Monday, September 26, 2011

Heidelberger Herbst

Last Saturday I took part in Heidelberger Herbst, which is the fall festival and one of the biggest events Heidelberg hosts in the year. It was an all-day affair, starting with flea markets in the early morning and going until late night when most of the drunken revelers would migrate into the bars or clubs. I've found that I enjoy tourist activities more when I try to direct my experiences toward a couple overarching themes. In the Heidelberger Herbst, I strived to explore as many different places and events as I could, while paying special attention to music performances. 

Flea market in the basement of the theater building. The best deals were to be found in little nooks like this one, not the main streets.
By far the most interesting items on sale (for me) were the books. Even though my understanding of German wasn't good enough for me to really take advantage of these deals, I did find a couple interesting ones that I'll save as incentives for improving my reading skills: a book of poems by Derek Walcott, with English and German versions side-by-side, a little book on Physics, and a collection of fictional letters written by a Chinese Mandarin from the year 1000 AD who travels through time and finds himself in modern-day Munich (a reminder that no matter how much one feels like a fish-out-of-water, there is someone else who, in comparison, feels like a fish-flying-through-the-air-among-birds).
These guys are old school, just like the general atmosphere at Uni-Platz, where all the vendors are dressed in Medieval garb.

Yeah. 



There were probably about six different locations around the Altstadt in which music was constantly being performed throughout the afternoon and evening. Smaller acts in the streets varied from musicians jamming out on guitars to DJ's of both hip-hop and electronic styles.

Three different graffiti artists worked on each side of this billboard stand while skateboarders flipped tricks on the street nearby.
Up until the late afternoon, I was just an observer, making my circuit around the streets, ingesting, imbibing, listening and photographing like a true traveler-consumer. Then, at Friedrich-Ebert Platz I came across a DJ performing an interesting mix of songs, and I decided to dance along. A crowd started to gather around to watch me, and I realized that I had become part of the show, a notion further reinforced when the DJ himself approached me to offer a can of Red Bull, gratis. "Don't stop dancing!"

At one point during my dancing, a toddler who had been bouncing to the beat stepped forth from the crowd and gave me a curious look, but alas, he shortly ran back to mom and dad. Fortunately, there was another person who was willing to dance alongside me. Here's the video:


I'm a little embarrassed by this video because I misunderstood what the girl (Lorena) was saying. She complimented me on my dancing and said something about dancing together with me, while pointing to a group of people (cameraman included). I thought she was asking if I wanted to go along with a group of friends to dance somewhere else (maybe a club or something?) and asked her, "Where?" which must've sounded totally ridiculous but anyway, I'm really glad she kept insisting instead of giving up, and eventually we got around to a wonderful "duet."

Later that night I went to a concert and discovered that I had become a minor local celebrity of sorts. At the club entrance, the ticket seller recognized me immediately. "You danced wonderfully!" she said. "Thanks!" I replied, pulling out my wallet. "How much does a ticket cost?" She shook her head and waved me in. After a moment of confusion, I understood and said again, "Ah, thanks!"

At the concert, I met another student, Sven, who saw me dance earlier; we talked and introduced ourselves over the music and noise (which means talking loudly into the other person's ear and then tilting your head to hear what their response is, which is done out of necessity so often in clubs that it no longer seems weird, a fact which is pretty weird if you think about it.) We talked about the best places in Europe to travel to, and what living in Heidelberg is like. A couple hours into the concert, I had finally exhausted myself, and decided to return to my dorm.

So those were the highlights of my day at the Heidelberger Herbst. It was the first bona fide adventure I've had since arriving in Germany: great food, interesting music and new friends. I couldn't ask for anything more.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

First Experiences With German Bread


When I first bit into this loaf of bread, I wanted to cry. It was sour, a little sweet, and very bitter (not in the way that medicine is bitter, but rather more like coffee made from dark roast beans). The flavors seemed to morph--first bitter as I chew the crust, then sour near the center. The crust is hard and painful to chew but with a very satisfying graininess, and the center of the bread is soft enough for a baby's palette. I think to myself, "My god, how have I been missing out on this my whole life, why do Americans not demand their bakeries for bread with CHARACTER, bread that weighs like a brick and FIGHTS BACK against even the sharpest knife and conveys a taste that contains all the bitterness and joy of life itself? (Images come to mind of a Nietzschean Over-man standing on a cliff, watching his weaker brethren fall into the abyss below whilst he chews heroically on a loaf of bread. A tear trickles down his expressionless face.)" 

The picture you see above was taken 10 minutes ago. Right now I've eaten about half of the loaf, because I can't stand the thought of letting it sit and lose its freshness. Every waft of breadiness that I smell now is another miniscule fraction of the bread's vitality, lost forever. And another thought strikes me. I need to start using a bread knife! Ripping out chunks of bread entails digging my fingers into the exoskeletal crust and compressing the soft interior, thus ruining to an extent the wonderful contrast of texture that this bread offers.

Shockingly, I have no reason to believe that this loaf of bread is anything special. There seems to be a bakery in nearly every block near Bismarckplatz (the commercial hub of Heidelberg), all offering similar varieties of bread, baked fresh daily. I can already guess at what I will miss the most when I return to the States. Before I thought it would definitely be German beer, but the bread is now a contender, for sure.



Friday, September 2, 2011

So here I am--in Heidelberg, Germany--feeling simultaneously like a grown-up and a child, grown-up because I´ve never really lived by myself before (even in college I was just a two hour car drive away from my parents, whom I visited every few weeks), and also childlike because in this different culture, I find so many facets of daily life I take for granted are different, with the differences ranging from subtle to mind-blowing, e.g. my apartment door has a knob on the outside that will not turn, being solely designed for pulling and only coincidentally for confusing Americans. And the most important contributor to my childlike feeling is that the language is very new to me. When I was child (and still learning English as a second language), I would annoy my parents by reading signs aloud, wherever we went. This was especially amusing during car rides, where the frequency of passing signs allowed for continuous English practice. Now, over a decade later, I've found myself engaging in this practice again, though thankfully I've learned to keep most of the speaking in my head.

I've been asked whether I will write a travel blog. The answer is yes, in the sense that I will continue to update this blog with whatever is important to me at the moment, travel experiences included. But I find that I prefer to write about experiences only after they have been filtered by a period of contemplation and consolidation (I am not a live-by-the-senses person).

What am I to say about my first two days in Heidelberg? This place is a tourist stop, college town, bustling science center and historical landmark. I have listened to my housing advisor speak to me in German and English, stopping occasionally to speak with a colleague in Spanish. I have heard German spoken in a Chinese accent for the first time in my life (apparently there is a sizeable population of non-tourist Chinese here). I have sampled a Mexican restaurant's Tostada de Carne Asada, which would be more accurately described as a quasi-Turkish kebab. I have seen not a single bike rack; most riders are content to simply lock the back wheel to the frame, rendering the bike only marginally more difficult to steal. I wonder why Tucson bike thieves don't emigrate here en masse, but the higher cost of nearly everything is surely a deterrent.

I said that I'm not a live-by-the-senses person but that is partly a lie. This experience has happened to me before, when I was three years old, an age where no-one is cerebral as much as they are in-the-moment. At least I remember some moments, like when I fell mute and sat down utterly embarassed during a show-and-tell presentation, or when I learned the word "water" by noting that "wa" means "to dig" in Mandarin, as in: to dig a well. I wish I remembered more from that time, what it was like to be surrounded by a language I did not know, and a culture that was foreign to me.

When I was bidding farewell to my friends, almost every one of them said some variant of "enjoy yourself" or "have fun." I'm not saying that's bad, but why does our culture have such a limited view on the worth of experience? Goodbye, have an *enlightening* time! I wish you the very *strange and paradigm-shifting*! Hey there, what's up and do you use language mostly as a shared script or as a creative medium, and how do you switch between the two modes? What does it mean to be an adult, and is that something you truly want for yourself, or something you just have to accept when you blow out your *somewhat arbitrary number*th candle?

Bis später,

Derek

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Decision Fatigue and Daily Scheduling

Some recent psychological research indicates that making decisions causes us to feel mental fatigue, diminishing our ability to exert self-control. A NY Times article describes one study where researchers gave free products to college students. One group had to make a series of choices regarding the products: "Would they prefer a pen or a candle? A vanilla-scented candle or an almond-scented one? A candle or a T-shirt? A black T-shirt or a red T-shirt?" The other group was the control group, and were merely asked to evaluate these various products.

Then, after getting free stuff, they got to participate in a fun experiment:
Afterward, all the participants were given one of the classic tests of self-control: holding your hand in ice water for as long as you can. The impulse is to pull your hand out, so self-discipline is needed to keep the hand underwater. The deciders gave up much faster; they lasted 28 seconds, less than half the 67-second average of the nondeciders. Making all those choices had apparently sapped their willpower, and it wasn’t an isolated effect. It was confirmed in other experiments testing students after they went through exercises like choosing courses from the college catalog.
This is a significant effect, and it's especially applicable in my own case because I often find that the most unpleasant part of any productive session is the beginning. For example, when I sit down to write a paper, my mind is still on other things, I usually have no idea where to start and suddenly I might remember that I haven't checked Facebook in a while... But once I make it through that period, I'm in concentration mode. Then paper-writing can actually be enjoyable. This seems to be true for a lot of hard-but-rewarding activities. So the real enemy is that initial period where you really have to exert yourself to disregard distracting temptations and get to work. So a person who is able to exert self-control for 67 seconds is going to be much more effective than someone who can only exert self-control for 28 seconds.

The problem is that every day we are bombarded with choices. Every single moment of free-time is essentially a choice, unless you are already preoccupied with something so engrossing that you don't stop to think, "What could I be doing right now?" According to the decision fatigue hypothesis, these choices eventually deplete your store of self-control. People who are suddenly given great freedom (i.e. many decisions to make) may find themselves having problems with procrastination and lack of motivation.

When I entered college, it was not lost on me that suddenly I had more free time (compared to high school) but also more things to do. I think the single most important productivity tool I used was something I took from the Study Hacks blog, called Fixed-Schedule Productivity. The idea is simple: at the beginning of each day, you think about what you need to accomplish, and block out a schedule for yourself. I like to write it on a slip of paper to carry in my pocket throughout the day.

Here's a real example that I scrounged up, from my freshman year.

8 - Piano
9 - Class
12- Lunch
1 - Library: Physics PS, 5 problems
3 - English paper, Brainstorm
4 - Gym
6 - Dinner
7 - Read/Free Time
This may seem quite constraining, but the times were approximate, and the schedule itself was not set in stone. I could have decided, for example, that the English paper could wait, and that I wanted to watch a movie instead.

In the context of decision fatigue, this system is wonderful. It lends me the same amount of freedom that I would have in an unscheduled day (remember, the schedule's flexible) while vastly reducing the number of decisions that I have to make. Imagine if I went through the day, described above, without scheduling. I'd have to wake up, decide that I want to practice piano; then, after lunch, decide that I should probably get an early start on the Physics problem set; then, decide to work on the English paper, etc. Even if I heroically managed to get through all of those decisions, I'd probably be tempted somewhere along the way to waste time procrastinating. Then my block of free time might start at 8 or 9 rather than 7.

But, you ask, doesn't all the decision fatigue simply get collected into one dose at the beginning of the day? I haven't found that to be true. There seems to be an overhead cost in energy whenever I recall deadlines and tasks. Multiply that overhead by all the times I have to decide what to do next, and the result is exhaustion. With this system, I can sit in front of a calendar and get it done in one easy swoop. There's a certain joy in planning, like moving pieces on a chess board. And if you feel like you're in control, rather than the various deadlines that come and go, then deciding isn't such a chore after all.



Sunday, August 7, 2011

Conversations Worth Remembering

This past summer I will remember as the summer of conversations worth remembering. I have had many conversations with friends both old and new, in all sorts of settings, occasionally with a drink in hand (both of the energy boosting and the inhibition weakening varieties). Over time, I've found that I've become more aware of what separates a stimulating, thought-provoking conversation from a mundane one. I've also identified many of the skills that make for a better conversationalist, though until recently, I've not been aware of these skills at all.

I used to have a very pluralist, relativist view about a great many social norms, including conversations, i.e. some people just prefer small talk; who am I to say that deep conversations are better? Some people just prefer to socialize in large party situations; who am I to say that one-on-one talking--which I also prefer--is better?

But I think deep, memorable conversations are too rare, and will always be in short supply. For one, it seems that we rarely invest enough time or effort in friendships for them to develop to the point where we are familiar enough with each other's interests to guide the conversation accordingly. Without really knowing someone, it is very easy for one to talk too much about something that bores or offends the other; fearing this, they may err on the side of remaining too inhibited and cautious.

Yet familiarity also breeds, if not contempt, then at least, various pitfalls that can preclude deep conversations. Repeated conversations with a person creates a repertoire of "safe topics" that the conversation partners tend to return to. No doubt these topics can be quite interesting; however, they lack surprise. The other person stops being a source of wonderment and becomes more a source of validation, entertainment, information, etc. The conversation ceases to be an opportunity for two people to grow, and more like a transaction, or even a tedious obligation. Perhaps this is a result of familiarity that serial daters know all too well.

So a deep conversation is a bit like a flower that only grows in just the right conditions. One can try to encourage its growth without making a value judgment about its beauty relative to more common flowers. Surely we would not want to live in a world where the only way to socialize was through conversation, no matter how enjoyable they were, just as we would not want to live in a world where large parties are the only place to meet people. In this world where deep conversation is rare, we should aim to encourage its proliferation. And that is impossible to do without understanding at least some of the characteristics of deep conversation.

Most importantly, a deep conversation is ripe with relevance for both partners. In many of the memorable conversations I've had, there were many moments in which I, as the listener, would say to myself, "That reminds me of _______." If I then verbalized that thought, hopefully it would strike the other person as an interesting extension of what they were saying. More importantly, it demonstrates that I was truly listening. If, on the other hand, they viewed it as an unrelated tangent, they might become frustrated at not being truly listened to.

In a certain snippet of conversation, there may be many things that are evocative enough to provoke an enthusiastic response from the listener. I will call these "hooks." For example, in the second paragraph of this post, I say:
I used to have a very pluralist, relativist view about a great many social norms, including conversations, i.e. some people just prefer small talk; who am I to say that deep conversations are better? Some people just prefer to socialize in large party situations; who am I to say that one-on-one talking--which I also prefer--is better?
If I said this in a conversation, an interested listener would see at least one very compelling hook that allows them to enter with a valuable response. Perhaps they will latch onto the phrase "I used to have a very pluralist, relativist view." What caused you to change your mind? Or maybe they will challenge my position, or agree and provide an example from their own life. All of these are possibilities that may differ in their interestingness, but they are the fuel of good conversations.

I think it is useful to think in terms of conversations as a series of "hooks" that can be latched onto, because it enables you to be a better conversationalist. A listener who is actively digesting every word of every sentence is bound to find something interesting to expand upon.

"Hooks" can be thought of on multiple levels as well. A listener can ask about a single word, or a story, or the general theme of the entire conversation so far. One of my favorite things to do is to introduce a meta-conversation into the conversation. I can comment about how I feel when I'm talking to that person, or analyze both of our speaking patterns e.g. we are mirroring each other's gestures.

This can be quite uncomfortable for some people! Where it might satisfy my need to analyze everything, it might make them self-conscious. Some topics of conversation will never be interesting to some people, no matter how skilled the conversationalist is. In that sense, a rewarding conversation is partly a function of well-matched people, and partly a function of skill and effort.

But most people seem to think of conversations as solely a function of matching. If someone bores me, it must be because we don't share similar interests. It might not occur to me that I am a bad listener, that I can't recognize enough "hooks" in the conversation. Conversely, if I seem to be boring others, then they must not "get it." It usually does not occur to me that perhaps I should work on my story-telling, my jokes, or my delivery.

In the end, however, I think that the most important way we can cultivate deep conversation is to make it a priority. The excuse, "I haven't had the time" is often a way of saying "I haven't made it a priority." It is important, also, to recognize the difference between small talk and deep conversation. Even if we've talked with someone recently, it doesn't mean we've really connected with them on a meaningful level.





Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Your Mirror Clone

Imagine yourself looking at a full-body mirror. If you could magically walk into that mirror world and stand side-by-side with your mirror self, you would find that your left and right to be opposite of your mirror self. Why does the mirror reverse you from left to right, and not from top to bottom?

Richard Feynman explains this conundrum, briefly. The mirror doesn't reverse you, it reflects you. Feynman asks you to imagine a point on your nose being pulled into your face and through to the back of your head. Repeat this for every point on the front of your body, and that's essentially what the mirror does to create your image.



I wasn't really satisfied with this answer however. It tells you why the puzzle is based on a false assumption, but it doesn't explain why the puzzle carries so much intuitive appeal. I would raise my hand and object, "But Professor Feynman, the mirror does seem to transform left to right! If you're wearing a shirt with text on it, just look in the mirror and you'll see the text read from right to left. And why is it that reflection looks so much like left-right reversal and not top-down reversal?"

The specialness of the left-right direction drove me crazy for days. I couldn't pay attention in my optics class. I was often found staring at my own reflection like a narcissist. Here's the answer I came up with.

Your mirror image is left-right reversed in the sense that were I to magically walk into the mirror world and turn around, my left side would correspond to the right side of my mirror image. 


But by choosing this as my thought experiment, I have already implicitly assumed left-right to be my preferred direction. Suppose instead that I entered the mirror and lurched forward into a handstand. Then my right hand and left hand would correspond to the image's right and left, but my head would be at its feet! The mirror has reversed up-down but not right-left. This flipping transformation is just as arbitrary as turning around by walking, but we don't imagine it that way because gravity has trained us to think of up and down as fixed directions. Also, we write text on our T-shirts in such a way that it is readable to people who are left-right reversed with respect to us. However, if we moved around by slithering on one side (and we all have to choose the same side to slither on, left or right), our T-shirts would be written in upside down text, and our mirrors would show vertically flipped text! (Incidentally, that would make it easier for you to look down and read your own T-shirt.)


So there you have it. The thought experiment of walking into the mirror is subtly deceiving. It already presupposes the direction (left-right) that will appear to be reversed. On the other hand, to do a handstand into the mirror is to choose yet another direction (top-down) that will be reversed. And if you stand still in front of the mirror, which direction is reversed? The front-back direction, of course!

Notice that no matter how you rotate, flip or move yourself, your mirror image will always be reversed, with respect to you, along some direction. Your mirror image is somehow fundamentally different from you, simply because you are not mirror symmetric, like a perfect sphere would be. The term for this mirror asymmetry is chirality, or handedness.

This problem is relevant in biology as well. One of the most astounding mysteries of life here on Earth is that all of the amino acids (the building blocks of life) we know are "left-handed." To put this in terms of our mirror puzzle, every amino acid can be thought of as a T-shirt with text on it. A world in which all amino acids are "left-handed" is analogous to a world in which all T-shirts have forward text. Okay, maybe the text direction is just convention, but molecules don't have conventions. They don't gather around, form committees and decide that everyone should write in forwards text. And even if they did, shouldn't we be able to find exceptions? Leonardo da Vinci, for example, wrote in backwards script. Where's the Leonardo da Vinci of amino acids?

The questions are thrilling to consider. I urge you to read this blog post which summarizes one hypothesis for the problem of "left-handed" life. Consider: if the building blocks of life came from a meteorite, and the meteorite passed by a sun which emitted damaging UV-rays, and the UV-rays were polarized such that "right-handed" amino acids were preferentially destroyed, then our primordial ancestors may have been lucky molecules that survived where their mirror images could not.

,sruoY

kereD





Saturday, June 25, 2011

Design and Writing

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." --Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I've been quite impressed lately with how internet browsers have improved over the past few years. Right now, I use Chrome mostly, but I sometimes open up Firefox to use some of the add-ons in its vast library. The thing that most impresses me is how much screen space has been freed up for the actual web page, rather than the various toolbars and navigation buttons. Compared to the old versions of Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Netscape Navigator, the modern browsers I've had experience with (Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer 7) are beautiful works of design. A lot of the features we take for granted now, like tabbed browsing, seem so obvious it's a wonder that the original designers of the first browsers didn't think of them.

The ever present tension between minimalism and functionality is what fascinates me the most about design, especially in consumer technology, where designers must imbue their products with some artistic flair in order to please the eye. Designers in other areas have slightly different aims, but the basic principles seem to stay the same: make something that works, and make it beautiful as long as it does not interfere with functionality. I think the closest I've come to inhabiting the designer's mindset is through writing. For a while, I tried to make my writing as minimalist as possible, avoiding long words whenever possible, and chopping complex sentences into their atomic parts. Perhaps this came from reading Strunk's Element's of Style and taking it too literally. Don't misunderstand, I am grateful for that book, and for the kind of style that eventually came out of that ascetic phase; however, I came to understand that while minimalism is admirable, it is also tempting to go too far. Einstein once said, "Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler." I think the second part of that exhortation should be emphasized.

Right now, with regards to my writing, I hope to loosen the reins slightly, to occasionally aim for a beauty that lies in complexity. As long as each word still retains value, then my Strunkian sensibilities will not be offended.

And also, this issue that designers and writers face is an example of why it is worthwhile to delve deeper into an activity that lies outside your area of expertise. There is a whole philosophy that has grown around how designers and writers work, and to wrestle with these ideas is to broaden one's repertoire when it comes to problems that seem intractable. "When you have only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." Figuring out how to sew with a hammer is a really hard problem, but probably not a problem worth solving, since it is really about having the right tools to do the job at hand.

So, when one tries to apply the designer's mindset to other areas, what happens? Well, in art, one runs into problems immediately. How do you define an art piece's functionality? Is it to please the eye? Many artists would disagree. An art piece does not have a set purpose, like a web browser does. Yet I feel that artists and designers have many things in common.

Hah! I raise these questions willy-nilly and do not even begin to answer them. Such is my power.

--Derek

Friday, June 3, 2011

Godhood in Our Grasp

10 years ago, Professor of Philosophy Nick Bostrom published a paper arguing that there is about a 20% chance that we are living in a computer simulation. The argument goes like this: suppose that consciousness is substrate-independent, which is to say that with a sufficiently powerful computer, one can create and simulate a sentient being. Then at some point in our civilization's development, whether it's 100 years from now or 10,000 years from now, we will possess the computing power to simulate a huge number of minds, even if we only applied a fraction of our computing power to that purpose. Suppose further we decide to run ancestor-simulations, virtual worlds in which we explore our past as it was, or as it could have been. So we boot up the computers, and decide to run, say, a billion simulations of the time period between the years 1900 and 2100.

Here's the punchline: to an inhabitant living in one of these simulated universes, there would be no way to determine whether that universe is real (as in not simulated). If there ever is a bug in the program, and someone discovers that they are indeed living in a simulation, then the simulators can simply erase that person's memory, or fix the problem and rewind the program. There is no way to know for sure whether our universe is simulated or not, but we can reason about the probability that we are: if there is one real universe, whose inhabitants simulate a billion, or a trillion, virtual universes, the probability that we are living in the one real universe is vanishingly small. If we accept every step of the argument presented above, then we must conclude that we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

In the Lab, Midnight

I'm in the lab right now, sitting in the dark and surrounded by the hum of... air conditioning? Air conditioning is the reason why I have to wear long pants and bring a jacket to work in the middle of Arizona summer. The cool air reduces vibrations, which are the bane of any laser physicist's work. And the lights are off so that they don't contribute noise to the data that I'm acquiring from this experiment. Cold and dark--these are conditions that we try to create in order to approach, as much as possible, the ideal world of physics: one in which everything is simple and noiseless. Indeed, there is something other-worldly about being in here at midnight, seeing the green glow of the laser and hearing the neverending hum of the air conditioning.

The first few weeks of summer have passed by like a dream. Even though I've been working here in the lab, there is no regular schedule. During the afternoon, one of the other students may want to use the laser for his own experiment, and I'll have to come back in the evening, or late at night, like a guard assuming his post in the last shift. Almost everyone I know is away from Tucson for the summer. The campus is a ghost town, and I feel like I'm witnessing something post-apocalyptic as I wander across its lonelier alleys. It's not that the place looks especially forlorn compared to any other place. But compared to the hectic, crowded, noisy campus when class was in session, the difference is striking.

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, found yourself unable to fall back asleep, and decided instead to read a book, or simply stare at the ceiling? When that happens to me, I feel peaceful, but blank. And right now, that's how I'm feeling.

--Derek

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Info Hunter, and the Info Forager

These days, the term infovore is being commonly used around on the internet, mostly by RSS feed junkies and the people who purport to study them. I'll admit it; I am an infovore (as are we all), and a very ravenous one at that. I hoard links to interesting online articles. Friends who I have conversations with can attest to my frequent use of the phrase, "That reminds me of something I saw/read/heard on..."

Infovore is a provocative term, incorporating a metaphor that compares blog-reading with eating, thus elevating a seemingly leisurely activity into one that is central to survival. Not only that, the person who proclaims he is an infovore is, in a way, announcing his power. Our society fetishizes information ("Just give me the facts") and being in-the-know means that you have accumulated something of value. People have even argued that the need for information is so strong that it drove the evolution of human intelligence in our species' early days. As the argument goes, being able to learn new things, like how to make a better spear, gave an individual a better chance of survival. If being intelligent, curious and in-the-know makes for a more evolutionarily fit human, then these individuals pass on their genes to the next generation and the rest is Darwin.

We can now start to explain a bunch of human behaviors from an evolutionary perspective.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

If the World Stopped Spinning


What a nice sentiment (courtesy of xkcd). But what if her plan succeeds too well, and the world grinds to a halt?


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Here it is!

Starting a blog is something I've thought about for several months now, but I was always waiting for some exciting idea to come and drag me along through the whole process. Why blog? I needed a convincing answer. So, I thought about how I could blog about my hobbies--playing classical piano, reading philosophy, dancing--and I did a little research on various blogging platforms, and most of all, I fretted over what the title of my blog should be.

Here was the thought process behind that:

"Title? Anything I come up with will sound cheesy and presumptious. I'll just use my name to title the blog. Simple, unassuming, and it doesn't limit what I can write about."

"Or I'll juxtapose two words that don't seem to go together. Maybe combine my science side with my artistic side. Rigor and flourish. No... rigor and flair..."

"Physics has a bunch of cool-sounding jargon that I can appropriate."

So I came up with "Perfect Resonance," and something about it just sounded right. Then I realized that the title described itself perfectly, that I had hit upon the right combination of words to incite an incurable perfectionist to finally begin writing the blog.