The Deal With Things

Philosophy, Art, Learning 2009-07-04 03:19

When you try something new - like a new TV show or movie, a new food, or a new card game - and you decide you don’t like it, there are two categories your judgement may fall into.

  • One is that you just don’t get its deal.
  • The other is that you get it, but you don’t like its deal.

Figuring out the deal is part of the fun intellectual stimulation of our recreational activities. A process of exploration and discovery.

Jerry Holkins puts it like this:

“It is my goal to play a game until I discover its thesis. […] Essentially, I want to know a game’s intention. That intention is surprisingly close to the surface in games most people consider to be of high quality, and so I don’t need to play them very long to discern it. I will still finish games that I have come to understand, but a large part of my enjoyment is bound up in this interpretive process.”

Science, Safety

Science, Learning 2009-03-26 03:01

“Why are we failing at math and science? Because it isn’t fun any more. When you put safety on the highest altar, what do you give up? When fear of lawsuits — not to mention fear of technology — drives product design, marketing, and public policy, you eliminate science at its roots, in the natural experimentation of kids who want to know how the world works.”

From Why We’re Failing in Math and Science by Tim O’Reilly

Scientists are the pioneers who push the limits of human knowledge and the boundaries of the known universe. That’s a little dangerous sometimes.


Cognition, Learning 2008-11-15 02:55

“People who possess loads of information in a particular field have historically been in hot demand and able the charge high fees for access to their stuffed, fact-filled brains. This was because the facts used to be difficult to access. Not any more. In an era where information about seemingly anything is only a mouse click away, just possessing information alone is hardly the differentiator it used to be. What is more important today than ever before is the ability to synthesize the facts and give them context and perspective.”

From Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds

Math Class

Learning 2008-05-10 03:57

“…if I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done — I simply wouldn’t have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soul- crushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.

Everyone knows that something is wrong. The politicians say, “we need higher standards.” The schools say, “we need more money and equipment.” Educators say one thing, and teachers say another. They are all wrong. The only people who understand what is going on are the ones most often blamed and least often heard: the students. They say, “math class is stupid and boring,” and they are right.”

From A Mathematician’s Lament, by way of BetterExplained


Learning, Infinite Series 2008-04-23 11:02

I always enjoy Bob Cringley’s articles, but when he speaks of how schools are outdated, I’m especially impressed. Paul Graham has said that high schools are basically prisons, and I agree with that, but Cringley takes it further: all schools, from kindergarden straight up through med school, follow a model that is increasingly out of sync with the modern world. He gives some compelling arguments as to why schools, as we know them today, will be gone completely in the next decade or so.

One of his key points is that “we’re moving from a knowledge economy to a search economy.” This is a pithy and less threatening way of stating the hard truth: that values held dear by traditional education are no longer useful. This is going to be very hard for people to let go of. Expect a lot of bitterness and fighting from those with their identities, lives, and possibly paychecks intimately tied to the industry and culture of traditional education.

But I for one couldn’t be happier to see scholastic institutions fade away. I didn’t get a lick of value from my time spent in school, other than social side-effects like learning how to deal with the schoolyard bully or how to pass notes in class undetected. Only once school ended was my time freed up to spend on actual learning. I can only imagine how much further along I would be in life now if I could have started learning 20 years earlier.

Cringely’s article has two subsequent followups that expand on his ideas, and all three are also available as podcasts. Highly recommended.

Some Good Podcasts


  • My History Can Beat Up Your Politics
  • American History Before 1870
  • The History of Rome
  • Technology

  • Girls Gone Geek
  • I, Cringely
  • Google Developer Podcast
  • Other

  • The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe
  • Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders
  • Tool Talk
  • Podictionary
  • I’m too lazy to give links right now - just search, dangit.

    Books Reports

    Learning 2007-09-14 09:25

    I hated doing book reports in elementry school. Actually, it’s not the actual doing I minded: I enjoyed reading, and summarizing what I had read was not hard. But it bugged the hell out of me that they seemed so pointless. The author already wrote the book; why should I do it again, in condensed form?

    Of course the whole point was to make me (the student) organize the key points from the work in my own head. I guess I’ve come full circle: now, whenever I finish a book, I write a few paragraphs about it in my library. Yep, it’s a book report.
    Read more »

    Learning Through Information Bombardment

    Learning 2006-11-05 12:24

    This piece describes how to learn a difficult topic quickly, and is pretty close to my own technique.

    I’m an especially big fan of the first step: “Bombard yourself with information.” It’s a complete 180 from the traditional academic approach. In school, they have you read a chapter and do a bunch of drills to make sure you have absorbed every bit of knowledge before continuing. This never worked very well for me (or anyone else, that I could see).

    In real life, the best way to learn is to immerse yourself in the world of the subject matter. Get in over your head, surround yourself with concepts that you don’t understand. Blast through a book (or a few) without really grasping the concepts. Then dive in and start trying to apply what you know so far (which isn’t much). You’ll blunder around quite a bit; but then as you tackle certain types of problems, you’ll remember “Oh yeah, I think this is what they were talking about in that one chapter…” and you’ll go back to review the details more carefully. Repeat this cycle a few times and you’ll get much further than the careful chapter-by-chapter method.
    Read more »