Publishing progress or not? #publishing #history #writing

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The Great Cat of R’a by Robert J Muller ( reminds me that as much as we gain from technology, we also have to pay a price. This little post looks back nostalgically on what we’ve lost in publishing.

Let’s start in the beginning. Not that many millennia ago, publishing meant inscribing our words in stone. Even though this method is rarely used anymore, it is still used for gravestones and remembered in idioms like “carved in stone,” and “written in stone.”

The beauty of this technology was durability. While the Rosetta Stone survived for thousands of year, you can not expect comparable longevity from your favorite eBook. If you are not convinced, consider the number of sound recording mediums that have become obsolete in the last century (wires, cylinders, platters, tapes, discs, each of several types).

Rosetta Stone

As with twentieth century sound recordings, stone encryptions shared publishing with other durable media, such as clay tablets and wall paintings, especially the very durable frescos.

Eventually, carved-in-stone was replaced by paper and ink. This had the advantage of being cheaper to produce and easier to store. This technology allowed knowledge to be widespread. Durability was sacrificed. These new books (scrolls) were not resistant to fire, water, or mold damage like the previous stone and ceramic versions.

However, they could be beautiful. Consider this page from an illuminated manuscript.


The next breakthrough was the printing press. This image of the Gutenberg Bible shows some early attempts to maintain the hand-crafted beauty of pre-printing-press books. However, with the printing press came mass-market publishing where artistry, color, gold leaf, etc. were abandoned for the benefit of cheaper and more widely available books.


We are now at another technology change. Electronic publishing. The trend line should be clear by now. Durability is virtually (insert joke here) gone, and the artistry is reduced. While today’s printed books are not illuminated manuscripts, each publisher considers the design of the book: size, paper, header, footer, numbering, fonts, layout, etc.

On the other hand, eBooks are basically just text strings. The reader is expected to choose page size, the font and even the page color. eBooks all have the same look and feel. Lost is the creative design.


This brings me back to the book mentioned at the beginning of this post.

The Great Cat of R’a by Robert Muller is a wonderful alternate history set on the San Francisco peninsula in the current time, but the city is called Menmenet and it is part of the Ta’an-Imenty Republic (a country on the western side of North America), part of the new world empire of Kemet (Egypt).

This is an example of wonderfully creative design we will see in decline as the eBook technology takes over. Here is the first page (copyright 2016 by Robert J. Muller)…


Sinosoidal #Metaphor #maths #mathematics #nerds #geek

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This is the last in a series of posts on mathematical metaphors. Don’t let the topic scare you. We all use these metaphors, most of us use them every day.

This is a graph of a sinusoidal function. It is the most realistic metaphor, and rarely wrong.

This is the metaphor that takes the longest view.


Like so many Russian nesting dolls, it contains all the previous models. This is the metaphor that says whatever goes up, must come down.

This is the metaphor that takes each change in perspective, whether it is a bad day at the gym, an argument with a spouse, or a lost election. This is the metaphor being used when the Buddha says, “His success may be great, but be it ever so great the wheel of fortune may turn again and bring him down into the dust.”


This final metaphor is the one of serenity and peace.


Logistics Curve #Metaphor #maths #mathematics #nerds #geek

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This is the third in a series of posts on mathematical metaphors. Don’t let the topic scare you. We all use these metaphors, most of us use them every day.

This is a graph of a logistics function. It is not a common function and is rarely discussed. However, it is a good one to learn as it is a much more accurate metaphor.

Just as the exponential takes a broader view than the linear, the logistics curve is broader than the exponential. While small sections of the exponential look like linear graphs, small sections of the logistics curve look like exponentials.

The metaphor recognizes that while things can growth quickly and change rapidly, this condition can not continue indefinitely. Eventually, growth slows down.

For example, Facebook increased its total users exponentially until it ran out of people. When virtually everyone with a phone or a computer was on Facebook, it couldn’t grow anymore. This is the truth of the logistics curve metaphor.

The logistics curve recognizes that things do not expand forever. In politics and economics, this metaphor is expressed as diminishing returns; what work well yesterday, barely works at all today.

This metaphor provides balance. It discourages the winners and encourages the losers.

Reality often matches this metaphor even though most people ignore this model.

The interesting thing is that all three models/metaphors are what mathematicians call: monotonic-they always increase. They never turn around. linear goes up, exponential goes up really fast, and the logistics curve ultimately goes up really slow.

While this arcane curve is a good metaphor, it is nor the best.


Exponential #Metaphor #maths #mathematics #nerds #geek

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This is the second in a series of posts on mathematical metaphors. Don’t let the topic scare you. We all use these metaphors, most of us use them every day.

This is a graph of an exponential function. It is the second most common metaphor, and almost as often wrong as the first.

This is the graph of compound interest. While the previous linear graph is often misapplied to daily life, relationships, jobs, and happiness, the exponential graph is usually misapplied in business and science.

Scientists take a broader view. Even though a small section of an exponential curve looks linear, the whole picture is radically different. An exponential is accurate over a longer period than the linear metaphor, but still misleading.

The population of earth is an exponential. The growth of a successful start-up company is also exponential. In fact, this is the definition of success for most companies. For years the capability of computers matched this metaphor. (See Moore’s Law).

Some people see the world as exponentials. They expect each success to be followed by two more and then four more, as small successes give birth to large successes.

In politics, this metaphor breeds extreme responses to elections, with the both the winners and the losers expecting dramatic changes.

Reality has never delivered on this model of exponential growth for the long term, yet people continue to hold onto this idea.

Stay tuned. There are better metaphors.

Linear #Metaphor #maths #mathematics #nerds #geek

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This is the first in a series of posts on mathematical metaphors. Don’t let the topic scare you. We all use these metaphors, most of us use them every day.

This is a graph of a linear function. It is the most common metaphor, and undoubtedly the most often wrong.

The linear graph says nothing is going to change. This is a graph of a car going at a constant speed…forever. The is total income from the job that never changes. The is the total happiness of a relationship that never changes.

People use this metaphor when their candidate wins an election and they expect everything to go their way from now forward. Alternately when something does not go their way, they foresee constant calamity going forward. This is the metaphor of click bait: “You won’t believe what happened, and is going to continue to happen forever more.”

Reality has never delivered on this model of consistency, yet people continue to hold to this idea.

Stay tuned. There are better metaphors.

Economy Size

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NPR noticed that larger pizzas are more economical than smaller one. The same can be said for many consumables like ice cream, soap, cereal, milk, flour, meat, toilet paper, etc. The large economy size is a standard fixture on many stores. Costco is famous for large sizes.

But what is the reason for this packaging? Some people point out that this leads to spoilage and waste, or overeating. Others note the irony that those who must need to stretch their budget, can not afford to buy or store this giant packages.

Why do companies continue to market these larger quantities? One possibility is cost saving. Another is that there is a market for bulk purchases. The following argues that neither of these is a satisfactory explanation. A third alternative is suggested.

Cost saving?

In the case of restaurants, cost saving has a basis. Food service costs fall into three categories: facilities, labor, and raw materials. Generally, the smallest category is the food itself. Thus, the profit margin on a larger than average meal is quite high.

Take the example of a pizza. A large pizza requires a minimal addition to the labor and energy budget, and no additional rent or capital. Thus it is very profitable to sell larger pizzas, even if the price per pound or square inch is lower.

The same can not be said for packages purchased in a store. The estimated saving from selling one package in place of two or three is on the order of a few pennies. Not enough to justify the price reduction.

In conclusion, cost saving does not justify the marketing of large sizes.

A market for bulk packaging?

An informal survey suggests that no one really wants to buy in large quantities. I’ve never met someone who likes carrying large, heavy containers of soap, kitty litter, or potatoes. Juggling a package to three-dozen rolls is toilet paper is beyond comical.

Pricing Strategy.

I propose the reason for a large economy size is a market-segmentation pricing strategy.

The basic principle of pricing strategy is to solve two conflicting goals. First, charge as much as the market will allow. Second, not lose customers by charging too much.

The most obvious example is airline pricing. The market is segmented into two general groups. The first is price insensitive; they will pay anything. They are offered the product with the most convenience and service, which incidentally has the highest margin.

The second segment is the price sensitive; they want low prices. They are offered the price with the least convenience and service. This is a lower margin product. This offering is to capture those customers, even though they provide less profit.


Large economy pricing is like discount airline seats. The goal is to discourage those who are willing to pay more from choosing this alternative. If the product seems inconvenient, just recall that is the goal. The large economy sizes are designed to drive those who are not price sensitive to buy the high-margin regular sizes, while still keeping the price sensitive customers.

Making Friends on the Spectrum

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Dear Don, You did try awfully hard… I’ll miss you very, very much… maybe it was all for the best. I doubt it, but MAYBE. Love,

I remember reading this inscription in my high school yearbook as if it was yesterday. My school assigned homerooms alphabetically, so I sat next to this girl for three years. I never imagined that she cared who I was. It was high school. We were in different groups.

This is how it goes for me. Introverted and on the spectrum, making friends is a mystery, and identifying friends that I have is still as much a surprise as it was over 50 years ago.

During my teen years, my mother who had similar struggles passed on some advice she’d read in a book. “You can’t meet anyone if you stay at home.”

I took this advice to heart. I remember attending school dances where I initially sat alone. In later years, some people sat with me. A strong recollection was a dance where I spent the entire time expounding on tesseracts. Yes, I was that guy.

In retrospect, the people in that group must have been my friends, but that was lost on me and I never made any overtures to spend time with them.

Over the years, that single piece of advice dominated my relationships. I showed up, but rarely sought or recognized one-on-one relationships. Unfortunately for me, I went to a virtually single-sex college with little opportunity for my low-key approach to have much success with women.

That said I’ve had successes. I’ve been married for over 45 years, have a nice family, and had a successful career. At work, I spent enough time with people to make friends. I also learned to recognize my friends. I developed a small cadre of people interested in working with me and together we formed a small itinerant band of engineers and managers moving from one start-up to another in Silicon Valley.

Still today, my primary way to meet people is to show up. Every day I walk around my neighborhood and after five years, people know who I am and wave, talk and smile. These are my friends. I am a substitute teacher. The other day at the county fair, some college students recognized me and came up to say hello. In a similar way, a parent stopped me on my walk and told me how much her child liked me as a teacher.

In conclusion, I found how to meet people and make friends even though I still have difficulty reading reactions and asserting myself in interpersonal relationships.



Atria and Courtyards

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Ever since we had the ability to construct large multi-story structures, atria and courtyards have been a popular and widely-used architectural feature. Why is this feature so popular and where did it originate?


Starting back in classical Greek and Roman times, multi-story residences were constructed around an interior space.


This style continued into medieval times both with city dwellings and fortified castles.


This design element continues today in shopping malls…




office buildings, and schools.

Atrium of 450 Grand Concourse, Building C of Hostos Community College

Architects have many reasons to include these interior spaces, starting with light and openness.

However, I suspect that the origin and continued use comes down to basic engineering: large loading-bearing floors are difficult and were for many years impossible. Multi-story floors could only span limited distances between walls. By including courtyards and atria, it is possible to construct impressive facades without addressing these engineering issues.

Only in modern times have large solid structures become possible.

Here is one notable exception. The Minoan palace at Knossos, Crete from 3-4,000 years ago, looking very contemporary with it large expanses of multi-story spaces.





Musings on #Depression and #AgeingWell

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The is an introspective/optimistic post on depression in later life – transient (sad/bad day) depression, not clinical/chronic depression. The latter is a more serious topic which I am not qualified to comment on.

When I was younger, I was prone to the many afflictions of youth such as self-obsession, boredom, lack of direction, bad poetry, and depressed days. This lasted until my life progressed bringing families and jobs and promises for the future. During these middle years, I had scant time for introspection or discouragement.

I imagine this is a pretty normal sequence of events.

However, even in the midst of this normality, I’d have unexpected pauses for the classic feelings of depression: “sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, ashamed or restless.”


Whether in response to my responsibilities or benefiting various self-help programs or just dumb luck, I learned to deal with these episodes of gloom. I developed/acquired stories to tell myself  (This too will pass) and activities (jogging) that minimized the duration of these rough spells.

Today’s thesis is that this middle stage of life between growing up and growing old is the ideal time to struggle with (minor) depression. It is the period with best social support and the most distractions. The is the cow pox period for mental health. Minor mental health problems can be fought and defeated.

I believe that the busy middle stage of life is the time to to build the habits and attitudes required for later life.

As the years go on, family moves away and retirement arrives. Social life is hollowed out, and calendars and to-do lists are cleared. Life returns to the afflictions of youth: self-obsession, boredom, lack of direction, bad poetry, and depressed days. Unfortunately, all this arrives without the promise of a long life ahead.

This is a time when internal resources at critical. Once again on our own, I wonder if for some it might be too late to acquire mental health skills.

I feel fortunate that the anti-depression skills I acquired in my middle years are with me now that I really need them.

A Day in a High School Math Class #STEM #Education

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I am a California Credentialed Math Teacher and substitute teacher. Today I had the privilege of teaching math at the local high school, something I enjoy very much in my retirement.

Today was different because I had just finished reading The Confidence Code, The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know.

These two events were synergistic.

First, I was encouraged to find equal numbers of girls and boys raising their hands to my question, “Who plans use math beyond high school? Who intends to study Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics?”

It hasn’t always been like this, and I took this as an indication that efforts to interest girls in STEM fields were working. In addition to girls interested in veterinary and pediatric careers, I also found girls in interested in sports medicine and civil engineering.

I also found girls that were interested in math, but getting discouraged. This was my first opportuinity to shared what I’d been reading. Research reported in The Confidence Code has found that boys’ mathematical brain development peaks in high school while the same development for girls peaks later in college. This was encouraging news for the these girls with interest waning due to some struggles.

As I worked one-on-one with individual students, I observed the exactly the behavior that was the subject of The Confidence Code. Many of the girls did not have the confidence to attempt the assignment.

The book reports that girls/women consistently under estimate their competency, while the opposite is true for boys/men. As I explained this to struggling students, we observed that they could actually do the problems that they were avoiding. One of the girls summarized this research with, “So we just psych ourselves out.”

A second piece of research that suggested a very specific action for these girls. There was an experiment where boys tested above the girls on the first trial. On the second trial, the girls were required to answer every question, not leave any blank. In the second condition, everyone all test the same.

Sure enough I found a number of girls who skipped questions. When I sat with them and encouraged them to complete every one, just like in the experiment in the book, they discovered they knew how to work the problems and get the correct answer.

This day was encouraging for two reasons. First more girls are considering STEM fields to the point where they are willing to raise their hand and declare this position. Second the research reported in this book played out just as predicted. This book shows the way to promote success for the increased number of girls now considering STEM.

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Image credit: Joe Mabel [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons