Bytes and Bikes

Plus other interesting stuff. But mostly computer software and mountain biking.

On Learning to Read … Faster

I am a slow reader. I have known this for a while now. I have even tried to do something about it at one point, but a recent post by my cousin made me realize just how much potential reading speed I’m missing out on. She took the staples reading test that has been going around recently and found that she reads at 748 words per minute.

My cousin's reading test

By comparison, I took some tests and found that I read somewhere between 250 and 300 words per minute. And my reading comprehension is not always so good…

My staples test

My freereadingtest.com test

I took tests both at the staples website and at freereadingtest.com (I did the Level 9 test). I want to improve my reading speed considerably. I figure that there are two ways to read more: spend more time reading and read faster. I’ll start with reading faster, since that allows for reading more no matter the time spent reading.

I plan on posting weekly on my progress and what I’ve learned and practiced. As a sneak peek for next week, here is a screenshot from a reading test I took when I was reading out loud. Tune in next week for my progress report. Hopefully I will be over 300 words per minute, but I guess we’ll see!

Reading out loud

On the Uncertainty of Everything

I watched a series of videos of an interview with Richard Feynman today. I highly recommend that you make the time to check them out. (If you don’t know who Richard Feynman is, you should look him up.) While watching the interview, I gained insight into a number of ideas.

One of these is the nature of knowing things. Feynman shares an anecdote of one interaction with his father. He asked his father why a ball in a wagon will roll to the back of the wagon when the wagon is pulled forward. When I heard this question, I immediately thought to myself, “Inertia.” But Feynman’s father answered, “Noone knows… The accepted belief is that things that are moving tend to stay moving and things that are at rest tend to stay at rest unless something pushes them, but noone knows why that is.” I found that very interesting and enlightening. There is a difference between knowing the name of something or being able to describe it, and knowing the why and the how of something. Why do objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion? Feynman expounds further on what it means to Know something throughout the interview.

I gained the other insight from Feynman’s discussion of his beliefs. He comments on both the ideas he believes in and the certainty with which he believes them. In fact, he has some very interesting things to say about his beliefs in God and religion in general. At one point, he says that the view of a scientist is that “we don’t know what’s true, everything is possibly wrong.” He then goes on to imply that this is a problem for religion. I agree with his premise. I don’t think we can know anything with absolute certainty. I am much more certain of some things than others, but I am not absolutely certain of anything. All of my beliefs depend on how my mind processes information; how my senses perceive and experience the world. I can be certain of nothing.

I do not see uncertainty as a problem for religion. This is how I see it: once one has accepted that there is no certainty, then there are two fundamental choices: either adopt faith in something or embrace the reality of not knowing. In reality, almost everyone chooses the former to one extent or another. Some choose a faith in the existence of a creator God and His love of mankind while others accept a faith in the absence of such a being, believing only in what they can sense and perceive (for even that is a type of faith, and as with all faith, some have more of it than others). Richard Feynman chose to accept the reality of not knowing. He states in the interview that being uncertain about things doesn’t scare him. Neither does it scare me, but yet I choose to have faith in something that cannot be studied by science.

My beliefs are based on my faith in three things. First of all, that God exists. Second, that the Bible was inspired by God and, interpreted correctly (ay, there’s the rub), is true. Third, that I can experience reality and reason about it using my mind and body. Everything else I believe (to greater or lesser degrees of certainty) depends on and sprouts forth from these three things.


I find it useful to break things down until they are as clear as I can make them in my mind. I hope that may be the case for some of you and that this post will encourage you to do the same. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Why No Touchie: Upgrading to Ubuntu 11.10

I upgraded to Ubuntu 11.10 this evening and the first thing I noticed was that my touchpad no longer worked… Of course, I immediately suspected that “touchpad-indicator”, the application I installed to disable my touchpad when I have a normal mouse plugged in, was to blame. However, I decided to do some searching around first and found a couple of forum posts about similar problems. After reading about their woes, I decided to just try removing touchpad-indicator (sudo apt-get remove touchpad-indicator). After running that command line and restarting, everything worked fine. I don’t know what changed in the upgrade. Perhaps it would work again after reinstalling, but I’ll probably wait until having the touchpad enabled annoys me again before trying.

I also ran into a problem with the “ffi” Ruby gem. As I mentioned in the previous post, I am running this blog on Octopress, which is built on Ruby. When I would try to run rake generate (“generate” is the Octopress Rakefile target that builds all of the HTML from the markdown that I write these posts in), I would get something like the following error:

in `require': libffi.so.5: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory

After some investigation, I found that this was easily fixed by running sudo gem pristine ffi.

Other than these two little issues, Ubuntu 11.10 has been pretty good to me so far. Of course, I’ve only used it for an hour or so, but it appears that it hasn’t totally hosed my system, so that’s a start. I have noticed that the alt-tab behavior between workspaces is now different. It will now switch to the next most recently used application no matter what workspace that application is in whereas before it would restrict alt-tab switching to the current workspace. I’ll have to see if I get used to that. If I don’t, I may end up looking around for a setting to change it (I would imagine it would be configurable). I guess we’ll see what other issues I run up against in the following weeks.

First!

First post! Aww yeeeeah, I win. Seriously, though, these are the beginnings of a new blog which I have formed using the Octopress platform (some of you may have already figured that out from the theme). You can see the source of any changes I’ve made (mostly just creating my own posts/pages) here: https://github.com/xonev/StevenOxley.com.

If you would just like to learn more about me, you can go to the About page.

I still haven’t figured out exactly what I’m going to be making this blog about. Undoubtedly, the majority of the posts will be technical in nature, but I may also throw in the random “just-for-fun” post now and then. Hopefully we’ll all be enriched by whatever it turns into.