Mar
31
2009
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Freakonomics pants

The Freakonomics blog post today is called “Before the Book, the Pants,” and it made me giggle. You should read it. Don’t worry; it’s clean.

Written by in: Shameless Academic |
Mar
31
2009
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Today’s [mostly political] readings

I just wrote about my indecisiveness about reading current events. Today, I chose to read a few opinion pieces. Rather than write my own opinions, which can sound so much more extreme on paper than in my head, I’ll just link to the articles and make a few (very few!) comments about each.

We Have Chapter 11 for a Reason (WSJ Opinion page)

Wow, references to the French Revolution? I wonder where we would be if we had allowed Chapter 11 to happen a while ago? Speaking purely from my philosophical point of view, I wish we would just let the free markets do their thing.

The Obama Autoworks

I like that this piece actually mentioned the unions as playing a part in the car makers’ troubles. Why aren’t we hearing more about that? Why isn’t the nation’s anger focused on them?

Night of the Living Death Tax

Here’s the last paragraph: “In other words, by raising the estate tax in the name of fairness, Mr. Obama won’t merely bring back from the dead one of the most despised of all federal taxes, and not merely splinter many family-owned enterprises. He will also forfeit half the jobs he hopes to gain from his $787 billion stimulus bill. Maybe that’s why the news of this unwise tax increase was hidden in a footnote.”

It just seems so wrong to me that a person can work all of his life, pay taxes, and try to save money so that his family can enjoy it, but when he dies, the government swoops in an gobbles it up, and the family hardly gets any of it. That is so wrong. So. very. wrong.

[Warning: quick departure from politics coming up. You may all sigh with relief now.]

Paying in Full as the Ticket into College

This New York Times article notes that more affluent students may have an easier time getting into college. Colleges have bills to pay too, so they’re looking more closely at students’ ability to pay tuition.

This is news??? Isn’t that obvious?

[Ok, back to your regularly scheduled political issues.]

Contracts Now Seen as Being Rewritable

I was afraid of this. After the whole AIG debacle, contracts are in danger. I wonder, if contracts don’t mean anything, what will happen to our society? Isn’t the idea of honoring contracts basic to our society?

A Deafening, Partisan Silence

The major media outlets’ obvious liberal bias makes me sick. I am so tired of puff pieces about Obama’s Blackberry or his wife’s vegetable garden. I thought that kind of stuff was reserved for junior high girls obsessing about a movie star. Isn’t the news for grownups?

A Rookie President

The rest of the world doesn’t seem very impressed with Obama. Well, I’m not either.

________________

And that was all of the politics I could handle today.

Written by in: Shameless Academic |
Mar
31
2009
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Apathy and angst about our country

I fight a daily battle between the urge to read more about our country’s problems and the desire to ignore them all together. Part of my brain says that if I read more, I will understand things better, and somehow this will be a good thing.

But why? And how does throwing my brain up against our country’s problems solve anything? Is there the thought, however latent, that once I understand this crisis, I can somehow contribute to the solution? That seems so futile. The country’s brightest minds are devoting their energy to solving this crisis. Perhaps I should expend my brain power on something that I can actually change. Perhaps I should clean out my refrigerator.

My refrigerator is packed! It needs to be emptied.

My refrigerator is packed! It needs to be emptied.

Written by in: Shameless Academic |
Mar
30
2009
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Government Taking Over Businesses?

This cartoon from World Magazine shows my thoughts after reading a New York Times article about recent White House demands on the Detroit automakers. Obama needs to figure out his own problems before presuming that government can make better business decisions than businesses can. He could start by balancing the budget.

Written by in: Shameless Academic |
Mar
20
2009
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Peanuts, prayer, and hedgehogs

I’m not allergic to peanuts, but it seems like this article from the NYTimes would be good news for anyone who is allergic to them.

I found this older article from Freakonomics amusing. The “complications” of doing a double-blind study involving God made me smile. Of course, Christians don’t need a study to tell us that prayer works, but it’s interesting to think about anyway.

Sometimes I like Peggy Noonan’s stuff, and sometimes I don’t. I liked this article, and not just because hedgehogs are cute.

Speaking of hedgehogs, if you like to sew, you might like this free pattern for a hedgehog softie from LollyChops.

That’s all for now.

Written by in: Shameless Academic |
Mar
19
2009
5

My Grandpa

roof1Pulling into the barnyard on a recent visit, my parents found my Grandpa up on his roof. He was up there with a bucket of tar, fixing a leak. Never one to ask for help when he could do it himself, he had leaned out a second story window and affixed a hook to the roof, tied a rope onto it, and then tied a ladder to the rope. Somehow he also worked a small stool into the engineering and when all was said and done everything was tied down so he couldn’t fall very far even if he lost his balance and slipped. That’s my Grandpa!

I think I could start an entire blog dedicated to my Grandpa Omanson and his farm and probably never run out of stories to post.

At 91, he’s not the feeble old man you might expect of someone his age. He lives in Osceola, IL–a wide spot on the road about 50 miles north of Peoria. I don’t know if the road has a name or not. I suppose it does, though I wasn’t able to find his house on my GPS when I visited last. Grandpa, like the others in Osceola, just calls it “the hard road.” “Hard,” of course, because it is paved, unlike many of the roads around there. He doesn’t have an address, either. If you want to send him a letter, you send it to Roland Omanson, Rural Route #1, and it just gets to him. I guess there, the postal carriers know where everyone lives.

Though 6 more digits have been prefixed since he was a boy, the last 4 digits of his phone number are still the original numbers of the party-line his family shared with their neighbors. Party lines, as you may recall, were shared by several households who picked up only when they heard their distinctive ring (or when they wanted to be nosy!)

Osceola, home to perhaps 10 or 12 houses and maybe two dozen people, has a cemetery and a fire truck and that’s about it. There’s a stone marker where the Baptist church used to be, but the church has been gone for several decades. A couple of guys have wood shops, but the main economic activity of the greater Osceola area is farming. (more…)

Written by in: Family & Friends,Personal |
Mar
19
2009
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Want to be great? Stop dreaming; start practicing.

Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t all a bit like Walter Mitty. We dream of living rich, exciting, adventure-filled lives. Ask kids what they want to be, and you’ll get answers like basketball player, actress, ballerina, president. When those kids say that they want to be president, they’re not talking about the Rotary Club, either. They’re aiming for the top.

My point is, we don’t want to be mediocre. Most of us dream about being a star, a genius. We admire people who push the limits in their fields. We wish that we could do amazing things. We want to win ridiculous amounts of Olympic medals like Michael Phelps, or save the country from financial crisis. Yes, even perfectly respectable adults have their daydreams, just like Walter Mitty. That’s why we read fiction and watch movies.

Daydreams can be nice ways to escape the boring reality of every day life, but they can also trap us. When we “wake up” from the dream, we console ourselves by saying that we could be great if we were only blessed with the incredible talent that so-and-so has. If we had their genes, we would be amazing too.

But the evidence suggests that we’re wrong.

We’re not mediocre because we have mediocre genes. We’re mediocre because we’re lazy.

Sure, there are basic facts of nature and physics that shape our ability. We all know that Michael Phelps was built to swim. But beyond the basic physics stuff, research suggests that practice (lots of it!) plays a larger part in achievement than talent does.

That’s right. If you want to be amazing at something, start practicing. Hard. Every day. For at least 10 years. And make sure you analyze and improve your work as you go along.

This concept hurts a little when you personalize it. Sit there and say, “I’m mediocre because I’m lazy.” Say it softly to yourself a few times, and I’m sure you’ll need a Krispy Kreme doughnut or some dark chocolate to recover from the resulting depression.

It doesn’t have to be depressing, though. See, if only genes determine our capabilities, then we’re doomed to mediocrity. But if practice and [gasp!] work have a large part to play, then it’s not hopeless. If you want to be good at something, you probably can be. You just have to work at it.

If you want to read about this idea, and some of the research behind it, start by reading How to be Great: Rising Above the Talent Myth (from Litemind). It’s the article that [most recently] got me thinking about this topic. That article references several other interesting articles, listed below.

What it takes to be Great

The Expert on Experts

Expert Performance and Deliberate Practice

Innate Talents: Reality or Myth?

And here are a few more (not from the Litemind article)

The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance

How did A-Rod Get So Good?

A Star is Made

If you still want more to read, start looking for stuff with Anders Ericsson’s name on it. Or start reading the The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (it’s approximately 900 pages, so don’t plan to finish it tonight). Better yet, pick something important, and go practice it.

Written by in: Shameless Academic |
Mar
13
2009
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Fascinating Crime Stories Edition

I don’t like scary movies. Crime thrillers give me nightmares. However, after reading a fascinating crime story (about diamonds, see below), I was inspired to compile a few crime-related links.

Today I read The Untold Story of the World’s Biggest Diamond Heist and it is riveting, in my opinion. The best part is, no one dies, so I won’t have nightmares tonight.

I also recommend this short and somewhat humorous report of a recent jailbreak in Canada.

This story about the recent shooting spree in Alabama is more disturbing than fascinating, but I include it because it happened very close to where I grew up. I think some of my distant relatives live in Samson.

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the news about Manuel Noriega. Apparently he has served his time in jail and now the courts aren’t sure what to do with him!

This editorial in the Wall Street Journal suggests that Obama considers being rich as practically a crime. I understand that it is easy to assume that rich people much have done something illegal, immoral, or both to have that much money. However, if that is the case, then the answer is to prosecute them for their actual crimes. But if they haven’t committed any crimes, then leave them alone. It’s not fair to punish people just because they are rich. That’s jealousy and socialism at work, neither of which are good!

Written by in: Shameless Academic |
Mar
11
2009
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Did Reagan try to Convert Gorbachev?

Did Reagan try to Convert Gorbachev? That’s the question being asked (and answered) by the Wall Street Journal a few days ago.  It is an interesting look into formerly classified conversations between the leaders of the world’s two superpowers–worth reading if you have a minute.

Written by in: Ministry & Religion |
Mar
10
2009
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The Difference a Smile Makes

So I was in a Burger King a couple of days ago, grabbing a quick bite between meetings, thinking about how very unimpressive the place was and how I’d probably never come back. The employees generally acted like they didn’t care a thing about the customer, did their work slowly, and did only the bare minimum as far as I could tell.

The place was empty except for me and a senior citizen couple on the other side of the dining room, and the drive through was slow, so they should have had time to tidy up. However, about 6 feet from my table, right in the aisle, a large drink formed a slowly-expanding pool filling the grout lines and generally drowning the tile floor.

Alack and alas, I sat there for almost the whole meal before someone slinked out from the kitchen with a mop and made a half-hearted attempt to soak it up.

As I was leaving, sipping on the little bit of water that remained in my cup, I was startled by a different employee–one I hadn’t seen before. Apparently she had just started her shift. She was of foreign nationality–I know not what–maybe Vietnamese, and English was obviously not her first language. But, as I rose to leave, drink and trash in hand, she walked toward me and pointed to my cup, then made a drinking pantomime. “More?” This was said with a large smile, which I couldn’t help but return.

And just like that, my whole Burger King experience changed. Yes, they still had unimpressive service, and the dining room wasn’t all that clean. But some nice person just offered to get me a refill, and did so with a pleasant smile, and somehow Burger King was a better place for a moment. I declined, but thanked her, and went on my way. And reflected on the difference a smile makes.

Written by in: Business,Personal |
Mar
09
2009
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Resurrection, and another miracle

Just a week after our March snow, we have beautiful, sunny weather. Even more amazing than the weather change is the change in my daffodils. They have resurrected.



That pitiful daffodil lying on the sidewalk is now a picture of health. Amazing, isn’t it? I’m very happy about this. Now imagine what a real resurrection would be like!

While your brain imagines resurrection, stretch it a bit further by reading this article by Jason Boyett. It is called “Romance on Valentine’s Day is Lame: A Guide to Being Romantic,” and is quite close to miracle status in my mind. Usually when men write about what women want, I’m left feeling very misunderstood. Not so with this article. [That’s a miracle. A guy wrote an article about women, and I concur.]

Written by in: Shameless Academic |
Mar
03
2009
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Snow, and a tragedy

Sunday night Greenville got 4.5 inches of snow. That’s the most snow I remember seeing in the seven years that I’ve been here. Since snow is pretty rare for us, I enjoyed watching the flakes fall and stomping around in it a bit (even though I did have to put bags over my socks because my tennis shoes aren’t waterproof!).

The snow would have been much less enjoyable if we had lost power (like many people in the area). Snow is no fun when there’s no warm house to come back to. But we had working heat, so that wasn’t a problem.

The only downside to the snow (for me), was my daffodils. I love daffodils, and the snow crushed mine. Don’t they look tragic?



Written by in: Shameless Academic |

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