Mar. 13th, 2017 05:40 am
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This article on focusing the distracted mind popped up on my LinkedIn feed and it caught my interest.  According to their research, Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen say, the ability to focus consists of two distinct processes:  enhancement and suppression.  Enhancement means focusing on the things that matter, and suppression is blocking out the things that don't.  As we age (and this begins at about age 20), our ability to focus starts to weaken, specifically because of a deficit in the suppression function. 
The attentional decline we experience as we age has more to do with our inability to filter out distractions, not our lack of concentration. If you think it’s hard to pay attention now, just wait until you age a few more years.

As it happened, the latest issue of the Lubavitch International monthly arrived the other day, and in it I discovered Shmuel Loebenstein's article on itkafya.  Itkafya is a Talmudic word without a counterpart in Biblical Hebrew; it's related to a number of words meaning "to seize, overpower" (Jastrow, p. 1693) and the word itself means "suppression" or self-control.  Loebenstein cites a study that showed multiple benefits when children were asked to delay gratification (eating a marshmallow) by exercising self-control. 
... what better Aramaic word is there than iskafya (“itkafya” in Sephardic pronunciation), a word beloved of the kabbalistic ancients and equally embraced by Chasidic moderns. ...
When Chasidic philosophy lauds iskafya, the suppression of the animalistic instinct in ourselves, it is not talking about afflicting ourselves. It is about self-restraint, the battle between the ego and the id, the mastery of our character over our urges and instincts. You want to practice iskafya? Try not talking gossip for a day. Try befriending a person whom you dislike.

I've been struggling with mood issues lately, so this information is a good reminder of both the challenge and the potential in choosing what kinds of thoughts I dwell on, and which ones to let go.

Hub Plug

Mar. 7th, 2017 07:54 am
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With the final demise of BlackBerry OS, I had to give up my Blackberry in favor of an Android phone, and I found myself missing one of the core features of BlackBerry OS: the Hub, which aggregates all of your email, text, phone, and social media messages in one feed. Oh and it uses push notifications for email so you get your emails immediately instead of waiting for a periodic server query.

Fortunately BB now makes Hub as a 3rd party app, and I'm now happily running it on my Samsung. The paid (ad-free, with full features) version is just 1$ a month tacked on to my mobile bill and it's going to be well worth it.

BTW BlackBerry is still making BlackBerry phones, but the new ones will be running on Android. I'm really looking forward to the new KeyOne aka Mercury, and hoping to buy one as soon as I'm able to do the discretionary spending thing again.
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Newton faces many of the same trends as other downstate communities. Jobs have left, residents have moved, and politicians aren’t listening.

The sense of community, though, remains strong. Jonathan Broscious, a pastor at Newton’s New Hope Church, moved to the city in 2013 after attending school in Pennsylvania and growing up in the Washington, D.C., area. His wife grew up in Newton, and the city’s strong sense of community has made Broscious happy to call Newton home.

“I went to the bank – this was maybe six months after I moved here – and I went to make a deposit,” Broscious recalled. “I’m not the kind of person who has his account numbers memorized or whatever, so I walk up to the teller – and I’ve never talked to this girl ever before in my life. And I walk up to her, and I say, ‘Hey, I need to make a deposit but I don’t know what my bank account number is. I can give you my driver’s license or my debit card or something if you needed to figure it out.’

“And she said, ‘Oh no, I got it; what account do you want me to put it in?’ She knew exactly who I was because evidently she’d seen me walking with my wife and knew who my wife was.”

It’s not difficult to recognize people in Newton, a city of 2,800 people covering less than 2 square miles. The close-knit feeling is everywhere. ...

Read the rest at the link.  Of interest to Allaboutweather on LJ.

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To keep my mathematics circuits free of cobwebs I've been reviewing facts from algebra. Looking at the Law of Cosines, I noticed for the first time that it contains an expression familiar from vector math. Under the Wiki entry for 'Dot Product' I found this very cool proof: if you let vector C represent the vector between the endpoints of A and B - that is, A-B=C vector-wise - and you square both sides (using the dot product), you get the Law of Cosines. That is, C dot C equals (A-B) dot itself; and you expand the latter as a binomial square-of-difference. That's where the "-2AB cos c" term comes from, it's the same as "2 * (A dot B)".

I've started poking through my old Dynamics textook too, to see if there was anything forbiddingly difficult therein, and I don't think there is. Just for kicks I skipped ahead to take a look at Sample Problem 17.5, where you've got two rigid rods hinged together with the end of one hinged to a surface and the free end on a frictionless roller. The strategy involves finding something called the "instantaneous center of rotation" which is given by drawing lines perpendicular to the moving points (i.e. along the radii of an imaginary wheel) and finding where they intersect. It's a cool concept, and I will probably think about it every time I see a book slide down flat after losing its grip on the bookend. Anyway, if I ever manage to earn a college degree before I die, I'm still interested in engineering.
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It looks like Portland may be seeing the last of winter weather, finally. Forecast calls for clear skies for the early part of this week, then some rain, but no more freezing temperatures.

I'm coming to the end of six months at my current gig, and starting to look around for something that pays better. Meanwhile the downsizing continues apace, with regular trips to Powell's to lighten the load of surplus books.

Getting ready to move forward to the next phase of life.


Jan. 31st, 2017 07:41 am
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So, I've been driving around town with this crazy woman in my car.

She talks too fast and too much, as if she's had way too much coffee. She gives me confusing, contradictory directions, takes me on seemingly random detours, and can never seem to make up her mind what she wants me to do. She is, literally, driving me crazy.

She is Google Lady, the voice of the Google Nav on my Android phone, and she's the one I've gotta follow when I do my deliveries using the Uber app. She makes me long for the soothing tones of my longtime companion, Garmin Lady, but I guess you can get used to anything.

Last night I thought I'd try to get along without her for a run. Big mistake. The delivery was just straight down Burnside and I thought "Oh I'll just go down Burnside and turn right on 1st." Except that I don't know the city as well as I thought I did: you can't turn onto 1st from Burnside, and I ended up having to continue across the bridge to Eastside and turn around - using the nav, of course. Google Lady had had the last laugh. I felt compelled to apologize.

"Okay, Google Lady, I'm sorry I doubted you - "

"To use voice command, say 'OK Google', and then ... "

* sigh *

It's going to be an interesting relationship.

PDX Peeps

Jan. 30th, 2017 02:20 pm
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What's your favorite thing to do / thing to see / place to visit in the Portland area?

Favorite coffee spot?

Favorite night spot?

Favorite indie movie house?

Favorite Atlas Obscura destination?

Most interesting experience?

Favorite area destination for a day trip? (Say, 20 - 100 miles radius from the city.)

Any interest in local LJ/DW meet-ups?
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Was planning to drive some deliveries yesterday (Sunday) but fatigue and housework got the better of me, and except for my lunch date I spent the day at home.

The good news is, I got well rested up and am looking forward to doing some driving tonight. I'll look at it as a chance to explore new places in the neighborhood.

Last night before bed I decided I was tired of looking at the four walls of my room, and needed something both visually stimulating and relaxing. Realized I hadn't logged in to Flickr for a while, and that turned out to be just the thing.

With the weather getting better, I am going to start planning an out-of-town day trip soon.
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I've had my new phone for about two weeks now and I'm happy with it. I bought a handsfree headset at the same time, in preparation for my debut as an Uber delivery driver, and started wearing it daily. I thought it would be hard to get used to (I'm of the generation that grew up with corded dial phones) but it became natural almost immediately. I forgot to put it on today and it feels weird *not* having it on.

So, I stopped by the Uber Greenlight location on the Eastside last night - my first time dealing with any of the staff in person - and they were great. A guy named Paul helped me and he was very nice and professional. And I'm officially ready to start driving! I'll turn on my driver app tonight after my day job and we'll see how it goes.

And my social life is moving right along ... got some dating happening, yay. Details anon. For now, got to get to work at my day job!
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The weather today was milder and mostly fair, bringing a much-needed thaw to the city and the roads in particular. I'm on track to work something close to a full week for the first time in seemingly forever. (Worked a short day Tuesday due to road conditions, but I was able to make up some of those hours tonight.) Regular employees at the Clinic get compensated for snow days, but I'm a contractor so I'm just out the money.

The good news is I got a call from my agency yesterday to check in and see how I'm doing. (I'm approaching the six-month mark at this gig.) I told them, truthfully, that I like the people I work with and have no complaints about the work, but that in the near future - after I've passed my 6-month obligation - I may be looking to make a little better rate of pay. So the agency guy said he'd talk to my boss at the clinic and see if he could work something out. Fingers crossed.

I'm almost at the end of 'Tar Baby' - I'm listening to the audiobook at work, and reviewing in the dead-tree edition after work - and I hope to get a write-up done this weekend.

The two Crock-Pots I ordered are sitting in the kitchen waiting to get used. I've promised myself that this coming week will be the week I start practicing making cholent, in time for next Shabbat. Anybody know any good, easy cholent recipes? (Meat and/or meatless.)
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Portland, Oregon is near the Pacific coast and it's generally a mild climate. Two inches of snow is a lot for us. Last week we got eight. The city had to borrow snowplows and sand trucks from Seattle.

And the temperature has stayed below freezing since then. Now the snow is supposed to start melting today and tomorrow ... just in time for a monster storm that's supposed to dump tons of rain on us Tuesday and Wednesday.

So, lots of fun.
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"But we're not used to driving in snow!"

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'Searoad', one of LeGuin's few published works of realistic fiction, is a collection of twelve tales written circa 1990 and set in the fictional town of Klatsand on the Oregon coast. All are in short-story format except for the first (the single-page proem 'Foam Women, Rain Women') and the last (the novella 'Hernes'). All of the stories are set in the present-day era, except for 'Hernes', which chronicles the lives four generations of Oregon women and is set partly in historical time.

There are occasional nods to science fiction and fantasy: there is Rosemarie Tucket, who has a passion for SF books and a fantasy friendship with an alien 'energy man'; Frances, the narrator of 'True Love' who offers insights into Star Trek and the identity of Captain Kirk's true love; there's the apparition of Ailie's mother, and there's Johanna, who begins to see mysterious messages in the foam; and there's the visionary Lily Frances Herne, who sees angels.

But mostly they are slices of daily life in a small town. Some of the moments that stayed with me: Rosemarie's fantasy life; the 'True Love' narrator's passion for books (in her blessedly pre-internet world); Bill Weisler's existential horror upon learning that flawed works can be sold for more than perfect ones; Deb Shoto's struggle with the demon inside of her; Warren's unsuccessful attempts to avoid, and his final reconciliation with, the party of pensioners in the small town (and, implicitly, his acceptance of his own mortality); the bereaved lesbian Shirley in 'Quoits', the de facto stepmother of Barbara's children; the gradual fleshing out of Ava's character through the eyes of other characters; Jane's anguish at having "failed" to "protect" her daughter Lily (concretized in the dream-image of a watch, punning on the "watch" that she believes she failed to keep, and echoed in Fanny's earlier grieving over the loss of Johnny, p. 192); the recurring images of the Oregon coast and of the foam on the seashore; paradoxes about language and existence (how can a person "be dead" if they no longer exist? and the multiple meanings and connotations of the word "body"); and the image of the 'rain women' at the beginning. I wonder who the rain women are.

Death haunts many of the stories. There are recurring references to the body, living and dead:

- 'You couldn't *be* dead. You couldn't be anything but alive. If you weren't alive, you weren't ... you had been.' (p. 33)

- '"My father hated for the male nurses to touch her," Sue said.' (p. 39)

- 'But when the word for what you made love to was the same as for a corpse it sounded like it didn't matter whether the body was alive or dead.' (p. 58)

- 'She did not like her saying "I hated for men to touch Mother's body - it sounded glib, theatrical.' (p. 121)

There are also recurring references to the sound of the sea, and its effect on the various characters.

LeGuin has lived in Portland since 1959 and knows the region well. 'Searoad' made me want to visit the coast. It also made me think about the public and private lives of the people around me, and about how we relate to our ultimate journey out of this world.


Dec. 31st, 2016 06:51 pm
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There's a tallish, professional-looking man in his 50s who lives on the 4th floor and sometimes we pass in the alley (he goes out for a smoke) or in the elevator. I ran into him twice this morning, once on the way back from the laundry room and again a short while later as I went to pick up a few snacks from the grocery store downstairs. I believe I overheard the grocer address him as Jim as he walked in while I was leaving.

Yesterday evening my intercom phone beeped from the lobby - first time I've had a ring since I moved in - and I picked it up, curious to see who would be petitioning me for admittance to the building. A misdirected pizza maybe? (Or, considering the season, Chinese food?) The voice on the other end was a cheerful female voice who said she wanted to visit someone on the third floor - I think she gave the apartment number as 312 - and wanted someone to let her in; apparently 312 wasn't answering. This all sounded fine, but I thought it best to go down and get a visual on the person, rather than letting them in by the buzzer, sight unseen.

She was an attractive young blonde woman, probably no more than 30. By the time I greeted her at the door she had discovered her mistake: the unit she wanted was on the fourth floor, not the third. So I rode up with her and made chit-chat with her as far as my stop and wished her a good evening, and maybe a pleasant holiday, I don't recall.

I saw her again this morning as we passed each other in front of the building; I was coming out of the grocery that Jim had just entered. Her face was contorted and wet with tears. "Hey," I said with cautious sympathy, "how you doing?"

"I've had better days," she said between muffled sobs.

What can you do? There wasn't much I felt I could do (I didn't want to pry), so I just said, "I'm sorry. I hope the new year is better for you."

"Thank you," she said, and went on her way.

So, what happened? Had she had an overnight encounter with Jim that ended in tears? Or was her story something else, and nothing to do with Jim? If I were the kind of writer who does these things, I suppose I would try to imagine a whole story behind her and Jim. But I'm not, so I won't try.

The bar at the Admiral is not straight but a double convex arc, like a very shallow, rounded W from the patrons' side. This means that you can see your barmates a little bit, without staring them in the face awkwardly.

I sat at the end closer to the door. Adjacent to me there was a man around my age with wavy, shoulder-length hair and a slight Irish accent. He made reference to his Irish heritage at one point, although at another moment he said something about his English side being the reason he's not typically very demonstrative. The woman with him - long brown hair, average looks, a little heavy but not fat, from what I could see - was his companion but not a date from what I could gather. He was very grateful to her for some reason - he told the bartender that she had helped him with "weeks of old mail, bills, and old CDs". I wondered why he would need help - was it an estate matter? But he mentioned just having spoken to his Mum on the phone. He turned to face his lady friend when speaking to her, and the bartender Angela when addressing her. Once he playfully put up his dukes and offered to fight his lady friend - "Hey, I've seen Charlie Bronson movies!" She protested that she was wearing glasses. "Oh you are? Well I never hit a person with glasses."

It wasn't until later - when he left the bar for some reason, and returned after a few minutes - that I understood. He came in tapping his way with a red-tipped white cane, and his friend called his name (I've forgotten it) to help him find her.

So, the friendly, easygoing Irishman had just lost his sight. From overhearing bits of his conversation, I heard him mention a couple of women he knew who had been blinded in shotgun accidents; presumably they had met through some rehabilitation group. One of the women, he said, had been so badly disfigured that she had to wear a mask when going out in public - "I don't know what she looks like, of course - I met her after."


Dec. 30th, 2016 10:11 am
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Feeling obligated to post something on the latest spasm at LJ. (Which inter alia clogged my email inbox with over 200 birthday notifications for a single user.)

I share most people's ambivalence about DreamWidth vs. LiveJournal. I prefer LJ overall and retain some degree of brand loyalty to it, I suppose, but I'm not going to be dogmatic about it. For the time being I'll continue posting at DW with an automatic cross-post to LJ - unless it's a photo, in which case I'll probably be lazy and just post straight to LJ and hope for the best.

I'm not persnickety about comments. Feel free to comment at LJ, DW, both, or neither as you like.

PS - I'm Asher63 at LJ, Asher553 at DW.
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My first plan for the new civil year is to get some written correspondence going. I've got a whole stack of postacards with stamps and return address stickers already on 'em, sitting on my writing desk ready to go.

Inbox me if you'd like to exchange postal addresses.

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