Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The way I read books

Self-criticism is perhaps my most enduring hobby. If there is one thing thats exempt from my self-criticism, its my reading habit. I love books and reading and I read a lot of them.  I am not sure if I recall everything or (sometimes if i can recall anything) from books I have read, but there is not an iota of doubt that books have made me who I am. 

Like everyone else I have phases when I cant read more than one page, when I am too distracted to absorb what I am reading etc. Despite these, I manage to read a lot. Here is how. 

1. At any point, I read what I feel like. This means that I go through my Kindle library and pick whatever I am in the mood for.  This also means that I have way too many books in progress. Sometimes the books get to the stage where they draw you in, and I finish the rest of the book in the next couple of days. 

2. I read different things at different times. Mornings I can handle heavier deeper books, if I read in the afternoon its mostly lighter essays. Unless some non-fiction book is really interesting, I read fiction in the nights. 

3. I typically read fiction when I have long stretches of time such as a free weekend or a vacation. Fiction requires you to enter a different world,  and thats easier when your world doesnt demand much from you. 

4. I listen to audiobooks to fall asleep and when I take a walk. A lot of times I re-listen to audiobooks. 

5. I re-read books I loved. I always get a lot more in the re-reading than I do in my first time. I am also able to finish the book faster. I skip bits that I dont love and go deeper into the bits I do. 

6. I spend quite a bit of time picking books. Reddit's "suggestmeabook", Amazon's recommended books, Guardian book recos are all my sources. Everytime I come across something interesting I download the sample. In bits of time I read the samples to get a flavour of whether I will like the book or not. 

7. I dont worry much about the count of books read. The metric I use is the time I spend reading. And since I dont spend even one minute reading stuff I dont like/enjoy, it works out great. 

8. There are times when I dont read anything serious- I can go for weeks reading fluff after fluff. I dont worry that I am reading only light books ( like Liane Moriarty) I know its a phase and that I will get back to other "serious" books. 

9. I am currently going through an Alaska, Hawaii phase. I have a bunch of books set in Alaska and Hawaii that I have downloaded samples of, some of which I have bought. 

10. I have tons of unread, barely started, half-read books in my library. If I dont like a book I delete it from my list. Some books I will get back to and finish at a much later point in time and some books I havent yet gone back but I may eventually.  So every book thats on my Kindle is a book I like at some level. 

11. I read way too many of " how to focus" " how to manage your time better" kind of books than can possibly be good for me. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

10 Things about Artificial Intelligence

Rereading the Shallows made me think a bit deeper about Artificial Intelligence and I realised I have way too many questions and doubts about AI. 

1. When we say we are trying to create an AI future, are we replicating one human or are we replicating the whole of humanity? If its the latter it means we have to have diverse enough AIs to be able to duplicate the diversity of thought and character present in humans. 

2. AI with a definite purpose, will soon become better than humans at that purpose- For ex identifying a certain component or even AI to build a house , I think they will overtake humans in those abilities fairly soon. But AIs that can become humans, I dont think thats anywhere near, in our future

3. Most of human experience is wondering about what others think.  Its about insecurity, anxiety, greed, hope, happiness, stress and sleep deprivation. Even if AI can reasonably simulate some of it, I am doubtful of its abilities to do all. We can program a machine to be hungry for information but can it ever feel wonder or curiosity? 

4. Douglas Adams was a genius when he created Marvin the depressed whiny robot- Thats the ultimate achievement of AI . 

5. Other things that one would need to program is our dynamics with other humans that creates the fabric of our experience. AI will need to have that which means we will have machines that are jealous of one another therefore dont reveal everything, machines that act as if they hate the other one when they are actually in love. 

6. When we eventually do simulate things in point 5, the AI will not be optimised for efficiency, it will be optimised to be human ie irrational & inefficient- so, why would we even need that AI? We can just make more humans the way we are currently. 

7. Downloading your thoughts on to a computer and living forever in a brain is one of the most loathsome ideas for me. I hope I die before those technologies come to pass. 

8. When I was thinking about AI, I realised that AI will be able to have the exact same sensory inputs and experiences as humans. Humans choose to perceive only a few of those- For ex in my visual field I see a lot of things but I focus on the bee flying around the bird. Similarly while I do experience the sense of my feet on the ground, I am not aware of it always. The AI will have to always have a system that is filtering what to perceive and what to ignore. Aside from the fact it is complicated by us sometimes choosing to focus on something random for no reason, or choosing to be aware of it when we read about it, it also means that the AI has to have a mind ,that makes these decisions and is  influenced a certain bit by the sensory inputs too. 

9. Our mind is an emergent property of the way our body is wired. So I dont know how we can design an AI mind that functions exactly the way an emergent mind would. 

10. Of course I am completely unaware of the actual progress  happening in this field and its possible that a lot of these issues I am atalking about are resolved. Looking at the quality of chatbots and other AI applications though, am kind of sure its not. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

10 non-cynical things

Whenever I am stuck for things to write, I think of things I sneer at. Things that I feel others are doing wrong or are not seeing that I, in my supreme wisdom and clarity, am able to see. And then the words flow. For this post, I am trying to write about the quotidian and the wondrous and see if I can drum up 10. 

1. Nature isnt just transformative experiences and polar bears. Its also the aggressive cancer that sneaks up on your liver, its the rodent that invades your kitchen, its the  bug that you ingest, that drains you so much that you need to crawl to the loo. ( Inspired by Kathleen Jamie- Sightlines) 

2. Whenever we see a video or hear an audio of ourselves we are so appalled- I thought I moved faster than that on the court, I didnt realise how fat I was, Is that really how I sound, etc etc. Then why is introspection so hyped? Surely we dont know anything about ourselves? Isnt it better to ask people who are observing us?

3. Most statements made are not fully true. By which I dont mean they are lies, but that they dont apply all the time, to everyone, across all situations. For ex in point 2- obviously some people benefit by introspection, some problems may be solved by introspection- thats not the point. The point is asking other people ( friends , family etc) in a purposeful way. 

4. Have recently been fascinated by navigation without technology- the way people earlier used to navigate by stars, by birds, by natural landmarks- not that I need to go anywhere anyway. Or that I will be able to follow a star and reach the office or my friends house. But only in my current house have I noticed that the place of the sun set varies with the seasons and the stars move around the sky quicker than I had imagined. When we move to a new place we quickly learn the landscape, where is the nearest grocery store, the hospital and we orient ourselves in the new place fully.  The sky and the stars which are with us always, we barely have any clue of. But I can hear you saying we need the grocery store and the hospital , we dont need the stars. 

5. I hate cats. I respect them a lot though, because it feels like they understand that I hate them. They make angry eye contact before slinking away. They are graceful and regal, but somehow I dont like them at all. Not even kittens. 

6. A small streak of unhappy can color your otherwise happy day, but a small streak of happy rarely brightens up an otherwise harried day. Does 2 mins of mindfulness counter the rest of the stressed, distracted state? 

7. What do birds do all day? Just chill? We have a few birds that diligently wake up from their spots in our Eucalyptus tree and come back around 5:30-6. Curious where they go and what their day job involves. 

8. Am so jealous of people living in Britain, Ireland, Scotland etc- anyone who is not living in cities. They have access to so much wilderness, so much trails and woods to get lost in. Those of us in cities especially some of us unfortunate enough to be living in dusty Indian cities can only sigh in longing. 

9. As someone who is by herself a lot of the time, I didnt think reading horror would be a big deal. When I have lived by myself in the past, I have watched horror movies and not had a problem sleeping alone. The Haunting of Hill house was a slightly different matter. I began to wonder if the house I am currently in is evil and the general sounds and silences outside took on a rather sinister aura. But am glad that it didnt interfere in my sleep. 

10. I cant stand Anne Helen Petersen's whining. I read an article called "Should we be working during a coup" and I found it to be the most whiny,  entitled post ever. She seems to believe that no one except millenials has any problems in life and all millenial problems involve over working. This post in particular spoke about how a lot of people were forced to continue working on the day of the Capitol protests even though they felt anxious and distracted. She also tells that a lot of the bosses asked people to take it light on that day, so I am not sure what exactly her problem is. People exercised, people fed their kids and made meals and had them on that day, so why would you not be expected to work? All over the world when there are things happening politically in the country, that work day is colored by that. But everyone knows that and adjusts their expectations accordingly. AHP instead writes a whiny essay. 

Point 10 is cynical, but it was something gnawing on me so I had to get it out. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

10 Random Things

 1) Looking at the horrid unkempt mess our lawn has become, I wonder how the original forests even had a chance to flourish. How is the Amazon forest not just a jumble of weeds? Every single useful plant in our lawn has either been eaten by aphids, overtaken by weeds or dried out ( the last one is my fault :D) 

2) For all the discussion and encouragement about getting out of your comfort zone, I realised what a comfort zone slut I am. I didnt move from my comfortable sofa even when the sun was shining bright (the spot was much cosier in the winter, the summer sun is obviously not as gentle)  and ended up with a headache. I felt the headache coming on, yet didnt move. 

3) My time and attention are being pulled apart in a 100 directions from external requirements but the biggest enemy of my concentration is still my own mind. Am so appalled at my phone stats- I would rather reveal my weight before revealing the number of hours I spent on my phone or the number of times I clicked on apps 

4) Spending time in nature is the only time the hedonic treadmill fails. I can never get used to it.

5) The only forward that I have ever received that has been helpful is a one-liner from my friend - Procrastination doesnt make it go away. Doing it makes it go away. So simple, yet sooo powerful. 

6)Its Feb 2021 already. Surprised at how far I have come, without having achieved anything. 

7) I should be experiencing a strong mid-life crisis, but maybe I am too distracted to have one. 

8) Digital detox one day wont work- Its like eating healthy one day while bingeing on junk the other 6 days. 

9) I dont know if its the nature of my job, or its what I have become but I dont remember the last time I thought hard and came up with a solution. Everything has mostly been superficial problem solving ( picking one from a list of possible solutions) or  firefighting. 

10) Most books that are about A year I spent living in rural France, or how I moved out of Silicon valley to start a yoga retreat in Brazil have something inherently deceptive. The authors make it seem like they did all of this and then decided the experience was valuable enough for them to write a book about it. The fact however is that its clear from the book that they were preparing to write the book all along. How else do you remember how exactly you felt standing at the SFO airport? Or your description of your co-passengers?  Its absolutely OK to have been taking notes that you one day hope becomes a book, so why cant you just say that upfront? You may ask how it matters- But when you note down feelings for a journal its more real than when you note down feelings for a possible future book. You are in some sense performing it for an audience. 

11) My rant in previous point does not by any means make any of these books less enjoyable. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

10 Random things- On Meditation

1) I never thought I would be the kind to meditate. But as I have realised multiple times, I end up doing a lot of things I never thought I would do.

2) My interest in meditation is  a result of my fascination with the brain. Not to attain Nirvana.

3) We are definitely in the dark or pre-enlightenment ages, when it comes to understanding the brain. And meditation is like a microscope, reveals what we suspected to be present but couldnt see.

4) Dont read books on meditation by fringe celebrities. They are simply trying to make themselves more relevant by jumping on the bandwagon. I mean, dont read it to understand meditation or what it does, you can of course read it as a fun memoir, if that sort of thing interests you

5) Who I want to follow, when it comes to meditation really depends on my mood. Sometimes its the atheists guided meditation that makes sense, sometimes its the religious one that I have grown up hearing.

6) Chanting, prayers etc are more accesible forms of meditation- you keep your focus and sort of think about one thing only. Those days people did a lot of things- fasting, chanting etc which are coming back as new-age hustle activities

7) Not sure if it is right to add meditation to any word- walking meditation, dishwashing meditation etc.  Walking as an activity is interesting and worthy, without tacking on meditation to it, to look more attractive.

8) Its a free, healthy way to get high apparently. Dont think the effort is worth it.

9) I dont agree that meditation makes you a calmer self-content person, judging by the amount of meditation posts on LinkedIn. Maybe it does after 20 years of practise, but the first few, it probably gives you enough focus to write a LinkedIn post or a blog post- bragging about how much meditation has changed my life, and hey you lesser human being, you should perhaps try it too.

10) Nirvana isnt fun or a goal I aspire to. The process looks interesting- filled with good energy, high focus, calmness, less stress etc. I wish there was a way to arrest the development at that. Kind of like maintaining the pupa stage from metamorphosising into a full grown butterfly. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

10 Random things -On reading and writing

The easiest thing to do, for someone struggling to write, or stuck - Write about reading and writing

1) Most writers at some point in their lives are asked to write about writing- whats your process? Whats the time you wake up? what brand coffee do you drink? Do you always write at the same table? Some of them become succesful books ( On writing , by Stephen King, for one). Some of them are blogposts that are shared a million times within writing communities. But I think most of them have information the readers already know- Show up everyday, write at your best time etc. Not to say people dont enjoy these books. But I dont think there are too many people who wanted to be writers, couldnt be and read a book to figure it out.  For most people reading what they know to be true, is still helpful. 

2) Compounding gets attention these days as one of the most overlooked concepts. Reinforcing doesnt get as much love. You dont change based on reading one book. For a concept to set in, it takes atleast 4 to 5 books or 4 to 5 writers telling the same concept in their style. Or it takes re-reading of one book with a concept to really drill it in. The big Eureka concepts may stick with one book, but the smaller " know it to be true but havent done it myself" concepts take multiple readings. 

3) My ideal writer is John McPhee. And I havent read a single book of his. I have read the descriptions, seen the sheer range of topics he has explored and marveled at the depth of some seemingly simple ideas. Most writers find out what works, what they are really good at, and keep at the intersections. John McPhee finds out what interests him and then figures out a way to make it work. Imagine having the kind of clout that you say " I will write a book on Oranges, my previous book was on a specific tennis match"  and the publisher going " Sure, here is your advance". 
( I dont know if this was the order the books were written in) 

4) John Mc Phee seems to have made a lasting impact as a writing teacher at Princeton. Many famous personalities now speak of that course as one of the things that made a difference to their writing and almost always mention how they sort of took it for granted that a Pulitzer winning, most interesting person would give recommendations on their essays. All of us would put in a lot more effort in our late 30s if John Mc Phee teaches us- as they say Youth is wasted on the young. 

5) On the previous point- am happy that there is such a saying , because it means that I am not the only one that wasted my youth. Enough people have done it that they had to make a saying out of it! Am also happy that I got a chance to come across it- I think thats the best case for writing - even stuff thats not original- there is a small chance that it helps one person who hasnt seen it before. 

6)Reticular activation of the brain is a thing. When I am immersed in a book for a long time, I do see things differently- sometimes the difference is obvious. I remember one weekend I was reading " Oaxaca Journal" by Oliver Sacks on his 10 day trip to Mexico with an intention to spot ferns. The book was full of rich descriptions of ferns and plants that I vividly remember noticing the shapes of leaves when I stepped out Monday morning. 

7) When you read writers who have a distinctive style of writing- Nicola Barker stands out- you absorb some of it and it reflects in your writing. I hope so, at least. I dont know how many books of Nicola Barker I have to read to get that whimsical lyrical light-on-its feet quality to my writing. Perhaps half a million 

8) Storytelling is one of those things thats really cool until becomes kind of mainstream. The most annoying phase is when its just starting to become mainstream, but all proponents believe its still niche. God. 

9) Narratives are powerful persuaders. You tell yourself or others that you are a frazzled mom with no time and have to quit- and you find yourself in those situations more than you like. You tell yourself that your partner is inconsiderate and doesnt care for your opinion- you dont really notice the times they are considerate. Narratives in advertising do a very good job. The only problem is that sometimes I dont want to hear what a powerful, stereotype shattering, milestone creating woman I am. I just want a damn toothpaste. 

10) If you have read this far, you have very high tolerance and discipline. No pictures, no videos just dull text and you have still managed to come this far- Well done. I dont care if they should have been split into 10  tweets for better readability.  For instance, lets say the 6th one was very popular and shared widely, which lead to more people discovering the whole series- Rather than the blog, where most people might drop off by one or two. 


Sunday, May 17, 2020

10 more random things.

1) Chennai has underutilised its beach availability. By building houses that are cute and charming, think Greek or Italian town houses, it could have leveraged its beach view . But what we have is Ice house and some official buildings

2) You can understand a little more about someone by what they name something. I dont mean kids etc, but by what they name a extended family / friends whatsapp group they create. Some are straightforward and unimaginative like Gupta family or just family, while some call it Star parivaar. I do like looking at group names on other people's phones.

3) The previous point got me thinking about why I named this blog The Attic. Its traditionally not a place thats directly useful to the home and is mostly full of regular storage stuff or junk thats going to be thrown out. But as a kid I used to love sitting in our store room and going through stuff and discovering something interesting. So in a way I suppose thats what I try to do with this blog or writing overall- look for treasures amidst junk.
It also conjures up a cozy safe place , from Enid blyton type books I think. I dont know if I thought all of this subconsciously or if I am post rationalising.

4) Morning after rains is interesting. The trees look different- I suppose its their version of a good night (wink wink). 

5) The biggest downside to moving from being close to family, to relying on friends ( who you spend your holidays, important moments and difficult times) is the fact that your friends are most likely your age. So  we end up the wisdom that comes from having someone 15 years older, who has gone through something similar and can reassure you that this doesnt matter in the long  run. 
An older cousin who you trust cannot be replaced by the twitter friend of yours, when it comes to giving reassurance.

6) I think polygamy would have been helpful for wives in terms of company. If the jealousy/ competing for attention from the husband angle was somehow taken out ( or put up with, as has been the case with women throughout history) wives can be good company for each other ( See advice point above) and there is free babysitting , and perhaps actually having someone to listen to your woes.
Not supporting polygamy obviously , I cant figure out a way to  overcome the jealousy point if I am applying it hypothetically to myself.

7) Diet, managing relationships, mental health, an appreciation of architecture, listening , learning to argue , learning to think , confidence,   understanding oneself. Things I wish that were taught in school.

8) This is a half-assed hypothesis and I havent really confirmed this- but I think Murakami's wrtiting is surreal and relatable because he makes the locations conducive for that. The guy goes on a long journey in a suburban train  at night and gets off at some obscure station, sits in a taxi for 20 minutes and enters a sort of nondescript abandoned building with what seems like a never ending corridor. He runs along the length and it bursts open into what appears to be a football field which is lit by moonlight.  Are you even surprised something random happens after that? My theory is that with these descriptions he primes your brain for some kind of dreamy  thing, so you are simultaneously able to relate while also finding it surreal.

His writings are like dreams- not entirely realistic but you somehow find it relatable. So what he does is do the setup just like a dream- real enough that you can perhaps imagine a  location from memory but draw it out so that it starts becoming just a bit unbelievable.

9) Analyzing critical feedback and figuring which to take and which to discard is a very valuable skill. Because sometimes the feedback maybe right and perfectly reasonable from the point of view of the giver, and the intent may also have been noble, but it may not just work for you. For ex, if you are giving a presentation  and someone tells you that they lost interest because it wasnt dramatic enough- but your objective is to build an image as someone serious- you could choose to ignore that piece of feedback. But its very easy to start thinking that maybe serious doesnt need to clash with dramatic- what if serious ends up meaning boring etc. I dont know what is the right thing to do and if there is a right way at all to process these things. I think the prolific creators have a better grasp on this.

10) LSD might become like coffee in the future- sure to alter your energy level, some people swear by it and others want to build a life without having a dependence on it.

I dont know if this style of smaller blocks is better than a single blog post- I dont think it is- in terms of going deeper on a subject, but for now I am enjoying the breadth of topics and there is no pressure.