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Posts Tagged ‘Outliers’

Here’s two more books which fall under the general category of “Serendipity and Chaos“.  They are: “What The Dog Saw” (2009©) and “Linked” (2002©).
The first, “What The Dog Saw“, was written by Malcolm Gladwell.  Gladwell is science-popularizer style writer in the vein of Isaac Asimov.  Basically, he looks for interesting areas of science and then explains them to the general public.  This is the fourth book by Gladwell which I own and have read.  The others are: “The Tipping Point“, “Outliers” and “Blink“.  Those three books are single source texts.  This book is a compilation of a number of stories from his articles previously published in The New Yorker.
The book is divided into three sections and the articles (chapters) are meant to focus around the group headings, which are:  1) Obsessives, Pioneers, and Other Varieties of Minor Genius; 2) Theories, Predictions and Diagnoses; and, 3) Personality, Character and Intelligence.  Unfortunately, the group titles do not provide adequate descriptions of the individual articles.  It is enough to say, that each chapter is a mini-book in itself and Gladwell is a very good writer (at least his writing suits MY tastes).  I won’t describe the articles individually except to say the book title comes from the story about Cesar Milan, aka “The Dog Whisperer“.  Most reviews of Milan’s techniques describe what we humans see when he is training the animals.  This article poses the questions: “What does the dog see?” and directly related: “Is that what makes the technique work?”
Bottom line: like Gladwell’s other three books, this is Highly Recommended!!
The second book is: “Linked“, and was written by Albert-László Barabási.  In this book, the author attempts to explain the current state of network theory.  The first couple of chapters cover the history of network theory and then we are quickly shifted into “current” (circa 1990-2002) theory.  The author contends there are three basic types of networks – “centralized”, “decentralized”, and “distributed”.  The author goes on to explain why he feels distributed networks are emergent and how they exist in a broad range of settings, hardware, software, social, economic and biological.  He has an additional premise they are distributed because there are inherent fail-over mechanisms in them which support the network in ways the other two networks simply can’t reproduce.  Most significantly, from my point of view, he is the first person I’ve heard explain both the “rich-get-richer” and the “winner-takes-all” results of distributed networking concepts in economics.  Finally, the author provides an explanation of the concept of “power law” and how it acts in the context of networking – and he does it with a minimum of formulae and in plain English.  All in all, I found this book a fascinating read and highly recommend it.
Gladwell’s was a $2 clearance book from Half-Price Books and Barabási’s was a discounted (used) book purchased from my $50 Amazon birthday gift card.  The book cost more to ship than to buy!  Very good values, if I do say so myself!!
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Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.
  —    Malcolm Gladwell
From his book: “Outliers
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Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good.  It’s the thing you do that makes you good.
  —    Malcolm Gladwell
From his book: “Outliers
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The idea that excellence at performing 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 the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.
The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin.  “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again.  Of course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do.  But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time.  It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.
  —   Malcolm Gladwell
From his book: “Outliers
[In other words, if you have some talent in anything, practice 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, 52 weeks per year, FOR 5 YEARS (!!!) and you will be great at it – for the rest of your life.   You have got to LOVE something (whatever “it” is) in order to commit that amount of your life to doing it.  —   KMAB]
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The question is this: is there such a thing as innate talent?  The obvious answer is yes.
… Achievement is talent plus preparation.  The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.
  —  Malcolm Gladwell
From his book:  “Outliers
[It helps to be good when you start.  But, what really counts is work, work, work…  —  KMAB]
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Today I finished reading: “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson (2006©).  The subtitle is: “Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More“.  The book purports to be about the “new” economics of culture and commerce.   I was looking forward to finally getting around to this book as I’ve had it waiting for a couple of months now.  It’s another of the $2.00 books from Half-Price Books.  I have heard the term, “The Long Tail” several times in the last few years.  Usually in context / comparison with the works of  Malcolm Gladwell (“Tipping Point“, “Blink“, “Outliers“).  The author (Anderson) has a similar, populist / popular style which I guess comes from them both being writers in magazines.  Other than this being a book whose concept has entered the popular / mainstream consciousness, I don’t think the book or the concept are as valuable or interesting as Gladwell’s works.
What is a “Long Tail” economy?  A Long Tail economy is one where culture is unfiltered by economic scarcity.  Huh?  Well, here, “economic scarcity” seems to be defined as things which are not stocked at my local store because there is not sufficient local demand.
The basic premise is that we are moving to a world where the manufacturer is going to be expected to carry the finished product in finished inventory (or build to order just in time) instead of the “retail” seller keeping goods in stock.  Given the costs of storage are zero (for the seller), they will carry an unlimited volume (and variety) of product in their sales channel (typically a database driven web site).  This will allow the seller to offer a value-added of a filter (typically some form of recommendation tool and or customer profile/history).  This added value is what will bring you back to the sellers web site for future purchases or other products.  Of course, once you know the location (url) of the manufacturer of the specific item you want, there is no need to use the seller as a middle-man.  At which point, the seller has lost their value until the next time you’re not sure where to get what you want.
The concept is plausible for items which are entirely (or mostly) purely digital – like sound, writing or images – like e-music, e-books, and e-videos.   These items are easily digitized and electronically transportable.  I am more dubious of the value of this concept for items which we buy based on touch and taste.  I have purchased shoes and clothes using catalogs, so shifting to web sites is not a “BIG” deal, but most of my purchases have been “higher-ended” where the seller will accept shipping costs in both directions if there is a problem.  I’m not convinced there are many sellers who would commit to this level of customer satisfaction on low ticket items.  “Atoms”, to me, seem a bigger problem, than bits and bytes.
The book is an expanded version of an article which appeared in Wired magazine back in 2004.  Since I’ve been a subscriber to Wired for over 10 years, I would have read the original article when it was published.  I have only the vaguest recollection of it, so it didn’t make an impact on my life.  The book is a fast read and I do highly recommend it, but recognize the recommendation is based on recognizing the application of the concept to the digital nature of the goods being sold, not on the strength of the concept applying to the world of manufactured products.
I will be offering a number of quotes from the book over the next few weeks to give you a flavor of the content.
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Readings
Last Saturday (26 June ’10), I finished “Partners In Command” by Mark Perry (2007).  The book is a dual biography of Generals George C. Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower.  I purchased the book because I have had a long term interest in Marshall.  Aside from Patton, Marshall has been one of my favorite World War II generals.  The book speaks very favourably of Marshall; almost as highly of Eisenhower; and, rather poorly of everyone else.  In particular, Bradley, Montgomery and Patton suffer by comparison.  The lesson of the book, which the author repeats in almost every chapter: Democracies should only go to war when they are attacked (and therefore “have to fight”), they should only fight when they have allies, and, they should fight for as short a time as is possible to win.
I must admit, I have never “really” been a big fan of Eisenhower.  Partly because I considered him a “community organizer” and not a true general; partly because he was a Republican President – who I felt did little to move the country forward during his eight years in office; and, mostly because he selected an obvious thug – Richard Nixon – to be his Vice President.  I believe had he not done so, it is unlikely Nixon would have ever become President and the country might have been spared the Watergate scandal and its on-going legacy – Carter, Reagan, and both Bush’s.  The last part is probably unlikely, Bush I might still have become President, but I don’t think we would have had to suffer Bush II / Chenny.  Still history is the way it is…
I would still like to read more about Marshall and will be on the lookout for more books about him.  Everything I’ve read about him indicates he was a man of extreme integrity, humility and completely dedicated to his country.
Today (29 June ’10), I finished “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell (2008).  This is a book about success.  What does it take to be successful.  It appears that it takes a lot of hard, dedicated work (a mythical 10,000 hours) and a great deal of luck.   The luck is not just personal luck, either.  It seems to involve timing (birth date) and cultural setting.  I’m not sure if I agree with all of Gladwell’s examples and extrapolations of “truths” which come from the examples, but he does make an interesting case.
This is the third book I’ve read of Gladwell’s (“The Tipping Point” and “Blink” being the other two), and I can heartily recommend him as a good read and a provider of new insight – what I would have called a “slap on the side of the head” in years gone by.
Celtic Blues
A little over a week ago, the Boston Celtics lost game seven of the NBA championship to the Los Angeles Lakers.  For years, my brother has insisted that all of professional sports are fixed.  I am not usually a “conspiracy” person, although I have seen moments in games when I questioned some referees calls (and non-calls).  This is the first time though, where I honestly believed the game was absolutely fixed and I will never look at an NBA playoff the same way again.  To start off with the commercials were heavily biased towards the Lakers.  As the game went on – particularly in the second half – they were a virtual coronation.  And this was while the game was still very much in doubt and the “greatest” player on the court (Kobe Bryant) was having an atrocious game.  I don’t mean a choke.  I mean a complete stinker – legacy game.  Instead, every time he got the ball in the third and fourth quarter, he would drive and if there was any defense applied, he was given a foul.  Kobe ended up with ten free throws made in the fourth quarter and the Lakers (as a team) had more than twenty extra free throws than Boston.  This, despite the fact that LA had to play tighter defense in order to come from ten points down to win the game.  In the end, the refs let the Celtics bring it back to within three points after letting the Lakers run ahead by eight.
World Cup News
A similar tragedy is happening in the World Cup this year.  Goals are being disallowed which are clearly in and onside and being allowed when they should not be (mostly players being offside).  Anyway, my three hopefuls have all been sent home (USA, England and Mexico).  I’m now hoping for a final of Germany vs. Brazil as I think that will be the most entertaining matchup.
Diet and Health
Not so good.  I’ve put back on about 12 pounds.  I’m back up around 305!  I’ve had a series of little (and not so little) aches and pains which has reduced my running to almost nothing.  I thought I’d really hurt my back, but it now seems as if I’m just having a flare up of kidney stones.  I’ve been pissing out a series of little grains for a couple of weeks now.  At one point, the pain was so bad I was limping and didn’t even want to walk.  Fortunately, that’s somewhat better now.  This last weekend, I tried to drink them away with a couple of gallons of water, but while it may have cleaned up my urine, it hasn’t fixed the stone problems.  The bottom line is that I’ve got to get back out there jogging.
I’ve been going to the pool instead.  So far, five sessions of treading water of about fifty minutes each.  No pain at all.  I’ve also been able to do the elliptical at the gym at work.  I’ve also tried the rowing at the gym, but that does result in a bit of workout pain (lower heaviness).
This weekend was the running of the Western States 100 Endurance Run.  It was interesting to check it out on-line while it was happening.  It seems like a distant and impossible dream now.
Drums
I’m not doing much better on learning to play the drums.  I guess Hil was correct.  “This too shall pass!”  I’m practicing in the car in the morning, but I don’t seem to have the energy (or make the time) to practice on the real drum set Art lent me.
Work
I got the news on my application for the Leadership Development Program at work.  This year, I qualified, but did not make the best qualified list.  My consolation is that’s better than last year when I didn’t even qualify.
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