February 20, 2005

The Smarties tube, an escaped lion, and the relationship between insomnia and my preference for audio novels, two of which are recommended here.

It's funny how sometimes there's something that you've never heard of once and then, within a very short space of time, you hear about it twice. This morning I was checking the most blogged-about news stories and was surprised to run across one informing us that the manufacturer of Smarties candy is going to eliminate its distinctive tube packaging. I had never heard of this beloved-in-Britain candy packaging until just last night as I was going to sleep listening to the third disc of the audiobook of Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" and reached this passage where a teacher uses a Smarties tube in an experiment demonstrating that the young narrator did not understand that other people have minds.

It's a great passage, by the way. Go over to the link and read it. The narrator, an autistic boy, looking back on what the teacher demonstrated, tries to understand the human mind and needs to think about computers to work out an answer. The Turing test and saccades are discussed, concisely and brilliantly.

Why am I listening to this book on CD rather than reading it? You might well ask, if you remember that yesterday I went on a bit about how reading is so much better than audio. It's all about insomnia, my friends. What I like about reading is the freedom to think my own thoughts and go at my own pace -- which is, as a consequence, ridiculously slow, as I am usually rather entertained by my own thoughts. (This blog is a testament to that.) What gives me insomnia is thinking too many of my own thoughts. I discovered long ago that listening to an audiobook cures my insomnia, because I can use the unpausing words of the book to supplant the freewheeling thoughts of my own that would keep me awake.

It takes me several months to make my way though an audiobook used this way, because I usually fall asleep in a minute or two. The last novel I listened to was "The Story of Pi," and interestingly, I ran across this story in the newspaper today that called that book to mind:
A large exotic cat, possibly an African lion, appears to be roaming the rural countryside near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the authorities said on Friday.

Trackers were brought in to hunt for the animal after several sets of tracks, far too large for native bobcats or mountain lions, were found on a ranch not far from the hilltop library. Wildlife officials were bringing in a trap, baited with fresh meat, to catch the animal, said Lorna Bernard, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Fish and Game.

A ranch caretaker reported seeing a large cat, possibly a lion, dart into the brush on Tuesday. At least two other people within a quarter-mile of the ranch reported seeing the cat, which officials estimate may weigh 600 pounds.
"Pi" contains more than one passage about a large wild animal escaping captivity and disappearing into an inappropriate habitat where human beings cannot find it. Here's a passage I especially like (and have blogged about before):
If you took the city of Tokyo and turned it upside down and shook it, you'd be amazed at all the animals that would fall out: badgers, wolves, boa constrictors, Komodo dragons, crocodiles, ostriches, baboons, capybaras, wild boars, leopards, manatees, ruminants in untold numbers. There is no doubt in my mind that feral giraffes and feral hippos have been living in Tokyo for generations without being seen by a soul.
Sleep well, read books, and don't get spooked by coincidences.

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