Rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Tai Chi Talking

I was listening to Simon Mayo interviewing Derren Brown, the magician / hypnotist, on Radio 5 yesterday. Simon asked the question everyone wants to ask "Do you ever use your skills in real life?". He wouldn't be drawn on the subject of getting free meals at restaurants etc, but became more enthusiastic when he was asked if he used his powers of persuasion to defuse conflict situations. He advised to always have some song lyrics up your sleeve and explained why with a story of a time he avoided being attacked in the street one night.

Attacker: Oi you! What you lookin' at! etc etc
Derren: The wall in my garden is less than ten feet high.
Attacker: what?
Derren: The wall in my garden is less than ten feet high. The walls in Spain are ten feet high.

The totally out of context reply confused the attacker and took all the energy out of him. He later sat with Derren and discussed the problems he was having with his life.

I can see very strong parallels between what Derren did with his words and the philosophy of tai chi. In tai chi you never confront force with force, you always seek to read the intention of your opponent and through avoiding it use their own energy to uproot them, while maintaining a strong root yourself. Derren didn't seek to argue with his attacker, avoided his confrontational intention and mentally uprooted him. The presence of mind and calmness required to do what he did has a lot in common with good tai chi practice too, which is as much mental as physical.

If I find myself in an argument I'm more interested in avoiding than winning - such as a recent encounter I had with a van driver while I was out cycling - I might try Derren's approach. I just need to think of some suitably abstract and memorable phrases. Favourite at the moment is this, spoken by Ambassador Kosh in Babylon Five - "The avalanche has started. It's too late for the pebbles to vote"

Monday, May 03, 2004

Taking notes

I'm reading several books at the moment, all online, some free and some on safari. I've taken in a bit on Lisp, some XML, and some more general reading about programming , but mostly I'm trying to get a more thorough understanding of Linux. I'm OK programming under Linux and muddling through configuration with a HOWTO, but I've never taken the time to get really familiar with Linux/Unix. Using Linux, as opposed to writing it, which I'm sure is great fun, is a pretty dull dry subject, but it's the foundation that everything else I use is built on so it will be worth the effort. I'm reading Running Linux and I'm finding it a fairly pleasant read. I had a look at RUTE, but the style was a bit rambling and started from very very basic principles.

I'm a little bit annoyed that the range on Safari is too narrow. I can understand that O'Reilly themselves fill a particular niche, but Safari provides access to several publishers with a wider range of titles. I sent them an email asking if they could make Paul Graham's ANSI Common Lisp available.

I take notes when I read. I used to do it on paper, but I prefer to keep them all in text files now. If I don't take notes it's too easy to read through a chapter and take very little in. Taking notes as I go forces me to think about what I've just read in the same way as explaining it to someone else would, and almost as a by-product gives me a nice aide-memoir and index.