About learning

Today I had this reinforced: If you’re struggling to learn something, try something even harder.

Now, I’ll definitely admit that this doesn’t always work, but it should be considered more often. It reminds me of how Chemistry in college was really hard for me from the start, but I stuck with it, and even though the stuff I was currently learning never got any easier, the stuff we’d already learned did.

Here’s how it came up today: I’m taking a “Pre-Masters” swimming class twice a week now, and I am learning flip-turns. When we started two weeks ago, I couldn’t believe how hard they were. Missing the wall, shooting off sideways, gasping for breath. Just two days ago I was practicing them and still spluttering. Last time, my teacher starts telling me I need to start doing backstroke flip-turns… and I resisted. (My backstroke is horrible.) “I can’t even swim straight! And I don’t know where the wall is!”

But today she made me try a backstroke flip-turn, and, well, it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. And after adding that extra level of complication, the freestyle flip-turns seem like a cinch! “Hey, I can totally see the wall coming, this is awesome.”

So that goes to show me that a little insecurity looking forwards can also mean a little confidence looking back. It’s a lesson I’ve been reminded of many times, in many places; and even if it’s just flip-turns in the pool, it’s a good lesson to learn.

February 25, 2008. Uncategorized. 4 Comments.

Whistled language

Some cultures use a whistled language to communicate. This means that speech is emulated in whistling, which can cover much larger distances.

From Wikipedia:

Whistled languages are normally found in locations with difficult mountainous terrain, slow or difficult communication, low population density and/or scattered settlements, and other isolating features such as shepherding and cultivation of hillsides (Busnel and Classe 1976: 27 – 28). The main advantage of whistling speech is that it allows the speaker to cover much larger distances (typically 1 – 2 km but up to 5 km) than ordinary speech, without the strain (and lesser range) of shouting.

As two people approach each other, one may even switch from whistled to spoken speech in mid-sentence.

This page has a nice example of a whistled conversation in Sochiapam Chinantec, a tonal language spoken in part of southern Mexico. The whistled version of the language is only spoken by men. (The conversation is interrupted by a modern telephone ring, which amused me greatly.)

Another example of whistled language, ‘Silbo Gomero’: CNN.com — “Nearly extinct whistling language revived”

Thanks to Chris for sharing such excitement about the Pirahã people and their language.

February 20, 2008. sound. No Comments.

Nice cookies

If you want a tasty project, try making these Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies With Mocha Cream Filling. We made them for the game night last Friday. They are: scrumptious.

February 19, 2008. food, games. 1 Comment.


graph·i·ca·cy [ gráffikəssee ]


understanding of symbols and diagrams: the ability to use and understand such things as symbols, diagrams, plans, and maps

[Mid-20th century. <graphic , after literacy]

More on Wikipedia. Also: graphicacy in education.
How have I gone so long without this word?

February 12, 2008. information visualization, words. No Comments.

Tea patterns

I love watching patterns form in a hot cup of coffee or tea. You see deep swirls when liquids mix, and funny arrangements coming alive on the surface.

Yesterday morning, my tea was doing something really weird. There were tiny micro-bubbles on the surface, forming and popping rapidly in the shape of tree branches. What’s going on here? Are there branchy fractals on the surface of my Throat Coat?

These videos are in real-time.

Teacup 1 (QuickTime, 3.2 MB)
Teacup 2 (QuickTime, 1.6 MB)

February 10, 2008. food, patterns. 3 Comments.

Keeping it simple (or: How to make it look like you’re flying)

children flyingMichel Gondry (wikipedia, music videos, Levi’s commercial, Rubik’s cube) came to MIT last week to show us his movie Be Kind Rewind.

My two favorite things he told us (I’m paraphrasing):

I have perhaps just spent hours watching related videos on YouTube. I especially like the paint piano.

I am so very glad that he does these things.

February 9, 2008. Uncategorized. No Comments.

Missed Scrabulous opportunity

scrabulous screenshot

Other prohibited possibilities: LOVEMEAT, MEATPOLE
(Thank you, Ian!)

February 8, 2008. games, words. 2 Comments.

Unfortunate Amazon classification

ice melter from amazonI was browsing the “Gourmet Food” department on Amazon, and came across this lovely product: NORTH AMERICAN SALT 56050 “SAFE STEP” ICE MELTER


And it’s even “Safe-to-use around pets and children.”

On a brighter and more mouthwatering note, just look at all the salt you can get at Amazon!

February 6, 2008. food. 1 Comment.

“Try quitting applications”

The disk “X” is in use and could not be ejected.
Try quitting applications and try again.

I get this error message a lot on my Mac. And it’s so completely irritating. “Yeah, just… you know, quit some things and try again.” T_T

Yesterday someone showed me a way to identify what’s holding onto your disk. Just type this in your Terminal:

lsof +D <path to disk>

For example:
[mycomputer:~] guest% lsof +D /Volumes/LaCie/
AdobeRead 11375 ..... ... ... .... ........ .... /Volumes/LaCie/dsp.pdf

… So if I quit Adobe Reader, I can then eject LaCie.

February 2, 2008. computers/programming. 1 Comment.

Funniness threshold

Do you ever watch or read a tremendous amount of something intended to be amusing, don’t find yourself laughing at first, but at some point start laughing and then just can’t stop? I do. And I love that there is something like that… kind of a threshold for silliness.

For example, I had this happen yesterday, because I did, as mentioned, watch all the “Get a Mac” ads at once. There are 30-35 of them on the site right now. I watched the first couple, thinking, “Sure, these are funny… ish.” But around when I finished the 15th one, I just couldn’t help but laugh out loud at every single one of them. I’m sure I was chuckling heartily for the last four that I watched, but I’m also pretty sure they weren’t any funnier than the first few. (My favorites were “Work Vs. Play”, “Choose a Vista”, and “Misprint”, btw.)

Other recent experiences with this phenomenon: Flight of the Conchords episodes and Cute Overload posts.

I need a name for that particular characteristic of amusing media that, with sufficient exposure, becomes exceedingly funny. All I can think of right now is “snowlol” …which may, as it happens, become much funnier if I had already made a similar joke 15 times.

February 1, 2008. comics, words. 1 Comment.