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Book: The Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain

The Secret Life of the Grown-up Braincover

Many people are probably aware that the world's demographic is shifting toward old age due to declining birth rate and longer life span. Traditionally, we see middle age as a transition period. Our body and the brain is over the peak and undergoing a slow decline into our old age. But new understanding from the burgeoning field of neuroscience often contradict the conventional wisdom. The middle age brain is capable of growth and learning, and in many respect, works even better than younger brain. Author Barbara Strauch put together a lot of scientific finding on middle age brain in her new book The Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain. Here are some of the interesting bits:

  • Longitudinal studies shows cognitive skills peak at middle age.
  • Older people are happier. As one ages, they become calmer, more positive, and being able to regular them emotion better. This is possibly link to a reduced activity of part of the brain called amygdala.
  • Older people are wiser. The amount of white matter in the brain, myelin, continue to increase well into middle age. It forms a coating of insulation and allows the neuron to recover faster after signal have been sent. This can gives us a more integrated and comprehensive view of the world.
  • Older people are using both hemispheres of the brain to handle complex task, a phenomenon known as bilateralization. This is linked to higher cognitive ability.

Overall the book gives quite a happy note on aging. It also challenges our cultural reverence of youthfulness and inspires us to rethink our middle age life.

2010.10.29 [] - comments

 

Happiness for a Lifetime

In her talk about "The How of Happiness", Sonja Lyubomirsky quoted a famous Chinese proverb:


If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a month, get married.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody else.

I can't figure out what is the original Chinese version. Nevertheless this strikes me as really insightful. Follow the link to read about her talk on happiness and positive psychology.

2010.10.28 [] - comments

 

Super Sad True Love Story

super sad true love story cover

Just completed the novel Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. I have a great time reading his super hilarious satire. And true to its title, the story gets sad at the end. His self deprecating image, the declining American Empire and the once glamor New York city evokes Woody Allen. But the first half of the book is so pack full of hysterical and absurd jokes that shows he is a peer of Quentin Tarantino in the literature world.

So cynical it is actually funny. Many innocuous phrases, like the government's slogan Together we'll surprise the world!, takes on an entire new meaning when you consider how it reflects the lack of confidence and self-esteem deep down.

The protagonist Lenny's job at the "Post Human Service" is a good shot at the life extension idea. The business model of the firm is to sell life extension service to rich people, cynically referred to as "life lovers". I was quite pissed about Aubrey de Grey's anti-aging story and that some people are taking him seriously. How brilliant the author weave it into an entire satire story!

This is my first (and only) Kindle purchase so far. I have not otherwise spend my time in fiction in recent years. I like it that I can free my mind to travel to an imaginary place for a while.

2010.10.24 [] - comments

 

Book review - Hackers - Heroes of the Computer Revolution

In Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Steven Levy portrayed a tribe of people doing amazing exploration at the dawn of computing age. Incredibly brilliant, the genius from MIT students labs has discovered computer, which is a expensive commodity supposed to be sanctioned for academic research at the time. These hacker spend every hour exploring and advancing computer's capability, or sometimes just plain having fun. Their wizardry putting everyone in complete awe.

But hacker's contribution is not merely on technical front. They are rebels, social revolutionaries. The hacker's ethic is "information should be free". This run against usual the commercial interest that try to put a price on information, or to lock them up under secrecy or copyright protection. The hacker's efforts are bottom-up as oppose to top-down. It is little guys best big business to built incredible things. Today's open source software development and the like of Wikipedia have proven as tremendous force in generating creative and economic value. All these can be trace back to the hacker culture developing decades ago.

The story continues onto the 70s and 80s. It was a period I find lot more personal connection. It was the era of personal computer and it was the time I started to expose to computer. I have lay my hands on Apple II, all the role playing games, LodeRunner or even the copy protection cracker LockSmith. It is wonderful for Steven to cover the insiders story of the creators and how these things are created, often in an unorthodox way by some hobbyists. As a teenager then, I would not have imagined a game publisher like On Line System will be such a mad house!

In 2010, O'Reilly has acquired the right of "Hackers" and re-released a 25th Anniversary Edition. The story of hackers have never lose its relevance. In the afterword of this edition, Steven has interviewed some of the characters again, some 50 years after the earliest days in MIT. It gives a fascinating depth to the development of a long movement.

2010.10.04 [] - comments

 

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