The Crow's Dream

Philosophy, geekery, and the meaning if life, and what I read this week…

Moonwalking with Einstein

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Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering EverythingMoonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book, Joshua Foer explores memory and the tricks people use to improve it, which sounds boring, but Mr. Foer manages to cast the book into a heroic journey during which he learns the ancient secrets of memorization. The result is an entertaining, though occasionally self indulgent story about practice and mastery. While this book will not teach you everything you need to learn about memory, it will give you a vivid window in to the world of remembrance, and may even spark an interest in further studying it.

Reading this book was fun, because I am familiar with some of the techniques the author describes, and I can attest to their effectiveness and limitations. I like to memorize poetry, and while the skill has come in handy only once, the whole endeavor was worth it. I recently took a couple of very difficult technical tests, and building a “memory palace” to master some of the concepts proved to be very helpful.

This book was very, very nerdy, but in a good way. I liked that Mr. Foer was skeptic about some of the more pseudoscientific promises made by memory gurus, and that he addressed the limitations of the systems he explores. If you are curious about memory, check this book out. It is probably one of the most entertaining ones in the subject.

View all my reviews

Here is a TED talk by the author:

Written by Hector

July 12, 2015 at 9:49 pm

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The Netflix Of Books: Three Options

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The Netflix of Books: Three OptionsI remember the first time I heard about Oysterbooks.com because I jumped up and down for joy. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I mean it in a literal sense. I love to read, and living in a world where I can carry hundreds of books in my pocket brings me incredible amounts of joy. Shortly after discovering Oyster, I began to search for other services. My goal was to compare them and to find the right one for me. I wasn’t completely new to book subscription services. I have been a member of Marvel Unlimited and Audible for many, many years, but actual book services, not comics or audio were a completely new thing for me, and I wanted to see what these new fangled sites had to offer.

I ended up subscribing to three book services for at least a month each. At the end, I only kept one of them, and I think I made the right choice. I tried Oyster Books, Kindle Unlimited, and Scribd. Here is a brief overview of each one:
Kindle Unlimited
Kindle unlimited seemed, at first, like a really good deal, and it may be for some people, but to me, it seemed like the service really lacked. Don’t take me wrong. It has a large selection of both books and audiobooks, but the selection consisted mainly of the kind of materials you’d find at the discount rack at your local bookstore. The kind of bestsellers that were overprinted of overhyped. I also found a ton of Kindle Author books, which is cool, as I am a big fan of a few of them, but I could buy the books for less than $9.99 a month, so the deal didn’t seem worth it to me personally. I do admire the technical know how behind this specific service. That said, of you are a Kindle fan, and you do most of your reading in one of Amazon’s devices you might as well give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised, but it is not for me.

Oyster
Oyster introduced me to the world of book subscriptions, and it will always have a place in my heart. It is gorgeously built, and it manages to project a sense of community without being too social mediaey. I like that I can use the speak screen feature of my phone to listen to the books. You can tell that the folks at Oyster love literature. I actually kept my Oyster membership for a little bit more than a year. The service allowed me to expand my comfort zone, and I read stuff that I would not have picked up otherwise, but I found that I wasn’t really reading enough in the Oyster app to justify the $9.99 subscription cost. I always felt pressured to read more in order to feel good about the cost, minimal as it was. If I took longer than a month to read a book, or if I ended up reading an iBooks, Amazon, or Paper book that month, I always worried that I was wasting my membership, so I ended up canceling it. I usually read one to three full length texts every month, and about half the time they come from a subscription service, so I am actually paying anywhere between ten to twenty bucks for each one of them, which doesn’t make sense, I rather buy at that point.

I think Oyster is for people who read voraciously, and who want to have a beautiful typographical experience, and the best curation I have ever seen. Oyster is beautiful, and inviting, but not for me.

Scribd
Scribd isn’t ugly, but it isn’t as beautiful as Oyster. You can get a membership for $8.99, which isn’t that much less when compared to the other two, but Scribd has a lot of content. Not only do they have audiobooks, which is cool–though not enough to seal the deal for me, but they also have a ton of comics, which certainly sealed the deal. I can read a comic in between fifteen minutes to two hours, and then I can move on. This service is like the Netflix of books, because consuming its selections takes about as long as catching up on a show. With it, I read three to seven graphic novels every month, which adds up to more than $60.00, so I get an unbeatable value, and never feel guilty for reading stuff elsewhere.

Conclusion
While Oyster is pretty, and Kindle Unlimited may be a good deal for voracious Kindle Owners. Scribd provides me with a good enough experience that pays for itself every month. I think the secret sauce is comics—they make it possible for me to read enough to justify the price. No only that, but I have been reading stuff outside of my comfort zone again, and that is always a good thing. I think Scribd will introduce non-comic readers to comics, which is awesome. 

All of these services provide trial memberships, so try them out and find the one that’s right for you. 

I still have a Marvel Unlimited membership because it does have the largest Marvel collection in the market, and I still get my monthly audiobooks from Adible. Though I do most of my reading on my iPad, I still go to the library, and buy paper books, especially comics. Some companies even give me a free digital copy. The library has great events, and books I can’t get anywhere else, plus wise librarians who can help me find my next great read. My local Comic Book Store (Wild Pigs) is a fun place to go play board games, to build my actual physical collection of comics, and to hang out with a diverse and awesome group of geeks like myself. You don’t stop going to the movies because you have Netflix, and I won’t stop getting books from different sources because I have Scribd, but it sure feels nice to have thousands of books and shows in my pocket.

Note: I’d be remiss not to mention that another great place to get comics is humblebundle.com. They have crazy awesome sales, and your purchases help to make the world a better place.

Written by Hector

July 4, 2015 at 12:20 am

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The First Watch I Can Use

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Back in elementary school, my classmates wore calculator-watches. I used to gaze at them enviously knowing that I could not use them fully. As someone born without a left hand, my relationship with watches has always been one of love and limitation. Often, while looking at a feature list, I wouldn’t ask what the watch could do, but tried to figure out what I could do with the watch. My options were limited, since some operations required that I pressed two buttons at once with a non existent thumb and index finger. I actually ended up using a chest strap heart monitor instead of a wrist one because I simply couldn’t use the first option. Some of the watches I owned were beautiful, but difficult to put on. I broke many bands using my teeth to put them on, and don’t get me started with adjusting the time. I’d go the whole day displaying the wrong date rather than taking my time piece off, in order to avoid having to go through the ordeal of using my mouth in a public place to pull on the, by now chewed, leather band. I loved watches though, and because of that love I learned to accept that they were never meant, at least not fully, for people like me.

I heard about the Apple Watch for the first time during the “Spring Forward” Keynote. My main concern was wether or not I was going to be able to use the device. As I saw it, I had two options. One of them was to wear it on my left arm above the elbow. The other one was to ask my wife for help whenever I had to put it, and to use Siri for every other action. Neither one of those options seemed very appealing, but I was used to it. I assumed that, once again, I was going to have to figure out not what the watch could do, but what I could do with it. I figured that being able to tell, not only the time, but the state of my calendar, and to get notifications would be enough. I wasn’t angry or frustrated, because I was so used to watch makers not giving me a second thought, I didn’t think there was a problem.

On the day that I got my watch I went ahead and put it on. No big deal, I didn’t even think about it, but I didn’t need help. I didn’t have to bite the end of the band, or to ask someone to help me. I just wrapped it around my wrist and secured it immediately. Best of all, taking it off was as easy. Then, when I had to put in a passcode, I used my arm, and I was able to key it in on the first try. When I wanted to read something, using the end of my left arm, I could move the digital crown with the ease, and I was able to click the side button to send my wife a few taps, and even a rudimentary sketch. I’m fairly sure that Apple engineers didn’t think about me specifically, but I’d like to think that the idea of someone without full mobility would want to use their creation went through their minds at some point, and that thoughtfulness matters.

I use my watch to keep track of meetings, and to see notifications. I keep my to do lists, count calories, and capture stray thoughts with Day One (my favorite app). I love using pomodoro timers to keep on task too. And yes, I can access music and a calculator, though my headphones aren’t orange. I do use Siri a lot, but I do it because I want to, not because I have to. On mother’s day, I paid attention to the beautiful rural road on the way to the farmer’s market instead of looking at my phone the whole way. I only took it out to take a couple of photos. I am not going to review everything about the new device. It is a great watch, and it makes my life easier. It took only a couple of days for it to fully integrate into my workflow, and I enjoy having all the things I could never access before with any other watch, but updated and better.
It has been a little more than a week since I got it. I have been able to use every feature. 

As I was thinking about this post, I thought that I was going to have to mention that I couldn’t send my heartbeat to my significant other, but I figured out a way to create two points of contact on the screen, so never mind that. It is incredible that a complex machine, which normally adds difficulty to the user experience, has actually given me full access to a watch for the first time in my life. The funny thing is that it felt so natural, I didn’t realize how significant a change it was until a few days after I had been using the watch regularly, and began to remember my previous experiences. I am told that’s how design works. It doesn’t announce itself boastfully, it just fits into your life, and makes it better. 

Written by Hector

May 20, 2015 at 3:13 pm

Why An All Female Ghost Busters Cast Matters

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Growing up without my father’s presence might have turned me into a nerd. Not having a stable paternal figure made me look to comics, and escapist TV shows to find my place in the world, which gave me all kinds of unrealistic expectations about the nature of reality.

By far, one of my favorite shows was the Ghost Busters. I loved it because it seemed to be more about people doing crazy and impossible things than about some dudes fighting the monster of the week. I watched the show whenever I could, and ran around the house pretending to be a Ghost Buster in training. In a way, the characters became my roll-models thanks to J. Michael Straczynski’s beautiful writing. He wrote about people, not cartoon characters. When I revisit some of the episodes he wrote, they still hold weight.

While I was trying to figure out my place in the scheme of things, my mother worked day and night to make sure that my brother and I could have a private Montessori education, and that we had activities like Kung-fu classes and regular trips to the public library. My mother believed that she had the duty to get us ready for life. Meanwhile, I kept on having dreams about the Ghost Busters. I’d wake up, only to realize that there was something missing from my life. The world kept on telling me that I needed a father. The looks of pity I got from my classmates confirmed this belief. One time, our teacher decided to treat us to a field trip to the mall, and I wanted money for the arcade. When I asked, my mom gave me the equivalent of a quarter. I held on to it as my classmates feed the Gauntlet machine with coin after coin. Finally, when I decided to play, I only lasted a few minutes. Then, we went to the food court, and everyone ordered burgers. I pulled out a sandwich from a paper bag my mother had put together for me. She was never a great cook so I wasn’t really looking forward to the meal. I remember sneaking to the condiment section of the restaurant, and adding bacon bits, cheese, and other goodies. It tasted great. I don’t remember what I said about bringing my own food, and not having money, but I made stuff up. I lied all the time about my father being away on a business trip. My excuses were inventive, and rooted in shame.

The most memorable fight my mother and I had happened when I was held back a year. The shame of having to repeat 5th grade stayed with me for a long time, but I ended up becoming An excellent student by the time I made it to college. “Look,” my mother would say “I don’t care what you do with your life. l am doing my part by sending you to a good school. Just be the best at what you do. If you become a criminal or a priest just be a good one- Just do your best.”

And so for many years the feeling that something was missing haunted me, and the memories of my imaginary life as a Ghost Buster sorta guided my life. I loved the myth. I love science, and impossible stories, and ended up getting a masters in the technology field, and I love gadgets, and New York.

In my mid twenties, I got some of the GB toys I could never afford when l was a kid. They are still home then in the attic somewhere.

A few days ago, I found out that there was going to be a new Ghost Busters movie, and that it was going to have an all female cast. I was excited, and interested. I didn’t know why, and then it hit me. If I had seen this movie, I would have known that, although the original GB will all ways have a place in my heart, I didn’t really need a father figure as much as I thought I did. My mother did a good job by herself. I wish she hadn’t had to go at it alone, but nothing was missing. kids need loving parents. That’s all, so as I watch the movie, I am going to think about single parents doing the right thing for their kids, and I am going to know that no matter what their gender is, as long as they do their best for their children, they are enough. Thank you for all that you do.

If you repost this, give me credit. As long as you’re not using it commercially, and as long as you give me credit, it’s okay to use this. CC: attribution, non commercial

Written by Hector

February 1, 2015 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Personal Essay

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Why I Love Comic Book Conventions

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I love conventions because they bring the myths of out times alive. They are like modern rituals. Here is a quote and a video that represent what I am trying to say. First the quote:

A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual, participating in the myth, you are being, as it were, put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow. Your consciousness is being re-minded of the wisdom of your own life. I think ritual is terribly important.

Joseph Campbell, “The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell,” New Dimensions Radio Interview with Michael Toms, Tape I, Side 2*

Now the video:

*You can find more quotes like this one by liking the Joseph Campbell Foundation on Facebook. I found the quote in their page. Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/JosephCampbellFoundation/posts/10151367311751722

Written by Hector

July 25, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Posted in Comics

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The Avengers: A Review

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Avengers was probably one of the best movies I have ever seen. It was a crowning jewel of Marvel’s cinematic renaissance, which has made the company a powerhouse over the past few years. It is hard to believe that Marvel went from almost disappearing, back in the 90s, to accompany that can make a superhero movie that is not only accessible, but also mind blowing, to geeks and mainstream audiences alike.

 Usually, when you watch a movie based on a popular franchise you hear from purists complaining about their beloved characters being modified in order to fit a director’s perception of what the mainstream will embrace. Invariably this type of storytelling leads to bland and boring moviemaking. Just think about this about the betrayal most fans experienced when it was announced that the Ninja Turtles were actually going to be aliens, rather than mutants. Avengers succeeded because Marvel had the guts to trust that a good story combined with their characters would be enough to please the audience. They were right. Shortly after the movie I received a text message from a friend whom I don’t think has ever read comic books as habitually as I do. The message read: “Amazing!” And I knew that he was talking about Avengers.

 Finally Marvel has done what me and my friends, back when we are 13 years old, only dreamt about, but never thought would be possible: A movie combining all of our favorite superheroes in the kind of extravaganza that only a genius or a 10-year-old dressed up in a superhero costume can dream about.

 While I haven’t enjoyed everything Joss Whedon has ever made, but the guy knows how to tell a story. Just ask the thousands of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans who followed the show in rapture until it ended. Mr. Wheaton took the by now trite alien invasion ploy and turned it into a multilayered drama that contained just enough romance, political intrigue, corrected development, and action to appeal to almost anyone who loves a good story. The timing in the movie was impeccable, and every actor, from the superhero team to the lowly waitress who gets interviewed at the end had enough presence to carry themselves next to each other.

To be honest, I thought that Chris Evans was not going to be able to pull off the role of Capt. America. I thought that Robert Downey Junior’s magnetic personality would overshadow his role, but he actually pulled it off. He comes across as a somewhat older, extremely idealistic, but gifted leader who knows how to take control of the situation and direct his team towards victory. My concern for Mr. Evans’ ability to pull off the role of Capt. America stemmed from Tobey Maguire’s rendition of Spider–Man. He was a great young Peter Parker, but when it came time for him to turn into smart the  Alec personality of Spiderman, he felt a little bit short. Chris Evans was a great young Captain America, but did not lose track of the character when it was time for him to be the older version of the icon we’ve all come to love and trust.

 As I said before, every other actor surpassed my expectations. Scarlett Johansson was unbelievable as the Black Widow, and everyone got enough screen time for the story to feel tight and organized. While I usually never watch movies more than once, this one will make its way into my collection as soon as it becomes available. Seeing the movie’s incredible success overseas makes me hope that producers and decision-makers in big media companies will see that it is quality storytelling, well-developed characters, and attention to detail that make a great movie experience. I am hoping that the incredible amounts of money the Avengers will generate will have a positive impact in the movie industry. Of course, some producers are just as likely to try and imitate the movie’s success by dissecting it and by trying to copy the elements that made it successful. The problem is that you cannot copy good storytelling. It has to come from a place of authenticity, not from focus groups only.

 I can wholeheartedly recommend the Avengers to anyone who wants a good yarn. And yes, you should stay after the credits.

Written by Hector

May 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm

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Running Back

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After looking over my last entry, I realized that I might have come across as pretentious. I mean, who wants to hear about another nerd turning his life around through exercise? I can almost hear condescending Wonka saying something along the lines of “so, you’re running a half marathon… Please tell me about how special and challenging it is so that I can aggregate it to the other 3000 posts from everyone running in it.” Okay, I am pretty sure that condescending Wonka could come up with something a little bit more clever, but that is exactly the point: the fact that I will be running for 13.1 miles shouldn’t be all that special. It seems to me like exercise and movement should be a natural part of everyone’s life. There is nothing extraordinary about my undertaking. What attracted me to it is that it feels natural, like something that should have been doing along time ago.

I have to admit that when I decided to do this I thought I was doing something pretty major. After all, I only know a few people who run regularly, but after watching a few documentaries about the process, and after looking at pictures of the marathon itself I can see that there are plenty other people out there who can do at least twice of what I am attempting to do, and they do it much, much faster. I am not writing this to trivialize the actor running, and please, if you’ve been working hard to achieve what may now seem like an impossible goal, do not take this the wrong way. What I’m actually trying to say is that when we run, move, and exercise, we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing. Although it hasn’t happened many times yet, sometimes, when I’m on the treadmill or the road I disappear, and I feel an amazing sense of unity with the rest of the universe. It is almost as if I was carrying on with the task that was begun by the first bacterium capable of locomotion. It is difficult to articulate this vision, but it would seem that they runner’s high might have evolved for an essential reason.

In this article, scientists wonder about the causes behind the powerful endogenic reaction to running humans experience, and about why it is so remarkably pleasurable when the extraneous activity is both dangerous, and costly. Why do humans, as well as apparently dogs, enjoy it so much?

Although it is only speculation, Christopher McDougall, provides what, to me, seems like a valid explanation for the evolutionary development of this trait. He argues that our need to run in packs might have had something to do with it being rewarded by the bounty of protein calories provided by hunting. MacDougall believes that humans learned to outlast even the fastest animals by developing the ability to run incredible distances. Although not perfect, by any means, his explanation seemed to make sense, and provided me with a nice origin myth about why we run. Enjoy the video!

Click here to watch the video

McDougall’s explanation propelled my imagination as I moved though my workouts. I imagine a vast savanna and a tribe of hunters chasing after a few tired antelopes. The mention of dogs in the other article makes me wonder if hunting in packs was something that made the ancestors of dogs and humans become enamored with each other to the point where it’s almost impossible to think of a stereotypical human American family without thinking about a dog.

I wonder if the ritual of putting on our flip-flops, and bath robes on in order to sleepily take our useless, but nevertheless lovable, Chihuahuas, and Pomeranians out for a walk originates deep within our genetic memory. I wonder if, just like us, small dogs running through urban parks, and avenues feel that twinge of ancient power course through their veins as they forget about their small doggie issues. Is that why we run also? It is true that we no longer have to worry about capturing the fleeting calories cohabitating with us in a dangerous environment. We rarely have to worry about mountain lions, and Tigers chasing after us, but we stillrun. We put on our soft and comfortable, sweat absorbent clothing, and carry small water bottles attached were belts, as we listen to music.

Many people run, bike, walk, swim, and move for exercise. We do it because that’s what makes us feel like a part of our ecosystem. It is as natural to us as telling stories, and while I might agree that I am one of thousands of people doing what everyone else is doing, I can say, that without the shadow of a doubt it is a privilege, and in honor to run with the human pack as we make our way through the history of this small but beautiful world.

Written by Hector

April 30, 2012 at 11:23 pm

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