Wednesday, 27 July 2005

The Simpsons, the Math Instinct, and Borders

Exchanged my expiring Citibank credit card points for a Borders voucher which I promptly flipped around on the Simpsons Season 5 DVD set. Woo hoo! I just love listening to the commentary - so much effort goes into each episode, and unless you look up episodes on SNPP sometimes it's easy to let references and allusions slip by, not to mention in-jokes (characters that look like writers, that sort of thing).

While in Borders, I flipped through The Math Instinct, an interesting book by Keith Devlin (NPR's "Math Guy") that argues that most animals, humans included, innately have some computational ability - dogs, for instance, can solve the problem of catching balls thrown into a lake in a way that would require "knowing" calculus. The title, of course, is a parallel to Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct (itself a book I can't recommend highly enough); in both cases the books challenge what we think we know about how we learn, although Pinker's book is clearly more academic.

Devlin's book answers questions such as why a baseball player runs in an arc towards a fly ball dropping in, rather than in a straight line (it's so that the parabola of the ball's journey looks straight, I think, if I recall correctly). Dogs do the same arcing run when retrieving frisbees, apparently. I wouldn't know - if you've ever owned terriers you know one of their trademarks is that they will chase after things, but they won't ever let them go, so trying to play frisbee with them would probably fall flat after one throw. That, and they're probably both smart and lazy enough to realise "hey, it's going to fall to the ground anyway, let's just wait till it drops".

Interestingly, Borders occupies a different social "space" in Singapore compared to Borders in America. Borders in America is another chain bookstore, the main rival to Barnes and Noble. Here, it's arguably seen as a kind of an exotic importer of specialty books and known for its huge range. I suppose it's because we don't really have the equivalent of Powell's City of Books, Strand Book Store, the specialty bookstores of Charing Cross Road, or even your average college town independent bookstore.



re: Borders

I definitely see your point. There's a part of me that will think to myself, I should be supporting independent bookstores instead of big companies like Borders. The problem is, Singapore doesn't have good bookstores that aren't owned by big companies.

If you want something even remotely obscure to find, ultimately you have to go to the likes of Borders or Kinokuniya.

I see a similar problem with HMV. Thankfully smaller chains like Music Junction and Gramaphone have definitely picked up the slack, but HMV continues to attract people for the reason that they sell stuff you can't find elsewhere (except online).


because my friends all tell me different things, i was just wondering if you knew how long it would take to drive from toronto to NYC. a greyhound takes like 13 hours but how bout driving?


The concept of social space ... I reckon Borders Sg is as iconic as the Kisho Kurokawa beacon that sits quietly on an otherwise busy junction. For most young Singaporeans, it is just another hip place to seen ... The allure of it seems to have little to do with a genuine quest for knowledge nor critical thought. Although the optimist in me, hopes that there'll be more contemplative spaces in Singapore, where we can truly embrace a culture of earnest readership and a renaissance of our own. About a decade or so ago, there was a really good, nondescript bookshop - The Book Chamber, tucked at a corner of the Adelphi, just behind the Cityhall/Supreme Court. I loved that bookshop, it was small and quaint, yet the couple who ran it, really knew their books. They'd even source for lesser-known books or titles that are out-of-print when requests were made. It was like a small but warm, personal, brick-and-mortar version of amazon.com ... I was fresh out of school then, and I'd walk to the bookshop from my office at Raffles Plc and spend my lunch hour reading there. For many months, haha, I think I blew my salary on books in that tiny, quiet corner. Unlike New York, London, Tokyo, etc ... it is indeed true that more could be done to create social, contemplative space ... haha, we just do not need more temples consecrated to the gods of consumerism. Pls pardon me for ranting. Btw, I have been lurking around your blog-site for quite some time now, and I enjoy reading your posts :)


zhaki - agreed about HMV, but even the smaller chains are still chains... more indie record stores would be nice, but of course they seem to be dying out even elsewhere.

faith - according to Mapquest, a car trip from Toronto to NYC takes roughly 8 hours 20 minutes. (Odd ending point in NY, Kenmare St, but I suppose the times wouldn't change much anywhere else.)

hsu-ling - I used to work at the Adelphi. Sadly I don't remember seeing the store. And thanks for revealing yourself - I love hearing from any of my readers. :)


We need an equivalent of Championship Vinyl, in other words.


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