Saturday, April 17, 2004

Survival stories

It's really too bad I don't have the time. The article in Thursday's newspaper, Survival stories produce shivers reviewed two books that look like really interesting reading.

Four Against the Arctic: Shipwrecked for Six Years at the Top of the World, by David Roberts:
... The story begins in 1743, when four Russian walrus hunters are stranded on remote and barren Edge Island, one of the cluster of icy islands known as Svalbard (the best known of which is Spitsbergen), lying just 600 miles or so below the North Pole.

An 11-month-long winter was setting in, and their small boat had been blown off course and threatened by pack ice. Going ashore to seek shelter, the four found a crude wood hut built by earlier travelers. They went to tell their shipmates, only to find that the boat was gone -- vanished, without a trace. ...
SIX YEARS! And then to add insult to injury:
...Then, only by chance, a passing boat spotted the survivors as they were facing a seventh winter in isolation. The captain took them aboard and back to their native northern Russia, but charged them for their passage. ...

Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic, by Jennifer Niven:
... On a parallel course, Jennifer Niven's "Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic" follows five adventurers in 1921 to another remote land, barren Wrangell Island, 200 miles northeast of Siberia, and surely as stark a place as Edge Island.

Blackjack, an Eskimo hired for $50 a month to sew and cook for the expedition, was the only survivor. Three of the other four were lost after setting off across pack ice to seek help. The fourth, too weakened by scurvy to make that trip, died on the island.

Along with bravado and fear, Niven's story has a dark, mean underside. It's the bitter truth that this expedition should never have taken place. It was the brainchild of an erstwhile Arctic adventurer, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a native Canadian who thought that Wrangell Island, while ostensibly held by Russia, should be part of his homeland. When Ottawa turned him down he decided to stake a claim for Britain. ...
Now, that's a testament to womanhood!

After reading the article, I thought if any or all the survivors found religion after the experience, I wouldn't dare to question their faith. If I were one of them, I probably would have found religion too.

Friday, April 16, 2004

On and On

On and On is by Jack Johnson.
1. Times Like These (Johnson) - 2:22
2. The Horizon Has Been Defeated (Johnson) - 2:33
3. Traffic in the Sky (Johnson) - 2:50
4. Taylor (Johnson) - 3:59
5. Gone (Johnson) - 2:10
6. Cupid (Johnson) - 1:05
7. Wasting Time (Johnson/Podlewski/Topol) - 3:50
8. Holes to Heaven (Johnson) - 2:54
9. Dreams Be Dreams (Johnson) - 2:12
10. Tomorrow Morning (Johnson) - 2:50
11. Fall Line (Johnson) - 1:35
12. Cookie Jar (Johnson) - 2:57
13. Rodeo Clowns (Johnson) - 2:38
14. Cocoon (Johnson) - 4:10
15. Mediocre Bad Guys (Johnson) - 3:00
16. Symbol in My Driveway (Johnson) - 2:50
Johnson is the last in a series of artists recommended by closeyoureyes in the category of soft music. Yes, it is soft. He has a nice clear voice, and the songs have a wonderful beat and rhythm to them.
Fans will enjoy Johnson's soothing ballads and boy-next-door charms, never looking beyond the surface of the songs themselves. ...In dire times, Johnson is sunny and sunny always feels good.
Like the Icelandic group Sigur Rós' Ágætis Byrjun, On on On is Johnson's second album. And to point out another coincidence, the album cover is also strange, although not as wierd as the one on Ágætis Byrjun.

OK, closeyoureyes, I'm ready for more. But remember, you need to recommend an album as well.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Reality trumps argument

Reality trumps argument, so said Ronald Brownstein on Monday night's Charlie Rose Show:
RONALD BROWNSTEIN, The Los Angeles Times
And on the same day in Frank Patrick's Focused Performance Business Blog:
On Reality
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
- Philip K. Dick
The former was about the problems with Iraq, and the latter about a science fiction writer's view. In my opinion, they both speak of an undenial truth.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

A magic wand might help

If I am a writer, I would worry. Since I don't have the talent, it doesn't bother me that much. In many way, I'm glad that I don't have the afflictions that creative writers do, as the review Doctor conducts thorough examination of the writing process, about the book Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain seems to imply.
Interestingly, although writers may feel protective of their muse, Flaherty notes that recent experimental studies are suggesting that in the future, medical treatment may help with problems of creativity. "There has been some evidence," she says, "that transcortical magnetic stimulation using a wand over the temporal lobe can produce in some people the sensation of being visited by the muse."
A magic magnetic wand might help. But, in my case I wouldn't hold my breath.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

I read about the subject of this book from yesterday's entry in Frank Patrick's Focused Performance Business Blog. He was writing about a review he read in the New Yorker and included several quotes that caught his eye. After reading the review myself, these are the sections that caught my eye:

A few decades of research has made it clear that most people are terrible choosers—they don’t know what they want, and the prospect of deciding often causes not just jitters but something like anguish. The evidence is all around us, from restaurant-goers’ complaints that “the menu is too long” to Michael Jackson’s face.

The phenomenon isn’t new. “The ordinary man believes he is free when he is permitted to act arbitrarily, but in this very arbitrariness lies the fact that he is unfree,” Hegel wrote. “Negative infinity” was his term for how the man without a well-anchored sense of self would perceive the marketplace. There can even be common ground between those who recoil from choice and those who have no choice at all, or so Louis MacNeice implied in a poem from the nineteen-forties about drunks:
Those Haves who cannot bear making a choice,
Those Have-nots who are bored with having nothing to choose,
Call for their drinks in the same tone of voice,
Find a factitious popular front in booze.
In the real world, neither people nor firms maximize utility. Life is complicated, the options of the marketplace are numerous, and the human intellect is frail. As Herbert Simon, the 1978 Nobel laureate in economics, observed, any firm that tried to make decisions that would “maximize” its returns would bankrupt itself in a never-ending search for the best option. What firms do instead is “satisfice,” to use Simon’s term: they content themselves with results that are “good enough.” Schwartz, who is a close reader of Simon, worries that the profusion of choices we face—a hundred varieties of bug spray, breakfast cereal, extra-virgin olive oil—is turning us into maximizers, and maximizers, he thinks, are prone to misery and depression.
“If it is difficult to know whether we will be happy fifteen minutes after eating a bite of spaghetti, it is all the more difficult to know whether we will be happy fifteen months after a divorce or fifteen years after a marriage.”
There are even cases, as Schwartz notes, where just one additional choice can produce outright paralysis.
Nor is the “paradox of choice” limited to the shopping aisle. It helps explain why so many people at age thirty are still flailing about, trying to choose a career—and why so many marriageable singles wind up alone. You await a spouse who combines the kindness of your mom, the wit of the smartest person you met in grad school, and the looks of someone you dated in 1983 (as she was in 1983) . . . and you wind up spending middle age by yourself, watching the Sports Channel at 2 a.m. in a studio apartment strewn with pizza boxes.
Strangely, we lose sight of our human resilience when we make big choices. People are consistently puzzled that so many things they had dreaded—from getting fired to being ditched by a spouse—“turned out for the best.” Gilbert and Wilson even speculate (in a diplomatic way) that our inability to forecast this adaptive capacity spurs some people to a belief in God. “Because people are largely unaware that their internal dynamics promote such positive change,” they write, “they look outward for an explanation.” A tendency to overestimate the joy we’ll get from buying baubles and winning honors is only half of a complex predisposition. The other half is our enormous capacity for happiness, even in the absence of such things. The surprise isn’t how often we make bad choices; the surprise is how seldom they defeat us.
And to quote Frank:
Did you ever notice that after agonizing over a decision, there's a nice bit of calm that comes shortly after making the choice. Choice is fine, but sometimes one is best off taking the opportunity that's presented, making the best of it, and by doing so, avoiding "defeat."
I sure did, after I mailed my tax returns yesterday. The agony is finally over!

Monday, April 12, 2004

In the blink of an eye

In the blink of an eye, Line failure spurs brief power loss in region:
About half a million residents in Eastern Massachusetts briefly lost electricity last night after an underground transmission line in South Boston experienced a power failure, said officials at NStar, the region's largest electricity provider.

The power outage, which occurred around 7:30 p.m., set off fire and burglar alarms throughout the region, erased documents from countless computers, and left three people briefly stranded in an elevator at Massachusetts General Hospital. No injuries were reported.
I was in the middle of composing the previous post when it happened. In my case, it was a split second loss that knocked out only my computer network. I didn't even have to reset all my other electronic equipment clocks. Go figure.

The irony is that I have a nice UPS that I bought last year that's still sitting in the box whose purpose is to keep the computer alive during a power outage. Do you think what happened last night is a gentle reminder that I should hook it up?

Sunday, April 11, 2004

I'm a lily

RyukyuSoul asked me what kind of flower would I be. When Quizilla told me that I'm a lily:

Your a lilly. Your elegant and independant, like the rose you are well respected and admired by
You're a lily. your elegant and independant, like
the rose you are well respected and admired by
What kind of flower are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

I remember that's exactly what my former colleague and friend Jane brought to brighten my office frequently six years ago; lilies from her garden. In fact, I liked lilies so much that our secretary Jana, who is accomplished at origami made one for me. In the picture, the yellow lily was from Jane, and the red one from Jana. Alas, the yellow one didn't last, but the red one still adorns the top of a bookcase in my living room.