Monday, December 29, 2014

Think Happy

“You are what I think.” B.F. Skinner
B.F. Skinner

B. F. Skinner (1904 – 1990) was a Harvard psychologist who advocated behavioral engineering and thought that people could be controlled through rewards and punishments. Human free will is an illusion, human action the result of genetics and nature. Farewell to free will. 

“Poppycock”, says Popeye, "I yam what I yam and tha's all what I yam." 

Distant memories of Psychology 101 at KU come back to me. Taught by a Turkish professor who regaled us with stories of his own revolutionary days as a student in Turkey; quite appropriate, I thought, for the times. Listen to everyone, I also thought, for they have something to say, but make up your own mind. 

Skinner’s debate still rages on in my head. I like to think, like Popeye, that I am what I think, that I can influence the future with positive thoughts. It is my own form of behavioral reinforcement. 

Make up your own mind. This is what I tell the next generation. It's empowering. 

So I say to you, in 2015 think happy thoughts in the coming year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

There comes a time

There comes a time in the affairs of man when he must take the bull by the tail and face the situation. W. C. Fields

Not right now and not with this bull, thank you.

No bull

Monday, December 1, 2014

When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.

When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger)
Seneca writes a letter to Lucillus, procurator of Sicily during Nero’s reign, concerning the topic, On the Supreme Good.
The archer must know what he is seeking to hit; then he must aim and control the weapon by his skill. Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.

Chance must necessarily influence over our lives, for we live by chance.But it is the case with certain men, that they do not know that they know certain things. Just as we often search for that which is beside us, so too we are apt to forget that the Supreme Good lies near us. 

Seneca begins his letter to his friend Lucillus with a caution:

[A] vast stretch of sea separates us. Since, the value of advice may depend on the time when it is given, it must necessarily result that by the time my opinion reaches you, the opposite opinion is the better.

Seneca continues:

The nature of the Supreme Good is not described by many words or long-winded discussions. It is pointed out by the forefinger and not parsed with endless dissection… The Supreme Good is that which is honorable.

The task ahead, Seneca proposes is to conquer our emotions.

I fully understand what this task is. It is a thing …I desire it with all my heart. I see that you also have been aroused and are hastening with great zeal towards infinite beauty.

Let us hasten; and only on these terms will life be a boon to us; otherwise, there is a delay … while we busy ourselves with revolting things.

Let us see to it that all time belongs to us. This, however, cannot be unless, first of all, we ourselves belong to us. … When will it be our privilege, after our passions have been subdued and brought under control, to utter the words "I have conquered!"?

Do you ask me who have I conquered? The answer is neither the Persians, nor far-off Medes, nor any warlike race beyond the Dahab (Sinai); not these. Rather greed, ambition, and fear of death have I conquered, that conquered the conquerors of the world.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Be thankful

Though you seek it 
You’ll never find it. 
What is it? 

Gratitude for what you’ve got

Kansas landscape
 Image taken driving home from Kansas City to Wichita just after sunset.

Alice doesn't live here anymore.

Yusef Islam (Cat Stevens) said it best more than 30 years ago:

Oh very young 
What will you leave us this time? 
You're only dancing on this earth for a short while 
And though your dreams may toss and turn you now 
They will vanish away like your daddy's best jeans 
Denim blue fading up to the sky.

Image taken on Old Highway 50 north of Emporia.This house is typical of many Depression era homes, two stories, bedrooms on the second floor, a corrugated metal roof because shingles were too expensive, and a kitchen attached at the rear of the home.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Alone My Dogs and I

 Alone, my dogs and I walk by the river, along the lake, and through the woods.

For days and weeks and months
Through all the seasons of the years
In azure days of Spring when flowers came
In Summer’s rain when birds and bees and butterflies took shelter
In Fall when nature’s color was resplendent

And finally,
In the gloom and gray of Winter When all life seems to have gone away
Alone, but for my dogs, these two careless creatures of nature
Naked and unaware
Like Adam and Eve
Of the world’s woes and constant cares
Wandering at the water’s edge
And through the brown and lifeless grass
Looking for some other wild creature to pursue
Happy to be tasked as God intended
To think of pleasure
And not of higher thoughts

And I, …
Alone, but for these two simple dogs
Wonder (Is this God’s gift to man?)
In all God’s vast creation
Do I alone?
Think of what He wrought
And what He must now think
Seeing his beautiful world
Filled with war, famine, and hate
But not here,
Am I
Alone, but for my dogs, these two careless creatures of nature

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why do leaves change color in Fall?

As summer ends and autumn comes, the days get shorter. A busy year making flowers and seeds, the trees need their rest and so get ready for winter. Thus, the trees begin to shut down their food-making factories, the green chlorophyll. As it disappears from the leaves, the yellow is left behind briefly until it too is gone and all that is left is the brown, the remnants of a glorious summer and beautiful fall.

Fall leaves, Mulberry tree

Kansas Paw Paw

Pin Oak, Kansas

What makes the bright reds in Maple trees? These colors and the deep purples we see are glucose trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis stops. Autumn daylight and cool nights combine to produce these brilliant colors.

Maple tree, Kansas

Monday, October 13, 2014

Future Shock: No more gas stations.

"Society is undergoing an enormous change," said Alvin Toffler in Future Shock, written in 1970. This was three years before the Oil Crisis of 1973, when OPEC quadrupled the price of a barrel of oil.

Toffler defined "future shock" as a psychological state of individuals and entire societies brought on by sudden change in too short a time. Get ready for a society disconnected from reality, suffering "shattering stress and disorientation." A short definition, too much to deal with in too little time.

Well if we aren't there already as a result of the world wide web, then we certainly will be when the world's automobiles run on electricity and not gasoline. 

The Toyota built Prius, a hybrid, first went on sale in 1997, and by 2011 has sold more than a million cars in both the United States and Japan. Today, there are almost 20 models offered by more than a dozen different brands.

Tesla Model S, image

And in the first quarter of 2013, the all electric Tesla posted profits for the first time in its history. The future is now driving down the highway.

Imagine the Middle East without a dominant source of wealth. Imagine Texas and Norway without oil money. Okay, that is a little easier to imagine. Imagine a planet free of petrol-carbons. Okay, I like that.

The energy of the future will be free, or close to it as scientists and governments develop alternate sources of energy. Will this be a good or bad case of unintended consequences?

Any more predictions?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Life is short

Life is short

So little time,
So much to do
So little time to do it.
So much to do

That I find
Before I finish anything
It’s time to start anew.

Each day I rise
To race from dawn to dusk
Oh, a mother’s work is never done
Nor anything her old man does

It’s better said
Stay in bed
Do what's best
And get some rest.

The life so short, the poet said,
The craft so long to learn
This poem now begun is not complete
Before its time to walk the dog.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Facebook is not all it is cracked up to be

Facebook pages are not all they are cracked up to be. This idea fits in with The former Facebook mantra, "Move Fast and Break Things". Facebook certainly moved fast to get everyone on board, but now the everything is free model is gone. For business pages, it is pay to play.

The kids figured all this out before the old man. 

Facebook is a marketing behemoth generating billions of dollars. The numbers tell the story. Facebook's 2014 second-quarter revenues are just shy of 3 billion dollars, way up from $1.8 billion just a year ago. 

Gone is the user friendly, "whassup" approach. That is why the kids are leaving Facebook in droves for friendlier pastures. 

The old man works his Facebook Pages, but posts that once generated hundreds of views, now struggle to get dozens, even posts with many likes and shares.

Facebook kindly suggests Page owners use:

…a combination of engaging Page posts and advertising to promote your message more broadly. Advertising lets Pages reach the fans they already have and find new customers as well. The fans you have matter." Facebook, December 5, 2013

At this point in the conversation, the old man coughs and the sound comes out, "Bullsh#t." 

Have you ever wondered where the phrase "not all it is cracked up to be" came from? One line of thought says the word "craic" or "crack" is from the Middle English word crak, which means "bragging talk." Another says that the word is Gaelic and though its definition is imprecise, the best notion is that it means fun. 

Either way, you know you are not getting what you bargained for, which is why Daniel Boone made the observation about Martin Van Buren that he was "not all he was cracked up to be."

Since we are speaking of crack, I can't let the topic slide by without talking about crack cocaine. It is once a thrill and highly addictive. Drug dealers get their clients hooked with "free" samples, and then have paying customers for life. That is cracked!

Is this a little harsh?

If so, then go back to World War II when tobacco companies gave out "free" cigarettes to soldiers fighting overseas. 

Did anyone see this coming? Rod Serling surely.

The post could have been called "To Serve Man" after the 1962 The Twilight Zone episode written by Damon Knight. It's a classic TV and the line "it's a cookbook" is memorable. Go look it up.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ergo, said Vergil

Virgo by Sid Dickens
 Ergo, said Vergil 

Who grows the crops 

Or moves the stars 
Across the starry skies
Oh Maecenas, you need not worry 

He also thought 

To marry the pruned elm tree 
With the wild green vine, 
Thankfully, gave us wine 

He that cares what oxen need 

Insures new seed each year 
And gave us time enough 
To enjoy our simple lives 

Oh Maecenas, worry not
Just pray to God 

While you watch the cattle 
And nod your head in sleep

Under a sturdy oak tree
For, he above tends the bees
So, too He gave us honey
To sweeten our lives a bit

O bright September morning light, 
This thought
Comes to me 
When Virgo rises in the sky 

Ergo, said Vergil
In Autumn 

When His work is done
There's time to have some fun

 Loosely based on Vergil's Georgics, The Introduction. 

Quid faciat laetas segetes,
quo sidere terram vertere,
ulmisque adiungere vitis conveniat
quae cura boum,
qui cultus habendo sit pecori,
apibus quanta experientia parcis,
hinc canere incipiam.
Vos, o clarissima mundi lumina,
labentem caelo quae ducitis annum,

Saturday, August 30, 2014


The Urban Dictionary defines a floater as: 

"...a social mastermind who wavers between members of one ... [or more] clique[s] ..., pitting people against one another and leeching out information without seeming like a threat."
Urban Dictionary, Floater

The dictionary also identifies a floater fecal matter (aka "shit") that floats in the water.
Beware the Floater. 
If you like to walk along the shores of the many creeks in Kansas, you will come across Floaters. The Floater is the most common large species of mussel in Kansas. Its shell can reach 6 to 10 inches, a tasty meal for a raccoon or an egret. The discarded shells of the Floater mussel can be found in Kansas along muddy creeks and in lakes. It gets its name from the fact that when it dies, the shell rises to the surface of the water and floats.

Floater mussel
This one was a recent victim of a predator, possibly an egret who left his white feather behind.

Egret feather Floater mussel

What fascinates me is the iridescence of the inner shell. It is called nacre, also known as mother of pearl, the same organic-inorganic material that goes into pearls. We are all rich if we only see it.

Pretty cool.