Tag Archives: happiness

Happiness Anniversary


A year ago today, I found out that I was, in fact, happy.

Continue reading Happiness Anniversary

Curmudgeon Phase

Just a placeholder but I do want to write something longer about attitudes toward “people with attitude.”

I get the impression that, at least in intellectual circles in the United States or other Anglo contexts, there’s a common (to my mind mis-)conception that curmudgeony people are somehow “smarter” than anyone else. Not only do I think this would be an inaccurate characterization, but I think it’s embedded in broader issues about anti-intellectualism, social change, and philosophy.

Sure, some of the best-known curmudgeons have had some interesting ideas to share. But I see no connection between a miserly attitude and any form of insight. I even think that some people are adopting the attitude to position themselves as “intelligent people,” regardless of how intelligent they are (in quality as well as in “perceived measure”). To go even further, I think that the negative attitude in question is often but a phase in a longer process of intellectual discovery and that “enlightened” people often have a much more serene attitude.

In other words, I sometimes get the feeling that some people use an opinionated tone to fake being smart.

There. I’ve said it.

Now, I don’t mean to say that curmudgeons aren’t intelligent. My concept of intelligence doesn’t even work that way (I think there are different forms of intelligence, that intelligence can’t necessarily be measured, etc.). But I do think that some of the actual impostors (not those relating to the impostor syndrome) are using what they perceive as a “status symbol of intellectual prowess” to bolster their self-confidence in contexts which give a lot of prestige to so-called “smart people.”

As dismissive as it ends up sounding, I almost take the “curmudgeon phase” as the wit-focused equivalent to the awkward period of physical changes during puberty. It even reminds me of an exceedingly pointed mockery, by a member of Montreal’s intelligentsia, that a well-known Montreal journalist was “living beyond his intellectual means.” Though the mockery is very nasty, I happen to think that it encapsulated something of the journalist’s attitude which is worth considering. That journalist isn’t really that cranky (especially when compared with “professional curmudgeons” in the United States) but he clearly has “an attitude.” And I really don’t perceive that attitude as a sign of intellectual superiority. (Not that I have a clear notion of what “intellectual superiority” should entail but, hopefully, ya catch my drift.)

Some non-cranks seem to share the curmudgeons’ association of wits with ‘tude. At least, something similar may have been at stake when Douglas N. Adams, whom I’d have a hard time perceiving as a curmudgeon, wrote neurotic elevators and other technological annoyances into his Guide. Now, neurosis and ill-temper aren’t connected by necessity. But the notion that sentient technology would likely have a very negative attitude toward life (as well as toward the Universe and even toward Everything) seems to me to relate to the idea that it isn’t really possible to be both exceedingly intelligent and unbelievably happy. Slartibartfast‘s distinctions between happiness and truth contributes to my impression. And it seems quite likely that DNA wasn’t that serene a person, despite all the happiness to which he has contributed.

Ok, I guess that’ll have to do for now. It’s actually a relief to be writing this. As I’m becoming much more serene, I want to let go of this negativity which I’ve been encountering in some self-important circles.


“If you’re so smart, why ain’t you happy?” does sound less dismissive than the “if you’re so rich, why ain’t you smart?” that I’d like to level at some ultra-competitive materialists.

Crazy App Idea: Happy Meter

I keep getting ideas for apps I’d like to see on Apple’s App Store for iPod touch and iPhone. This one may sound a bit weird but I think it could be fun. An app where you can record your mood and optionally broadcast it to friends. It could become rather sophisticated, actually. And I think it can have interesting consequences.

The idea mostly comes from Philippe Lemay, a psychologist friend of mine and fellow PDA fan. Haven’t talked to him in a while but I was just thinking about something he did, a number of years ago (in the mid-1990s). As part of an academic project, Philippe helped develop a PDA-based research program whereby subjects would record different things about their state of mind at intervals during the day. Apart from the neatness of the data gathering technique, this whole concept stayed with me. As a non-psychologist, I personally get the strong impression that recording your moods frequently during the day can actually be a very useful thing to do in terms of mental health.

And I really like the PDA angle. Since I think of the App Store as transforming Apple’s touch devices into full-fledged PDAs, the connection is rather strong between Philippe’s work at that time and the current state of App Store development.

Since that project of Philippe’s, a number of things have been going on which might help refine the “happy meter” concept.

One is that “lifecasting” became rather big, especially among certain groups of Netizens (typically younger people, but also many members of geek culture). Though the lifecasting concept applies mostly to video streams, there are connections with many other trends in online culture. The connection with vidcasting specifically (and podcasting generally) is rather obvious. But there are other connections. For instance, with mo-, photo-, or microblogging. Or even with all the “mood” apps on Facebook.

Speaking of Facebook as a platform, I think it meshes especially well with touch devices.

So, “happy meter” could be part of a broader app which does other things: updating Facebook status, posting tweets, broadcasting location, sending personal blogposts, listing scores in a Brain Age type game, etc.

Yet I think the “happy meter” could be useful on its own, as a way to track your own mood. “Turns out, my mood was improving pretty quickly on that day.” “Sounds like I didn’t let things affect me too much despite all sorts of things I was going through.”

As a mood-tracker, the “happy meter” should be extremely efficient. Because it’s easy, I’m thinking of sliders. One main slider for general mood and different sliders for different moods and emotions. It would also be possible to extend the “entry form” on occasion, when the user wants to record more data about their mental state.

Of course, everything would be save automatically and “sent to the cloud” on occasion. There could be a way to selectively broadcast some slider values. The app could conceivably send reminders to the user to update their mood at regular intervals. It could even serve as a “break reminder” feature. Though there are limitations on OSX iPhone in terms of interapplication communication, it’d be even neater if the app were able to record other things happening on the touch device at the same time, such as music which is playing or some apps which have been used.

Now, very obviously, there are lots of privacy issues involved. But what social networking services have taught us is that users can have pretty sophisticated notions of privacy management, if they’re given the chance. For instance, adept Facebook users may seem to indiscrimately post just about everything about themselves but are often very clear about what they want to “let out,” in context. So, clearly, every type of broadcasting should be controlled by the user. No opt-out here.

I know this all sounds crazy. And it all might be a very bad idea. But the thing about letting my mind wander is that it helps me remain happy.

Bread and Satisfaction

It’s not humble to say so but, man, is my bread good!

I’m truly impressed with my latest loaf. It ended up tasting pretty much like baguette, although I didn’t shape it as a stick.

As with beer, coffee, and food in general, I tend to make bread on whims. So it’s hard to trace back the “recipe.” Shouldn’t be too hard to reproduce it, though.

I started with the working version of a sourdough culture which was given to me by a friend and former student who works as a professional baker at a Breton bakery in the Eastern part of town. I dare say, this culture does wonders. I really hope I’ll be allowed to bring it to Texas because I’d hate to lose access to it.

Process is simple. I mix in a few tablespoons of sourdough starter with a cup and a half of filtered water. I whip this mixture to be quite frothy. I then mix in a cup of flour in the frothy mixture. I never forget to feed back the jar of starter with some flour and water.

After an hour or so, I prepare the actual bread, adding flour, salt, and occasionally oil and/or other ingredients. This time, I added two tablespoons of olive oil, a few teaspoons of sugar, and half a tablespoon of salt along with a cup and a half of flour. On several occasions, I merely added flour and forgot to add salt. The results were decent enough but not as intensely wonderful as this time.

I then knead the dough, adjusting the amount of flour. This time, I added a good three-quarter cup of flour to the dough. The resulting dough was on the thick side of things but I like to vary in this way. With this sourdough culture, and with only white flour, it’s quite easy to knead the dough and get a good consistency. Usually, I don’t worry too much about the dough being a bit sticky. I kind of play it by ear for the consistency.

After kneading the dough, I placed it in a really large bowl (greased with more olive oil). I expected this particular dough to rise more than it did but after a few hours, I decided to shape this dough. While kneading it in a significant amount of flour, I found this dough to be, erm, stringy. It didn’t ball up really easily. For some reason (probably the amount of oil I put in), it reminded me of pizza dough. So I did with this dough what I tend to do with pizza dough. I split it in smaller portions and put a part of this in the fridge. I kept about one third of the dough in the greased bowl for the second rise, overnight. It probably spent about eight hours in that stage.

When I woke up, I heated my oven to 450°F with the pizza stone on the rack and brewed some moka pot coffee. Once the oven was ready, I dropped the loaf directly from the bowl unto the pizza stone and sprayed the walls of the oven using a very powerful mister from the dollar-store. After about ten minutes, I sprayed a bit more water on the oven’s walls but I could notice that the bread looked pretty good already. I only gave it five more minutes and put it on a plate to cool off a bit.

The resulting bread really is a tasty creation. Complex in its simplicity. Simple in its complexity. A thing of beauty, if I may say so myself.

The crust is very crispy and very fragrant. This crust reminds me of bread I’ve had in Switzerland. While this bread was made only with white flour, it has the crust of those farmhouse breads which have some other flours in them.

The crumb structure is relatively dense but not at all heavy. Moist but well-baked. Elastic yet somewhat tough. Very fragrant. Reminds me of the almost-mythical bread from the Pagé bakery in Saint-Sauveur. At least, the one I remember from my childhood. Contrary to several loaves I’ve done recently, it’s not at all sour. I do like sour breads on occasion but it seems that the main fermentation for this loaf didn’t result in a sour bread. It’s kind of reassuring because I like the possibility of baking both “clean” and sour breads with the same culture. Probably because of the olive oil and sugar, it’s a bit brioche-like in crumb structure but it doesn’t taste sweet at all. It doesn’t taste salty either though the amount of salt in the dough was rather significant (especially when compared to my unsalted batches!).

All in all, this bread almost makes me weep. 🙂

Lessons learnt?

  • Don’t forget the salt!
  • Olive oil and sugar can be your friends.
  • Smaller loaves are easy to bake.
  • Thick doughs are ok.
  • Proofing doesn’t need to be extreme to be effective.
  • Stringy dough after proofing is ok.
  • Even a long rise after proofing may produce a “clean” bread.
  • Bread=good. 🙂

Most of these I knew already. But this is a kind of learning which, for me, requires reinforcement.

The thing which is kind of funny is that I’m quite convinced that some bread experts would criticize this bread for one reason or the other. Not fluffy enough. Too dense. Crumb structure should have bigger holes in it. Too yeasty. Too much sugar. Etc.

But I don’t care. I like it and that’s the only thing which counts.

It’s just sad that I wasn’t able to share it with someone. Next time.

Meanwhile, I’m a happy camper.

Writing Relativism

As I’m still learning as much as I can about language ideology of North American English-speakers, I find public discussions of prescriptivism simply fascinating. Not that we don’t have the equivalent in French. We clearly do. But the connection between language prescriptions and cultural values seems clearer to me in North American English than in French.

And the following comment, made in a discussion of typographic and spelling variability, does make me think about my own relationship to relativism.

Language Log: Foolish hobgoblins

a mischievous reference to “the thin edge of the moral-relativist wedge”, alluding to the many people who believe that making linguistic choices is a moral issue, so that tolerating (or, worse, advocating) variability is moral relativism of the most deplorable sort.

Of course, the author favours this type of relativism in his blog post. But the notion is that some people (closeted prescriptivists) might object to the relativistic nature of somebody’s tolerance of variability.

Come to think of it, there is an obvious connection between linguistic relativity and a specific form of moral relativism. A friend of mine, clearly a relativist, was telling his son that a language form his son had used was not inherently wrong but that “we typically use another form.” Personally, I find such training quite useful but it does reveal a relativistic tendency which, apparently, makes some people cringe.

Of course, I don’t think of relativism as “anything goes” the way many people seem to define it. To me, relativism implies a relation with “context,” broadly defined. An action may have deep implications and those implications should be kept in mind in making decisions about the action.

Clearly, my own relativistic tendencies push me to relate relativism (and relativity, actually) to other dimensions of Life, The Universe, and Everything. To me, relativism isn’t an absolute value. But it can be pretty useful in daily life.

Relativism helps me remain happy.