Mind Over Matter In Old Age

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 24, 2014

My last day of work was 10/22/13, at a job I started in the previous century on 11/14/77.  It’s been one year not working, and the time has flown by like Boeing jetliner.  When I retired I had big plans to write a novel, but the urge has diminished. The fantasy of writing doesn’t completely go away, but my discipline to work mostly has. My days pass by so fast that I wonder how I ever found time for a forty-hour work week. And like a butterfly, my memories of being a caterpillar are fleeing fast. It’s really strange to live by flitting here and there, wherever my whims entice me. Maintaining a positive mental state while deteriorating physically is now my chosen career. The job requirements are learning to master mind over matter.

Being happy pursuing piddly activities is a great skill to acquire. I hang out with friends, read books, watch television, play music, write blogs, mess with my computers, shop for used books, cook food, do chores, and that seems to be enough. I now live in a different mental world where I work to maintain my health by not getting mentally old. The daily goal of getting old is to avoid being old. Luckily, I have a naturally happy nature, and I don’t get bored. I’m well suited for retired living.

I’m constantly learning new things, mainly because I love documentaries and nonfiction books, and I love browsing the Internet for fascinating news stories, like “What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?” from this week’s The New York Times Magazine.

New York Times

 

The article starts off,

One day in the fall of 1981, eight men in their 70s stepped out of a van in front of a converted monastery in New Hampshire. They shuffled forward, a few of them arthritically stooped, a couple with canes. Then they passed through the door and entered a time warp. Perry Como crooned on a vintage radio. Ed Sullivan welcomed guests on a black-and-white TV. Everything inside — including the books on the shelves and the magazines lying around — were designed to conjure 1959. This was to be the men’s home for five days as they participated in a radical experiment, cooked up by a young psychologist named Ellen Langer.

Ultimately, what this experiment reveals is feeling younger means acting younger.

The men in the experimental group were told not merely to reminisce about this earlier era, but to inhabit it — to “make a psychological attempt to be the person they were 22 years ago,” she told me. “We have good reason to believe that if you are successful at this,” Langer told the men, “you will feel as you did in 1959.” From the time they walked through the doors, they were treated as if they were younger. The men were told that they would have to take their belongings upstairs themselves, even if they had to do it one shirt at a time.

In the end, the men,

At the end of their stay, the men were tested again. On several measures, they outperformed a control group that came earlier to the monastery but didn’t imagine themselves back into the skin of their younger selves, though they were encouraged to reminisce. They were suppler, showed greater manual dexterity and sat taller — just as Langer had guessed. Perhaps most improbable, their sight improved. Independent judges said they looked younger. The experimental subjects, Langer told me, had “put their mind in an earlier time,” and their bodies went along for the ride.

The article goes on with more details about additional experiments, and they remind me of how I like to time travel by returning to things I loved back in the 1960s. I always thought when old people returned to the interests of their youth they were merely being nostalgic. Maybe we’re rejuvenating. Maybe wanting to write a novel is taking me back to when I was young and wanted to grow up to write a novel. I’ve often wondered if I’m too old to do something so young. If this research is right, writing a novel will make me young.

Although it doesn’t appear that I’ve done that much in my first year of retirement, I do feel like I’ve learned a lot. It’s a strange new life living without a job to define my days. I absolutely love being retired. It feels like I’m back in college preparing for an exciting career. This time of constant reflection reminds me of the 1970s and all the New Age philosophies I studied. The journey is the destination.

JWH

How Science Fiction’s Futures Changes For Every Generation

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, October 23, 2014

If you are old, has the future you imagined in childhood unfolded during your life? If you’re young, what do you hope to see happen in your lifetime?

I grew up in the 1960s with my visions of the future inspired by 1950s science fiction. Flying cars were not what I hoped for, but evidently many people from my generation expected them and are disappointed we aren’t living in a Buck Rogers future. No, what I expected to see as I grew old was the colonization of the Moon and Mars, and the manned exploration of the solar system. I wasn’t optimistic enough to expect Star Trek like interstellar travel in my lifetime, but I assumed it would arrive after I died. It’s so disappointing to spend a lifetime watching humans never leave orbit. What are we waiting for?

I did expect large flat screen televisions, and they did come to pass. Didn’t see the internet coming even though I was majoring in computer programming in 1971, nor did I imagine smartphones. I guess I lacked the imagination, but so did everyone else it seems. I’m also disappointed we don’t have intelligent robots, or sentient AI machines. After space travel, robots were the biggest tech breakthrough that 1950s SF promised.

Although I hoped we’d have visitors from other star systems I never really thought it would actually happen. I did think we’d make SETI contact by now.

Contemporary science fiction often feels obsessed with apocalyptic visions of the future, and we had those too when I was growing up. But kids today seemed enchanted by future teens fighting oppressive dystopian governments. I can dig that, back in the sixties challenging authority was very popular. I guess blows against the empire never go out of vogue.

Which brings me to Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, edited by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer, a science fiction anthology of positive science fiction. It was inspired by the essay “Innovation Starvation” by Neal Stephenson, at the World Policy Institute, in which Stephenson proposes, The Hieroglyph Theory,

Good SF supplies a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place. A good SF universe has a coherence and internal logic that makes sense to scientists and engineers. Examples include Isaac Asimov’s robots, Robert Heinlein’s rocket ships, and William Gibson’s cyberspace. As Jim Karkanias of Microsoft Research puts it, such icons serve as hieroglyphs—simple, recognizable symbols on whose significance everyone agrees.

Hieroglyph

The list of stories can be found here, with links to discussion and research.

The Hieroglyph anthology offers strangely different visions of the future than the ones I grew up with, and sadly, I don’t find these new futurist vistas all that appealing. Many of these futures seem to come out of Wired Magazine. In the introduction we’re told that young people today are all too often embracing a dystopian science fiction view of tomorrow, and that science fiction writers should offer a positive alternative. I think that’s missing the point of those YA stories, which are exciting adventure stories symbolizing growing up, and not visions of tomorrow.

Actually, the opposite of dystopian is utopian, and none of these tales in Hieroglyph are about perfect societies. I think everyone has gotten over the naive notion that the future will bring us peace and happiness. The real question is can the future always offer us more sense of wonder? This might reveal my jadedness, but this anthology doesn’t show me it will.

Although I’m embarrassed to admit this, I’m nostalgic for my old futures. Hieroglyph seems more inspired by 3D printers, the internet, giant towers that climb into space, mining the asteroids, social media possibilities, smartphone apps that make us empathetic, etc. Many of the stories are quite engaging as stories, but they aren’t inspiring like the science fiction I grew up with. Now that will be an unfair criticism if young readers do find a sense of wonder in them.

It might be because I’m 62, and these stories lack a sense of wonder to someone with so little future.  Yet, even if I don’t have much of a future, I’m not sure I’d want to live to see these futures come to be? I’d love to know if kids 12 or 22 reading these tales do find them wondrous?

There are millions of people around the world still hoping to build interplanetary colonies and conquer the final frontier, but there are billions of people on Earth that don’t see that future anymore, or maybe never did. Anyone who has embraced science more than science fiction knows faster-than-light travel is about as realistic as time travel, and that living on the Moon or Mars will be closer to cruel and unusual punishment than finding greener pastures to homestead.

Many of the stories in Hieroglyph did capture the struggle of humans surviving. They are  more grown-up than the fictional adventures I took in my teens. I did love Vandana Singh’s “Entanglement.” It was about technology being used to increase empathy. So does “Elephant Angels” by Brenda Cooper.  “By the Time We Get to Arizona” by Madeline Ashby seems far more savvy about the grit of the future, and the misuse of technology. And Karl Schroeder’s story, “Degrees of Freedom” suggests that there are new frontiers of democracy for us to explore. The stories of billionaires conquering outer space didn’t impress me. And although I loved the character development of Cory Doctorow’s “The Man Who Sold The Moon” a great deal, 3D printing leaves me limp. Bruce Sterling’s story about a man and his horse got me until it became science fiction.

All to often the best science fiction is about being human, and not spacemen, even when the characters live in outer space.

Overall, I’m left with the impression that the women writers in Hieroglyph have thought more about how technology could be good for us than the men. Now that I’m living in my childhood future, I imagine a much different future that might come to be after I ceased to be. It’s not about space adventures but solving our problems, both as individuals and as a species. It’s like an old man I saw in a documentary when he said, “If you’re the problem, and you go somewhere else, you’re still the problem.”

JWH

Finding The Top Albums By Year From 1948 to the Present

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, October 21, 2014

The 33 1/3 LP came out in 1948, and even by 1958 had only garnered 25% of the total record market. At first, 78s  continued to dominate, and then 45 rpm singles. It took a while for what we know as an album to become a major art form. Even the term album is a holdover from 78 rpm records, which could only contain up to five minutes to a side, and required many discs to make a collection of songs, which was called an album. LP discs can contain twenty or so minutes a side, and 10-12 songs per disc, and so they were an album of songs, not an album of discs. The modern concept of the album, first the LP, then the CD, seems to be fading. It’s apparent reign was about half a century.

Using Wikipedia’s excellent Timeline of Musical Events, it’s possible to drill down to a decade, and then year, to follow popular album releases over time. For example, here’s 1951, the year of my birth. If you look at the 1951 album releases and then try to find them on Spotify, you won’t, most likely. Nearly all of the early LPs of the 1950s aren’t reprinted. It’s not until the later 1950s do some albums become famous enough to be remembered, reprinted, and even stay in print. For example, Blue Train by John Coltrane in 1957.

Blue Train - John Coltrain

Now this is the point of this essay. If you subscribe to a subscription music service like Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, you can musically stroll down memory lane, year by year, and listen to the albums of the time.

Another great site that helps is Best Ever Albums, and here’s how they present 1957. In 1957, they list 107 top albums. By 1967 that jumps to 312, then 453 by 1977, 704 in 1987, to a 1,000 in 1997. Best Ever Albums quits tracking after a thousand albums each year. There’s no telling how many albums come out each year today. People still make albums, but listeners don’t buy them. They’re on Spotify waiting to be played. Unless you find a method to search for albums other than popularity, you won’t go looking for them. My time tracking method is one such alternative method of discovering albums.

My point is you probably missed a tremendous number of great albums. The average music fan bonds with a relatively small number of albums they discover in their teens and twenties, and then pretty much stick with their favorites for the rest of their life. They might add a few new songs to their playlists each year, but not many. Subscription music services offer you access to millions of songs and albums. What mind blowing tunes have you missed?

Using Wikipedia, Best Albums Ever and Spotify, it’s possible to attain a magical music education. I wished Spotify would let us browse by year, or even better yet, but release date. I love tracking things by time. I wished Billboard put all its charts online, but it doesn’t. It is possible to go to Tropicalglen.com and play songs by year. You can then follow the links to Cash Box charts. For example, here’s the weekly charts for 1967.

I don’t know why I like to remember things by time. Maybe I’m trying to time travel.

JWH

The Tiny House Movement—What’s The Practical Size for Living Space?

Last night I watched Tiny: A Story About Living Small, a documentary by Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith, about Smith’s year building a tiny house. I’ve seen several news stories about tiny houses in the past few years, read some articles, and even met a handful of people who told me they’d love to build and live in their own tiny house. There is a certain appeal to them. Most tiny houses are personal works of art that reflect their owner’s philosophy about living simply. The tiny house movement counters the extravagant big house trend that has existed for decades. Most tiny houses are mobile homes so they appeal to people who want to travel. And they are a cheaper way to live.

Like the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and 1970s, I don’t think the tiny house movement is sustainable, or will appeal to most people. However, it is very appealing to a lot of people. And it brings up some very important philosophical questions. How much space does a person need to live comfortably? How much space should a person use to be environmentally ethical? How can we maximize the efficiency of the space we use? What’s the minimum space needed for optimal psychological existence for one person? How does the psychological living space change when there are two people? What about a family with children?

I live in a house that’s about 1,700 square feet. I’ve lived in larger and smaller homes. My wife lives out-of-town during the week in a one bedroom apartment, so for most of the week that 1,700 square feet is all mine. I’m currently using every room of the house, but I’m pretty sure I could do with less, much less. We have a living room and den. We have a dining room that seats six, and a breakfast area that can seat another six. I use the living room for reading, and the dining room for my Raspberry Pi computer setup. At a guess, I’m pretty sure I could keep all my stuff I use and consolidate it into a comfortable living space of 800 square feet. This isn’t counting what my wife might want. If I had to, I could give up a lot of stuff, and probably still be happy with 400-500 square feet. Still much bigger than the average tiny home.

In the film they profile tiny houses that ranged from 84 square feet to about 250 square feet. Most were in the 150-200 range. This is way smaller than what I’d ever want to live in. Of course, if everyone lived like tiny house people there certainly would be a lot more land for wildlife, and cities and towns would shrink dramatically.

I wonder if our population explosion is inspiring people to live with less, both as a financial necessity, and because we’re all being pushed together. I can’t help but think many of the people profiled want to get away from normal society.

Most of the tiny house people interviewed were people living by themselves, and I wonder if they are modern day Henry David Thoreaus? Tiny houses have the look of Thoreau’s Walden cabin. It’s not for everyone. Even in in the film Tiny, the girlfriend wanted to move to New York City, because that was here dream. Most of the tiny house people interviewed seemed happy to live with their books and cat. I didn’t see any large screen TVs and video game consoles in the tiny houses.

Nor do we see washers and dryers, large refrigerators and stoves, dishwashers, bathtubs, and I never spotted an air conditioner or hot water heater. Tiny houses are like living on a sailboat, travel trailer or RV. They are much smaller than even your typical double-wide. It would be a sacrifice for most people to live in one, so they convey a kind of spiritual living, and probably appeal to people who think a monkish lifestyle is good for their soul.

It appears that the common practice is to park tiny houses on other people’s land, often in backyards.  I don’t know about the legality of this. Nor do I understand the requirements for water and sewage. In the film they did show power coming from a heavy-duty extension cord, and from solar panels. I just read it’s common to depend on a toilet in a nearby house, or use composting or incinerator toilets. All of which sound like a hassle. So does going to the laundry.

I’m not against tiny living, but I think I’d prefer a tiny apartment that did have flush toilets. If we’re truly going to be environmental, I think the future will be in apartment living, and planned communities. Most people hate apartments because of the sound of other people. If they were soundproof, they might be more appealing. What would give them more hippie appeal is if the apartment building was integrated into a park, and car parking was away from the living areas, or the site located near good public transportation. If apartment buildings were designed as planned communities, targeted to specific kinds of people, they’d probably be even more appealing.

I think we do need to work at being less wasteful, more efficient, and far less polluting. The human race’s impact on Earth is becoming very close to be a cancer, if it hasn’t already. We’ve stolen so much animal habitat territory that humans have become another mass-extinction event in Earth’s history. I don’t think tiny houses are the answer though, not directly. My guess is most people will live in a tiny house no longer than Henry David Thoreau lived in the woods alone. And living in a tiny house for a year would probably teach all of us many valuable lessons. I can imagine a spiritual movement of people choosing to live in a tiny house for a period of time to learn what they truly need in life.

I found another documentary about the movement, We the Tiny House People. And Google says there are even more of them.

Here’s another short film about a very elegant tiny house.

If you want to see more, just follow this link to YouTube which offers many more films. It’s amazing how popular this movement is. Notice the other links. There seems to be part of a larger movement to build cheaper houses, which is also part of the DIY movement. Tiny houses might appeal to a large variety of people for many different reasons.  Just look at this Google page for images of tiny houses. Here’s one screen shot to give you an idea – click to make larger.

tiny-houses

Notice how creative an artistic these little houses are. Building a tiny house is much easier than building a full-size house, so part of the movement might be about just building a house of your own design. I wonder if parks for tiny houses will become popular like RV parks and mobile home subdivisions?

There’s quite a few websites devoted to tiny houses:

If I’m ever in Portland, Oregon, I’d like to stay in the Tiny House Hotel just to see what living in one is like. Other than that, I think in general, I’ll admire them from afar, although I wouldn’t mind visiting Tiny House Show if one came to town. However, the real life effect on me is to think about all the junk I live with now. This film makes me want to catalog all my possession and think about how many I really need. I have four computers, two tablets, two Kindles, and an iPod touch. Do I need so many? Of course not. Yet, I want more – an iMac and Chromebook. My Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer.

Watching these people live in tiny houses makes me realize how big my living habits are. It makes me want to clean our closets and drawers, and get rid of junk that I don’t need. It makes me want to do more with less. I just don’t want to live that small – but I would be willing to go smaller.

JWH

Our Window On Reality

By James Wallace Harris, Saturday, October 18, 2014

Humans have five senses, but we experience them as a gestalt.  I call that sensation of perceiving everything around us as our window on reality.  A mouse or cockroach would have a much smaller window on reality.  I doubt a bacteria or virus have a window, but if they did, it would be incredible tiny. Humans naturally think they have the largest window on reality because of our egocentric belief we are the crown of creation. We’re not.

And can you imagine the window on reality that God has, if such a being existed? For all our glory we are limited beings, neither angels nor devils, but just a creature of random evolution, one among an unknown many, that use self-awareness to view reality out the window of their limited senses.

Humans that are deaf or blind, or have lost their sense of smell or taste do have smaller windows, and if you close your eyes, you can shut your window to a fraction of perception, but not completely. When you are asleep or unconscious, your window does shut to your conscious mind, but your unconscious mind still peeps out. Only when the brain dies does your window shut completely.

milky-way

The astounding thing about reality is it’s indifferent to the self-aware beings that view it. Reality existed before we were born, and will continue to exist after we die. Our life is merely a short time span when we wake up and look out our window on reality and then we die, and our windows closes forever. Human brains have a tendency to explain what they see out their window by making up stories. Because most of these stories have no relationship with the truth of reality, this tendency is called the narrative fallacy. The human mind has evolved through three stages so far: faith, reason and science. Faith and reason only created delusions about what we see out our windows. Our collaborative efforts at science gives us the hope that we’re all measuring the same reality.

Our window on reality distorts our perception to the size of reality. We assume we’re seeing 100% but we don’t. The visual spectrum is a tiny fragment of the electro-magnetic spectrum. Our range of hearing is also a tiny fragment of sound frequencies. We’ve all heard stories about the fantastic senses of various animals and imagined what that would be like. And then there’s the matter of perspective. The window on reality an eagle peers from at thousands of feet above Earth is much different from ours as we walk along the sidewalk.  And imagine how reality would appear if we had three eyes spaced equally distant around our head giving us a 360 degree view.

If you are familiar with cosmology you’ll know our view on reality is extremely microscopic compared to the true size of reality. Imagine being an atom and how much you’d know about the Earth from your tiny viewpoint of reality.  Compared to the known universe, you’d be smaller than an atom. The same logic holds true for the sub-atomic worlds that are invisible to us, because the ultra small can be truly large from the right perspective.

animals-ants-head-insects-microscopic-1018944-3000x2121

What would our window on reality feel like if we had eyes that could focus from what a scanning electron microscope can see to what the Hubble telescope can take in? We’re building robot bodies now that will eventually have artificial minds. We could give them all kind of powerful senses we don’t have. Their window on reality will make ours feel like a peephole.

We expand our window on reality using our imagination to give us virtual windows on reality. If you look up at the night sky you can imagine what you can’t see with your knowledge of astronomy. When we walk through forests, or along tidal bays, we can annotate what we see from knowledge of biology, botany, chemistry and geology.

It is tragic that our narrative fallacies have distorted what we see out our window on reality. We kill each other over disagreements about what we think we see. To kill someone is to close their window forever. That doesn’t change reality. Nor does it confirm your narrative fallacy. We can believe anything, but only science, with consistent observations, reveal what we might be seeing.

JWH

Making Sense of a Zillion Pieces of Advice

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 17, 2014

Have you ever notice how much advice the Internet offers?  The web probably has more advice articles than the complete history of women’s magazines.  From how to organize your life, to the most healthy foods to eat, to the best cities to live in, the quickest meals to fix, to how to fight memory loss, or meet the love of your life,  or which smartphones to buy, and so on, and so on. Some of the advice is based on scientific studies, but most of it is from personal experience, and probably a good deal is just some blogger making shit up.

What if we could consolidate all that advice into meta-lists so we could discover what the most common tips reveal? If one dietician says eating broccoli is great for your health, would you start eating it three times a week?  What if 2,000 different scientific studies proclaimed the virtues of broccoli? What if they said broccoli increases your sexual stamina, reduces cavities, clears your skin and conquers constipation?  At what point are we willing to take notice and act on advice? We’re all failures at keeping New Year’s resolutions, so is all this advice wasted on the undisciplined? Or are we all slowly evolving and improving from all these studies?  It’s taken about fifty years for most people to stop smoking.  And even with a Mt. Everest pile of evidence, many people still light up. When and how does advice become overwhelmingly convincing?

memory-loss

Memory Loss

The 800-pound gorilla squatting in my generation’s living room is memory loss. I don’t know how scary dementia is to people under 55, but for us folks over 55, it’s scarier than a serial killer with an idling chain saw. “Memory Loss From Alzheimer’s Disease Reversed For the First Time With Lifestyle Changes” is one article that grabbed my attention.  It’s based on this press report from the Buck Institute on a very small trial of ten patients.  Nine patients with varying degrees of dementia improved after 3-6 months following a specific 36-point  lifestyle guideline.  The tenth person with late stage Alzheimer’s didn’t improve.  The full report in PDF was published in AGING, September 2014, Vol. 6 No. 9.  Scroll down to Table 1. Therapeutic System 1.0.  The entire system is not easy to describe, but here’s a summary.  How many of these pieces of advice are you willing to follow to save your mind?

  • Give up all simple carbohydrates and gluten
  • Give up processed food
  • Eat more vegetables and fruits
  • Eat wild-caught fish
  • Meditate twice a day
  • Do yoga
  • Sleep at least 7-8 hours a night
  • Take CoQ-10, fish oil, melatonin, methylcobaliamin and vitamin D3 supplements?
  • Use electric toothbrush and flossing tool
  • Take hormone replacement therapies
  • Fast at last 12 hours between dinner and breakfast
  • Don’t eat 3 hours before bedtime
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week

How many articles have you read in your life that recommended some of these lifestyle changes?  Over the years I’ve seen some of these recommendations hundreds of times. Why didn’t I start following them in my twenties, thirties or forties?  Why did I wait until my sixties to get down to business? Even though this report in AGING came out in September, 2014, its advice is quite common.  Just read these other articles.

This is just a half dozen articles out of whole libraries devoted to the subject. Yet, if you take the time to read them, you’ll see consistent pieces of advice show up time and again, and even interesting contrasting advice.  Such as sleep at least 7-8 hours, but it’s bad to sleep more than 9 hours.

It’s key in evaluating articles on the Internet to understand where the knowledge comes from. First check if it’s based on a scientific study, and see if you can track down the original study. Popular articles summarize scientific studies, and sometimes they slant their summaries.  See if there are other articles from other sites that take a different slant. Great essays will cover multiple studies, and even explain conflicting studies.

Most articles aren’t based on scientific studies. In those cases you have to evaluate the expertise of the person giving the advice. If you’re reading dating advice, what experience does the romance guru have? Is it just personal, or do they have a relevant degree, or work for Match.com? Plain old personal advice can be valuable, especially if that person’s insights are savvy and practical, and they fit your own observations and experience.

My point here is not to write specifically about memory loss prevention, but to show that there’s a tremendous amount of knowledge, and maybe even wisdom to found on any subject.  How do we evaluate the wealth of information?  Most people find it confusing that on so many topics there’s lots of contradictory advice.  So, how do we decide which recommendations are valid? Wisdom doesn’t come easy.

That’s what I’m wishing for here, a web site that collects and contrasts all the studies and averages them out for every issue we want to consider. I want a Meta-Advice site, a one-stop-shop for evaluating advice, organized like Wikipedia, that has an army of specialists hammering out summaries and comparisons of all the research for any specific subject people want advice on. Google is great, but if you use Wikipedia a lot, you’ll understand why it’s structural approach is better for organizing advice information.

Imagine going to this Meta-Advice site and looking up memory loss and CoQ-10.  Let’s say it evaluates 57 different research studies. The summary might not be conclusive – science rarely is – but it would give us the best current answer, even if it’s only a statistic like in 63% of cases using 23,204 subjects, memory retention was improved when CoQ-10 was used in trials varying between 6 months and three years.  I’m making up these numbers, but you should get what I mean.

When research scientists or PhD candidates want to explore new territory they do a literature review of all the previous studies. They need to find the boundaries of what’s known and not known. This Meta-Advice site should do the same thing, and make it understandable to the layman where the boundary of knowledge is, and what they can learn from it.

It is possible for an individual to go to Google Scholar and do a search on “Alzheimer’s and Dementia Prevention.”  But the results are overwhelming. Only the truly dedicated will wade through the massive number of articles available. That’s why a site like Wikipedia, where knowledgeable editors can predigest the information for the average reader would be a huge help. The Internet is coming up with all kinds of new ways of doing things. We have no idea what cognitive tools will be invented soon. If you think of the effective nature of what Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, IMDB, Flickr, etc., they all make managing information easier. I believe advice management is in need of an Internet makeover.  

JWH

The Job of Blogging

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, October 16, 2014

Blogging is an interesting hobby, but strange in some ways.  Most blogs are like diaries, yet before the Internet most folks would be horrified to have their diaries read before they died.  Blogging is a bit like writing papers for school, and most students absolutely hated writing research papers and book reports. Blogging has an element of journalism, so maybe its popularity reflects a strong desire for bloggers to be reporters. However, there’s tens of millions of blogs, most going unread, as are most daily newspapers. If I really wanted to be read I should try and write stuff for popular web sites, that’s where the readers are going. Writing for professional sites should be my ambition, but its easier to just to be my own editor.

In some ways blogging is confessional, and that doesn’t require readers. Writing is therapeutic. But I don’t think I’d take all this time to write if I didn’t think I had readers. The urge to write encompasses the urge to inform and entertain. I’m not sure how entertaining and informative I am, but I keep trying. Before I changed my domain name, I was getting 200-400 hits a day, with occasional spikes.  My best day ever was 4,521. Evidently switching names has screwed up things with Google, because now I only get 100-150 hits a day. Most of those lost hits were for product review pages. And that tells me something – web surfers mostly want information from the Internet. And that’s reasonable. Most of the pages I still get hits on deal with science fiction. When I write about me I get no hits.

The common advice to bloggers from successful bloggers is to publish regularly.  At least once a week. That means writing 52 read-worthy essays a year. Most popular bloggers publish several times a week, but often, they are the subject of their writing. My life is not as entertaining as The Bloggess. Even if I was more fascinating, I doubt I could handle the stress of making myself more interesting. Besides I love writing about interesting things that aren’t me.  For instance, last night on PBS I started watching a new series, How We Got to Now.  The first episode was called “Clean” and it was about how America started cleaning up its act. It featured a fascinating segment about how Chicago first built sewers.  They actually raised up the buildings to make space. Now that grabbed my attention!

Street_Raising_on_Lake_Street

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If I could, I’d want to write nonfiction books on science and history, but I’m not that disciplined and dedicated. Thus, blogging for me is a way to write tiny reports about the books I read, the documentaries I see, and the web pages I discover, that are worthy of wider attention. People do the exact same thing on Facebook and Twitter.  Blogging is just more verbose. Blogging gives me more time to make my case.

Few writers write original content. They report on people, places and events. Most journalism is a kind of history. Reviewers report on other content creators. For example, the raising of Chicago’s buildings is something I could research and write about, but why should I compete with what Wikipedia has published, or PBS? Blogging is more liked linked lists in computer programming. If you read other web sites about the topic, for instance Gizmodo, you’ll see no one writes much on the Internet about any particular subject, and they often share the same facts, links and images. The image above is at every site I visited. If you follow the links, you will get more information, but not much. Following several links give a bigger picture. If you want true in-depth reporting, you have to read books.

A great blogger will consolidate a greater amount of information, closer to magazine pieces in size. Open Culture and Brain Pickings are my favorite examples. Open Culture just provided me with a wonderful piece about Alice Guy-Blaché, a women director also mentioned in last week’s Makers on PBS that I wanted to research. I wonder if Jonathan Crow was inspired to write his piece because of Makers? Or was it an interesting coincidence.

As a bookworm and documentary junky, I’m constantly finding new facts that startle me. For example, the other night I watched The Galapagos Affair, about a tiny historical incidence from the 1930s, involving a German couple moving to an uninhabited island in the Galapagos. Their letters home made them world famous as a modern day Adam and Eve. Eventually five more people join them, and two were murdered, leaving an interesting mystery. I found this bizarre history riveting, and highly recommend the documentary that’s available on Netflix Streaming.

eve and adam

If I was a better journalist, say up to Maria Popova’s standards, I’d go research to see if more people in history have tried to play Adam and Eve. If Dore Strauch and Friedrich Ritter got the idea, so must have others. As a kid I was always fascinated with Swiss Family Robinson type stories. As a blogger, that should be my job, to track down more information. But to be honest, that requires a lot of work, and I don’t know if I’m up to it. I’m now working in a space beyond Twitter and Facebook, but not yet a full article.

That’s what this essay is about. Even though I’m not being paid, I feel blogging is a kind of job, and comes with responsibilities. While I have been nattering about blogging, I hope I’ve provided some useful information, and maybe turned you onto some interesting reading. Is that enough though?  How much information do I have to provide to make it worth your time to read what I write?

JWH