Things that don't fit elsewhere.

Books - Non-Fiction

  • Brain function and consciousness
    • How Brains Think, by William Calvin
    • Conversations with Neil's Brain, by Calvin & Ojemann
    • The Cerebral Code, by William Calvin
    • William Calvin's web page
    • The Man who Tasted Shapes, by Richard Cytowic
    • Inevitable Illusions, by Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini
  • Evolution
    • The Blind Watchmaker, by Richard Dawkins
  • Evolution and brain function
    • How the Mind Works, by Steven Pinker
  • Learning and public education
    • Conscientious Objections, by Neil Postman
    • The End of Education, by Neil Postman
    • The Manufactured Crisis, by Berliner & Biddle
  • Reflection
    • My Name Escapes Me, by Alec Guinness
    • The Real Frank Zappa Book, by Zappa & Occhiogrosso

Books - Fiction


On-line Resources

Books: Non-Fiction

"How Brains Think: Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now" by William H. Calvin. 1996, Basic Books, 184 pp.

I picked up this book on a whim in a Fort Worth bookstore. I was blown away by it. Calvin deals with brain functionality on several levels, fascinating and accessible to a layman like me (yes, I have a brain, but I never knew much about how it worked). More appealing yet, Calvin explains his theory of consciousness as the result of a "Darwin Machine", that is, a selection process for cortical space operating on a scale of mili-seconds to seconds. To a former evolutionary biologist like me, he makes incredibly good sense - his theory has an elegant quality of "rightness" that makes me sincerely hope it proves correct. I mean, imagine being able to understand consciousness from a functional, physiological and anatomical perspective - what an incredible breakthrough! Okay, enough. Let me end with a quote that Calvin uses to start chapter one: "All organisms with complex nervous systems are faced with the moment-to-moment question that is posed by life: What shall I do next?" - Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Roger Lewin, 1994.

"Conversations with Neil's Brain: The Neural Nature of Thought and Language" by William H. Calvin and George A. Ojemann. 1994, Addison-Wesley, 343 pp.

I've listed this book after Calvin's "How Brains Think" simply because that's the order in which I read them. You could start with either. To some extent they overlap in content, with "Conversations..." tending to go into greater detail - but you'll miss some great stuff if you skip "How Brains Think". The literary device the authors use is kinda lame - fictitious conversations with a composite "patient" preparing for brain surgery - but the content more than compensates. In this book, the authors spend much more time on the physiological underpinnings of various disorders. I found this fascinating, and offer it as a sample: "Tourette's is highly familial and, in affected families, looks as if it might be a male version of what, in females, turns instead into an obsessive-compulsive disorder." One more quote that I can't pass up, this one used to open the chapter on mood: "Throughout history, it has been known that melancholics, though they have little energy, use their energy well; they tend to work hard in a focused area, do great things, and derive little pleasure from their accomplishments. Much of the insight and creative achievement of the human race is due to the discontent, guilt, and critical eye of (melancholics)." The psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer, 1993.

"The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind" by William H. Calvin. 1996, MIT Press, 256 pp.

Another book by Calvin, this one devoted to explaining his "Darwin Machine" theory of consciousness in great technical detail. The evolutionary biologists among you will love it; the rest may think it a bit much. But, following my pattern of offering a quote from each of his books, here's part of his opening to chapter 2: "We tend to regard erratic copying as a bad thing, and in the case of human documents it is hard to think of cases where errors are improvements. I suppose the scholars of the Septuagint could at least be said to have started something big when they mistranslated the Hebrew word for "young woman" into the Greek word for "virgin," coming up with the prophesy: 'Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son...'" Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976. (Below, I'll recommend one of Dawkin's books, "The Blind Watchmaker" - but "The Selfish Gene" predates it and is also a great read.)

William Calvin's web page If any of Calvin's books appeal to you at all, please check out his web page where you'll find a wealth of information! The URL is:

"The Man who Tasted Shapes" by Richard E. Cytowic, M.D. Warner Books, 1993, 249 pp.

Perhaps the most exciting book I've read, ever. Its subtitle will serve as introduction: "A Bizarre Medical Mystery Offers Revolutionary Insights Into Emotions, Reasoning, and Consciousness." Cytowic deals with synesthesia, a cross-wiring of the senses in laymen's terms. The book takes its title from a conversation in the kitchen of a man preparing dinner for his guests. He says: "This sauce doesn't have enough points." He can taste the sauce much as you or I can, but he also receives a tactile sensation as well. Another form of synesthesia combines sight and sound and is called color hearing. What fascinates me about this condition is that it gives its "sufferers" something more than most people get, rather than taking away some aspect of normal brain function. Quoting Cytowic, from chapter 2: "Solving the mystery of synesthesia eventually led me to a new conception of the organization of mind that emphasizes the primacy of emotion over reason. ...instead of the usual recounting wherein sensation flows from the world outside inwards to the brain, our new view reverses the direction so that sensation emanates from the inside out. Your brain is an active explorer, not a passive receiver."

"Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule our Minds" by Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini. 1994, John Wiley & Sons, 242 pp.

This book points out some fascinating errors of reason that we commonly make. It deals with perceptual (optical) illusions, of course, but more importantly, describes several other classes of illusion (e.g., probability) with which we are less familiar. The author uses this illusion in his preface: What North American city would you encounter if you traveled due north from Caracas, Venezuela? Most people answer Dallas or New Orleans. The correct answer is Boston. It seems our brains have circuits which tend to straighten out angled lines. While this example may be fun at parties, many of the examples cited have far graver implications for the quality of decision-making.

"The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design" by Richard Dawkins. 1996, W. W. Norton & Company, 358 pp.

I've never been able to read Darwin cover-to-cover; he makes me sleepy. (I suppose that's an awful confession for an evolutionary biologist.) Thoreau is worse - I'll never know what went on at Walden Pond because I can't stay awake for it. (Insomniacs take note; I've found the cure!) Dawkins is another matter: great writer, not afraid to state the case plainly, with imagination and conviction. The edition of "Watchmaker" that I purchased years ago came with a neat Mac application that allowed you to evolve stick organisms, with genes for branching, length of branches, etc. I don't know if they still offer it. Quoting from Dawkins' preface: "This book is written in the conviction that our own existence once presented the greatest of all mysteries, but that it is a mystery no longer because it is solved. Darwin and Wallace solved it, though we shall continue to add footnotes to their solution for awhile yet. I wrote the book because I was surprised that so many people seemed not only unaware of the elegant and beautiful solution to this deepest of problems but, incredibly, in many cases actually unaware that there was a problem in the first place. The problem is that of complex design."

"How the Mind Works" by Steven Pinker. 1997, WW Norton, 660 pp.

The perfect blend of two favorite subjects: an evolutionary perspective on evolution of the human brain. Pinker is refreshingly objective as he reverse-engineers the human brain, relating today's functionality to the needs of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The book seems to divide into three major areas: The first compares our abilities with the best of robot and computer technology (we come off very favorably). The second describes in great detail the challenges of recognizing objects. (And you thought the structure of the eye was complex? The eye is a snap compared the the processing that must occur on the myelin road to recognition.) The third deals with human behavior, that is, our relations with one another. Pinker salts the book with contemporary anecdotes and back up his conclusions with 58 pages of notes and references.

A few quotes to set the tone: "People hold many beliefs that are at odds with their experience but were true in the environment in which we evolved, and they pursue goals that subvert their own well-being but were adaptive in that environment." " is the key to why we have emotions. An animal cannot pursue all its goals at once. The emotions are mechanisms that set the brain's highest-level goals." "Children use their older relatives the way kings use food tasters; if they ate something and lived, it is not poison." "Food taboos often prohibit the favorite food of a neighboring tribe... That suggests that they are weapons to keep potential defectors in." On happiness: "We are happier when we are healthy, well-fed, comfortable, safe, prosperous, knowledgeable, respected, non-celibate, and loved. Compared to their opposites, these objects of striving are conducive to reproduction. The function of happiness would be to mobilize the mind to seek the keys to Darwinian fitness." On war: "Tribal people fight over anything of value... But one motive that is surprising to Westerners appears over and over. In foraging societies, men go to war to get or keep women. One anthropologist wrote... 'Women? Fighting over women? Gold and diamonds I can understand, but women? Never.' The reaction, of course, is biologically topsy-turvy." The reason that females never evolved an appetite to band together and raid neighboring villages for husbands is that a woman's reproductive success is rarely limited by the number of available males, so any risk to her life while pursuing additional mates is a shere loss in expected fitness."

"Conscientious Objections: Stirring up Trouble about Language, Technology, and Education" by Neil Postman. 1988, Vintage Books, 201 pp.

Postman is a valuable curmudgeon, focusing primarily on the unanticipated, and mostly negative, consequences of new media. In this book of essays, television news and advertizing take repeated hits. He amplifies these themes in other books like "The Disappearance of Childhood" and "Amusing ourselves to Death." The titles of several essays from "Conscientious Objections" will give you a hint of Postman's humor, as well as his serious outrage: "The Naming of Missiles", "The Parable of the Ring around the Collar", and "Future Shlock." Quoting from Postman's preface will give you some sense of his gift for language: "The two best places for a writer to live are America and Russia. Both are dynamic imperial powers prone to making mistakes. I should not like to live in Switzerland. Switzerland does not make mistakes, and therefore deprives a writer of grievances. For a writer, that society is best which is most burdensome. The favor is returned: for a society, that writer is best who is most burdensome. It is true enough that in Russia writers with serious grievances are arrested, while in America they are merely featured on television talk shows where all that is arrested is their development. This is an important difference, but it does nothing to change the fact that grievance is the source of all interesting prose. Without grievance, a writer tends to become a celebrant, which is an agreeable but repetitious state. After you have sung two choruses of 'God Bless America,' what else is there to say?"

"The End of Education" by Neil Postman. Vintage Books, 1995, 209 pp.

Highly recommended for Postman's views on the false purposes ascribed to education, especially public education, today -- and his thoughtful alternatives. A few quotes, though they suffer from lack of context, will give you an inkling of his point of view: "...that the idea of public education depends absolutely on the existence of shared narratives and the exclusion of narratives that lead to alienation and divisiveness. ...public education does not serve a public. It creates a public." "Thomas Jefferson, the Moses of the great democracy-god, knew what schools were for -- to ensure that citizens would know when and how to protect their liberty. ... It would not have come easily to the mind of such a man, as it does to political leaders today, that the young should be taught to read exclusively for the purpose of increasing their economic productivity." Readers who share my concern for the role of technology in learning will find 13 pages of Postman's chapter 3 especially relevant, starting with some quotes from Lewis Perelman which Postman goes on to debunk.

"The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools" by David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle. 1995, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 414 pp.

Point-by-point, the authors refute claims made primarily during the Reagan and Bush administrations that our public schools were below standard and probably beyond redemption. As an advocate for free, quality, public education, this book fuels my sense of outrage. While I might not go so far as the authors, to suspect a coordinated conspiracy in the Reagan-Bush era rhetoric, I do see manipulation of the numbers and flat-out unsubstantiated conclusions serving a political agenda, the spending of taxpayer dollars to support private schools. There is plenty of good news about America's public schools and this book spells it out, along with facts and figures to back it up. Oh, there are some disasters to be sure - but they all can be traced back to lack of funding, not to a fundamental flaw in the public school ideal.

"My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor" by Alec Guiness. 1997, Viking, 214 pp.

This is a wonderful little book for the candid view it provides on the sadness of aging, written by someone with a remarkable gift for language. Some samples drawn almost at random: June 7 1995 "It seems a pity that the good old phrase 'living in sin' is likely to be dropped by the C. of E. (Church of England) So many friends, happily living in sin, will feel very ordinary and humdrum when they become merely partners; or, as the Americans' say, 'an item.' Living in sin has always sounded daring and exotic; something to do, perhaps, with Elinor Glyn and her tiger skin." June 14 1995 "Must have my eyes tested. Today I found myself making enticing cooing sounds to what I took to be a rather pale pigeon on the lawn outside my study. It turned out to be a knuckle-bone left by one of the dogs." January 27, 1996 "Can't remember where I came across this description of someone's Wiltshire cottage" 'Simply devine, covered in roses and smothered in hysteria.'"

"The Real Frank Zappa Book" by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso. Poseidon Press.

Hard to imagine a book more different from Alec Guiness' diary just above. Outspoken puts it too mildly, but ah the freedom to call a schmuck a schmuck as he does in chapter 13, titled "All About Schmucks." A brief quote will serve:

"We live in a world where people preach at you constantly (like now, even) -- telling you not to be fat, you can't smoke, you can't eat butter, sugar will kill you, everything is bad for you -- especially sex.

"Every natural human urge has been thwarted in one way or another, so that some cocksucker gets to make a dollar off your guilt.

"Certain people buy into this because they don't want to rock the boat. Unfortunately, adaptation of this sort requires that the adaptee willingly destroys his own personality.

"If you wind up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your mother, your Dad, your priest, to some guy on television, to any of the people telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it. If you want to be a schmuck, be a schmuck -- but don't wait around for respect from other people -- a schmuck is a schmuck."

I can't pass up sharing what Zappa says about "The Frame": "The most important thing in art is The Frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively -- because, without this human appliance, you can't know where The Art stops and The Real World begins. You have to put a 'box' around it because otherwise, what is that shit on the wall?"

Books: Fiction

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. 1925, Charles Scribner's Sons, Scribner paperback edition with notes and preface by Matthew J. Brucoli, 1995, 216 pp.

What can I say about "Gatsby..."? Just that's it's beautifully written, and structured, prose-poetry. If you haven't read it since High School, when you were forced to, consider picking it up again. Here's a quote from the last page: "And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night."

"The French Lieutenant's Woman" by John Fowles. 1969, Little, Brown and Company, 480 pp.

A great story, and masterful use of language, but what impresses me most about this book is how Fowles plays with his readers, preventing fiction's natural "suspension of disbelief." Between chapters which advance the book's plot, Fowles inserts other chapters where he chats about his characters and the times they lived in. As if that weren't enough, he ends the book in the middle, then recants and continues to the last 20 pages or so where he ends it twice more. I highly recommend this book to anyone contemplating writing a book of fiction. Learn from a master who willingly shares his bag o'tricks.

"A Widow for One Year" by John Irving. 1998, Random House, 537pp.

This is a beautifully crafted piece. Both like and unlike other Irving books. I especially enjoyed how he moved deftly forward and back in time - his use of tenses in ways I can't recall them being used in a novel - and how he used parallel scenes at vastly different points in the book, and occasionally repeated specific lines - in vastly different circumstances. Of course there's some typical Irving eccentricity in the "Sorrow the Dog" sense. In this book he uses a series of childhood photos as his props.

One theme is long-term mourning and how we cope (or not) with tragedy and loss. (We each mourn for different things, I think. People or ideals or innocence or self-esteem, or...? But it seems to me that the older we get, the more we have to mourn - unless we just aren't paying attention.) Another theme is how we love - the varying ways we love. (One character spends 37 years before seeing again the woman he loves. That's not giving away the plot because early on, Irving tells us they'll meet - a minor example of the time shifts I was talking about above.) Also, the main characters are writers - of varying skill levels, and for varying reasons. They interact to some degree on a professional level, and on a personal level - but very differently. For instance, one of the poorer novelists is strong in other ways. So, there's a multi-dimensional matrix of respect and tolerance; at least that's as close as I can come to describing it. Another theme which resonated with me was how we often fail to meet our own standards for ourselves - and how we cope with that. (Sometimes I'm embarrassed by myself; my behavior. I see myself and think, God, what a jerk. But I'm powerless to be anyone else; I'm stuck with me. Thank goodness I don't always feel that way.)

Two quick quotes: One character is convinced "that poetic justice is not forthcoming on a regular basis..." (Though it ought to be for certain people.) Later... "Horace Walpole once wrote: 'The world is a comedy to those who think, and a tragedy to those who feel.' But the real world is tragic to those who think and feel; it is only comic to those who have been lucky."

Of course anything by Irving is a good read in my opinion, though "Cider House Rules" is probably at the top of my list - and the recent movie version truly remarkable in casting, scoring, imagery, scripting, acting... have I left anything out? Available now on tape and DVD. See it!


Adapted from a book of Scottish recipes, these taste good warm from the oven or cool; plain or carefully sliced open and spread with butter and jelly. In our house they're a weekend morning treat with fresh-brewed coffee or tea. One batch makes 16 scones.

Dry Ingredients:   Wet Ingredients:
  1. 2 cups flour
  2. 1/2 cup sugar
  3. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  4. 3/4 teaspoon salt
  1. 1/2 cup margarine or shortening (at room temperature)
  2. 2 eggs (slightly beaten)
  3. 1/4 cup milk


  1. Mix dry ingredients.
  2. Cut in shortening using pastry blender until mix resembles fine meal (no large globs of shortening visible)
  3. Mix in eggs and milk with a fork.
  4. Divide dough into halves.
  5. On floured surface, pat each half into a 1/2 inch thick circle, then cut into pie wedges.
  6. Place wedges onto greased, floured cookie sheet.
  7. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until just beginning to turn golden.

Mom's Scottish Oatmeal Stuffing for Turkey

  • 1 Package Quaker Oats (regular or quick)
  • 1 cup bacon grease, melted
  • 1 small onion, diced fine
  • Poultry seasoning to taste

Mix in grease to moisten oats. Stuff bird.

Web Design Sites

Here are some sites you may find useful as you explore issues of web design.

  • McSweeney's ( which challenges most of what we intuitively hold dear about web site design. Thus an opportunity to inspect our beliefs a bit. McSweeney's is a literary magazine (of sorts) and as such 1) relies on words rather than pictures, 2) is more concerned with entertainment than rapid information access, and 3) shouldn't look like a corporate or training site! I've given you the URL for the homepage. Note that you jump right into content. Below the content are a few suggested next articles (far from the whole list - if you follow one of these links, you'll find a select few more links, and so on). Finally, you'll find links to Archives (more like the Table of Contents you'd expect to find in a magazine) plus all the other things in a jumble that you might find on a masthead.
  • peterme - Peter Merholz' stream of consciousness site (my characterization, not his) ( comes to mind when I think of McSweeney's. The "younger generation" will groove to it. Here's an unconventional site but focused on "happening" design issues.
  • Gary Dickelman's web site ( From here you can jump to DON NORMAN's site as well as many other interesting places. (FYI: Gary worked for me at Aetna. He was in chage of influencing IS to embrace the notion of electronic performance support. His strengths are in regard to the development process for EPSS/PCS, and the use of dynamic Process Modeling in process reengineering.)
  • User Interface Engineering's web site ( Scroll down the left margin and subscribe to their "Eye for Design" Newsletter. These folks have been presenting at the Performance Support conferences lately. They take a research approach to what does and doesn't work in web interfaces. Not sure I agree with all their conclusions but, hey, they're the ones out there asking the questions.
  • Constantine & Lockwood's web site for usage-centered design ( Lucy Lockwood keynoted the October '99 Performance Support conference and her new book, "Software for Use...", is quite good. I'm particularly enamored (enamoured for my north-of-the-border colleagues?) of their advocacy for essential use cases.