolest part?

You can stop reading now if this is TMI, but the coolest part was definitely that for the first time I had the procedure done without any anesthesia. I wish I had known of the option earlier, because it. is. so. cool.

A little background.

I don't like anesthesia. By that I don't mean I'm not grateful for its discovery, and its use when necessary. I just think it's overused. In normal childbirth, for example. And during dental work. I especially don't like general anesthesia, which is riskier when you get to my age. I need all the brain cells I can keep. But this is the first time I questioned its use for a colonoscopy procedure.

Before scheduling the appointment, I asked the doctor, more than half expecting him to say no. But he was fine with the idea.

On the day of the procedure, he still was fine with it, though the others in the office gave me every opportunity and encouragement to change my mind. That was a little nerve-wracking, since I'd never done it that way nor had I spoken about it with anyone who had. When the anesthesiologist asked if I wanted him to be there in case I changed mhy mind, I finally said I'd leave it up to the doctor: if he was afraid something might go wrong and wanted anesthesia available, I would agree, but otherwise I was sure of what I wanted. When a nurse asked what I was going to do if it hurt, I replied, "get through it."

The doctor must have trusted me, because I never saw the anesthesiologist again. Apparently I'm not the only one who forgoes anesthesia; it's just rare. And I warn you, it does hurt. But not nearly as much as childbirth, and it's much shorter. You don't get to move, though, and screaming is discouraged. But those breathing techniques never leave you, and the nurse was a great "childbirth" coach.

It's hard to say what I like most about not having slept through the process. Definitely high on the list was what I think it did for the doctor/patient relationship. (And by "doctor" I include all the other medical personnel, too.)  I felt part of a team, working together to get the job done. I felt respected as a person and not viewed as an unconscious patient. We interacted throughout the procedure; the doctor explained what he was doing and I was able to ask questions.

The monitor was the absolutely coolest part. They let me keep my glasses on, and I watched from beginning to end (literally). I don't care how many crude comments some people make about where so-and-so's head might be positioned, there aren't many people who have actually seen the inside of their own colons. I have. It's awesome.

Watching was the most fun, but recovery was the most liberating. I wasn't fuzzy-brained. I was in control of my mind and body. Instead of the usual list of all the things I couldn't do for the next day or so (drive, sign legal documents, make important decisions, drink alcohol, eat certain foods), I left with no restrictions at all. I walked to the car instead of being wheeled out in a chair. 

(Porter still drove home, and I'm taking the day off. No point in wasting someone's willingness to pamper you.)

Like natural childbirth and forgoing Novocaine at the dentist, skipping anesthesia in cases like this isn't for everyone. But if you're at all intrigued, I encourage you, whenever you're faced with a procedure involving anesthesia, to ask if it can be avoided. Likely the doctor won't suggest it himself—they are so concerned about keeping patients comfortable. But he may be fine with it. It's good to have options.

 


P.S.  Happy Pi Day, everyone!

 

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 391 times | Comments (5)
Category Health: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Mind. Blown.

Even though I don't understand half of the items, the U.S. Debt Clock is fascinating. Because statistics without sources are useless, you can mouse over a number to see where it comes from. Amidst all the depressing figures, at least I can say that we're far better than average when it comes to personal debt, which amounts to over 56 thousand dollars per person! Fortunately, that figure includes mortgage debt, which can be less of a problem, though recent times have shown that's not always true.

On the other hand, the fact that our children and their families collectively own almost $860,000 of the national debt is more than a bit disconcerting. Those who are also Swiss get to add another $16,000 or so, with the consolation that the Swiss national debt is actually going down. You can see world debt clocks here.

From the main page you can also check out the state clocks. Or use their time machine to see how far we've come.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 13, 2017 at 10:54 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 330 times | Comments (1)
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Last night I listened to Afghanis singing "Here I Am to Worship" in their Dari language. It was surreal, but I'd had similar experiences before. I have met the universal language, and it is American praise and worship songs.

I have sung them in church in Japan: American praise songs with Japanese words.

I have sung them in church in Switzerland: American praise songs with German words.

I have sung them in church in The Gambia: American praise songs with English words.  (That makes more sense when you realize that English is the written language in the Gambia.)

I have no doubt that, as with McDonald's, I could encounter the same songs in China, India, New Zealand, Brazil, Kenya, Russia, and almost anywhere else in the world.

It does not make me especially happy to realize that the Church Universal is singing fast-food music. Just writing the above evokes images of Green Eggs and Ham: I will not sing them in a box, I will not sing them with a fox.

But I do, and I'll admit it is lovely to be able to worship fully with the local congregations. I'd rather be eating a more nourishing meal (singing hymns and/or local music), but I'll take fast food if that's what's served.

Everyone knows Makudonarudo. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 11, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 303 times | Comments (1)
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Music: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

A friend of mine taught Jack Barsky's daughter in preschool, and affirms that he is a very interesting man with quite a story.

Quite a story, indeed. I can't wait to try to persuade our library to stock his book when it comes out on March 21. Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America.

Barsky, once a bright, adventurous, young East German named Albert Dittrich, was trained by the KGB to fit into American society so well that he would be able to pass important secrets back to the Soviet Union. If the KGB's ambitions were unrealistic, Barsky's courage and spirt were not. He came into the country on a false Canadian passport, and with a few thousand dollars in his pocket, made his way to New York City and into American life.

Too well into American life, for the KGB's purposes.

Like many undercover agents before him, he began to realise that much of what he had been taught about the West - that it was an "evil" system on the brink of economic and social collapse - was a lie. ... "What eventually softened my attitude" was the "normal, nice people" he met in his daily life. ... "I was always waiting to eventually find the real evil people and I didn't even find them in the insurance company."

[That one's for you, David. He worked for Met Life.]

So he stayed. Not that it was either an easy decision or an easy process, and it cost him two marriages. But what a story! I can't wait to read it.

Those of us who are inclined to think it's too difficult to become an American citizen will do well to pay attention to Barsky's insistence that it was only the difficulty of obtaining an American passport that kept him from doing real damage as a spy.

"The idea was for me to get genuine American documentation and move to Europe, say to a German-speaking country, where the Russians were going to set me up with a flourishing business. And they knew how to do that.

"And so I would become quite wealthy and then go back to the United States without having to explain where the money came from. At that point, I would have been in a situation to socialise with [political decision makers]."

You can read a BBC story on Barsky here. 

And here's the trailer for the CBS 60 Minutes report about him.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 7, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 349 times | Comments (1)
Category Politics: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. — Thomas Edison

I'm accustomed to hearing one or another of our grandchildren referred to as a genius. Naturally, as a proud grandmother, I agree. Every one of our ten grandchildren is a genius. Absolutely.

But what do people other than grandmothers mean by that word?

It seems to denote some ability a person is born with that makes them especially good at something—a gift that one either has or doesn't have. I believe that's a vast oversimplification, if not entirely false.

The gift, if there is one, seems to me to lie in interest and focus.

  • Our grandchild who plays piano really well? He's no prodigy—but he loves to play the piano, and that's what he spends a lot of time doing, even on vacation.
  • The one who at age six earned $300 doing real work for a real business was able to do so because he had spent hours and hours mastering the necessary skills and doing the work for free before he earned his first dollar.
  • The grandchild who could count to 100 before he was two and read before he was three played with numbers and letters every day for hours.
  • My nephew, when he was three years old, could not only identify dozens of dinosaurs but could tell you many facts about each of them. You guessed it: he spent much of his time learning about dinosaurs.

And so on. None of them was pushed in these endeavors, but they do have parents who respect and encourage their interests. When you discover that playing with an alphabet puzzle keeps your fretful child happily occupied for hours, what do you do? You buy him a similar number puzzle. You give him his own, real tools. Read him books about dinosaurs. Keep the piano in the middle of the family's living area and let him play as often and as loudly as he wants—even if you long for just a moment of silence.

And the children take it from there.

I am convinced that neither I nor any other human, past or present, was or is a genius. I am convinced that what I have every physically normal child also has at birth. We could, of course, hypothesize that all babies are born geniuses and get swiftly de-geniused. ...  I was lucky in avoiding too many disconnects. — R. Buckminster Fuller

Perhaps the secret to helping our children reach their full potential is neither early formal education nor leaving them to develop "naturally," but giving them as many opportunities as possible to discover the many wonderful and valuable things of life, and actively supporting—not pushing—any healthy interest that develops.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 320 times | Comments (1)
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Recently I've seen many suggestions for Lenten disciplines, including some attributed to Pope Francis, though I haven't been able to confirm that.  What they all have in common is giving up something altogether bad, such as ingratitude or selfishness.  This is good, but it does make giving up something for Lent seem more like baptizing New Year's resolutions.  It was Jennifer Fulwiler who opened my eyes to the idea that giving up something you know you should quit altogether misses one of the best parts of Lent:  the symbolic value of experiencing the Easter resurrection joy in a personal, physical way.  Here's how she put it six years ago:

Here’s what [Lenten disciplines] I decided on: a decade of the Rosary first thing each morning, and no adding sugar to my morning tea (a small but surprisingly noticeable sacrifice for me). And…well, umm…there’s one other thing that I couldn’t decide if I would admit or not…but I guess I’ll go ahead and say it:

I’m giving up cursing for Lent.

Now, before you form an image of me yelling at my kids to stop jumping on the $%^! couch or asking my husband to pass the $%&*!# salt at dinner, let me say that it’s not that bad. I don’t use bad words in front of the kids, and it’s not like I walk around spewing profanity when I’m around adults. It’s just that I’ve noticed lately that, well, sometimes I just can’t seem to express myself without pulling out a word from my pre-conversion lexicon. So I’m really working on that during Lent, hopefully adopting habits that will last for the long-term.

Giving up adding sugar to drinks was actually a last-minute addition to my Lenten plans. I’d always heard that you should give up something good, but I didn’t really get why, so I just went with giving up cursing for Lent. But then I heard people who had given up something good talking about their plans for Easter, and it all clicked.

For example, someone I know who gave up cheese talked about how she’s going to get a huge, lavish cheese tray for brunch on Easter. When I imagined her going that long 40 days with nary [a] bite of one of her favorite foods, I could see how the ecstatic joy of the Resurrection would hit her at an even deeper, visceral level as she bit into savory chunks of Camembert and felt the luscious Brie melt in her mouth after the long fast.

Then I pictured myself rising on Easter morn’, taking a deep breath, and shouting the f-word. Umm, yeah. That’s why giving up something that’s bad anyway doesn’t quite have the same effect. So no sugar in my tea for Lent.

 

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 3, 2017 at 7:51 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 398 times | Comments (3)
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]
Go to page: