Archive for October, 2010

Reading In The Brain

How can a few black marks on a white page evoke an entire universe of sounds and meanings? In this riveting investigation, renowned cognitive neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene provides a highly accessible description of the brain circuitry at work behind reading. He sheds light on the main issues related to the “reading paradox” — our cortex is the outcome of millions of years of evolution in a world without writing, so why can it adapt to the specific challenges posed by written word recognition? Stanislas Dehaene proposes a powerful “neuronal recycling” hypothesis, which postulates that cultural inventions invade evolutionarily older brain circuits, and while doing so inherit many of their structural constraints.

Reading in the Brain also describes groundbreaking research on how the brain processes languages. It reveals the hidden logic of spelling and the existence of powerful unconscious mechanisms for decoding words of any size, case, or font.

This is a book for everyone. It is eye-opening and will fascinate not only readers interested in science and culture, but educators concerned with the contested issues of how we learn to read, and of pathologies like dyslexia. Like Steven Pinker, Dehaene argues that the mind is not a blank slate: writing systems across all cultures rely on the same brain circuitry, and reading is only possible insofar as it fits within the limits of a primate brain. Setting cutting-edge science in the context of cultural debate, Reading in the Brain is an unparalleled guide to a uniquely human capability.

Continue reading


Great Vitamin Site

This place looks great! He gives you advice about mixing vitamins with medications and it’s visually very easy to look at. He talks about hormones and herbs and pharma. Today I got around to using the interactive pill advisor. I input the medication I’m taking (to quit smoking) and the supplements I take (calcium and vitamin D) and I got back a small report telling me that food will help in absorption of both the medicine and vitamin D which I did not know. Or maybe I did at one time but forgot? Anyway, it’s a useful tool. You will need to register with their site to use it and you can do that here:

This  is the actual site.

“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” – Plato

Wiccan Cooking & Eating

I’ve got to find a widget that collects for me all the books I come across and am interested in. At the original article there are eight more books of recipes. We’ll be having spinach every day next week I think. : )

The Magical World of Wiccan Cookery: 9 Recipe Collections

According to Cunninghams Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen, pretzels offer protection, basil is for lovers, and spinach will make you wealthy—season it with sesame seeds or nutmeg “for added power.” These are all useful tips if you happen to be preparing a Sabbat feast to celebrate Samhain (that’s Halloween for those of use who aren’t modern-day witches and warlocks), but even if you aren’t familiar with Wiccan cooking, a visit to the wonderful and wacky Wiccan cookbook shelf is in order.

Why? In part because Halloween is near—but more importantly, because pagan cookbooks (and yes, there are a lot of them) are at once enlightened and silly, fascinating and full of bizarre-sounding recipes and alliterative chapter titles. (“Mystical Meats”?) Underlying it all, though, are some powerful ideas about food’s importance—sacredness, even—that aren’t so different from those held by fans of farmers’ markets and Slow Food. “Cook with purpose and care,” Cunningham says; “Cook with love.” And don’t forget to serve some Amuletic Appetizers.

So, without further delay, here’s a brief introduction to Wiccan recipe collections:


CUNNINGHAM’S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WICCA IN THE KITCHEN” You’ll find the magic of wine, sugar, and hotcross buns here, along with that of seaweed, carrots, and tofu,” writes the author of this “practical food magic manual.” “This book has something for everyone.” And it really does seem to be practical. The author, Scott Cunningham, adds, “I don’t recommend trying to cook in a cauldron unless you have an open hearth and plenty of time.”

Notable recipe:
Apricot Brandy Quick Amatory Drink

“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” – Plato

Kids, Education Is Your Calling!

This is taken from a very long essay by Stanley Hauerwas at First I post this part here because this is the single most important point he makes,  I think. As Deepak Chopra likes to point out, appreciation is the key to our personal happiness. If young people were as appreciative as they could be, given the fact there are many people who will never have a chance to attend university and instead start their working life sometimes as young as 16 and who would dearly love to be able to  “listen to lectures, attend seminars, go to labs, and read books” they might be more motivated to succeed in school. Maybe we need to require a one credit class for juniors, covering the effect of an education long term for students AND addressing gratitude/ appreciation as the single best way to be happy with your situation in life. The two go together in my mind because we hear statistics telling us that 53% of freshmen won’t graduate, related story here: . Perhaps more would persevere if they understood the privilege being accorded them, if they did understand, they would appreciate it, feel gratitude (to God or parents or fate, whatever).

Go With God

An open letter to young Christians on their way to college

…To be a student is a calling. Your parents are setting up accounts to pay the bills, or you are scraping together your own resources and taking out loans, or a scholarship is making college possible. Whatever the practical source, the end result is the same. You are privileged to enter a time—four years!—during which your main job is to listen to lectures, attend seminars, go to labs, and read books.

It is an extraordinary gift. In a world of deep injustice and violence, a people exists that thinks some can be given time to study. We need you to take seriously the calling that is yours by virtue of going to college. You may well be thinking, “What is he thinking? I’m just beginning my freshman year. I’m not being called to be a student. None of my peers thinks he or she is called to be a student. They’re going to college because it prepares you for life. I’m going to college so I can get a better job and have a better life than I’d have if I didn’t go to college. It’s not a calling.”

Hint Fiction

You remember those six word memoirs that were all the rage a while back? They were modeled on a story Hemingway allegedly wrote on a dare:
For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Grant Dougall 

Well now there’s a new book “Hint Fiction,” a collection of slightly longer efforts, 25 words or less, edited by Robert Smartwood. From the New Yorker:
“Hint Fiction” gives writers a little more room to roam. A hinting story, Swartwood explains, should do in twenty-five words what it could do in twenty-five hundred, that is, it “should be complete by standing by itself as its own little world.” And, like all good fiction, it should tell a story while gesturing toward all the unknowable spaces outside the text.
You can preview a bunch of them here. My favorite is “Houston, We Have a Problem,” by J. Matthew Zoss.
I’m sorry, but there’s not enough air in here for everyone. I’ll tell them you were a hero.
Though, “Through Tiny Windows,” by Barry Napier, has a nice Borgesian feel to it.
When they opened the cadaver, they found a house. A couple argued inside. There was a rhythm to their words, like the beating of a heart.

Not only can you read more at the link above but if you read the comment section here you will find many more, by NPR readers. This is so neat. I’m adding it to my list to look for at the library.

The First Important Black Poet

Paul Laurance Dunbar 

Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first African-American poet to garner national critical acclaim. Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1872, Dunbar penned a large body of dialect poems, standard English poems, essays, novels and short stories before he died at the age of 33. His work often addressed the difficulties encountered by members of his race and the efforts of African-Americans to achieve equality in America. He was praised both by the prominent literary critics of his time and his literary contemporaries.

I mention him because he wrote this, a favorite of mine (not that I know that many poems, but still, it is) and appropriate for Halloween, I think. I found it years ago when I used to go to libraries on a regular basis and it must have been around Hallowe’en time then too.

The Haunted Oak

Pray why are you so bare, so bare,
Oh, bough of the old oak-tree;
And why, when I go through the shade you throw,
Runs a shudder over me?
My leaves were green as the best, I trow,
And sap ran free in my veins,
But I say in the moonlight dim and weird
A guiltless victim’s pains.
They’d charged him with the old, old crime,
And set him fast in jail:
Oh, why does the dog howl all night long,
And why does the night wind wail?
He prayed his prayer and he swore his oath,
And he raised his hand to the sky;
But the beat of hoofs smote on his ear,
And the steady tread drew nigh.
Who is it rides by night, by night,
Over the moonlit road?
And what is the spur that keeps the pace,
What is the galling goad?
And now they beat at the prison door,
“Ho, keeper, do not stay!
We are friends of him whom you hold within,
And we fain would take him away
“From those who ride fast on our heels
With mind to do him wrong;
They have no care for his innocence,
And the rope they bear is long.”
They have fooled the jailer with lying words,
They have fooled the man with lies;
The bolts unbar, the locks are drawn,
And the great door open flies.
Now they have taken him from the jail,
And hard and fast they ride,
And the leader laughs low down in his throat,
As they halt my trunk beside.
Oh, the judge, he wore a mask of black,
And the doctor one of white,
And the minister, with his oldest son,
Was curiously bedight.
Oh, foolish man, why weep you now?
‘Tis but a little space,
And the time will come when these shall dread
The mem’ry of your face.
I feel the rope against my bark,
And the weight of him in my grain,
I feel in the throe of his final woe
The touch of my own last pain.
And never more shall leaves come forth
On the bough that bears the ban;
I am burned with dread, I am dried and dead,
From the curse of a guiltless man.
And ever the judge rides by, rides by,
And goes to hunt the deer,
And ever another rides his soul
In the guise of a mortal fear.
And ever the man he rides me hard,
And never a night stays he;
For I feel his curse as a haunted bough,
On the trunk of a haunted tree.

There is a website dedicated to Mr. Dunbar called dunbarsite. org funnily enough. with all things Dunbar. There are even recordings of someone reading his works! A lot of them! When I have a chance I’ll check them out, I only know The Haunted Oak.

I found the poem at a website called poetryfoundation. org, also funnily enough, where they have many spooky poems featured.

“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” – Plato


no original description. Most likely a Roomba ...

Image via Wikipedia

A while ago we bought a Roomba. Do you know what a Roomba is? It’s one of those robot vacuums that runs about the house, vacuuming. When we first got it, most people thought it was a silly thing to buy but then they saw it and the opinions seemed to shift. It actually does what the advertising says it does. It is harmless if it rolls over feet, it reverses when it meets an obstacle, it knows not to fall down stairways or steps, it returns to it’s ‘base’ when it feels it’s done (due to not finding anything to collect). I should point out it doesn’t actually vacuum, it seems to sweep the stuff up on hard surfaces and there is a roller and a brush for carpets. There is tons (nevermind) of very fine dust in the viewable chamber when it’s time to clean it. 

We, and everyone who sees it, from 70 year old in-laws to 15 year old friends of Max’s, started out fascinated by ‘him’. Yes we call him him. We also ask each other “where is Roomba” or “does Roomba need cleaning” almost like you would with another home-dweller. Everyone watches him to see if he has a pattern (yes he does but don’t ask me to explain it) and to see if he will fall down or mess up somehow. Mixed up in there is the surprise (!) that the thing does what it said it would.

About the cleaning, I know that some would find it a pain and leave it to sit there dirty, resulting in no vacuuming happening, but we honestly don’t mind. I say we because husband and son have both been known to ask after him and then do the duty. You empty the removable chamber and clear the hair out of the brush and at the ends of the brush and the roller. It’s just dry dirt, nothing remotely gross (or my guys would definitely not be touching it). I sometimes run it twice in one day, between charges, on the first floor and once upstairs. Usually not so often but like today, I haven’t run it for a few days so depending on how dirty he is after the first run I might decide to run him again. Some may laugh at us but we are quite pleased with him. Oh, one complaint, he’s pretty loud if he’s right in the room while you are watching tv. He comes with two ‘walls’, contraptions you set to tell him not to go there; because he thinks it’s a wall it works. I would recommend him. He is made by iRobot.

“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” – Plato