Wednesday 28 October 2020

Odds and Sods

What the ****!  I started this blog thinking I would be speaking to maybe a dozen people.  At the weekend I posted my usual grumbles about the general lack of appreciation for my favourite programming language Tcl.  My former colleagues at Bloomberg must have been fed up of hearing me repeating this stuff.  Anyway, someone I don't know linked my post on "Hacker News" and 24 hours later it had 15000 views😵.  Any time my ego needs a boost I can reread this comment!

Trying to improve your mood by thinking about it can seem rather like trying to make your car move by pushing on the dashboard (a phrase I read recently in a completely different context).  Just getting out for a walk can be much more effective.  And it turns out that walking around my area High Barnet is so interesting they made a film about it - see trailer at 23 Walks, also background info.  Most of the locations in the trailer are extremely familiar to me, even the council office which appears briefly looks like one my wife and I have visited several times for meetings with social services about our son's care.

But isn't it about time the scriptwriters for the dystopian future drama we seem to be living in decided to lighten up a bit?  Surely it was enough to have half the world ruled by mad dictators and would-be dictators, impending environmental catastrophe, the UK tearing itself apart, without adding a world-wide killer virus on top as well?  Perhaps in the next episode Stephen Pinker will assure us that all is well?

Some handy points I picked up from Pinker's book How the Mind Works, paraphrased somewhat:

  • Love is the state of mind where the well-being of another person becomes as important as your own (not very romantic, but it works for me).
  • The conflict between logic and emotion is bogus, because logic tells you how to do things but not what to do, while emotion tells you what to do but not how to achieve it (in theory of course, in practice this conflict still often seems problematic).
  • It's really not surprising that human beings can be obsessive and/or highly sensitive about almost anything even remotely related to sex.  For the "selfish genes" which ultimately shape our behaviour, whether and with whom we have sex is quite literally a matter of life or death, determining which of those genes live on in the next generation.

The "Keep Calm and Carry On" attitude has a lot to answer for 😕.  Of course if you're in the middle of a crisis, you have to focus on the immediate practicalities of the situation and emotional reactions may be luxuries you can't afford.  But ignoring these upsets doesn't necessarily mean they go away.  In computing terms, the various alarm signals that go off are flagged as high priority, so if they can't be handled at the time they get queued for later processing.  If the crisis is intense or prolonged (such as struggling to care for a disabled family member in parallel with a demanding job), it may never be possible to process this queue.  But it's also never possible to entirely ignore it and if the queue of deferred alerts continues to build up, its pressure will eventually start to disrupt one's normal functioning.  So for the benefit of one's long-term mental health, a better policy may be the classic "When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout" 😲.

I used to be rather dubious about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.  But after following reports of his recent extradition hearings, e.g. from the Independent, the indefatigable Craig Murray, etc., I have started to think that he is being "railroaded" for the crime of shining a light into dark places.  Also since I tend to get most of my news from the Guardian, I am seriously disturbed by the allegation that the Guardian betrayed Assange after getting a lot of copy out of his earlier revelations.

Finally, since 40+ years ago I was diagnosed as having a schizoid personality, I leave you with the appropriate theme music.

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