Wednesday, December 31, 2008


New Years is one of the stupidest real holidays there is, but an excuse to drink is an excuse to drink. Here are a couple of my resolutions that I am going to put here so they are on record, and I can't claim that I forgot them.

  • Read 60 books this year (I missed my goal this year, so I'm going to increase it by 20. Makes sense)
  • Become fluent in Spanish and begin on a third language
  • Bring the GPA back up to 3.5
  • Travel - Don't just go on the 10 day trip to Israel, but stay and travel to Europe for at least 2 more weeks. Also, stay at least two weeks in Puerto Vallarta, and spend some time surfing in Sayulita.
  • Save 7k before the Summer to do this properly.
  • Study abroad Fall 09 or Spring '10
  • Break 175

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Various Links

Monday, December 22, 2008

Learning to think

"Do not write it as a formula. Write it as a way to teach officers to think, to think in new ways about war. War is ever changing and men are ever fallible. Rigid rules simply won't work. Teach men to think." - Robert Coram, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
John Boyd was a proponent of Schwerpunkt, or the commanders intent. He believed that the most effective way to get something done, was for the leadership to give implicit commands that allowed people below him to do whatever it took to accomplish an objective. He did not believe explicit commands that told someone exactly what to do were effective – they were too slow and could be completely undermined by a changing battlefield. He said that to be able to make quick, effective decisions, a person must develop his fingerspitzengefuhl, or his "fingertip feel". This is the feeling that you get when you have a good understanding of your situation, and can fly by your gut, because you have a greater understanding of what is going on than your opponents. You can think and act much faster than someone who is still collecting information and disecting it.

But the prerequisite for this is that you must not be caught up in the moment. You have to be taught to be flexible, to forget so many things that we have learned that confine us to one way of thinking. You need to recognize that the way you or people around you do things might be wrong, and try other ways to make things fit better. A lack of change and trying new things will only lead you down a road to nowhere. We have to question everything, and try and apply the meta-issues of what we learn to our lives.

Without a doubt, this is the biggest issue with education today. This became more obvious during this past week, with everyone studying for finals by memorizing minute details in gen-ed classes like Classical Mythology. Instead of spending any time talking and learning about the issues that each individual myth covers, we review pointless minutiae that everyone will forget immediately after the final. Instead of discussing why the myths that we studied have been preserved for so long, the class focuses only on furiously studying who it was that beat Atalanta in a race.

Or in my logic class, we learn and study the fallacies, and then learn formal/inductive logic, and yet we did not learn ONCE how to apply those strategies towards daily life. The book gives an example and states why something is wrong, but no one actually learns why it makes an argument wrong in day-to-day use. Instead of being told to create arguments for/against something, and then using what we learned to strengthen or weaken our arguments, we are just told to memorize information. This is completely ineffective. Studies have consistently shown that without application exercises, information will not be retained. To continually hold classes that rely on just memorizing and regurgitating information is to accept that you are not willing to actually teach the students how to apply what they are learning.

Bruce Flemming wrote that:
"Nowadays we teach literature as if we were giving a tour of a grocery store to Martians who've just touched down on Earth. We professional storekeepers explain the vegetable section, the dairy section, the meat section, note similarities and differences among our wares, variations of texture and color, the fact that there's no milk where the applesauce is, and perhaps the fact (which we bemoan) that there are no papayas. We're teaching the store, not what's in it."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I have yet to read Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers, but I watched a presentation that he gave two months ago, and it is a must-see. Some paraphrased excerpts:

1/6 High school athletes who earn college scholarships actually make it to college. This is a result of poverty (and gang affiliation, which is a byproduct). So the capitalization rate of football, the most important sport in America, is only 16%. Why is the process of getting good enough players into college not more streamlined? It's in the college's best interest to get as many talented prospects as possible.

Why are the vast majority of hockey and soccer players born in the first 6 months of the year? The cutoff date for registration when they are ~8 (And first joining organized competition) is January 1st. So the older (bigger) kids get selected, and get 10 years of specialized coaching which eventually makes them the best players, even when they might not of been the most talented players for their age.

Why is there such a big difference in the percentage of the Asian population in America that is successful compared to the White population? Culture. If you take 10 Chinese students, and 10 American students, and give them 15 minutes to try and solve a very hard math problem, the American students will give up after 2 minutes, and the Chinese will still be working after 15 minutes. The average white person's IQ is actually slightly higher than the average Chinese, but there is a cultural restraint on the idea of hard work, which over time leads to more success for Asian-Americans.

Why do Kenyans dominate long-distance running? It isn't because of superior genetics, but rather that more than a million 12-17 year old boys who run 10-12 miles a day. While the number in the US is probably in the thousands. So those who are talented at running are fully capitalized in Kenya, while me miss thousands of talented runners in the US.

Why is this important? When we look at people who have success, we tend to argue that it is the result of an innate difference in ability. This is wrong. We have a scarcity of achievement not because of a scarcity of talent, but because we are squandering our talent. Which is a good thing because it is something we can improve on.
I have heard a lot of talk about how Outliers is not nearly as good a book as his previous, but I learned a lot from just a short 20 minute presentation. Definitely check it out.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Observance Effect

We seem to easily be able to notice other peoples faults and follies. We can then try to make sure that we don't follow on that same path, but by guiding ourselves by problems that other people have, do we end up missing our own? Is there any way to actually fight that?

I can think of two ways. I would like to believe that I have the self-awareness to spot my flaws and try to correct them. Is that type of perspective even possible? Maybe it just takes more self-reflection to figure yourself out – more time without any distractions whether they are cell phones, TV, Internet, Books, etc. Time where you do nothing but dig inside yourself and try to see what's there. But maybe it isn't enough to just reflect, do we need to be pushed over the edge to see our problems?

By surrounding yourself with truly honest people that are smarter than you, willing to give you shit, tell you when you are fucking up, we can get more perspective. People that can push you to really see what you keep hoping not to find. I don't have nearly enough of those kind people in my life, and I don't know where to look to meet more of them, but I am looking.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The 3^3 Project

Charlie Hoehn just posted about his 3^3 Project:

“Over the year, we all discovered new things that we now love and recommend to everyone. Restaurants, food, movies, songs, bands, books, websites, articles, Youtube videos, etc. We recommend them because we’re confident that they’ll enrich another person’s life in some way or another. This is genuine word-of-mouth marketing.”

“I’m calling this “The 3^3 Project (three to the third) because you need to recommend 3 things, describe each of them in 3 sentences, and then ask 3 more people to join this discussion.”

“What I want you to do is this:

  • Post (preferably in the comment section below or on your own blog) your top 3 favorite things that you’ve really gotten into this year and want other people to check out. Your suggestions can be anything. They don’t even have to be things that came out this year; you just have to have fallen in love with them during 2008.
  • For each of your recommendations, you have to sell us on it in 3 sentences or less. No paragraphs — just a few sentences. Bonus points if you make it actionable by including a link, which will make it easier for everyone to actually see what you’re talking about.
  • After that, you should ask 3 more people to add to the list.”
He lists Delicious Bookmarking and It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia as two of his favorite things, which I agree with. I made a Delicious that I update pretty often. My three would go something like this:
  1. Post-It Highlighters: These have completely changed how I read and mark up my books. Ryan Holiday was the first person that showed me how helpful they can be, and they have made a huge impact on my reading process. The ability to instantly find important parts of a book, or phrases that were especially memorable is easily worth the cost of the highlighters many times over.
  2. Google Reader: I was pretty late getting on the RSS bandwagon, but it was also something that has really changed me for the better. Collecting blurbs from some of the smartest people in the world is amazing, and Google Reader saves a ton of time aggregating it.
  3. Girl Talk: The first time I heard one of his CD's (Night Ripper) I sat in amazement for 2 hours while I listened to it twice. I can't describe how amazing it is to hear some of the most popular music today mixed all together with a bunch of classics, and to have the result be better than the original. The most famous example of his songs is mixing Biggie with Elton John (starts at 1:25). The CD's are meant to be played straight through, and they are free, although you can make a donation, ala Radiohead's In Rainbows.