Archive for December, 2009

Why I love P.G. Wodehouse (“terrific”)

Monday, December 7th, 2009

I am a tremendous fan of P.G. Wodehouse but I don’t know many people who have read as much of his work as I have (plus I’ve got a several audiobooks that I listen to often) so I thought I’d occassionaly share some of why I love P.G. Wodehouse.

In Code of the Woosters, Madeline Bassett (“the Bassett” – a ghastly girl, a ‘droopy, soupy, sentimental exhibit, with melting eyes and a cooing voice and the most extraordinary views on such things as stars and daisy chains’) is convinced, (wrongly, of course), that Bertie Wooster has come to Totleigh Towers due to undying love for her.

“Why did you come? Oh, I know what you are going to say. You felt that, cost what it might, you had to see me again, just once. You could not resist the urge to take away with you one last memory, which you could cherish down the lonely years. Oh, Bertie, you remind me of Rudel.”

The name was new to me.


“The Seigneur Geoffrey Rudel, Prince of Blay-en-Saintonge.”

I shook my head.

“Never met him, I’m afraid. Pal of yours?”

“He lived in the Middle ages. He was a great poet. And he fell in love with the wife of the Lord of Tripoli.”

I stirred uneasily. I hoped she was going to keep it clean.

“For years he loved her, and at last could resist no longer. He took ship to Tripoli, and his servants carried him ashore.”

“Not feeling so good?” I said, groping. “Rough crossing?”

“He was dying. Of love.”

“Oh, ah.”

“They bore him into the Lady Melisande’s presence on a litter, and he had just strength enough to reach out and touch her hand. Then he died.”

She paused, and heaved a sigh that seemed to come straight up from the cami-knickers. A silence ensued.

“Terrific”, I said, feeling that I had to say something, though personally I didn’t think the story a patch on the one about the travelling salesman and the farmer’s daughter. Different, of course, if one had known the chap.

Things I read today (neuroscience of literacy – you’ve begun to read)

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Right now, your mind is performing an astonishing feat. Photons are bouncing off these black squiggles and lines — the letters in this sentence — and colliding with a thin wall of flesh at the back of your eyeball. The photons contain just enough energy to activate sensory neurons, each of which is responsible for a particular plot of visual space on the page. The end result is that, as you stare at the letters, they become more than mere marks on a page. You’ve begun to read…

But reading isn’t just about seeing — we still have to imbue those syllabic sounds with meaning. This is why, once the letterbox area deciphers the word — this takes less than 150 milliseconds — the information is immediately sent to other brain areas, which help us interpret the semantic content. Such a complex act requires a variety of brain areas scattered across both hemispheres, all of which must work together to make sense of a sentence…

…our brain wasn’t “designed” for reading; we haven’t had time to evolve a purpose-built set of circuits for letters and words. As Deheane eloquently notes, “Our cortex did not specifically evolve for writing. Rather, writing evolved to fit the cortex.”…

In fact, even the shape of letters — their odd graphic design — has been molded by the habits and constraints of our perceptual system. For instance, the neuroscientists Marc Changizi and Shinsuke Shimojo have demonstrated that the vast majority of characters in 115 different writing systems are composed of three distinct strokes, which likely reflect the sensory limitations of cells in the retina. (As Dehaene observes, “The world over, characters appear to have evolved an almost optimal combination that can easily be grasped by a single neuron.”) The moral is that our cultural forms reflect the biological form of the brain; the details of language are largely a biological accident.

Reading in the Brain By STANISLAS DEHAENE, Reviewed by Jonah Lehrer

a single neuron, fascinating

Things I heard today (Jacqueline Du Pré -Elgar Cello Concerto)

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Someone whose taste in classical music I admire mentioned Jacqueline Du Pré via twitter and since it was through him I first heard Glenn Gould, I decided it was worth looking into.

I found, Elgar Cello Concerto 1st mov:

It’s lovely – somber and beautiful (and trivia: the woman is the basis for the movie Hilary and Jackie). Also via twitter, Thomas recommended another version (w/ a different conductor). I need a few more listens to try to understand the difference.

And since I mentioned it, here is Glenn Gould, Goldberg Variations:

I’ve listened to these for hours, night after night. I don’t know much about classical music but even I can hear the subtlety, the mastery he brings. I’ve listened to other versions to compare and the difference is appreciable – something in the timing, the smoothness, what I’ve heard described as the importance of the space between the notes. I’d read about these ideas before but it wasn’t until I heard them that I actually understood.

Just because it’s awesome (The National – you know I dreamed about you)

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

I am a huge fan of the band The National. I’m consistently moved by the music, the lyrics and especially the vulnerability and deep, soothing voice of lead singer Matt Berninger.

Baby We’ll Be Fine:

He paints such a picture: “I put on an argyle sweater and put on a smile. I don’t know how to do this” and “I pull off your jeans, and you spill jack and coke in my collar. I melt like a witch and scream”. I love the line: “All we’ve got to do is be brave and be kind” (possibly less of a plan than a plaintive hope?), shining out amongst cascading repititions of: “I’m so sorry for everything”.

Green Gloves (audio only):

Lovely harmonies, lovely singing, soft and deep. In a song about friends (“I have arms for them”), I love the whimsy of: “Cinderella through the room. I glide and swan cause I’m the best slow dancer, in the universe” (check out how good the song is live, too, starting around 0:58).

maybe my favorite of their songs, Slow Show:
I see my own inner worries in the line: “God, I’m very, very frightening. I’ll overdo it” But it is the beautiful and haunting refrain at the end: “You know I dreamed about you for 29 years before I saw you. You know I dreamed about you. I missed you for 29 years” that can make my heart ache, still, after listening to the song for years.