Is Google making us stupid?#

Notwithstanding the alarmist and ultimately misguided title, there's some truth to what Nick is saying in the article, namely that our ability to deep-think is partly a function of our need to deep-think, and in light of the Internet doing a lot of that thinking for us, we're losing our ability to call on that skill. In fact, I think a lot of the people who linked to this article were perpetuators of the very problem the article highlights: they skimmed the title and came to an automatic conclusion, without even attempting to digest the content.

I hate to say it, but Nick really has just scratched the surface here; I think the issue is bigger than most people realize. Sure, my perspective may be a bit biased in that I'm certainly a crazy edge-case for which this situation hits very close to home, but, and as I've said for years, my "edge-caseness" will increasingly become the norm.

Malcolm Gladwell asks is there such a thing as pure genius?#

This idea — that excellence at a complex task requires a critical, minimum level of practice — surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.

A great read — I love poring over the results of these types of pattern-finding endeavors. The piece kind of goes to something I've long said, namely that pro athletes, etc. generally don't impress me (unless they can do something that I think I could never do, no matter how much I practice).

Sure, it's great that Michael Phelps won all those gold medals — it was fun to watch and to root for — but at the end of the day if anything impresses me, it's his obsessive-compulsive dedication. In other words, I don't look at him and think, "Wow, he's so fast! That's amazing!" I think, "Wow, this guy was born with an abnormally-proportioned body and he chose to spend every waking moment of his life swimming in a circle." I admire the journey infinitely more than the result.

My favorite passage (emphasis mine):

We pretend that success is a matter of individual merit. That is not the whole story. These are stories about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age at a time when that extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society.

A decade of email

November 14, 2008

Pure curiosity drove me to graph the volume of email I've sent and received over the last decade. While I think the more interesting metric would be the average length of the emails, such a thing is impossible to measure accurately.1 That said, I think it's safe to say that my emails have become increasingly (and significantly) shorter over the years.

Regarding the graph below, the inputs for 1999 and (obviously) 2008 were not complete; I extrapolated the data I did have to come up with numbers for a full year. Also, it's probably worth mentioning that the volume of email shown includes only personal email (i.e., friend to friend); it does not cover emails from, for example, schools, financial institutions, employers, etc.

A decade of email

In an effort to give some context to the years, I can tell you that I was studying computer engineering from 1999 to 2003, and was in law school from 2003-2006.

  1. Just think of the myriad mail clients people have used over the last decade, each of which handles replies, etc. differently; there simply is no way to globally sift out just the current body of every email.   

Creativity, fulfillment and flow#

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi asks, "What makes a life worth living?" Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of "flow."

Yet another TED talk. Deal with it. :)

Jared Diamond's TED talk on why societies collapse#

While on the topic, you really should pick up Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Actually, I still need to read his Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. (I'll just add that to my ever-increasing Kindle library; while the available selection means it's taking me longer and longer to finish a book these days, I really can't over-emphasize how nice it is to be able to quickly and easily jump between so many disparate subjects and interests).

Proteins with cruise control#

[Scientists have] discovered that chains of proteins found in most living organisms act like adaptive machines, possessing the ability to control their own evolution.


November 03, 2008

How we evolve#

Technology might some day enable us to control aspects of evolution, or it may prove to be the ultimate selection regime, culling all of us. Perhaps we already find ourselves wishing we'd lacked the intelligence to monkey with howitzers. Either way, the culture that we've created is, strangely, evolution's most powerful tool and its potential nemesis, the womb of human nature and perhaps its grave. By our own hand: this is how we evolve.

An open letter to the next farmer in chief#

Michael Pollan outlines what the next president can and should do to remake the way we grow and eat our food.

There are many moving parts to the new food agenda I’m urging you to adopt, but the core idea could not be simpler: we need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine.

Required reading as far as I'm concerned (like most of Pollan's stuff).

Smart amoebas reveal origins of primitive intelligence#

The amoeba's interior contains a watery sol – a solid suspended in liquid – within a thick viscous gel. The sol flows through the gel like water through a sponge, creating a network of low-viscosity channels. Those channels are strengthened as long as the amoeba continues to respond to a static environment, but if that environment changes the channels gradually break down and a new network appears as the amoeba adapts. For a short while, though, the amoeba retains a “memory” of those earlier conditions.

BlackRapid R-Strap camera strap#

Ordered. I initially was going to ask my readership for first-hand impressions of the strap (before ordering), but after watching this [slightly hokey] video, it's hard to imagine that this little gadget won't immediately prove to be indispensable.

AirKick water catapult#

Awesome. This reminds me of something my friends and I used to do on our lake. You see, the seat on a three-person Sea-Doo was large enough for a sitting driver and a standing thrill-seeker. Yeah, you probably see where this is going. I'd take off my life jacket so as to not get cut (keep reading), stand on the back of the seat, hold on to the driver's life jacket, get the vehicle up to 35-40MPH, count down from three, and at one have the driver do a donut, which would throw me fast and far (and water at that speed == concrete).

Investment FAIL

October 18, 2008

The graph below illustrates what's happened to all of my hard-earned money over the course of the last 30 days. I'm fairly well-diversified, but, as you can see, that doesn't much matter. I fear it's going to get much worse before it gets any better. Hold on tight.

Investment FAIL

(Yes, I realize that just about everyone's portfolio looks like this at the moment — hang in there, especially you baby boomers out there.)

Amazon Associates bookmarklet v1.1

October 13, 2008

I've just updated the Amazon Associates bookmarklet to v1.1, which bookmarklet generates an Amazon product page tagged with a specific Amazon Associate ID.

For the past few months, the publicly available version of the bookmarklet has been unusable. The problem was that it was a little too hard-coded and required that Amazon maintain the URI structure that existed when I originally created it. When Amazon changed their URI scheme, the bookmarklet broke. In any event, this latest version is a bit more robust and should work without issue for the foreseeable future.

The bookmarklet can be found on the project page. Enjoy.