Labours of love

One of the most enjoyable parts of following Calvin & Hobbes during its immensely popular stint from 1985 to 1995 was the grotesque/satirical/just-plain-fun snowmen scenes Calvin would make during the winters.  And amazingly, some University of Nebraska Medical Center students have put together scenes that Calvin would be proud of.

There is also a set of reenactments of Gary Larson‘s The Far Side cartoons at this Flickr group.  An example:

Awesome.

Joshua Bell, Desiderata and Detroit

Came across two beautiful pieces of writing and one intriguing blog post the last few days, and I thought I’d share them.

Joshua Bell

The intriguing blog post was from Tim’s Blog, about a stunt/experiment that violinist extraordinaire Joshua Bell took part in.  [See the Washington Post story here to get the background.  (Free registration may be required.)]  To paraphrase the Post, on this Friday morning, in the middle of the first rush hour of the day, at the arcade of a busy train station, one of the best violinists in the world played some of the most moving music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made, for 43 minutes.  Many walked past Joshua Bell without a second glance, even though he wasn’t being miserly with his talent – he played one of the most difficult pieces a violinist can play, in his energetic, all-motion style.  At the end, he earned just over 50USD, including a 20USD donation toward the end of the stunt/experiment from someone who recognised him.

This stunt/experiment asks several questions about beauty and its context, but I also like Tim’s question: “How many things are we missing?” If people can ignore Joshua Bell’s music, what else that is significant and beautiful and true might they be missing?

I think this context bit is worth thinking about a little more, too.  Say you saw this athletic floppy-haired chap with a liquid backhand playing tennis with a powerful muscular left-hander who hits his forehands with a vicious topspin, would you know who they were if you hadn’t seen them on TV before?  And would it make a difference, to whether you watch them play or not?  Should it?  That says something about the power of globalisation and media and technology.

Desiderata

I came across Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata via the Personal MBA blog and absolutely loved it.  I think you will too.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Detroit

(Not sure why, but I usually misspell “Detroit”.)  I really enjoyed this article about Detroit’s resilience as its famed automobile industry collapses.  The article is written by Mitch Albom – author of “Tuesdays with Morrie” – and a stirring piece, even from this far away.

Crayon Physics Deluxe

I have been messing around with the demo for Crayon Physics Deluxe.  It’s an intuitive and simple game where you try to get a ball to the endpoint (denoted by a star) past obstacles in various scenarios by drawing stuff with a crayon.  Got a chasm between ball and star?  Draw a line above the chasm, and it will fall across the gap facilitated by gravity, and all you then have to do is nudge the ball over the bridge to the star.  The game incorporates what you draw into each scenario in a physically accurate way and there are fulcrums and pivots and other mechanical bits to complicate things.  Looks like a whimsical and very fun diversion.

See the game in action in the YouTube video below.

Visit the blog for more info.  I echo some of the game’s reviewers: one of the great strengths of the game is that it’s as complicated as you make it – you could solve each scenario with simple line drawings or build the most elaborate chain-effect systems, whatever brings you the most satisfaction.

Efficient T-shirt folding

My dear cuz gave me some Threadless T-shirts (these were the ones she got me: “Haikus are easy, but sometimes they don’t…“; “Marshmallow Factory“; “Miss Scarlet in the Hall with a Revolver“; “Fail“; and “Well, This Just Really Sucks“) and I had to fold them after laughing out loud at some of the designs (especially the one with the unicorn and the one with the cows) and I realised after I searched online for good ways to fold T-shirts that there were a couple of interesting and efficient ways of doing this.  Enjoy.

Six tools for the back of the napkin

I came across this video of Dan Roam (author of Back of the Napkin) speaking at Google [via Presentation Zen], and I was really quite taken by his ability to clarify (Dan Roam’s word) problems by visualising them a certain way.*

I think it’s worth watching the whole way through, but I took away this: People process visual information by categorising it in six ways, namely what/who, how much, where, when, how and why.  And Dan Roam recommends certain types of drawings to best communicate each category of information, i.e.

  • If you want to show “What/Who”, draw a portrait.
  • If you want to show “How much”, draw a chart.
  • If you want to show where, draw a map.
  • If you want to show “When”, draw a time-line.
  • If you want to show “How” (a certain immediate causality; what triggers what), draw a flowchart.
  • And if you want to show “Why” (a “big picture” sort of cause and effect), draw a multivariate plot.

*And I just think it’s really swell of Google to bring in authors, politicians and other folks of public interest to speak at its campus, and then share these speeches with anyone who can download these videos.

A pithy quote, a funny toon, tuning your finances with a scattergram and inspiring teachers

I came across some more interesting stuff that I wanted to share.

First up, what a thought: Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful. We all have an idea of how things work; scientists and economists call such ideas of theirs models.  Our ideas and their models approximate how things work – that’s all they can ever do – and something someday will come by to somehow cause us to review these approximations and fine-tune them.  I took away a couple of things from these nine words.  One, I should be prepared for that something someday, and be ready to graciously let go of my ideas/models when they are not so useful anymore.  Two, I should be aware of why my ideas/models are useful and what they cannot account for i.e. know their limitations – I think this would lead to better decisions.

I laughed out loud in disbelief at this cartoon.

Interesting idea – plotting your expenses on two axes of recurring/occasional and need/want.

Carnegie Mellon Prof Randy Pausch has died.  I wrote about him several posts back.  I didn’t know the man personally, but, if the reactions of others to him and his last lecture are any indication, then we’ve lost an inspiration.  My favourite part of the video clip is at about the 1hr 10mins mark, when he talks about focusing on others, and then as a concrete example of that he has some folks wheel out this cake for his wife (whose birthday was the day before) and leads a 500-strong singalong of Happy Birthday to his dear Jai.  What a guy.

And today I came across this list of inspirational (fictional, movie-only) teachers, which I hope you will enjoy.

Connecting

I think I may be over-generalising, but here are two stories that showed me how straightforward it can be to connect with the people one wants to reach.

Christopher Hitchens would make a lousy terrorist [via GOOD Magazine] – What an idea!: To convince lawmakers that waterboarding may reasonably be construed as torture find out if waterboarding may reasonably be construed as torture, recruit 50 lawyers to undergo 5 seconds of breathing through a water-soaked cloth.  Offering a physical, memorable experience: I think that’s a visceral way of connecting with people and getting them to see a point of view.  By the way, journalist and brave chap Christopher Hitchens went through it and lived to tell the tale.  But, as he writes, it is far from clear what the conclusion is: That waterboarding makes one shaky and scared and is therefore effective as an interrogation technique?  Or that waterboarding makes one shaky and scared and therefore eager to say anything?

When you least expect it [via Seth’s Blog] – What an (entirely happier) idea!: When processing an order for printing T-shirts, pay attention to what is being printed; if it’s for a good cause, see if you can further that cause, thus connecting with your customer.  I think it’s fairly safe to say that this would create a “Wow!” moment.  If you’re a believer in what Jan Carlzon (formerly the President of Scandinavian Airlines) called “moments of truth”, creating as many of these as possible and then differentiating your product/service at these moments can really boost that word-of-mouth goodwill.*

*Here’s what he said in his book “Moments of Truth”, published in 1987:

Last year, each of our 10 million customers came in contact with approximately five SAS employees, and this contact lasted an average of 15 seconds each time.  Thus, SAS is “created” in the minds of our customers 50 million times a year, 15 seconds at a time.  These 50 million “moments of truth” are the moments that ultimately determine whether SAS will succeed or fail as a company.  They are the moments when we must prove to our customers that SAS is their best alternative.