What I learned this week, March 05, 2021

Coping With Intrusive Thoughts

Haunted by a reoccurring thought that freaks you out? Intrusive thoughts are more common than you think.

Tony Cragg’s “Line of Thought” Dallas, Texas

How a ‘beginners’ mindset’ can help you learn anything

Although our ability to easily pick up a new skill declines with age (no shit, Sherlock), harnessing a specific type of mindset can help you learn effectively as an adult.

Collage by James Michael Starr, Carrollton DART station.

The Marvellous Mod World of Sci-Fi Supermarionettes

This, my friends, is the world of my childhood. BTW – Thunderbird 2 was, by far, the coolest.

Actually, of all the Supermarionette shows from when I was a kid – it was Supercar I remember the most.


Time Travel


How to be mediocre and be happy with yourself

In the novel Catch-22, the author Joseph Heller famously wrote: “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”

He’d taken a quote by Shakespeare on greatness and turned it on its head.

The implication was clear: mediocrity is a bad thing, to be avoided. Yet most of us go on to live what by most measures are pretty ordinary lives.

So what’s wrong with settling for mediocrity?

Plano, Texas Sometimes you can find interest, maybe beauty, in the simplest and most ordinary of things.

You’re a Bad Listener: Here’s How to Remember What People Say

We come into conversations with our own agendas and low attention spans, but if you want to build better relationships you need to master active listening.

Time Exposure, Night, Downtown Dallas, Ross and Pearl

How to Achieve Your Goals By Creating an Enemy

Art Deco mural from Fair Park in Dallas

Vaccination

I can’t give you up, till I’ve got more than enough.
So infect me with your love–
Nurse me into sickness. Nurse me back to health.
Endow me with the gifts–of the man made world.

—-The The, Infected

Ellis County Courthouse, Waxahachie, Texas

A few days ago my health provider sent me an email and told me I was scheduled for a COVID-19 vaccination shot. It was about time – I have a couple of risk factors and am classified 1B by the state’s standards and was getting antsy about getting my shots. I filled out the online paperwork and was notified that I would be getting vaccinated at Ellis County’s vaccination hub in Waxahachie at 1 PM on today, a Saturday.

That’s about a fifty mile drive from where I live – clear across the city – but it is doable. I’ve been to Waxahachie a few times – most recently on a photowalk – which was a lot of fun.

I made plans to make a day out of the trip – load my bike in my car and ride a trail there – maybe stop at a coffee shop. But there was an emergency at work and I had to stay pretty much all night Friday (until four in the morning) so I threw all that out the window and tried to catch some sleep.

Saturday I checked the driving time and verified it was fifty minutes so I made some coffee and futzed around. The instructions were a bit odd – instead of saying “Arrive at least fifteen minutes early” – it said, “Do not arrive more than fifteen minutes before your scheduled time.” Then I checked the phone again and a rainstorm had blown in all across the city and the drive time had ballooned to an hour and a half – so I jumped in the car and took off.

I HATE being late for an appointment and as I fought my way through the stopped traffic my arrival time kept getting later – until it hit 1:20. Then my phone told me it had an alternate route, which I accepted, and it got me there only four minutes late.

The Ellis County Hub was impressive. It was meticulously organized in a rural Texas sort of way (if you know what I mean) – they had almost a hundred volunteers in color coded fluorescent vests handling intake (they verified your appointment while you were still in your car, marked your vehicle with a piece of chalk, and handed you a clipboard and a pen for you to fill out the forms [with your input carefully marked with a yellow background] while you parked), parking assistants, a big clump of wheelchairs with attendants for anyone that needed it, intake assistants to verify paperwork, people behind computers entering the data, a group of “ladies in pink” that directed everyone to the rooms where the shots were done (complete with volunteers holding signs indicating which rooms had extra space), the injector people themselves with assistants, and finally a waiting room (in the Senior center’s gymnasium) where we waited for fifteen minutes recovery.

On the way out they scheduled me for my second shot and gave me a card, saying, “Do not lose this card or you will not be able to get your second shot.”

They were moving thousands through the process quickly and accurately. Something impressive to behold.

The only odd thing was that nobody ever asked me for an ID. Although they asked my name and verified my appointment – I could have been anybody – I could have sent someone in my place.

I did make the mistake of wearing a thick, long-sleeve shirt (It was cold and I didn’t want to take a coat – but what the hell was I thinking) and the poor guy had to pull the neck down to get the needle in. So when you get your shot – wear a short-sleeve shirt.

I was oddly excited to get my vaccination. Now I’m looking forward to getting the second and finally, a little bit, putting this awful thing behind me (and us).

Column Capital, Ellis County Courthouse, Waxahachie, Texas

What I learned this week, February 26, 2021

Zen-like Christmas decorations, Waxahachie, Texas

The Zen rule for becoming happier: Change one thing

1. Start very small.
2. Do only one change at a time.
3. Be present and enjoy the activity (don’t focus on results).
4. Be grateful for every step you take.


Crepe Myrtle trunk in the snow

Train Your Body to Work Out—or Just Hang Out—in Colder Weather

So you hate the cold.

With coronavirus surging, restaurants and bars closed and the homes of even friends and family off-limits, does that mean your winter social life is doomed?

No, according to a host of scientists, professors and trainers who are experts on the physiological impact of frigid weather on humans. Adapting to cold isn’t fun— who loves to shiver?—but it’s possible, scientists say. And as a bonus: Cold, like exercise, makes you healthier.


Window washing job I couldn’t do
Downtown Dallas, Texas

The computers rejecting your job application

A professional journalist, I had recently applied for a new job, and for the first part of the recruitment process the publisher made me play a number of simple online games from the comfort of my own home.

These included having to quickly count the number of dots in two boxes, inflating a balloon before it burst to win money, and matching emotions to facial expressions. Then an artificial intelligence (AI) software system assessed my personality, and either passed or failed me. No human had a look-in.

I wondered: is it fair for a computer alone to accept or reject your job application?

Welcome to the fast-growing world of AI recruitment.


The Window at Molly’s, the street (Decatur) unusually quiet, with notebook, vintage Esterbrook pen, and Molly’s frozen Irish Coffee

How to Write a Novel, According to 10 Really Good Novelists

Take notes everywhere, embrace Wikipedia wormholes and other handy tips



Mojo Coffee, Magazine Street, New Orleans, Louisiana
(click to enlarge)

Our 14 favorite gadgets and hacks for working at home

From mesh networks to lap desks, here’s how The Verge’s staffers create their workspaces


Display at main Half-Price Books, Dallas, Texas

The Use and Abuse of ‘They’

Journalists and essayists in recent years somehow formed the impression that the academic study of English grammar is partitioned into two mutually hostile tribes: descriptivists and prescriptivists. Both are portrayed in cartoonish stereotypes.

The descriptivists allegedly think that anything uttered by English speakers is ipso facto good English and can never be erroneous. So if people sometimes say, “It’s in the, the . . . the hall closet,” we must deem that correct, and posit noun phrases with three definite articles in a row. This insane view is purportedly associated with the political Left.

But the other tribe seems just as deranged. Its members won’t change their minds about the sacred edicts of grammar regardless of evidence. No matter how many great writers may have committed some solecism, they say, it’s still wrong if the rules of correct grammar say it is. This view gets tagged as conservative.

RIP Fry’s

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
― Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry Into the Limits of the Possible

“It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Perforations in the roof of the Pavilion in Pacific Plaza Park, downtown Dallas, Texas

It was not really a surprise when I read Fry’s was going out of business (it has been circling the drain for years – the stores have been barely stocked) but I felt sadness nevertheless. I went to their website and read the following notice:

After nearly 36 years in business as the one-stop-shop and online resource for high-tech professionals across nine states and 31 stores, Fry’s Electronics, Inc. (“Fry’s” or “Company”), has made the difficult decision to shut down its operations and close its business permanently as a result of changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Company will implement the shut down through an orderly wind down process that it believes will be in the best interests of the Company, its creditors, and other stakeholders.

Fry’s has always been more famous on the West Coast, but it had a big presence in Texas too. Most people think of the outlandish and tasteless architecture but I have fond memories of the place.

My first visit was in the early 1996 or so when the Arlington store opened (I think that was the first one in North Texas). Back then buying a personal computer was a major operation – especially if you were looking for an affordable one. I had heard of a new megastore in Arlington (about an hour drive) and we went there. I was stunned at the acres of electronic geegaws and doodads with a few actual products sprinkled in. I found a PC… I don’t remember the brand – but it was off-off branded and was originally intended for sale in the Soviet Union… of all places. Yet, it was inexpensive and intelligently spec’d and I used that hunk of tan plastic for years.

Later, I build two personal computers (one for me and one for my son) from parts I bought at Fry’s. I had a list of components I needed and every Friday I would scan the new Fry’s ad – rush out there and buy whatever was on deep discount that week. I was able to build PCs for about half what they would cost retail – and tailor them for our needs (gaming for my son – writing for me).

Otherwise, Fry’s was a geeky, nerdy oasis of technology. I used to love to hang out there and walk the aisles looking for something useful and more things not useful. Audio, software, small appliances, large appliances, TVs, everything and anything.

I remember what I called “The Gauntlet.” Checkout lines were always long – though they moved fast (there were up to twenty registers open at any time) and while you were queued up to pay everyone was herded down a narrow aisle at the front of the store. This aisle was lined with shelves groaning under the weight of odd merchandise: Candy, Cooling fans, Energy drinks, huge packs of batteries, charging cables, keychains, Velcro strips, USB drives, odd magazines, soldering irons, puzzle books, pens, chips, hats, pins, pencils, on and on. I realized that these were all carefully selected to be irresistible impulse purchases for technology types. Nerd Heroin. Good luck getting through there without adding something to your purchase.

Writing this, the good memories come back –

-Fleeing from a stressful day at work and hiding out in the media room watching Twister,

-Seeing my name mentioned in the book “Everything Internet Book” (1998) when I pulled the tome off the extensive tech bookshelf (I had been interviewed by the author. I was one of the pioneers of the “online journal” in 1996 which eventually became blogging).

-Hours spent in the vast sections of the parts department looking for just the right adapter or soldering connector. It is not the same surfing through Amazon, or Banggood, or Aliexpress. Not the same.

-picking up a 65 inch HD rear-projection DLP television with my son back when nobody had a 65 inch television.

-Seeing my first Laptop/Tablet/LaserPriner/FlatscreenTV/BluetoothSpeaker/almost any other tech invention in the last thirty years.

-Hearing my first subwoofer in the audio demo room

On and on.

This is making me feel old.

What I learned this week, February 19, 2021

Why Are There 5,280 Feet in a Mile?

Why are there 5,280 feet in a mile, and why are nautical miles different from the statute miles we use on land? Why do we buy milk and gasoline by the gallon? Where does the abbreviation “lb” come from? Let’s take a look at the origins of a few units of measure we use every day.

New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana

Politics Is Seeping Into Our Daily Life and Ruining Everything

Is there anything that politics can’t ruin? The answer, it appears, is a resounding “no” as partisan conflict creeps into all areas of American life. Our political affiliations, researchers say, obstruct friendships, influence our purchases, affect the positions we take on seemingly apolitical matters, and limit our job choices. As a result, many people are poorer, lonelier, and less healthy than they would otherwise be.

Governor NIcholls Street, New Orleans

Heard of “road diets?” Here’s why fewer lanes can actually be faster—and safer.

Ford pumped out a lot of cars in the early 1900s, and by the ’60s there were so many vehicles on US roads that traffic engineers decided to add more lanes. Unfortunately, they were a bit overzealous, and many roads were expanded even when there was really no need. That left the country with a lot of overbuilt and unsafe roads that persist to this day.

Bicycle Lanes on the Jefferson Viaduct from Oak Cliff into downtown Dallas.

The Cult Sports Movie That Tackled the Underbelly of Fandom

‘Big Fan,’ Robert Siegel and Patton Oswalt’s ode to a sad New York Giants fan from Staten Island, is the best sports movie that’s not about sports ever made

I went ahead and watched this movie streaming on something or other. It was very good. I wouldn’t say it was completely pleasant – but it does make you feel something for a character that you wouldn’t usually give a shit about. And that’s something.


Why are sitcom dads still so inept?

From Homer Simpson to Phil Dunphy, sitcom dads have long been known for being bumbling and inept.

But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, sitcom dads tended to be serious, calm and wise, if a bit detached. In a shift that media scholars have documented, only in later decades did fathers start to become foolish and incompetent.

Braindead Brewing Company, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Impossible Cookware and Other Triumphs of the Penrose Tile

In 1974, Roger Penrose, a British mathematician, created a revolutionary set of tiles that could be used to cover an infinite plane in a pattern that never repeats. In 1982, Daniel Shechtman, an Israeli crystallographer, discovered a metallic alloy whose atoms were organized unlike anything ever observed in materials science. Penrose garnered public renown on a scale rarely seen in mathematics. Shechtman won the Nobel Prize. Both scientists defied human intuition and changed our basic understanding of nature’s design, revealing how infinite variation could emerge within a highly ordered environment.

I have always been fascinated by Penrose Tiles. I think they look soo cool. I dreamed once of buying a small ceramic manufacturing facility and actually selling colorful Penrose tiles (darts and kites) so you could cover your patio with a non-repeating pattern. Some dreams are better off unrealized.

Penrose tiling

Four wild animals that are thriving in cities

As someone who grew up 30 minutes outside the city, I never thought wild game would inhabit any part of the Five Boroughs. Seeing deer, coyotes, ducks, and other kinds of critters was common here in the wilderness areas and waters near my home in Long Island, but on the streets of New York? Our city centers continue to expand with development and urban sprawl, which means human infringement on animal habitat continues. So it’s not surprising that humans are encountering these animals within city limits more and more.

I live on a creek lot – there is a slightly wooded creek behind my house. It isn’t really a creek – it’s more like a ditch running down from the flood control ponds at the end of my block – but there is a jogging trail and no houses on the other side of my alley. I also don’t have the typical Texas tall wooden privacy fence – so you can see into the slightly wooded ditch from my back porch. If you go out at dawn you can sit there, sip your coffee and watch the coyotes running along the strip. I’ve read that they tend to live in the clumps of trees on the golf course a couple miles downstream. They come up at night for a duck dinner. So there’s coyotes, and ducks, and geese… and I’ve seen an occasional beaver (new trees have to be protected by wire mesh or the beavers will gnaw them down) back there too. Now that I think about it – owls and opossums and rats… (I’m not sure it those last two count as wild) are common. Plus we’re starting to hear more and more reports of bobcats.

The ponds at the end of my block, Richardson, Texas

What I learned this week, February 12, 2021

Fog in front of my house, Richardson, Texas

Want to Reduce Brain Fog And Improve Clear Thinking? Give up These Things Immediately

Mental fog is often described as a “cloudy-headed” feeling.

Common conditions of brain fog include poor memory, difficulty focusing or concentrating, and struggling with articulation.

Imagine if you could concentrate your brain power into one bright beam and focus it like a laser on whatever you wish to accomplish.

Many people struggle to concentrate. And when you can’t concentrate, everything you do is harder and takes longer than you’d like.


Something in front of Braindead Brewing
Deep Ellum,Dallas, Texas

How to Stop Overthinking Everything

 

Deliberation is an admirable and essential leadership quality that undoubtedly produces better outcomes. But there comes a point in decision making where helpful contemplation turns into overthinking. To stop the cycle of thinking too much and drive towards better, faster decisions you can: put aside perfectionism, right-size the problem, leverage the underestimated power of intuition, limit the drain of decision fatigue, and construct creative constraints.


Mural on construction fence, Farmer’s Market, Dallas, Texas

How gut microbes could drive brain disorders

Scientists are starting to work out how the gut microbiome can affect brain health. That might lead to better and easier treatments for brain diseases.


Art Deco mural from Fair Park in Dallas

The Science Behind Miracles

How our minds push our bodies to defy expectations, beliefs, and even our own biology—in short, to make miracles.


Self Portrait
Andy Warhol
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Fort Worth, Texas

Why self-compassion – not self-esteem – leads to success

Talking about being kind to yourself may sound like something from a nursery classroom. But even cynics should care about self-compassion – especially if they want to be resilient.


Posing for photos at the Leaning Tower of Dallas

20 Realistic Micro-Habits To Live Better Every Day

m sick of lists of habits that are unrealistic for the majority of people. Even worse is when someone says to wake up at 5 am or run 10 kilometers every day and calls it a micro-habit.

This is not one of those lists.


Happy Again

How to be mediocre and be happy with yourself

In the novel Catch-22, the author Joseph Heller famously wrote: “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”

He’d taken a quote by Shakespeare on greatness and turned it on its head.

The implication was clear: mediocrity is a bad thing, to be avoided. Yet most of us go on to live what by most measures are pretty ordinary lives.

So what’s wrong with settling for mediocrity?

What I learned this week, February 5, 2021

What We Learned from Tracking Cycling Deaths for a Year

Louisiana, New York, California, Florida, and Texas were the five deadliest states for cyclists in terms of total fatalities. The latter three have been the most deadly states for cyclists for years, and New York’s fatalities have been on the rise as well—in 2019, it reported 46 cyclist deaths, with 29 in New York City alone. While these three states are also the most populous in the country, Florida and California have among the most cycling deaths per million people, as well. And Louisiana recorded 7.3 cycling deaths per million people, the most of any state. 

Bicycle ‘Second Line New Orleans, Louisiana

Hijacking the Clown Car

The GameStop revolt should serve as a message to those in charge: you are loathed by ordinary Americans who are struggling to get ahead.

Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

Do These Things After Work Everyday and You Will Achieve Anything You Want in Life

The time before you go to bed is golden, as it exists every single day, and it’s usually completely yours to schedule. What do you want to do with this time? Read? Spend time with your kids? Work on a hobby you’re passionate about? Take advantage of this time.

Travelling Man

The Year in Self-Improvement

The point is to accept that our impulses cannot save us from impermanence, that change and failure and death are inevitable—that stillness, as much as movement, is divine.

Usually, I see the man standing still, but sometimes he’s moving quite a bit.

Fourteen Fascinating and Untranslatable Words

Handy words from other languages with no English equivalent.

I have become a fiend for finding new words to describe subtle things that I can’t think about because I don’t have a word for it. There is one thing in particular… a quality of subtle excellence… that I want to find a word for and am afraid I may have to make one up.

This is a good list even though I already knew a few of them and it doesn’t include nadryv my new favorite word.


Revenge Bedtime Procrastination… yes, it’s a thing


How to Achieve Your Goals By Creating an Enemy

Anger is a powerful motivator.


What I learned this week, January 29, 2021

The 50 Best Cult Movies

I was shocked how many of these I have seen – and not shocked by the fact that I liked pretty much every one that I had seen. Out of 50 there are only three that I have never watched.

On the other hand, I can think of a lot of cult movies not on this list. These are all mostly fairly mainstream. I have been well beyond this lineup – It has nothing by Gaspar Noé (I would definitely put Enter the Void on the list), no Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, The Holy Mountain), no Synecdoche, New York (have to have something by Charlie Kaufman)… I could go on.

But I won’t.

Movie Poster for First Spaceship on Venus (Silent Star) – I remember the excitement of seeing this poster, even though I was probably six years old at the time.

Lessons from The Brothers Karamazov: Doubt, Freedom, and the Organic Nature of Religious Truth

I have begun to see The Grand Inquisitor everywhere I look.

(click to enlarge) Book With Wings Anselm Kiefer Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Ten Ideas That Have Shaped My Life

A good list… a start at least.

Birdhouses in the Tree of Life, Audobon Park, New Orleans (click to enlarge)

What Exactly Is a Short Squeeze?

Like everyone else I have been watching the GameStop shenanigans with more than a little enjoyment… and some confusion. This article helps with the confusion.

I love some of the memes… especially this one:


There is no dark matter. Instead, information has mass, physicist says

(click to enlarge) Mural, Deep Ellum Dallas, Texas

Lorrie Moore: It’s Better to Write Than Be a Writer

Pomodoro
My Pomodoro timer, Moleskine, and Ivory Pilot Prera fountain pen.

What I learned this week, January, 22, 2021


Human beings find comfort in certainty. We form governments, make calendars, and create organisations; and we structure our activities, strategies and plans around these constructs. These routines give us the satisfaction of knowing that, by having a plan, there’s a means of it coming to fruition.

But there’s another force, constantly at play in life, that often makes the greatest difference to our futures: the ‘unexpected’ or the ‘unforeseen’. If you think about it, you already look out for the unexpected every day, but perhaps only as a defence mechanism. For example, whenever you use a pedestrian crossing on a busy road, you look out for the unexpected driver who might race through the red light. That ‘alertness’ to, or awareness of, the unexpected is at the centre of understanding the science of (smart) luck and exploiting it to your benefit.

How to be lucky

Lucky Dogs cart – Bourbon Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

For others, however, commuting may have been a ritual that was critical for their mental health and work-life balance. Enter the rise of the “fake commute,” wherein people replace that daily transition with walks, runs, bike rides and more.

The rise of the fake commute, and why it’s good for your mental health

My commuter bike

A coronavirus pandemic forced the whole enterprise to announce its priorities, which are even more skewed than we realized. There are thousands of people working in college athletics with excellent priorities, of course—people who value academics, relationships, integrity and personal growth. But those are not the qualities the NCAA system rewards. College sports, purportedly a celebration of amateur athletics, are an exercise in big squashing little: large conferences whipping small ones, and revenue sports hogging resources from nonrevenue sports.

It Took a Pandemic to See the Distorted State of College Sports


David and I looked at each other, simultaneously realizing that the after-school special we thought we were in was actually a horror movie. If the medical industry was comprehensively broken, as Norman said, and the media was irrevocably broken, as we knew it was … Was everything in America broken? Was education broken? Housing? Farming? Cities? Was religion broken?

Everything is broken.

Everything Is Broken

Broken Concrete and Rebar, Dallas, Texas

The next time you’re feeling “motivated” — either right now or later this week to either either write a book, start a business, go to the gym, learn a language, or a skill — use the motivation wave to your advantage.

Make a list of everything you need to get in order to accomplish your goal. Then, sketch out a rough outline of your fail-proof system that’ll help you follow through.

When you put structures in place, you are likely to follow through.

How to Build Better Lifelong Habits


Sculpture by Jason Mehl, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

As it turns out, the science supports a totally different and ultimately empowering message: Trying to predict how a child will turn out based on choices made by their parents is like trying to predict a hurricane from the flap of a butterfly’s wings.

Why parents should stop blaming themselves for how their kids turn out

Nick reading Harry Potter.
Nick reading Harry Potter. Is this the first one?

Never too much Postmodern Jukebox and always good to have more Morgan James

What I learned this week, January, 15, 2021

Artwork in the Braindead Brewing Company, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

On Getting Rejected a Lot (and Liking It)


You can (and should) train yourself to sleep on your back


Falling Water Fountain, Dallas Arboretum

The Feynman Technique: The Best Way to Learn Anything


3 Important Life Skills Nobody Ever Taught You



One vendor features tomatoes. The back of his slot is filled with pallets of tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes.f

Gardening Fixes Everything


The Deep Roots of an Italian Song That Sounds Like English—But Is Just Nonsense