Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'Liar!' vs. 'You lie!'

Here's an interesting linguistic post on Rep. Joe Wilson's (R - Idiots) outburst during Obama's healthcare speech. Essentially, it boils down to Wilson's using the simple present, whereas most English speakers would use the present progressive. The blogger, Geoff Nunberg, posits that this is something Wilson probably said in his head over and over again. Not that he planned it, but his dislike of Obama being so strong, it just came out. I wonder if it isn't more of a Southern thing, like Wilson was trying to provoke Obama into a duel or something.

While we're going all linguistic on Teabaggers' asses, might as well analyze this one:

Notice the reference to Obama and then the honorific used for Bush. Evidently, this guy doesn't consider Obama to be a President of the USA. While it's common to refer to the President only by his last name, I think it's rather telling that he uses the title with one, but not the other. I can't recall ever seeing people refer to 'Bush' and then to 'President Clinton'.

(for more photos of the 9.12 march, check out Jeff Malet's photo gallery)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Talent vs. Deliberate Practice

I just listened to a fascinating talk by Geoff Colvin at RSA. He's the author of Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. He discusses phenoms like Tiger Woods, Gary Kasparov and Mozart, and how they got to be who they are/were. There's evidently a lot of research on this, as well on what makes average people good at certain things. What Colvin puts it down to is "deliberate practice". But this isn't your normal practice.

Deliberate practice involves two aspects. First is the ability to force oneself to practice. Doing something you don't like is a bummer, doing something you like is fun. Being able to make yourself do something for hours on end, day in, day out, that's what makes Tiger Woods. As well, there has to be a goal to the practice. Colvin discusses the unpleasantness of failing at figure skating for this example. Messing up a jump in figure skating involve you landing on your tush on hard, cold ice. But great figure skaters practice the jumps they can't do. They keep hitting that ice until they get it down. Mediocre figure skaters are ones who only practice the jumps they can do. The lesson here is to aim just beyond your capabilities, at a place that's just outside your comfort zone, but not so far out that you get discouraged and give up hope.

While a lot of time is spent focusing on people at the top of their game, Colvin also talks about more mundane jobs. Like auditors. He discusses how, for most people, they eventually level off at some point, such that an auditor that has been doing the job for five years is about as good as an auditor that has been around for decades. They both have roughly the same ability to spot fraud in a company's books.

In addition, Colving discusses luck and time. One reason Tiger Woods is so great is that he's been doing his deliberate practice since he was 2. By the time he won his first Masters, he was 21. That meant he'd had 19 years of practice. Jack Nicklaus had about 13, and Arnold Palmer had 19 also, but they started golfing at 10 and 7, respectively, meaning they achieved things later in their lives. Tiger also had the luck to be born to his father, who was driven himself. Mozart's father was a noted composer and teacher, who had vowed to bring up his son to be a musician and composer.

A lot of this discussion was about business, but there are lots of possibilities when thinking about education, or when thinking about learning something yourself, and how to plan for success. Anyway, go have a listen and see what you think.

If nothing else, I'd recommend the RSA Events and Lectures to people interested in hearing new and different opinions.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On this day in history...

On this day in 1923, a large earthquake struck O-shima, the large island just to the south of where I live. The timing of the quake, when cooking fires were going to prepare lunch, combined with winds from a nearby typhoon, caused nearly 100,000 deaths in the Kanto region. To put this in perspective, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake killed 3,000, and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 killed 'hundreds'. Nearly all of Yokohama burned to the ground, as did Tokyo. The devastation in Tokyo can be seen above. This is the area that my friends Aaron and Molly stayed when they came to Tokyo. The Great Buddha in Kamakura, which I take nearly all visitors to see moved forward two feet (it weighs in at 93-tons). Reading through the list of places devastated on wikipedia, I recognize all of them, and have visited most. It's truly a reminder of how brutal nature can be, and how a perfect storm of circumstances can bring disaster.

Even worse, in the aftermath rumors blamed foreigners, mostly Koreans, for looting and robbery. Vigilante mobs attacked and killed Koreans as well as setting up checkpoints. Anyone who sounded different was attacked. This included not only Koreans and other foreigners, but people from other parts of Japan with strong accents. Police and the army attempted to protect the Koreans, but some officials were complicit in handing over Koreans to the mob. A number of civilians were prosecuted, but sentences were light and the rest were pardoned as part of the marriage ceremony of Prince Hirohito. The authorities also took advantage of the confusion to arrest and kill dissidents, such as socialists and anarchists.

Incidentally, we're about due for another giant earthquake in this area, as well as a big eruption from Mt. Fuji one of these days. They did estimates of what would happen, namely that any ash fallout from an eruption of Mt. Fuji would halt all transportation between there and Tokyo. That's around 20 million people that will be unable to drive or use mass transit. I better start stockpiling canned peaches.

(The reason the deaths were so much higher in Japan than the other disasters is that most houses were made of wood and charcoal fires were used for cooking. This combination caused a firestorm. For some reason, the Japanese didn't learn not to build things out of wood, which meant that when Curtis LeMay was set loose on Japan, we ended up with this.)