Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A book you read in reverse?

As I was sitting at my desk struggling to do a job that at times bores me to tears. I was listening to an album on my headphones. I was struck by a track from The Shins called "Pink Bullets". There was a line in there that started the old wheels in my head grinding:

"Since then it's been a book you read in reverse So you understand less as the pages turn. "

He's talking about how an event just confused the shit out of him, but it made me think of something else. Books that I've read that I felt that I understood things even less having read them. There are some books that are so bad that you are measurably dumber having read them, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm thinking of books that I started out thinking "Damn, I'm pretty fucking smart for reading this book. I bet nobody I know has read this book.", and end up realizing that I'm not nearly as smart as I though. These are books that I've read with some idea that I knew their subject matter, but having read them, I've realized that their subject matter is unknowable. There were three books that had this effect on me. First was "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking. The second was "Chaos: Making a New Science" by James Gleick. The last was "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas R. Hofstadter. I picked up each of these books at some point during highschool, but I had to go back and reread them several times before I understood what they were saying and the implication of the ideas that they held.

I was given "A Brief History of Time" as a gift when I was a freshman in highschool. Thank you Mom. I read it a couple of time, but didn't fully understand it until many years later when I'd take enough physics to grasp what was being said. The experience of reading that book was immensely important to me because it drove my fascination with the real world, but humbled me to the extent that I knew that I'd never be able to rise to the level of understanding that the author and his peers shared. I was also struck with the realization that even if I were to gain that level of understanding it would still be almost meaningless because Hawking and his peers only understand the smallest fraction of how things really work.

About a year after I was given "A Brief History of Time" I think I picked up Chaos on my own. I was fascinated with the notion of fractals and was drawn to the picture on the cover. I had much less trouble reading Chaos, probably due to the fact that Gleick is a much better writer than Hawking. Anyway, Chaos had several effects on me. First it opened my eyes to the notion that the world wasn't totally deterministic. Second, it had a great deal of influence in me eventually going into Computer Science. My first program that I wrote that wasn't part of a school assignment was taken from an algorithm that I found in that book. It drew on the screen a picture of the Mandelbrot set. Yeah I know it's not cool anymore, but I did this back in 1989 or 1990. It took a couple of hours for the program to run and finish filling up the screen. I was so proud when I managed to speed up the algorithm by optimizing the program to avoid using the math coprocessor on the computer. This is probably the genesis of my computer geek self. Anyway, having read that book I was amazed by the way that it managed to describe the larger world in a much different light.

Finally, the book that really blew my mind "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid". I think this book is more or less required reading for a computer science majors at this point in time. I started reading this one as well in high school. About half way into my first reading I knew that I was in over my head, and that I was not intellectually equipped to digest what that book had to say. Then about my senior year I made my second attempt at this book. I got more than two thirds into the book, and had to stop again. Have you ever been reading something, and realize that you understood every word in a sentence that you've just read, you even understood the sentence and believe it to be true, but your mind refuses to accept the implications of that sentence and assimilate it into your brain. I got far enough into this book and realized that I'd read an entire paragraph of sentences, but was in no way capable of forming a logical and reasonable gestalt from the collection. I put it away again, but not after having been effected by it. While not directly about computer science, it ties into the theories necessary for computer science to be a science. I'd had my path in life further cemented in place by a book. Somewhere near my senior year in college I picked up the book again and reread it. This time I had a lot fewer instances where I had to just accept what the author was saying, but rather was able to understand and follow along with his ideas. I managed to make it through the book and assimilate the ideas expressed into my own. However I did finish the book understanding that the level to which Gödel as well as Hawking and others understood reality would always be far superior to my own knowledge and that my life would be spent as a dilettante and apprentice to those who understood things far better than I. Not that this is a bad thing. In fact it is probably a good thing to realize and accept one's own limitations.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Forgive me father for I have sinned. It's been 3 hours since my last trip to Target.

I don't go to church, but if I did, it would be the "United Utilitarian Church of Stuff". If there is a hell for a Utilitarian, it would be a place where you wash your hands after using the restroom and in the bathroom there are only guest towels. You know the ones I'm talking about. Those towels that are too pretty to use. They are folded nicely, and it is obvious that the owner never meant them to see daily use. Every time I'm presented with this situation, I usually just dry my hands on my pants so that I don't mess up this towel that someone obviously spent a lot of time and effort to arrange. Unfortunately, I have to resist the urge to use the towel, then rub my arm pits all over it and throw it behind the toilet, just to be a spiteful asshole. I hate things that are just for show. They drive me insane. Yeah, yeah, "Short drive" blah blah blah. Back to my point, I am now one of those schmucks who owns towels that you aren't supposed to use. But I swear, I have a good excuse. In trying to sell my house, I have noticed and people have confirmed, that my house is patheticaly empty. No artwork, no nick nacks, no weird crap to dust. This is perfectly fine by me, but other people don't seem to like it. In order to sell the house, I've been forced to acquire many things I hate. The least of which was guest towels. I also bought candle holders, floral scented candles and red dyed mulch. None of these serve a purpose other that to demonstrate to prospective buyers that I'm not a complete weirdo who only owns a bed, a television and a couch. I swear, I'm going to use every one of the towels as soon as the house sells. I think that might make me feel better.

Speaking of making me feel better... Does anybody know any cute girls with low standards and poor judgment. Just kidding.... I think.

One other interesting thing of note. I now know way more about "Celiac Disease" than I ever wanted to know. For those who don't know, Celiac Disease is more commonly known as gluten intolerance. These people can't digest gluten. Today I met someone who had a very serious form of this disease. I can tell you that I am not jealous. He was so nervous about eating things with gluten in them that he would only eat bananas while he was with us. He said that his weekly diet consisted of 7 pounds of grass fed beef, olive oil, cucumbers, bananas and refined sugar. He would only eat the bananas while visiting us, and would normally only eat beef that he had prepared for fear of it being cooked on the same surface as something that contained gluten. He was such a persuasive speaker on the subject that he began to have me worried. (You know how if someone ever mentions lice, your scalp just starts to itch?) You start comparing your health with the possible symptoms of the disease, and sooner or later you're like, "Holy shit. I have this disease". I don't. I swear. I might be lactose intolerant though. I ate a whole bunch of cheese dip the other night, and I had the worst gas the next day. I would fart in my garage, and the neighbors were calling the cops because it smelled so bad and they though I had a dead body stashed in my basement. I don't. It's in the attic. But I digress. This individual certainly knew a lot about Celiac Disease. So much so that he'd convinced two other people that they might also have this problem, and that they should be checked. The worst part of it, was his description of visiting someone's house for three days. In order to sleep in the house, he had to put on rubber gloves, strip the sheets off the bed, cover the bed in plastic, don a Tyvek suit and sleep in the suit and under another sheet of plastic. Holy f'ing shit. It was so bad that he couldn't eat food that had eaten anything with gluten in it. There's no point to this story, other than to say holy f'ing shit I'm glad I don't have that problem. Now give me some cake

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Double Giant Green Leaping Balls of WTF?

I will give five dollars to the first person who explains this interaction:

(14:56:08) blahBlahBlah: Hey, E. Bola,
(14:56:12) blahBlahBlah: keep your sick ass at home
(14:56:18) Ouroboro1: who is this?
(14:56:21) blahBlahBlah: your mom
(14:56:28) Ouroboro1: don't lie
(14:56:33) Ouroboro1: (Deleted*)?
(14:56:39) blahBlahBlah: no
(14:56:51) blahBlahBlah: frank
(14:56:56) blahBlahBlah: n
(14:56:58) blahBlahBlah: furter
(14:57:14) Ouroboro1: still no clue
(14:57:16) blahBlahBlah: STOP CALLIN GME
(14:57:47) Ouroboro1: OK. No more codine for me. I give up.
(14:59:08) Ouroboro1: still no clue
(14:59:27) blahBlahBlah: WHAT DID I TELL YOU
(14:59:40) Ouroboro1: My mother doesn't talk like that.
That was a random IM conversation that just started a few minutes ago. The line that says deleted was my guess at who this was.

Update: The guilty party has come forward, and her IM handle has been removed. The $5 has not been claimed, and I am slightly less confused. (Is it just me, or did that last bit kind of rhyme?)