We do because we can


Oz remembers being a child and lovingly turning the pages of the New Book of Knowledge and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Oz even contemplated selling them door to door as a college student one summer, but went to Europe instead.

Gone, all gone, at least in the print version. Now replaced by Wikipedia. Oz reads Wikipedia and occasionally contributes on subjects of interest and when he observes mistakes and errors.

So, why do we contribute, why do we help?

Harvard Professor Yochai Benkler explains:

“[G]roups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signas, rather than market prices or managerial commands.”

From Walter Isaacson’s compeling book The Innovators, …, page 644-645.

Not so much as a why but how. The why is too complex. The spoon stirs the cream in the coffee cup, but what moves the fingers to stir the cream is beyond our ken. We know we do but know not why. As Omar Khayyam beautifully said:

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

Why do we climb a mountain? Because it is there. Like the graffiti artist, Kilroy’s impulse to write, “Kilroy was here” is diverse, but at its subatomic level it is our primordial need to say, “I am here, I exist!”

We do because we can.

But why be nice? Why hold the door open for a stranger? Why tip a main or a waiter you will never see again? Why help a little old lady across the street?

Wikipedia could have been a hodge-podge of mean spirited and false articles and for a while it was. But the greater need to get along, to help won out.

Good wins, because as Mama Yokum said, “Good is better than evil, because it is nicer.”


Steve Pinker rewritten

We are not born to write, we learn. But first we get inspired.


Inc.’s article on Steve Pinker popped up on my computer screen. Here is my rewrite:

1. Inc says Steve says “reverse engineer” which is just another way of asking the why question. Why am I reading this?

Or what. What’s it all about Alfie? Like Michael Caine in the movie, or Dionne Warwick in the song?

2. Word picture. Don’t leave your readers wondering, scratching their heads, stroking their chins, scratching the back of their necks. Let your writing become a visual image. One of my favorites – Louis L’amour, “It was a China-blue sky…”

3. Meta is not betta’. We are not talking computereze, at least not yet. Words matter, so choose them wisely.

4. Verbs are the work horse of a sentence. Don’t overload them, don’t transform them into something else. “Appear” and not “make an appearance” is a good example.

5. The “curse of knowledge”, something my daughter says to me. “You may know about the colorful life of Toulouse, I don’t.”

6. Omit needless words.

9. Simple to complex. Baby steps. Bill Murray as Bob in the movie “What About Bob?”

11. Who ever gets it right the first time. Rewrite. Shorten, polish, clarify…

Nuff said, read the article and think about it.

Put it to practice, then practice again. Remember good writers are not born to write. They learn with patience and practice.

And sometimes their best ideas come while out on a run. Or listening to nostalgic songs.





Time is on my side

“Time, time, time is on my side, yes it is, …”” is the line, line, line sung by Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. Of course, it isn’t. No one wins a race against time, time, time.


Words without meaning mean nothing.

The monkey typewriter theorem says that if a certain number (infinite is the one that comes to mind) of monkeys were each given a typewriter (nowadays, a keyboard) and a really long time (forever) they could write the works of all the famous writers (e.g. Shakespeare, Dickens, Browning, Voltaire, Diderot, Tolstoy, etc.) and then some…

Of course, this would require teaching the monkeys to type.


The Rise of the Machines

“… you just can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans,” said Isaac Asimov, I, Robot. Except, thank goodness, the fact that we can eat hamburgers; that alone, my friend, might be the only difference.


The Rise of the Machines

Robots are in the workplace, we just haven’t noticed.
Ray Kroc knew this when he pitched his multi-mixer to the MacDonald’s brothers in the 1950’s. Now, one multi-tasker bot from Momentum Machines can patty, flip, and serve 400 made-to-order burgers in an hour, and could soon replace an entire McDonalds crew.

Needed restaurant “generalist” to supervise the machine. No education required.

How many moments make a lifetime

kaz (12)


Let’s get mushy and say that life is not about how many breaths you take, but instead how many moments take your breath away. Okay, excuse me for a moment. Let me finish throwing up in my mouth. A sip of fresh Starbucks coffee and the bad taste is almost gone.
Most of our moments are taken up waiting for something to happen or scratching that itch while we wait. Conclusion, there are too few precious moments that matter. Really matter.

If we do the math, then there are (365.25 days/year) × (24 hours/day) × (3600 seconds/hour) = 31,557,600 seconds or moment in a year. If we assume the average lifetime is 70 years, then (70 years) x (31,557,600 seconds) = 2,209,032,000 moments in a lifetime.

Two billion, that is not such a large number. Two billion dollars would get you less than 1 percent of Apple stock. Two billion pennies is only 20 million dollars and that won’t get you on the Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. Not even close. Two billion dollar bills stacked one on top of the other wouldn’t get us out of the stratosphere. Two billion grains of sand would make a volleyball court on Waikiki beach. Two billion seconds ago the Second World War was over and the Baby Boom generation began.
What makes for a moment that matters? Give me your thoughts while I take a moment to figure out mine.


I thought this an interesting way to create poetic images.

My poetry teacher Sam Taylor at Wichita State University suggested writing surrealistic verses in the style of Spanish poet and writer, Federico García Lorca. After all, all art is derivative. Then, we were to pick three contemporary magazines and cut lines that were appealing. Put the lines in a pile, organize them in some semblance of order, add a couple of derivative lines suggested by Lorca and voila, a poem. Or should I say, ¡Ya está! 

The words “Spartacus” and “call me” jumped out at me and I was off and running.

Here is the result:

Spartacus, movie poster starring Kirk Douglas, director Stanley Kubrick


Spartacus call me, I am at home

And gods be thanked the kids are in bed

Spartacus, I am sorry for what I said, so call me

But not by videophone

In fact, it’s best to text

Let us speak in silence

I dreamed last night

The sky was cosmic black

And trailing stars in violet-blue

Below, the world was mountains, lakes, and birds

I dreamed of white egrets rising from the water

Carrying in their hungry mouths ten thousand pearls

Each pearl became a fish yearning to be free

I dreamed last night of love

But love like time cannot outlast the hourglass

And tomorrow when we wake

It’s blood and sand and sea



nasa image

When two black holes collide in space
Will we hear sound?

Einstein said yes, and today we know he was right

What does gravity sound like after two billion years – whooOOP
What do scientists say when they discover gravitational waves – whoOOPeee

Black holes crashing together in the night sky do not happened every day. That said, in the universe there is no night, no day and no years to count the time that passes. But we now know that the sound is whooOOP, kind of like a G string followed by an A string on an electric guitar.

Go see the NPR story.

Listen to John Mayer sing Gravity.

Who in the hell are you, Jan Franz Van Husum

Jan Franz Van Husum as I picture him


Genealogy and Ancestry.com being all the rage today, I got to wondering how my wife’s first known ancestor, Jan Franz Van Husum, got his name. This got me to wondering how anybody gets a name and then why names are necessary to begin with.

“Who in the hell are you?”

It is a question everyone is asked at some point in their life. Usually it arises when one person is lording it over another as in, “You need to leave this party!” or “You don’t know what the f*%$ you are talking about.” In both cases the offended party is wondering who in the hell is the person telling them off.

“Why should I listen to you?” one is thinking as if politeness doesn’t matter.

A name is nothing more than a descriptive word for an object, a convenience so we can remember who it is we are talking to which becomes especially important when we have to describe one person to another. When names don’t exist we are left with vague and inexact description we hear in every police report of an unknown subject – average height, normal complexion, brown eyes, no distinguishing features. Not exactly helpful.

Nope, it is easier to say “John, or Peter, or Paul” and better to add a last name to the first so that we don’t confuse the thousands of Johns, Peters, and Pauls. But how did John, Peter, and Paul get their names in the first place. We are all familiar with Jesus’ naming of Simon as Peter. Peter meant rock, and Jesus, by giving Simon the name “Peter” meant to symbolize that Peter was the foundation upon which Christ was going to build his church. Although in English, we have lost the understanding of the word Peter as rock, one can go to French where the name Peter is Piere, and “piere” in French is also the word for rock.

Jesus Christ, is it that simple?

And by the way, “Christ” is the Greek word for savior, so we simply have, in shorthand, Jesus, the savior mankind.

One could go through all the old names and come up with an origin. New parents love to still do this with baby names, and so, wanting to name a girl Hannah, discover that its original meaning was “she knows” or something like that.
In naming a child, the American Indian usually looked for a sign. Spotted Wolf has gathered quite a few Indian first names and if you want to give your child an Indian name you can go see their meaning at his web page.

Louis L’amour, writer of American western fiction, tells a similar story of cowhands in the early west who often went through life without a last name and often with a nickname picked up on the trail, and so many a Slim, Kid, Doc, Lefty, and Deadeye was born.

“Who in the hell are you?” took on new meaning if you were addressing Billy the “Kid” and not just a kid named Billy.

A relatively new phenomenon is that in the American black community of naming children with a mixture of names. There is a website for that too and there one can find in the “j’s” alone, coming in at 228 to 232:

228 Jekeil
229 Jeoffrey
230 Jeremias
231 Jerquis
232 Jervonte
more names

I suppose that the naming comes from a desire to stand out from the pack, to shed oneself of the white man’s naming system and start fresh. And to this end we shed the Elmers and Oscars and Horatios, the Mabels, Hatties, and Violets and adopt new monikers.


There is also a desire to step up in class like the Prussians and Dutch did by adding a simple ”von” or “van” to a name. Or take Rumpelstiltskin, Aloyisious, or Rapunzel as examples of medieval Europeans wanting to sound a little more important.


All this name calling reminds one of the Jim Croce 1973 hit I’ve got a name, whose lyrics go, “Like the pine trees lining the winding road / I got a name, I got a name / Like the singing bird and the croaking toad / I got a name, I got a name.” And in another song Croce goes on to explain how Big Bad Leroy Brown got his name.

Strings of names matter only if one wants to sound important. Take Queen Elizabeth II, born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, or her son Charles, born Charles Philip Arthur George, and also occasionally by Mountbatten-Windsor or his title Prince of Wales. And to keep other constituents happy, he is also known in Scotland as Duke of Rothesay and in South West England as Duke of Cornwall.

Maybe to the Brits this is all clear, but to me I would wonder who I am addressing.

So, who in the hell am I? Nothing and no one special, no Billy the Kid, no Doc Holiday, not even a Madonna, or a Lady Gaga, but I got a name my father and mother gave me and I do like to be listened to now and then. All the while, I am thinking that if one speaks the truth it shouldn’t matter where the voice comes from.

But it does. And who the hell you are makes a difference as to whether you get heard. Just ask Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.

Well, this discussion has taken me far afield from my inquiry into Jan Franz Van Husum.

He was born in 1608, to parents we do not know, from a family unknown, in a country uncertain. His first name was a good Christian name that had been one of a number of names his parents could choose from. As for his last name, he had little need of one. In our daily dealings we often go without calling a friend or loved one by a last name. No need.

The need for Jan arose in 1634, when he got married and was about to board a boat for America. When asked by the register at the church what village he was from he answered from, “Husum,” and when asked his father’s name, said “Franz”.
So we have Jan Franz Van Husum. Isn’t that one hell of a name?

[Over the centuries the last name has been spelled with a few variations, Van Heusen is one of the more popular ones which is still found up in New York and in Pennsylvania. A second spelling is Van Huss, which came into being in North Carolina and spread west tow Tennessee, Texas, and Kansas. Jan and his wife Volkje settled in upstate New York. They are credited with founding the city of Albany.One thing that hasn’t changed much is the face. There is a strong family resemblance that one sees in Rembrant’s painting, The Night Watch. Look for the round face, the red and cheerful cheeks, the angular nose, and the brown hair and eyes.]

Who in the hell are you, Jan Franz Van Husum?