Earlier this month, Seth Stevenson masterfully wrote about the greatest feat in modern chess history: Brooklyn-born Fabiano Caruana (pictured) winning seven straight games and tying three more against top 10 opponents, including world champion Magnus Carlsen.
If you have even a passing interest in chess, game theory, some of the world’s brightest minds, cat fights, and historic performances, I implore you to read it.
Writes Stevenson: “At one point during the Sinquefield Cup, I was watching from a quiet viewing lounge on the first floor of the chess club. I glanced over to my left and saw a man sitting alone. It was Rex Sinquefield. I tried to make conversation, but he politely brushed me off. He was utterly focused on watching Caruana play. An orphan turned plutocrat, now transformed back into a little boy watching his favorite game.
“I suddenly realized that he’d created this institution, funded this tournament, flown these grandmasters here and housed them, out of the purest, simplest love imaginable. He may not have lured droves of spectators to the event, and may not have reignited the world’s love affair with chess. But for two weeks at least, he helped the world’s most storied game flourish as it once had, with dedicated fans witnessing an incandescent burst of greatness that seemed to come from nowhere.”
Photo: Lindsey Snow
I tried work-life blending for six years. It sucks. Nothing more than a new term coined by self-absorbed workaholics to justify their personal regrets, negligence, and imbalances in life. Now let me tell you how I really feel.
The phrase “work-life balance” entered our lexicon when faxes reigned supreme, the 1980s. Knowledge workers, globalization, and computer networking went mainstream that decade, and with it, the temptation to work ‘round the clock on the Hedonic Treadmill (i.e. the misguided belief that the more money one makes, the happier they’ll be).
In response, first-world countries had a real first-world problem on their hands. The more connected their workers felt to the office, the more pressure they felt to “get ahead” by staying on the clock for extended periods of time. With only 24 hours in a day, something had to give. Continue reading…
My defective lower lumbar
Thanks to genetics, I inherited two bad discs in my back, the neurologist told me. (Sorry kids, you’re next.)
For no particular reason, the first one broke six years ago. It laid me up for six straight weeks, forcing me to work lying down for a month and a half. After surgery, I could thankfully sit, run, and walk again with a normal gait.
I was also given a clean bill of health. ”Blake, I’ve had patients scale Mount Everest and play two hours of basketball every morning for the rest of their lives after similar surgery,” the doctor told me. “Except for moving refrigerators and pianos, you have my blessing to do whatever physically adventurous things you want.”
I took his counsel to heart, got fit, ate more plants, and experienced a renaissance of outdoor exploits and saw a lot of wonderful things since then. In a way, breaking my back was the best thing to happen to me since marrying Lindsey, fathering children, and being awesome.
Now I get to do it all over. Last week, I broke my back again. Continue reading…
Exposing my kids to great music is a goal of mine. To accomplish this, I incessantly listen to back catalogs, one-hit wonders, greatest hits, new music, and low profile artists in search of the most timeless, dance-able, moving, and energetic songs. Then I test what I find among my household audience.
So far I’ve done an admirable job, with exception to sharing said music on a proper hi-fi. That all changed this year after acquiring the wireless Cambridge Air 200. It looks like an all-in-one Bose system, but sounds significantly richer, cleaner, and fuller without muddy sounds or the inflated Bose price. Continue reading…
Football began in earnest last week. Not that kind. The oblong American kind. The “hoorah!” kind.
For now, I couldn’t be happier. BYU‘s undefeated and ranked 25th in the country. Seahawks look dominant enough to repeat as Superbowl champions. And even the most jaded fans are full of hope, smiles, and optimism right now. That always makes the world a more enjoyable place to live.
Of course, that’ll change as the season wears on. For most of us, frowns are just around the corner. But there’s a simple trick I’ve learned over the years to avoid letting an uncompetitive or unlucky sportsball team ruin your night, day, week, month, autumn, or even year. It is this: Embrace fair weather fan status. Be proud of it. Bandwagons are fun.
I want all my children to work fast food someday. Why would I subject the little darlings to low pay, hectic dinner rushes, rude customers, demeaning work, ignorant coworkers, monotonous tasks, slippery shoes, and stinky clothes?
The short answer: Life is filled with the above, so you might as well expose ‘em while they’re young. The long answer: Much of what I learned in business I learned from fast food. Not the creative stuff. Not sustained rejection. Certainly not cerebral problem solving.
But working fast food taught me the essence of hard work—livelihood’s version of basic training. After two years as a low-level cooking, toilet cleaning, truck unloading, chicken suit wearing, stench absorbing, fry serving, drive-thru calling, and overly perspiring wage-worker at Chick-Fil-A, here’s what I learned about business, customer service, teamwork, and life: Continue reading…
I’ve been working my way through some of history’s best-rated science fiction novels. And “no,” I don’t distinguish sci-fi from fantasy.
Overall, I find the technical language of books such as Hyperion, Shockwave Rider, and others with ridiculous covers—the kind Gentlemen Broncos makes fun of—too distracting to enjoy. Reading them feels like work. It’s almost as if the author wants me to decipher or decode the language before understanding it. It’s why I abandon many of these books, including The Hobbit. After all, I read to enjoy or educate myself—not learn a fictional language.
When they’re not using overly technical and distracting language, sci-fi novels often finish in confusing or unpoetic form, as is the case with Ender’s Game, an otherwise clever book. Now, I haven’t completely given up on the genre. I still have Dune, Starship Troopers, 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, and others on my list.
My faith in the genre skyrocketed today, however, after reading the first chapter of Planet of the Apes. It’s one of the best opening chapters I’ve read of any genre. It’s so captivating, I dare any imaginative mind over the age of 10 to read the first chapter and desist. It’s humanly impossible. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me, for free even.
That’s how you pull someone into a novel. Bravo, Pierre Boulle.
UPDATE: After finishing the book, I now regard Planet of the Apes as masterpiece literature—from beginning, middle, to the very ironic ending. Five stars out of five.
I’ve done some light reading on time use this summer — invigorating stuff, I know — and came across some insightful observations from John Robinson. He’s spent the last four decades reviewing thousands of “time journals” from people around the world. Continue reading…
Photo: Blake Snow
Americans rank near the bottom in work-life balance because we work more than anyone, that much we know. (Caveat: We don’t work more than we used to, according to decades of research by John Robinson. We just perceive busy-ness as work and fill our free time with it. More on that later.)
But we don’t have to work as much as we do. Quite the opposite, in fact. ”Researchers note that productivity rates have risen, which theoretically lets many people be just as comfortable as previous generations while working less. Yet they choose not to,” reports the New York Times. Even visionaries admit as much. “The idea that everyone needs to work frantically is just not true,” says Google CEO Larry Page. “Reducing the workweek is one way to solve the problem.”
I decided to do just that recently in switching from a five to four-day workweek. Like after I quit working nights and weekends, I won’t ever go back (given the choice). In four days, I’ve gotten just as much done as I did in five, because I waste less time now. As the forward-thinking Jason Fried explains, “Constraining time encourages quality time. When you have a compressed workweek, you focus on what’s important.”
So we have evidence that all this snazzy technology lightens our load, increases our productivity, and allows us to work less. And yet we still choose to work more than we need to. Why?! I’ve researched the issue for my book and came away with the following five answers: Continue reading…
Two years ago, I rented my first AirBNB. It changed the way I book lodging. Depending on availability, I now prefer room shares over hotels.
Last week, I rented my first Lyft, the whimsical car sharing company. It didn’t go so well, but not for reasons you might expect. Continue reading…
Photo: Blake Snow
Last month, my eight year-old daughter subdued me in a remarkable way.
Our dog Harley had just disobeyed orders. As I confronted him, he urinated on our floor for the umpteenth time.
Now, there are a lot of things I dislike about Harley. He pees like a girl. Recoils from house flies. And his nervous system is a little too nervous. But my least favorite thing about Harley is his knack for urinating a few teaspoons at times when I—the perceived “leader” of the pack—order or reprimand him.
It’s called submissive urination and it’s downright annoying for two reasons. First, I’ve had to clean up dog urine, several times a day, even though he’s been house trained for months. Second, I have no idea when to expect it, even though Harley is normally an obedient dog. Continue reading…
- “It is remarkable how much long term advantage is gained by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.” — Charlie Munger
- “Read every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, not many will.” — Warren Buffett
- “To better avoid errors, you should talk to people who disagree with you and you should talk to people who are not in the same emotional situation you are.” — Daniel Kahneman (more of his thoughts here)
- “A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguishable from the truth.” — Daniel Kahneman
- “Acknowledging what you don’t know is the dawning of wisdom.” — Charlie Munger
Via Motley Fool
Photo: Nayu Kim
What does it take to be really good — if not great — at something?
A lot depends on the skill or event. For instance, “In expert tennis, 80% of the points are won, while in amateur tennis, 80% are lost,” says economist Eric Falkenstein. “The same is true for wrestling, chess, and investing: Beginners should focus on avoiding mistakes, experts on making great moves.”
The first step towards mastering a skill, then, lies in assessing whether the ability observes rigid rules or not. Knowing that will help you prioritize deliberate practice over taking creative liberties and vice versa. So if the rules never change, like in classical music or mathematics, you can “out-study” the competition to make it to the top.
But in less structured fields — such as entrepreneurship, rock and roll, and other humanities — taking creative risks or “making great moves” as Falkenstein says takes precedence. It’s the fastest way to greatness. In other words, strict standards reward mastery first. Unregulated skills reward creativity more.
Of course, many disciplines demand both mastery and risk-taking to become great, not to mention raw talent. But knowing where to start — whether by mastery or creativity — is half the battle.
Photo: Blake Snow
For anyone with an intermediate understanding of graphic design, you’ll know that some shapes look better when visually centered as opposed to mathematically centered. I thought that truth would hold up over the weekend while hanging square records on my office wall. It didn’t.
As eagle-eyed readers will notice, the right side of the montage is a fourth of an inch lower than the left. I had my pencil, level, helpmeet (Hi, Lindsey!) and string handy, thinking I could crack this nut in minutes. An hour later, and while cursing my inability to recall basic geometric calculations, I thought to myself, “If I can keep it visually aligned, I’m sure it’ll look okay.”
By the time I finished, it was mathematically obvious: My estimation was wrong. Having already invested upwards of two hours on the job, and with the kids asking for the umpteenth time if we were “leaving for the pool yet?”, I hastily skewed some right side records to minimize the visual damage. In doing so, I messed up the two inch margins in between prints.
Although I once excelled at math in school, it’s a good thing I never became an engineer.
See also: Maybe mathematical art is a message from God
An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal village in Mexico. Just then, a skiff docked with one fisherman inside. His boat contained several large yellowfin tuna.
The American complimented the fisherman’s catch and asked how long it took to reel them in. “Only a little while,” the fisherman replied. The American then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish. The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s needs.
“What do you do with the rest of your time?” the American pressed. Continue reading…
I don’t like academic writing. It’s mostly nonsense.
A few years ago, I said as much to my father who works in academia. Despite my insensitivity and lack of tact, I stand by my belief. Not because I’m incapable of admitting when I’m wrong. But because academic writing’s verbose language, impersonal tone, and dispassionate delivery ultimately fail to engage readers.
In other words, “Academics are really good at writing books that only academics will read, but they’re not very good at making anyone outside of academia care,” says Jared Bauer, co-creator of Thug Notes, in an interview with Huffington Post. ”Teaching isn’t easy, so I’m not trying to shame teachers for not trying more radical approaches to literature education,” he adds. “But at the very least, I hope (our) show makes teachers realize that a student won’t volunteer their attention. The teacher must seize it.”
As I debated with my father that day, for writing to succeed, it must capture the reader’s attention. If it doesn’t, the writing won’t get shared, influence can’t happen, and the opportunity to learn is squandered, even among scholars. There’s no point to that kind of writing other than to serve as a reminder of how not to write. Continue reading…
© Blake Snow
As an amateur photographer, I sometimes get compliments on the photos I take. Here’s my secret: Continue reading…
For the next month, soccer fans watching the World Cup will see more fake injuries than any amount of magic spray could possibly cure. And by fake I mean diving, flopping, conniving—temporarily feigning injury in an effort to draw an advantageous ruling on the field.
Although seen in international soccer with regularity, diving during the World Cup happens in greater frequency because the stakes are higher. (This is the world championship, after all, held once every four years.) And when the stakes are higher, cowardice teams will employ anything they can for an edge.
“In the British game, it is often seen as an import from foreign players,” says psychologist Paul Morris, who studies diving at the University of Portsmouth. “Many people argue that it has been common in Italian football for decades.” Continue reading…
© Blake Snow
My brood just returned from a week long road trip to the Black Hills. At close range, we saw Devil’s Tower (4.5 out of 5 stars), Rushmore (4 stars), the Custer Needles and Sylvan Lake (5 stars), Badlands (4 stars), and… a lot of senior citizens (2 stars—wink). We bumped into a few younger families on our travels, but not many. The vast majority were graying couples.
“Where are all the twenty and thirty-somethings?” I asked my wife. She shrugged.
A moment passed, then she offered, “Maybe they’re at Disneyland.”
“Maybe they’re watching TV,” I added.
Wherever they were, they weren’t outside. Continue reading…
In honor of the World Cup, which starts next week in Brazil, here’s how I fell in love with the game.
The year: 198X. I was at a friend’s house in a remote part of northern Oklahoma. We were watching Victory, a so-so Sylvester Stallone movie about a POW soccer team playing Nazi Germany during World War II. My buddy and I were no older than five or six at the time.
Not wanting to endure the feeble character and pre-game drama, we fast forwarded the VHS “through all the boring stuff” to get right to the climatic game. While the build up to said game will likely keep most adults engaged — more for its interesting plot than acting skills — the last 20 minutes of the movie is most triumphant.