Elephant Yin Yang

Pensive Pensées Pensieve for 2015

In this Age of Distraction who cares what anyone thinks? We are a long way from Michel de Montaigne, the first and greatest blogger. Why bother with yet another web-log? Good question!


American Dream Beginning with You : Blogging for All Souls : Blog, resurrection Creative Team : Crystal Bridges Differences Create…? Enthroned Failure Good Names Filched : Google-Borg Panopticon : Gratitude Hottest Topic Imago Dei : Innovation Journal LibraryBox : Linux Voice Magazine Meditation, does it work? : Mr. Penumbra No Risk, No Reward Pensive Pensées Pensieve : Problem of Religious Diversity Vinyl : Vocation-Calling What Tulsans Want Web Hosting Service Yes and No

In 2015

2015-12-21: Innovation

Henry Hemming’s book The Ingenious Mr. Pyke is a well-written page-turner that reads like an adventure story. Of particular interest is the nurture of innovation, summarized by the epilogue and the final section, which I have enhanced, listed here and rendered as a mind-map, to give two alternative views of the same information.

I have experienced some modest success conjuring innovative ideas from a group of peers. It works very well. Our interpersonal relationships with each other were relaxed and respectful. We had fun; there was much laughter and a strong sense of camaraderie. Geoffrey Pyke looked for the seemingly absurd and ridiculous and, in so doing, developed novel solutions to difficult problems.

We found better ways of doing things by brainstorming and using trade-studies to select the best solution. Our work environment was open, honest, and imbued with a freedom to try the unusual. We allowed ourselves to fail, try again, fail, try again, and succeed. We had alternative plans to try if one course of action proved blocked by prevailing circumstances. We delivered our product on time and within budget.

Were I to lead a project again, I would use the Pykean guide as a template to guide and record the development progress and solutions. Knowing the path a project has followed is useful during the out-years when there is uncertainty about the reasons for the design decisions.

We came away from our projects with a sense of accomplishment and professional fulfillment.

Pykean Guide to Innovation Mind-map

Pykean Guide to Innovation, Enhanced Mind-map

Pykean Guide to Innovation Listing

  1. Be adventurous:
    1. Be prepared to look silly.
    2. Be willing to make mistakes.
    3. Don’t be afraid of ridicule.
  2. Be skeptical:
    1. Question accepted truths.
    2. Keep going until one truth is found to ring hollow.
    3. It is easier to solve a problem than it is to identify the problem.
    4. Dispense with preconceived notions:
      1. Cultivate the inquisitiveness of a child’s mind.
      2. Cultivate the beginner’s mind.
      3. To these minds all things are possible and don’t know that something can’t be done.
  3. Refine the problem or question:
    1. Tiny adjustments to the formulation of a problem can unlock a torrent of fresh ideas.
    2. The correct formulation of a problem is more than halfway to its solution.
  4. Research:
    1. Mine the past for historical analogies and lost solutions.
    2. Survey the wider world:
      1. Newspapers,
      2. Journals,
      3. Films,
      4. Posters,
      5. Statistics,
      6. Surveys,
      7. Conversations.
    3. Small-scale experiments.
    4. Never limit research to a single field.
    5. Cultivate broad general knowledge.
    6. Look for correlations everywhere:
      1. Everything is irrelevant till correlated with something else.
      2. Identifying correlations is not a question of ability, but of free-mindedness.
  5. Auto-Socratic Technique:
    1. Two voices:
      1. Wildly inventive teenager:
        1. Teenager represents fantasy.
        2. Proposes and takes things to extremes.
      2. Polite psychiatrist:
        1. Psychiatrist represents reality.
        2. Does not shoot down ideas.
        3. Scrutinizes graciously.
        4. Allows the teenage voice of fantasy to finish each train of thought.
      3. Dialogue begins with the patient presenting the problem in its most pared-down form, after which the conversation proceeds under its own momentum until it produces either a subject for further research or a solution.
    2. Try inverting and reversing concepts to see what is revealed.
  6. Detachment:
    1. Don’t become attached to a tentative solution.
    2. Try, fail, learn, and try again as soon as possible.
    3. Extend and share ownership of the idea.
  7. Resistance:
    1. All innovations must encounter resistance.
    2. Expect resistance and plan the presentation of the idea accordingly.
    3. Innovative ideas can be threatening to creatures of tradition and habit.
  8. Communication:
    1. Use clear narrative to promote new ideas.
    2. Weigh the pros and cons.
    3. Contrast development of an idea against inaction.
    4. Enlist the early adopters.
  9. Post-mortem:
    1. What lessons are there to learn from success or failure of an idea.

2015-12-06: Vinyl

I don’t understand the current craze for vinyl. I was glad when CDs arrived. Admittedly, I wasn’t buying audiophile pressings, so perhaps I should have been a little less annoyed by the pops and crackles produced by brand-new LPs never before played. My strategy during the Age of Vinyl was to record the first play of an LP to cassette tape and then use the cassette for frequent listening; in this way, I reduced the wear on the LP to a minimum.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

Any mechanical or electrical recording is a debasement of the original performance. At least, this is so for music performed on acoustic instruments than otherwise. Ultimately it is best to hear a performance live as it is performed; yet the quality of live music depends a lot on the acoustics of the auditorium. Assuming that all is well with the auditorium, it is better to be present at the original performance.

I have heard music played in a room with dead acoustics and it was a memorable experience in that the room seemed to engulf the sound making it very difficult to hear.

Another occasion, I heard the Claremont Trio play in a small auditorium with good acoustics. They delivered a youthful bravura performance of Mendelssohn’s trio no. 2 in c minor opus 66. I bought their CD of this music and thought the digital reproduction to be a close match to what I heard live, as played on a Bose-like box that employs a lot of digital signal processing.


Analogue recordings are subject to far more variability during recording and replay. They do vary, but even the best seem to lack full dynamic range. Recording equipment is mechanical and dependent of good maintenance. Tape has physical contact with the recording and replay heads, degrading with the passage of time. Vinyl pressings are subject to wear and tear from handling and must have a needle in contact with the surface of the LP platter in order to reproduce the recording. Turntables must be adjusted and balanced to produce the best reproduction. Static must be reduced to eliminate the pops and crackles that inevitably ensue.

Vinyl is all too fiddly and there is too much room for error. Digital reproduction takes up less space, is truly compact, and the sound quality of good all-digital recordings is excellent, to my ears far superior to analogue reproduction equipment. To me, CDs were a welcome new technology.


The digital audio chain from recording to replay is less prone to degradation than is the case for analogue recordings and, finally, the sixteen cubic feet of audio equipment with tangle of inter-connecting cables is gone.

Once the audio is captured as digital data it is effectively subject to no change. Not only that, the disc is played by reading the digital data represented by pits in the data surface of the CD using the reflected beam of laser light. It reads the same way every time and is touch-less.

Nowadays, most people play digital music files using computers or smart-phones. Most music data is stored in .mp3 format, which is a lossy compression format developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group. mp3 isn’t the best audio format yet it is widespread and used by most people. There is a noticeable difference in quality of reproduction between .mp3 and other unencumbered formats like Ogg Vorbis and Opus. Vorbis is definitely better quality. Still, CDs have good reproduction though an extensive collection of discs isn’t necessarily compact.


2015-10-25: Journal

Asiatic Dayflower by Andrew Donovan-Shead

In his book Walden Warming, Richard Primack demonstrated the scientific value of long-term data collection by amateur naturalists. He used the data collected by Henry David Thoreau combined with that collected by amateur naturalists today to show that our weather has warmed significantly in recent years. Primack showed that the rise in temperature affects all species more or less. So, I am encouraged to start a journal to record my observations of the world around me.

Implicit in Primack’s book is the fragility of data. For analysis and display it is better collected and kept electronically. For long-term availability and longevity, it is better collected as a written record on paper. If Thoreau had used electronic storage then it likely wouldn’t be readable after more than a century. Paper continues to be a useful and durable medium though a much less flexible format.

Today, I noticed small blue flowers blooming in the grass on the south side of our house. I took a picture with my camera and positively identified the forb as Asiatic Dayflower (Commelina communis), using the on-line Audubon Wildflower guide.

Our weather has been fine and today there were blue skies and sunshine with the temperature in the 70s. Asiatic Dayflower blooms from June to October; it is quite common in Tulsa and adds a pleasant contrast to the grass. Our grass is biodiverse.


2015-10-24: Failure

Blown capacitor by Andrew Donovan-Shead

Wanting to try the BSD, which is closer to UNIX than Linux, I uncovered an old tower PC that I had been using as a clothes-horse; it had been switched off for more than a year, sitting on the floor of my study. I applied power and installed PC-BSD, the most user-friendly of the BSDs. Installation was straightforward, but the machine failed to emerge from the BIOS splash-screen on reboot.

A search of the Internet produced clues pointing to the need to reset the BIOS by removing and reinserting the CMOS memory backup battery or failure of an electrolytic decoupling capacitor. I didn’t think resetting the BIOS would do any good, but tried it anyway. More obvious was the bulging capacitor and brown exudation of electrolyte from a ruptured case, red-circled in the picture.

Electrolytic capacitors are formed by the deposition of an oxide dielectric onto aluminum or tantalum foil electrodes separated by a gel electrolyte, coiled to increase the surface area while reducing the physical dimensions to a minimum. Electrical characteristics of these capacitors are maintained by operational use, but degrade when unused for long periods of time. Degradation is manifest by an increased leakage current that can become an effective short-circuit. Sudden application of power to a capacitor in this degraded state will generate heat and gas, the pressure of which can be enough to rupture the case or make the capacitor explode; depending on the physical size of the capacitor this rupture can be accompanied by a pop or loud bang.

One memorable moment occurred to me while repairing some equipment ages ago, a capacitor exploded like a party-popper, ejecting a streamer of foil. I suspect that the embossed X in the top of the case is to create a weakness to prevent explosions when the capacitor fails, so that all that happens is a bulging deformation with some minor escape of electrolyte.

I removed the disc drive from the computer to conserve the data and then recycled the hardware at a local Best Buy retailer, free of charge. The machine wasn’t worth the effort to repair as newer equipment with much higher performance is now available cheaper.

My test of BSD was curtailed by the hardware failure. As an operating system, PC-BSD shows promise, but is hampered by lack of video and wireless drivers for modern equipment. I did get it running on an Atom-powered netbook, but it was too sluggish with the limited hardware resources. I tried it on a modern laptop, but there were no drivers for the graphics or wireless network interface; I could not be bothered to exert myself to make it work—why bother when Linux Mint just works and in a fraction of the time that BSD needs to get going.


2015-10-13: LibraryBox

To most of us in the more affluent parts of the world, the Internet appears ubiquitous. Yet there exists a digital divide where lower-income families cannot afford connections to the Internet. For example, my mentee didn’t have Internet at home yet needed a connection to do his homework and interact with the educational institutions. My solution to his problem was to get him a used computer and refurbish it with an Open-Source operating system and get him connected by using his mobile telephone as a WiFi hotspot. Nearly everyone has a smart-phone; this is true even in third-world countries. Despite widespread equipment, extensive research consumes a user’s data.

A complimentary system is the LibraryBox, the brainchild of Jason Griffey who is the head of Library Information Technology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. A LibraryBox allows anyone with a WiFi enabled device to connect and download content. Because the LibraryBox isn’t connected to the Internet, the content must be selected and installed on the system. A raw dump of data won’t be useful. Effective use of LibraryBox requires curated content. Content must be customized for the intended audience. Deployment of the LibraryBox hardware is a trivial exercise: Far more challenging and time consuming is the selection and curating of information content.

Example Use-cases

  1. At the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve there is no Internet service. Docents are not always present to interpret the Preserve for visitors. Opening hours of the Visitor’s Center are from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.; outside those hours and on days when there are no docents, visitors have no information. LibraryBox WiFi fills this void with multi-media content specific to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, available to any visitor with a device capable of receiving a WiFi signal.
  2. Another potential use-case is for schools in parts of the world where there is less or no infrastructure. A LibraryBox can be a source of school material outside of formal school hours. It could also serve as a data repository for the school. Because LibraryBox can be powered by solar panels or by battery, it is highly portable for use anywhere.
  3. LibraryBoxes could be deployed in community centers for different purposes. Each LibraryBox has a chat server to allow users to communicate.
  4. LibraryBoxes can be equipped with birth control, sex education, and health material to help give women control over their own bodies and prevent unplanned pregnancy. Users of a LibraryBox remain anonymous; the chat server can facilitate anonymous discussion of difficult topics.


LibraryBoxes have potential to deliver information where it is needed without the need for fixed infrastructure. Information can be amended as necessary; the administrator only has to be within WiFi range of the device to perform upgrades. Of course, LibraryBox can also be used for nefarious purposes too.


2015-10-08: Enthroned

After eighty-six years of service, our toilet started leaking where the flush-pipe from the cistern joins the stool. When the plumber put a wrench on the large flange nut and attempted to loosen it, the cistern twisted with the pipe and the nut—the steel screws securing the cistern to the wall had been reduced to flakes of rust by the constant moisture inside the cistern, causing the tank to shift, thereby breaking the seal between pipe and stool.

We decided to replace the original equipment with a modern sanitary assembly, a toilet in a box. We were expecting this outcome and had done some preliminary shopping for a new toilet in the week preceding the plumbing event. The plumber went in search of a toilet and texted pictures of what he found that included the unit we wanted.

In just over three hours we were able to relax our bowels on a Devonshire throne with aquapiston by Kohler. Nowadays, the porcelain is high-tech and streamlined to completely eliminate unpleasant splash-back to the buttocks. Better, flushing is almost silent; before, a flush sounded like Niagara Falls in the rainy season. Our plumber did a good job and only charged $60 per hour. And better yet, our utility bill reveals that we have reduced our water consumption by one third, from 3,000 gallons to 2,000 gallons per month, corresponding to a bill that is lower by 31-percent; cost recovery period through bill savings is twenty-eight months. A reliable, economical flush definitely adds luster to the diurnal moment of enlightenment.


2015-10-01: Crystal Bridges

We had occasion for a day out to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It is a two-hour commute to Bentonville, AR. We enjoyed cool autumnal weather with sunshine and blue skies. We arrived there guided by the Google Nav Nanny to find the modern building nestled in a small valley on an artificial lake. The architectural theme of turtles sunning themselves is nicely achieved to give expansive views out from under turtle-shell roofing.

We were fortunate to catch an exhibition of Jamie Wyeth’s work and one by Andy Warhol. Of the two, Wyeth moved me much more than Warhol. Wyeth is highly accomplished and his work was presented in ideal conditions that made the radiance of his images glow from the canvas. I was amazed by his technical competence in portraying textures, surfaces, light, and shade.

Inferno by Jamie Wyeth, Museum of Fine Art, Boston

We noted when visiting the Impressionist gallery at the Louvre, hordes of visitors quickly snapping photographs of each picture they passed. It was no different at this exhibition, viewers were snapping away with their camera-phones. Flash photography was forbidden, understandably given the damage intense light can do to pigments.

All Wyeth’s work is evocative yet I was moved to snap my own picture of Inferno, watercolor on corrugated cardboard, of a small boy burning trash on the island of Monhegan while being buzzed by rapacious seagulls. Inferno is an image that wouldn’t be out of place as a detail in an allegorical work by Hieronymus Bosch or Pieter Bruegel, it gave me that feeling. In a moment of weirdness during a meeting when I was asked to imagine myself as a piece of artwork, I had no idea; now I know that, asked again, I would think of Inferno and hear the sound of the sea and crackle of the flames and shriek of the gulls and smell of the trash and smoke mixed with the smell of seaweed, and feel the heat of the fire on my almost naked body and the cool of the sea air and feel the roughness of the ground under my bare feet—I would be intent on producing a roaring fire to completely reduce the trash to ash. It is a job that I would relish at that age.

I stood away to the left of the picture, thus eliminating reflections of lighting in glass, and snapped my camera-phone. Later, to the image, I applied a levels correction to the color, an unsharp filter, a perspective correction, and a crop to remove the frame. And I found the accompanying video of Wyeth at work producing Inferno, in which I note he works in a way similar to J. M. W. Turner as portrayed in the recent film Mr. Turner.

Reading the captions explanatory to each example of Wyeth’s work produced a slight feeling of pretentious over-interpretation that seems to be induced by the curator’s need to say something profound. Personally, I like to feel what the work does to me, words be dammed!

It was a worthwhile day out punctuated by a good lunch.


2015-09-20: Imago Dei

Rev. Barbara Prose was prompted to talk today by a member of the congregation who suffered some significant losses in her family and who approached Barbara for advice because she felt she had lost her purpose in life and her identity and wasn’t helped by well-meaning friends who wanted her to be as she was before the life-changing events.

Often we develop our identity by the work we do or the rôle we play in life. We don’t think about it much until we pass through troubled times. My mother didn’t know what to do with herself for about a year after my father died—hardly surprising after more than fifty years of marriage; eventually she found a new direction, though I’m sure she continued to feel the loss of my father’s presence.

Title of Barbara’s talk is Imago Dei, meaning that we are made in the image of God; if so, she asked what is our calling or compelling life choice? What is it that gives meaning, worth, dignity, and joy to all our days? Barbara used the apocryphal story of the man who planted trees to show that it is possible to do major work utterly unnoticed, work that one does because one feels compelled to it.

I like the idea of the man who planted trees, who did so because he wanted to, because he was doing something he thought important. I like the man who planted trees because he didn’t want fame or fortune or approval—he just did. And in doing he left the world a better place than when he entered. That, I suppose, has become my compelling life choice, to leave the world better than it was when I arrived.

Trees planted by one person whose long-term vision transforms a barren landscape isn’t too different from what we as individuals can do to transform a barren social landscape. In our journey from birth to death we—all of us—are either sowing wheat or tares, planting acorns or dragon’s teeth. Our every interaction with others is an opportunity to plant acorns. During our lives we have many daily interactions; at each opportunity, what will we sow: wheat or tares, acorns or dragon’s teeth?

Big oaks from little acorns grow. We can plant wheat and acorns by being polite, generous, compassionate, caring, and humble. We plant wheat and acorns by nurturing others, by being truthful, honest, broad-minded, and fair-dealing. We can choose to do so thereby improving our quality of life and changing the world for the better; it is something we can practice doing every day at every opportunity. Just as the climate improves and the natural environment burgeons with a diversity of life by the presence of trees, so does our social climate improve with the small improvements that radiate away from each of us to nurture our social surroundings.


2015-09-18: Gratitude

When I was a teenager, I knew that I had to leave home, find my way in the world, and become more independent. Since then I have come to understand that my feeling of uncertainty and not knowing what to do is fairly common. Though uncertain what to do, I was certain that I had to be independent and rely on my own abilities to create a living for myself.

Now I know that I was given that somewhat rare gift of a happy childhood. I remember when I was sixteen or seventeen, at a day’s end to a summer job, queuing at a bus-stop waiting to catch the next bus home. It was late afternoon when the sun was moving toward the horizon behind some tall plain trees that cast shadow over where I stood on that warm afternoon. I looked up and saw the light dappled by the leaves of the tree. In my mind I was thinking about having a cup of tea when I arrived home. I felt a surge of peace and tranquility and the thought formed that if the world should suddenly end in the next instant then I could go with no regret. That wasn’t the first time that I had felt like that nor the last.

As a youth, I was allowed to pursue interests and explore. Looking back, I am surprised that I was allowed to do so much; many of things I did wouldn’t work in the restrictive, fearful times we live in now and would likely attract undesirable attention, the kind of recent attention given to the boy who built an electronic clock and made the mistake of taking it to school to show his teacher.

I received a lot of positive encouragement, good suggestions, and advice from many persons. Fortunately, even though I was the usual surly teenager with a tendency to look for the reasons why I couldn’t do something, I did listen to advice and I did try to learn from the mistakes of others. My optimism overpowered my pessimism. I made the best decisions possible given my circumstances at the time; I had family, friends, and acquaintances with whom I could talk. In short, I was extremely lucky. I never felt prey to the pressure of peers. I never needed to find myself; I’d wake up in the morning, sweep away the covers and, voilà!, there I was.

Though I didn’t know what to do, I did know what I wanted to do yet I couldn’t do it at the time because I was ill-equipped for the work. But knowing what I wanted to do, I can see now that I accomplished that objective by unconventional means.

We leave home seeking autonomy, yet we remain dependent. Our mechanized society confers great individual freedom by providing a vast division of labor to support our daily needs. We depend on trash collectors, sewage workers, engineers of all kinds, fire service personnel, ambulance workers, doctors, nurses, dentists, carters, carriers, teachers, waiters, cooks, bottle washers, the plumber, the baker, the candle-stick maker, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

We are, all of us, dependent on the health of the natural systems of this world that enable life as we know it, Jim. We need to look after each other and do our part to take care of Nature; to do otherwise is the equivalent of shitting in our hats and clapping them on our heads.

So, in three words: I am grateful. I am most grateful to my parents who, by the time I was born, were able to give me a stable home with space in which to grow. I am grateful to my wife who shares in the work of maintaining a home and who is a fine companion. I am grateful to everyone on whose shoulders I sit, just as I sat on the shoulders of my father when I was a small child. I enjoy the support of shoulders uncountable. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!


2015-09-01: The Problem of Religious Diversity

Tricycle posted The Problem of Religious Diversity to their blog, reprinted with permission from a book by Rita M. Gross entitled Religious Diversity, What’s the Problem: Buddhist Advice for Flourishing with Religious Diversity. Rita Gross is a Buddhist scholar-practitioner and retired professor of comparative studies in religion. It is pertinent to the life and times of All Souls Unitarian Church.

As a community in the early years of the new millennium, coincidentally marked by the arrival of Rev. Marlin Lavanhar in 2000, All Souls has repositioned and is transforming itself from a predominantly pale-faced Anglo Saxon congregation to a far more inclusive and welcoming multi-racial, multi-ethnic community representative of the entire spectrum of humanity. All Souls Unitarian Church is socially diverse; it is an exciting place to be associated and its social diversity does wonders for broadening one’s outlook on life. But, it is not just the social aspects that are important, it is the religious diversity of the membership.

Each one of us is different from every other person, even identical twins are different. We belong to the human species yet each person is unique. It is this uniqueness that creates differences.

Unitarians disagree with each other yet manage to coexist peacefully. We disagree with other religions yet respect their unique ways of living their spiritual lives. Even though I am indifferent to religion, I appreciate the sense of continuity and cohesion offered by the Catholic Church. For some people they need the comfort of knowing what to do and when, they like the structure provided by the Baptist faiths. As long as there is a human population, differences will arise among the people.

Rita Gross summarizes the problem best: We have created our problems, and only we can solve them. That becomes something of a bottom line for Buddhists. We need to train our minds to be less attached, less mistaken, less shortsighted, and, most of all, less self-centered. After all, discomfort with religious others is a form of self-centeredness.

How do we take that perspective into solving the problem of religious diversity? First, I would argue that religious diversity exists because it is psychologically and spiritually impossible for all human beings to follow one theological outlook or spiritual path. We are not built that way. That’s just not how we are. Religious diversity, which is inevitable, natural, and normal, flows from our different spiritual and psychological inclinations. Therefore, inevitably, we will encounter religious others. Second, I would argue that the acid test of a religion’s worth lies with what kind of tools it provides its adherents for coping gracefully and kindly with their worlds and the other beings who inhabit them. Discomfort with religious diversity and the wish to abolish it is a psychological and spiritual deficiency arising in an untrained human mind, a mind that does not know how to relax and be at ease with what is, with things as they are, as Buddhists like to say. Solving the problem of religious diversity has much more to do with human beings’ attitudes toward one another than with somehow adjudicating their rather different theological and metaphysical views. Thus, I am suggesting that we should start, not with religious creeds and questions about religions or metaphysical truth, but with questions about how people are—different from one another—and about how well religions function to help them live with how they are.

To me it looks like All Souls is performing well on the acid test of a religion’s worth. Belonging to All Souls helps us to cope gracefully and kindly with the world and its inhabitants, no matter who or what they are. Of course, there is always room for improvement. No slacking!


2015-08-30: Mr. Penumbra

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is an enjoyable read. In recommendation of this book, I need say no more….

M read this book before me; though technophobic, she enjoyed it too and was inspired in her reading by a recommendation from one of her colleagues at her bookstore. While reading Sloan’s work, it occurred to me that it is safe to say that nerds and geeks have been completely rehabilitated; M said not only rehabilitated but also nerdy geekishness is now the new cool, not that I have ever been bothered by cool, nerds, geeks, jocks, or otherwise.

Mr. Penumbra is a nice intersection of bibliophilia, mystery, hi- and lo-tech. At the same time I happened to be reading a paper copy of the eleventh edition of Linux Voice magazine and Ben Everard’s strongly positive review of Scott Murray’s book Interactive Data Visualization for the Web. Visualization of data has been of passing interest for me, so it’s mention by Mr. Penumbra prompted me to buy a digital copy of Murray’s book, which I had marked already for further consideration along with Graham Morrison’s positive review of Bulletproof SSL and TLS by Ivan Ristić.

In 2006, I laboriously prepared a world map that showed the number of persons from each country that visited The Nature Conservancy Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Osage County, Oklahoma. It’s long been in my mind to find an easier way of connecting to an underlying dataset, preferably automatically. Now I think have the means to do so, inspired by Mr. Penumbra, Linux Voice, and Scott Murray’s book.

This was a fruitful crossroads. If I’m successful with my visualization of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve visitor data then I see an expansion of the technique to cover patch-burn and other datasets. First, I have some reading to do.


2015-08-23: Differences Create…?

At The Point today, Reverend Barbara Prose delivered herself of a powerful talk on how differences separate us from each other. Though we may become entrenched in our differences, we can still open ourselves to the fundamental love that is there to bind us all. Differences can create opportunities by bursting our bubbles of conformity, freeing us to see broader points of view.

In his 1962 review of Le Misanthrope, Kenneth Tynan, the British theatre critic, said: How far should one accept the rules of the society in which one lives? To put it another way: at what point does conformity become corruption? Only by answering such questions does the conscience truly define itself.

Dull conformity separates us into birds of a feather who flock together. Conformity nurtures groupthink, often resulting in irrational or dysfunctional decision making and the active suppression of dissenting viewpoints that isolates the group from outside influences. At its worse, conformity can lead people to war and other corrupt acts, which is why it is important to consider opposite points of view in an effort to avoid subverting our moral sense of right and wrong.

All Souls Unitarian Church is a socially diverse community of independently minded persons from dissimilar backgrounds. I’ve mentioned before that biodiversity is the sign of a healthy ecosystem and, similarly, social diversity makes for a healthy community. To expand our horizons we need the stimulation, checks, and balances provided by our partners in community who disagree with us. The very last thing we need is to be told what we want to hear. Living with social diversity can be bruising to the ego yet good for the soul.


2015-08-22: Google-Borg Panopticon

Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated! Our telephone service was very cheap pay-as-you-go. M uses less than $100 annually, whereas I might do one or two $100 refills each year. All was well until the AT&T service started to degrade to the point that it was almost unusable for voice calls; SMS texts still worked, though they would take several retries for a successful send. M mentioned the possibility of using a smart-phone, so I got her a Samsung Galaxy S4 with Straight Talk service.

I had intended to get two phones, one each for both of us. Wisely, I got hers first and discovered that Straight Talk forbid use of the telephone as a way to connect a computer to the network. I don’t see that it matters how the 5-Gbyte allowance of data is consumed. Her LTE service works well and she now has good voice connections; unfortunately, it is significantly more expensive at $45 per thirty-day period.

For myself, I looked for an unlocked telephone and settled on a Motorola Nexus 6 to which I transferred my existing AT&T Go Phone service with a $40 per month data plan providing a miserly 1.5 Gbytes. Still, AT&T aren’t bothered by computer tethering which the Nexus 6 makes easy to accomplish either through a wireless access point or USB cable.

More troubling is the insecurity of these devices in service to convenience. All I need now to complete my assimilation into the Google-Borg Panopticon is one of those Borg attachments sticking out of my ear. Every application on these devices has tentacles reaching into various aspects of your life: your contacts list, your email, your photographs, your usage, your WiFi connectivity, your calendar—it’s appalling. How is it that Google can populate my calendar with a recurring appointment that I have every Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.? Not only that: how can Google insert a copy of the business email in which though I am an addressee it is my business email and not my personal email address? It’s outrageous, extremely troubling, and a violation of the security principle of need-to-know.

Admiral John Poindexter may have lost his 2003 battle for Total Information Awareness with Congress yet he won the war by metastasizing the program to commercial companies beyond the reach of our elected representatives.

Given the total insecurity of smart-phones, they should not be used for or be anywhere near anything in need of privacy or secure operations. They are truly Trojan horses for Total Information Awareness.


2015-08-18: Pensive Pensées Pensieve

Time for a change of title; I grew tired of Talking to Myself. We are now operating under the banner Pensive Pensées Pensieve, which is the literary equivalent of putting pink plastic flamingoes on the lawn in front of the house.

Pensive has the usual connotations, the appearance of deep thought, though not necessarily melancholic. Pensées is from the French for thoughts. Pensieve is the fictional magical device found in J.K. Rowling’s stories about the life and times of Harry Potter; it is used to examine and arrange thoughts that would otherwise be confused when left swirling inside the head.

Traditionally, as an essayist I would use pen and paper. In this modern age, when nearly everyone has a network device in their pockets and purses, hardly anyone can be bothered with paper. So this blog is the Pensieve, and place where I give the appearance of arranging my thoughts.


2015-08-16: Beginning With You

Today, Rev. Marlin Lavanhar talked about the need to present our authentic, real selves instead of some version that we think necessary to the situation. He said that the benefit of being authentic is that others are more likely to respond positively and engage with us. Marlin spoke from his own experience when he was the new Senior Minister to the All Souls congregation fifteen years ago. These days, in his talks, Marlin does come across as the genuine article.

Authenticity is in short supply today. Most public figures are inauthentic. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is a prime example of someone who will tell you what she thinks you want to hear; to my mind she appears false as do nearly all of her opponents. On the other hand, Democratic challenger Senator Bernie Sanders has a truer ring even though some consider him to be a faux socialist.

Never having been a real churchgoer, I don’t really know how to behave in a church environment. Often I wish I would just shut-up and keep quiet, but I’m predisposed to interject or heckle, especially when I’m listening to a talk during Sunday Assembly. Today I felt a strong urge to ask Marlin if he thought Donald Trump is a good example of a real person. A big advantage of meditation is that it helps the practitioner to observe the internal processes, so I succeeded in not heckling Marlin even though I knew my question would elicit a cheap laugh from the audience.

Humanist Sunday Assemblies have a relaxed informality devoid of the hocus-pocus and other religious trappings; The Point has a comfortable sense of community. For someone who isn’t churchy, church environments are usually uncomfortable places to be. When I joined the congregation in 2008, I felt like I should make effort to attend some events to help me become a part of the community. I have a military background and a penchant for the colorful turn of phrase….

So, there I was, sitting in a circle with the Senior Minister and several other church ladies and gentlemen being authentic, expressing our feelings. I don’t remember what it was we were talking about, but I do remember feeling quite relaxed and responding to some aspect of the church that made me feel uncomfortable: …well, it makes me feel like a spare prick at a prostitute’s wedding…. To his credit Marlin, like the true Thespian he is, kept going and didn’t break step though some other faces looked a bit stunned.

Once my utterance had made good its escape I realized my faux pas. Internally, I felt pretty shriveled. I might even have expressed surprise at saying such a thing. I do remember a gentleman who, on departure, asked me to repeat what I said; I did, laughed, and said that I must have been feeling fairly relaxed.

For a couple of weeks I felt weird. Again meditation came to the rescue. I remained present with these feelings until they faded and now I can tell you this anecdote without blushing and ask: Was my authenticity going too far? Whatever! It’s a story I couldn’t tell if I had been more circumspect in my comments.

After the main meeting of The Point, Marlin asked us to stay and discuss with him what it is that we like about the assembly. The thoughts and opinions offered by those present converged on the main objective of All Souls, which is to foster a real community of people who though they may differ in their approaches to life, God, not-God, and spirituality, we all agree to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another. Marlin pointed out that we have a better chance of achieving this objective than by trying to convert absolutely everyone to a single faith.

One of my reasons for restarting this blog is to have somewhere where I can exercise my thoughts about the inspiring talks I hear at All Souls Sunday assembly, The Point.


2015-08-10: When Your Good Name is Filched

Today, The Guardian newspaper reported that the US Government Justice Department and FBI officials admit stopping US and other citizens from traveling based on the Government’s pre-crime predictive assessments instead of on hard evidence. In a society where citizens are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, this is outrageous Government malfeasance. A Government can only be democratic when it serves and is directly accountable to the electorate.

An innocent person who discovers that they’ve been added to a no-fly list or who has otherwise been branded as a pre-felon should sue the Government for defamation of character. Since the Government won’t say which department is responsible for the defamatory action and since out-of-control Government bureacracies use Dickensian circumlocution to avoid responsibility, it would be quite reasonable to sue the President or Prime Minister since that person is ultimately responsible for all actions of Government. For defamation there is case law stretching back centuries to the time of Shakespeare, just ask Iago:

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name,
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

Iago, act iii scene iii from Othello, The Moor of Venice, circa 1603 by William Shakespeare.

When you cannot get just recompense from a faceless bureacracy that tries to shirk its responsibility behind secrecy or by stonewalling or by buck-passing then apply to the single most visible entity, the President or Prime Minister; the buck stops with the ultimate authority and a lawsuit is what is needed to force a fair accounting.


2015-08-02: The Hottest Topic

Today, Reverend David Ruffin delivered an excellent talk on our global existential crisis, human-induced climate change, preceded by a showing of the U.N. Climate Summit film, What’s Possible, which you can see again here. He recently returned from the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly that was held in Portland, Oregon, where he spent a few days camping in Olympic National Park, within sight and sound of the Pacific Ocean, awed and amazed by the extraordinary and fascinating beauty of our natural world.

Ruffin’s talk closed the All Souls hot topics summer series addressing the, literally, hottest topic facing humanity today… Climate Change. The earth has a fever and it’s rising fast, along with sea levels and the danger we face from extreme weather. From massive flooding, to hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, heatwaves, droughts and earthquakes, our climate’s feedback about our behavior isn’t exactly… subtle. Yet, whether consciously or not, the vast majority of us are still living in denial about Climate Change. Why are we being SO slow to respond to the most massive security risk we’ve ever faced as a global population? Are we really that dense? Or have we just gone crazy?

Reverend Ruffin rightly noted that our trouble is caused principally by our disconnection from nature. In effect we have turned our back on Nature and spend most of our time, about 90-percent of it, indoors. We live in an engineered environment. We have forgotten that we depend on Nature. We live on space-ship Earth, the only home we will ever have and we are trashing it. We have forgotten that our role is to be good stewards of the Earth; the recent encyclical On Care of Our Common Home by Pope Francis is worth reading in this context.

Why are we so slow to respond to the crisis? Are we dense, are we crazy, or what? We are neither dense nor crazy; the problem is too big for us to comprehend clearly though science can help us understand our failure to act.

33 Reasons Why We Fail to Act

Professor Robert Gifford is an evironmental psychologist at the University of Victoria in Canada. He says that there are thirty-three reasons why we fail to act which he details in the cover story of the 11 July 2015 edition of New Scientist magazine.

Gifford says that the barriers to action on climate change are not structural, but psychological. These barriers are what he calls …the Dragons of Inaction. In mythology, dragons take on a wide array of forms, and Asian dragons can even be benevolent. However, as a Westerner, I use dragons as a metaphor for these obstacles because Western dragons always seem to be blocking humans from some goal or aspiration. Perhaps another less obvious reason for this choice lies in the word itself: these barriers are a drag on progress. Once one begins looking, a large number of dragons can be found. Gifford has identified 33 dragons, classified into seven fearsome families…. Having identified the thirty-three dragons of inaction, Gifford offers a prescription for slaying them:

What can be done in the face of this fearsome array? First, structural barriers should be removed such as legislation and urban renewal, but this isn’t likely to be sufficient.

You can take some steps though. Identify your own main dragons, which should help begin the process of slaying them. You can also look for opportunities to join and promote social networks that spread the adoption of climate-positive behaviour. [climate positive behavior through social networks was something recommended by Reverend Ruffin today.]

Other steps need to be taken by researchers from both the social and technical domains, often working together. We need to better understand how people can overcome their barriers. We need to create better measures of the carbon cost associated with various behaviours, so that people know where to put their efforts. We need to better reward those whom I affectionately call the mules: people who are carrying the load for the rest of us by already doing everything within their power. We also need to smile upon the others—I call them honeybees—who engage in climate-positive behavour for non-climate reasons, such as the cyclist who rides to work for health or the person who chooses not to have children. Finally, we need to improve understanding of those who oppose policies and technologies for limiting climate change.

The dragons of inaction can be overcome, although it will take time and will never be complete. This must be done expeditiously: we may not have four or five decades to ease our profligate spewing of greenhouse gases and return to a balanced climate.

Addressing climate-change is a huge task that can easily overwhelm, but like any large project this dragon can be defeated by breaking the task into smaller parts that allow us to mitigate the risks. It can and will be done. Every day more and more people are aware of the global problem, but at the same time acclimated to the message.

Are We Becoming Tired of Talking About Climate Change

Reverend Ruffin is aware of this tiredness. During his talk he asked the rhetorical question: Are you ready to change the channel on me?. The BBC World Service produced The Inquiry, a radio program in which experts spend twenty-three minutes analyzing a pressing question from the news or, in this case, lack of news. You can listen to it at the BBC web-site or here by using the audio widget above. Since the broadcast in which he identified thirty-one dragons, Gifford has added two more to the list.

Oblique Approach to Discussing Climate

Joe Smith, the last expert presented by the BBC Inquiry, teaches geography at the Open University in the U.K.; he thinks that we are taking the wrong approach to talking about Climate Change. Smith says that it is better, for example, when speaking to business persons to talk about the business opportunities of renewable energy; when talking to parents at school, about the health benefits of their children using bicycles as transportation.

Interestingly, Texas now leads the nation in renewable wind power. In Wyoming, conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz is trying to turn his 500-square-mile cattle ranch into the world’s largest wind farm; unfortunately, he is being obstructed by bureacratic and regulatory dragons; if you want to know more then see the cover story in July-August 2015 edition of Pacific Standard magazine.


I think that Joe Smith makes a good point. We would do better to foster care for the climate and the Earth by encouraging behaviors that directly benefit climate indirectly. By working together, communicating with each other more skillfully, we can reframe the narrative. Continual scare mongering becomes increasingly ineffective. Excellent public transportation is of direct benefit to everyone and a business opportunity, indirectly it reduces the number of automobiles on the roads and lowers the pollution entering the atmosphere. Local hydroponic growers provide fresh produce and thus directly reduce transportation costs—see Scissortail Farms on West 51st Street; directly reducing the transportation needed helps to reduce pollution, customers receive fresher produce, and, indirectly, we improve our environment. We are far better employed taking helpful actions that ultimately improve our quality of life than standing immobilized, wringing our hands in despair or ignoring the problem altogether and continuing with business as usual.


2015-07-30: Creative Team

On the strength of a couple of relevant blog posts, I was invited to participate in the new Creative Team and so attended the inaugural meeting today at All Souls. Being a minor connoisseur of meetings, I thought this one was well-run by the Reverend Prose who drew a nice concept chart on the white-board and listed the simple agenda on a large easel-mounted pad of sketch paper. Discounting the obligatory weirdness of being requested to imagine myself as a piece of artwork, the agenda was about the All Souls communications tactics and strategy.

I attended the meeting not knowing what possible help I could be. As the meeting progressed, I sensed that we’re going to become like all the other media outlets on the Internet, causing me contemplate my own use of the world wide web.

Almost all web-sites are hideously fragmented, overactive and annoying. I have installed several kinds of software technology on my computers to shield me from adverts, pop-ups, Javascript, ticker-tapes, tracking. Some web-sites I visit regularly, are those under the Wikimedia umbrella of which Wikipedia is a member. Wikipedia and the other wikis are well-designed. Usually, when I want to find new information, I use the ixquick or duckduckgo search engines to locate the information directly, to save wasting time trying to parse the visual noise. Even the new All Souls web-site, though much improved, is one that I only visit to find out what upcoming topic will be discussed at the next Sunday assembly.

My opinion is that RSS or periodic email topic summaries provide a better user experience. While the Guardian newspaper web-site is a visual horror, their RSS feeds provide a simple summary of each article in my feed reader, giving me the opportunity to follow a link to the full story. Truthout does something similar via email; each topic has a headline and a short summary with a link to more information. Most of the time it is only necessary to glance over the headlines and read the summaries of interest to gain a sense of what’s happening in the world.

When I do follow a link to the full story, FireFox web-browser is now equipped with a reader view that can be opened with one click on the address-bar icon to completely declutter the page into a single column of text that can be resized for comfortable reading from top to bottom. I now use this feature a lot.

There is too much information and not enough time. Succinct, compelling presentation on a plain background are to me key criteria. Brief presentation should be uppermost with the supporting data at successively lower levels, detail increasing the lower the reader chooses to go.

Even though I have background in technology, I favor simplicity, economy of expression, minimalist design, and I tend to a jaundiced view of wondrous new technology. My Luddite inclinations are obvious when you see the layout of this web-site and the changes I wrought as editor of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve Docent Newsletter.

I would like to see All Souls get ahead of all the boring, migrain inducing, run-of-the-mill web-sites by deploying a startlingly radical and innovative design that is cleanly simple, inspiring and easy to use. Perhaps it would be possible to use a mapped infographic as the front page from which all else depends; I don’t know, it’s a suggestion. Whatever we do, our vision should be to lead the way instead of following.


2015-07-28: Linux Voice Magazine

Last year, I contributed to an Indigogo campaign to raise venture capital that enabled launch of Linux Voice magazine by Graham Morrison, Andrew Gregory, Ben Everard, and Mike Saunders, erstwhile editor and writers for Linux Format magazine. Their plan was to produce a publication that is beholden to the readers only and to: (1) give 50% of our profits to a selection of organizations that support free software, decided by a vote among our readers; and (2) No later than nine months after first publication, we will relicense all of our content under the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license, so that old content can still be useful, and can live on even after the magazine has come off the shelves.

Even in the Digital Age there is room for high quality paper magazines. GNU-Linux is a wonderful open-source computer operating system and set of tools. For more than ten years I have used Linux on all my computers. Stability and security of operation is unsurpassed and cannot be matched by Microsoft Windows products. The price is right too—Free.

Main problem with GNU-Linux is that it is a vast subject with a steep learning-curve. A magazine is essential for maintaining one’s learning and for finding out about things that one wouldn’t normally encounter. I have given the paper copies of Linux Voice to my mentee, so that he can learn about the Debian-based Linux installation running on his netbook computer. I actively spread the word about the benefits of Linux and have managed to convinced some persons to abandon Microsoft Windows. Now I can direct these people to a reliable source of Linux information.

Having re-activated this web-site, I think I have a convenient place to store the relicensed issues of Linux Voice where they can be given broader redundant distribution, freely down-loadable by anyone interested in knowing more about the world of Linux. The open source issues of Linux Voice magazine can be found in the library.


2015-07-12: What Tulsans Want

Today at the All Souls Sunday assembly for humanists, The Point, guest speaker Mayor Dewey Bartlett said: No matter where I go or who I talk to about the City of Tulsa, when I ask them what are the issues most important to them, after the condition of Tulsa streets of course, they say public safety and education. It is not economic development, water in the river, or big ideas that result in big and expensive capital projects. They want to be safe and they want their children to be safe at school and well educated.

On public safety, Mayor Bartlett is concerned about attrition of police and fire service personnel. He said that the city covers more than two hundred square miles and has expanded eastward. Overtime among the police and fire service personnel is high and there is a need for more, as well as replacement, staff who take six to nine months to train. Bartlett said that the City of Broken Arrow has been filling gaps in police and fire service coverage at the eastern edge of the city, but this cannot continue indefinitely.

On education, Bartlett said that Tulsa has something like a 65-percent high school graduation rate. During his first term in office, Spirit Aviation told him that they couldn’t find qualified employees in Tulsa to work in one high-tech part of their company and that they were going to move that part of their operation elsewhere where there is a better supply of qualified workers, since then Mayor Bartlett has been working to prevent similar losses of jobs.

Tulsa has very good vocational-technical schools. Mayor Bartlett has worked to create a high-school at Jones-Riverside Airport that incorporates the normal high-school curriculum with vocational work that replicates similar successful efforts elsewhere in the country. Initially it will have about forty pupils who will be able see the relevance of what they learn in school and how it applies to the job market beyond school.

Not everyone is university material or even wants to go to university. A colleague of mine is an articulate, intelligent man who prefers to work with his hands and is a skilled machinist. He became a machinist because he was seen as trainable by the man running the machine shop at the place where I work. Basically, my colleague was hired as an apprentice and mentored by the manager of the machine shop to become the excellent artisan he is today.

Children should be schooled to be employable, which means that they must be literate and numerate. Early guidance and exposure to a wide range of employment is important. Many children don’t know what they want to do. I made a point of discussing different professions with my mentee very early in our acquaintance, arranged for us to visit different businesses, and tried several business related activities; net effect of this is that my mentee gained a clear idea of what he wanted to do when the time arrived for him to decide in which university courses he wanted to enroll. At enrollment, I noticed that OSU has a kind of general studies course for those who have no idea of where they are going; fortunately, my mentee knew exactly what he wanted to do and is doing it on a full scholarship.

For the less academically inclined there used to be wood and metal work classes and other vocational activities, but these have declined due to the expense and fear of legal liability. In days gone by there used to be apprenticeships for school leavers. There are lots of things that graduating students can do if they receive proper guidance and are stimulated by enthusiasm for a particular line of work.

Being employable is important, but there are other aspects to a well-rounded education. In fact education doesn’t and shouldn’t stop with school. Persons who are active in a number of hobbies or interests will pursue them during their leisure hours. Some hobbies turn into satisfying work. The practical business of getting a decent living from enjoyable work supports leisure that can be enhanced by a cornucopia of arts, crafts, literature, sports or social activity.

We are fortunate to live in a spacious and open garden city that is in process of being revitalized. Generally speaking, Tulsa is a pleasant place to live; though not without its troubles, it is a cosmopolitan community with a broad range of arts, entertainments, and activities within easy reach. Living in Tulsa, I have experienced more arts and entertainments than I would have done elsewhere; there is something here for everyone.

Mayor Bartlett was elected to be the jobs gettingest mayor. Pope Francis in his recent encyclical makes many sensible observations and recommendations. Here’s what Francis has to say about The Need to Protect Employment, beginning on encyclical page 36, paragraphs 124–129.

124. Any approach to an integral ecology, which by definition does not exclude human beings, needs to take account of the value of labour, as Saint John Paul II wisely noted in his Encyclical Laborem Exercens. According to the biblical account of creation, God placed man and woman in the garden he had created not only to preserve it (keep) but also to make it fruitful (till). Labourers and craftsmen thus maintain the fabric of the world. Developing the created world in a prudent way is the best way of caring for it, as this means that we ourselves become the instrument used by God to bring out the potential which he himself inscribed in things: The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and a sensible man will not despise them.

125. If we reflect on the proper relationship between human beings and the world around us, we see the need for a correct understanding of work; if we talk about the relationship between human beings and things, the question arises as to the meaning and purpose of all human activity. This has to do not only with manual or agricultural labour but with any activity involving a modification of existing reality, from producing a social report to the design of a technological development. Underlying every form of work is a concept of the relationship which we can and must have with what is other than ourselves. Together with the awe-filled contemplation of creation which we find in Saint Francis of Assisi, the Christian spiritual tradition has also developed a rich and balanced understanding of the meaning of work, as, for example, in the life of Blessed Charles de Foucauld and his followers.

126. We can also look to the great tradition of monasticism. Originally, it was a kind of flight from the world, an escape from the decadence of the cities. The monks sought the desert, convinced that it was the best place for encountering the presence of God. Later, Saint Benedict of Norcia proposed that his monks live in community, combining prayer and spiritual reading with manual labour (ora et labora). Seeing manual labour as spiritually meaningful proved revolutionary. Personal growth and sanctification came to be sought in the interplay of recollection and work. This way of experiencing work makes us more protective and respectful of the environment; it imbues our relationship to the world with a healthy sobriety.

127. We are convinced that man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life. Nonetheless, once our human capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, it becomes easy for the meaning of work to be misunderstood. We need to remember that men and women have the capacity to improve their lot, to further their moral growth and to develop their spiritual endowments. Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God. It follows that, in the reality of today’s global society, it is essential that we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone, no matter the limited interests of business and dubious economic reasoning.

128. We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment. Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work. Yet the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines. This is yet another way in which we can end up working against ourselves. The loss of jobs also has a negative impact on the economy through the progressive erosion of social capital: the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of civil coexistence. In other words, human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs. To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society.

129. In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity. For example, there is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing. Economies of scale, especially in the agricultural sector, end up forcing smallholders to sell their land or to abandon their traditional crops. Their attempts to move to other, more diversified, means of production prove fruitless because of the difficulty of linkage with regional and global markets, or because the infrastructure for sales and transport is geared to larger businesses. Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.

To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society. It is bad for Tulsa because the city relies, mainly, on revenue from sales tax to fund its operations. High levels of steady, well-paying employment is to the benefit of everyone—tax revenue supports our city and its quality of life. Pope Francis’ encyclical is worth reading in its entirety. It is a wise, thought provoking document.


2015-07-05: American Dream

Attorney Marvin G. Lizama, Esq., specializes in immigration law and was the speaker today at the All Souls Sunday assembly for humanists, The Point. His thesis was that the American Dream is what we make it and that it is hobbled by misguided legislation that has corrosive effect on the country as a whole, symptoms of which are the appalling remarks uttered recently by Donald John Trump, Sr., candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America.

Attorney Lizama’s talk would have benefited from concision and sharper focus. He is a naturalized citizen of the U.S. who was born in Honduras. At the age of twelve, he was suddenly transplanted from the natural jungle of his Honduran home to the concrete jungle of Bronx, New York. Like many immigrants, he arrived unable to speak English. His boyhood ambition was to become a professional soccer player. At school in the Bronx, he received active discouragement from the authorities. Yet, despite this, his natural intelligence enabled him to prevail over the odds stacked against him. Instead of a rap-sheet he has accumulated a list of academic qualifications and accolades a yard long.

Immigration has been contentious since the time of the Pilgrim’s landing at Plymouth Rock onwards through successive waves of immigration of different nationalities, all of which were met by discrimination, violence, and punitive legislation. What is needed is a change in attitude. Instead of continuing to pursue policies that have a long history of failure, an enlightened policy would be to welcome migrant workers by giving them each a social security number so that they can work legally, pay tax, and be eligible to receive the accompanying benefits. Lizama displayed some figures tabulating the eye-watering amounts of money generated by immigrant workers whose tax revenue would go a long way towards reducing or eliminating the national budgetary shortages. Immigrants spend money, helping to boost the local economy in which they live.

Just as an ecosystem is healthy and strong when biodiverse, so is a nation healthy and strong when it is socially diverse. Immigrants are not sent or dumped by foreign governments, they are voting with their feet and come of their own accord because they see opportunity for a better life than they can have at home. They come to work hard and to participate in the American Dream, the national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. Immigrants bring new ideas and new ways of thinking that ultimately benefit the country as a whole. At present, we are afflicted by a political madness that keeps doing the same things while expecting a different result. Yes, there are stresses and strains and some people who come here are genuinely undesirable, but eventually the bad persons are weeded out. Overall the good far outweigh the bad.

Except for the Native Americans who have lived on the continent since Neolithic times, every person in the country is an immigrant.


2015-07-03: Meditation, Does it Work?

Meditation, does it work? Specifically, does it work for the average person who isn’t an adept for whom meditation is just one facet of the larger Buddhist way of life? Meditation and mindfulness are integral parts of the eight-fold path towards a virtuous life advocated by the Buddha to promote peace and relief from suffering. Taken in isolation without skillful guidance, meditation can lead to confusion and mental turmoil. Short answer is that I don’t know. But….

First some background. Like many persons, I started meditating to calm an anxious, turbulent mind. In 2007, in response to several stressful events that coincided with each other, I developed hypertension the primary symptom of which was elevated blood pressure that I noticed as a more florid complexion than usual. During development of this, anxiety would come in periodic flashes then eventually full-time. To regain my normal composure, I attacked my trouble on several fronts.

A visit to the doctor for a health check revealed hypertension. Instead of taking the prescribed medication, I chose to try overcoming my ennui, anxiety, and associated mental state by treating the root cause instead of the symptoms with exercise, meditation, and more involvement in community that would turn my focus outward away from myself. Basically, I took an engineering approach to solving my problem. Lack of exercise caused high blood pressure followed by mental distress.

Monitoring my morning blood pressure showed that exercise caused the biggest improvement; the change was most significant when I moved from walking my neighborhood to riding my bike for ten miles every day. My experience shows that aerobic exercise seems to be the best prophylactic for general health.

Community I found by joining All Souls Unitarian Church. Doing so refocused my attention outward and helped to reestablish a positive outlook on the world. Meditation was one activity provided by the church. Oddly, meditation is an inward looking awareness turned outwards. By looking inward, we can turn outward to embrace everything and everyone with open-hearted compassion.

After attending meditation every week for several years, the leader of the group departed to pursue other interests. A new leader was found by the person running the adult education program for the church, but it only lasted for one season. Eventually, I was asked to lead the meditation each week, yet I see myself not as a leader instead a mere facilitator.

Though I’ve been meditating for several years, I still don’t know if it makes any difference. On the other hand, just making a decision to do something changes the future. Just sitting with the intention of positive change is effective. In short, we are our own placebo. My multi-faceted approach to a cure for my personal troubles became self-fulfilling. My positive attitude worked and in a way so does meditation even though I can’t produce proof other than the restoration of my normal equanimity.

Meditation is just one personal management strategy in combination with others. Sitting in meditation allows the mind and body to settle, enabling the meditator to observe and be in touch with mind, body, and the surroundings. Taken to extremes by inexperienced unguided persons, meditation can be unsettling enough to stir up unstable mental states yet in moderation it is helpful, a useful tool in one’s personal toolbox.

Attaining to a state of contented equilibrium is accomplished by adjusting one’s lifestyle, by setting oneself up for success. To this end, see these Dharma Notes for some aspects of equanimity, ideas that you can try yourself, but remember that you are your own authority and should do what works for you, stop doing what doesn’t.


2015-06-23: Vocation-Calling

Once upon a time vocation and calling were equivalent. Now a vocation is usually understood as a strong affinity with a particular career or occupation whereas a calling is more usually seen as a divinely inspired urge to serve. As a humanist I have experienced both. I follow my vocation in the work I do for a living for which I experienced a strong feeling of desire and suitability as a child. My calling wasn’t divinely inspired, but it became more urgent in 1999.

As the years pass I have felt an increasing instability in our civil society, which seems to be founded on and maintained by violence. After the Columbine High School shootings on 20 April 1999, my inaction seemed less and less acceptable to me. Our children are the future; how we raise them has a direct effect on the future as they are the ones who will inherit it; and in any trouble, the children are the first to bear the brunt. At the time, I had a subscription to the paper edition of the Christian Science Monitor in which there appeared a feature-length article on the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of America.

I wasn’t sure that I could handle the core program of the Big Brothers, but the article also talked about their school-based program which sounded much more doable to me. Having never done public service before, I felt quite uncomfortable about actually putting myself forward as a mentor to a young boy. Knowing that my mentoring activities would take place on school premises during school hours and that I would be vetted and supported by the Big Brothers organization, I volunteered and prepared myself to follow through. Once started, quitting wasn’t an option; I imagined how my mentee would feel if suddenly I quit early in the program. My participation meant being utterly reliable, calm, and collected, even if I didn’t feel so.

Since then, I have had three mentees. My last and I have been together since he was nine going on ten at elementary school. We have graduated from the Big Brothers & Big Sisters program. Soon he will start his second year as an undergraduate in computer engineering at university. He is an intelligent person. He goes into the future with the best start possible in life. He influences those with whom he interacts. To make a positive difference to our society one child at a time, that was the beginning of my calling that broadened in December 2007 during an ice storm that plunged our part of the city into darkness for nine days.

Periodically it has occurred to me that we are more divided now than we were in the past. Yet we depend on each other. We cannot live as we do without depending on innumerable others who help to provide the goods and services we need. It became obvious to me that community is of the utmost importance yet community depends on participation of individuals. In 2008, I decided that I should formally join a community by becoming a member of All Souls Unitarian Church.

All Souls is a force multiplier. What I can do as an individual does make a difference, but by being a member of a larger community my effectiveness is amplified—there is synergy in community. I still think that the way we raise our children is of the utmost importance and to do that we need to support them. I make monthly donations to the Community Resource Bank because they can make more effective use of each dollar through the economics of their bulk buying program. By helping to feed families struggling to make ends meet, the CRB directly supports the children of those families, helping them to get good nutrition that will in turn help them to excel at school—a hungry child cannot think properly or be attentive in class.

Since joining All Souls, I have become a Reading Buddy at an elementary school where I visit for an hour each week during the school year to help a child learn to read. We have the best opportunity to help the elementary school children toward more positive development; those early years are crucial to their future success. Unfortunately, there are many more children in need of an attentive adult helper than there are adults available.

So despite being a humanist, I follow both a vocation and a calling. The calling is in response to the iniquities and horrors of our society. We will make a difference, but we need all hands on deck to do the good work whatever that work happens to be. With all the shooting and other violent nonsense, we must help our children to get the best start in life possible. It will take a generation or two, but if we all work together as a community then we will create more light than darkness in the lives of everyone. As a community, we get the leaders we deserve, products of their childhood. I could not sit watching as our civilization crumbles. I needed to take action. I am committed and will press on regardless.


2015-06-20: Yes and No

Pacific Standard Magazine, in the May-June 2015 edition, published their list of thirty top young thinkers under the age of 30. On occasion I wonder where the leading intellectuals are these days and so I am gratified to discover that intelligence is alive and doing well. Although this list is limited to thirty persons, I feel sure that there are many more around the world. Erin Hartman is one thinker who attracted my attention.

At 29 years old, Ms. Hartman is an accomplished political scientist who developed new survey methodologies that are extraordinarily accurate at measuring public opinion. She is reported to have said: Trying to quantify anything when your data have free will is a fun challenge. A fun challenge and a problem that she appears to have conquered.

Even so, this isn’t the focus of my attention, my focus is her mother. psmag quotes Ms. Hartman: I grew up in a place where the sky was the limit and being creative and resourceful was definitely encouraged. Her mother always told her: Try to say yes, and reserve no for when you truly cannot.

Yes! It is too easy to say no and to drop back into one’s rut. In recent years I have been trying to say yes a little more often. Saying yes to the idea of joining All Souls definitely moved me into a more uncomfortable realm. Even though I would rather have said no, I said yes to facilitating the Wednesday evening meditation sangha. The quotation from Erin Hartman’s mom reminds me of a talk given by Reverend Victor Parachin who used the story of how John Lennon met Yoko Ono.

Apparently, John Lennon went to an interactive art exhibit at a place somewhere like London. Yoko Ono was one of the exhibitors. Her exhibit consisted in a rickety ladder that the visitor had to climb in order to view something very small on the far wall. At the top of the ladder was a telescope pointed at that far wall. When John Lennon looked through the telescope he had to hang on to the ladder with one hand and focus the telescope with the other. As he adjusted the telescope a single word came into view: Yes. In that moment, John Lennon’s mind was blown.

By saying yes, we risk having our minds blown and our comfortable routines upset by uncomfortable interactions with new people and new situations. By saying yes, we become less static and more dynamic, moving along winding paths of stony ground that lead to new vistas and new ways of being. In process we learn and hopefully become better persons. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


2015-06-19: Blogging for All Souls

Having felt moved to write about Reverend Barbara Prose’ talk entitled No Risk, No Reward, I thought it would be a courtesy to send her a link to the article so that she wouldn’t be surprised by comments from elsewhere. Strange how these things work! A plan is afoot at All Souls Unitarian Church to start blogging about church doings. Suddenly, I find that I am the first regular blogger for All Souls. Well, we’ll see where this new adventure takes us. More later.


2015-06-14: Web Hosting Service

Retreat from self-hosting on my own box became necessary when I discovered that it is unreachable from outside the domain of my ISP. After examining the behavior under various conditions, I deduced that the domain forwarding to the service that tracks the dynamic IP address allocation is the cause of the problem. There may be some flags I can set or some bit twiddling that will resolve the issue; instead I decided to rent a host from the company lodging my domain name.

If, as sometimes happens unexpectedly, I discover the root cause of the problem then I can always return to self-hosting and let lapse my lease. Meanwhile, Talking to Myself has a new home that is open to all comers in the year ahead.


2015-06-07: No Risk, No Reward

Today Reverend Barbara Prose gave a talk entitled No Risk, No Reward that I happened to hear, though not as it was delivered from the pulpit as shown in the video embedded at right. It is a talk built around those thought experiments that tend to make me think that I must be a sociopath because I have no genuine answer to the question that is posed once the auditor has been securely backed into a mental corner by the speaker, whence there is no escape.

Here’s how the thought experiment works. You are forced to make a decision between killing one person or killing multiple persons. A significant number so questioned choose to kill one person in order to save many.

Fine! Then the one person is changed to someone you love like a member of your family and you must decide to kill one or kill many. It changes the statistics, unsurprisingly. Unless you are a cold hearted sociopath, many choose to perpetuate their genes over the genes of strangers, even though they know that four lives saved is better than one.

Being Unitarian, the Reverend Prose then goes for the jugular and posits the situation wherein a transplant surgeon has four patients each waiting for a different organ: a heart, a kidney, a liver, a penis. A new patient arrives who is a compatible match with all four of the transplant surgeon’s patients thereby raising the question: Should the transplant surgeon kill the new patient and harvest the organs to save four individuals in desperate need?

This is what Unitarians do for fun on a Sunday morning. As you will see and hear in the video, there is some nervous tittering and shuffling by the congregation. Don’t worry, they purposely employ the ministry to be irritating gadflies; they like being provoked.

Note card.

Don’t go to a Unitarian service without writing materials. You never know when there will be a pop-quiz or a need to take notes. At this event, there was a piece of card for each person on which to write as shown in the figure to the right. The idea is to take the card and discuss the content with a friend about the person you aspire to be—a better theologian, a better human being.

Here’s what I think I know:

  1. Allowing someone to die when it is within my power to prevent it is wrong.
  2. Deliberately, killing someone to save others is wrong.
  3. I imagine that I would give preference to my own children and allow others to die.

Along this line of inquiry the quizzing continues with: Why is it wrong to allow someone to die or to deliberately kill someone to save others? Now we start to see why Socrates was told to drink poison and we secretly wish our interlocutor would follow his example.

Here’s my opinion in answer to these awkward questions:

If I happened to be raised as a cannibal then I would be the best cannibal I could be by killing and eating my enemies. Right and wrong depends on the culture and circumstances in which we grow to become adult.

As for the note-card exercise:

  1. If I have a cherished belief then I don’t know what it is. It isn’t something about which I worry.
  2. I’m not religious, more spiritual, so I don’t have a rejected belief. Though I suppose a general disregard for religion is a rejection of sorts.
  3. I grew up in a family of happy heathens who never worried about religious community. I tend to agree with Groucho Marx and not want to join any club that would have me as a member. Most religious communities are exclusive clubs. I think I prefer communities that are inclusive.
  4. Normally, I don’t struggle with ethical religious issues. To show willing, this blog entry is a small tussle to invent some answers to life’s persistent questions.


So, why is this exercise important? It is very much about who we wish to be. Is it better to be a heartless utilitarian—that’s utilitarian not Unitarian—or an empathic communitarian living in a supportive community? By thinking about these issues, contrived as they are, we practice the what-if scenarios, helping ourselves to see our way clear to more skillfully and ethically living our lives within our community.

I think it was Socrates who is reported to have said: The unexamined life is not worth living. And Winston Churchill is supposed to have replied: The unlived life is not worth examining.

Practicing these simulations helps us to see things from different points of view. Perhaps we can start to rethink and correct our drift towards video-game-war where real live persons are reduced to so much bug-splat on the remote video monitors. Perhaps we can think about what the future holds for us in which we have ceded our war-fighting ability to autonomous robots that are by their nature extreme sociopaths. Perhaps we can recognize when the law and bureaucratic regulations should be set aside in favor of more compassionate action. Ultimately we can learn what is more right than wrong and in the process become more skillful and wise in our dealings with other persons and our community of people.


2015-05-30: Resurrection Blog

A few weeks ago, I decided to try doing a network installation of Debian GNU-Linux onto an Israeli CompuLab Fit-PC v1.0. It worked well in headless mode, meaning that there is no GUI. Having got the system running, it’s been sitting there doing nothing. I had been thinking about using it for secure mail, but thought instead to try resurrecting this blog.

The hardware is quite limited when compared with the power available today. Nevertheless, a 486-class CPU seems to be enough power to run the Apache2 web-server. Actually, I’m favourably impressed.