language politics

Protologistic Vocabulary of the Day: "To Wuck"

My friend Craig mentioned a phrase he’s been using lately: ‘to wuck up’, which he defines as, “to screw up as badly or worse than the current president has managed to over the last six years”.  His question to me was this: How does one go about spreading its use into popular language?

While it doesn’t have the intensely scatological memes of ‘santorum‘, ‘wuck’ is still a protologism with some propagation potential.  (Incidentally, the ‘santorum’ Googlebomb has managed to retain its #1 Google rank as of this writing.)

Here are my suggestions to get things off the ground: start posting comments on liberal blogs, try to get a few people using it.  Once there are some independent references out there, add it to Wiktionary’s list of protologisms.  Set up a one-page website on wucking and submit it to reddit and digg; if it’s clever enough, it will have a good chance of rising high enough in the rankings that lots of people will see it.

What are you waiting for?  Get out there and wuck things up.

input devices mental exercises reflections

This Is Your Brain on Dvorak

Kinesis Contoured KeyboardSince reorganizing my office, I’ve started using my Kinesis keyboard again. Despite its somewhat peculiar appearance, it’s an extremely well-crafted device. It has a satisfying tactile response approaching the classic IBM keyboard (though without the clickity-clickity), and the concavity gives each key a different shape and feel. It also puts six keys (including Control, Alt, Backspace and Delete) under each thumb, a digit typically consigned to whapping the space bar. Its only significant fault is the lousy, chiclet-style function keys.

The last time I used the Kinesis heavily was when I was learning the Dvorak keyboard layout. I’ve made several runs at it, and the last time I pushed through to start achieving some reasonable (though hardly fast) speed. Dvorak is not without its controversies, but even without the grandiose claims it’s been a very interesting mental exercise. The Kinesis is switchable between QWERTY and Dvorak layouts by hitting a combination of keys. I’d left the keyboard set to QWERTY, and hadn’t thought much more about it for six months.

When I started writing an email, I noticed that I was stumbling, hitting lots of wrong keys. Much to my surprise, my motor memory was trying to type Dvorak. When I switched the keyboard over, I found that I could hit a steady (if somewhat slow) pace.

Switching back and forth between the two layouts is a curious mental exercise . . . when I type a sentence, I typically don’t think at all about the individual letters, or even the mechanics of typing; the words just seem to appear on the screen. Immediately after switching modes, there’s an internal tension, with two competing pathways trying to activate. It’s an almost disconnected, ghostly experience to feel and watch my hands flicking over the keys without conscious intervention.

Despite my increased fluency with Dvorak, I’m still painfully slow compared to my normal speeds. This makes it very hard to persevere for long periods of time . . . it prevents achieving a state of flow, of union with what is happening on the screen of the computer. Even so, it is fascinating to watch the process of the brain rewiring itself under the pressure of new demands.


The Art of Conversation

I’ve been catching up on my backlog at Radio Open Source. If you haven’t listened to the show, I recommend it highly. Christopher Lydon used to host The Connection, formerly one of my favorite NPR shows.

It just wasn’t the same after he left. Lydon was the show – his lyrical speech patterns, comfortable erudition, and conversational style made for an excellent hour of radio. Unfortunately, differences between Lydon and WBUR management led to a parting of ways.

In 2005, Lydon started a new project, Radio Open Source, which is sporadically excellent. It’s taken it a while to hit its stride, but it’s been much more consistent of late. I find the format (several invited guests who drop in and out over the course of the show) to be a bit less congenial, but some very interesting conversations do develop.

And conversation it is . . . Lydon is a thoughtful participant in the discussions, not relegating himself to the role of interviewer, foil, or egotistical blowhard. When the right guests are on, the show is superb, and Lydon’s cadences are always a pleasure.

This post was prompted by the show from January 3, 2007, Optimism. It’s a great mix of musings and speculation . . . I was quite frustrated to be driving while listening to it, as it kept generating new ideas. All the traffic lights were green, so safety precluded jotting down any notes.

Keep it up, Chris. Good stuff.

blogging writing

Blogging as Succedaneum

I admit it . . . I’ve been writing bits and pieces of fiction for years, mostly short stories and short-shorts. Once I started grad school, though, I determined that schoolwork would be my primary focus, and I would avoid such all-consuming distractions.

Lately, though, the desire to write has been growing. I’ve tried to postpone matters by starting this blog, as writing digestible chunks of non-fiction satisfies some of the same urges.

If you are looking for ways to avoid writing (or worse, attempting to get your work published), I recommend Michael Swanwick’s “Ask Unca Mike” column. He provides (or used to provide, as it hasn’t been updated in a year or so) a satisfying assortment of bad (and abusively amusing) advice in the hopes of discouraging the competition.

books organization

Book Disposal . . . The Horror!

During the previously-mentioned reorganization of my office, I was faced with a difficult quandry: what to do with a large stack of outdated computer books.  I’m not sure if I’ve every actually thrown away a book in my life.  Even heinous offences against nature (such as the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books that somehow materialize in every book collection) typically get donated to Goodwill rather than simply chucked.  This time, though, I really did it.  I threw books away.

Sure, these weren’t books that I (or anyone else) would ever use again, even if four or five of them were O’Reilly titles.  Books from 2000 on the Windows registry or NT event logging are not exactly hot properties, and any information they contain can now be found more efficiently and more reliably on the Internet.

In the berzerker frenzy of cleaning, the volumes went straight into the recycling bin.  I barely even felt it at the time.  In retrospect, though, I feel more than a few pangs of guilt.  It was the right thing to do, but . . . .

It will take some time to reconcile this with my self-image.


The Big Clean

I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between organization and tidiness lately. My work environment tends to be extremely untidy . . . Well, perhaps ‘untidy’ is too mild a term. (A passing vice-president once described my office as, if you will pardon the Anglo-Saxon, “ten pounds of shit in a five-pound sack.”)

On the whole, I consider messiness to be at worst a venial sin. Most of the accumulation was various pieces of computers, PDAs, and attendant paraphernalia . . . and it had to be stored somewhere. Why not where one can get to it easily?

When I took stock and realized that the bottom layer of sediment included a Pentium 233, I could no longer deny that the time for action was at hand. It took two days, and in the end I removed six computers (leaving four and a few laptops), two large boxes of cables, one monitor, and three computer boxes filled with vendor CDs.

My environment is now, undeniably, tidy, and it’s not at all a strain. In fact, it is indeed easier to concentrate (except for co-workers who have been keeping up a continual stream of amazed commentary). I do keep finding myself reaching for where things used to be, but it is nice to have room to move my chair.

Of course, these sort of radical reorganizations result in primarily external effects. Without changing the underlying behavior, the tidiness is doomed to be temporary. I’ve tried many organizational systems (such as FranklinCovey and GTD), but the effort of keeping them up ends up taking too much time.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if the decay of compliance with these systems comes in part from my tendency to keep the spheres of my life (work, grad school, and personal) strictly isolated from each other. I plan to experiment with a reduced version of GTD, in the hopes of finding a system that is usable without being suffocating.

mathematics mental exercises

Mental Exercises: Multitasking with Numbers

The following exercises build on those described in the post on mental exercises with number sequences.

  • Visualize a number sequence: select any of the sequences from the previous post, but rather than simply “counting” or saying the number aloud, form an image of each element on the sequence in your mind.
  • Count one series aloud or silently while visualizing a different sequence.
  • Count one series aloud or silently while writing a different sequence.  (Any or all of these can be single or multiple sequences.)
  • Recite a series as in the previous exercises, but in a different base: count by 5’s in octal, by 3’s in base 11, by 7’s in hexadecimal.
  • Visualize a scene from your life (such as a walking downstairs or through your neighborhood, or going to a restaurant, etc.) while reciting a number sequence.

This is the majority of the useful exercises from the relevant section of the Wujec book.  Once my copy of Orage arrives, I will be quite interested to see how the 200 exercises contained therein are presented.

mental exercises sleep

Go to Sleep Instantly – Week 1 Update

When I described the black circle technique to my wife, she became curious and decided to give it a try herself. For the last week we have both been experimenting with this visualization as we went to sleep.

Has it been effective? The evidence so far is fairly neutral. I haven’t been lying awake, but I’ve also been staying up too late, so I’m pretty tired when I actually get into bed for the night. My wife has been sick, and she had one bad bout of insomnia that the exercise did nothing to alleviate.

I plan to continue the visualizations for at least a month. The fact that I have been so tired while going to sleep is, I think, a net positive: I hope that my brain has been associating black circles with falling asleep.

mental exercises zenoli

On Mentats

Okay, we probably shouldn’t bad-mouth mentats. If pressed, we would admit that we actually think mentats are pretty cool.

The Mentat Wiki adopts the mentat as an ideal towards which to strive; it is a catalog of many different approaches to mental self-improvement, and deserves lengthy and repeated delving. The site is maintained by Ron Hale-Evans, author of the superb Mind Performance Hacks.

Mind Performance Hacks (published by O’Reilly) deserves special mention. Dollar for dollar and ounce for ounce this was one of my best book purchases of last year. While I was certainly familiar with a large number of the topics covered, the presentation is excellent and there is quite a lot of value in having such a high-density collection of intelligent and useful ideas in easily portable form. There’s something of interest on nearly every page. It’s a great book, and I plan to give a more detailed review in a future post.

mental exercises

Mental Exercises: Working with Number Sequences

While thinking about material for this site, I recalled a system of mental training from Pumping Ions by Tom Wujec that seemed worth digging up. I’ve been accumulating books on mind and intelligence for quite a few years now, and many of them simply rehash the same patterns. Pumping Ions suffers a bit from a slightly precious “mental gymnasium” metaphor, but there’s a lot of good material. I hadn’t looked at the book for a number of years, but I did finally manage to dredge it out of my library.

Most unusual are a set of exercises that mix visualization, multitasking, and mental endurance. Wujec attributes them to A. R. Orage’s Mental Exercises and Essays. (Some research reveals that this is probably the wrong title; then again, it appears that the book was published under at least four separate titles: The Active Mind: Adventures in Awareness; Psychological Exercises; Psychological Exercises and Essays; and The Active Mind: Psychological Exercises and Essays. Perhaps there are more editions.)

Orage became a disciple of G. I. Gurdjieff in the 1920s, and by 1930 (when Exercises was published), was well within his ambit. I’ve not read the original book, but I’ll be ordering a copy soon, and will certainly relate my impressions in this forum.

The first set of exercises, which will be presented today, deals with sequences of numbers. The individual manipulations are quite simple, but by layering several operations together you can build your powers of mental concentration. Start with the simple exercises, and over time, build to the more complex patterns.

The Exercises

  • Either out loud or silently, count by 1’s:
    • From 0 up to 100
    • From 100 down to 0
  • Count by intervals:
    • From 0 up to 100 by 2’s, by 3’s, by 4’s,…, by 9’s
    • From 100 down to 0 by 2’s, by 3’s, by 4’s,…, by 9’s
  • Count up or down by two sequences simultaneously, for example:
    • Up by 2’s and 3’s: 2, 3; 4, 6; 6, 9; … ; 66, 99
    • Down by 3’s and 2’s: 99, 66; 96, 63; … ; 3, 2
    • Up by 7’s and 4’s: 7,4; 14, 8; … ; 98, 56
  • Count two sequences, one up and one down, for example:
    • Up by 3, down by 4: 3, 100; 6, 96; … ; 75, 4
    • Up by 9, down by 3: 9, 99; 18, 96; … ; 99, 66
  • Name all numbers from 1 to 100 with a particular property:
    • All numbers containing a particular digit; e.g., 2: 2, 12, 20, 22, 23, … ,92
    • All numbers containing either of two digits
    • All numbers the sum of whose digits total a particular number
    • All numbers whose digits are divisible by a particular number
  • Count three sequences together, either all up, all down, or a mix, for example:
    • Up by 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s: 2, 3, 4; 4, 6, 8; … ; 48, 72, 96
    • Down by 8’s, 7’s and 3’s: 96, 84, 36; 88, 77, 33; … ; 8, 7, 3
    • Up by 2’s, down by 2’s, and up by 3’s: 2, 66, 3; 4, 64, 6; … ; 66, 2, 99
  • Count four sequences together, either all up, all down, or mix, for example:
    • Down by 7’s, down by 9’s, up by 2’s, up by 5’s: 77, 99, 2, 5; 70, 90, 4, 10; … ; 7, 9, 44, 55

The above constitute a basic set of exercises. While straightforward, they require careful attention to avoid losing one’s place. There are obvious ways to keep changing things around: for example, don’t always start from 0, or don’t limit the count to 100. In future posts, we will look at elaborations beyond simple counting.