30 Sep 2023
When I was younger, I once told my dad I was using word to discover all the synonyms to try to write more interestingly.
Many of those words have stayed with me over the decades, such as epitaph, serendipitous, agglomeration, languidly, tartar, preamble, estrafalario (another word for bizarre, in Spanish), among many others.
He replied that it is better to use easier-to-grasp words when possible, most readers wouldn’t fully grasp the context when presented with words they didn’t understand.
The way I took it was: Why use more complicated words to explain something that can be done with simple ones.
I’ve found this same sentence in different forms over the years, in videos about public speaking, writing, making presentations, writing technical documentation, etc.
When I read books that use complex sentence structures, obscure grammar and words, on one hand I feel like the author is being somewhat pompous, showing off their aptitude for words, yet on the other I also feel sometimes when you manage to stumble through a complicated paragraph, over time you learn to see past the air of superiority, and you glean a bit more understanding from the words you aren’t familiar with.
Words that once you might have associated with right-clicking in Word and selecting “Find Synonyms” now have a slightly different meaning, a synonym might convey different intent, it suddenly becomes available to you, to use in contexts where that word might be the exact one that conveys your thoughts at that moment.
You might be aware of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, which states that once you learn something you start seeing it everywhere.
I believe a balance can be achieved, where you push the boundaries a tad without sounding pompous, just to inject a bit more colour & texture into one’s language.
The reason I bring this up is that I’ve been reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which is littered with exquisite phrases and rare words. The first few chapters also deal with a similar topic, but from the perspective of knowledge, intellectualism, the study of the classics, letting thoughts go wild without restraint, how far can we push it?
I couldn’t help but see the similarities between the theme of the book (so far) and my thoughts about language.
Are you moved by classical music? Does the ending of Spring 1 from Max Richter’s “Reimagining Vivaldi” bring shivers to your spine? I wonder if this highbrow elitism translates equally to music: There are those who see classical music as somewhat pompous; is it possible to enjoy underground rap, hip-hop, hardcore punk, thrash, fusion jazz, and classical music simultaneously? What is the difference between someone who casually enjoys music and one who feels/understands it?
I love most music genres, even those I hated as a kid, such as cumbias. That said, my slight disdain for reggaeton remains strong. I wonder if the same that happens with languages translates to music. Does one who is not well-versed in the intricacies of classical music, the history, the movements, the cadenza, the preludes, the fugues, the counterpoint, the themes, the musical idioms and expressions, would they appreciate music on the same level as someone who’s been classically trained?
Sometimes music touches you beyond the explainable, for example, a complex spicy chord might evoke a certain sensation, such as those during the solo by Cory Henry on the live recording of Lingus by Snarky Puppy. Sometimes when I hear something that evokes such sensations I look around me, unsure if the people I’m with are feeling that same thing, or if they are just passively enjoying it. Is it perceived the same way? Or do we feel music in different ways? Will training lead to allowing that feeling to erupt upon listening to that chord due to our newly found understanding of the underlying play between the notes? The deeper composition? I wonder.
And yet, if you continue down this line of thought… what about people who know so much more… will they think the same? If you could paint in a million tones and textures would you limit yourself to only a few, to make your work more digestible, more humane, more understood? Probably a bad example, but I guess what I’m getting at is:
Would you sabbotage the endless pallette of words at your disposable to conform to a lower-denomination in an effort to be more widely-understood?
26 Sep 2023
More than 15 years ago I wrote a blog post called “how to use 100% of your brain”. It was a bit click-baity as the intention was to illustsrate that we already use 100% all the time, and it included a few references. The intention was mostly to inform people who had grown up with the fables of “we only use a small percentage of our brain, imagine what we could do if we could use all of it?”… I mean, there are even movies on this topic.
Interestingly, it became quite popular, most of my traffic from Google Search went towards that article; I removed it after a while as I hadn’t done proper research on the topic and the information was not very accurate.
I am not a neuroscientist after all, but do you know who is? David Eagleman, author of Livewired.
Note: This book review has some spoilers!
This was a super interesting book to read, quite digestible, with tons of examples.
The premise is that the brain works in a plug-and-play fashion. You can remove sensors, remove body parts, add extra ones, and the brain will adapt… like a general purpose computer. We often talk about plasticity in the brain, but referring to it as livewired makes a lot more sense; it breaks down the traditional myth that “areas of the brain are mapped in a specific way”.
One thing that was a bit of a bummer (in a funny way) was: I had a couple of ideas a few years ago which I was absoluely sure I had invented, and I was just waiting for the right moment to have a few months off some day in the future to work on them, yet here they were in full display on the pages before me, as commercial products I had never heard about.
- My first idea was a sound device for deaf people, using frequencies above 20K Hz, with the idea that even though we can’t process it, the brain might be able to react to those frequencies. The actual product uses lower frequencies (I guess they have verified that higher frequencies had no impact on the cochlea or the vibrations were not ‘converted’ into electrical signals?), yet it works, albeit the sounds are quite audible and for new users it might sound like a wall of sounds. Frequencies and amplitude are used to convey proximity, colours, brightness, etc.
- In the ISS there are sensors built by different countries which not always communicate correctly between each other… In a live-wired system data from sensors and other systems is understood by figuring things out automatically (back-propagation / unsupervised learning>. “Motor” babbling is mentioned (as babbling is the way babies figure out how to communicate, by experimenting out of curiosity). This reminded me of my Curious Actors idea (2015) where AI agents that explore, prod, and learn through curiosity. For example, interacting with APIs or objects in a codebase by performing tasks such as “what happens if I call this function? What happens if I pass this parameter? Does the result change? Are the types constant? What about the structure?”, essentially creating a model of action-reactions to specific events, as well as a dictionary of properties to expect from certain objects (including generalisations as well as specific data for instances of objects). My ultimate idea was that if we could map that virtual world to a real one, the agents would simply collect information from us using an interface, the “objects”, “methods” and “properties” shorthand for interactions with us, physical features and attributes.
A small section of the book read like a sales pitch for one of the products. I feel that was quite unnecessary… a disclosure could have been added instead, or a foreword or afterword with a bit more information on the related commercial interests of the author.
Recap: It is an easy read, not too long, with plenty of examples and illustrations. Some parts dragged on a bit with a few too many examples, but overall a very intriguing book with some really cool concepts! - 8/10
25 Sep 2023
Note: This book review has no spoilers!
This was a great book, I listened to the audio book which, in my opinion, is how this book should be digested. As it is narrated by the voice behind Bob from Bob’s Burgers, the narration style is perfect, the jokes, the sarcasm, the self deprecation, everything carries flawlessly as if listening to Bob on an extended episode.
One of the downside is there is not enough carrying on from one chapter to another, as if isolated small stories, I think more continuity would have helped a bit, however maybe it would have detracted slightly from the comedic narration.
Some chapters were really good, such as those where he tries to get authors to be a part of his book and they give up on him eventually. Also one with the parents in the park where they are judging the other parents and children, and eventually his kid ends up eating excrement.
He narrates everyday situations in such a powerful, excruciating way… taking things that should have ended in a peaceful resolution, dialing it to 11, taking it to the breaking moment, and ending in an explosive climax… sometimes literally. Maybe there were one-too-many ‘shitty’ jokes, at some point I felt myself groveling from my stomach feeling slightly ill.
If you feel like you are failing, reduce your expectations until it no longer feels like that.
I can’t remember if I heard that in the book or if I watched a video where that was mentioned, but I found the quote relatable to this book.
My overall impression was that its a good short book with some very funny moments - 7/10
20 Sep 2023
Note: This book review has no spoilers!
I ordered the paperback edition on Amazon, translated by Constance Garnett. After a few days I noticed it would take a couple of weeks to arrive, so I got the digital version in the meantime, as I didn’t want to be late for our monthly book club.
The introduction was a bit overly complex, too much information about the stories which you haven’t even read. I feel like it should have been an afterword as opposed to a foreword or introduction.
I feel like it was a hard book to get into at first, some chapters are easy but some felt very complicated, the writing style felt a bit heavy sometimes. If words could wear a trenchcoat on a hot humid day, some of the chapters felt that way.
Yet after reading about 100 pages of the digital version (which had around 500) I received the actual book… and I hadn’t noticed it was translated by Constance Garnett, while the ebook was translated by Richard Freeborn!
They were translated and written in such different styles that when I started reading the physical book I found it unreadable. It was such a shock as the style and expression were too different; I was finding the writing style of the digital edition slightly humorous in some ways, which felt lacking in the version by Constance Garnett, the tone is that of a very serious work, with more complicated sentence structures and grammar.
So for the rest of the book I alternated between the digital version and the physical book, depending on where I was. It was a rather interesting experience, as it felt like the author had split personalities… a quite novel way to digesting a book!
I found this paragraph utterly stunning, with a vivid visual quality that I find lacking in most modern literature:
Imagine to yourself a man of about forty-five, tall and lean, with a
long delicate nose, a narrow forehead, little grey eyes, dishevelled
hair and wide, scornful lips. This man used to go about winter and
summer in a yellowish nankeen coat of German cut, but belted with
a sash; he wore wide blue trousers and a cap edged with astrakhan
which had been given him, on a jovial occasion, by a bankrupt
I feel like a lot of modern literature attempts to embelish the visual qualities of a character by overly utilising adjectives, when sometimes you need to think outside the box a bit. Or it could just be the complexity of the character dictates how one should describe them. Maybe I’m overthinking this.
The biggest 4 takeaways I got from the book:
- The treatment of women and children in general, and the class structure and discrimination are horrible
- It gives a very intense recollection of scenes and moments in a period of time, and from the perspective of hunters which is something that would have never crossed my mind before to research or listen about… the lifestyle, sometimes ending up here or there, without much thought about time or place, is just so different from modern times with 9 to 5 jobs
- English has such a vast vocabulary, and given that there are such incredibly massive ways of arranging them to construct beautiful depictions of scenes saddens me, as the author obviously has a knack for creating such visual descriptions which I can only admire and wish I had but a tenth of their ability
- The literary style and complexity, but also the constant references to wealth versus poverty, and french popping up everywhere, reminded me so much of War and Peace, which I never fully read unfortunately
I find this review / article to be much more fulfilling and better researched than my own subjective opinion, so if you’d like a broader context of the book and environment in which it was written, I’d recommend having a read through that brief article - 7.5/10
19 Sep 2023
I watch from the end of the hallway the window panes in the kitchen, the glowing light like an orange candle at play, or a bronze saucepan in the glistening sun of a hot noon in May.
The colours, warm with all sorts of shades, from bronze, to gold, to rust, to clay.
As I got up from bed, on the other side of the house, I couldn’t yet see the light, yet as I walked out into the hallway it mesmerised me, what a captivating sight.
I paused to contemplate, to think about the day that would promptly begin: The meetings to come, the mornings and goodbyes, the notifications, the coming and going, the emails and questions, the half-truths and lies.
The flow of questions and 1-on-1s, the emails, clicks, and calls. Yet in this moment, standing here, I gaze, this is but mine.
The mental haze, it dissipates, and right now all is fine. I make my way to the kitchen, all around, pure silence, I listen.
Past the door, to the coffee maker, I look outside, finally, as I waver.
In this moment, I hate her! The sun… the sky… the day baiter! All along it was but the street lights!
Dawn will come around, a bit later.