humor, language, philosophy, photography

Flags, Moles, & Meanings

While pondering “the meaning of food” is rare, pondering “the meaning of life” is common.  Deservedly?  Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Your life and mine are not arbitrary symbols used by a third party to communicate with a fourth party.  Don’t let sweating “the meaning of life” interfere with living.

§1: Colors

Meanings are tricky.  Colors provide a simpler way to explore some of the relevant ideas, but exposure to a common misuse of language may mislead some readers into objecting to the following subsection’s first paragraph.  If U want to object, please wait until U have read §1.3.  Don’t want to object?  U can skip §1.3 but are welcome to read it anyway.

§1.1: What Color is the Number Six?

The question heading this subsection is inane, bordering on nonsensical.  Many different kinds of thing have colors, but numbers don’t.  Making sense is harder than just having sensible-looking syntax.

One of the ways that philosophy made substantial progress in the past century was the realization that some “deep” questions could be as inane as the one heading of this subsection.  Determining which ones are really deep will take a while.  Inane questions may sometimes be failed attempts to pose serious questions that might be more tractable with better wording, so some inanities may deserve more sympathy than the heading of this subsection.

§1.2: What Color is the US Flag?

Flags do have colors, but the question heading this subsection is still inane.  The US flag is red, white, and blue.  While mostly red, the Chinese flag also has some yellow.  How many nations have flags of just one color?

Nobody is silly enough to speak of “the” color of a nation’s flag, but people often do fall into the trap of speaking of “the” thingamajig when there are in fact several relevant thingamajigs.  I posted 4 varied examples (and there are many more).

It does make sense to say that white is the color of the stars in the US flag, that green is the color of the fake foliage in my Xmas wreath, and so on.  But look at the ribbon on my wreath:

closer_crop_840x485

The color I see at any place on the ribbon is intricately context-dependent.  Where is the light coming from?  Where am I standing?  While the solid red ribbons on other wreaths are easier to describe, my iridescent ribbon is prettier to see.

§1.3: Numerals Ain’t Numbers

For clarity and emphasis, I will wrap words in square brackets when I want to write about them rather than with them.  Italics will be only for titles or foreign words; quote marks will be only for quotations.

Nobody confuses the English word [six] or the German word [sechs] with the number six.  The words are names for the number, not the number itself.  Likewise for the numeral [6], but people often do confuse numerals with the numbers they name.   Now that Arabic numerals like [6] have displaced Roman numerals (and strings of them like [VI] to mean six) for nearly all purposes, the confusion usually does not matter.  But it matters here.

One of the many kinds of synesthesia responds to reading various letters or numerals by also seeing various colors that are not in the text.  It’s called “grapheme-color synesthesia” and discussed on many web pages, with some variations in details of the definition.  (What about a color response to a whole word rather than just to a prominent letter in it?  To a symbol like [@] that is neither a letter nor a numeral?)  Close reading of the oversimplified definition in Psychology Today (and elsewhere) suggests that the authors were thinking of numerals when they wrote “numbers” in something like

Grapheme-color synesthesia occurs when
letters and numbers are associated with specific colors.

Some discussions of this kind of synesthesia do say “numeral” when discussing color responses to reading numerals, as they should.

I found one page that touches all bases and, despite prose obfuscated by refusing to use the word [numeral], recognizes the distinction between names and what they name.  The Syntax Tree goes on to assert that some synesthetes do have color responses to numbers themselves, not to numerals.  How could that be verified?  The page does not say.

Suppose Ulrika Zweisprachen is bilingual in English and German.  Suppose she sees the color lime green when reading a passage in English with the word [six], a passage in German with the word [sechs], or a passage in either language with the numeral [6].  The number six does have the color lime green for Ulrika, but not by itself.  Pedro Doslenguas may see orange when reading a passage in English with the word [six] or a passage in Spanish with the word [seis].  And so on.  In short, numbers don’t have colors.

In a comment on a much earlier version of this post, Sue Ranscht remarked that [nonsense] (where [inane] appears now) was an overstatement.  She also broadened my horizons about kinds of synesthesia.  I had only known of the sound-color kind.  Thanks, Sue.

§2: Words

Mole

© tunedin123 | 123RF Stock Photo
(Image has been cropped.)

The word [mole] has utterly different meanings in chemistry, dermatology, and espionage.  Even if we suppose it makes sense to attribute a meaning to life, pondering “the” meaning of life may still be like pondering “the” color of the US flag, “the” color of an iridescent ribbon, or “the” meaning of [mole].

Like mathematical notations (and many hand gestures), words are arbitrary symbols with enough consensus about what they mean to support use in communication.  Who uses life to say what to whom?  Your life and mine are not arbitrary symbols used by a third party to communicate with a fourth party.  Numbers don’t have colors and don’t need them.  Words don’t have unique meanings and don’t need them.  Life doesn’t have or need anything like “the meaning” of a word.

I posted 4 imagined responses by an old Yankee to a novice philosopher’s bloviations; one of the responses is

Wehrds need meanings; life don’t.

§3: How to Live

Maybe some concerns about “the meaning of life” are poorly worded concerns about how to live fully and righteously.  Preferring the workable to the grandiose, I try to abide by a short list of simple rules:

  • Have some fun.
  • Do more good than harm.
  • Don’t sweat “the meaning” of it all.
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growing old, health, How To, humor

To Age Gracefully … or Not

While Freud’s quarrelsome trio was speculative and oversimplified, he was onto something: “the” mind may be a loose association of multiple partial minds (I’ll call them “miniminds”) that jostle for conscious attention and sometimes squabble.  Here is a comic misadventure due to one of my own miniminds that segues to another minimind’s way to treat toenail fungus.  BTW, it’s all true.

Continue reading

How To, humor

Trust, But Verify

Ronald Reagan’s remark about arms control is not an oxymoron, as I learned while coping with the discovery that my phone-friendly blog was not so friendly after all.  Able to handle mobile calls with a simple flip phone (and unable to type with my thumbs), I had seen no reason to have a smartphone and had trusted the WordPress previewer to warn me if a blog post would look bad there.  But then I bought a smartphone.
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Until recently, I used a desktop computer for all my online activities.  I surrendered to modernity in 2021-05 and bought a smartphone with a stylus that would make hunt-and-peck typing tolerable in short stints.  Now I use the new phone about 1% of my time online and have backup for coping with hazards like extended power outages.

Aware that many people do use their phones the way I use my desktop, I am careful to preview my blog posts as they would look on a phone.  Previews cannot be perfectly accurate, but I leave some pixels of wiggle room whenever I want everything in a line of text on my desktop to appear as a single line on the narrower screen of a phone.  The WP previewer displays a plausible phone rendering, and I change my draft as needed to make posts look OK on both desktop and phone.

Wanting to get used to my new phone w/o accidentally buying junk or installing malware, I installed my usual browser (Firefox) and browsed some familiar sites, including this blog.  Oops.  The fonts actually used were much larger than what I expected from the WP previews.  My posts were awash in weird line breaks and required absurdly much scrolling.

13204746 - dinosaur and comet, vector illustration

© Evgenii Komissarov | 123RF Stock Photo

I tried the popular Chrome browser and found that it also rendered text much too big.  After much thrashing around, I stumbled onto a simple way to make many of my posts look almost the same on my actual phone as they do in the WP phone preview.  Many, yes.  All, no.  Here is a screenshot of part of a recent post as viewed in phone mode on WP from my desktop:

PerpendicularPreview_phone-on-2014a_2021-06-18_Firefox_Framed

Here is the corresponding screenshot as viewed on the actual phone:

PerpendicularActual_phone_2021-06-18_Firefox_674x399_Framed

Yuck.  After comparing the screenshots, I revised the post to avoid rogue line breaks (and demystify how to access my blog’s widgets) on a phone.  Tentatively, I trusted the WP phone preview on my desktop.  When the revision seemed ready to go live, I switched to the phone, tweaked the revision (by hunt-and-peck typing) as needed to work on the actual phone, and only then hit the [Update] button.  Likewise with the [Publish] button for this post.  Trust, but verify.

Is there anybody else who uses a desktop (or tablet) and has been blindsided by a clash between how things should look on a phone and how they do look?  Here is the simple partial fix I stumbled upon.  Us dinosaurs gotta stick together.

The [Appearance] item appears most of the way down in the menu on the left side of WP site pages.  The click sequence

        [Appearance]
                [Customize]
                        [Fonts]

gave me a chance to change font sizes used to display posts.

Both [Headings] and [Base Fonts] had defaulted to [Normal] size.  I set them to [Small].  While this might make text too small in some browsers on some desktops, I am sure that anybody using a desktop has already gotten used to pressing Ctrl-Plus or Ctrl-Minus as needed.

humor, politics, seasons

Pulling a Calf

For late winter (also known as mud season), it was a nice day.  A few half-hearted snowflakes drifted down.  They vanished into the promise of spring wafting up from wet ground that had already thawed.  As I walked past a small farm about 2 miles from home, Everett called out: “Can U give me some help?”
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I knew Everett from his being the part-time mail carrier who sometimes drove my home’s rural route.  He was also a subsistence farmer who had veggie plots, chickens, and some goats who wandered at will despite attempts to corral them.  While the Houdini goats were cause for resigned amusement, the predicament of a cow and her calf was cause for anxiety.

Mama was a small cow whose tryst with a large bull had produced a calf too large for her birth canal.  Mama was lying on her side, with just the calf’s nose and front hooves protruding.  Neither Everett nor I knew how to contact and compensate a veterinary surgeon who might perform a bovine C-section on short notice, but Everett had a plan.

He had tied the middle of a rope around the hooves.  He would pull one end of the rope while another guy pulled the other end in the same direction, straight out from Mama.  I would be the other guy.  There was no mention of the possibility of pulling with a tractor, and Everett probably did not have a tractor anyway.

Rope fraying

© S. Silver | 123RF Stock Photo

Was it thin rope or thick twine?  Either way, it was old and frayed. (Before we started pulling, it was not quite so badly frayed as in the image above.)  As we pulled, I feared that either the rope would break or some boots would lose traction.  Either way, one or both of us would suffer an ignominious pratfall in the barnyard’s morass of mud and manure.

The rope held.  So did our boots.  Mama endured the ordeal with quiet stoicism, as her calf emerged slowly.  Both survived.

My one and only obstetric accomplishment was decades ago, long before the 2016 election saw the USA’s ignominious pratfall into what passes for conservatism nowadays: a morass of mud and manure, with quicksand too.

Along with many others now, I am once again pulling on a frayed rope.  Constitutional democracy has been badly frayed by dark money, gerrymandering, troll farms, and vote suppression.  Will it hold long enough to extract my country from the morass?  (We need two unlikely wins in Georgia on 2021-01-05 to flip the Senate.)  When the future looks bleak, I think back to Everett’s frayed rope.  We pulled; it held.

humor, photography, seasons

Four Months in the Hudson Valley

This post’s little ode takes some poetic license.  I really can do some of my raking in September (when some dingy leaves fall) and defer much of the rest (to after October).  But I cannot entirely avoid October raking.  The leaves blown into the garage would be above my ankles, and any dropped bolts or keys might never be seen again.
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The prophet month has come and gone:
|July foretold the fall.

prophet

Then August did its autumn tease:
|sly hints and that was all.

goldenrod_840x1130

September barked “Start raking leaves!”
|I did not hesitate.

RakeMe_sat-10_temp-22_840x630

October, just around the bend,
|was when such chores must wait.

Chiaroscuro_0_temp+6_tint-18_840x485

birds, flowers, haiga, haiku, humor, photography

Ozzie Had His Head on Straight

David Eppley’s photo of a bald eagle named Ozzie was among the fan favorites in the Weather Channel’s 2016 Photo Contest.  The same excellent photo inspired a haiku that can respond to a CDHK challenge about daffodils.  Really.
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Carpe Diem #1832 Narcissus (Daffodils)

DavidEppley_EagleDrinking_840x568

© David Eppley

Mythornithology
|When we saw himself,
|Narcissus forgot to drink.
|Eagle had more sense.

daffodils-close
Click here to see more images and read interesting facts about flowers in the genus Narcissus (AKA daffodils).

Click here to see more images from the Weather Channel’s 2016 Photo Contest.

humor, language, photography, science

Squirrel at the Center of the Universe

Science says there is no place special, so the center of a coordinate system can be any place convenient for the purposes of the moment.  While the fluidity of centrality would have freaked out Aristotle (and still induces some queasiness), squirrels take it in stride.
 
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Centre ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #247

«Hey, stupid!»
«My empty gut is the center of the universe.»
«Refill the “bird” feeder and I’ll do rest.»

Squirrels also take it in stride when
science says space has no special directions.

Do they chow down or chow up?

haiga, haiku, humor

Then and Now

From a CDHK challenge: «… create a haiku with the … “baransu” (balance) … technique … through association on the separated lines of the haiku.»  The challenge goes on to illustrate how an association with one of the ideas in each line can inspire the next line.  (Of course, it is also good to have some unexpected twists between lines.)  Here are two balanced haiku for an unbalanced world, with pivotal word(s) highlighted.
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Carpe Diem Exploring The Beauty Of Haiku #1828 Baransu (balance)

66503064_s

Pilgrim Then
|Shinto shrine ritual:
|wash hands before entering.
|Predates pandemic.

A ritual to purify the pilgrim. In Japanese, it's called

Carrier Now
|He rants with no mask.
|Virus-laden spit may fly
|beyond two meters.

8798951 - jet aircraft over the sea

Hmmm.  Now spit can fly beyond two megameters.

Image Credits

© David Carillet | 123RF Stock Photo

© leodaphne | 123RF Stock Photo

© farang | 123RF Stock Photo

 

humor, photography, politics

Lines Plan Their Day

«Let’s twist and ripple across the computer screen
in an exuberant pseudorandom dance
that won’t repeat for centuries.»

twist-ripple-bird_840x788

«Maybe tomorrow.  Still sore from yesterday.
I pulled red line duty and
people stepped on me as they crossed.»

red-line_840x344

«Hmmm.  Let’s just mark a few straight edges
of flat surfaces in the real world
until U feel better.»
«I’m up for that if we keep the angles simple.»

corner-grn-pink-align_800x564

I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that I have improved the format of some silliness posted on 2018-05-01, in response to a challenge with the word [line].  The improvements appear above, in response to a new challenge:

Line ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #240

The bad news is that the serious undercurrent in my silliness is even more topical than before.  In so many high places in so many nations, fascists and their enablers have been stampeding across red lines.  One of many recent examples in the USA is Donald Trump’s order that hospitals bypass the CDC and send COVID-19 data only to a database run by Trump loyalists.  With predictable consequences.

After a rueful chuckle about how it feels to be a red line nowadays, we can get back to disinfecting surfaces and other little chores.  Like saving constitutional democracy.

Remember in November.

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haiku, humor, language

Squirrely Juxtaposition

In many a haiku poem, there is an unexpected juxtaposition of two contrasting ideas.  Much of the fun is in realizing how the ideas fit together in the context of the haiku.  Here is a 3-5-3 haiku with two ideas that U might expect to see juxtaposed, but not in this way.  I saw what I saw.
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Carpe Diem Exploring The Beauty Of Haiku #1826 Juxtaposition

flying-squirrel_crop_clone_840x294

Both in Sciuridae
|Chipmunk does
|rodenta yoga:
|flying squirrel.

Nerdy 😉 Notes

  1. When I first saw the chipmunk with belly down and legs spread out, it looked remarkably like a flying squirrel on a long glide.  Despite being well paid for modeling by seeds that fall from my bird feeder, the chipmunk did not hold the exact position while I fetched and focused the camera.the flying squirrel sketch vector graphics  picture
  2. While at least one yoga position is named for a kind of snake (the “cobra”), no position known to me is named for a kind of squirrel.  Too bad.  The chipmunk’s “flying squirrel” position is one that even I might be able to master, on the floor if not in the air.
  3. Wanna count syllables?  Where I live, the word [squirrel] has one syllable and rhymes with [swirl].  Elsewhere, it can have two syllables.  Maybe more.