This blog post is kind of interesting: Tough Love, Tomino Style.
A student dreams of becoming an artist, I guess drawing for anime, and asks a professional (Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tominom, to be specific) for advice. The advice ends up being something like: “Turn back! Dreaming is not enough in this industry! It is too labor intensive! Abandon all hope and choose a more normal life with less ambition! And also remember to practice.” That’s my vague summation. It might be a bit wrong, but that’s the vibe I was getting.
I’ve actually had a similar experience (it was quite a bit different, but similar). When I was in college, I asked on a forum for advice about becoming a video game designer in terms of how to spend my time in college. The answer was something like: “You seem like you’re too lazy. Change your attitude, get good grades, work really hard, and maybe something will happen, but probably not.” (I don’t think very many successful people hung out on the forums. Usually successful professionals are too busy for forum visiting, eh?)
These responses are technically accurate. Achieving your dreams might take an enormous amount of work, and there might be no guarantee at all of success, especially if you want to become something very few people can statistically be, like a film director or a movie star or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company (we can only have, at most, 500 of those).
But I think these responses miss the point of the question. I don’t think the asker is asking for philosophical advice on balancing lofty dreams and ambitions with a healthy physical and mental lifestyle, or is assuming that the key to success is a simple matter of some unknown secret that a successful pro could write in a letter. (Though I guess there are a number of people out there who buy certain books for this reason.)
Instead, I think the asker is asking for practical advice; what school should I go to? What exactly should I study and practice? What sort of job might I start with?
The advice giver might have useful advice. For example, an animator might say “Check out Animation Mentor, they have a great animation learning program!” Perhaps the advice giver could recount how he got into the industry and found his position, even if it seems unlikely that the same path would work for anyone else. It might be a position that there is no direct path to because the field is highly competitive, such as film scoring. The advice giver could say that. “This field is highly competitive and there’s a lot of luck involved, so I can’t really give you much advice.”
Is that so hard?
Why do advice givers jump to assume that the asker needs the cold splash of reality that says “your lofty dreams probably won’t come true, so consider giving up.” What idiot sits there with broken dreams lamenting “why didn’t anyone tell me it would be so hard? I would’ve listened if only someone had only told me to give up!”
I came across this blog post the other day: Ten Life Lessons from Richard Branson.
I thought I would just repeat the lessons, but give my own explanations for them. Hopefully this will help you have a better life. OK, here goes…
1. “Ridiculous yachts and private planes and big limousines won’t make people enjoy life more.”
At least, I assume. I mean, they look nice, and you’d probably enjoy yourself while you’re using them, but ultimately they somehow won’t give you happiness. Having those things implies you have a lot of money, and more happiness will come from your bank account and the not-having-to-do-work-you-don’t-want-to part of life, not the big yachts. However, once you have riches like that, it’s not very polite to continuously talk about how happy it makes you.
2. “I enjoy every single minute of my life.”
I just think of what it’ll be like when I’m rich. Once I am rich, I can just remind myself that I’m rich.
3. “But the majority of things that one could get stressed about, they’re not worth getting stressed about.”
Really, the only thing to stress about is losing your money. Everything else is pretty pointless. Don’t worry about stuff that doesn’t involve boat loads of money. If you don’t have boat loads of money, you shouldn’t be worrying about anything at all. Your life is ultimately meaningless.
4. “You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them.”
Nobody wants to follow someone who is mean to them. People like getting praise, so giving it to them is a good way to get power over them. Just don’t go overboard, or they’ll think you’re insincere. Give them just enough to keep wanting more and you will have them on a leash.
5. “There is no one to follow, there is nothing to copy.”
If you want to be a leader and have power over others, you have to make sure no one has power over you, you have to make sure you don’t become one of those mindless followers.
6. “I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off doing nothing.”
You want to make sure you’re rich enough that if the business fails, you’re not dependent on it. Also, if you’re in it just for the money, then I don’t want to compete with you, because you might succeed beyond belief and I don’t want that kind of competition.
7. “I never had any intention of being an entrepreneur.”
That’s a big word with weird spelling. I’m not quite sure what it means.
8. “I made and learned from lots of mistakes.”
Looking before you leap is overrated. If you want to get ahead, it’s better to learn from mistakes than planning research. There’s always a chance you could succeed without thinking, and that’s the best kind of success to have. If you find that you are doing actual work, what’s the point?
9. “If you can indulge in your passion, life will be far more interesting than if you’re just working.”
Like I said, work is for losers. Get your followers to do the work.
10. “Right now I’m just delighted to be alive and to have had a nice long bath.”
After all, that involves no work whatsoever, and that’s what makes life awesome.
OK, I hope these tips have helped you. I didn’t really tell you how to make money easily, because that is a secret that must stay closely-guarded. If I want to maintain my power, I have to make you think my life is a whole lot better than yours, and as long as you think I’m always happy and always have been, then I’m happy enough.
According to this article:
Popular TV personality Bill Nye collapsed onstage Tuesday night in front of hundreds of audience members during a presentation at USC, campus officials said.
“Nobody went to his aid at the very beginning when he first collapsed — that just perplexed me beyond reason,” USC senior Alastair Fairbanks said. “Instead, I saw students texting and updating their Twitter statuses. It was just all a very bizarre evening.”
This led some people to blame this bizarre event on mobile technology and social media. Actually, I think it’s more a case of the bystander effect. If you’re part of a large group of people, you’re less likely to take certain actions, thinking someone else will do it, or someone else is in charge of it. And what exactly do you do with someone who passes out anyway? A medical reaction is not common sense… we’d probably just go to his side, try to wake him up, ask if he’s OK and if he wants some water, and maybe call an ambulance if it seems like something we can’t handle. That’s not a very trained response.
Furthermore, what do you do when you’re not even sure what’s happening? According to one comment on the article:
When he first collapsed he was talking about gravity, and the audience believed it was part of his act.
Perhaps this is a risk for anyone who likes to joke… what if you’re not joking? How will people know? There was that British comedian Tommy Cooper who died of a heart attack during a performance on live television, and the audience just laughed because they didn’t realize what was really going on.
Anyway, the point is that I think this phenomenon is rooted in our psychology, not so much our technological culture, not our desire to update twitter.
This story has been spreading rapidly across the Internet. Basically, a person wrote an article five or so years ago. An online magazine decided to put the article in their magazine without asking the author’s permission or offering compensation. That’s stupid (and illegal) enough, but here’s the kicker: when the author asked for an apology and a $130 donation (a small price to pay for such obviously blatant copyright violation), the editor says “the web is considered public domain” and that the author should be happy that they edited the article for free.
Needless to say, nobody is defending this dumb editor, and the magazine is getting its deserved public shame. The editor could’ve fulfilled the author’s request, and I’d probably never hear the story. But instead the editor replied with arrogance and amazing stupidity. Just thought I’d help spread the story along. It will be interesting to see where this ends up.
With Google giving results instantly while you type, it is easy to find the most popular website for a given first letter… and since this blog lacks originality, quality, and readership, why not blog those results? Some of this depends on my location, so you might get different results… what fun!
A – Amazon
B – Bank of America
C – craigslist
D – Dictionary.com
E – eBay
F – Facebook
G – Gmail
H – Hotmail
I – Ikea
J – JetBlue
K – Kohl’s
L – Lowe’s
M – MapQuest
N – Netflix
O – Orbitz
P – Pandora
Q – BrainyQuote
R – Washington Redskins
S – Southwest Airlines
T – Target
U – United States Postal Service
V – Verizon
W – Weather.com
X – Xbox
Y – Yahoo!
Z – Zappos
1 – Nineteenth Amendment on Wikipedia
2 – Year 2010 calendar
3 – 30 Rock Comedy TV Show
4 – 4 (number) on Wikipedia [what a lame result!]
5 – 500 Days of Summer
6 – 60 Minutes
7 – 7-zip
8 – 84 Lumber
9 – 9:30 Club
From tweets and Facebook comments, it seems to be “Banned Books Week”! What is Banned Books Week? Maybe it’s actually a commercial ploy to sell books. However, according to BannedBooksWeek.org:
Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries.
During the last week of September every year, hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. The 2010 celebration of Banned Books Week will be held from September 25 through October 2.
The purpose of this Web site is to help the public join the celebration of our freedom to read.
What, as if censorship is always bad? As if the content and messages of certain books being challenged is bad in and of itself? Of course disputes will arise in any society full of people with different beliefs and values. That’s not a problem, and it’s not bad, as long as we can deal with it civilly.
But I don’t think anyone disagrees with me on that. So I guess Banned Books Weeks isn’t really about “the problem of censorship” or an attempt to stop books from ever being challenged. I think it’s just about getting people to talk about books and their moral issues.
What it turns into is more of a: “Hey! Pat yourself on the back for liking this book that some other group dared to say was bad! Can you believe it?! Some people! Hooray for freedom of speech at the level that most of us agree it should be at!”
I think it’s great to encourage people to think for themselves, and not accept censorship blindly.
But I think if we need a “Banned Books Week” to remind ourselves of that, then we’re awfully stupid.
Hmmm… Banned Comics Week anyone?
UPDATE (March 24, 2011): The Khan Academy has changed a bit since I originally wrote this. My original post appears right below, followed by some updated observations.
It seems there are plenty of people, both students and parents, who are unhappy with our current education system, myself included. Unfortunately everyone seems to have different ideas of what exactly is wrong with it and how to fix it.
Google had a link on their homepage to their Project 10 to the 100, in which they gave millions of dollars to organizations that won voting contests. You can see they’re giving Khan Academy $2 million. A lot of people really love Khan Academy (including Bill Gates) and think that it is a great step in the right direction. [The Khan Academy is basically a large collection of cheaply produced educational videos. Being videos, they can only teach fact-based material, like math, science, and history. They can’t teach skills that require feedback.]
I don’t think Khan Academy is bad, but it’s not a replacement for our current education system. It’s not that good. It’s not worthy of praise from Bill Gates (or maybe it is, since he seems to have completely wrong ideas about what steps the education system should take), and it’s not worthy of this $2 million gift. Khan Academy is great because it makes a lot of educational material available for free. But education is not about just knowing stuff.
The big thing people seem to forget or ignore is that everything ultimately comes down to employment… whether or not you can do a job, and whether or not employers will recognize that you can do a job and hire you. Unfortunately people seem to think education is about getting a degree. But the only reason a degree has any value is because employers give it value. It has zero value by itself.
Or people think education is just about knowing stuff, and the more you know the better. The more facts you can cram in your head, the smarter you are. But knowledge is useless if you don’t use it. Oooh, there’s a profound idea! But people don’t always seem to believe it. Going through Khan Academy’s resource is just, in the end, really not that helpful. You’re just not going to use most of it in everyday life, even when you’re employed. It’s a nice resource to have available if it turns out you do need to learn some of it someday, which is the same reason it’s nice for colleges to have libraries. But it doesn’t replace or change anything important in the education system. It’s just a nice reference resource.
Which leads us to what is wrong with our education system. It’s become thought of as separate from the life you’ll live after it, and thus has little focus. Rich people and rich organizations can throw all the millions of dollars they want at it, but until there’s a widespread fundamental shift in employers’ and educators’ and students’ attitudes towards it, things aren’t going to get much better.
The Khan Academy does plan to expand and offer more than just videos, so we’ll see what happens with it. Ultimately it’s currently just a library. A library is a great resource because it means you don’t have to learn stuff; if you ever need certain info, you can go find it in the library when you need it. The point isn’t to try to learn or memorize as much of it as possible.
Updated comments from March 24, 2011:
(Really this is just copied from one of my comments, but I thought it was important enough to move it up here with the original post.)
Since I first posted this, I think the Khan Academy has added practicing software and coaching abilities, so it’s no longer just a bunch of videos, but does include some form of feedback. If they continue this trend, adding more features that allow more personalized feedback, I think they can certainly come pretty close to replacing the classroom experience, maybe even making it better in some ways: no more needing permission to go to the bathroom, no more disruptive paper airplanes, children can work better at their own pace, etc. There would still be a great deal of challenges (funding probably a big one), but if Khan’s goal is to replace the classroom setting with something more personalized, I think it’s definitely possible with today’s technology and we only await someone with enough tech savvy, time, and money to get it going.
But making a bad education system virtual doesn’t really help. It’s like adding new fancy fonts and pictures to a poorly written textbook.
That is, my main criticism isn’t that the Khan Academy is (or was) just a resource. The specific information is still mostly useless to most students, no matter what form they learn it in, whether it’s a physical or virtual classroom.
If you’re just learning something so you can spew it back out on a test and then forget it next year, that information is serving you no real purpose. You’re just wasting your time learning it. (I shudder to see “California Standards Test” lessons now listed at the Khan Academy.)
The Khan Academy videos seem like Mr. Khan spent some time learning the content out of a textbook and then just regurgitated the material in video form. That *can* be useful in some situations, but to me it implies that Khan, like most public education systems in general, doesn’t really question the applications of the content, doesn’t question why or how that specific content is worth the teachers’ and students’ time and effort. In many cases, it’s just not.
So I’m reading a book called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. Overall, I’d say it’s a pretty good book, though sometimes a bit repetitive, as if the author just wanted to make the book longer, or make extra-sure he got his point across. The book firstly argues that “genius” and “giftedness” and “skill” are not innate, people aren’t just born more special than everyone else (though we seem to like this idea in fiction). Expert skill can be acquired by almost anyone who is willing to put in the enormous amounts of time and effort. (Of course, this really isn’t a world-changing view; plenty of people, including my genius self, have already concluded this. And, as I said in one of my earlier blog posts, The Talent Code feels like a sequel, or at least a companion book, to The Genius in All of Us. (By the way, I know these books might sound like cheesy self-help books, but I don’t think they’re that bad…))
The book also talks about the importance of the brain’s myelin. (It mentions it over and over and over… yes, myelin, I get it!) The book argues myelin, which insulates the axons of the brains neurons, plays a key role in developing skills. Developing skills is, in fact, all about growing myelin around the proper neurons in your brain. (OK, maybe not all about growing myelin, but its certainly a vital factor.) But beyond that (and beyond repeating it 12 billion times), it really doesn’t go very in-depth about the science of myelin, nor does it talk about any ways to get more myelin, besides good practicing, which would be the obvious way to gain skills anyway. So I’m really not sure why the author chose to make myelin such a big theme of the book. Coyle could’ve talked about it for three or four pages and then moved on; it doesn’t seem to really add that much to his point.
The book also talks “deep practice” … that is, practicing that counts. Just going through the motions does not provide the best learning experience, you have to sit and contemplate what you’re doing, mentally recognizing some mistake you keep making, some thing you can improve on, and consciously working on it. (I’ve played some kids in chess, and some of them, after learning how the pieces move, just play the first moves that pop into their heads instead of taking the time think. It seems useless to play like that; they’re never going to get any better without thinking. I’d actually go so far as to say that there are these huge institutions which encourage (and spend millions of dollars on) “shallow practicing” … in these institutions, people just read some material, hear a lecture on it, take a test on it, and they’re done. They never apply much of their knowledge to anything. These institutions are the American high school system and the American college system. (Plenty of exceptions of course, but overall, these institutions are centered around very stupid ways to learn useless things.))
I’ve just started the chapter “The Three Rules of Deep Practice” … can’t say much about it yet, ’cause I haven’t read it yet! But it looks interesting.
Anyway, I came across some quotes from the book that I don’t quite agree with. Overall, it’s an interesting book, and I’d say it’s “good” … but these quotes really annoy me.
On pages 49-50, Coyle writes:
A famed 1956 paper by psychologist George Miller, called “The Magical Number Seven, Plur or Minus Two,” established the rule that human short-term memory was limited to seven pieces of independent information (and gave Bell Telephone reason to settle on seven-digit phone numbers).
OK, this quote isn’t that annoying, but I wonder if this notion that “telephones numbers have seven digits because of short term memory studies” is just a myth; I’ve never seen any evidence of it, and the author here doesn’t cite anything. Is he just repeating something he read somewhere without checking up on it?
Even if this notion was true, it wouldn’t make much sense. The digits of a phone number are not “pieces of independent information” … you can remember a sequence of 12 or 15 digits (or plenty more) very easily if you use them enough; you remember them as a sequence, or maybe even as an image or one big chunk. And if the goal was to make phone numbers easy to remember, shorter is always better, so why not make it shorter? Or why not disregard number length completely and just use easy to remember sequences? For example, 11111 is easier to remember than 59834. You don’t have to actually remember 1, then 1, then 1, then 1, then 1. Instead you just remember “5 1’s” … so you could perhaps have sequences like 444-555-1. Then you just remember “3 4’s, 3 5’s, 1” … the 1 being the “end” symbol. Then we could have a ton of possible numbers with very little remembering to do.
I’m sure there are some problems with that system, but my point is that 7-digit phone numbers could just be a coincidence. I’m not convinced a huge amount of psychological thought went into choosing how many digits to make phone numbers; I think people just used what they were comfortable with. Maybe they did put a ton of thought into it and labored over scientific papers on short-term memory, but I haven’t seen any actual evidence of it, besides people mentioning it in passing when they talk about the “7 items in short term memory” thing.
Anyway, that’s just a small annoyance. A bigger annoyance is what Coyle writes next on page 50:
When one of Ericsson’s student volunteers memorized an eighty-digit number, the scientific establishment wasn’t sure what to think.
Ericsson showed that the existing model of short-term memory was wrong. Memory wasn’t like shoe size–it could be improved through training.
But I just read about this in The Genius in All of Us! Yes, these student volunteers learned to memorize huge sequences of random numbers, but did that really improve their short-term memory? Not necessarily. Give them random sequences of letters, or animal names, or DNA code, and they become normal again. They weren’t really “improving their short-term memory,” they were teaching themselves number-chunking skills. If you chunk 7 and 8 and think “seventy-eight,” 7 and 8 are no longer independent entities; you remember them as a group, one number. But what’s most striking is the non-transferability of these students’ memorization skills. Ultimately their skill is useless because we have very little need for memorizing large sets of numbers. But they don’t have the skill to memorize just vast amounts of anything on the fly. So I’m not sure I really buy the notion that “the existing model of short-term memory was wrong.” Maybe it was, but Ericsson’s study is not direct evidence of that, as far as I can tell.
(On a side note, transferability is a huge topic in psychology and education. It’s easy to look at a really good piano player and notice other things he does well and reckon “ah, playing the piano helps your math skills” or whatever. Maybe it does in some amount, but people forget that correlation does not prove causation. You cannot see such cause-and-effect in the complexity of human behaviour so completely just with passive observation. Yet schools (and people trying to sell educational material) do this all the time. “Playing chess will help your logic reasoning!” “Listening to Mozart will improve your math skills!” etc. (Again, not that it doesn’t, but it’s much more complex than just playing chess and suddenly applying logic in more places. Transferability of skills is simply not so simple. (It would be interesting to read a big scientific book on the subject, but I’m not sure if it’s been written. I’ll have to look around.)))
This next annoyance isn’t really Coyle’s fault since he’s just quoting someone else. On page 66:
“Why do teenagers make bad decisions?” he [George Bartzokis] asks, not waiting for an answer “Because all the neurons are there, but they are not fully insulated. Until the whole circuit is insulated, that circuit, although capable, will not be instantly available to alter impulsive behavior as it’s happening. Teens understand right and wrong, but it takes them time to figure it out.”
*Sigh* … more teenage brain bias based on no evidence. Firstly, this doesn’t explain teens who made no more bad decisions than adults, like, gee, I don’t know, me. Nor does it explain adults who make worse decisions than teens, or pre-teens who make better decisions (as they would also have less myelin). Secondly, there doesn’t seem to be any actual science behind it. OK, we know there’s myelin, we know it helps, we know teens have less of it (in general, at least, though I’m not even sure how much evidence of this there even is), but, as usual, correlation doesn’t prove causation. You can’t just say “Ah, teens have less myelin, therefore that is the cause of their bad decisions! Makes sense to me! And I’ve seen teens make bad decisions, so it must be true!” It seems it’s just old people generalizing teenage behaviour and assuming little can be done about it, it’s just innate, and must be countered with parental control. It’s quite sad and disturbing and ultra-annoying.
Then, on page 67, Coyle quotes Bartzokis as saying:
“Sure, you can teach a monkey to communicate at the level of a three-year-old, but beyond that, they are using the equivalent of copper wires.”
Er … if you read up on the science of monkeys learning language, I’ve yet to see any convincing evidence that monkeys are even close to learning language at a three-year-old level. Mr. Bartzokis’s credibility, like the list of Gandalf’s and Elrond’s allies after the betrayal of Saruman, grows thin.
Anyway, there are some quotes from this book that I like (as I said, overall, I think this is a good book). For example, the author at times seems to recognize the complexity of human behaviour. Coyle talks about David Banks, “a Carnegie Mellon University statistician.” Banks realizes that geniuses (at least famous geniuses) tend to appear throughout history in clusters, not regular intervals. He wonders about why this is. He says that conventional wisdom might say that the certain cultures, certain political environments, certain cultural wealth, etc., all make the environment perfect for nurturing geniuses. Banks, however, does not see any strong correlations. So Coyle writes on page 63:
Banks’s paper neatly illustrates the endless cycle of tail-chasing that ensues when you apply traditional nature/nurture thinking to questions of talent. The more you try to distill the vast ocean of potential factors into a golden concentrate of uniqueness, the more you are nudged toward the seemingly inescapable conclusion that geniuses are simply born and that phenomena like the Renaissance were thus a product of blind luck. As historian Paul Johnson writes, giving voice to that theory, “Genius suddenly comes to life and speaks out of a vacuum, and then it is silent, equally mysteriously.”
See, isn’t that a good paragraph? Or am I just using confirmation bias? No, I think it’s a good paragraph.
On page 53, Coyle writes:
In the vast river of narratives that make up Western culture, most stories about talent are strikingly similar. They go like this: without warning, in the midst of ordinary, everyday life, a Kid from Nowhere appears. The Kid possesses a mysterious natural gift for painting / math / baseball / physics, and through the power of that gift, he changes his life and the lives of those around him.
That quote made me laugh, it seems pretty true, doesn’t it? In fact, how many stories in general, even if not involving a “genius” character, involve some main character (or set of characters) that is just more special than everyone else? And why is that? To feed our natural desire / daydreams to be that kind of person? Not that this is necessarily a bad thing; I enjoy reading those kinds of stories and have some novel plots like that. But we should also realize that the “specialness” of characters in stories is not like real life…
Consider Pixar’s awesome movie The Incredibles. (By the way, I talk to one of the animators from that movie every week, brag brag brag, ha ha!) Firstly, the movie centers around characters who are definitely more special than everyone else… they have super powers after all. When you imagine yourself in that movie, would you imagine yourself being a regular non-powerful person? Maybe a non-super friend who learns their secret but is happy to keep it with them? Probably not. (Disney channel shows love doing that, giving one or a few characters special abilities and having their friends happily accept their side-kick roles.)
Anyway, there’s a part in The Incredibles in which Elastigirl (the mom) tells her son, Dash, that “everyone is special.” To which Dash replies “which is another way of saying no one is.” Beyond that the movie doesn’t really resolve the issue. Very quotable. How I resolve it: Yep, it’s true. Yep, sorry. No one is special. Everyone is. Live with it. What, Dash, you have to be more special than everyone else? Selfish conceded jerk!
Yet, in fiction, we don’t really live with it. We pretend it’s not true. We imagine stories of characters who really are more special than everyone else. The “chosen one” syndrome, as I might call it. I’m not sure why we do it, but we should at least recognize that we do. (Or maybe only I do since I am more special than everyone else.)
(Think about other exchanges Dash and Elastigirl could’ve had: “No one is special, Dash.” “Which is another way of saying everyone is!” or “The glass is half empty, Dash.” “Which is another way of saying the glass is half full!”)
(On a side note, Coyle also points out in the footnotes that the notion of the “Heroic Artist”–the genius artist that is more special than everyone else–may be a more recent phenomena in the course of human history, something that perhaps emerged in the Renaissance? Culture now supports the worshipping of geniuses of the past, putting them on pedestals: Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, Rembrandt, da Vinci … such great works of art they produced! These people were not like us, they were geniuses high above us!)
OK, whew, didn’t mean for my post to get so long, but I think those are all the points I wanted to make today!