Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Mea Culpa, Binary Thinking, and Other Stuff

Sometime in December 2020 I promised myself that I would publish one of my musings every month; I may have made that promise public.  I failed.  As I begin this, it is July 4th 2021 and I produced nothing in June. I apologize for the omission.  Remember, if you will, I'm old. 

 I have likely mused on the following in some earlier blog so please bear with me.  

Binary thinking (my term) is making decisions as if there were only two choices/possibilities. Computers operate in binary terms, one bit at a time.  Each bit is either 0 or 1.  Their capability comes from accessing groups of bits - four bits yield 16  possible combinations, eight yield 256, twelve give us 1024, and so on.  My point is, though each bit has only two states, the ability of a computer chip to take many into consideration at the same time, with each combination meaning something different, lets us use computers to solve many complex problems.

Enough tech talk.

Let's take the example that brought me to this:  Black Lives Matter.  Binary thinkers claim that this excludes them in some way (maybe I'm being too generous here.)  The statement is additive, not exclusionary.  For clarity, one could say Black Lives Also Matter, but it isn't necessary — or sufficient, because people of color are too often treated as lesser human beings solely because of their pigmentation. The injustice of that is so visible daily that there need be no question that black lives must be woven into  the fabric: of equality, of humanity, of true justice.

Other Stuff

Since so many of us have smart watches or smart phones that count our steps for us, I believe it is worth a test to see how many of those steps are used going from one room to another and back because we don't remember why we made the trip, what we wanted from that room.  It could become a regular exercise program in itself.

Until next time,


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Speaking of Words

I love words.  Here's an example of the rabbit holes I take myself down to feed my addiction.  Enjoy.

HOMONYMS are words that sound alike but have different meanings Heart and Hart, for example. HOMOPHONES are a type of homonym that also sound alike and have different meanings and different spellings. HOMOGRAPHS are words that are spelled and sound the same but have different meanings. HETERONYMS are a type of homograph that are also spelled the same and have different meanings but also different sounds.

Some examples:

Homophones first:  

Lead and Lede, (both pronounced lēd.)  This one's a little funky because lead is 'to be in front' and lede is the opening paragraph or sentence of a news story, which could have the same meaning.  

A lede is the most newsworthy part of a news story. Journalists are taught to keep it front and center: a story should lead with the lede. Erika Suffern
 Homographs next: 

How about Spell?  You spell a word by arranging the appropriate letters properly.  You may suffer a spell of bad luck or a fainting spell; the implication here is an occurrence or instance — something that happened.  Or, if Wicca is your gig, you may cast a spell on someone or something.

May I refer you to Merriam-Webster for a spell? 

And now it's time for Heteronyms:

The simplest example is Bow.  One refers to the front of a ship as it's bŏw while the instrument used for launching an arrow is a bōw.  To bend from the waist is to bŏw, while after long hours astride a horse, one's legs may bōw.

The above is a single syllable word and there are more like it (Our old friend lead, along with row and sow come to mind, with sōw also participating in a homophonic relationship with sew.) One can compile a fairly long list of Heteronyms using just two syllable words: content, abuse, abstract, buffet, conduct, tear, wind wound, ... .  With the words in that list, the pronunciation differs when the part of speech is changed from noun to verb or visa-versa.  

NOTE:  Some authors have given the label Heteronym to words that describe the same thing in different geographic areas, for example: hoagie, grinder, or submarine sandwich. They have also given it to words that have the same meaning but different origins, like: preface and forward.  I believe both suggestions cheapen the meaning of Heteronym and are the product of linguists with way too much time on their hands.

You be the judge.

Until next time,  Namaste.  

Saturday, April 17, 2021

My Muse

    My muse is the tiny persistent voice in my head that tells me to write at least 750 words.  She is sometimes gentle , urging me forward when I’m stuck in a passage.  She is sometimes  insistent, pushing me into the chair in front of my desktop computer when I try to excuse myself.  I have tried to outwit her by saying that I usually write on my little Mac laptop.  Her response is generally a disdainful query about whether certain letters exist only on one keyboard.  She can be persistent, not allowing me to forget that she sits inside my left brain trying to build structure into my unstructured life.  I fight her, oh yes! I fight her, but she is strong and willful, and able to drag me back to the closest keyboard and place my fingers in the proper position.  When all else fails, she becomes my mother (and probably everyone else’s) and uses guilt.  Her goal is to get my ass into the seat and my hands and eyes into position.  Once she has accomplished that, she leaves, smug and satisfied, knocking on the lobe of my right brain on the way by.

    As the door opens and the chaos that is inside spills and tumbles out, I swear I see her smiling. “Okay, champ,” she says, “I got you here.  Now do something.”  She never tells me what, never so much as suggests a topic; she just goes into her room and knits or something until she sees me slacking off.  If she catches the lapse early enough she simply pokes her head out and hollers, “Write!”  But if I’m able to escape into a game of online Scrabble or an email check and recheck, or if I actually succeed in leaving the room, she comes storming out to drag me back to work.  “Work on what?”  I ask.  No answer.

So, I sit here, weary from all my kicking and screaming but in the seat with hands on the keys pushing words onto the screen.  I want so badly to reach behind me and grab the TV remote, do some channel surfing, and kick back when I see something of marginal interest.  As I flag in my resolve, she pokes her head out and, glaring, growls, “Seven-fifty.”  

“I need to practice my music,” I argue.

“You’ve been singing all day,” she responds.

“But I haven’t played the bass yet.”

“You haven’t played the bass for six months.”

“But I moved it into my office.”


“I’ll just tune it up.”


    I know that my pleas are going nowhere.  I know I will not have peace until I have produced seven hundred fifty words in some coherent form.  That’s the other problem.  She won’t allow me to write just anything, refuses to consider my version of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” for as many pages as it takes.  She reads over my shoulder from time to time just to make sure I’m proceeding with some relatively consistent theme.  Having no chance of escape, I attempt to organize the amoebic bubble, reaching into the mass to extract a word, a sentence, a paragraph, but it’s so hard.

A new ploy jumps into my head!  Chores!

“I have to clean up the kitchen.”

No answer.

“Really … I got a bunch done after dinner but there’s still more.”


“Okay.  If I write a little more can I go finish up the kitchen?”

“How much more?”

“Maybe a hundred words?”

“How much?”

“Okay, a hundred and fifty.”


So I continue.  

    I’m not sure I like my muse very much, although sometimes she stays with me and coaxes ideas from my right brain, from the mush, into a string of words that make sense.  That’s when I begin to enjoy the task of writing again.  So I guess she’s really helpful — sometimes.  I live for those times when the words are coming in a torrent, when she feeds me as if I were a hungry bear, shoveling thoughts at me faster than I can swallow them.   

    So I continue, hoping that the stream will grow into a flash flood and every word will be a gem to polish to an inspirational luster, hoping that whatever comes out of this contest with my lovely, nagging muse will be magic.  

But if not, it will at least be seven hundred and fifty good words.  


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

March Hair

 One of the interesting events in my life these past several months of isolation is seeing the changes in the hair on some of my friends.   I mostly like noticing male friends whose hair has always been neatly trimmed, now sporting shoulder length tresses.  These longer doos are still neatly brushed and groomed and have become a comfortable part of the individual's identity.  

Mine, on the other hand (or head), has not succumbed to any regimen of daily care to speak of.  It has grown to shoulder length, shown indications of the curliness of half a century or more ago without the fabled thickness that my aunts and female cousins used to envy, and generally has become an unruly series of isolated grey/white strands flaring out in arbitrary directions.  There is woefully little of it, anyway.  When I did get my hair cut, pre pandemic, it was about every two months.  Since the nasty COVID-19 bug arrived, it's been about a year-and-a-half since any scissor has touched my tresses.  Not that it's a major event when one does, given the paltry number of follicles that actually produce anything.  That said, I finally made an appointment to get it done.  I am "fully vaccinated" so I feel free to branch out from my hermitage, and hair is one of the first priorities.  Full disclosure - I'm more interested in getting the hair in my ears and nose taken care of than on my head.

I've babbled enough about follicular situations for now.  Until next time.


Sunday, February 21, 2021

In The Zone

 I read the phrase in the morning paper a while ago, and it ignited a couple of things.

 One often hears athletes account for some spectacular play by saying they were "In the Zone."  I experienced it once playing third base in an IBM softball league.  One out, runner on first, clean-up hitter at bat.  As the batter swung, the zone happened. I saw the ball at impact. I knew the trajectory of the high line drive immediately, moved right and leaped, catching it at the edge of the webbing.  I landed and turned, seeing the alarm on the base runner’s face as he spun in slow-motion back toward first.  I had all the time in the world to make the throw ending the inning.  It never happened again.

'Bama third base Kelly Montalvo 2009

But The Zone isn’t reserved for sports.  Think about the arts.  When a writer puts pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and begins working, what is sometimes drudgery suddenly becomes a race to keep up with words that pour out.  Time is a non-entity.  The only thing in the world is the word, the connection of one to the next, and the next, and the next…  Knowing, without knowing, that the words are good, that they fit, that they make a story or a poem. 

Ponder the painter in The Zone, removing the blankness from a canvas to reveal a scene, a portrait, an abstraction, a slice of life, allowing the brush or pallet knife to do its work unencumbered by concerns about rightness, certain it is there.

I know a beautiful singer, songwriter who, on a break from a recording session, stepped outside to enjoy a few minutes respite.  She sat on the wall of a fountain that encircled the statue of a woman who gave the studio its name. With her mind and voice relaxed, lyrics wormed their way in and by the time the break was over she had a new song.  It is in my opinion one of the most creative tunes on the album.

I imagine sculptors, crafters, laborers, teachers; people of all occupations and vocations sometimes feel The Zone.  It happens when the work becomes all-consuming, when nothing exists but the material and its manipulation by whatever tool fits to make it complete.

Think about the time(s) when a project you worked on consumed you to the point that all your energy focused on it.  When you finally took a breath and looked up, hours had passed without you feeling them go.

Did you ever wonder how a surgical team can work for seven, eight, or more hours to save a life?  I have to believe they are “In The Zone.”

Until next time,


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Do You Refuse to Make Resolutions?

 Can't happen.  That refusal is a resolution!  Well maybe you say to yourself "I don't care about resolutions."  So, rephrasing: you resolve not to care.  Frustrating, isn't it?  There's no way I've found to not make a resolution, so why fight it?  It's more fun to compile a list of resolutions, then cross them out when you break them.  Some classics for you to copy:

Fill in the blanks

I will lose ____ pounds by _____.

I will exercise ____ times a (week, month, day - circle one)

I will not watch more than ____ hours of TV per (week, month, day - circle one)

I will eat a healthy diet. [this one is ambiguous so you can figure out what's good for your particular health.]

I will be a better person. 'Better' is a comparative, so better than: your significant other, relative, neighbor, friend, I was last year, ... ? Better is a standard advertising ploy 'Our product is better': than last year, than not having it, than bouncing a ball in the street, ... ?  Actually this one is a keeper, because no-one but you knows the other side of the comparison.

Enough silliness.  If you've made your list, have at it; if it's in your head, also good because you will be the only one to know you broke them.  If you are brave enough, put it on your kitchen door.

Happy resolving.

Til next time,