Later On

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Archive for January 18th, 2022

Textual Healing: The Novel World of Bibliotherapy

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I can totally understand this. For one thing, when you are really immersed in a book, your consciousness enters a world far from the chair in which you sit and the room around you. This happens often in reading a work of fiction, but also with some nonfiction (e.g., The Great Influenza, or The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, or No Contest, or Which Side Are You On? or The Kings Depart or. … oops — got lost there for a minute; see this list for links and comments on those titles).

Katrya Bolger writes in The Walrus:

WHEN THE PANDEMIC STRUCK, in March 2020, Anne Boulton was already feeling overwhelmed. She was pursuing a PhD at Laurentian University, which meant teaching in the English department and spending her days at home reviewing readings on literature and psychoanalysis for her thesis. But personal issues were bubbling just below the surface. “When COVID happened,” she says, “suddenly you were faced with your own isolation.” She wanted to better address the strain she was dealing with.

Boulton contacted Hoi Cheu, her supervisor at Laurentian. Besides teaching literary theory, Cheu is a trained marriage and family therapist: he has drawn on his experience in both areas to offer therapeutic support, on and off, for about thirty years. He also trained in bibliotherapy, using his dual background in psychology and literary studies to recommend specific texts for people coping with life challenges from loneliness to mental illness.

Bibliotherapy is premised on the idea that books can be healing tools. It can occur in individual or group settings, though the main distinction is between clinical bibliotherapy, where texts, including fiction and nonfiction, are recommended by a clinical therapist, and nonclinical bibliotherapy, as practised by a facilitator such as a librarian. Though not a stand-alone clinical practice in Canada, clinical bibliotherapy is a method used by professionals who already have certification in counselling, therapy, and clinical therapy and want to help patients seeking an additional outlet. Nonclinical bibliotherapy can’t replace professional help for patients with mental illnesses; instead, it is often used in conjunction with other forms of clinical therapy.

Cheu, based in Sudbury, Ontario, first learned of bibliotherapy during his undergraduate degree, when he came across English professor Joseph Gold’s Read For Your Life, which outlines the benefits of bibliotherapy. In fact, the British-born Gold is widely credited with bringing bibliotherapy to Canada. Cheu began working under Gold during his master’s at the University of Waterloo and later wrote his PhD thesis on James Joyce and the art of Zen, applying principles of Buddhism to his analysis of the Irish writer’s works. He eventually became Gold’s assistant, joining him in sessions with clients in his private practice. Books, Cheu says, provide a safely cocooned space inside which people can unearth painful and sometimes repressed feelings.

When Cheu and Boulton logged on to their first virtual session, Cheu started taking notes on Boulton’s needs. “What literary character do you most identify with?” he asked her. She responded with Anna Karenina. She related to the Leo Tolstoy heroine’s strength of spirit. Like the Russian socialite, Boulton was comfortable asking for what she wanted even when she had repeatedly been discouraged by those around her. From this first session, Cheu started to build out her reading list. There was Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster, a novel about a young heroine’s tumultuous childhood in the American South. And there was Nikolai Leskov’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” a short story about a young woman seeking to escape a stifling marriage to an older man. Being a good student of English literature, Boulton dove into the texts with vigour.

THOUGH THE FIRST known use of the term bibliotherapy appeared in a satirical essay published in a 1916 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, the idea of offering reading material to those in mental distress dates back to eighteenth-century asylums. By the early twentieth century, librarians in US hospitals were even considered therapists. American military libraries also prescribed books to soldiers suffering from trauma after the First World War. These programs were eventually expanded to other hospitals and libraries.

The growing interest in the field of psychotherapy in the 1930s led to research on bibliotherapy. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, several books were published on the subject. And, as mental health treatment expanded, bibliotherapy gained broader appeal, according to Bibliotherapy: A Critical History.

Proponents of bibliotherapy firmly believe . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 4:26 pm

The Rise of A.I. Fighter Pilots

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After poker, warfare. Sue Halpoern in the New Yorker describes how A..I. will be flying fighter planes. Skynet, here we come! The article begins:

n a cloudless morning last May, a pilot took off from the Niagara Falls International Airport, heading for restricted military airspace over Lake Ontario. The plane, which bore the insignia of the United States Air Force, was a repurposed Czechoslovak jet, an L-39 Albatros, purchased by a private defense contractor. The bay in front of the cockpit was filled with sensors and computer processors that recorded the aircraft’s performance. For two hours, the pilot flew counterclockwise around the lake. Engineers on the ground, under contract with DARPA,  the Defense Department’s research agency, had choreographed every turn, every pitch and roll, in an attempt to do something unprecedented: design a plane that can fly and engage in aerial combat—dogfighting—without a human pilot operating it.

The exercise was an early step in the agency’s Air Combat Evolution program, known as ace, one of more than six hundred Department of Defense projects that are incorporating artificial intelligence into war-fighting. This year, the Pentagon plans to spend close to a billion dollars on A.I.-related technology. The Navy is building unmanned vessels that can stay at sea for months; the Army is developing a fleet of robotic combat vehicles. Artificial intelligence is being designed to improve supply logistics, intelligence gathering, and a category of wearable technology, sensors, and auxiliary robots that the military calls the Internet of Battlefield Things.

Algorithms are already good at flying planes. The first autopilot system, which involved connecting a gyroscope to the wings and tail of a plane, débuted in 1914, about a decade after the Wright brothers took flight. And a number of current military technologies, such as underwater mine detectors and laser-guided bombs, are autonomous once they are launched by humans. But few aspects of warfare are as complex as aerial combat. Paul Schifferle, the vice-president of flight research at Calspan, the company that’s modifying the L-39 for DARPA, said, “The dogfight is probably the most dynamic flight program in aviation, period.”

A fighter plane equipped with artificial intelligence could eventually execute tighter turns, take greater risks, and get off better shots than human pilots. But the objective of the ace program is to transform a pilot’s role, not to remove it entirely. As DARPA envisions it, the A.I. will fly the plane in partnership with the pilot, who will remain “in the loop,” monitoring what the A.I. is doing and intervening when necessary. According to the agency’s Strategic Technology Office, a fighter jet with autonomous features will allow pilots to become “battle managers,” directing squads of unmanned aircraft “like a football coach who chooses team members and then positions them on the field to run plays.”

Stacie Pettyjohn, the director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security, told me that the ace program is part of a wider effort to “decompose our forces” into smaller, less expensive units. In other words, fewer humans and more expendable machines. DARPA calls this “mosaic warfare.” In the case of aerial combat, Pettyjohn said, “these much smaller autonomous aircraft can be combined in unexpected ways to overwhelm adversaries with the complexity of it. If any one of them gets shot down, it’s not as big of a deal.”

All told, the L-39 was taken up above Lake Ontario twenty times, each sortie giving the engineers and computer scientists the information they need to build a model of its flight dynamics under various conditions. Like self-driving cars, autonomous planes use sensors to identify discrepancies between the outside world and the information encoded in their maps. But a dogfighting algorithm will have to take into account both the environment and the aircraft. A plane flies differently at varying altitudes and angles, on hot days versus cold ones, or if it’s carrying an extra fuel tank or missiles.

“Most of the time, a plane flies straight and level,” Phil Chu, an electrical engineer who serves as a science adviser to the ace program, explained. “But when it’s dogfighting you have to figure out, O.K., if I’m in a thirty-degree bank angle, ascending at twenty degrees, how much do I have to pull the stick to get to a forty-degree bank angle, rising at ten degrees?” And, because flight is three-dimensional, speed matters even more. “If it’s flying slowly and you move the stick one way, you get a certain amount of turn out of it. If it’s flying really fast and you move the stick the same way, you’ll get a very different response.”

In 2024, if the ace program goes according to plan, four A.I.-enabled L-39s will participate in a live dogfight in the skies above Lake Ontario. To achieve that goal, DARPA  has enlisted three dozen academic research centers and private companies, each working on one of two problem areas: how to get the plane to fly and fight on its own, and how to get pilots to trust the A.I. enough to use it. Robert Work, who was the Deputy Secretary of Defense during the Obama Administration, and pushed the Pentagon to pursue next-generation technologies, told me, “If you don’t have trust, the human will always be watching the A.I. and saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got to take over.’ ”

There is no guarantee that ace will succeed. DARPA projects are  . . .

Continue reading. (Unfortunately, the New Yorker offers no gift links.)

Update: Here is the man vs. AI dogfight mentioned in the article.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 4:04 pm

How A.I. Conquered Poker

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In the NY Times Magazine, Keith Romer describes how poker has now been solved. (Gift link, no paywall.)

Last November in the cavernous Amazon Room of Las Vegas’s Rio casino, two dozen men dressed mostly in sweatshirts and baseball caps sat around three well-worn poker tables playing Texas Hold ’em. Occasionally a few passers-by stopped to watch the action, but otherwise the players pushed their chips back and forth in dingy obscurity. Except for the taut, electric stillness with which they held themselves during a hand, there was no outward sign that these were the greatest poker players in the world, nor that they were, as the poker saying goes, “playing for houses,” or at least hefty down payments. This was the first day of a three-day tournament whose official name was the World Series of Poker Super High Roller, though the participants simply called it “the 250K,” after the $250,000 each had put up to enter it.

At one table, a professional player named Seth Davies covertly peeled up the edges of his cards to consider the hand he had just been dealt: the six and seven of diamonds. Over several hours of play, Davies had managed to grow his starting stack of 1.5 million in tournament chips to well over two million, some of which he now slid forward as a raise. A 33-year-old former college baseball player with a trimmed light brown beard, Davies sat upright, intensely following the action as it moved around the table. Two men called his bet before Dan Smith, a fellow pro with a round face, mustache and whimsically worn cowboy hat, put in a hefty reraise. Only Davies called.

The dealer laid out a king, four and five, all clubs, giving Davies a straight draw. Smith checked (bet nothing). Davies bet. Smith called. The turn card was the deuce of diamonds, missing Davies’s draw. Again Smith checked. Again Davies bet. Again Smith called. The last card dealt was the deuce of clubs, one final blow to Davies’s hopes of improving his hand. By now the pot at the center of the faded green-felt-covered table had grown to more than a million in chips. The last deuce had put four clubs on the table, which meant that if Smith had even one club in his hand, he would make a flush.

Davies, who had been betting the whole way needing an eight or a three to turn his hand into a straight, had arrived at the end of the hand with precisely nothing. After Smith checked a third time, Davies considered his options for almost a minute before declaring himself all-in for 1.7 million in chips. If Smith called, Davies would be out of the tournament, his $250,000 entry fee incinerated in a single ill-timed bluff.

Smith studied Davies from under the brim of his cowboy hat, then twisted his face in exasperation at Davies or, perhaps, at luck itself. Finally, his features settling in an irritated scowl, Smith folded and the dealer pushed the pile of multicolored chips Davies’s way. According to Davies, what he felt when the hand was over was not so much triumph as relief.

“You’re playing a pot that’s effectively worth half a million dollars in real money,” he said afterward. “It’s just so much goddamned stress.”

Real validation wouldn’t come until around 2:30 that morning, after the first day of the tournament had come to an end and Davies had made the 15-minute drive from the Rio to his home, outside Las Vegas. There, in an office just in from the garage, he opened a computer program called PioSOLVER, one of a handful of artificial-intelligence-based tools that have, over the last several years, radically remade the way poker is played, especially at the highest levels of the game. Davies input all the details of the hand and then set the program to run. In moments, the solver generated an optimal strategy. Mostly, the program said, Davies had gotten it right. His bet on the turn, when the deuce of diamonds was dealt, should have been 80 percent of the pot instead of 50 percent, but the 1.7 million chip bluff on the river was the right play.

“That feels really good,” Davies said. “Even more than winning a huge pot. The real satisfying part is when you nail one like that.” Davies went to sleep that night knowing for certain that he played the hand within a few degrees of perfection.

The pursuit of perfect poker goes back at least as far as the 1944 publication of “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior,” by the mathematician John von Neumann and the economist Oskar Morgenstern. The two men wanted to correct what they saw as a fundamental imprecision in the field of economics. “We wish,” they wrote, “to find the mathematically complete principles which define ‘rational behavior’ for the participants in a social economy, and to derive from them the general characteristics of that behavior.” Economic life, they suggested, should be thought of as a series of maximization problems in which individual actors compete to wring as much utility as possible from their daily toil. If von Neumann and Morgenstern could quantify the way good decisions were made, the idea went, they would then be able to build a science of economics on firm ground.

It was this desire to model economic decision-making that led them to game play. Von Neumann rejected most games as unsuitable to the task, especially those like checkers or chess in which both players can see all the pieces on the board and share the same information. “Real life is not like that,” he explained to Jacob Bronowski, a fellow mathematician. “Real life consists of bluffing, of little tactics of deception, of asking yourself what is the other man going to think I mean to do. And that is what games are about in my theory.” Real life, von Neumann thought, was like poker.

Using his own simplified version of the game, in which  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 3:44 pm

How coal holds on in America

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Cultural forces, conventions, pressures, and loyalty can result in what appears, to someone who is not a part of the culture, something that seems senseless if not outright stupid. The practice, thankfully abandoned, of footbinding in order to deform the feet, or (still practiced) female genital mutilation come to mind. Coal in North Dakota seems to be an example. Joshua Partlow reports in the Washington Post (and that’s a gift link, so no paywall):

David Saggau, the chief executive of an energy cooperative, tried to explain the losing economics of running a coal-fired power plant to a North Dakota industry group more than a year ago.

Coal Creek Station had lost $170 million in 2019 as abundant natural gas and proliferating wind projects had cut revenue far below what it cost to run the plant. After four decades sending electricity over the border to Minnesota, Coal Creek would be closing in 2022, Saggau said, and nobody was clamoring to buy it.

“We made folks aware that the plant was for sale for a dollar,” Saggau, of Great River Energy, told the Lignite Energy Council during an October 2020 virtual meeting. “We’re basically giving it away.”

A renewable future was at hand. Winds come howling over the Missouri River in the heart of North Dakota — at the site where Lewis and Clark spent their first frigid winter — and Great River Energy planned to supply wind power over Coal Creek’s valuable transmission line. NextEra Energy, EDF Renewables and other powerhouse firms were racing to lock landowners into leases to harvest some of the most powerful and sustained winds in the country.

But that new clean-energy future never materialized in this part of coal country, with a landscape that has been mined for more than a century and has the scars and sinkholes to prove it. And the sale of Coal Creek Station, which received its last major permit approval earlier this month, illuminates the United States’ halting transition to renewables. Even in places such as North Dakota, where supply and demand align with clean energy, culture and politics pose major obstacles.

In these rural North Dakota counties, local officials passed ordinances that blocked wind and solar projects. State officials rallied to save Coal Creek, and a politically connected North Dakota energy firm stepped in to prolong its life, promising someday to capture its carbon emissions and store them underground.

“I’m not just looking to prop up coal,” Stacy Tschider, the president of Rainbow Energy Marketing Corp., said in July when his company announced it was buying the plant. “I’m looking to take coal to the next level.”

During the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow in the fall, conference head Alok Sharma declared that “the end of coal is in sight.” More than 40 countries pledged to phase out coal, the single-biggest source of atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide emissions. The United States did not join them. Despite its rapid decline, coal still generates about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and has strong political backing in pockets of the country.

Charles Stroup, a local banker and land agent who supports wind power in North Dakota’s Mercer County, compared the coal industry here to a dying relative that the community is desperate to save, no matter how grim the prognosis.

“Mother doesn’t die in 10 minutes,” Stroup said. “She takes a while.”

For many here, the loss of coal remains unthinkable, and new sources of energy — no matter how promising for local residents and governments — represent a serious threat.

“If we get the word that [Coal Creek Station] is gone for sure, the best business and economic play for the lignite counties and the State is to ban any more renewables,” McLean County state’s attorney Ladd Erickson wrote in an email in 2020 to aides to North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), part of a batch of documents obtained through a state public records request.

Otherwise, Erickson, an elected official who serves as prosecutor and legal adviser to the county commissioners, warned that “there will be no more coal mining because new mine areas will be all wind turbines, solar panels, and power lines.”

Homages to coal

The prospect of Coal Creek’s closing landed hard in Underwood, a city of about 800 people. The antiques shop on its . . .

Continue reading.(Gift link: no paywall)

The fate of human civilization is small potatoes compared to local politics and cultural allegiance. You can see now why the residents of Easter Island were able to chop down every palm on the island and thus destroy the forests that were the basis of the environment on which they depended. North Dakota proudly continues that tradition.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 2:54 pm

A Matter of Emphasis: “Not” and its many permutations

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Max Byrd writes in The American Scholar:

One soft London evening in the spring of 1744, the great bear-like Samuel Johnson, in a playful mood, leaned across the tavern table and wagged his finger with mock sternness at his old friend, the celebrated actor David Garrick.

They were talking about the art of acting, and Johnson was now criticizing, with his usual bluntness, not only Garrick’s most recent performance, but also the general failings of Garrick’s colleagues, one of whom was also at the table: “The players, Sir, have got a kind of rant, with which they run on, without any regard either to accent or emphasis.”

This was too much for Garrick, who sprang to his feet. But, smiling complacently, Johnson threw out a challenge. Recite with correct emphasis, he instructed the actors, “the ninth Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.’” (Dryly he added under his breath, “with which you are little acquainted.”) They recited, and they failed. Both actors emphasized “false witness.” But the right emphasis, Johnson said—correctly and triumphantly—was “Thou shalt NOT bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

I wish Johnson had enlarged somewhere on that word not. He himself was a master of the complex negative—speaking of Paradise Lost, for example: it “is not the greatest of heroic poems, only because it is not the first.” But the Great Cham was hardly the only master of not. Every language has negatives, and every writer needs them. They need them for formal logic, for quantum leaps, for the existential gloom of Being and Nothingness. “Without Contraries,” writes the poet William Blake, “is no progression.” Yet the literary effects of these negatives are hard to pin down, even mysterious: What happens really when someone says not? The mystery may be because the very idea of negation is hard in itself, or perhaps because we have not yet got the right emphasis.

Not can be spoken in any number of voices. Johnson shows us the ultimate one. Garrick erred by forgetting that he was to speak in a voice of thunder—this is the voice of God, after all: “Thou shalt NOT!

But in the mouth of a less forceful person than the Almighty or Dr. Johnson, a stern command can weaken into a meek request, a plea. There is no health in us, the General Confession says. “Lead us not into temptation,” says the Lord’s Prayer. Or it can dissolve into a tortured question: “To be, or not to be?” A merely stubborn person, like Melville’s Bartleby, can polish a repeated negation into something like adamant silence: “I would prefer not to.” A royal person like Queen Victoria can, allegedly, simply turn it into ice: “We are not amused.”

Sometimes not is only a good-natured correction: “Look again,” the painter says, “This

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Daily life

Ceramic Review: Masterclass with Stephen Murfitt

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Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 1:23 pm

Spinach today (aka Spinach du jour)

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Today’s spinach is not dissimilar from previous spinach dishes, though they each vary some.

Spinach du 18 Jan 2022

• about 1 tablespoon EVOO drizzled over sauté pan cooking surface
• 1/2 large red onion, chopped
• 3 BBQ onions, chopped — spring onions, in effect, except it isn’t spring
• 4 large mushrooms, halved and sliced
• 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
• 2 jalapeños, chopped (including core and seeds)
• pinch of fine grey sea salt
• pinch of kala namak
• good shaking of crushed red pepper
• 1 Meyer lemon diced (including skin and seeds)
• 2 300g packages frozen chopped spinach
• about 2 tablespoons of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar
• a good splash of Red Boat fish sauce

I put all ingredients in the list above, from EVOO through crushed red pepper, into the 4-qt sauté pan and cooked them over medium heat until the mushrooms released their liquid and the onions were translucent.

Then I added the remaining ingredients and set heat to 225ºF, time to 25 minutes, and covered the pan. I returned to take photo at the top while it’s still cooking. At 25 minutes, I stirred it well to mix spinach with everything else, and cooked it 5 minutes more.

There it is at the right, done cooking.

This is the current Greens dish. I had some. Quite tasty and not nearly so spicy as I had expected.


Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 1:17 pm

Another soft brush — and great fragrances

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I decided to compare a soft badger with the soft goat+horsehair. The badger knot has a bit more resilience, but they are surprisingly close. I think the goat+horsehair holds water better. 

Today, too, the third pass was somewhat short of lather. Perhaps these very soft brushes require more water to ensure good loading. I’ll try another soft brush tomorrow, using a bit more water, and see whether I can beat the third-pass lather curse.

The fragrance of this Lenthéric soap is wonderful. It’s a hard soap — triple-milled, I would say, as was common back in the day. It still lathers like a charm and has a clearly present fragrance.

The is the Goodfellas’ smile Legione slant. The head seems to be the same as the Parker (semi-)slant, but the handle — a very nice handle — is Goodfellas’ own. I got mine from Italian Barber

Three passes produced perfect smoothness, and a splash of Guerlai Vol de Nuit, with a couple of squirts of Hydrating Gel, worked well as a fragrant aftershave. Luca Turin declares this to be a unisex fragrance, and who am I to contradict The Man. (Turin was the subject of Chandler Burr’s wonderful book The Emperor of Scent.)

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 10:42 am

Posted in Shaving

The Effects of Avocados & Red Wine on Meal-Induced Inflammation

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One takeaway from this brief video is that the common combination of wine and cheese or wine and pâté is not a good idea. I also was interested to learn that having an avocado on a burger is a good idea (though not so good as skipping the burger: not the effect of combing meat and white bread).

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 4:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Useful knowledge (in certain contexts): Angel ranks

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From Wordsmith’s A.Word.A.Day for today, the word for today being “cherub” (plural: cherubim):

Angelology is the branch of theology concerning the study of angels. Angels have their own celestial hierarchy (and you thought they were above this) with nine levels that go, from lowest to highest:


So the Archangel Michael was basically but a PFC in the army of angels.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 4:02 am

Posted in Religion

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