‘Happiness’ by Matthieu Ricard

My reading drought is over! After being stuck on a couple of books for the entirety of this year, I’ve finally got through one of them. Trying to read in parallel is simply a bad idea, even if one is fiction and the other non.

The subtitle of ‘Happiness’ is ‘A guide to developing life’s most important skill’. With respect, this is exactly what ‘Happiness’ is not, but I’ll forgive the marketing people for sexing up the idea of the book.

Oh, sure, there’s the occasional exercise in which we’re advised to perform deep meditative acts, but colour me sceptical that a non-meditator will be able to derive much outcome from such exercises without years of practise. (Indeed, my own experience confirms this :)) Not that the simplifications used to promote these techniques aren’t useful: when grumpy, meditate on your grumpiness itself and you’ll realise it’s meaningless — suddenly you feel better. In a perhaps overused analogy in the book, the negative emotion disappears like a snowflake in the spring sunshine.

What the book does do to great success is inspire one to take up a path of developing their happiness — and it’s not surprising that the teaching that the Buddhist Ricard espouses is Buddhism itself. But that’s, in fact, the strength of the book in my eyes. While Christians might stumble around trying to prove the power of prayer, the Buddhists can equivocally state why and how their practises help develop the mind from an objectively point of view.

Or perhaps I’m swallowing their bait, line and sinker.

Regardless, what this book emphasises is that being happy isn’t a genetic or environmental factor that’s out of your control. Rather, we create our own happinesses in our own minds, and with practise one can be happy all of the time. Sounds good, right? Well, Ricard spends an entire book teasing out the idea of being happy all the time. I guess the easy way to sum it up would be that once you’ve worked out the meaning of (your own) life then you’ll be happy. Simple, huh? Well…

This book isn’t just a “swallow this pill and you’ll be happy” solution. The pursuit of happiness is inextricably tied to the way we live our lives. Perhaps another way to boil it down is to say “be optimistic always, spend every moment doing what you should be doing, and make other people happy at the same time”.

Realistically, everyone’s search of happiness, if they are even trying, will follow a different path. The appeal of this book is that it’s a great elucidation on the different little meanings around “being happy”, and inspiration that our brains are tactile enough that, with practise, we can live our lives in a positive frame of mind.

Now, where do I sign up for meditation lessons?


A new TeXShop console window

Sometimes I expend energy doing things that to the untrained eye look like a waste of time. Take TeXShop’s console window:


That’s easily the single ugliest window I have to look at on a daily basis. Running Matlab is a close second, but I’m not doing that quite so often these days. But considering both my work and my play is done in TeXShop, that’s a lot of ugly looking right back at me.

Eventually you just can’t take it any more.

In the end, a few long minutes messing around in Interface Builder yields a relative delight:


Ah, bliss. I’m literally a happier man for veritable seconds every day. I’m sure you’ll agree that the benefits of this can not be understated.

A couple of notes about the design of the window itself. Note the output of TeX is hard-wrapped before printing to 80 characters, so it’s essential to have a fixed width font in there. Using Helvetica as the default is just crazy. Since we know that 80 chars of Monaco 10 takes up about 500 pixels, the window can be fixed to that width. (To do this “properly”, you would want to adjust the width of the window depending on the size of the fixed width font that has been chosen.)

I’ve added a slight yellow colour to the window; this facilitates easy of background recognition when you’re trying to grab a background document. When there are three windows per document (source, output, console), it’s important to distinguish them in little ways. It would probably be better to consolidate the console window into the source, visible only during a typesetting run; this is more work than I have time for, however.

The placeholder text has been carefully constructed to try and get people to use the various commands that are available on error during a TeX compilation. The best is i, which replaces the token on which the error occurred with whatever text you write. Pity it doesn’t also edit the text of your document to synchronise the correction. Again, it would be better if this text field only became visible after an error had occurred.

The destructive buttons “Abort” and “Trash Aux Files” have been moved to the right to separate them from the constructive button “Goto Error”; I like adding keyboard shortcuts to interface elements (in heavy moderation, of course) so that I remember to use them.

Finally, the scroll bar (that disappears when not required, by the way) is mini-sized. Scroll bars are an anachronism in the era of two-finger scrolling and mouse wheels/balls (to a certain extent; they shouldn’t be eliminated entirely), and the fewer pixels used for their representation, the better.

Update: the NIB file can be downloaded here: TSDocument.nib.zip. To install it, pull up a contextual menu on TeXShop in the Finder and select ‘Show Package Contents’. Then drop it into Contents/Resources/English.lproj/ (or as appropriate for your localisation; only tested with English). Probably a good idea to make a backup of the original…


The man who absorbed the world

One day I’m going to write a fairy tale about a man whose affection for the people in his life grows without bound, unchecked, until he ends up absorbing into himself everyone that he loves in the exterior world and then becomes totally alone. It may or may not be partly auto-biographical.

The whole notion of “absorbing” another being seems a little creepy when taken literally, but that’s kind of the point.