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?"