Meaning by Surprise

August 2, 2009

I think people are color-blind in the morning. When I wake up and look out the window, I can’t tell if the sky is blue or gray. Likewise, I can’t tell which way this day is going to take me. And sometimes a bit of grogginess is all it takes for a thought to take me by surprise. Read the rest of this entry »


Stumbling on Happiness

June 10, 2008

You may have noticed how ridiculously small the TV-screens are in most old sci-fi movies. Or how that low exam score moved from “catastrophe” to “oh well” within a few hours. Or how that long-awaited vacation is so disappointing now that it’s finally there. Or how an I love you written years ago seems so fake now. You may have wondered how you could possibly have had such thoughts or made such decisions. Now you’ve got answers.

From the also-available-in-audio shelf comes Daniel Gilbert with his great non-fiction book called Stumbling on Happiness. The author tries to answer the question of why happiness is so elusive and unpredictable.

What the book basically tells you is:

  • experience is subjective;
  • your imagination lies to you all the time;
  • your memories lie to you all the time;
  • your predictions can never be accurate;
  • you make ridiculous choices all the time;
  • you can never be sure of anything, past, present or future;
  • you are not unique.

Pretty tough truths, huh? Well, I’ve actually exaggerated quite a bit. Besides the fact that it points out uncomfortable things, I loved everything about this book:

  • It’s written in a very accessible and succinct style. If your attention slips for even a few seconds, you’ll have to rewind.
  • The author has a great sense of humor (I rarely laugh out loud).
  • Every chapter starts with a quotation from Shakespeare.
  • It will not trigger your “citation needed” alarm. In fact, it has such a solid scientific basis that the most frequent word combination after “for example” is probably “in one study”.
  • The examples given are logical and straightforward. Hey, the guy’s a Harvard professor!
  • The audio version is read by the author himself. That’s a plus because his tone of voice shows you exactly what he means.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to find out the inner workings of memory, imagination, and future prediction. It’s so good that I’ll probably want to go through it again in a few months. For a more thorough summary check the Wikipedia page.


Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

May 30, 2008

by Gabrielle Zevin.

After the great first few sentences, I honestly expected more from this book. I liked how it was split into three parts (I was, I am, I will). But there is not much in there besides this. The ‘why’ behind many parts of the story is unclear, in fact ‘luck’ has more to do with it than I would have liked. The novel is an artificial and didactic (which I hate) story about putting ones past behind and becoming a better person. It also contains a bunch of references to movies and music, which perhaps I’d look up if I liked the story more.

Some quotes:

  • […] listen for the pauses when you want to know if someone’s hiding something.
    2/44:45
  • I was worried that you had gotten a bit, well, cynical […]. I wanted to remind you about romance. It was probably a stupid notion — a sixteen-year-old who’s not an expert on romance ought to be brought to a lab and dissected.
    3/16:45
  • Ask two people to tell you anything, you’ll get two versions.
    3/17:55
  • Screw the past.
    4/14:00
  • I think it’s in somewhat bad taste to give an amnesiac a blank book.
    4/23:40
  • It’s when you don’t need something that you tend to lose it.
    5/43:15
  • But the good thing about art is that no one necessarily knows what you mean by it anyway.
    6/11:10
  • They should tell you when you’re born: have a suitcase heart, be ready to travel.
    6/52:15

Dear D,

March 14, 2008

Dear D,

I only remember two things about you. I remember the expression on your face when they made fun of you. So dignified, and mature. So… superior. I didn’t think of it at the time, but somehow I still find it engraved on my memory. This proves how late I’ve stopped being a child, I guess. If I ever have.

And I remember when you spoke to me, two years, five months and four days ago. I don’t remember what you told me, only the beginning. Those who think that they can defeat love… It didn’t make sense to me then, but perhaps it would, now.

I have your picture but I don’t want to look for it.

Will I ever see you again and ask you what you said?

886 days later,
C.


Human Memory at Work

January 2, 2008

velcro-ball.jpg A target and three velcro balls. A children’s game that somehow stuck. Sometimes I still play, usually because I can’t sit still for too long ;)

That’s exactly what I was doing today, when I was suddenly hit by a feeling, the same distinct feeling I felt when I listened to the audio version of Vanishing, by Bruce Brooks. I thought this strange, because the book was a short one and it never crossed my mind again after I finished it. Then I remembered that I was playing the same game while listening to the book. The sudden memory must be a result of an association my brain has made (without asking for my permission!) between the book and the action of playing the game.

Take any life you can. Doesn’t matter. Because…just between us, tell you: Dying sucks.

Books for children; books about death. Open question: how early does it make sense to teach youngsters about death?

PS. Here’s an article you may find interesting.


The Magic SysRq Key

October 24, 2007

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One day I’ll stop apologizing for ignoring this blog for so long…

I’ve upgraded to Gutsy and it flies! I like Dolphin, the new file manager, and I’m sure it will get even better for KDE4.

There is one annoying glitch however. After waking up from STD (hibernate), all USB devices are dead. This has been fixed already in the latest kernel, and I’m just waiting for it to finally reach *Ubuntu repositories. Reading about the bug, I came across an interesting peculiarity of the Linux kernel. Sometimes I’m surprised at how much I don’t know ;)

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OK, here’s the deal. You can use the SysRq key to send requests directly to the Linux kernel. Why would you want to do that? Well, for starters, Linux may crash. WHAAAAT? Well, it may. Seldom, but it may. Especially if you mess around where you’re not supposed to :P

What can you ask the kernel to do using the SysRq key? Many things. One I find particularly useful is the Alt+SysRq+f. It kills the process which is using the most memory on your system. So when your system thrashes to death because of a runaway process, you don’t need to switch to the console (which may take ages) and use kill anymore. Just use the shortcut.

A few notes:

  • It’s Alt+SysRq and not just SysRq because the SysRq key shares a button with Print Screen, and without the Alt it would be interpreted as such.
  • IT DOESN’T WORK!! It may not work because you have a certain kernel option disabled. There’s not much you can do in that case, short of recompiling the kernel…
  • Be careful what you do. This is a gate directly into the kernel, and it allows you to do things like rebooting immediately without syncing disks, which could seriously screw up your file system.