June: Articles + highlights

10 amazing articles I read in June. Biased towards quality, not freshness, so my apologies if you’ve seen some already:

  • 15-min vid of Spielberg film themes and techniques – my notes
  • Georgia Tech + Udacity rolling out 3-year, $7K online CS masters program. Big names, big changes in higher ed!
  • Wealthy young entrepreneur learns that the key to fulfillment is owning less (including a 420sf apt), not more
  • Well-known entrepreneur gets into zen meditation to find that inner peace :)
  • I hate (most) email newsletters. Here are a few that Matt Haughey (MetaFilter founder) likes. For me: Sinocism, Hacker Newsletter
  • Behind-the-scenes @ Tumblr with Instapaper creator and early employee Marco Armenti. Props to David Karp and his team
  • The best time to start a startup was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. Or something like that. Here’s Sam Shank, HotelTonight cofounder, on missing the Uber opportunity
  • I realize now that postponing a decision is tantamount to making a bad decision. Suster makes a strong case.
  • Dave McClure – he of the bombastically awesome blog posts and slide decks – is ALL IN on consumer internet. I am too
  • Gotta admire Chinese resourcefulness. Then there’s this wonderful pic by James Fallows

80+% of the articles I read are in my public Ever-notebook (including highlights).

What awesome stuff have you read? I’m interested in just about anything under the sun, so please share!

GA Programming Bootcamp: Week 2

Markus explaining classes and instancesPreviously:

Observations:

  • Energy management is essential. I’m usually good about getting 6-7 hours of sleep per night, but the focus required to effectively program for 8 hours a day leaves you mentally exhausted. Appreciate our Hyperink (and shopkick) engineers even more :)
  • There are exponential returns. The people who “get it” are jumping farther and farther ahead. The people who struggle are finding it harder and harder to keep up. Only natural with such diverse backgrounds and commitment levels. Another challenge for GA and our instructors
  • We’re starting to (be able to) build stuff we want. Week 3-4 we’ll work on an individually defined project. Excited to launch my vision of a curated “Startup Textbook”. More details later :)
  • The harder the topic, the more I talk to myself. Not sure if classmates notice yet but like some guy on TV once said, “it’s ok as long as you’re not answering”

Topics:

  • SQL and SQLite3: database structures, writing queries (command line and w/in Ruby), database schemas. I like SQL. Fun article on SQL joins
  • JSON: making API calls, reading & parsing JSON files
  • Sinatra: a simple framework for Ruby web apps
  • Ruby: more on hashes, classes, instances, arrays, loops, all the fun Ruby stuff. Better understanding case statements (an alternate approach to If…Elsif…)
  • CRUD (create, read, update, delete) and REST
  • NETWORKING (!): routers, HTTP, DNS, etc etc etc. Really enjoy this topic and slowly working through Network Know-How. I like getting to the core “why?” and “how?” of things, and networks are those critical but little-understood things that make the Internet hum. It’s also highly memorization and detail-driven, 2 things I suck at
  • Git/Github: critical if you want to work at a startup or “hot” tech co; git and github are how code gets written, tested, shared, and deployed. Pain in the ass at first – one of the many reasons why programming has a high (perceived?) barrier-to-entry
  • More CSS/HTML
  • RSpec: Ruby gem and framework for writing and using tests, test-driven development

Tools, links

And another shoutout for the free and awesome Bastard’s Book of Ruby.

Spielberg’s film themes and techniques

Another great find by Kottke, a 12-minute montage of Spielberg’s films (ET, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, and on).

Fascinating parallels in techniques & themes across Spielberg’s work…worth citing a YouTube commenter of that video:

Very good analysis, although I think that I’d disagree with your ultimate conclusion, that Spielberg’s success is attributable to a unique style. I don’t think that his stylistic and/or technical choices are that much different than many of his contemporaries (e.g., Scorsese). What sets Spielberg apart, IMO, is that he is one of the few who fuses technical mastery with a sensibility that is naturally in line with mainstream America.

Random notes (apologies to film buffs if these seem too generic or basic :) =>

  • borrows heavily from great classic films
  • enjoys moving the camera, as a dance choreographer or a composer. often uses camera movement as a form of dialogue
  • horizontal movements largely about revealing information to the audience
  • pulling in for close-ups, pulling out for wide shots serve as visual key to a scene’s emotional tone
  • john ford: the most interesting landscape is the human face
  • while we look at the characters, quite often they’re looking at something else – withholding the answer to our question: “what are they seeing?”
  • using shadow to enhance human form for comedy, heroism
  • using shapes such as circles to provide visual motifs, frames
  • spiritual and religious aspects of his work – Moses coming down the mountain, shepherd going to the lost land

1-Page Cheatsheet: Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code

The Talent CodeHere’s my 1-page cheatsheet to Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Anything [Amazon].

WHY THE TALENT CODE

I chose this book because #1, it was recommended by Rob Kelly (a friend and mentor), and #2, I’ve always been fascinated by world-class performers of every sort

The book is about how world-class talent is developed. Coyle dives into specific “pockets” (regions, eras, and instructors) known for producing abnormally high %s of world-class athletes, artists, and performers. These pockets include Brazil + soccer, Meadowmount + classical music, and Florence + artists.

From Coyle’s website:

Daniel Coyle is the NYT bestselling author of The Little Book of Talent, The Talent Code, Lance Armstrong’s War, and Hardball: A Season in Projects…Coyle lives in Cleveland, Ohio during the school year and in Homer, Alaska, during the summer with his wife Jen, and their four children

LESSONS AND HIGHLIGHTS

1. It’s all about growing myelin

Skill is myelin insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows according to certain signals. The story of skill and talent is the story of myelin…myelin is similar to another evolution-built mechanism you use every day: muscles.

2. Deep practice (which requires hard work, mental struggle, and extreme attention to detail) is required

Struggle is not optional—it’s neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit. You must also keep firing that circuit—i.e., practicing—in order to keep myelin functioning properly

People called the Pietà pure genius, but its creator begged to differ. “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery,” Michelangelo later said, “it would not seem so wonderful at all.”

Lamm conceived of a new system of bank robbery, applying military principles to what had been an artless profession. His singular insight was that robbing banks was not about guts or guns; it was about technique. Each bank job involved weeks of preparatory work. Lamm pioneered “casing,” which meant visiting the bank, sketching blueprintlike maps, and occasionally posing as a journalist to get a look at the bank’s interior operations. Lamm assigned each man on his team a well-defined role: lookout, lobby man, vault man, driver. He organized rehearsals, using warehouses to stand in for the bank. He insisted on unyielding obedience to the clock: when the allotted time expired, the gang would depart, whether or not they had the money.

If you were to visit a dozen talent hotbeds tomorrow, you would be struck by how much time the learners spend observing top performers. When I say “observing,” I’m not talking about passively watching. I’m talking about staring—the kind of raw, unblinking, intensely absorbed gazes you see in hungry cats or newborn babies

3. Highly talented pockets develop because SECRET #1: they accelerate deep practice

A. Brazilian soccer players and futsal

B. Florence and its craft guilds

As it turns out, Florence was an epicenter for the rise of a powerful social invention called craft guilds. Guilds (the word means “gold”) were associations of weavers, painters, goldsmiths, and the like who organized themselves to regulate competition and control quality…What they did best, however, was grow talent. Guilds were built on the apprenticeship system, in which boys around seven years of age were sent to live with masters for fixed terms of five to ten years.

C. Meadowmount and its 5x increase in learning speed for elite music players

These feats are routine at Meadowmount, in part because the teachers take the idea of chunking to its extreme. Students scissor each measure of their sheet music into horizontal strips, which are stuffed into envelopes and pulled out in random order. They go on to break those strips into smaller fragments by altering rhythms. For instance, they will play a difficult passage in dotted rhythm (the horses’ hooves sound—da-dum, da-dum).

Other examples include: the Spartak Tennis academy in Moscow, the Bronte sisters, KIPP

4. Chunking is a secret to accelerated struggle

In the talent hotbeds I visited, the chunking takes place in three dimensions. First, the participants look at the task as a whole—as one big chunk, the megacircuit. Second, they divide it into its smallest possible chunks. Third, they play with time, slowing the action down, then speeding it up, to learn its inner architecture.

As football coach Tom Martinez likes to say, “It’s not how fast you can do it. It’s how slow you can do it correctly.”

5. SECRET #2: Ignition

Ignition is about the set of signals and subconscious forces that create our identity; the moments that lead us to say that is who I want to be

For South Korea’s golfers, it was the afternoon of May 18, 1998, when a twenty-year-old named Se Ri Pak won the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and became a national icon…Before her, no South Korean had succeeded in golf. Flash-forward to ten years later, and Pak’s countrywomen had essentially colonized the LPGA Tour, with forty-five players who collectively won about one-third of the events.

6. Long-term commitment is a huge predictor of success

With the same amount of practice, the long-term-commitment group outperformed the short-term-commitment group by 400 percent. The long-term-commitment group, with a mere twenty minutes of weekly practice, progressed faster than the short-termers who practiced for an hour and a half. When long-term commitment combined with high levels of practice, skills skyrocketed. “We instinctively think of each new student as a blank slate, but the ideas they bring to that first lesson are probably far more important than anything a teacher can do, or any amount of practice,” McPherson said. “It’s all about their perception of self. At some point very early on they had a crystallizing experience that brings the idea to the fore, that says, I am a musician. That idea is like a snowball rolling downhill.”

7. Great teachers are key – but they’re not what we commonly think of as great teachers

Instead, the teachers and coaches I met were quiet, even reserved. They were mostly older; many had been teaching thirty or forty years. They possessed the same sort of gaze: steady, deep, unblinking. They listened far more than they talked. They seemed allergic to giving pep talks or inspiring speeches; they spent most of their time offering small, targeted, highly specific adjustments. They had an extraordinary sensitivity to the person they were teaching, customizing each message to each student’s personality.

On John Wooden: Gallimore and Tharp recorded and coded 2,326 discrete acts of teaching. Of them, a mere 6.9 percent were compliments. Only 6.6 percent were expressions of displeasure. But 75 percent were pure information: what to do, how to do it, when to intensify an activity.

Patience is a word we use a lot to describe great teachers at work. But what I saw was not patience, exactly. It was more like probing, strategic impatience.

THAT’S IT, FOLKS!

Here’s a list of all 1-page cheatsheets, and a list of all books!

Hope that was useful! What could be added or changed or removed? Which books would you like me to read and summarize?

GA Programming Bootcamp: Week 1

GA OrientationA tiring week – in a good way. Class + homework + non-GA obligations + adjusting to SF after 3 months in Shanghai = very deep sleep :)

For background read this.

Some quick observations:

  • We’re going to cover a lot of ground in 12 weeks. By day 4 we were creating Classes and methods and writing tests
  • There are many parallels between learning to program and learning a new language. It requires lots of focus and real-world practice. Both are like punctuated equilibrium – no progress for hours, then a huge breakthrough. Or weeks of semi-grasping something, then one day you wake up and you really get it
  • The instructors have been good – patient, knowledgeable, and fun
  • Like prior education experiences, a big chunk of the value is your fellow students. I’m impressed with the diversity of backgrounds, learning styles, personalities, and the shared drive to become fulltime programmers. Not much slacking here :)
  • More than ever, I’m a believer in the entrepreneur’s opportunity to revolutionize education. Programming is an obvious area given the structural scarcity of good programmers, but believe this can go much deeper. Contrary to what many much smarter people think, I believe a BIG chunk of startup entrepreneurship can be taught

Topics covered this week:

  • Setting up our environment. Here’s a partial list of great tools:
    • Sublime Text 2 (seems to be a universal favorite text editor among programmers)
    • Github Gist (sharing code snippets, using Markdown)
    • Pry (command line Ruby interpreter)
    • Homebrew (Ruby package installer)
    • ShortcutFoo (my favorite website for practicing keyboard shortcuts…yes I’m quite nerdy)
  • Review of pre-work (a mix of CodeAcademy, CodeSchool, ebooks, articles, videos)
  • Getting to know each other (instructors, students)
  • Entire overview of Ruby (starting with literals, and going until creating Classes)
  • Beginnings of testing and TDD
  • Working with Terminal/Bash
  • Basic programming principles (DRY = Don’t Repeat Yourself), commenting code, keyboard shortcuts (my fave :)

If you want to learn Ruby, I HIGHLY encourage you to read the Bastard’s Book of Ruby. Great examples, clear language