Autodidact: self-taught


Brief Lives: Webcomics About Geeks

by V. L. Craven

Whilst I have yet to work out what career I would find most fulfilling, there are certain career-paths I find somewhat interesting. Talking to people in those professions would involve, you know, talking to people, and, therefore is out of the question. Luckily, there are webcomics about geeks that illustrate the ins and outs of those professions so I can get an idea of what it’d be like to work in those fields without having to spend years working my way into the career only to discover I hated it.

Join me in a tour of the lives of:

Web designers: .net  by Brad Colbow, Ah, the life of a web designer. You just want to be simultaneously geeky and creative and the people who will give you money to do those things are entirely lacking geekiness or creativity.

The Oatmeal has a hilarious example of this, as well.

Software developers: Not Invented Here  by Bill Barnes and Paul Southworth. Sort of like Dilbert but more tech and less misogyny. And there’s a Goth character.

Internet service providers: User Friendly [this is currently on hiatus, but if you start at the beginning there are daily strips from 1997 to 2009. Hopefully, Illiad will eventually return to us with regularly scheduled strips.]

  Geek Gifts


Video game developers: The Trenches  by Mike Krahulik, Jerry Holkins, Scott Kurtz. The comic itself is enlightening, but the blog posts beneath each comic are written by people in the video game industry and those are…eye-opening.

Librarians: Unshelved  by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum. Books! Books everywhere! And the general public! The general public everywhere!

Grad students: PHD  by Jorge Cham. Sometimes I think that if I excelled at structured learning, I’d enjoy a life in academia. Then I realise I’d have to get through grad school…

fucknogradschool is a Tumblr account (page? blog?) rather than a comic, but it gives an excellent idea of what post-grads feel/think/experience.

On the other hand…

Bonus Content!

In a similar vein, Penny Arcade is about gamers and gaming, written by gamers. I have never played a first person shooter or MMORPG or…most other types of very popular games, but I enjoy learning about them and hearing people’s reactions to them. Their blog is also amusing and informative and helps me keep up with what my gamer friends are on about.

Also, PA is where I learned about 3-D printing, thanks to these strips:

Here is a video of 3-D printing:

Super Extra Bonus Content!

Shapeways is a site with lots of nifty products created by the general public…who happen to know how to design in three dimensions. You can also create your own designs and they’ll print them for you.

Thank you for joining me in this tour of careers-I-find-interesting-but-not-interesting-enough-to-pursue.

And if you know of any web comics about writers or bookshop employees, please leave a comment.


Sunday Science and Technology

by V. L. Craven

The Science Part of the Post

There was a bit of a kerfuffle in Russia this week. It seems a meteor exploded several miles above the earth and …things happened.

The sort of things that leave giant holes in ice lakes in Siberia.

So… we didn’t see it… I know we were all paying attention to the incredibly unimaginatively named 2012 DA14*, but a bit more attention to the things that could seriously bollocks up a well-populated area would be appreciated. After all, if outer space sends us an event that’s going to mess up Earth’s shit, there’s not a lot we’ll be able to do about it so let’s focus on things we can affect.

Visit for breaking news , world news , and news about the economy

This is a very interesting page about the last time a (really big) meteor hit Russia . Basically, it must have been scary as hell before the time of massive media telling you the rest of the world wasn’t under attack by blue light fire throwers capable of breaking things forty miles away. So, though your day is a thousand times more bizarre than you’d expected, it wasn’t the beginning of an alien invasion or the end of the world.

Weather Underground has a great article with more information and photos and video, as well.

*I know that there are quadrillions of bodies in space and astronomers are very busy and don’t have time to name all of them, but if something is going to have any real impact (sorry) on Earth, give it a name a person can shout at the sky whilst clinching their fists in frustration. They should name them based on size, speed, and weight, as well as possible consequences; if it could do an enormous amount of damage it’d be a Class A Fuckton meteor with an appropriate name like Ragehorn or Titanium Handgrenade.

The Technology Part of the Post

You know how, sometimes you want information on a medical problem and you go to Wikipedia and MYGODMYEYESWHYYYYY!

YAY! I’mma learn something! NOOOOO!

There, in front of you are the most horrific, psychically scarring images outside of a Saw film. At least with gore-porn films, you expect it & you know it’s not real. But no one needs to know what an excised verruca looks like. After my husband and I finished gagging and cringing and lamenting our lack of eye-bleach over the aforementioned photos, we found Hide Images . It’s an extension available for Firefox, Chrome and Safari and will hide images, logos, backgrounds, videos, iframes (Facebook boxes, YouTube, etc.), and multimedia/flash objects.  Click on the button whilst the page is loading and it removes all images before they’ve had a chance to make you regret every life decision that’s led you to the moment of seeing those images. Click the button again and the images return. It’d be nicer if you could tell the extension to load all pages from a site without images initially, but I’m happy to no longer fear vomiting on my laptop because I wanted to learn something new.

With our tax refund I’m getting a subscription to Poe Forevermore , the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe from Library of America, and a Kindle Fire.

Ugly Hill by Paul Southworth

Its primary use will be reading comics, but I’d like to check out free apps. So please share your recommendations.

Yay! Kindle Fire!

Yay! Edgar Allan Poe!

Yay! Not being killed by a meteor!


2013 Will Be the Year of YOU…only older

by V. L. Craven
New Years Baby 1912 Saturday Evening Post

I was going to use the cover for 1913 but this one was so much more… wow. It’s only been a hundred years since women got the vote in the US, Hilary in 2016!

1 January, 2013 is the start of a new you. You’re going to wake up that day and not do one single thing you’re not supposed to and you’re going to start a load of new, good habits. Going against an entire life’s worth of experience and a full DNA sequence of  genetics, you shall be reborn into the perfect person you know you can be. Sure, you’ve tried it before–every year, in fact–but the willpower wasn’t there. This time will be different.

Or. You can begin with just one habit. Any habit . Regularly doing one thing–be it exercise, eating healthily, studying regularly–has a positive knock-on effect on the rest of your life. People doing one good thing smoked less, spent less impulsively, exercised more and had more willpower in general (and that’s when those specific things weren’t what the person was trying to change).

So don’t try to change all the habits, just start with one.

Whilst you’re waiting for the one good habit to build your willpower, Productivity Owl can help, at least when it comes to reminding to stop staring at the internet and do something productive. Incredibly customisable, it also gives you a score for how well you use it (e.g. if you turn it off when you want to waste time). It’s Chrome only. Here’s a great post by the developer.

This is an excellent post about Four Strategies that Build Lasting Motivation , which includes the very useful SMARTER system.

This one builds upon one of the bits from the previous page, which is to start with small, easily attainable goals and explains how to expand on that to create a more complex, more productive habit. Then what to do when you break that very nice habit.

More pragmatic advice (and good news for those of us night-people who believe we have to get up at the arse-crack of dawn to be productive): Seven Productivity Myths Debunked by Science and Common Sense

So get out there, older you, and be productive. I’ll just be on the sofa fiddling with my iPod.


Hoegen and Hancock

by V. L. Craven

Showreel of Gustav Hoegen’s Animatronics

And to think, Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’ used to give me the screaming fantods.



by V. L. Craven

2015 Best European Fiction ‘The Fear of Europe’ by Enrique Vila-Matas (translated by Adrian West) [Introductory essay to Best European Fiction 2015]
-001- The last century began with this question: “What should we do?” And the present one with another: “What have we done?”
-002- The language of Europe–Umberto Eco says–is translation.
-003- Without going far, this is what happens in many of the tales contained in the anthology the reader now holds in his hands: they may be distinct in style, distinct in the inquietudes they harbor, but at their core, almost all share something in common, something inevitable: the characteristic, vitiated air of a Europe where everything appears soulless and interred for decades, since the time when, on the continent, they consented to those first unforgiveable, grave errors, and the rise of totalitarianisms was permitted.
-004- …a writer who seeks for words to reign in a paralyzing kind of horror that drives him to an endless vertigo from which he only manages to escape when he sets off, devoting himself to walking and thinking, in order to return home thereafter and close dramatic circles and sit at his desk and, through the ever-frustrated conjuration of his terrors, to try and control the fear that relentlessly reappears to torment him at every turn.
-005- All this does nothing more than show me that every day, with increasing certainty, there remains an important role for writing to play, a role related to truths that find their most fitting expression in the terrain of the literary and, paradoxical though it may seem, their most concrete expression in fiction. Because, while many confuse reality with what is stated on the nightly news–Nabokov already said that reality is highly overrated–I have the sense that literary fiction today is the best, if not the only, path to take in approaching the truth.
-006- …when all is said and done, what I do in my everyday life always turns its back on the truths that I only dispense when I write fiction…
-007- …keeping always in mind that it is necessary at once to feel the weight of memory and also to try to escape that memory of the horror, even if only for the sake of something resembling a future and the possibility of establishing another horizon.

Future Files Future Files by Richard Watson
-001- What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School is that focusing on core competencies or specializing in a particular industry at the exclusion of all others can result in you knowing an awful lot about next to nothing.
-002- For example, one billion of us are already online and this figure is expected to double within a decade or so. There are also 2.5 billion talking to each other on cellphones and 13% of the world’s population is now living somewhere other than the country of their birth.
-003- In Japan there is a social phenomenon called hikikomori. This roughly translates as “withdrawal” and refers to boys who retreat into their bedrooms and rarely, if ever, come out.
-004- the more technology gets embedded into our lives, the more we will run away from it. As a result, there will be a greater demand for human-to-human physical contact and direct experiences.
-005- “Does this make my life easier?” as well as “Does this make the world a better place?”
-006- The amount of new information we produce today is estimated to be around 2 billion exabytes annually. That’s (very roughly) 2 billion billion bytes or about 20 billion copies of this book.
-007- People will withdraw into themselves because they will feel impotent in the face of change and believe that their lives lack meaning.
-008- The opposite of good isn’t evil — it’s indifference.
-009- By 2050 Hollywood, the computer industry, neuroscience and the pharmaceuticals industry will have almost merged into one. This will enable people, legally and illegally, to spend days inhabiting what are quite literally (according to all five of our human senses) other worlds — like in the films The Matrix and Logan’s Run — but for real. What are the implications of this? First, we will become socially and emotionally inept. Relationships will be originated, consummated and terminated digitally.
-010- What will we be afraid of in the year 2050? The answer is reality.
-011- Singularity is the term futurists use to describe the point at which machines have developed to the extent that humans can no longer fully understand or forecast their capabilities.
-012- In other words, if we connected up all the computers on the planet and asked the resultant network or grid a question like “Is there a God?” the answer may very well be “There is now”.
-013- Surprises and mistakes will to an extent disappear — although in fact they will simply be replaced by new mistakes and new surprises.
-014- Similarly, the invention of the telegraph created a widespread belief that signals would interfere with the weather, while the introduction of trains and automobiles was predicted to create a variety of physical and mental disorders. I was talking to an 86-year-old man recently about cellphone masts and he pointed out that exactly the same objections were raised when lamp-posts were first introduced.
-015- Another way of dealing with too much change is not to grow up. Psychological neoteny is a theory that the increased level of immaturity among adults is an evolutionary response to growing change and uncertainty. This makes a certain amount of sense.

Future Minds by Richard Watson
-001- We need to stop confusing movement with progress and get away from the idea that all communication and decision making have to be done instantly.
-002- And while the vast amount of information at our disposal gives us all the appearance of being more intelligent, we’re making more and more silly mistakes, what I term constant partial stupidity.
-003- Some studies suggest that multitasking increases stress-related hormones like adrenaline and cortisol and that this is prematurely ageing us through what is called biochemical friction.
-004- The constant flow of information on what other people are doing allows us to get a sense of their lives. Small bits of information, mundane and trivial though they may be on their own, eventually build into a kind of narrative. Scientists have called this phenomenon ambient intimacy, similar to how you can pick up another person’s mood by being close to them and decoding the small signals they transmit. But constant connectivity means that we are replacing intimacy with familiarity, and this can also make our physical relationships with other people more ephemeral.
-005- Expect to see a significant “return to the real,” which will be linked to trends such as authenticity, localism, and craft.
-006- The anonymity of the web is eroding empathy, encouraging antisocial behavior, and promoting virtual courage over real emotion. At the same time, oversharing information about our precise location or interests may let us know who else is in the vicinity, but it is also making us vulnerable to everyone from advertisers to burglars. Digital immortality also means that it is becoming increasingly difficult to forget previous actions or to get past our past.
-007- What is known as attention restoration theory claims that just like people need to sleep, our brains need to take time out from the deluge of outside stimuli in order to relax and restore effective functioning.
-008- According to one 2009 study, an average of 2,272 text messages a month are currently sent or received via a US teen’s phone screen;
-009- Don Tapscott, author of Growing Up Digital, claims that a student nowadays will have been exposed to 30,000 hours of digital information by the time they reach their 20s.
-010- Screenagers prefer multitasking, parallel processing, and personalized experiences, read text in a nonlinear fashion, and prefer images over words.
-011- Screenagers frequently use digital devices to avoid confrontation and commitment. Virtualization is removing the necessity for direct human contact and this is breeding a generation that prefers to deal with a machine than a human. The reset generation thinks that if something goes wrong they can always press a button and start again.
-012- The digital generation demands sensory-laden environments, instant response, and frequent praise and reward. Screenagers live in the now
-013- The screenage brain is hyper-alert to multiple streams of information, although attention and understanding can be shallow. The screenage brain is agile but is often ignorant of wider context and culture.
-014- They expect things to happen quickly and, as a result, have next to no patience. Digital content is usually available almost immediately and this mindset of instant digital gratification is translated to the nondigital world. Waiting 90 seconds for a hamburger is ridiculous to the average screenager. So too are queuing in a bank and physically interacting with someone you don’t know.
-015- Small bits of information, mundane and senseless though they may be on their own, eventually build into a kind of narrative. Scientists have called this phenomenon ambient awareness or ambient intimacy.
-016- Specifically, the lab studies how online activities influence real life. One of its findings is that there is a significant bleed between virtual experiences and real-life attitudes and behavior, in both directions. For example, if you become increasingly confident in a virtual world, this confidence spills over into the real world.
-017- A study from the University of California (Irvine) claims that we last, on average, three minutes at work before something interrupts us. Another study from the UK Institute of Psychiatry claims that constant disruption has a greater effect on IQ than smoking marijuana.
-018- companies such as Motorola use phrases like “micro boredom” as an opportunity for product development.
-019- According to a University of California (San Diego) study, we consumed three times more information in 2008 than we did back in 1960.
-020- In A Mind of Its Own, Cordelia Fine makes the point that the brain’s default setting is to believe, largely because the brain is lazy and this is the easier, or more economical, position. However, when the brain is especially busy, it takes this to extremes and starts to believe things that it would ordinarily question or distrust. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this but in case you are especially busy—or on Twitter—let me spell it out. Our decision-making abilities are at risk because we are too busy to consider alternatives properly or because our brains trip us up by fast-tracking new information. We become unable to exclude what is irrelevant and retain an objective view on our experience, and we start to suffer from what Fredric Jameson, a US cultural and political theorist, calls “culturally induced schizophrenia.” If we are very busy there is every chance that our brain will not listen to reason and we will end up supporting things that are dangerous or ideas that seek to do us, or others, harm. Fakery, insincerity, and big fat lies all prosper in a world that is too busy or distracted. Put bluntly, if we are all too busy and self-absorbed to notice or challenge things, then evil will win by default.
-021- Scientists using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have discovered that the constant switching required to multitask effectively is damaging some of our higher-level brain functions, especially those related to memory and learning. We can just about cope with doing two things at once, but we often can’t remember what we’ve done or how or why we did it. Some studies suggest that multitasking increases stress-related hormones like adrenaline and cortisol and this is prematurely ageing us through what’s called biochemical friction.
-022- To quote Prensky: “Today’s students have not just changed incrementally from those of the past… a really big discontinuity has taken place. One might even call it a ‘singularity’—an event which changes things so fundamentally that there is absolutely no going back.” This so-called singularity is the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decade of the twentieth century. Gen Y and younger have spent their whole lives surrounded by digitization and connectivity.
-023- For the last quarter of a millennium there has been a general consensus, certainly in western cultures, that words were important and that certain rules should be strictly observed. But spelling, syntax, and grammar no longer matter to screenagers. They’re after speed and quantity of communication, hyperalertness, search and seize.
-024- Worrying about the future of thinking is nothing new. In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr points out that in Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates laments the new reliance on the written word. Socrates believed that, while writing might give the superficial appearance of wisdom, this was at the cost of true insight. Equally, in the fifteenth century the humorist Hieronimo Squarciafico thought that Gutenberg and the relative ubiquity of printed books would render men lazy and “less studious.”
-025- Not only that, research by the University of Connecticut found that web users are consistently poor at judging whether web-based information is trustworthy or not. The study asked students to look at a spoof web page,, about a rare tree octopus. 90 percent of students thought the page was a trustworthy and reliable source, despite its mention of conservation organizations such as Greenpeas (saving the world from humans) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Pumpkins.
-026- Reading on a screen, especially one surrounded by hyperlinks, is fast and is suited to foraging for facts. In contrast, reading on paper is reflective and is best suited to trying to understand an overall argument or concept. Both forms of reading (both forms of technology) ought to be able to live alongside each other.
-027- And here’s an interesting conundrum. According to James Flynn, Professor Emeritus at the University of Otago in New Zealand, IQ scores rose steadily throughout the twentieth century. Indeed, there has been a fairly consistent three-point increase every decade since testing was first introduced. Furthermore, this smartening up is accelerating. The annual increase between 1947 and 1972 was 0.31 points but during the 1990s the annual increase was 0.36 points. In between watching Woody Woodpecker (1947) and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) kids got smarter and are now far smarter than their grandparents, who were brought up reading difficult books and writing out long essays by hand.
-028- Common sense would suggest that being glued to a screen all the time isn’t a good idea. But can digital stimuli change the architecture of the brain? A growing number of people think they can.
-029- Nicholas Carr has commented, “With the exception of alphabets and number systems, the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use… the possibility of intellectual decay is inherent in the malleability of our brains.” According to Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrics researcher at the University of Washington, every hour of television a child watches before the age of 4 results in a 9 percent rise in the risk of attention deficit problems by the age of 7.
-030- Another worrying trend relating to young children is homework. In senior school the case for homework is watertight, but at junior school there seems to be little evidence that homework contributes in any meaningful way to development. So why do we endorse it?
-031- “Once other features of student, family and school background are held constant, computer availability at home shows a strong statistically negative relationship to math and reading performance and computer availability at school is unrelated to performance.”
-032- A survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in the UK claims that 25 percent of work handed in by pupils contains material copied directly from the internet.
-033- This isn’t necessarily a problem. One teacher in the study remarked that most students who cut and paste material do so in ignorance. Once it is explained to them what cheating is and why it’s a bad idea, most stop.
-034- For example, hundreds of schools in Britain have now banned the use of red ink by teachers because the color is thought to be too “confrontational” or “threatening.”
-035- Knowingly or unknowingly, children and adults alike use mental filters to judge whether things are useful to us or not. But these filters can screen out new ideas too early. We become too concerned with the negative aspects of ideas or worry about what other people will think of them or us.
-036- Deep thinking is increasingly seen as elitist and we are witnessing dumbing down on a massive scale.
-037- Remember that all reading is not necessarily good and pay attention to the medium.
-038- Our brains are complex cauldrons of connections, chemicals, and electricity that, somewhat ironically, our conscious brains cannot understand. Get your head around that.
-039- A big question is therefore not whether machines will get smarter and more human, but whether humans will get more ignorant and machine-like.
-040- Scientist and science-fiction writer Victor Vinge wrote an essay in 1993 saying that the acceleration of technology was leading to a development “comparable to the rise of human life on Earth.”
-041- You might wonder whether it’s fair for people to do well at work or school just because they can afford mood- or mindaltering drugs such as Ritalin and Provigil. But many people already benefit financially from surgery that makes them look younger or more attractive, so is there any real difference? It’s not only younger people that these drugs appeal to, either. Given the increasing number of people aged 60 plus who are losing their capacity for recollection, the science of memory recovery and preservation is set to be a growth industry of the future. Conversely, the removal of memories of terrorism or war or widespread technologically induced anxiety is also likely to receive an increasing amount of interest and funding. [Note: Eternal Sunshine much]
-042- From a purely evolutionary point of view, memory is used for future survival. Our brains are programmed to remember good and bad experiences so we can repeat or avoid them. Moreover, if an experience is repeated often enough it passes from short- to long-term storage. Thus the idea of directly implanting a specific memory, or general feeling, into the human brain through the use of technology (downloading as opposed to uploading), or through the use of pharmaceuticals, is a prospect that’s both lucrative and alarming. One way of removing unwanted memories is to administer drugs immediately after a dramatic event. Another way is to turn on or off certain genes that are involved in the consolidation of memories.
-043- One of the most successful drugs aimed at increasing concentration is Modafinil, which was launched in 1998 and now has sales of $500 million a year. It is intended to treat medical conditions like sleep apnoea, but it is increasingly being used as a stimulant, much in the same way as coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, or even cocaine. Not surprisingly, the US military is interested in Modafinil (and newer drugs like CX717) because it can keep combat troops awake for 48 hours. Is this weaponizing the human mind? Perhaps one day we will see governments downloading imagined experiences into terrorists’ brains as punishment, or to induce them to admit to certain crimes. Maybe we will even have a way of monitoring individuals 24/7 to analyze location, purchasing behavior, and thought patterns so as to anticipate future crimes.
-044- Everything we think and do, every single idea or thought we have, is connected in some distant way with things we have historically done, seen, experienced, or thought before. We are, as it were, all carbon-based machines. And the less aware of this we are, the stronger and more influential external factors and our subconscious autopilot become.
-045- One of the consequences of rapid information transmission is that we increasingly fail to think properly about the validity of incoming or outgoing information; we are too busy and there is too much of it.
-046- The vast majority of what we do is done without us consciously thinking about it. Conscious reasoning is therefore pretty much an illusion—or is, more often than not, the process of retrofitting decisions to make us feel good.
-047- As psychologist Cordelia Fine puts it: “Never forget that your unconscious mind is smarter than you, faster than you and more powerful than you.” Our brains distort and deceive. They defend and glorify our egos. Given half a chance, they can also get in the way of deep thinking.
-048- As psychologist Cordelia Fine puts it: “Never forget that your unconscious mind is smarter than you, faster than you and more powerful than you.” Our brains distort and deceive. They defend and glorify our egos.
-049- “Thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man. But they don’t bite everybody.” Stanislaw Lec
-050- When we consciously try to solve a problem or generate a new idea we are often unsuccessful. We hit a mental block. However, once we have prepared a problem and left it alone, our unconscious mind (the brain’s problem factory, if you like) starts work. Ideas begin to fly around in our head, banging into each other and forming novel combinations or mutations.
-051- Our brains continually soak up information—every single experience we ever have—and then file it away for future use.
-052- Furthermore, these historical experiences do not just gather dust in some remote corner of our brain. They actively influence how we think and act on a day-to-day basis, although most of the time we have no idea that this is happening.
-053- When we encounter something new, information enters the brain’s working memory area in the prefrontal cortex. This is an energy-intensive process so, once the brain recognizes something as familiar, it is sent instead to the basal ganglia, a much less energy-intensive space. The basal ganglia deal with familiar or routine activities and information and their existence explains how we can do certain things rapidly, usually without “thinking.” However, here’s the rub. Because the basal ganglia are so energy efficient, there is a tendency for them to run on autopilot, with habit becoming hardwired into the system.
-054- The first stage in generating an idea is often referred to as incubation or fermentation, and generally starts when we stop thinking about the problem at hand or become involved in a totally unrelated activity—or, better still, when we start doing what appears to be nothing at all. This stage can last for a few hours, a few months, or a few years. But eventually a solution or idea suddenly pops into our head, seemingly out of nowhere. Patience is key, because the process can be a bit hit and miss.
-055- Slowing down and switching off occasionally is one way of increasing mental productivity, but there are other ways too. One is happiness. This might sound crazy, but the brain is more receptive to new information when we are in a good mood.
-056- Recent research suggests that early blockages to thinking are sometimes linked with strong gamma rhythms in the parietal cortex, the part of the brain concerned with integrating information. The brain sometimes becomes gridlocked, possibly because there is too much information passing through or, more likely, because excessive attention creates a mental impasse or wall. This links directly to the amount of information we are now being exposed to and the need to continually scan the digital as well as the physical environment for new opportunities and threats.
-057-how often have you forgotten someone’s name only to have the answer suddenly pop into your head hours or days later when you were busy not thinking about it? This process has been known about for many years. Henri Poincaré, a nineteenth-century French mathematician and physicist, talked about hidden combinations of unconscious ideas and described a mental process borne out of personal experience that involved preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.
-058- At age 6 our brain is already 95 percent of its adult weight and it continues to develop until between the ages of 22 and 27, after which it goes into a slow but terminal decline.
-059- While knowledge and expertise tend to increase with age, originality tends to peak after people reach their 30s. So if you are after new ideas (as opposed to wisdom) you should seek out people under 30.
-059- One skill that people will need to acquire in the future is not spot knowledge or knowing things per se, but knowing how things relate to one another. Similarly, value will lie less in highly specialist technical knowledge, which will fast become obsolete, but in the ability to create and cross-fertilize ideas to create new knowledge.
-060- The (logical) left side of the brain processes information. It is fact based, analytic, quantitative, and verbal. It is very good at making snap decisions or rapidly processing precise bits of information. This is our quick-thinking, digital technologyfriendly side. In contrast, the right side of the brain is holistic, intuitive, synthesizing, emotional, nonverbal. It gives us the bigger picture and is our philosophical or deep thinking side. And it is this side of the brain that I believe is potentially most under threat from the digital era.
-061- They are inhabiting a new throwaway world where concentrating on a single thing for an extended period (e.g., reading a book) is becoming rare. They skip from one source or activity to another, using one side of the brain (the quick-thinking left side) to the virtual exclusion of the other. If this trend continues, not only will books die out in the future but so too will extended linear argument, because this is not something that digital mass media can provide.
-062- A good experiment to demonstrate the left/right split is as follows. Think of a number between one and five and count the number out using your hands. Did you use your left hand? 70 percent of people do, because that’s the side where the brain does math. Another example is the way people often look upward and away from another person when they’re thinking. In 1972, Robert Ornstein, David Galin, and Katherine Kocel at the Langley-Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute in San Francisco found that individuals always look away from the questioner and in a particular direction depending on the nature of the question. If you’re asked to count the number of rooms in your house you will usually look left, whereas if you’re questioned about how to spell Mississippi you will generally look right.
-063- The right brain is in charge of “What if?” while the left-brain is “Head of No.” One side is curious, playful, and childlike, the other is the voice of reason and experience.
-064- The two sides are intimately interconnected and we cannot function well unless both halves are working correctly. Indeed, it might be better to think of two brains rather than one brain split into two. According to Robert Ornstein, each side of the brain is quite capable of doing pretty much anything, it’s simply that one side is much better at some things and vice versa.
-065- The reasons individuals and institutions make mistakes are fairly simple and are intimately connected with how our brains work. One reason we sometimes screw up is what is known as “sunken cost.” We sink time and money into something and therefore continue to back actions or strategies well past the point of logic in a quest to get either our time or our money back. This is similar to another reason, the “endowment effect,” which basically says that we behave differently with things that we own (spending other people’s money versus ours). Other reasons include egocentric bias (especially combined with alpha male competitive behavior), confirmation bias (finding facts to fit preconceived ideas), overconfidence, expediency, conformity, and distraction.
-066- Another general reason we make mistakes is because of the way our brains tag information. Essentially, all information and experience receives a tag (a reference number, if you like) and is filed away deep inside our head.
-067-However, information and experience do not sit quietly by themselves waiting to be called up when they will be most useful. They are connected to various emotional thoughts that are also stored away. Normally this isn’t a problem, because we use such material to make decisions and judgments. But occasionally these connections let us down. Sometimes misleading memories attach themselves to information, resulting in false pattern recognition or understanding. We think we understand a situation (based on previous experience) when we do not. Some people may also make mistakes because doing so is in their genes. Research by German scientists working at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig claims that there is a mutant variant of a gene called A1 that prevents people from modifying their behavior based on previous experiences or mistakes. The theory is that under normal circumstances, useful behavior is rewarded in the brain with a shot of the chemical dopamine, which is picked up by D2 receptors. However, in some people these chemical receptors are missing, with the consequence that dunce-like behavior doesn’t get noticed. Time will tell whether the idea of serial stupidity holds water, but it’s an intriguing theory.
-068- Big new ideas that have genuine value require time and they require that we make mistakes along the way to refine them. Ideas need us to have time for information to enter our brain in the first place, so our mind can subconsciously work on them, and they need a time and a place to pop out. All of which rather neatly sends us to sleep.
-069- It is now clear that when we are sleeping, our brains are busy processing the day’s information. More specifically, the brain is taking recent memories, stabilizing them, and filing them away for long-term storage (moving them from our desktop to our hard drive, so to speak). We are processing information all the time, but through sleep we strengthen memories and actively filter them, separating what’s immediately useful from what’s not.
-070- Critically, research is also starting to suggest that aspects of memory stabilization and learning do not occur as well, and possibly not at all, when people try to survive on less than six hours’ sleep a night. Forgo some of your sleep and you miss out on the day’s memories and learning.
-071- This is problematical for all kinds of reasons. A prolonged lack of sleep may cause the brain to stop producing cells in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with forming memories.
-072- lack of sleep, along with stress, old age, isolation, and lack of exercise, can inhibit the formation of new brain cells.
-073- the body treats chronic sleep deprivation as a threat, which can lead to stress-related illness such as heart disease. Danger levels may be as low as 4.2 hours per night for 10 consecutive nights. Meanwhile, behavioral scientists at Duke University in the US have found that a lack of proper sleep is strongly associated with hostility, depression, and anger.
-074- It used to be thought that when people were daydreaming their mind was relatively inactive, but this appears to be false. Letting one’s mind go by looking out of a window or performing a task that is so familiar it requires little mental effort can have tremendous real-world benefits in generating new ideas.
-075- Incidentally, if you are wondering whether listening to music while doing something else counts as multitasking, the answer is no. According to Dr. Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford University, the modality of instrumental music doesn’t appear to create any negative consequences.
-076- exposure to classical music appears to enhance the mathematical and verbal skills of individuals at quite an early age.
-077- Music in particular has the power to make people alert, but also to awaken deep thinking. Music can trigger feelings (something Nietzsche, a lifelong depressive, wrote of frequently), which in turn produce thoughts and images in our minds—it is these thoughts and images that can become novel solutions and innovative new ideas. Music is therefore directly related to the production of new ideas.
-078- Crowds will tend to reject any new idea that does not immediately fit with already known ideas and also anything ugly, unusual, or different, although over time this rejection will fade.
-079- People (especially groups of experts) generally loathe new ideas. New ideas always threaten vested interests and are often inconvenient in terms of the mental energy required to understand or accommodate them.
-080- You may be aware of Isaac Newton’s statement: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Benjamin Jones, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, interprets this further to demonstrate the difficulty of innovation: “If one is to stand on the shoulders of giants, one must first climb up their backs, and the greater the body of knowledge, the harder this climb becomes.”
-081- In 2009, 80 percent of Wikipedians were men; 70 percent were under the age of 30; 65 percent were single; and 85 percent didn’t have kids.
-082- This can be extremely difficult because big ideas are at first hard to understand, largely because, as I’ve explained, they do not directly relate to what is already known or experienced. There are courageous individuals and organizations out there who want to cultivate this type of deep and original thinking, but most don’t. Deep thinking is just too disruptive, risky, and messy for most people, so organizations may subconsciously develop immune systems against it. As immunologist PB Medawar says: “The human mind treats a new idea in the same way the body treats a strange protein: it rejects it.”
-083- We only really have new ideas when we stop trying to have them, and nonwork environments are a fundamental part of this process.
-084- O You’ve got to let it out to let it in. The essence of deep thinking is an uncluttered mind, so you need to get rid of things you don’t need, mentally and physically.
-085- Research from Indiana University in America and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has shown that burning frankincense lowers anxiety and depression. The resin in question contains a compound called incensole acetate and the burning of this stimulates nerve circuits in the brain.
-086- Interestingly, according to a survey by Ajilon Professional Staffing in the US, employees with cluttered desks earn higher annual salaries than people of the clean desk persuasion.
-087- For example, one study found that after two days of complete isolation, the memory capacity of volunteers had declined by 36 percent. More worryingly, all of the subjects became more suggestible.
-088- The company has developed a clockless culture where people are rewarded not for the hours they put in but for the work they produce. And if being productive means late mornings or long lunches, so be it. Productivity in departments where the initiative has been implemented has risen by as much as 35 percent and staff turnover has declined dramatically.
-089-In The Art of Conversation, Catherine Blyth quotes some research claiming that the level of parental conversation in a household deeply affects the accomplishment of children outside the home many years later.
-090- If you ask the typical screenager about anything beyond their immediate interests and experience, they generally give you a rather short and mumbled response.
-091- However, the brain is constructed to respond to external stimuli and we are especially influenced by new physical stimuli. If the brain learns something new it grows; if it doesn’t, it becomes lazy and starts to make short cuts. If new experiences are reduced or removed, our thinking starts to thicken or become less fluid and fresh. We start thinking in straight lines because this is the path of least resistance.
-092- You can sometimes learn far more from getting something wrong than getting something right, and clever ideas often flow from silly mistakes.
-093- Buddhists talk about people with monkey minds: people who jump from one thought to another and are never wholly in the present or fully in the moment.
-094- “It is not a bad idea to get into the habit of writing down one’s thoughts. It saves one from having to bother anyone else with them.” Isabel Colgate
-095- Organizations tend to have a predetermined view of what will work and then reject any idea that does not fit with this viewpoint or lens. Cordelia Fine speaks of the brain behaving like a corrupt detective searching for evidence to support the view that an individual is guilty. As she puts it, our subconscious brains have usually already made up their minds “by hiding or destroying files that harbour unwanted information.”
-096- “So long as our minds are yet to be made up, we actually view ourselves and life unusually realistically as we quietly contemplate our future.”
-097- William Wordsworth had much the same idea. He said: “Not choice but habit rules the unreflecting herd.”
-098- His research claims that short, sharp shocks in the form of cold showers stimulate a part of the brain known as the blue spot (locus ceruleus). This is the main source of a chemical called noradrenaline that scientists believe is linked to depression. Give this region a shock with a three-minute blast of very cold water and our mood can change considerably, snapping us out of negative thoughts and helping to alleviate chronic stress.
-099- For example, he thinks it important “to read decent stuff. Put quality materials into your mind, quality ingredients.”
-100- For instance, research has clearly shown that exercise improves some of the brain’s higher functions (such as planning) because it increases blood flow, which in turn improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your neurons.
-101- Judging from a host of recent experiments, when you’re highly stressed you desire and require fast information. Indeed, fast facts help you to relax. However, once you are relaxed, fast-paced information can undo the state of calm and make you stressed
-102- Have you ever done nothing for 24 hours? Try it. It will do your head in for a while. Total solitude, silence, or lack of mental distraction destroys your sense of self. Time becomes meaningless and recent memories start to disappear. There is a feeling of being removed from everything while being deeply connected to everything in the universe. It is fantastic and frightening all at the same time.
-103- Solitude reveals the real you, which is perhaps why so many people are so afraid of it.
-104- Empty spaces terrify people, especially those with nothing between their ears.
-105- Another way of losing your inhibitions is to listen to music, since this has a direct effect on your brain. Pick the right music for you and the good vibrations are likely to activate your brain’s reward centers and simultaneously depress the amount of activity in your amygdala, to lessen fearful feelings and other negative emotions.
-106- English sculptor Henry Moore sums this up: “The secret of life is to have a task, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life.
-107- According to one survey, in China 66 percent of people believe that “it’s possible to have real relationships purely online.”
-108- We also need to balance the ancient with the modern



by V. L. Craven

Fuck Yeah IT Crowd

And this is wrong wrong wrong


Apps for the Darkly Inclined (Part 1)

by V. L. Craven

After receiving a Walkman for my twelfth birthday, I was never without it. Then came discmans, which were a pain to cart everywhere, but it had to be done.

And then came mp3 players. Sometimes I think about time travelling back to my younger self, showing her months’ worth of music on something smaller than a cassette player and blowing her mind.

At the same time, I’ve never cared for phones. People call and interrupt your thoughts and expect a response straightaway. My most recent mobile answered calls and that was it. I could also send texts, something I did roughly ten times a year at most.

Music players were supposed to play music. Phones answered calls.

Then my mp3 player finally died and the next in the line was one of those touch screen jobbies that does everything.

I scoffed. I would only be using mine to listen to music, thankyouverymuch.

So now I’d like to tell you about the best apps I’ve found for the darkly inclined among us.

This post is about hidden object games on Big Fish Games , which (if they’re good) combine interesting plot, characters, incredible artwork and atmosphere. Big Fish Games offer a trial period, then you can unlock the complete game. I’m not including the titles I tried and chose not to unlock. The majority of their hidden object games are wonderful, but occasionally a stinker gets through.

I have played and recommend:

  • Death at Fairing Point
  • Doors of the Mind: Inner Mysteries
  • Enigmatis: Ghosts of Maple Creek — This one was particularly immersive and is one of the best I’ve played thus far.
  • Haunted Hotel: Lonely Dream
  • Haunted Hotel II
  • Haunted Manor: Lord of Mirrors
  • Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker

  • Snark Busters & Snark Busters 2 — while not Goth, they’re very Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass and quite well done.
  • Twisted Lands: Shadow Town
  • Weird Park: Broken Tune

These are only so-so:

  • Awakening: Moonfell Wood — The graphics were nice, but the controls could be needlessly fussy. Tapping on an object didn’t work so you had to work out where they wanted you to tap around the object.
  • Empress of the Deep — The map was far too sprawling and the hidden object scenes were nearly impossible. I didn’t hate it, but I won’t play the others in the series
  • Mirror Mysteries — This one didn’t have much in the way of narrative–it was pretty straight-up finding things. The atmosphere wasn’t as creepy as I’d’ve liked.

These had the potential to be great, but failed in one way or another:

  • Haunted Legends: Queen of Spades — I got stuck at one place and restarted the game, thinking I’d missed something out. When I got stuck at the same place, I used a walkthrough and did everything in the order prescribed. And still became stuck in the same place. Others didn’t seem to have this problem, so it’s up to you if you’d like to give it a go.
  • Redemption Cemetery: Curse of the Raven — This one wouldn’t load on my iPhone, but I’m playing it on my computer.
  • Stray Souls: Dollhouse Story — At what have must been the end of the main story the game crashed. This meant I could not play the bonus content included in the collector’s edition. Still, it was worth the money for the gameplay I did have.

I’m currently playing and enjoying:

  • Dark Dimensions: City of Fog
  • Dark Tales Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cat
  • Dark Tales Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder in the Rue Morgue — Enjoying the hell out of this one
  • Haunted Halls: Green Hills Sanitarium
  • Macabre Mysteries: Curse of the Nightingale
  • Maestro: Music of Death
  • Mystery Seekers: Secret of the Haunted Mansion
  • Nightmare Adventures: The Witch’s Prison — I’m not sure if I’m going to finish this one, as it’s ludicrously difficult. The storyline, artwork and atmosphere are excellent,though.
  • Shiver: Poltergeist

My To-Try List (I’d love to hear from people who’ve played any of these)

  • Gravely Silent: House of Deadlock
  • Mystery of the Ancients: Lockwood Manor
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles
  • Twisted Lands: Insomniac


Next up: Non-Big Fish Games!


Book News from Tokyo

by V. L. Craven

[This is a post from a previous blog, with a 2012 update. Original date: 21 January, 2008.]

Novels composed on mobile phones top best-seller lists.

Those kooky Japanese. Not only do they top the world charts for cuteness, but they compose novels on mobile phone text pads. Some novels are then published in hard copy form and some of those reach the best seller lists. Amazing.

2012 Update: I wanted to re-post this one partially because of this bit in the article: ““Will cellphone novels kill ‘the author’?” a famous literary journal, Bungaku-kai, asked…” Clearly, they didn’t.

Whenever something new comes along in publishing, doom-sayers declare it the end of literature. They were saying that when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1440s. Making books widely available would lessen the ‘specialness’ of books and of reading them. Because everyone would be able to do it, no one would.

This is similar to the people that say ebooks will be the end of publishing. There seems to be an assumption that people won’t publish if they’re not going to be paid well. Being a writer means writing whether anyone is going to see your work or not. Very few authors write for a living–they have jobs to pay the bills and anything they receive for writing is a bonus–and so simply having their work published by a legitimate press is worth it. Hell, some people are happy to have their name on the front of a book they paid to have printed and then have to market themselves.

You can’t kill the drive to write and you can’t kill the will of real readers, who will read anything that’s worth reading. I know it’s fun to pronounce the ‘end’ of things since nothing new really happens, but you’re just wasting time you could be spending reading.



by V. L. Craven

French and Saunders: Bergman Days

That Mitchell and Webb Sound: Welcome to Hufflepuff

‘All I can do is urge you to look on the bright side. At least you’re not in Slytherin. Another curious decision on the part of the school, there. To dedicate an entire house to those of the children in its care who are evil. Surely a recipe for trouble…’

Dot Dot Dot
A flash based on a voice track about a review (of another flash)

A Day in the Life of a Hangover (Director’s Cut)

Weird Al: Stop Forwarding that Crap To Me

Weird Al: White and Nerdy

Liz Lemon: The Early Years

Brute Force Doesn’t Always Work

‘NO! They’re running… NOOOOOOOO’

Neil Gaiman and Adam Savage Dorkiness

And this is what Neil Gaiman was referring to:

When Kathy Griffin Met Michele Bachmann

BBC America Advert

I’m a Climate Scientist: NSFW

Jim Henson Gets Told

College Humour: Tim Burton’s Secret Formula

Weird Al: Another Tattoo

Pretty much every video in the Gentlemen’s Rant series is hilarious, but these are my favourites:







Future Minds by Richard Watson

by V. L. Craven

Does technology shape us or do we shape technology? Is the instantaneous culture we live in hurting us in the long run? In Future Minds Richard Watson addresses these questions, as well as a host of others you probably hadn’t thought of. Then he tells us how our ever-expanding arsenal of digital products will rule us more than we rule it. Eye-opening and thought-provoking, this is a must-have for anyone interested in the influence cutting-edge technology has on humanity and how we can prevent the negative effect of said technology.

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