Thursday, October 26, 2006

Some kinds of people

There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can do math, and those who can't.

No? How about this:

There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who can do binary math, and the other 01.


There are two kinds of people in the world: those who don't believe in categorizing others, and ...



More at ...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I don't do book reviews

Books. I like 'em. I read a lot of them.

Often I recommend them to others. (Perhaps you noticed?)

Unfortunately I suspect my recommendations might be more effective if I could muster the willpower to write detailed, enthusiastic reviews. As much as I enjoy books, and as much I want others to appreciate the good ones, I greatly dislike writing book reviews. They remind me too much of book reports and school homework assignments.

Reading a book is fun. Writing about it takes time away from reading the next one.

As a kid in fourth grade I went on strike over book reports. I refused to write them. Specifically, I declined to participate in a classroom contest to try to write more book reports than the other kids. It seemed pretty clear to me that the contest was designed to get some (many?) of the kids to read more. The prospect of gold stars and smiley stickers on a wall chart (or the prize, whatever it was) didn't offer much incentive to me. I already averaged about four books checked out of the library at a time.

My civil disobedience prompted an emergency parent-teacher conference. Although I didn't exactly prevail, we did negotiate a concession: I agreed to stop setting an example of disobedience in exchange for the teacher's acknowledgement that the contest wasn't likely to advance my education.*

Now I have better incentive to write book reports reviews. I want other people to benefit from useful books as much I have. I want other people to read those books. But book reviews still feel like homework to me, and writing them does take time away from reading them.

Unfortunately the statement, “You should read this book because I say so”, doesn't seem to work very well.

I often think of books as tool boxes filled with idea tools. I have some background in engineering so that feels like a natural and obvious approach. For me, recommending a particular book is like recommending a particular tool for a particular task.

“Hi, there. I see you're pounding that nail with a brick. How's that workin' for ya? Have you considered a hammer instead? I just happen to have a hammer right here.”

Most models are wrong, but some are useful
. Good books are full of ideas. Some of them are wrong, but some of them are useful. There are many I might recommend to a particular person in a particular situation. There are a few I recommend widely because they're especially versatile. These are my Swiss Army, Leatherman, toolbox-in-paperback, recommended books:

Each of those three is really a subset of the author's ideas. Each author has body of related work — more toolboxes filled with more tools — but those three are immediately useful.

I know I should say more, of course. But I'd rather be reading.


* I give my 4th grade teacher, the late Mrs. Harder, a lot of credit for her unusually candid admission.

More book recommendations with inadequate reviews...


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Tarheel Tavern #85,
setting an example

Welcome to this 85th example of the Tarheel Tavern. Our theme this week is setting an example. My friend and sustainability advocate, Chris, recently posted about the ways he demonstrates sustainable living. Like a blog meme, his example inspired me to think about the ways I try to demonstrate sustainable attitudes. It also reminded me of the theme of ...Slowly she turned, a regular Tavern participant who is slowly turning toward a new blog host.

I remember commenting earlier this summer that part of the value of her community gardening effort is to set an example. When I experienced one of those light-bulb-over-the-head moments three years ago I realized my best contribution would be to persuade other people to see value in sustainable living. The value of mowing my lawn with an electric mower is for my neighbors to see me doing it. The value of bringing my own reusable bags to the grocery store is for other shoppers to see me doing it. I'm very conscious that the value of this blog and my other Internet projects is for readers to see ordinary, real-life examples.

Mr. R., blogging at Evolgen, understands the value of teaching by example. He's also aware of the challenge of setting a good example consistently. As a science teacher he tries to inspire his students, but even the most dedicated science teacher can find it difficult to muster enthusiasm for nine straight weeks of nothing but dihydrogen oxide.

Writing Iddybud's Journal from the northern annex of Tarheel territory, Jude reflects on the challenge her mother faced and the influence of her mother's example. And she finds the sacred within the ordinary.

Mandie, approaching motherhood herself, sets an example of frenzied activity that makes me tired just to summarize it. Have you ever watched one of those home remodeling shows that recap a whole weekend of work in 30 seconds of frenzied sped-up video? Well, Mandie set that pace without the benefit of video effects. Picture a pregnant woman rebuilding multiple home appliances, cleaning gutters, jump-starting cars, constructing a corral, and taking crash courses in fire safety and plumbing 101, while eating chocolate and talking on the phone.

If that makes you tired, you might catch your breath while watching telenovelas en español at Pratie Place. Melinama describes a lifetime of bad behavior by the character of Doña Jacinta. (Viewing hint: "You know she's bad because she dresses in black and carries a cane.") Although the bad guy gal goes down in flames, some viewers wonder if Jacinta escaped too easily.

Real-life TV photographer (but not real name), Colonel Corn describes an interview with a rock star who sets an example by helping real life victims of abusive relationships.

A huge toxic waste fire in central North Carolina became a scary part of our real life this week. At Sustainability Southeast (another project in which I'm involved) we consider the example this sets: the example of our investment in our health and investment in our quality of life.

Over in western North Carolina, the Scrutiny Hooligans observe that a politician sets an example of “do as he says, not as he does”.

At the national level, the political example gets worse. A political operation that trumpeted its particular concept of moral standards recently discovered it doesn't live up to its own example. Ron takes issue with the search for scapegoats as he examines the Foley Fallout.

Thanks, everyone, for sharing your examples. Thanks for sharing what you care about.

Share what you care about.

That was the answer that energy and sustainability problem-solver Hunter Lovins offered when asked the challenging question, "What can I do?" She didn't hesitate before she replied, "Share what you care about."

That's the value of teaching, the value of parenting, the value of community gardening, and the value of blogging.

Thanks for sharing, and thanks for reading.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Blame the squirrels

I know a guy who just bought a new car. He believes it's powered by squirrels. Just like in the cartoons. He believes there are squirrels under the hood that make his car go when they run frantically inside those exercise wheels meant for small pets. Every morning before he leaves for work he tosses a handful of nuts in the glove box to keep the squirrels running.

That fantasy ran out of gas, of course.

But he still believes. “Damn lazy squirrels!” he curses, pounding the hood.

“Damn lazy squirrels!”