Tuesday, April 23, 2013

One year later

It is about one year since I started using the neuro headset. Since then there have been a couple of changes which have made things easier for me.

Initially, the software could be implemented only on the laptop. There is a pen drive which has the software for the headset. When it was inserted into the desktop, it was not able to receive the signal from the headset for some reason. Since all my files and bookmarks were in the desktop this caused some problems. I used to type some matter in the laptop, mail it to my Gmail account, open it in the desktop and copy/paste it in the relevant place.

Around a couple of months ago, Sujit accidentally discovered that the distance between the pen drive and the headset was too big for the signal being generated when the pen drive was connected to the desktop. He brought a cord from a friend to which the  pen drive can be attached to bring it closer to the headset and checked if this works. (I didn't know that such a cable existed.)  When this was done, the headset worked smoothly in the desktop.

Before activating the headset, 16 nodes moistened with a saline solution have to be attached to it. This takes some time especially since it was becoming difficult to attach the nodes to the headset since the threading had worn out. I then discovered that I could move the mouse pointer without the nodes being attached to the headset. I cannot use the blink function without the nodes so I cannot surf the net like this.

The on-screen keyboard has an autoclick  function. When I position the mouse-pointer over a letter and wait for a second, the letter gets typed in the word processor that I am using. I found that I can type much faster like this without using the nodes because different windows don't keep popping up and the cursor doesn't suddenly go  elsewhere because of inadvertent blinks. I can now concentrate on the keyboard  knowing that the cursor will remain in the correct position. I used to ask Jaya to save whatever I had typed whenever she came into the room.

Fool that I am, I had not realised that I could use the keyboard function 'cntrl + s' to save on my own. Once, before the s/w had been implemented on the desktop, I was typing some matter in the laptop and Jaya had gone to sleep. I thought that the laptop was connected to the inverter and so I could relax and save everything after Jaya got up. Of course, I thought wrong.

The laptop had inadvertently been connected to the wrong plug point and consequently, had been running on battery for some time after the power had gone off. (In Coimbatore, load shedding is at least 10 hrs. a day.) Suddenly the battery was exhausted and the screen went blank. I had lost whatever I had typed for 2 hours. In Very Good Jeeves!, when Bertie Wooster encounters an unexpected hitch while executing his well thought out plan, he muses:
You know, sometimes it seems to me as if Fate were going out of its way to such an extent to snooter you that you wonder if it's worth while continuing the struggle.
Being a glutton for punishment, after the dazed look that one normally gets after a blow on the solar plexus had passed, I typed the whole thing again, this time making sure that the laptop is connected to the right socket. Now I use the keyboard function 'cntrl + s' to save after typing every line. Fate, Ha!

The long and the short of all this is that you have no escape from my regular doses of wisdom. But I know that you folks are a resilient lot who can take the rough with the smooth with equanimity treating both those impostors just the same so I have no  worries on that score.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

An amazing sight

While reading A House for Mr Biswas, I came across a character called Hari, a brother-in-law of Mr Biswas.He was a quiet, religious  man who 'was obsessed with his illnesses, his food and his religious books.' He was a pundit by training and inclination who sometimes conducted puja for family and friends.( This Hari once performed some puja in a house that Mr Biswas was living in and blessed it. After that Mr Biswas found that his business kept coming down so he keeps asking if Hari can "un-bless" his house!) From the boook:
Between his estate duties, his reading in the verandah and his visits to the latrine, Hari had little  free time, and was open to approach only at the long table. But then conversation was not easy. Hari believed in chewing every mouthful forty times, and was a noisy and preoccupied eater.
This strange habit  of Hari reminded me of a friend of mine in REC Trichy (now NIT Trichy). He was a religious Brahmin and a strict vegetarian. (He had a fun way of humming a well--known Malayalam song. He did not know the words but he got the tune by humming unintelligible words.) He used to throw a certain number of cooked rice grains (I don't remember how many) from his plate over his head to a spot behind him before beginning his meals. (I have not seen anyone else do this.)

I met him some years later in Bangalore and we went to a restaurant for dinner. Knowing about his vegetarian preferences,I ordered some vegetarian dishes for myself. He then gave his order - butter chicken and naan! I literally fell out of my chair as I watched him tucking into his food with obvious relish. He told me that it was about a year since he started sinning. And no,  his parents didn't know that he had become pally with the devil.

So there we were, sitting in a restaurant in Bangalore with the Tam Brahm (Tamil Brahmin) munching contentedly on flesh and me chewing plants.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

It is not all gloomy

Being a careful man, Darwin made a list of the pros and cons of getting married before taking  a decision the matter. This nuptial Hamlet came up with an interesting list. In the same vein,  I thought I will make a list of all the pros and cons of suffering from a brain stem stroke. Since you are familiar with my cribs, I  will just list some positives(!) of the stroke:
  1. I don't have to be worried about being dooced.
  2. I am no longer on the hedonic treadmill. In the video, The Story of Stuff, is the statement that 'the purpose of advertisements is to make you feel unhappy with what you already have.' Most of the products in advertisements are of no use for me so I am indifferent to them.
  3. I don't have to make sense of a lot of management jargon.
  4. I don't have to worry about developing wallet neuropathy or getting itexticated.
  5. I don't have to squirm about how to excuse myself in case of tartles.
  6. I don't think about the right thing to say during a lift journey
  7. I don't have to be tense about becoming late for an appointment. (Punctuality is a peculiar obsession to have in a country where the Hindi word for yesterday and tomorrow are the same.)
  8. I don't have to keep breathing polluted air in traffic jams.
  9. It is said that in anger, you will make the best speech that you will regret. I can't make that speech.  In this video, Alain de Button says that one way to control anger is to reduce expectations. I manage it most of the time but sometimes I forget it since anger is an emotion ‘Which sometime hath his hour with every man’. (It mostly happens when the damn mobile phone rings at the wrong time for the umpteenth time.) There is always room for improvement.
  10. From this post, I got a quote by Henry Kissinger: : "The nice thing about being a celebrity is that when you bore people, they think it's their fault."I am no celebrity but I am often made to feel like one even though I don't do anything. I get to hear of exploits by me that I didn't know existed, helped along by the difficulty in communicating with me.
  11. There is no danger of the keyboard giving me a stomach upset.
  12. I don't have to wrestle with what to say when I have nothing to say.
  13. I don't have what Alain de Button called 'career anxiety' in this TED talk. So I don't have to be an alarmour and slog assickously on mind numbingly boring jobs in order to be in the rat race equilibrium. I see products like bottled water, perfumes, colas, hair gels, etc. and imagine smart, educated, over-paid executives strategise about how to make people buy more of these items. When I see ads like these, I wonder what the limit of triviality is. The image that comes to mind is Bertie Wooster's description of a particular scene in Very Good, Jeeves:                                                                                                                  
....the tableu would have looked rather like one of those advertisements you see in the magazines, where the experienced elder is patting the young man's arm, and saying to him ,'My boy, if you subscribe to the Mutt-Jeff Correspondence School of Osswego, Kan., as I did ,you may some day, like me, become Third Assistant Vice-President of the Schenectady Consolidated Nail-File and Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation.'
In this article about Obama, Michael Lewis writes:
” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
I don't have the opportunity to waste time in trivialities especially since I am not a TV addict.  I have been able to read splendid books by authors like Carl Zimmer, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, etc., books that I would not have considered reading before the stroke. They liberated me from what Dawkins called the 'anaesthetic of familiarity'. As Marcel Proust said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."I also  have the time to read some famous fiction like The Great Gatsby.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, Dantes, while admiring the intricate contraptions that a fellow prisoner, Faria, had dreamt up during solitary confinement,wonders what all he might have been able to achieve if he had been free. Faria replies:
  "Possibly nothing at all; the overflow of my brain would probably, in a state of freedom, have evaporated in a thousand follies; misfortune is needed to bring to light the treasures of the human intellect. Compression is needed to explode gunpowder. Captivity has brought my mental faculties to a focus; and you are well aware that from the collision of clouds electricity is produced — from electricity, lightning, from lightning, illumination."
In this video, Alain de button talks about the 3 things that Epicurus considered more important than money for achieving happiness - friends, freedom and an analysed life. I have all 3 in abundance so things have worked out much better than I had expected in the months following my stroke. (Michael Sandel discusses the problems in measuring slippery concepts like life, happiness, etc. in monetary terms.)

PS: As a consequence of my stroke, I was able to watch every ball of unquestionably the greatest innings played in the history of Indian cricket - Laxman's 281 at the Eden Gardens. It was elegant, chanceless, came when India was down and almost out against the No. 1 team in the world which had two of the greatest bowlers in history in its ranks. It was an innings of style and substance that turned the match and series on its head. And of course, there was also the generally forgotten 180 by Rahul Dravid, my favourite cricketer of all time. I almost forgot that I had suffered a stroke. I once heard Jeffry Archer say, 'I hate T20 cricket. Cricket for me is Laxman and Dravid batting for the whole day against Australia.' I second that opinion.