I was in the mood for a distraction amid my studying so i rented Word Wars. It's a documentary that follows 4 individuals as they try to be the next winner of the National Scrabble Championship. Each of these guys has taken a simple board game and made it a way of life. Interestingly, they have very different personalities. One is characterized by his gastrointestinal problems; another enjoys cursing, smoking marijuana, and fighting the man; the third is a comedian who likes to gamble; and the last is the previous year's winner who lives a zen way of life and looks a lot like Lt Cmdr Data. The film is a lot like the documentary Spellbound in that you're introduced to different contestants, one of whom will be the winner; but this time it's Scrabble rather than spelling. Even though the movie follows this competition, much of the fun comes from exploring the lives of these eccentric players rather than the drama of game play.
If you've never watched a documentary for entertainment purposes before, i think this would be a good one to start with.
Today i finished reading blink by Malcom Gladwell. It was a very belated birthday gift from my mother who ordered it months ago along with a book that had not yet been published. Amazon waited until they were both available -- hence the delay.
It's my second book in a row shedding some light on how the brain works. In this book, Gladwell talks about how we make decisions/judgments with very little data without our consciousness even being aware of it. There are both benefits and drawbacks to this behavior and Gladwell points this out through various interesting anecdotes and studies. He even explores the world of improv comedy, quoting Keith Johnstone and Del Close. He made comparisons with actors in that genre to doctors, military generals, and firefighters. I found the book to be more entertaining than informative; that is, i don't there is anything practical you can do with the information in the book, but it is interesting.
I think this will be the last book i get to finish in my inter-semester reading binge. I don't know exactly what it is that puts me in the mood to read in between semesters but it just seems to work out that way. Perhaps my brain likes to stay active so starting up classes again isn't such a shock on the system. I did start an uber-geeky math book but i doubt i will finish it before Monday. I'd probably be better off spending more time with my Clac 2 notes to make sure i'm prepared to jump right in to Calc 3.
My monitor started sparking the other day. There was an all out light show on my desk coming from the bottom of my screen until i was able to push the power button. I've never had a piece of electrical equipment malfunction that severely on me before. It was quite shocking.
Luckily, i happened to have an old, spare monitor lying around. It''s much smaller than the other one and is a bit fuzzy; however the worst part is that the picture keeps drifting to the right. You know how you can se the horizontal position on the monitor? Well, every few minutes i have to adjust it back to the left. It's really annoying. It's funny how worthless a machine is without a display.
I plan to put up with the backup until i buy a new machine. That means i'll probably be using the computer less at home. I'm just waiting for the shock of my tuition bill to wear off before i make that purchase. Now i have to find a way to properly dispose of the obnoxiously-large CRT whose time has come. Am i just supposed to throw it in the dumpster?
I just finished the book On Intelligence and found it quite fascinating. In it, Jeff Hawkins, they guy behind Palm, talks about how the brain works with the intent of convincing the reader that computer scientists can build machines that can operate in the same way. As a result, the research presented is based in neuroscience rather than philosophy.
The most interesting idea i came away from is that of the brain as an organ of prediction. According to Hawkins, our neocortex not only processes sensory input, but also predicts what we will experience before we actually experience it and that is what makes it so useful. The brain makes predictions based on observed patterns. When things go as we expect them to, we can ignore the details; the brain is much more aware when things go wrong. This attention to the unexpected is the reason we stare at someone who looks different or freak out when our foot misses a step but before we actually fall.
Another ways that the brain is able to do the things it does is thanks to its great storage capacity. The brain is able to store sequence of muscle movements so we can just think "sit down" and our body will just execute that series of commands without having to pay attention to each of the movements required to complete the task. This helps to explain the experiences i have at the piano. When i've played a song over and over again, i don't have to "think" about it any more; my hands just play the notes. My brain has stored the sequence of finger movements and is simply carrying them out. However, when i try to play a new song, it takes a great deal of concentration to translate the markings of sheet music into actual "playing."
I'm not doing a very good job of highlighting why this book is so interesting. I think it's worth a read (or at least a check out from the library) because it can make you think about how you think. Unlike other books that do the same, this one attempts to answer the questions it asks rather than leaving it to the philosophers.
Last Friday was the tuition due date for GVSU's fall semester. Luckily for me, it seems a great many people missed that deadline which opened up spots in classes throughout the course catalog. I scavenged for credits that would satisfy more of my gen. ed. requirements. I picked up BIO-105, Environmental Science, and WRT-305, Writing for the Disciplines. Those two classes are in addition to the Calc 3 in which i was already enrolled. I'm still not sure it was the best move. That will be a total of 10 credit hours on top of 40 hours of work. I'm just going to have to make it work because i know that if i am going to finish my degree anytime soon, i must be aggressive with my scheduling. Classes start next Monday. After that date, i may not see life outside of academia and my cubicle until Christmas.
My family is big into playing games and our current favorite is 6-card golf. We play the game with a deck of cards, including the two jokers. Each player receives 6 cards at the beginning of a round and placed them face down in front of him, arranged in a rectangle three cards wide by two cards deep. The remaining cards are placed in the center of the table and one card is flipped up to a discard pile. The goal of the round is to get the lowest possible score with the six cards in front of you. An ace is worth 1 point, 2's 10's are worth face value, J's and Q's are worth 10 and K's are worth nothing. Jokers are worth -2. In addition, if two cards of the same denomination are directly on top of one another, they cancel each other out. Play begins with each player picking any two of his six to turn face up. Then, going around the circle, you can either pick up an unknown card from the draw pile, or the turned up card on the discard pile. You may then use that card to replace any of your six cards or simply discard it. If you replace one that is face-down, you leave it's replacement face-up. The switched card is then placed on the discard pile. (There is no "changing your mind.") After a player had flipped up all of his six cards, the remaining players get one last turn to try to improve their hand. When the round is over, players turn up any remaining face-down cards and add up their score. Typically you play 9 rounds and the person with the lowest cumulative score wins.
The game is a lot of fun. It is possible, however, to get screwed with a really high score in the early rounds. Therefore, my family added a few rules to make it more interesting. If all of your six cards are the same suit, you get -20 points for the round. If you get a run of 6 cards in your hand, you get -20 points as well. In each of those scenarios, jokers can count as wild cards. If you get 150 points exactly, your score drops back to 0. And finally, if you get a 6-card straight flush, you automatically win the game.
If you've never played the game, i highly recommend it. A single deck will easily serve 2-4 players. When playing with more people, we like to use an additional deck.
Alas, my 4.0 run was brought to an end by this semester's mythology class. I checked my grades today to discover i got an A-. I'm not all that surprised. I wasn't thrilled with my research paper on the myths of the Australian Aborigines and that was probably enough to pull me down.
I suppose it's nice not to have the pressure of keeping up the 4.0 for future semesters. Even with schoolwork, one must make sure there is an adequate return on investment for studying. The perceived benefit of getting another A just won't be the same anymore. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.
I've been keeping quite busy at work. I'm currently in the middle three projects, code-named: Gnome, Jello, and GoldenEye. Actually, i think i'm the only one in the company that uses the code names. Coming up with them is really fun for me. It helps me to keep the project focused and clear. I like to come up with the name right away and that, in turn, inspires me to create some documentation with the code name in big letters at the top.
I can't tell you exactly what my secret projects involve, but i can say that i've been attacking a wide variety of technical challenges. Lately i've been extracting information out of archaic data files, calculating the statistical correlation between certain sales events, tweaking Firefox extensions, manipulating image files, designing Windows forms user interfaces, and redrawing database diagrams. It's been a while since i've had to touch a web page and i've been enjoying the time away. I like the change of pace.
I've decided that if i were to ever get a cell phone, it should have all the features i want. There is, however, one feature i would want that i'm not sure i've seen any current cell phone do. I want to be able to answer an incoming call and place it on hold without having to actually say "hello."
That may sound odd, but here's where it could come in handy. Once a cell phone starts ringing, the answered has a limited amount of time to pick up the phone, typically because voicemail will kick in or the caller will assume the callee is unavailable. I've often seen people running out of a room to answer a call in time and not disturb those around them, or still others abruptly discontinue a conversation in progress to answer a call. Let's say that there's another button an the phone to answer to hold. When getting a call, you press the button and the person on the other end of the line hears a recorded message saying something like "hi, this is matthew. I'll be right with you. In the mean time please enjoy my hold music" and then an instrumental version of The Girl From Ipanema would softly play. That way, they know you are there and want to take their call, but you get the extra time you need to disengage from what ever you were doing without being overly rude. Perhaps they could have the option of pressing 1 to just leave a voicemail if you leave them on hold for too long.
Am i the only one who thinks this is a good idea? Do any phones currently do this? Pardon me while i go patent my idea.