Notes from the Golden Orange
EppsNet Archive: Literature
If you recognize the person on this next slide, please raise your hand. Don’t yell out the name, just raise your hand.
About two-thirds of you recognize Derek Jeter. I thought everyone would recognize him, but still a clear majority.
I’m not a Yankees fan or a Derek Jeter fan particularly but the Captain and I are on the same page on this topic. I have to admit I was pretty competitive as a student. I didn’t want anyone to do better than me and I especially didn’t want anyone to do better than me because they worked harder than me.
This Jeter quote reminded me of a quote from another notable sports figure . . .
This is Bob Knight, college basketball coach, most notably at the University of Indiana. He won 902 games, three NCAA championships, and he coached the 1984 Olympic basketball team to a gold medal.
Notice that he says “everyone” and “no one.” He doesn’t say some people don’t want to come to practice. There’s a universal aspiration to accomplish great results without a corresponding level of effort. I recognize that in myself, definitely. As far as I can tell, this approach rarely if ever works, even for people we think of as prodigies.
Mozart used to say that anyone who thought composing music came easily to him was very much mistaken. While all the other kids were playing kickball, Mozart was in the house practicing his music lessons. In case you’re thinking that kickball wasn’t even a game at that time, you may be right. The point is that if there was kickball, Mozart wouldn’t have been playing it because he was practicing his music lessons.
One more on this topic . . .
This is a quote from Michelangelo. Nothing great seems to happen without a lot of practice.
Once again, please raise your hand if you recognize the person on this next slide.
He looks Russian.
Yes, he is Russian.
Dostoevsky? Tolstoy? Mendeleev? Pushkin? Boris Pasternak?
No . . . he’s known as an author of plays and short stories.
[A student sitting next to a smart but quiet young man from Russia points to the Russian boy and says, “He knows.”]
Who is it? Chekhov.
Right . . . this is Anton Chekhov. He wasn’t a programmer but his advice is relevant to many different endeavors.
Don’t overcomplicate things. A good heuristic – which is a fancy way of saying “rule of thumb” – is to do the simplest thing that could possibly work. Method A could work, Method B could work — which one should we try first? Try the simplest one first.
Note that the heuristic doesn’t say to do the simplest thing. If the simplest thing couldn’t possibly work, don’t do it. Do the simplest thing that might actually work.
One final slide. I don’t think anyone will know these people so I’m not asking for a show of hands.
I saw an article last week about a man and a woman who were “trapped” in a janitor’s closet at the Daytona State College Marine and Environmental Science Center for two days. They got themselves in the closet last Sunday and finally on Tuesday, the gentleman on the right got the idea to call 911. Why that idea took two days to incubate is unclear. Police showed up to let them out and found out the closet was not locked. They could have opened the door themselves.
Maybe the lock was meth’d up, like the woman. “Meth’d” up, get it?
Are they students at Daytona State College? The article doesn’t say. Do any of you have Daytona State College on your college wish list? If so, you may want to take it off. Or just keep it as a safety school in case Harvard and the Sorbonne don’t come through for you.
What can we learn from this story? I don’t want to say “don’t make assumptions” but don’t make unwarranted assumptions. Don’t make assumptions about things that you can easily verify. If you’re in a closet, don’t assume the door is locked. Try it and see. A lot of uncertainty can be dispelled by trying things out.
Assumptions can hurt you as a programmer. You might be stuck because you’re assuming some condition is true that isn’t true. Or you’re assuming that some condition can never be true when it really can be true. Don’t make unwarranted assumptions.
I couldn’t help noticing that a lot more people recognized Derek Jeter than recognized Anton Chekhov. If you want to achieve great renown, if you want to be part of the public consciousness, entertain people in a simple-minded way, like hitting a ball with a stick and running around in a park. People can be entertained by Derek Jeter without expending any effort.
Where Chekhov went wrong is that he failed to anticipate a world where nobody reads anymore. Furthermore, he believed that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them. His plays and stories don’t have a traditional structure where everything is tied up neatly at the end, so you not only have to put in the time to read them, you have to go into overtime to ponder the moral ambiguities. Who has time for that in their busy lives?
These are the books I read in 2014, roughly in the order listed. The ratings are mine. They don’t represent a consensus of opinion.
Books of the Year: My Antonia by Willa Cather (fiction) and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (non-fiction).
Honorable Mention: Flaubert’s Parrot, The Fountain Overflows, Nausea, Pastoralia, Revolutionary Road.
All the talk about tolerance, in anything or anywhere, is plainly a gentle lie. It does not exist. It is in no man’s heart; but it unconsciously, and by moss-grown inherited habit, drivels and slobbers from all men’s lips.
Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.
Do not imagine that Art is something which is designed to give gentle uplift and self-confidence. Art is not a brassière. At least, not in the English sense. But do not forget that brassière is the French for life jacket.
“I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.”
You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discovered it happened 100 years ago to Dostoevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that he is alone. This is why art is important. Art would not be important if life were not important, and life is important.
There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Room and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provençal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.
I don’t much care for coincidences. There’s something spooky about them: you sense momentarily what it must be like to live in an ordered, God-run universe, with Himself looking over your shoulder and helpfully dropping coarse hints about a cosmic plan. I prefer to feel that things are chaotic, free-wheeling, permanently as well as temporarily crazy — to feel the certainty of human ignorance, brutality and folly.
I had lunch over the weekend with Robert Hass — Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, UC Berkeley professor and former Poet Laureate of the United States. When I say I had lunch with him, I mean he was one of five people seated at our table.
I asked to take a photo with him, which he graciously consented to. I don’t have any photos of myself with Pulitzer Prize winners and still don’t because the photo didn’t come out at all. I completely botched it somehow.
So that was probably the lowlight of my weekend, except for Cal getting blown out by Washington on the gridiron 31-7, while four Husky fans sat directly behind us screaming the whole game.
Football at Cal unfortunately is like academics at Washington: not terribly distinguished.
(HealthDay News) — Add another possible woe to the growing list of consequences of climate change: Kidney stones.
A new study of American cities suggests that rising temperatures may increase the number of people who develop the painful urinary obstructions.
You have to read all the way down to the second-to-last sentence of the article to find this:
The study uncovered a connection between higher temperatures and risk of kidney stones, but didn’t prove cause-and-effect.
The article implies cause and effect only to fess up right at the end and admit that there is no cause and effect. In the absence of cause and effect, what exactly is the point?
In the epilogue of War and Peace, a peasant notices a “connection” between smoke and locomotives and infers cause and effect: the smoke causes the locomotive to move. The point being that it’s easy to infer causality from “connections” in ways that have no grounding in reality.
In other climate news, the Wall Street Journal reports that researchers have, for the first time, counted all the world’s Adélie penguins — a sprightly seabird considered a bellwether of climate change — and discovered that millions of them are thriving in and around Antarctica.
Rather than declining as feared due to warming temperatures that altered their habitats in some areas, the Adélie population generally is on the rise.
Bertrand Russell declared that, in case he met God, he would say to Him, “Sir, you did not give us enough information.” I would add to that, “All the same, Sir, I’m not persuaded that we did the best we could with the information we had. Toward the end there, anyway, we had tons of information.”
Hi everybody! It’s me, Lightning!
My owner read me a story by Isaac Babel:
And Mimka arrived too, curled up on the sofa and fell asleep at once. She was a terrible sleepy-head, but a wonderful dog, good-hearted, sensible, small and pretty. Mimka was a pug-dog. Her coat was light in colour. Even in old age she never grew fat or flabby, never put on weight, but remained shapely and slender. She lived with us a long time, from birth to death, the whole of her fifteen years’ doggy life, and loved us — quite plainly, and most of all Grandmother, who was stern and without mercy to anyone. What friends they were, silent and secretive, I shall tell another time. It is a very good, touching and tender story.
Actually that was only part of the story but the rest was kind of boring and I don’t really remember it.
I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I’ve tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied — not even I. On the other hand, I’ve never been more loved and appreciated than when I tried to “justify” and affirm someone’s mistaken beliefs; or when I’ve tried to give my friends the incorrect, absurd answers they wished to hear. In my presence they could talk and agree with themselves, the world was nailed down, and they loved it.
A leaf flattened itself against the window beside his head and leaped away into the darkness, and a feeling of profound despair came over him because everything he had done was useless. All that he believed in and had attempted to prove seemed meager, all of his life was wasted.
I believe what I believe, and I have not yet believed a single thing only because it was believed by others, nor do I intend to. I can be grateful for this, at least: that I have kept myself. I have not once dressed up in a costume. There may be stronger consolations, but not many. Be that as it may, I cannot live differently than I do. Whatever the reasons for this, good or bad, they exist. Evidently that is enough. So, early tomorrow, I must get up again to do what I have done today. I will get up early to do this, and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, and there is nothing to discuss.