Thursday, June 08, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell: Blink

This was a fascinating book about how we as humans process information. In this book Malcolm inspects the way we are able to input vast amounts of data within seconds and make decisions based on that information. He also discussed memory and how those memories relate to the ability to “thin-slice” information.

I was particularly fascinated by the references to people’s ability to remember things for recognition, such as faces, but our inability to articulate those memories because that uses a different portion of the brain than the part that does the facial recognition. I also enjoyed the commentary about how too much information can derail our instinctive ability to make decisions. Although I found it fascinating, the descriptions of the war-fighter exercise where the “Blue” team had so much information that they failed to be able to react instinctively to the “Red” team’s decentralized tactics.

The most useful thing that I got out of this book however was the knowledge that this quick-decision making can be trained. That by giving our unconscious mind the vocabulary, terminology and experience to be able to categorize and organize the data that it receives that we can make even better snap decisions and become less likely to make mistakes when doing so, be it by learning facial expressions to better understand peoples true feelings, or become more familiar with the particulars of your job so that you are less likely to be surprised by circumstances and changes that arise.

Overall a great read with lots of things to think about and consider in how we live our everyday lives. Very recommended

Terry Pratchett: Mort

In Terry Pratchetts book Mort, he explores the fascinating character of Death. Now Death has appeared in several of the Discworld books already but Mort explores the character in far greater depth. The title however is a bit misleading. It does not stand for mortality, or mortal, or even mort the French word for death. No, Mort is the name of the unfortunate young lad who was to become Death’s apprentice. Why does Death need an apprentice you ask? He doesn’t. So why does he have one? Because his daughter is lonely. Death has a child? No, she’s adopted. Why did he adopt her? I have no idea.

Mort is a fascinating character that undergoes much of the adolescent awkwardness through the course of the book (which takes place over the course of a few months). Of course his emotional growth is accelerated by the fact that he is helping to do Death’s job as his apprentice. Which naturally leads to complications, since Death is whoever does Death’s job. Which isn’t entirely true since Death stays skeletal and keeps many of his powers such as foresight even when the powers of Death itself are transferring to Mort. Of course being human, Mort has far too many glands to be a good Death and ends up following his heart and not the job description getting himself into endless trouble.

Death of the Discworld series is one of my favorite characters. He’d like you to think he has no emotions, but he cared enough about an orphan girl to adopt her, and he genuinely cares about cats, particularly about kittens. Death loves cats. When he later becomes a short order cook, his kitchen is filled with them…….yes, you heard right, Death becomes a short order cook. It’s a long story…243 pages to be exact. He also has the single coolest weapon I have ever read about, a switch-blade scythe. I mean, how cool is that? You get down off of your horse, pull your walking stick out of your saddle, rap it on the ground and a three foot blade pops out! Talk about intimidating! There’s a sword too, but that’s not nearly as much fun as the switch-blade scythe. Death also has one other very important character trait. He loves curry. Even though he doesn’t need to eat, and being skeletal one is uncertain where it goes after mastication, he loves curry. Enough said.

Basically the whole premise and plot of the book can be summed up in a single sentence spoken by Death when describing the job to Mort. “It'd be a bloody stupid world if people got killed without dying wouldn't it?” And he’s right, it would!