Happiness is a Filter

Author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, Liar’s Poker) sits in on an episode of This American Life and tells a wonderful story of Emir Kamenica, a refugee from the Serbian conflict, who, in his own words, caught a lucky break by meeting an “angel” who encouraged him to transfer from the greater Atlanta public school to an exclusive private school where he was awarded a scholarship that lead to Harvard and University of Chicago Business School where he teaches today.

As Emir tells it, it was blind luck that got him there. As we learn later, it wasn’t luck, he was a talented hard worker already and probably would have ended up where he is regardless. Despite the probable or actual outcomes, Michael’s story is about your state of mind and how the way you face opportunity (and challenges) is such an important contributor to your overall demeanor. Here’s Michael:

There is no obvious connection between a person’s happiness and the way he tells stories about himself. But I think there’s a not-so-obvious one. When you insist, the way that Emir does, that you’re both lucky and indebted to other people, well, you’re sort of prepared to see life as a happy accident, aren’t you?

It’s just very different than if you tell yourself that you simply deserve all the good stuff that happens to you. Because you happened to be born a genius or suffered so much or worked so hard– that way of telling the story– well, it’s what you hear from every miserable bond trader at Goldman Sachs, or for that matter, every other a-hole who ever walked the earth.

When I travelled through Italy I remember thinking the Italians, with all their quirky infrastructure, never seemed too unhappy about it. They collected their trials and tribulations little mementoes that they could bring out and share with friends and strangers. I met someone on a train and we had a horrible time that day as the train was continually delayed and it took us forever to get where we wanted to go. We passed the time playing cards and telling stories and I remember how cheery he was – he never let the delays get him down. After one particularly outlandish excuse for further delay (everyone suspected the relief conductor was sleeping in) my travel companion said, “at least this will make a good story!”

Listen for yourself – it’s a great story, starts at around 10 minutes in.

Unbundled Lectures and the Napsterization of Education

In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

– Clay Shirky, Napster, Udacity and the Academy

Digitization and distribution via the internet is a great unbundler, disrupting every industry it touches. A great unbundling is coming to education and will overtake it’s institutions, altering them forever, just as it did to the music industry. It may not happen as rapidly as it did to the record labels, academic institutions are much older, but it will happen. As long as a four-year education sets students back $250,000 and saddles them with a crippling, non-forgivable loan that leaves them no better off than an indentured servent of old, the alternatives will continue to chip away at the established institutions such as private universities.

Just as MP3s and Napster were originally dismissed by the labels as poor quality alternatives to records and CDs, the tidal wave of enhancements to the production and distribution of digital music improved the ecosystem to where we have iTunes and Spotify as serious alternatives to the traditional methods of how to acquire and consume music.

The same will happen to education. The core nugget of a university class, the lecture, is online(Kahn Academy, iTunes U, Udacity). Tests can be taken online. Class discussions are taking place over email, on wikis, in forums. Bit by bit, the elements of a formal education are being replaced with lower cost, asynchronous alternatives. It’s the Napsterization of Education.

Over 200,000 have enrolled in Introduction to Computer Science on Udacity. There is a course on how to build a start-up taught by Steve Blank. Everything on Udacity is completely free, shared, re-shared, and improved as each student makes their way through the courses. It’s not just introductory stuff either, check out CS373 on Udacity where a Sebastian Thrun, a Google VP & Fellow, will teach you all you need to know to program a self-driving car.

Exciting times!

Seth Godin on Changes in Publishing

Seth Godin’s is a prolific writer and a champion for the book business. That’s why he wants to save it, but not in a format you would recognize. The Domino Project is a joint venture with Amazon to rethink the way books are, “built, sold and spread.” In a piece written earlier this week, Seth proposes a future evolution for the library (“no longer a warehouse for dead books.”) and librarian (“producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario”). It’s a refreshing vision and, I would agree with Seth here, “the chance of a lifetime.”

Trinity College Library, Dublin

The next library is a house for the librarian with the guts to invite kids in to teach them how to get better grades while doing less grunt work. And to teach them how to use a soldering iron or take apart something with no user serviceable parts inside. And even to challenge them to teach classes on their passions, merely because it’s fun. This librarian takes responsibility/blame for any kid who manages to graduate from school without being a first-rate data shark.

The next library is filled with so many web terminals there’s always at least one empty. And the people who run this library don’t view the combination of access to data and connections to peers as a sidelight–it’s the entire point.

Wouldn’t you want to live and work and pay taxes in a town that had a library like that? The vibe of the best Brooklyn coffee shop combined with a passionate raconteur of information? There are one thousand things that could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the world of data, combine it with the people in this community and create value.

We need librarians more than we ever did. What we don’t need are mere clerks who guard dead paper. Librarians are too important to be a dwindling voice in our culture. For the right librarian, this is the chance of a lifetime.

– Seth Godin, The Future of the Library

 

Dance, Dance Wheelchair Revolution

This past weekend we headed out to the Heureka Science Center about a 20 minute train ride North of Helsinki. There are a ton of interactive, hands-on exhibits which I took photos of but this wheelchair exhibit was the most interesting.

The concept is simple. The quadrants of the circle light up randomly, one at a time and you have to roll at least two wheels over the quadrant before the next quadrant lights up. There is music playing in the background so if you take too long, the music begins to slow down, letting others in the room know you’re not doing too well.

It’s a very effective exhibit because kids immediately know what to do and it teaches you very quickly the limitations of moving a wheelchair around in a tight space.

I hope my kids have a better appreciation of those in wheelchairs next time we ride the train or bus!

Cool Little Trick for Multiplication

math.png

What’s 23 x 33? Here’s a visual way to solve the problem.

Draw 2 lines and then 3 lines to represent 23 and cross them with 3 lines followed by another 3 lines for 33 as in the drawing above. Add up the number of intersections in each corner of the square as if they were columns.

A=6 for the hundreds or 600

C=9 + B=6 is 15 for the tens column or 150

D=9

Add 600+150+9=759.

This new method of addition is all the rage in Japanese who have imported it from India as a new way to teach young children how to break down complex problems into smaller, solvable problems.