Saturday, June 26, 2010


Imagine a middle aged man reading about carnivorous plants or about the QWERTY keyboard in the middle of the afternoon when everyone else is relaxing in the arms of Morpheus. You will be justified in thinking that he is batty. Jaya sees me reading about some brain research at a time when she can barely keep her eyes open and reaches a similar conclusion. She can't do without an hour's sleep in the afternoon and never tires of telling me that a nap makes you smarter.

The brain stem has something to do with regulating sleep patterns. My stroke seems to have reset my body clock so that I need less than four hours of sleep a day. I suppose anyone living so long without proper sleep will have medical problems but I seem to be fine. I don't sleep a wink during the day. At night, the lights are switched off at ten thirty and in the morning I get up at five thirty. In that period, I am awake half the time. My sleep is not continuous. It is broken into three or four chunks interrupted by long periods of wakefulness.

My habit of reading books and articles, especially on subjects that I knew very little about before my stroke, has proved beneficial during these wakeful periods.(Groucho Marx knew the value of books- 'Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.' But you won’t have the same view if you read a book like Woody Allen read ‘War and Peace' in two hours after attending a speed reading course and said,’It was about some Russians.' Of course, I am assuming that the reader doesn't suffer from alexia.) I may think of something that I had not understood in a book that I had been reading. I may think about brazil nuts, about double standards, about Saturn, about Indohyus...(I am a really weird guy I tell you. You won't find too many respectable MBAs pondering over extinct tetrapods at 2 a.m. It takes all kinds to make the world.)

And when I get tired of the heavy stuff, I transport myself to Lords Cricket Ground where I score a brilliant unbeaten 123 to take India to victory on the final day of a pulsating Test Match. All the thrilling ingredients will be there - Dravid and Tendulkar will be dismissed for ducks, I will have a broken finger, it will be a seaming pitch...(Discerning readers would have noticed that my heroics happen in a Test Match. I am a connoisseur of the five day game so I won't be playing golf shots in T20 matches.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Computer and internet - II

Two years after we purchased the computer, my brother-in-law decided that we should go in for a broadband internet connection. This was an important decision for me. At that time I did not even know that a broadband connection was so easily and cheaply available. It went a long way towards obliterating what Richard Dawkins called ‘the anesthetic of familiarity’ which used to bore me to death. It enabled me to escape to the blogosphere where, to quote Bertrand Russell, 'one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the natural world.' Till then I was the perfect couch potato spending my time watching inane programmes and reading news of the "he said she said" variety or just staring at the walls. And of course, listening to halfalogues.

In an interview, Harsha Bogle said that you should surround yourself with people smarter than you so that you keep learning something. I meet plenty of smart people but the problem is that the conversation will not flow. They will not be sure if I am interested in the topic or about my responses. I will not say much because it takes too much time and because Jaya will be cut-off from the conversation during that time. I found that reading blogs written by very smart people was a good substitute for these conversations that I cannot have. Moreover, I could choose blogs on my current areas of interest which would not interest most of my acquaintances.

So I read quite a few blogs on evolution, some astronomy, some neuroscience, a science magazine etc. (Etc: A sign to make others believe that you know more than you actually do.) When I want something light, I look at a few eggcorns or admire a few kitlers... I am more like the Romans than the Greeks. Blame it on my inner capuchin monkey. (I remember reading that a generalist knows less and less about more and more while a specialist knows more and more about less and less.) Now you know how I get links. The nurse knows where to click the mouse on the screen so I can read without constantly calling Jaya.I just have to shrug at the occasional mouso. Don't think I read all posts in the blogs that I have mentioned. I rapidly skim the headings and read the posts that pique my interest.

I don't frequent social networking sites like Twitter for reasons that another blogger has specified. Another reason is specific to me. I have to get someone else to do my work for me so when Jaya is free I get her to type things that are higher on my list of priorities. Apart from indulging in a bit of "ambient awareness", I don't spend much time in social networks so I don't suffer from social network fatigue.

Aside - Every year, the literary agent John Brockman asks several public intellectuals to answer some question or another, and posts it on the Internet to provoke discussion. This year's question is "How is the Internet changing the way you think?"

Monday, June 7, 2010

Computer and internet - I

About a couple of years after my stroke, we bought a computer with a dial-up Internet connection. There is no doubt that my extended mind has helped me in adjusting to life
after the stroke. It has been very useful in the specific task of writing this blog.

Before starting the blog, I had made a list of topics that I could write about. I have kept adding to it since then. Whenever I remember some incident, whenever I get an idea about how to express something, whenever I saw a relevant paragraph in a book or a link, I made a note of it. Over time this initial skeleton of random jottings has fleshed out into a useful aide memoire. Before I start a new post, I look at this file and think about how to convert the inchoate jumble of ideas contained therein into something readable.I take regular back-up of this file and even keep a copy in my gmail account. (Now you know how paranoid I am.)

The cut and paste functions seem to have been made specially for me. I have used it frequently to reduce the time required for dictation. (I remember seeing a quote that if you copy from one, it's plagiarism; if you copy from many, it's research. I assure you that I was only doing research.) I wonder how Wodehouse used to write his novels. A phenomenal memory must have been part of his genius.I need to only remember a few keywords of a quote or a poem and I can find out the exact words in a few seconds of Googling.

You may have noticed that I have more links in my later posts than in my earlier ones. This is because I keep coming across links that I can use. There is also the thought that someone may get interested in a link and discover something that I may not be aware of. I have the time to waste and thereby provide links, a luxury that you may not have.

The Internet obeys Sturgeon's Law leading to fears of agnotological Armageddon. I am fairly confident of being able to separate the wheat from the chaff most of the time and while information overload is a problem, I prefer it to information drought. But I find it a problem reading long tracts online.I am the only person in the house who welcomes a power cut.The resultant discomfort due to sweating is offset by the concomitant benefit of being able to read a book without the distraction of wanting to switch on the computer and click on something.

Aside: You can find some Googlefreude here. New technology is always viewed with suspicion by the older generation.