Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Full Stop

We still don't seem to be any closer to answers on what's going on with DOB. He still has episodes of paralysis, especially after stress or exertion. The neurologist thinks it must be psychological and the psychiatrist thinks it must be neurological. He tried driving once and found it too draining so he is back to the passenger seat, an unpleasant situation for both of us. We're going to try to talk to more neurologists and do more tests, but getting anything scheduled is on a scale of months.

In the meantime, one thing that seems clear is that whether or not it is entirely caused by exhaustion or not, it is certainly heavily correlated to exhaustion. And a break is something that DOB hasn't really taken . . . well, ever, except for an overnighter here and there. We haven't even had a good bout of the flu in over a year. And between trying to keep DOB and his law practice propped up while dealing with four kids and a house and a move and an estate, I was pretty near the cracking point myself.

So, thanks to Wondergirl and Their Majesties for taking the kids for several days each, we are taking a long break. (Unfortunately, it means we are also missing B3's wedding, but there was no way we were in condition to travel 3000 miles.) We're not going anywhere (except places like the chiropractor and Papa Murphy's). We're not making any plans. We're not doing much of anything. So far I've read three completely frivolous novels, finished beating all the encounters in Magic 2015, and started writing a science-fiction story based on Greek mythology. DOB has slept in very, very late, reached the next level in his game, and gotten halfway through rearranging his hot wheels. We're watching Crusade in the evenings, an offshoot of our all-time favorite Babylon 5.

It's nice. I'm still tired. But a little less frantically tired.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

Really the title only properly describes the first two-thirds of the book, which delves into the differences between the intuitive, snap judgments our minds make and the slower, rational processes. This brought together many different but related issues, such as how much basic presentation techniques affect persuasiveness, since the brain tends to perceive something easy as true; or how powerful hearing only one side of a case is, even if the facts are relatively neutral; or how people's perception of risk is drastically skewed by what comes easily to mind.

One of the more intriguing aspects was the limitations of expert knowledge. Or, more properly, the limitations of expert prediction. Prediction in general tends to happen by a cognitive slip--we substitute an evaluation of what we know now (e.g. current grades) when asked to predict the future (e.g. how a student will do in college). And experts really don't do any better than that--they go with their gut. But the future is too variable to fit well with predictions, and guts, whether layperson or expert, don't allow for the statistical limitations of their knowledge. Which is why financial gurus will be quite, quite certain about their stock picks, even though, statistically, they are no better at it than monkeys with darts.

Not to say every expert snap judgment is unreliable--but generally, they are better at recognizing and assessing what is (i.e. Is this a forgery?) than what will be (i.e. Will this criminal be a repeat offender?) The quicker and more definitive the feedback, the more likely that the judgments will reflect reality. In general, in making long-range predictions, numbers and averages are more effective than experts, but experts themselves seldom believe that.

There's also an extensive section on how the humans of reality differ from the ideal, profit-maximizing entities of economic theory. Humans value things differently based on whether they currently have them or not, fear loss far more than they desire equivalent gains, and, perhaps most intriguingly, find a loss from an unusual activity far more grievous than one that occurs in routine. (This may explain the harsh reaction to parents who allow grade-school children to be unsupervised, which is no longer a "normal" activity, even though the risks to the children of driving them around are drastically higher, and nobody bats an eye at that.)

I found the final section the most fascinating, however. It looks at humans as two selves: the present, experiencing self, and the self that remembers what has happened. These two are often at odds. For instance, when observing our present experience, we would prefer misery to end quickly and pleasure to go on for a long time. But when it comes to how we actually look back, we ignore duration and only remember the moments: the highs, the lows, and how it all ended. And so our actual experience of life doesn't necessarily match up with our personal assessment of it.

We may be happy day to day but assess our lives as difficult because an unpleasant recent event looms large in our thoughts (or vice versa life may be going on much as normal but a recent achievement raises our satisfaction level). We get used to most things, and so they stop affecting our happiness level--a change in climate or health or wealth. More money does make life more pleasant up to a point, but after that there's no gain in daily happiness--but if money was your goal, it can still increase your overall life satisfaction. (He didn't mention it, but I'm betting it works the same way with more personal goals, like marriage and children.)

Anyway, quite a fascinating book and one that would definitely be beneficial reading for anyone who wants to pay more attention to the choices and judgments they make.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Too Hot To Hoot

It's been July, which means Grandparent Visit and Fourth of July, and then we had our annual heatwave of temperatures above 85, when we wonder if it would really be worth it to get air conditioning. (And it lasted six days this year, which is pretty much forever.) That's sapped all my mental energy, so all my brilliant thoughts in the last month have been lost.

The dryer broke, but since it was in the middle of the heat wave it didn't matter. We have a lot of deck rail and a small folding rack and fortunately the worst of grass allergy season is over. Today it is cooler and looks like rain, but Techboy brought over Gramps' old dryer, which is ancient but still seems to be working.

We had a great visit with the DOB's parents. Well, mostly they spent a lot of time doing fun projects with the ducklings while I went in to help DOB at the office. But, as DOB is supposed to be working only two days a week (he's trying, but it's hard), it was most helpful, and they all read The Wheel on the School and painted a lot of t-shirts.

Most of the children got older. The twins are six now, and Duchess is ten. It is alarming. Deux, as usual, struggles with being the only one whose birthday is not within a three-week window. He asks why his birthday is in September, a question that is difficult to answer. We got him his main birthday present early to distract him. We'll see if he remembers that come September.

I've been planning school and realized, thanks to using Ambleside Online, perennially collecting books, and using free math programs, I only needed to buy one book this year, a biography of Abigail Adams. That was just too easy, so I got a CD version of Robinson Crusoe and a graphic novel version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Even so, I spent more on restocking our school supplies.

We're reading Swallows and Amazons, which is the perfect summertime read. Unfortunately we cannot spend the summer camping on an island and sailing around in a sailboat and swimming in the lake three times a day, which sounds like the best possible way to spend one's life, but we do manage to go swimming in lakes every other week or so. We found a new one, a semi-abandoned state park only ten minutes away.

It has not been too hot to read. It is never too hot to read, it's just a question of finding the right book. I read some Muriel Spark books--they're rather bitter around the edges, but intriguing and sharp and brief. I'd recommend The Girls of Slender Means if you wanted to give one a try, or Memento Mori (which I actually read a long time ago). I finished Thinking, Fast and Slow, which was quite fascinating and may merit its own post. I reread Cold Comfort Farm, which I ought to do on a regular schedule.  I think whenever my life seems to be drowning in misery or drama I should ask myself, "What would Flora do?"

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A-Z Book Questionnaire

This is courtesy Carrie at Reading to Know. I made an effort not to include any author or book more than once, unless absolutely necessary. 

Author you’ve read the most books from: This says more about how prolific the author is than my actual favorite. (I mean, Jane Austen only wrote six books. And Chesterton wrote a whole lot, but mostly newspaper articles.) Probably Terry Pratchett, thanks mostly to the inimitable (and apparently interminable) Discworld series.

Best sequel ever: Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope

Currently reading: As usual, a very random list
Ungifted, by Scott Kaufman
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
Code of the Lifemaker, by James P. Hogan
Still working on Paradise Lost, by Milton, and Poetic Knowledge, by James Taylor, but very slowly on each.

Drink of choice while reading: Me having anything liquid near a book is a very, very bad idea. 


E-reader or physical book? I definitely prefer physical books, but will happily read anything that has letters on it.

Fictional character you probably would have actually dated in high school: Well, the fictional characters *I* would have wanted to date, probably wouldn't have been willing to date *me*. I take that back. I could probably have had a shot with Henry Tilney, of Northanger Abbey, and he would have been a lot of fun to hang around with, though a little too cheerful for me to take seriously. Which would be just as well in high school.

Glad you gave this book a chance: The Count of Monte Cristo. I had read The Three Musketeers when I was far too young and was completely shocked. (I think I was ten, maybe. Goodness, that's how old Duchess is. No wonder I was shocked!) It took me until just a couple of years ago to get around to giving Dumas a second chance. Glad I did.

Hidden gem book: Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset. Really amazing and wonderful book of the life of a medieval Norwegian woman.

 Just finished: My first two ever Georgette Heyer romances. I'm kind of embarrassed, because I never read romances, but they *were* very funny.

Kinds of books you won’t read: Self-help books. Most romances. Devotional or Christian living books. (I will read theology and philosophy, though. Just hate being told what to do. :D)

Longest book you’ve read: War and Peace, most likely. Despite its reputation and length, I loved it. Part of it is because Tolstoy really is amazing at getting inside people's heads. Part of it is because I had a quiet armchair in my bedroom and a big bag of homemade chocolates and a quiet couple of weeks between semesters when I read it. 

Major book hangover because of: Hmm . . . what counts as a major book hangover? Do you mean the one where you wander around the house wondering what on earth you are doing in 21st century North America because you could have sworn you were somewhere else? Enchantment, by Orson Scott Card, had that effect on me.  But so do a lot of other books. Or, sometimes, the junk mail. I'm kind of easy to distract.

Number of bookcases you own: Eleven, or thirteen, depending on how you count them and what's on them.

One book you have read multiple times: Just one?  Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.

Preferred place to read: My armchair/cozy corner, with the big end table of books next to it. Happiness.

Quote that you like, from a book you’ve read: "'You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all! ‘Thank goodness!’ said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco jar.” From The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Reading regret: I never regret reading. I regret that I have to stop and do the dishes.

Series you started and need to finish: I never read under obligation. However, I do plan to read the rest of Jim Butcher's Dresden series at some point.

Three of your all-time favorite books: Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

Unapologetic fangirl for: G. K. Chesterton!

 Very excited for this release more than all the others: I always wait a few years to decide if I want to read something. Thus, I have no idea about releases. I'd like to read another one of Patricia Wrede's western fantasy series. I am getting annoyed by David Weber's Safehold series because it has become way too sprawling, but that won't stop me from reading the next one when it comes out.

Worst bookish habit: Propping books open on their spines. It is very evil.

X marks the spot: When I'm being good, I use my library hold slips, of which I generally have an abundance.

Your latest book purchase: Something for the kids' school (George Washington's World, by Genevieve Foster.) For myself, Poetic Knowledge, by James Taylor. I'm not a frequent purchaser--the librarians all know me by name.

Zzz snatcher book: You mean one I stayed up too late for? Alas, I am too responsible of a grownup to do this anymore. Sometimes in the summer I read early in the morning before DOB wakes up, but I have to avoid sniggering.

Please do post a link if you decide to do it, too!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Moderation Makes Poor Headlines

See? I tried and it does. The philosophers thought perfection was to be found in the golden mean, the balance between extremes. It plays well in philosophy, but not so well in the media. Perhaps it is inherent in our systems of communication. Perhaps it is due to our intrinsic desire to be known and notable in a crowded world. Perhaps it is simply a fad and will soon mercifully pass.

But moderation does not tend to go viral. Headlines are all about outliers--and not outliers because of greatness, which requires more than fifteen seconds to demonstrate. No, it's how to follow an impossible dietary and exercise scheme that will unlock the fountain of youth, or how someone built a house out of toothpicks, or avoids generating any trash or spending any money, or put a dozen children through college by the age of twelve. Or how something is the most important, best, worst, most shocking thing you will ever see, even though you saw two dozen things just like it yesterday and will see two dozen more tomorrow.

There is not much interest to be generated by such topics as, "How I remained only moderately stout and reasonably healthy on a normal diet, somewhat light on the doughnuts," or "I have paid most of my bills on time so far and only use the small weekly garbage can," or "This family raised three children to be fairly productive adults who moved out before they were 25."

Maybe it seems too easy to confuse mediocrity and moderation. The difference is that living well is not an achievement on which people can be ranked. You can be the best in your field, but you can't be the best at being alive. (Though if you *are* the best in the field, chances are it cost you more than most people are willing to pay, with good reason.)

Even goodness and wisdom can be overpursued, according to Ecclesiastes. And I suspect the point at which they become too much is the point at which they stop being a place of balance and harmony and start being a point of comparison--when you are no longer content to be good and wise, but become obsessed with being the best and the wisest. There is a shortcut there straight into wickedness and folly.

Admittedly, tales of extremes are entertaining and they may be relatively harmless as long as we keep our footing and remember that happiness is not found as the most, best, least, or furthest of anything. And maybe someday it will be easier to accept that and we will see links that say, "Cute video with a totally predictable but still heartwarming ending!"

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Despicable Me: The Generational Warfare Reading

I think I've mentioned our fascination with the Strauss-Howe generational cycles before. We finally watched Despicable Me this week. (Living in Cincinnati for several years was enough to leave us permanently several years behind time.) Somewhere in the Strauss-Howe materials they point out that kid movies are generally aimed both at the current child generation and at the current parent generation. Despicable Me is a perfect example of this. (Note that further discussion is based on the Strauss-Howe archetypes and is not meant to resemble any actual persons.)

Gru is, plainly, a middle-aged Nomad (Generation X). He is coming to realize that not only has he never been able to get approval from his Prophet (Boomer) elders, nothing he does, no matter how spectacular, is ever going to impress them. And he is already old enough to feel a bit of a has-been, with an obnoxious Hero (Millenial) pajama-clad upstart nipping at his heels.

So, after one last attempt to do something worthy of notice, he gives up and settles into private life and finding fulfillment from a very child-centered and maybe a bit stifling form of parenthood to the Artist generation, thus making the Nomad midlife transition from frenetic competition to exhausted embracing of obscurity.

I have no idea where the Minions fit generationally, though.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Under a Spreading Chestnut-Tree

Actually, it's a bigleaf maple, but we'll waive the technicalities. Part of cleaning out up at The Hill has been collecting all the scrap metal remaining from Grandpa's innumerable projects. (This is not usually *my* part of the cleaning up, you understand--I'm always in the back cupboards, getting dusty.)

Anyway, there's the pile of scrap metal for the recyclers under the spreading maple tree, next to the pile for the dump and across from the gigantic ant hill. Last Saturday I emerged from categorizing antique cameras to load the ducklings into the car only to find that it was already loaded with chunks of rusty metal.

"What happened here?" I demanded.

A short parade, namely two, of small boys suddenly appeared, their arms loaded with more scrap metal. "It's OK!" Deux said, "The uncles said we could have it."

I noted that *I* had not said they could have it, but their puppy-like enthusiasm was enough for me to only comment, "Where are you going to keep it?"

"NOT scattered all over the front yard!" Deux assured me.

I settled for, "Well, that's the last of it, then."

They did unload it all themselves. And put it in the back yard. They have a fort out there, next to the compost pile. (We have a lot of back yard that's just grass. This is boring. Everything interesting tends to congregate in one place.)

Today they were talking about going outside and someone said, "Hey, let's go play blacksmith again!"

Hey, for a few hours of play outside, I will deal with having rusty metal scattered around the back yard. Just not the front.