Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Late Fall in Sedillo...

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

When there's snow on Redondo Peak in the Jemez at dawn....

And snow and frost at Sandia Crest....

And the Aspen's gold turns to orange....

...and then to brown...

...and then branches are becoming bare against the sky...

And the scarecrow, and the pumpkin,

and corn, symbol of peace and plenty,

appear at the door...

...then we know that fall is dying,
and the season of rest and renewal approaches.

Carnival of Homeschooling #96: Yearbook Edition

I know I have a high school photo of me....somewhere! But it's in the garage. In a box.
A box that looks like about 100 other boxes from the move. Sigh!

So my listing in the Yearbook Edition of COH comes sans picture! Remember those blank spots with the caption: Absent on Picture Day? Well, I'm one of those. But you can still go on over to Sprittibee's blog and read some of the wonderful entries this week!

Maybe I'll have time to find one of those pictures. But it was the '70's. Big glasses. Gunny Sax dresses. Do I really want to?

Anyway, go on over and share the fun!

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Week of Observing:Full Moon at Perigee, The Space Station and Shuttle and a Comet

This past week has been a busy week for night sky observations.

On Thursday evening, we had dinner in stages. After the salad, we went outside and looked up to see the International Space Station (ISS) transit across from the northwest to the southeast, crossing the bowl of the Big Dipper--which was barely visible because the sun had set only about 15 minutes before. Then we began the main course, but before I served seconds, we were outside again, to see the Space Shuttle seeming to chase after the ISS from northwest to southeast. It went right through the handle of the Big Dipper on its way towards the rising moon.

And, speaking of the moon, did you notice how bright it was this past week? The fullness of the Hunter Moon was also at the Moon's Perigee, that time when its orbit brings it closest to the earth. It was so amazingly bright last week that when it began to shine through the clerestory in our bedroom, it woke me up early in the morning. I looked out the French doors to see the full moon casting dark shadows of trees and shrubs before it as it sank to the western horizon. I even managed a picture of it. It is a little blurred as I do not have tripod. You can see the deep shadow of the mountains it will sink behind at the bottom of the picture. The next morning, N. complained that the moonlight kept him awake as it shined in his window. We talked about orbits and perigee and apogee, and looked it all up at APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day).

Another amazing astronomical event this week is that Comet P17 Holmes, which was very dim when it passed us on its way toward the sun last spring, suddenly flared into brightness this weekend.

We looked for it on Friday night. In a sort of strange turn of events, I identified it first, whereas Bruce thought I was pointing to a star. Although he's the astronomer, in this case, I thought this object looked fuzzy, whereas a star would twinkle. The full moon made it difficult to see, but with binoculars steadied against the roof of Henry, we were even able to see a little tail. We looked for it again last night, and since the moon rose late, we actually saw a pretty good tail on it!

P17 Holmes is so bright because it is outgassing as it passes Jupiter. It is currently about 2.5 AU (that 2.5 x the distance from the earth to the sun) and is moving away from the sun now. It is a naked-eye object. It can be seen by identifying Cassiopia (the 'W' shaped constellation in the northern sky) and then looking east from there to find a triangle of stars. It is a point at the bottom of the triangle, and it looks fuzzy and does not twinkle like a star.

The picture of the comet above is from APOD. A friend of ours from TAAS (The Albuquerque Astronomical Society) also took a picture the other night, which includes the stars around it that can be seen at her blog Infinity. If you check her site out, you will see where to look for Comet P17 Holmes. Finally, NASA has schedules for when and where to look to see the ISS pass overhead, as well as where to look for the Space Shuttle when it is up.

It's interesting. Every time Bruce comes home with a schedule for viewing the ISS or the Shuttle or some other event that happens regularly, I think to myself, "Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt." But then I always go out to see it. And it always amazes me. People are up there in space! I guess I am a space-junkie, even if I try to pretend I am jaded and experienced. I'll never get over the initial wonder.
Do take some time to go out and take a look at the night sky soon. The moon is now waning, so you will be able to see the comet well in the early evening. Check out the schedule for seeing the ISS and the Space Shuttle when it undocks. We all need a little wonder.

And as we say in the astronomy community:

Clear Skies!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tai Kwando: Physical Education and Something More

Last year, when we started homeschooling, N. talked about wanting to start a sport.

He said he was considering football, but I nixed that. Football involves too many injuries to young bodies and especially to brains. People with neurological diagnoses are more vulnerable to mild traumatic brain injury and N. is in that category. Also, N. is exquisitely sensitive to being hurt by others on purpose, and that is what football is about.

I suggested that he consider either a track club or martial arts. Both of these are individual sports in which a person is competing only with his or her personal best. These kinds of sports are very good for people with Aspergers. After mulling it over for a while, N. said he wanted to do martial arts. But by then we were deep into Bar Mitzvah preparations, and I knew I could not take on one more thing! So I told him that we would investigate martial arts after the big day.

But we took a good long break in January. In February, N. started his museum science class and we were working with Dr. Sheri Florance on Brain Engineering. That was worthwhile, but definitely not inexpensive. In March, we discovered the Wilderness Awareness School and Kemana. April was Passover, and in May we got busy with summer plans...

Are you dectecting a pattern here?

In June, we started the flooring project and N. went to Boy Scout camp. In July, he was in Illinois for three weeks. If this was August, this must have been Coyote Tracks camp in California...September was the High Holy Days.

Wow! Time sure does fly when you're having fun!

Finally, last Monday, after some urging from N., I made the call to Blackman's Tai Kwando Academy. Master Blackman has taught martial arts to a number of the kids that learned Hebrew from me. Two of those kids are Black Belts now, and one is training for the Olympics. That kid--well, he's not really a kid anymore--time does fly!--is doing a class for kids with ASD at the JCC. We thought about that program, but N. wanted to pursue the sport without reference to his disability. So a week ago Monday, I called up Blackman's.

They certainly don't waste any time. That afternoon I took N. for a free trial lesson.

When it was over, the teacher said that N. seemed to do well, listening to each direction and working at the moves. N. said he wanted to sign up.

So N. is now a member of the school, complete with a uniform and practice DVD to get to the yellow belt. He can take lessons on Monday just before boy scouts and on Wednesday just before Machon (Religious Ed). I also take him in special on Thursdays. That is three hours a week of intensive training. Since he is 13, he takes his lessons with the beginning adults. Those groups are small and he gets a lot of individual attention.

The sign-up form had a list of goals for the student to choose and check-off. N. checked "self-defense," as well as "discipline" and "confidence." Those are interesting goals. When he was in school, N. had several bouts of problems with bullies. So self-defense seems like a natural goal for him in his martial arts training. I would have chosen "discipline" for him, as that is always important for teens. But I had not thought much about "confidence" lately.

Accomplishing the rigorous goals of the Bar Mitzvah was a step that made N.'s confidence bloom. So, too, was the experience with Kamana I and the Coyote Tracks camp. I had not really thought about it much, but N. has blossomed in the past year, with homeschooling, and these other accomplishments.

However, N. had a nasty bout with bullying in his scout troop just before we went to Coyote Tracks. It was antisemitic bullying from the other three members of his patrol. The actual things the kids said to N. indicated their complete ignorance of Judaism and of the Holocaust, but they were hurtful remarks none the less. We called the scoutmaster that very same night, and to his credit, an immediate stop was put to the behavior, N. moved out of that patrol and into another, and the troop board is planning a Holocaust educational trip to the local Holocaust museum. But it has taken N. a long time to bounce back. He missed getting his Second Class with the other boys because he was apathetic about one last requirement. He missed the court of honor anyway, because it was scheduled for the night of Yom Kippur. (That's another issue we are working with the troop on--this was the second year in a row the family camp-out was scheduled during the highest of the holy days). But he has seemed to regain some interest in the scouts again.

Still, in reflecting on his year, I realized that for someone with AS, targeting by bullies can become a way of life. And the best way to deal with bullies is confidence.

Today, N. completed a six hour training on self-defense using Combat Hapkido methods. These include anatomical targeting and using the force of the attacker against him. He will need to go to another day of this training before he gets his higher ranks in Tai Kwando. He said that they taught a lot about observing the environment and moving with confidence, because the best way to solve problems with bullies and other attackers begins with confidence.

Confidence. It is an important aspect of physical training that was never explicitly taught in the public schools PE classes. There, bully-proofing was limited to telling an adult--many of whom had never been taught how to actually stop bullying behaviors.

Confidence is not on the curriculum in schools. It would be extremely difficult to develop confidence during physical training in schools and, at the same time, take it away by the extreme sport that testing has become in the very same schools.

Confidence. Evidently, as he has developed some of it, N. has also developed the desire for more!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fog, Rocks, Waves and Sand...

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

What would you do with a high-energy kid
before hopping into Henry the Big Red Truck for a 12 hour drive? On August 18, 2007 we did this:

We took him out for a nice breakfast.

And then we went to the beach in Pacifica, California.

The rocks were just calling out to be walked on.

And jumped across.

And keeping your balance takes agility, strength and concentration.

The fog and cool Pacific breeze made the air feel soft and wonderul.

In a few hours we would be in the desert.
But first, N. got to spend an hour being a kid on the beach.
By the end of that hour he was quiet and focused.

Nature's Prozac!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling: The ABC's of Homeschool

The 95th Carnival of Homeschooling: The ABC Edition is up, over at At Home With Kris. I didn't count the number of articles, but I know that there are more than 26!

The image of the alphabet comes from the Art of Graffiti. It reminds me of Micrography, an art form in which images are made completely of words.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Math: Taming the Speed Demon

Last year a You-Tube video done by a west-coast weather forcaster made the rounds of the homeschooling virtual world.

The weather forcaster started with the complaint that when she went back to school to study meteorology, she noticed that the math skills of her young colleagues was lacking and that this limited their ability to be successful in their studies. Thus far her argument holds up. It would be difficult to be successful in any scientific field if math skills are lacking.

But then the argument took an interesting turn. She said she went home and took a look at the methodologies that were being used to teach her children math. And she zeroed in (no pun intended) on three different methods used for multiplication. All three methods worked. That is a student could use any of the methods to calculate a correct answer. The argument came down to speed. She concluded that the problem her fellow students at the university level had with math was that they had been taught inefficient methodologies for problem solving, and so getting to the correct answer was taking more time. Another You-Tube video was made by a man who calculated exactly how much more time the alternative methodologies took and there was a difference of at least several seconds. The man did not calculate whether that difference was significant or not.

As I watched this You-Tube and the minor sensation it made in the homeschooling virtual world, I had a nagging sense that there was a real problem with the framing of the argument but I did not take the time to follow it through. Instead, I had flashbacks to third grade math with Mrs. C. With all the best intentions, Mrs. C. gave timed tests of multiplication and division. These were not timed tests of knowing the multiplication tables only. Instead, the people who did multi-step problems the fastest were considered math whizzes who would go on to be scientists and techno-geeks. Alas, I was not to be one of them. I was one of those kids who had poor motor skills and held my pencil too hard--which I still do when I am nervous--and so I never had the "whiz-kid" speed. And so I developed the idea that whereas I was good at reading, science, and history, I was no good at math. I continued to think so all the way through Algebra, Geometry and Algebra II and Trigonometry , Math Analysis and Pre-Calculus in high school.

I thought that I was no good in math, even though I got A's in my classes. I thought that I was no good in math even though I understood numbers and got very excited by ideas like negative numbers and scientific notation. I thought that I was no good in math right up to the point where I too the PSAT. Then I realized that there was something wrong with my assessment of my math ability. And when I found that I enjoyed calculus and what it could do for me in physics and chemistry and biology, I concluded that there was probably nothing wrong with my math abilities. (Yes--I am a Geek, first class. I also really enjoy statistics).

I don't know how many people in Mrs. C.'s third grade math class became scientists. I do know that I did. And I now understand that when it comes to math, accuracy is far more important than speed. I don't know about you, but when I cross a highway bridge, my confidence in the engineering is based on a sense that the engineer can make accurate calculations. I really don't care if he did the problem seven seconds faster than someone else. Seven seconds is not really a very long time compared to the years that would be taken off my life if the bridge collapsed with me on it.

These are the thoughts that guide me as I go about re-teaching math to my son, N.

N. had a much more traumatic experience with math in third grade than I did. His fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination were so compromised that he used to have great difficulty even lining up words or numbers corrrectly on a page. And mental math requires strong auditory working memory, another issue for N., who has Central Auditory Processing Disorder--a specific learning disability--on top of his AS diagnosis. You can imagine what happened when his teacher gave him timed math problems. We were told that N. did not know his math facts and that he was "slowing the class down." The third grade teacher added insult to injury by labeling N. publically as "lazy." It does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that N. was not motivated to actually learn math.

When I undertook to teach him math last year, I found that there were big holes in his understanding of basic operations. It was clear that he had missed important steps and concepts in his elementary school math training. This probably springs from two sources. One is that he had so much difficulty following verbal instructions that he simply missed much of what was being "taught." (My very wise professor in Special Education Assessment says that if a student hasn't learned something, the first hypothesis ought to be that he was not taught it. Covering material for a student is not the same thing as teaching that student). The second problem with math instruction in public schools is that, in their frantic urgency to improve standardized test scores, districts tend to change curricular programs very often. Program changes in the middle of someone's education tend to create gaps in learning because each program builds on previous instruction in different ways.

The other problem we face in order to re-teach math to N., is the issue of motivation. When N. sits down to do math, his anxiety climbs quickly to the red zone. He has learned that he is "no good at math." A large part of that problem has to do with speed. He has been inadvertently taught that if he cannot come up with the right answer in 15 seconds, then he is hopelessly stupid and there is no point in continuing.

Aside: In my opinion, this problem extends far beyond N. and far beyond math. I believe that one reason our schools are failing is that we have taught our kids that filling in the blank or the bubble for the "right" answer in all areas is far more important than actually thinking something through.

But enough! Back to the main story.

We have developed the following principles for re-teaching N. math.

1. Teach basic math from the beginning.

When N. expressed the desire to learn algebra, I took him out for coffee and we had a conversation about math instruction. I explained to him what I had observed about how poorly math is taught in elementary school in general, and what was lacking in his math instruction in particular. I listened while he told me about the feelings of fear and anxiety he has whenever he sits down to a math problem. Then I told him that it was my hypothesis that if he started math from the beginning operations and systematically studied them, we could certainly be doing algebra by next year.

We made an agreement about how we would help N. reach his goal. So that N. could learn from the beginning of the operations, we ordered Basic Math from the Teaching Company's Great Courses. We also agreed that we would not be concerned about time. N. would proceed through the material systematically, taking all of the time he needs to learn each operation and concept well. And we agreed that would work on auditory working memory outside of math i.e. there would be no verbal drills. And this all leads to:

2) Speed is not important, accuracy is.

Our goal at present is that N. should use a variety of methods in order to learn algorithms and to understand the number theory underlying them. Just as we are not worried about how long it takes for N. to learn the math, so we are also not concerned about how long it takes to do a problem set.

We have taught N. a new mantra: "This is why pencils have erasers." Since accuracy is more important than speed to us at this point, it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that errors are fatal. But at this point, we are far from designing bridges and airplanes, the important point here is that N. learn to check his answers and learn to find and correct his mistakes. To do that, N. must understand the concepts that underlie the algorithms he is learning. When he comes to apply math to things like bridge design, it will be very important that he can check his answers for himself and be able to know that they are accurate.

I know, I know! What about standardized testing? That is the big question that the Math Speed Demons out there will definitely be asking. Isn't speed important to those?

Answer: Yes, in a way. Actually, what those tests require is familiarity with the basic operations to the point of automaticity. That means that the student is able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide without needing to develop the algorithm each time. This allows the real problem-solving power to be applied to more complex math using algebra and calculus. And here is the take-home message to this idea:

When a student is learning to understand math operations and develop algorithms, he will be slower at working problems. As the algorithms become automatic, the speed will increase.

Think about it. When you take it upon yourself to learn a complex skill, it goes slowly at first. As your brain builds the needed neural connections, your speed and accuracy improve. Eventually, you have made certain skills automatic and now they can be applied to more complex problems. For example, when I first started to embroider, I did not know any of the stitches. So my first project took what seemed like forever, as I learned the basic stitches needed on each part of the project. The more projects I did, the faster I completed them, until I was able to do large and ambitiously complex projects with enough speed to actually enjoy them.

By going back to fill in the gaps for both knowledge and skills without concern about speed, we hope that N. will "automate" the basic math operations. As his skill and accuracy improves, so will his timing.

But the ultimate goal is not to be fast! It is to appreciate numbers and enjoy applying math to real-world problems in order to get good results and satisfying answers to the big questions.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Winter is Coming!

Saturday as I was walking the dogs, I saw a Southern Rocky Mountain Junco sitting in the pine near the swingset. It was singing, "Winter is coming! Winter is coming!" These birds come down from Colorado at the beginning of the winter season. That evening, when I took the dogs for their pre-bedtime walk, there was a ring around the waxing moon. It was 55 degrees and warm. "What winter?" I wondered.

But this morning as the sun rose, altocumulous clouds blew rapidly across the sky. Definitely the sign of an upper level disturbance and weather coming in. It was 36 degrees just before dawn, but by 9 AM it was only 31. Today the temperature never rose above 36.

This afternoon, as MLC and drove over the mountain to Sandia Mountain Ranch to look at a house on the Parade of Homes, we noticed low cumulonimbus clouds sweeping across the plains of Estancia. "Looks like snow," we both said together. And it was. A few hours later, back home, I caught the picture above as the snow fell around the swing set.

It had been snowing rapidly as we looked through a house over on Sedillo Hill. As we drove home, we saw the deer heading for the woods.

And then one, two, and many white flakes came out from the clouds, feathering down past the still bright leaves on the scrub oak above the driveway.

I stepped out the french doors to the back patio to catch this picture on my camera. Here I used the sports photography setting to catch moving objects. The timing makes the snowflakes look like white threads falling past the clearstory window.

The Aspen tree, so gold last week and now faded to brown, is reflected in the glass.

A few more good days of wind and those leaves will be gone!

Funny thing, but the last time we had snow showers was in early May, at Lag b'Omer, when MLC ran the 5K Run for the Zoo race. She ran in a sweatshirt in May, on a blustery morning with clouds racing across the sky. We saw the last snow showers of the season that afternoon

Today she ran the Duke City Marathon on a blustery morning. And lo, and behold! The first snow showers of the season.

This evening, it snowed some more while we ate dinner. And when I took the dogs out for their last walk it was 31 degrees. A dusting of snow covered our metal roof, the car tops and the grill. There was a ring around the moon and to the west I saw more snow clouds making their way up the valley.

Winter is coming!

Incidental Education While Doing Floors

Overheard while my guys were working on the floor.

N: Who invented physics, anyway?

Bruce: Well, it really goes all the way back to the Greeks you studied last year. But other people like the Egyptians and the Chinese and tribes we don't even know about use physics whenever they build something. They understand the practical results even if they didn't invent the calculations.

N: Would there by life in the universe if there was no physics?

Bruce: No. Well, what I mean is that our universe in governed by physical laws, and those laws are at the basis of life. The chemical interactions that make DNA work, those are all physical at the core...

N: What about inside black holes? The laws of physics don't work there, do they?

Bruce: Not like we understand them. We really don't know what happens inside a black hole, but time, for example, slows down when you watch something get closer to the even horizon on the black hole it slows down until it appears frozen there. So time is different in a black hole....

N: Is the black hole at the center of our galaxy caused by...I mean is it gravity...?

And a discussion of mass and acceleration and space-time ensued, ending with the following--

Bruce: Mass tells space how to bend and space tells mass how to move.

N: Wow! Just a minute, I have to get the glue even here...

Bruce: Did you know that this one row has probably $5.00 to $7.00 worth of glue?

N: Really? Wow, and it's not even very much Bostik...Does anybody actually burn money?

Bruce: Well, the treasury does when it has to get rid of worn out money...

And they went on to talk about the paper cloth content for money, what will happen if we just print more money, and why counterfeiting is a problem, and from there, why it is wrong to take or accept bribes.

N: Do you really think you could bribe a cop with donuts?

Bruce: Well, you shouldn't.

N: Remember the 'Fly-By Donut Caper'?

Note to readers: DON"T ASK!

Oh, well, if you insist.

Monday October 8, 2001ALBUQUERQUE (Reuters) - An Albuquerque policeman and his pilot face disciplinary measures after using a police helicopter this week to swoop in for a midnight snack of doughnuts, officials said on Friday. The officer and the civilian pilot were on night patrol over the city in a Kiowa OH-58 helicopter when they landed in a vacant lot next to a Krispy Kreme doughnut store around 1 a.m. on Thursday morning.``The contracted pilot and a police officer landed the copter early in the morning, ran in and grabbed a dozen, came back out and took off,'' Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Brian McCutcheon said.... An eyewitness told the Albuquerque Journal that he saw the APD helicopter circle the Krispy Kreme and land in a nearby dirt field.... A Krispy Kreme employee who asked not to be identified said he didn't see why people were making a big deal of the unusual doughnut run.``Cops got to eat, too,'' he said.

From the sublime to the ridiculous!

Homeschool is always in session.

Even on Sundays.

Even if there are no more Krispy Kreme Donuts in Albuquerque.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ask A Stupid Question...

I just e-mailed the take-home portion of my Psychological Assessment midterm to the professor, and now I have completed midterms.

I had a test on the construct and measurement of intelligence yesterday in that class.

I also had a presentation on the reliability of motoneurons in the pontine nuclei for Neuroanatomy and Physiology. I did quite well on the presentation and actually managed to generate some discussion. It was an interesting paper and I enjoyed it.

I don't know how I did in the Psychological Assessment exam.

I find that I am having trouble changing the "set" (as they call it in psychology) from Neuroscience to Psychology as I run from one to the other. The neuroscience classes tend to have a very tightly focused research orientation and the psychology class seems to be looser and more clinically based. Also the culture of the departments is different, especially with respect to the interactions between students and professors.

It gets really difficult for me to change my set when the subjects interact, as they did on Tuesday, when in Psychology, the professor did a presentation on basic brain anatomy. At one point he was discussing the Pons and he said that injuries to the Pons tends to cause widespread neurological problems due to the importance of the Reticular Formation to the function of the higher centers.

I was excited by his comments. At last! Something that I could relate to my other class. I was, after all, in the middle of developing my PowerPoint for the Hu paper on the Pons. My focus, alas, was on that research, so I asked the following:
"Do clinicians look for visual-motor signs that could indicate Pontine Reticular Formation damage? Like problems with saccades?"

The professor paused for a moment and gave me a funny look.
Then he said: "Well, generally people with massive damage to the Pons are either dying or dead."

The class giggled. I felt like a total idiot. I was thinking of the research level, in which induced lesions in the deep nuclei of the Pons are shown to have specific effects on saccades--which are a quick movements of both eyes in the same direction in order to direct focus at a new stimulus. But the good professor was talking about clinical situations in which a person suffered massive head trauma. And anyway, he was introducing general brain anatomy to the class. He wasn't interested in tightly focused details. We were talking on completely different wavelengths.

I didn't get the social cues. At times like these, I am sure that the apple does not fall far from the tree. N. has Aspergers, an Autism Spectrum Disorder. I can see that I do display the Broader Autistic Phenotype, as Tony Attwood calls it. This is probably why I do better in neuroscience than in psychology.

And you know what they say:

'Ask a stupid question and you get a stupid answer.'

That's exactly what happened.

Naturally, my curiousity led me to take a look at Kandel--our neuroscience text.

It turns out that there are two problems that can arise from lesions in the Pontine Reticular Formation that can lead to visual motor problems.

One is nystagmus--the inability of the eye to fix on a stimulus after saccading to it. This means unwanted, repetitive saccades because although commands are coming from the frontal lobes to pay attention to certain sights and sounds and not others, the visual-motor neurons are compromised and cannot carry them out.

The other is seen in patients with MS. It is called internuclear ophthalmoplegia, and is caused by dysfunction of the motor commands to the medial rectus muscle--the one on the side of the eye nearest to the nose--but only when it moves laterally in saccades.

You see, I asked a stupid question. That is, wrong focus, wrong time, wrong place.
And I got a stupid answer. That is, one not directed to the level at which I was asking the question.

I did learn from it.

But I am especially mortified because as we talked about intelligence tests and the concept of intelligence, this professor specifically stated that understanding social situations--that is issue like "set"-- are an important component of intelligence.

I guess that makes the somewhat socially inept, technical geniuses in my family...stupid.

What we need to do is make a new movie in which introverted neuroscience grad students take over the psychology department by virtue of their higher performance IQs.

We could call it Revenge of the Geeks!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My Son the Hobbit?

Some bloggers I frequent do "Wordless Wednesday."

On Wordless Wednesday they post one picture. That's it.

I am starting a variation of it today. It will be a way to limit the mid-week time I spend on posting.

But mine will be called Nearly Wordless Wednesday.

So here goes.

NOTE: So here goes after numerous attempts! First, I couldn't load any pictures. I went off and studied and then had lunch. Then I got the pictures loaded, and was in the middle of posting when the power went off here--probably due to those cold and persistent winds that I mention below! So I studied some more. And when the power came back, I did, too, and finished my post, and tried to post it. And blogger was down for scheduled maintenance!
Is the third time the charm???

So here goes my maiden post of Nearly Wordless Wednesday. I hope...

It's late fall.

The cold temperatures are making the Aspens turn color rapidly.

Cold winds are blowing clouds across the Sandia front from the northwest. The winds are brisk and strong.

This morning the temperature was below freezing and the temperature at eleven o'clock was only 40 degrees (F).

N. was outside at eleven.

See how he's wearing a sweatshirt?
His hands are in his pockets, protected from the cold winds.

But notice the feet.

He thinks he's a Hobbit.

Sigh. Shoes are something you wear when your mother is cold.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling: The October Checkpoint...

It's here! The Carnival of Homeschooling, I mean. October has been here for more than two weeks now, if you can believe that. This week's edition is the October Checkpoint.

ChristineMM has put together a wonderful set of articles for our enjoyment over at The Thinking Mother.

Unfortunately, I have a presentation in one class and a midterm in another on Thursday. So I guess it will be my Friday reading.

So go on over and enjoy it for me.

I'll catch up with you all on Friday!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bal Taschit and Tikkun Olam: Jewish Environmental Ethics

Today is blog action day.
And although its late already, we thought we'd get in on the action.

So first, a story:

When G-d was creating space and time, G-d formed many universes, but each one was not quite what G-d had intended and so G-d recycled the materials for another go at it. Finally, G-d made a universe that was just what G-d had wanted, and in that universe, our universe, in the outer third of the spiral arm of a rather ordinary galaxy, G-d put a lovely blue planet. And then G-d formed Adam (the human being) from the Adama (the red earth) and breathed into Adam the breath of life. And G-d placed the human being on this garden planet, lush and full of all good things to work with it and to protect it (lit: l'avda u'lshamra). And G-d said to the humans: "Remember, I made you human from the humus (soil) and you belong to this land. The land is your mother. Take care then to protect and care for her, and do not destroy her, for if you do destroy then who will make her whole for you again?" (A Midrash on Genesis 2: Gan Ayden--translated and retold by Elisheva).

From this we learn that we are placed on this earth as part of creation. We did not create the earth and we cannot remake her should we destroy her. As humans beings, we are unique in creation in that we have "eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" and we therefore can choose between good and evil. We cannot claim the role of innocent bystanders to whatever happens on our lovely blue planet because we literally know better.

In Judaism, we have numerous laws and ethical requirements toward animals and nature. Here at Ragamuffin Studies, we have decided to focus on two of them. They are Bal Taschit--do not destroy--and Tikkun Olam--repair of the world.

Bal Taschit and Tikkun Olam by N

Bal Taschit is a commandment from Torah:

"When in your war against a city you have to beseige it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy (bal taschit) the trees, laying the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are the trees of the field like a human that can withdraw before you into the beseiged city?" (Devarim, Parashat Shoftim--Deuteronomy 20:19)

This pasuk is about how to treat trees during a war, but in the Talmud our rabbis expanded the meaning of Bal Taschit to mean that you may not destroy anything that G-d has made just because you want to destroy it. You can kill animals to eat them, but you must not waste them just to get the best parts or because you want to show what a great hunter you are. You can cut down trees for the wood to make your house, but you must not waste anything. Even throwing paper away and not recycling it would be to break the commandment not to destroy. I think what our rabbis meant was that the earth is not ours to do whatever we want to it. It belongs to the One who gave life to everything that lives here. We are part of the earth and not above it. So we have to find ways to "walk more lightly" on the earth as Tom Brown says.

Tikkun Olam means to repair the world. Mom will tell you the story of these words. I will tell you what I think it means. As I said above, G-d made the earth and it belongs to G-d not to human beings. But G-d did put us here to do more than just stop destroying things. We are also creative, like G-d is, since the story of creation says that we are "b'tselem Adonai". That means that we are in the image of G-d. And G-d is creative. So it is our job to fix up the world and make it better. We are creative when we find new ways to live on the earth, like inventing PV (photovoltaics) so that we can catch the sun's energy directly to make our electricity or use the sun to heat our water for showers and baths.

At our house, we do Bal Taschit by turning off lights we are not using, recycling more than we throw away, using a set-back thermostat for our heater, heating most of the house with a pellet stove, and by being very careful with water. Mom and Bruce are always saying things like "Turn off the water while you brush your teeth. We live in a desert, you know!" We also try to consolidate our errands when we go into to town so that we do not have to drive in as often. And whenever we can, we take the Focus instead of Henry the Big Red Truck.

We are also doing Tikkun Olam. For one thing, we take care of our trees on our acre by taking care of deadfall and thinning them so that they get the most sunlight and put more oxygen into the air. We also take a bag with us when we walk so that we can pick up litter. You'd be surprised at how many people litter in the mountains. We have even found old coke bottles that have filled with dirt! We went to the Solar Fiesta right after Rosh Hashanah because we are getting more creative. Mom and Bruce and I are going to install a PV system so that we can use the sun for some of our electricity and put some back in the grid. Mom is talking about rainwater harvesting for some of our fresh water and compost toilets to save water, too. So we are doing some things right now to help the environment and we are working on doing more. And it is kind of neat that some of the Tikkun Olam that we are doing will also help us with Bal Taschit. For example, to use PV for electricity, Bruce says that you have to get very good at not wasting any of it either.

Back to you, Mom!

It looks like N. has explained things very thouroughly. As he promised, I will tell the story of the words Tikkun Olam.

In the Jewish mystical tradition it is written that G-d first created light and then created vessels to contain that light. But when G-d poured the light into the vessels, they were too weak to contain it. The vessels shattered and the shards make up the material world that we commonly experience. But everywhere in the material world are hidden sparks of light. They are within you and me, plants and animals, rocks and earth. It is our job to gather these sparks and raise them up whenever we find them, bringing the material world closer and closer to the world of Holiness and Oneness. This job of gathering sparks is called Tikkun Olam--the repair of the world.

There are many meanings to this story, as is true of all good stories. But I think the one important for today is that everything in the world contains sparks of holiness. We just don't see it because we notice only the broken shards. When we look beyond only the material, we uncover the beauty and the spirit in everything. And we want to preserve and protect, "tend and till," and fulfill our role as creative stewards of Creation.

Jews believe that Creation itself is the sign of a covenant between G-d and all of the universe. We are not responsible only for ourselves alone, but for the care and protection of all of creation. When we learned of the knowledge of good and evil, and of life and death, we were pushed out of the womb of creation and born into a role of responsibility as stewards of creation. We have a duty to maintain the covenant of creation itself.

And if we do destroy our birthright wantonly, then who will make whole again?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

'Cesar Says:' Training Lily on Autumn Walks

Even though I've never met him, Cesar Millan is taking over my life.
And it's a good thing. Really.

We have two dogs. Both are rescue dogs. Zoey, the white mutt with black spots is my dog. We've had her seven years and she is my dog. She has always been a calm and submissive dog in general, and now, at about 8 or 9 years old--we're not really sure-- she is really, really calm.

Lily, the tri-color dog that the pound called a harrier cross, is N.'s dog. And she is another story altogether. When we went to the pound to see her, she was a bundle of energy. She still is. She learns rapidly, which is a good thing, or she would have been returned to the pound after the first exciting week at our house. However, being responsible people, we felt we couldn't abandon her, so we had to set about training her. She is great with us, but she dislikes other dogs, men in ties, and strangers who come to the door. We got her to a level that we were happy with until she took off after a real-estate agent one day when she escaped. He was very nice about the whole thing since he wasn't hurt and is not lawsuit happy, but we realized that Lily needs more discipline. There are others in our neighborhood who might sue at the drop of a hat. And besides, we'd like to enjoy our walks and be friendly with everyone. I mean, talking with our neighbors is a lot more fun than dragging a fearful, barking dog away from them. And Lily deserves a calmer life, too.

MLC watches a National Geographic Channel program called the Dog Whisperer when she stays with her college friends in town several times a week, and she took over the training first. She runs with Lily and taught us how to use the choke-collar correctly, as well as how to correct Lily when she starts after something or gets excited, but before she starts barking. So far, so good. Lily can now run past another neighborhood dog, Buddy the Dachshound (he thinks he's a Rottie), who does not like anyone. But since N. brought home Cesar's book, Cesar's Way, we began to realize that there was a lot more to it.

Training Lily has become one of N.'s homeschool projects.'s not training Lily, it's training us. We've made just about every mistake in the book with Lily. Thank goodness she's a fast learner and pretty forgiving. But now when I am dealing with the dogs, N. is around, book in hand to give us the low down on what we should be doing.

"Cesar says..." he'll announce as he corrects all of our mistakes. It takes a lot of motherly love and forbearance, not to mention a good deal of humility (a virtue I am convinced I was sent here to work on) to try it Cesar's way.

But it is working. The dogs are happier. I am happier. N. is in his element.

"See that guy?" He'll say as we are walking in the meadow, sans dogs. "Look how he's got three dogs straining at the lead? They're pulling him. He's not being the pack leader." He says it loudly enough for the passing guy to hear. Well, tact is not exactly an AS characteristic.

Enter the autumn walks.
N. told me a few weeks ago that I am doing one thing right with the dogs. (Thanks, N. Or should I say 'Thanks' to Cesar?) Anyway, I walk the dogs for a good 50 to 60 minutes each morning before breakfast. So I'm a good dog mommy. Oops. "Cesar says you're not supposed to think of the dogs as your kids," according to N. Well, anyway.

"Cesar says" also that the dogs need lots of exercise and that we must "master the walk."
And the weather is absolutely perfect for doing some exploring in our mountains. So, since Sukkot began, we are also taking the dogs on long walks in the moutains several times a week.

As we walk, we practice being the pack leader, correcting Lily--and occasionally, Zoey, when they get fixated on squirrels or whatever. But they don't get to correct Mom when she stops to sniff out a good picture! There are many great advantages to being pack leader. Above is a picture of the mountain path just below the saddle between Rancho Verde Moutain and Five Hills to the west. Look at those colors. Too bad we can't bottle them!

Here is a picture from the side of Rancho Verde Mountain, just above and east of the saddle. I was looking northwest to the Sandia Mountain front. If I had been looking south, I would have seen the ridges and valleys of Juan Tomas.

We passed a man walking his dog on the saddle just before I took this picture. N. brought Lily in close to the heel, and then corrected her with an almost inperceptible upward tug on the leash as he said "psssht!" It was quiet and I doubt the man noticed.
But Lily's attention was immediately focussed on N. and she walked past the man and his dog without as much as a whimper.

We walked on around the mountain and down an animal trail to a clearing near the bottom of the hill, almost in the valley between Rancho Verde and Juan Tomas. There we stopped to eat some lunch.

After giving the dogs water, we had a good drink. Lily sat right smartly to N.'s command, and then he said: "Cesar says, first exercise, then discipline and then affection."
And he proceeded to give Lily the last.

Zoey was lounging near my feet as I stretched out and ate some nuts and an apple. No begging was allowed from the canine contingent. And they didn't do it. Did I say there are advantages to being the pack leader? Yep.

After several hours and about five miles up and down hill, we made our way home.

Here Lily rests in the shade of the porch garden while N. is getting the cats rounded up inside. She was tuckered out. Zoey was beyond tuckered, and after having a drink, she stretched out on the dining room floor and refused to move.

We had a snack and rested for an hour and then did our library run and a shopping trip for N.'s campout.

As I write, N. is at Herron Lake with the Boy Scouts, fly fishing and I hope, having a great time.

I have noticed that my energy is increasing and my muscles are becoming more defined. Today, Bruce and I took a shorter walk through the woods before breakfast.

Since Cesar Millan started taking over my life, the dogs have been happier, N. has been developing a new passion, and I am getting into better shape. And I am getting a bird's eye view of autumn in the Sandia Mountains.

Homeschooling. It's a dog's life.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Update Machon: Something New in Religious Ed

As some of you know, we have had some great difficulties with the Machon program of religious education at our synagogue. In the past few years, there were several big problems that finally caused us to take N. out of the program for the second semester last year.

But we were not totally comfortable with having him out of the program, either. As members of a minority religion, one important aspect of keeping him in a program is to continue to instill the culture and values of Judaism in a social environment. It is true that we are more committed than many families to the practice of Judaism in the home, but at its best, Judaism is a social religion, meant to be practiced within a community of Jews, and handed-down from generation to generation from a community. Although there is a strong home-based component, Jewish sensibilities are best handed on through the group.

So with a certain hope in my heart, I went to the parent meeting about the program for this year. Now, given the difficulties we have had in the past, and sense of being marginalized due to N.'s disability, that hope was a little guarded. But it was definitely a choice of giving it a try or looking for another synagogue. The latter might be easy in New York, Chicago, L.A. or Houston, but it is not so easy here near Cowtown, U.S.A.

This time, I was not disappointed. I had been told by the rabbi early last summer that special needs would not be addressed for the kids any time soon. It was just too much. But when I arrived at the meeting in September, I was introduced to the new "special needs coordinator," who happened to be a person who worked extensively with N. through the Hebrew School years, and really knows what she is doing.

Secondly, the congregation has brought in a consultant for the Religious Education program. He is Joel Lurie Grishaver of Torah Aura Publications, a respected expert in Jewish Education, and IMHO, someone who understands teens better than they understand themselves. With his help, the Education committee and teachers have done much more work on the Teen Program--Machon--than they had originally thought they would do.

Here is how the program is being organized this year. Machon covers grades 7 - 10. With the exception of grade 10, the confirmation program, all of the classes have been split up so that there are 12 - 15 students in a group. Each class will rotate through four 8-week units of study, each with a different teacher. They will alternate two units in the fall and two in the spring, so that teachers only teach their units twice and then are done for the year. That prevents teacher burn-out. This year, N., who is enrolled in 8th grade, is currently studying ethics with Morah D. through a program called Ma La'Asot: What Should I Do? During the second eight weeks of this semester, his group will trade with the other half of the eight grade, and study Comparitive Judaism with Morah H. In the spring, the two groups with alternate studying the Shoah (Holocaust) and Medinat Yisrael ( the modern Israeli state) with two new teachers.

For N. there are several benefits to this schedule. The first is that the groups are small, and the teachers will have a better chance to interact with each child. Also, there is a defined unit of study for each session with materials provided. This provides a definitative structure so that N. knows exactly what will happen each week and can be prepared for it. The materials are age appropriate and provide differentiation for different learners. The teachers will not be relying on lecture only, and do not have to re-invent the wheel each week. Also, if there is a poor fit between teacher and student, Morah C., the special needs coordinator is there to help.

Of course, there are also some problem areas with this schedule. One is that neither of the two boys that N. is closest to are in his group. I have heard some minor grousing about that! It is nice to know that he has some friends that he'd like to be with in Machon--that's the positive side. We are now hoping that he will make friends with one or two other kids who are in his present group. And we carpool with the first two boys every week, so he sees them even if he is not in class with them. The second problem will be with transitions between one teacher and subject and the next. N. gets enormously attached to situations--even bad ones. For him, "the devil you know" is the best of two evils. Still, we will work with the teachers and Morah C. to smooth out the difficulty that changes like this represent.

So far, after two classes--the Holy Days plays havoc with the Machon Schedule, too!--it's looking good. I sent the Interim Education Coordinator a detailed discussion of Aspergers and N.'s particular needs and strengths. She shared that with Morah D., his first teacher. I received a phone call from the teacher, in which she asked me to tell her what my goals for N. were for the year and how best to accommodate his difficulties. N. has come home energetic (last year it was melt-downs and tears) and he was able to discuss with me the particular issue and ethical consideration that they had learned and discussed in class. So he is learning! Last year, he could not articulate what was lectured about at all.

I am still nervous about how the transitions will go. I also have concerns about how the other teachers will handle N.'s almost absolute refusal to write at Machon. Last year the students were required to take detailed, handwritten notes and were then tested on them the next week. The lectures were fast paced, and N. could not keep up with taking notes. Since he also has difficulty with auditory processing he got nothing from the notes and could not pick up on the powerpoint since he was too busy trying to take notes. Needless to say, he did poorly on every test. This was one reason for the melt-downs and tears. He was put in a no-win situation, andd he has responded by an outright refusal to write down anything for Machon. He writes NOTHING. Not even his name. Morah D., his current teacher understands this and does not ask him to write. I hope all of the rest of his teachers will be as cooperative. Perhaps, as he sees that he will not be forced to write or placed in a no-win situation, he will come around. At least a little. We'll see.

However, all-in-all, I feel like progress has been made. After being told we would not be listened to at all, the parents of the special needs kids got a surprise. We do have a special needs coordinator. There is an accessible curriculum. And after years of sending in modifications sheets and detailed explanations of our children's needs, they are actually being read and followed. We are being consulted. This is progress. Great progress.

Maybe the rabbi finally "got it" that this is a matter of ethics and morality. One does not put a stumbling block in front of the blind. Rather, according to Jewish law, one must smooth the way and provide help to all kids in accessing their Judaism. In the Hagaddah of Passover we are taught how to teach four kinds of kids: the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask.

Maybe the rabbi finally sat down and read Ma La'Asot:What Should I Do?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

AS and the Problem with Language: Response to a Great Comment

I was going to get on and do a quick blog about something else, but I will save that topic for another day. I got and excellent and detailed comment from Rebecca on my post, Writing for Visual Thinkers, that I want to discuss further here because my response will need some elaboration. For the entire comment, check out the post and comments.

In my original post, I spent a few sentences discussing generalizations. Rebecca wrote this about my short discussion.

First she quotes what I wrote.

"In the auditory-sequential world, generalizations are understood as shorthand, but in the visual world they are seen as incomplete at best, and at worst, they are lies."

Rebecca then wrote:

"I was going to quote Ayn Rand, but we sold the book. This is an interesting point, though -- that is what the study of linguistics is about, how we use words -- not just generalizations, but all words -- as symbols for concrete and abstract realities and manipulate words as a means to categorize, analyze, and express thoughts about those realities. What I don't understand is, if generalizations are inferior and inaccurate, why the use of so much jargon? Jargon is merely specialized language. Jargon, more than generalizations, IS shorthand, a means of saying with one word an idea, process, or concept which would otherwise require a lengthy explanation."

And here is what I want to say about generalizations and jargon.

First, I don't think that generalizations are inferior and inaccurate. What I did say is that to a certain part of the population they come across that way. Generalizations are a good way to organize and categorize knowledge. In much of Gifted Education, we focus on increasing the ability of our students to make meaningful generalizations because this develops a person's ability to think about complex issues.

However, people with Autism Spectrum Disorders have a great deal of difficulty with generalizations. Remember that all the ASD share the characteristic of being, in part, a social-communication disorder. Part of the challenge for people with ASD is that they do not easily understand figurative language and they do not perceive the body language that would help with this. There are several areas of the brain that may be involved with this, such as the superior temporal sulcus in the temporal lobe, and possibly visual-motor centers in the superior colliculus. But wherever the problem may manifest in the brain (and it is likely that it involves different areas and the communication between them), but upshot of it is a lack of sophistication with language, which is processed by the brain through the auditory sensory processing systems downstream of the primary auditory system, even when it is written.

For example, when N. was younger, I used to say things to him like:

"Would you like to put that dirty plate by the sink?" Although posed as a question, intonation and body language, as well as an understanding of my role as the mother, would give most children the idea that this was a command disguised as a question for politeness. But N. would not see the body language, hear the intonation, or take not of my social role in the situation. He would take the question absolutely literally and respond with his actual desire, thus: "No, I don't want to do that." Now, I quickly figured out, using all the skills that N. did not have, that he was taking my question literally, and I learned to pose my commands directly and concisely in order to get the desired behavior. It worked quite well if I merely said; "Please put the dirty plate by the sink." N. was not being oppositional, he was merely being literal. The problem is that many adults jump immediately to the conclusion that literal children are, in fact, oppositional--and this is where many kids with Aspergers (AS) get into trouble in the wide world beyond the family.

Generalizations are a sophisticated juxtoposition of concepts with reality. They do not directly map onto reality, and when we use them, most of us are aware of the difference. For example, I can make the following generalization: "Christians believe in orignial sin, and therefore..." using the generalization to get on to the actual idea about Christians that I want to present. But beware if you are dealing with someone with AS (or even someone with the broader autistic phenotype). Such a person will immediately call up every counter-example of your statement and derail the conversation into a discussion of the branches of Christianity that do not accept the doctrine of original sin. People with AS and other ASD must be taught directly to understand use of language that goes beyond the literal, such as figures of speech, metaphors, and generalizations.

Another fascinating and wonderful characteristic of the ASD, is that of detail orientation. One area that we see this is in the visual thinking skills that so many people on the spectrum have. Certain kinds of visual tests show that people with ASD are able to process and remember the details of visual input whereas neurotypical people forget the details and retain the gestalt, which is the big picture. There are several ideas currently being investigated about the origins of this skill. But one thing that we do know, people on the spectrum tend to pay attention to the parts rather than the whole. They can perseverate on the parts endlessly, and miss the "big picture."

Generalizations are the verbal counterpart to the big picture. A person making a generalization is doing so in order to get past each detail and present an overall concept for consideration. But to the person with AS, and to those who think almost exclusively in pictures, the generalization seems woefully undetailed and therefore incomplete or even untrue. They have great difficulty with generalizations and can perseverate on the problems they pose, thus missing what comes next. When it comes to writing this is a real problem, since we must make generalizations in order to write concisely about ideas.

Think about all of the generalizations I have made thus far about people with AS, ASD and neurotypicals. I did not do it because I believe that in each individual case what I am talking about applies in exactly the same way, but in order to get across to you an idea about communication and AS.

And now, a word about jargon.

I do understand that in any field, jargon, or technical language is necessary to convey concepts concisely. When I, as a scientist, use certain terms with other scientists, they do not mean the same thing as when I use them in general company. For example, when I taught genetics, I used the term evolution to mean "a change in gene frequencies over time within a population." Any biologist hearing me in context knew exactly what I was saying. Our educations provide us with an agreed upon meaning for the use of the term. But in the general population, the word evolution means something very different. As it is often used, it means change over time leading to some kind of improvement. Directionality (a teleological concept) is not part of what biologists mean. Thus, we get all sorts of amusing (at least to me) controversy over the term.

But as we become more and more specialized, jargon quickly becomes a problem. When scientists within different branches of the same field cannot communicate because they do not understand the technical differences in meaning, quote the warden in Cool Hand Luke: "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

Although I do think that jargon is sometimes used to obfuscate, I do not think that it is always so. To make a generalization (:)), I think that many scientists, especially those who are primarily visual thinkers, overuse jargon because they have not developed the ability to use ordinary language in a sophisticated enough manner to communicate to the general public or even to scientists outside their fields. And in my experience with reading and writing as a scientist, I believe that the way we teach or do not teach writing in graduate schools of science has weakened such skills further. Many times, the use of an apt figure or speech, a metaphor, a generalization, or a homely example would clarify a point and make it more understandable to the reader.

Please do not misunderstand my generalizations here to mean that scientists are all autistic. Only some of us are. And some of the rest of us do have the broader autistic phenotype showing in how we communicate. And neither are all scientists visual thinkers. But a lot of us are. And for some of us, so much so that communicating in words is a difficulty we'd rather forgo.

And as for our students with ASD, I believe it is important to understand their difficulties with the use of generalizations. For if we can understand what the problem is then we are much more likely to be able to teach them how get beyond it. It is so much better than throwing our hands up in the air and calling these kids lazy and intransigent.

Oh, and one more idea: I just realized that generalizations are so useful in writing because language is auditory in nature. Since our auditory working memory can hold, on average, only about seven bits, we generally resort to chunking. For example, if I want to remember a four digit number, such as 1,492, I am very likely to repeat it as "fourteen ninety-two." I have chunked it into two numbers instead of four. Generalizations are a way of chunking a lot of detail into an overall concept, freeing up processing space for manipulating the concept intead of spending an inordinate and impossible amount of energy sorting out every detail.

Anyway, thanks for the comment, Rebecca!

As you can see, it was a very fruitful source of thinking for me!

Oh! And I'd love to know what the quote by Ayn Rand was. I read every one of her books several times as a teenager.