Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Large Font

I have a few different routes I take when going for a walk.  Which one I choose is determined by how I'm feeling.  Yesterday I took the middle one - a loop around my local community, Robeson West.  I thought I wasn't up to the long one - down Duncan Road to Kirby and over to the McDonalds - sit on an outside bench for a few minutes to fiddle with my Web radio and do a bit of recovery, then return home.  When I start out, it is no big deal.  But once I get tired the arthritis seems to return with a vengeance.  I've really labored the last couple of times on the longer route for the last half mile or so.  That made me wary of a repeat performance. 

But yesterday I was feeling really good when I reached about the 4/5ths mark - the most southwest part of the development.  The weather was moderate, in the high 70s at the time.  A few days earlier I had read something about barefoot running  - landing on the ball of your foot instead of the heel. So I was practicing that coupled with short steps and trying to keep form that way.  Then there is what my physical therapist had been repeatedly telling me in the spring.  Stand up straight, shoulders back.  This is still not yet habit.  I need to work on it.  The good posture is easier to maintain while walking than while sitting.  So that too became part of the form.  It seemed to be working, in the sense of not overly taxing me while I was walking.  I'm ecstatic because there is no pain at all in my lower back on the right side, where it normally manifests. 

Not that I was ever very macho, but I certainly have the male gene (don't ask for directions when lost) and aging doesn't seem to have suppressed it much if at all. So I let valor get the better part of discretion.  Instead of completing my loop and being delighted that doing so was well within me, I decide to backtrack and return the way I came, making it a longer walk.  This seems perfectly sensible while I'm going along the path in the grassy area west of the development.  Everything is fine and remains that way as I continue up the mild grade walking along Windsor.  Then nearing the shops in the Village at the Crossing, I start to labor and opt to shorten my path, cutting across the parking lot rather than going around it.

When I'm in front of Mineccis the music radio conks out.  Spotify said it was unable to play that particular track.  My sunglasses are bifocals, but the prescription is a bit old and the reading part is non-functional for navigating the screen on my phone.  So I lean against a post for balance, take my glasses off and bring the phone very close to my face, and then find another track I can listen to.  Music is very important while I'm walking.  Its rhythm keeps me going.  When I get home I turn the music off, then a few minutes for cool off and a drink, followed by a shower and then lying down for 15 minutes or so to recover.  I had overdone it.

* * * * *

While the rest of the world seems to have embraced mobile computing as the main form, for me its still a sidebar.  I prefer to sit in front of my desktop machine in my office, with the 20" screen that I can set with large font magnification and especially when using the browser, as I currently am writing this piece, where I can use Ctrl + a couple of times to get the font even larger.  Sometimes the ideas don't flow when I write.  Then I need to pace around the house to collect my thoughts.  Other impedance should be avoided.  For that reason I much prefer to type at a regular sized keyboard, especially when doing longish writing. 

I'm really more interested in impedance of the intellectual kind and what should be done about it.  Large font is my metaphor for the various remedies one might encounter.  But before going further let me take a slight detour as it better explains this interest in large font.

Some years back people interested in learning, such as me, became fascinated with the Philip Ross piece in Scientific American, The Expert Mind.  It got us readers acquainted with the work of Anders Ericsson and his colleagues and the notion of a regime of deliberate practice (Ross calls it effortful study) on an ongoing basis as the primary means for developing expertise.  Deliberate practice means trying things that are just out of reach at present.  That is the way to get better.  That's the easy part.  The hard part is sticking to the regime, which requires the right sort of motivation.

From time to time I've written about this, because I find this relationship between motivation and practice extraordinarily interesting.  A fairly recent example is this post on Untutored Big Hitters, where the practice comes out of the individuals own experimentation rather than via coaching from an expert.  This idea of practice as experiment matches my personality.  I find it much easier to stick to the program that way than if I were working through a formal regime.  For example, I'm still writing this blog, nine years after I started and four years since I retired.  The focus has moved away some from learning technology, but not from learning.  I find this sort of writing is instrumental to my own learning, even if I do return to favorite themes quite often.

But I also find I'm making more intellectual errors now, the type I attribute to aging.  Some of this is slowness at getting to a conclusion where I used to be quite quick.  I may try to move onto something else but the previous thing then might intrude in a way where I confound the two.  This seems to be happening with increased frequency.  I'm looking for a large font way to minimize this issue.

Now one more thing.  There are certain areas where it seems clear that deliberate practice won't work.  One of those is reading small print, particularly on the screen.  My experience with that is you don't get better with practice.  What you do instead is squint, to compensate for the deficiency in seeing the print clearly.  Too much squinting is harmful.  It might give you a headache.  Your optometrist might suggest higher power in your glasses as alternative.  But visits to the optometrist are few and far between.  Why not make the font bigger, instead, and get past the delusion that you'll ever be able to read small font well?

All of this seems sensible as means to accommodate aging with minimal disruption.  But abstract from aging entirely and then ask these questions.  Are there areas that are immune from the benefits of deliberate practice and thus require large font accommodation instead?  Might it be that the answer to this question is yes, but that the area depends on the individual involved?  When should one go for a deliberate practice approach and when should one opt for a large font solution instead?  I don't know the answer to these questions, but I would like to obtain those answers if possible.  I will give one example to illustrate the sort of things that are at stake.

I was raised that it was important to stay informed and read the newspaper.  So I developed the habit with the New York Times when I was younger - the Front Page, the Op-Ed, one or two pieces from the Business Section, maybe a Book Review or two, and Sports, the last of which required no encouragement at the time.  Recently, however, I'm finding less of a compulsion to do that.  So much of the news that I do read boggles my mind by the stupidity of the participants or angers me with the violence and negativity.  The world seems to be falling apart, at home and abroad.  Given my personal limits to do anything about it, must I stay informed about this unraveling of sensibility.

Here is one instance from today.  I go into Facebook early in the morning and on the right sidebar there's an item about Sarah Palin demanding that President Obama be impeached because of the current child immigration morass on the Texas border.  So I go to the New York Times to read the their story about addressing the issue.  The Conservatives seem to have a "gated community" view of immigration and so care about sealing the border and returning children who have gotten through to their country of origin.  They care not a whit about why this immigration is happening and what might stop it voluntarily or enable it in a more manageable way.  So now I know about this.  But do I feel enlightened?  Hardly.

Even when reading Roger Cohen, an emblem of sensibility and reason, I get depressed for the topics he writes about demand a nihilistic response.  I don't want to be a nihilist.  So I ask, is dissociating oneself from the news a large font response?  If it is, what else should it be that we cling to?

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