daydream believer

Recent readings have included number of books and journal articles. “The Innovator’s Dilemma“, is a seminal business treatise from Clay Christensen and “Ulysses” by James Joyce (admittedly I’m only a few chapters into that one) is one of the great 20th Century tomes. One might wonder why I would write about these two together in a post. I made a connection when I came across an article in an issue New Scientist I picked up at the Bio conference last week. In the article “Daydream Your Way to Creativity” Richard Fisher puts forth that concentration is overrated and that we need to let our minds wander to reach new heights of creativity. In “Ulysses” Joyce has an amazing ability to capture the wandering mind with his prose. The characters feel like they truly come alive as the dialog is seamlessly interspersed with the distractions and meanderings of their thoughts. I am amazed at Joyce’s ability to capture so closely the “feel” of how the mind wanders. Maybe this “feeling” is due to some of the same ideas in the Fisher’s article…it is just how our mind “wants to work”. It is what is truly needed by our cognitive processes in order to be able to properly cope with the flood of information that is continually coming at us. In Christensen’s work, rather than a human mind requiring the distractions to be able to cope, it is the product development entity of a corporation. In order for a corporation to flourish with continuous innovation, it must be able to be “distracted” by smaller disruptive technologies and markets, all while continuing to maintain it’s core business. I’ve tried to follow this type of development strategy ever since being introduced to the Third Generation R&D concept back at Arthur D. Little. Part of the recommendation there was to always make sure some amount of your budget is allocated to the long haul of developing “the next big thing”, even if it is not contributing to this year’s profits.

I’m not saying that focus is not important. Clearly distractions at a personal and corporate level are important, but like everything else in life, moderation would seem to be prudent. Otherwise we would always…wait, what was I just writing about?

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Neal Stephenson at MIT

ImageI didn’t have it in me the other night to get in line for the microphone during the Q&A with science fiction author Neal Stephenson after his discussion at the Tech Review Science Fiction event the other night. If I had I would have asked him something to the effect of “How can you possibly take the time to sit here and talk with us and still manage to keep putting thousands of pages of densely written prose into each book?”. While Stephenson is certainly a page-prolific writer, he was a soft-spoken man of remarkably few words in the hour-and-a-half-long session. He did have a number of really good sound bites though… In response to the question of why all of his bad guys are men and his women always good he responded that maybe it was because he likes women. Also when talking to the rapid change in technology he quipped that we used to put up with Mac screens with 512×342 pixel displays and now we use that resolution for icons. He was remarkably humble when asked about his predictive capabilities. He says that he feels the whole “predicting thing is rigged” in that it is more of a shotgun approach where all of the incorrect predictions are forgotten. For instance he admitted that he did not see “the whole social thing coming” art all. He went on later to talk about how he feels that the the internet and upcoming alternate reality technologies will be nothing like what was represented in his seminal novel, Snow Crash. He went off on two tangents that were both interesting and fun, one about his passion for lost European sword-play battle art forms and the other for his new-found health improvement technique of doing everything while standing and/or walking. He now uses a specially designed treadmill when reading, writing and presenting. I’m not sure why he kept saying things about us not understanding that he would be tedious…the audience was full of fans of of his writing after all. You can read the MIT Tech Review piece on this event here.

On a side note, the blackboards in MIT 10-250 were arranged in a 3×3 grid, each with some cryptic equation, diagram  or series or glyphs all relevant to the worlds he has created or written about. At least one attendee seems to have cracked some of it.

busy

It is a busy day/night in the Boston/Cambridge area…the Red Sox are playing at Fenway in a surprisingly tough battle for first against the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays…the historic NBA finals rivalry of the Boston Celtics versus the LA Lakers is rekindled at the Garden…Harry Potter’s visionary JK Rowling is giving the commencement speech at Harvard…but me, I’ll be rockin’ and mellowin’ to the sounds of the T-Bone Burnett-backed Robert Plant/Alison Krauss show at the Harborlights..er..Bank-whatever Pavilion.

escape

pod-icon300.jpgDuring these cold winter months I find it difficult to stand at my busstop and hold a book for reading. For the past few days I have instead been listening to listener-supported science fiction short story podcast cleverly titled Escape Pod. I was introduced to this by someone I met once and I only know as Pete, Heather’s friend from the youth group (who was wearing a 4th Doctor Scarf when I met him!). Hopefully I’ll see him again one of these days to thank him. Escape Pod has been running since 2005, providing weekly new stories from across the pantheon of SciFi. The first story I listened to was a hard SF story and, with the exception that it had one very graphic scene (with warning in advance thankfully) that I think was unnecessary, it was very good. The most recent was in the lighter, humorous, super-hero domain. I also have listened to a few others from the archive and from the Escape Pod Classic site, which has a collection of older stories that were considered favorites and all suitable for most ages. The host of the podcast usually has some very insightful introductory and closing comments, related to the story theme. If you are looking for a good escape, I recommend the Pod.

empire

I always find it interesting when seemingly disparate things converge unexpectedly. I’ve been reading Are We Rome which is a somewhat snarky non-fiction book about the many comparisons that can be made between the Roman Empire (and its ultimate “fall”) and the current American “Empire”. One of the similarities the author draws is between the Romans “outsourcing” of their armies to the barbarian hordes and the privatization of the American armed forces to Blackwater and the like.

Meanwhile I have also been reading Moby Dick via small pieces arriving in my email everyday automatically from DailyLit.com when I came across this passage:

“As for the residue of the Pequod’s company, be it said, that at the present day not one in two of the many thousand men before the mast employed in the American whale fishery, are Americans born, though pretty nearly all the officers are.  Herein it is the same with the American whale fishery as with the American army and military and merchant navies, and the engineering forces employed in the construction of the American Canals and Railroads.  The same, I say, because in all these cases the native American liberally provides the brains, the rest of the world as generously supplying the muscles.  No small number of these whaling seamen belong to the Azores, where the outward bound Nantucket whalers frequently touch to augment their crews from the hardy peasants of those rocky shores.”

It appears we have been on track to replicate the ways of the Roman Empire for longer than I thought.

topology

51ATVPgT4sL._AA240_.jpgI’ve been meaning to post about this before but just haven’t got around to it. My older brother Bob has a new book out and it is very cool. His previous entry into literature was as an editor of a book that compiled a number of different folk-tales around the theme of  "the grateful dead", not the band but the folklore theme. While that was very cool, his new book is even cooler…and is actually in his professional field. Introduction to Topology: Pure and Applied covers the field of topology with a slant towards applications in the real world. If you know anything about topology then you know it can stray pretty far from the real world! I am actually credited in the book as I provided some information on applications in circuit design and printed circuit board layout. I’m pretty proud of him and his book especially knowing the many, many hours he put into it. If you are looking to get a good introduction to topology, this is a great book for you…I’m not biased at all.

discworld

discworldreadingguide.jpgI’ve been slowly plowing my way through the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. They are hilarious. It is very hard to read any other fantasy novels after reading these books. He does such a great job of sending up every possible aspect of the fantasy form. boing-boing recently linked to the reading order guide at l-space which has been instrumental to my understanding how these books fit together. My preference is still to read them in the overall published order so I present to you my own edited version of the guide that has been merged with the data from the published order. enjoy..

harried without spoil

41qTZcMasSL._AA240_.jpgI read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this past weekend. I picked up two copies at 12:01 on Saturday morning so that both Billy and I could read them without biothering each other for the book. Frankly I thought he was going to take it with him to camp in Rhode Island this week …I was surprised when he finished the book Sunday morning! This left me having to finish it during the car ride after dropping him off at camp that afternoon. I had an irrational fear of having my ten years, that included many fun cycles of anticpation and reading, ruined by some nitwit who thought it might be fun to spoil the ending with some details leaked on the internet. I actually avoided most of the websites I normally go to as soon as I read that the photographed images of the book were leaked. Well thankfully I avoided the spoilers and I agree completely with Aaron (also not spoiling, thank you) that J.K. Rowling did a very fine job with this book. She will not go down in history as a literary master, but she sure has mastered the art of creating a fun and, in the true sense of the word, "wonderful" universe, to be enjoyed by all ages, for many years to come. We’ll be donating that second copy to the local library so more people can enjoy this story.

…and many thanks to my sister Marie and her family for getting me hooked on Harry way back at the beginning! 

splendid

51f2xhsXaHL._AA240_.jpgI finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns today. This is the latest novel from Khaled Hosseini, the author of the phenomenally successful novel The Kite Runner. His follow up was not as clever of a story as his first book but is a great depiction of what it must have been like to be a woman growing up in Kabul in the last quarter of the 20th century. Not a very fun summer read, but a worthy read nonetheless.

pottery

L'ordre_du_phenix.jpgIt’s been happening for a few weeks now. The frequency is increasing rapidly. It started when I noticed a young woman on the bus reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’ Stone. The next day I noticed a woman on the subway with the British edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Then a few days ago I rode the train with no fewer than five people on the same subway car, all reading various different volumes. Yesterday it was the man who sat across from me in the plaza while eating lunch with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in his hands, this morning it was another woman on the bus reading Harry Potter et l’ordre du phénix. Every day – without fail – I see someone reading a Harry Potter book. When the last volume was released I remember seeing many people around town reading it, but this groundswell before the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is unprecedented. By July 20th I expect to see the bus driver and the barista at Starbucks with books in their hands…. On the 21st it will be me…

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