On Learning Useless Skills at School

An answer to the age old question of “why am I learning this at school, I’ll never use it in real life”:

[…] doing math, reading, and writing actually develops the connections between the neurons in the human brain, re-wiring it to complete the tasks you practice in those areas. The layman result is it literally makes you smarter. Studying math that you will never technically use makes your brain better at performing discrete and logic-based tasks. So, the information actually matters very little, but the practice is essential. If a child focused on science and math in school, they will be better at tasks like construction, where you need to focus on measurement and intuitive design and workflow. Reading practice helps the brain fire faster and to more quickly comprehend a work of art as an adult.

Top 15 Sci-fi Books, According to a Redditor

Someone on Reddit claimed that they have been reading nothing but science fiction for the past 6 years, and made this list as a recommendation:

  1. The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell)
  2. Hyperion Series (Dan Simmons)
  3. The Stand (Steven King)
  4. I, Robot (Isaac Asimov)
  5. Dune (Frank Herbert)
  6. The Forge of God (Greg Bear)
  7. The Forever War (Joe Haldeman)
  8. Not Alone (Craig Falconer)
  9. The Sirens of Titan (Kurt Vonnegut)
  10. Nightfall (Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg)
  11. Old Man’s War (John Scalzi)
  12. Childhood’s End (Arthur C. Clarke)
  13. Spin (Robert Charles Wilson)
  14. Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein)
  15. Footfall (Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle)

There is more summary of each book, and honorable mentions, in the Reddit thread.


Merriam-Webster’s definition:

noun bri·​co·​lage | \ ˌbrē-kō-ˈläzh  , ˌbri-\

construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand

According to French social anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the artist “shapes the beautiful and useful out of the dump heap of human life.” Lévi-Strauss compared this artistic process to the work of a handyman who solves technical or mechanical problems with whatever materials are available. He referred to that process of making do as bricolage, a term derived from the French verb bricoler (meaning “to putter about”) and related to bricoleur, the French name for a jack-of-all-trades. 

What Does Bump of Chicken Even Mean?

Bump of Chicken logo.

Linguists geeking out about the name of one of my favorite bands was not something I knew I needed:

Somehow this bothered me in a way that other J-pop band names like “Porno Graffiti”, “Golden Bomber”, or even “Funky Monkey Babys” didn’t. These latter seem to me to follow some sort of intuitive English syntax, but “Bump of Chicken”??

Of course I grew up with 1960’s band names like “Strawberry Alarm Clock,” “Iron Butterfly”, “Led Zeppelin” and “Procol Harum”, but again, these seem in some way syntactically correct in a way that Bump of Chicken does not.

The comment section should not be missed as well.

Interestingly, during high school (with Indonesian as the native language), it was pretty common for us to use the English word chicken to describe a cowardly person, so the band’s explanation of their name to mean “counterattack from the weak man” would’ve been rather easily understood there.

A Digit That Should Have Been A Zero

A fascinating story about a pair of programmers at Google, Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat:

On Sanjay’s monitor, a thick column of 1s and 0s appeared, each row representing an indexed word. Sanjay pointed: a digit that should have been a 0 was a 1. When Jeff and Sanjay put all the missorted words together, they saw a pattern—the same sort of glitch in every word. Their machines’ memory chips had somehow been corrupted.

Sanjay looked at Jeff. For months, Google had been experiencing an increasing number of hardware failures. The problem was that, as Google grew, its computing infrastructure also expanded. Computer hardware rarely failed, until you had enough of it—then it failed all the time. Wires wore down, hard drives fell apart, motherboards overheated. Many machines never worked in the first place; some would unaccountably grow slower. Strange environmental factors came into play. When a supernova explodes, the blast wave creates high-energy particles that scatter in every direction; scientists believe there is a minute chance that one of the errant particles, known as a cosmic ray, can hit a computer chip on Earth, flipping a 0 to a 1. The world’s most robust computer systems, at NASA, financial firms, and the like, used special hardware that could tolerate single bit-flips. But Google, which was still operating like a startup, bought cheaper computers that lacked that feature. The company had reached an inflection point. Its computing cluster had grown so big that even unlikely hardware failures were inevitable.

from “The Friendship That Made Google Huge”


For about a month in 2002, J002E was discovered and thought to be an asteroid. It was found to be orbiting Earth, which was unusual because the only large object to do that is, well, the Moon.

Then NASA did some measurements and concluded that it was a man-made object. J002E3, it turned out, was the third stage of the Saturn V rocket from November 1969. The rocket helped launch Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, and Richard Gordon on the Moon landing mission of Apollo 12. When he reached the Moon’s surface, Conrad famously said: “Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.”

Read more about the history of J002E3 here.

Multitasking Considered Harmful?

Psychology professor Anthony Wagner:

In about half of the studies, the heavy media multitaskers are significantly underperforming on tasks of working memory and sustained attention. The other half are null results; there’s no significant difference. It strikes me as pretty clear that there is a negative relationship between media multitasking and memory performance – that high media multitasking is associated with poor performance on cognitive memory tasks. There’s not a single published paper that shows a significant positive relationship between working memory capacity and multitasking.

Study Arabic Sometime

From “Why Arabic Is Terrific”:

Nearly all Arabic words consist of a three-consonant root slotted into a pattern of vowels and helper consonants. The root gives the word its base meaning, while the pattern modifies this meaning in a systematic and predictable way. This idea is so cool that you’d think it came from a constructed language, and yet Arabic has actual native speakers who live completely normal lives and will not try to talk to you about Runescape.

For example, the pattern ma--a-, where the hyphens are placeholders for three root consonants, is nearly always a place name in Arabic. The pattern  i-a-a-a generates a verb meaning “to cause someone to do X”, where the meaning of X is determined by that three-consonant root.

Apple Store Cotai Central Macau Grand Opening Video Tour

A few days ago, on July 29th, 2018, we happened to be around the city of Macau. By chance, a new Apple Store was to be opened right next door to our hotel.

The doors were opened by 6 PM, and it was quite surprising to see the long queue and the huge crowds at the entrance. I had visited a different Apple Store about 30 minutes of walk from this one the previous day, and the difference in vibe and noise were glaring.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long before the queue shortened, and we eagerly joined. Here’s my video of the event:

The store features a 1 mm thick marble layer on the outside of the second floor, as well as bamboo plants outside and outside.

In all honesty the event feels kind of awkward to me, with all the cheering and excitement even during the queue before entering. It feels a bit funny to see people getting excited about all the products here in such a crowded place, while there’s a better option just 30 minutes away. Still, it is a one-of-a-kind event and I’m happy to be able to experience it.

The video was taken with an iPhone 8 with the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 gimbal.

Can’t Pass Down the Cloud

The leather notebook is a combo of a lot of things. It’s lyrics from songs, and it’s turned into a weird kind of diary for me, and I keep my to-do list in it. My sister gave it to me as a gift. She makes fun of me because I’m on my phone all the time. She said when I’m writing songs I should write them in a book, because when I’m older I won’t want to go back and look at my notes on the cloud, I’ll want a physical thing. That resonated with me. You’re not going to want to pass down your cloud to your kids. It’s just nice to have something physical to write in.

B-Roc, from electronic duo The Knocks.