Tokyo Travels Part 21: Conrad Tokyo

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When we stayed in Tokyo, we stayed in what would be considered a luxury business hotel. Rooms at the Conrad Tokyo regularly sell for $400+ per night. More importantly, they also sell for 50,000 Hilton Points a night.

Hilton Points (and their equivalent from Marriott, Starwood, and Holiday Inn) are the hotel version of frequent flier miles. I build up Hilton Points whenever I stay at a Hampton Inn, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, Doubletree Hotel, or any other property in the Hilton family. I cashed in a bunch of points for the trip to Tokyo so the room cost us nothing.

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The hotel is on top of an office building. An express elevator takes you up to the hotel lobby and its high-end restaurants. The staff at the desk was awesome. They were friendly, and spoke excellent English. After checking in, we didn’t have to deal with them often except to get change for 10,000 Yen notes and ask for directions to the subway. When we checked out, they were even able to charge our bus tickets to the room (Note: even on a reward stay you still earn Hilton Points for incidentals).

It was a fantastic room, and fairly large by Tokyo standards. We had a king room with a great view of some neighboring office buildings, and a couch of sorts that ran the length of the windows.

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That long couch was a fantastic place to stretch out at the end of the day, with a blanket and a reading light, and write about my thoughts and experiences while looking out at the city lights before crawling into the soft king bed to rest up for more adventures.

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The bathroom had a deep soaking tube (which the GF loved (especially since it came with some neat rubber duckys)) and a separate shower.

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The toilet had more electronic controls than many cars.

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We also had access to the Executive Lounge, which meant we could start each day with complimentary snacks and coffee.

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04_The Food-53

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One thing we didn’t see was a housekeeping cart or an ice machine. Apparently all that equipment gets hidden in secret alcoves and closets. I’m not entirely sure how the staff conjured them into existence when they needed them, but they managed it.

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Whenever we needed ice, we would have to call room service to deliver some. There was of course no charge, and the advantage is that I didn’t have to hear or figure out the machine in the hall. And since it’s Japan, we weren’t expected to tip the staff.

Guests at the Conrad also get to take home some little reminders of their stay.

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The location was convenient. The hotel was across the street from the Hamarikyu Gardens, a short walk from the Shiodome and Shinbashi train station where we could catch the Japan Rail Green Line, a loop that runs around the city. Walking just a couple blocks more brought us to the heart of Ginza. To the south, we were just a 20-30 minute walk from the Tsukiji Fish Market. When I walked a few blocks the other way, I found a great collection of convenience stores which were always a great place to pick up a shockingly tasty dinner and beer.

In short, the Conrad was fantastic. If you have the cash or points it’s a fantastic place to stay. The room was awesome and the staff was friendly and fluent in English. I can strongly recommend the Conrad.

You can see more pictures from the hotel here.

You can find more pictures from my Japan trip here.

And you can find more posts about my trip here.


Spam Fail

I found this in my inbox.  And after I put down my burrito, I thought it was good for a laugh.

Hey there,

I've been searching for personal trainers, and I was excited to find you.

Really, Heather?  You were excited to find me?  As a personal trainer?  Have you seen me?!?!?!?!  The extent of the personal training I could give you would concern instructions on how to curl up in front of the TV and not spill your Ramen or Cocoa Puffs.

Trust me, there is a significant difference between a corporate trainer and a personal trainer.

It's too hard to find trustworthy, quality service providers, and ----------------- is changing that. We're growing really fast, we need more personal trainers, and I think you're a perfect fit!


Posting on --------------- is a great way to advertise yourself and it's completely free for service providers like you.

All you need to do to post your information is visit ----------------



Hey, Heather, while I'm busy personally training something (and I'm glad you buy that I'm a personal trainer) perhaps you can help me out with something. See, I have this bank acccount that's frozen in Nigeria...


Fix "This disk is offline because it has a signature collision with another disk"

I try to be diligent about backing up my data. After all, there are only tow types of computer users:

  1. Those who have lost data
  2. Those who will lose data

I’m occasionally not as systematic about it as I would like, but that’s changing.  I just finished my first complete data backup in some time -- all personal computers, network drives, and external USB drives. It turns out I have about 1.6 TB of data.

Phase 1 was to consolidate what I could to minimize duplication, and to back up everything to a single USB 2TB hard drive. It took about a week.

Phase 2 was began today.  That’s the phase where I copy everything on that 2TB USB HDD to another 2TB USB HDD and send it out of state.  This gives me off-site back up.  After all, all the backups in the world won’t do me any good if they are sitting in my apartment if disaster strikes.  Off site backup is an important part of any backup strategy.

The two 2TB drive that I’m using are identical models, and that’s where the problems came up.

I plugged the first one it, and it was fine.  I plugged the second one in, and it never came up in “My Computer.” Windows 7 did not appear to see it.  It tried rebooting, swapping the ports and still had the same problem.

So I dove deeper into the Windows setting. A word of caution here:  these tools give you the opportunity to really screw things up if you’re not careful.  Make sure you protect your data before getting into this.

A great tool to use when you have disk problems is the Disk Management tool. To access it in Windows 7, click the “Start” button, and type “Disk Management” in the search box.  When the option comes up, click “Create and format hard disk partitions.”

While the “My Computer” windows gives you access to the data on your drives, and to the drive letters (which may or may not reflect physical drives), this utility gives you access to the drives themselves. It tells you which physical drives are installed, and how those drives are divided up.

In my case, it showed both of my 2TB drives, but one was showing an error message:

“This disk is offline because it has a signature collision with another disk"

Windows identifies each drive based on a signature related to the physical components of the drive.  Because my two 2TB Seagate drive were both the same model, size, speed, and part number, they had the same signature.  Windows could not tell them apart.

The solution to that problem was to change the signature on one of the drives.  I found out how to do that at HowToHaven.com.  Their article on how to identify and change the drive signature is here.

The instructions are well written and easy to follow.  They do involve using the command line in Administrator Mode, and since you are messing with deep settings, it’s important to be careful.

Since one of my drives was blank, that’s the one I changed the signature on.  That way I didn’t risk any data loss if I screwed it up.

But the process worked fine.  I had no trouble.  I followed the instructions, exited the utilities, hooked up all the drives again, and everything appeared in “My Computer” just as it should.  And right now that computer is busily copying 1.6 TB of data from 1 USB drive to another.

The lesson here?

  • Back up your data
  • Learn to use diagnostic tool that come with Windows
  • Google error messages
  • Back up your data.

Those steps can help solve a heck of a lot of problems.


Riot Control

I'm starting to get caught up on the "Stuff You Should Know" podcast.  It's a frequently updated show where two host discuss a topic in a casual way.  The topics in th past have inlcuded sleep, Masons, crime scene cleanup, venom, prison, rehab, and more. Sometimes the 30 minute podcast is only enough for a surface look, and other times they go into greater detail.  The discussions feel like the hosts only just learned about their topic in the last few days, which makes it more accessible.

With the recent protests we've seen in Seattle (which were really mild) and with riots around the world (much more serious) getting press, the question of riot control comes up quite a bit.

I found the Stuff You Should Know podcast on riot control fascinating.  They discuss what causes riots and how modern policing practice are designed to end riots with minimal injuries.  I found the discussion of tactical units advancing on rioters particularly interesting.

Each podcast has an accompanying article on the How Stuff Works website.  The article covers most of what is on the podcast, but inlcudes more diagrams and resources.  This one is worth reading.

I'd link to the particular episode of the podcast, but I can't seem to find a program list on the website.  You should be able to find it on iTunes or your favorite podcast agregator.  The home page for the show itself is here.


Book Review 64: The Graveyard Book

“For good or for evil -- and I firmly believe that it is for good -- Mrs. Owens and her husband have taken this child under their protection. It is going to take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will,” said Silas, “take a graveyard.”

Page 23

The Graveyard Book” is a young adult novel by Neil Gaiman that readers of all ages can enjoy.

The book tells the story of Nobody Owens, or “Bod,” as he grows up in a graveyard near his house. Each chapter tells a different story, and in each one, Bod is a little older. His decisions and actions reflect his aging as we follow him into adolescence.

Bod first comes to the graveyard when he’s barely a toddler. His parents and siblings are killed by a knife wielding assassin. Fortunately for Bod, he wanders out of his home during the silent attack and makes his way into the graveyard. The ghosts and other paranormal denizens of the graveyard decide to take him in, protect him, and raise him as best they can. The ghosts of the Owens’ become his parents, and Silas, whose nature is left vague for much of the novel, but who is more corporeal and can leave the graveyard, becomes his guardian and sees to his education.

Sleep my little babby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you’re grown you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken.
Kiss a lover,
Dance a measure,
Find your name
and buried treasure...

And Mrs. Owens sang all that before she discovered she had forgotten how the song ended. She had a feeling that the final line was something in the way of “and some hairy bacon,” but that might have been another song altogether, so she stopped and instead she sang him the one about the Man in the Moon who came down too soon, and, after that she sang, in her warm county voice, a more recent song abut a lad who put in his thumb and pulled out a plum, and she had just started a long ballad about a young county gentleman whose girlfriend had for no particular reason, poisoned him with a dish of spotted eels, when Silas came around the side of the chapel, carrying a cardboard box.

Page 26

Bod grows up in the graveyard and picks up ghostly skills, likely fading to invisible and speaking easily with other specters.

While they can teach him those skills, they are less able to teach him about modern life. The graveyard denizens died over a span of centuries. Their knowledge of the world outside the graveyard is from when they were still alive. Their knowledge and speech patterns stop at the time of their death.

As Gaiman introduces us to different residents, he shares their epitaphs with us, which is a nice touch.

And so it went, until it was time for Grammar and Composition wit Miss Letitia Borrows, Spinster of this Parish (Who Did No Harm to No Man all the Dais of Her Life. Reader, Can You Say Likewise?). Bod liked Miss Borrows, and the coziness of her little crypt, and that she could all-too-easily be led off subject.

Page 106

Most of Bod’s friends are ghosts. He meets one living friend, but adults don’t easily see Bod, and they are convinced he’s imaginary. That helps keep Bod safe. He’s skeptical of some of the things the living do, too.

Scarlett shrugged. “Well,” she said. “There’s atoms, which is a things that is too small to see, that’s what we’re all made of. And there’s things that’s smaller than atoms, and that’s particle physics.”

Bod nodded and decided that Scarlett’s father was probably interested in imaginary things.

Page 43-44
One of the challenges that Bod faces is that while he grows older, his dead friends don't.  The 4, 5, and 6 year olds that live in the graveyard are 4, 5, and 6 year olds forever.  Bod isn't.  His peer group doesn't age with him. Bod is constantly growing into friendships with kids, and then growing through and beyond them.

Depsite its apparent target audience, the book doesn’t shy away from dealing with difficult or scary issues of loss. At one point, Bod is captured and taken to an underworld. At another, he discusses the issue of suicide with with Silas.

“And there are always people who find their lives have become so unsupportable they believe the best thing thy could do would be to hasten their transitions to another plane of existence.”

“They kill themselves, you mean?” said Bod. He was about eight years old, wide-eyed and inquisitive, and he was not stupid.


“Does it work? Are they happier dead?”

“Sometimes. Mostly no. It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.”

Page 104

As Bod matures the topic of being who you are continues to come up.

“About fifteen, I think. Though I still feel the same as I always did,” Bod said, but Mother Slaughter interrupted, “And I still feels like I done when I was a tiny slip of a thing, making daisy chains in the old pasture. You’re always you, and that don’t change, and you’re always changing, and there’s nothing you ca do about it.”

Page 298

The book is highly episodic. It’s easy to read a chapter, put the book down, and then come back another day, without being too confused about what’s going on. The digestible chunks make it a nice choice for someone who may not want to sit down and read for hours at a time.

Gaiman still deals with darkness, violence, and life and death issues. They are themes adults may think children don’t need to be exposed to, but that children want to explore anyway. Like the Harry Potter books, The Graveyard Book appeals to all ages. The writing is clever, the characters compelling, and the pace appropriate. As the book moves to its climax, Gaiman builds up the suspense to the point where you don’t know what’s going to happen. I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's definitely worth a read.

You can find more of my book reviews here.


Tokyo Travels Part 20: Tower Records

I got back to the hotel after my first night in Shibuya, and showed the GF my pictures.  She saw this one, her eyes lit up, and she made and excited gasp.

2010-05-17 Shibuya (57).DNG

I knew I would be going back to Shibuya.

After a day of sightseeing and tracking down squashed penny machines, we made it back to Tower Records.  It's much like the Tower Reocrds locations that used to be spread around the US.

Once we walked in the front doors, I wandered about and found an open listening station where you can sample various CDs.  I tried a few disks at different stations.  The GF did likewise and we picked out some music.

I grabbed "Rock 'n' Roll Circus" by Ayumi Hamasaki.  I chose it because I liked the cross between pop and "big" music.  It's hard to describe what I mean by big music.  It's like Meat Loaf.  Except Hamasaki doens't sound like Meat Loaf.  But the arrangements are both big, complex, and powerful, and the singers seem to push out powerful passionate emotions.  Of course for most of the album, I have no idea was Hamasaki is singing about, but I like the sound.  Here's a random review I found later on.

The GF found music by Moumoon who has a more mellow sounds. It was another great choice.

Eventually it was time to leave.  We paid, and the cashier said something to me.  I was used to cashiers saying things to me as a I was leaving and had no idea what she was saying. I smiled and nodded and said thank you.  I started to put my receipt in my wallet and she stopped me.  She and I tried a few gestures and she knew a few words of English.  It took a couple of tries, but I finally understand that there was a special contest and instore promotion associated with the Hamasaki album.  She was telling me to go to the desk near the door and show the woman there my receipt.  

I really appreciate how hard she worked to make sure I understood that, and how hard she continued to work on that after I understood it.

I headed over to the desk, showed the woman my receipt, and she pulled out a raffle box.  I reached my hand in there a won a prize:

Hanging thing from Tower

It's a dangly, puffy little thing designed to hang on my cell phone, I think.  There were other prizes I could have won, so the whole promo wasn't focused on these little things, but I still think it's pretty cool.  And definitely unexpected.

In short, we had a great visit to the Shibuya Tower Records.

2010-05-20 Shibuya Part 2 (6) Tower Records.DNG


Sit or Stand

On Saturday, the GF and I saw Cake in concert at the Moore Theater.  She's a big fan and tries to catch them whenever the come to Seattle. I enjoyed the show, too, and I learned that Cake actually did the theme song for Chuck which makes them even cooler.

Most concerts feature either sitting crowds or standing crowds.  It's not uncommon for the seats at a show to be nothing more than place holders for people's stuff while they stand in front of their chair and bop along to whatever they are hearing.

At other shows, people will sit back and sing along in their chairs.

The Cake show had a pretty good mix of the two. Generally, I prefer a sitting crowd.  I'd rather not stand the whole time, and no one should see me dancing, anyway. But I don't begrudge the standers at a concert. At a movie, sure.  A Broadway show? Of course. But at a rock concert?  C'mon. It's a rock show.

A few people stood in front of us, but neither the GF nor I were in much of a standing mood. For a few songs that meat our view was completely blocked by parents and teenagers.  For other songs, our view was partially block by just dancing teenagers.  Mildly annoying, but okay.

The old, big guy sitting next to me didn't seem to agree. First of all, if you're a big guy who only kind of fits in your seat, then you should take off that puffy jacket. After all , it's not like it's cold in the crowded theater.

About half  way through the show, he had enough and yelled at the girls in front of him to sit down because he couldn't see. The woman behind him thanked him. The girls sat down, crest fallen.  They would stand up again for the last couple of songs.

So, was he wrong?  Were the girls wrong?

Where do you stand -- or sit -- on the concert standing or sitting at a rock concert issue?


Technology to Change the World

We have more than enough energy to satisfy our greatest needs and desires.  It's out there in the environment -- in the sun on our faces, the wind on our back, the vibration of the freeway, the rattling of trains, the surf eroding the shore, the atoms we split, the garbage we rot, and the coal we burn.  The only problem is that it's not where we want it, when we want it.  Our goal for the 21st century should be to fix that problem

Mobile technology, computing technology, communications technology and related items have really changed the world over the last 20 years.  What's the next step?


If we can develop dramatically more efficient, less expensive, and (ideally) more eco-friendly battery technology, we can change the world again in the next 20 years.

Improved battery technology can drive electricity costs down. Imagine being able to charge your home's batteries at night when powerplants are underutiltized.  Power can be cheaper in the off hours, and we can eliminate a lot of the Brown-Out and rolling Black-Out problems parts of the country face on hot summer days.

Electric vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla family of cars are giving us a viable alternative to gasoline, but they still are limited in range to about 100 miles for the Leaf and under 300 miles for the Tesla. Imagine battery technology that's good for 1000 miles.

Combine those vehicles with off hours charging and household batteries and we get world changing benefits.  Even charging cars with electricity from coal powerplants produces less greenhouse gas  than driving on gasoline.

These two battery solution gives us even more benefits, though.  Storing power locally gives us better disaster preparedness.  When powerlines go down due to wind, rain, or hurricane, household batteries can keep the lights bright and the refrigerator cold.

Alternative energy solutions at the local level, whether those solutions are roof top solar panels or home sized windmills become much more viable with the right battery technology.

Large scale alternative energy solutions, again, whether they are hydro-electric, geothermal, solar, wind, or wave action are all more viable when we can efficiently store they energy.

And back down to the small scale, as we migrate more and more to cloud computing, keeping those laptops and smart phones charged is critical.

I'm not sure if it's just a question of more efficiently scaling our current technology -- of making refinements to what we already have -- or if we need massive conceptual shift in areas of chemical and electrical engineering that I know nothing about.

The company that can master battery technology -- the country that can master battery technology -- will own the economy of the future.

Battery technology isn't sexy.  It's not exciting.  It rarely makes headlines.  But it should.  

Our nation's infrastructure and ecnomy depend on it and demand advances in battery technology.

The question is, how do we capitalize on it?


Defending the Half Time Show

The Black Eye Peas Super Bowl half time show has been roundly panned by professional and amateur critics. The Twitter stream while it was on going was more entertaining than the performance itself.  I'll leave the rest of the piling on to others.

There was an element of the show that I loved. The illuminated dancers were fantastic.  Before the light turned on, I thought the juxtaposition of the hundreds of white jump suited dancers shortly following the Motorola Xoom ad was a happy accident.  Then they turned on the lights and the performance changed.

While many mocked the flashy lights, I really enjoyed the aesthetic.  Perhaps I had too much Tron on my mind, but there is a beauty in the lights.

It also demonstrates how portable power and lighting is changing our world.  The LEDs that power dance uniforms power traffic lights, indicator lights on electronics, decorative Christmas rope lights, and more.

The futuristic look and feel combined with the music is hopeful and optimistic, unlike many of the dystopian future visions we often see, such as the one Motorola depicted.

There may be some silliness about it.  Most things that are happy and fun do have an element of that.  But that's okay.

There is a beauty in the kitsch of the light dancers.  And for that reason, I'm glad I kept watching the half time show.


Voice by Perfume

Perfume is a Japanese pop-music trio with millions of fans.  This is another video I first encountered on The Daily Onigiri.

This is an amazingly creative video that uses paper cutouts, live action, and animation.  It plays games with perspective, scale, and timing.  And, while I don't really know what the song is about, the music and singing sound pretty great, too.

Here's the link.


Book Review 63: Outliers -- The Story of Success

Wolf and Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about health and heart attacks in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that they wouldn't be able to understand why someone was healthy if all they did was think about an individual’s personal choices or actions in isolation. They had to look beyond the individual. They had to understand the culture he or she was a part of, and who their friends and families were, and what town their families came from. They had to appreciate the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.

Page 10-11

One of my favorite sayings is “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” It’s one of those bits of wisdom has has been attributed to just about every ancient or exotic society. Regardless, it feels to me like a pretty good way to view life, and it provides the keys to success.

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcom Gladwell explores what it means to be successful. He seems to try to dispell two myths at the same time -- that anyone who works hard will have phenomenal success, and that success is accidental. True top-of-the field success requires the right mix of preparation and opportunity. If either one is missing, someone may be successful, but they will never be a true Outlier.

I have mixed feelings about the book.

I learned a lot in it. Some of the studies Gladwell talks about are fascinating and really made me think differently about topics. At the same time I had trouble seeing the big picture. At points Gladwell is both attacking the Horatio Alger myth of the self made man, while at the same time extolling that behavior as the key to success and then demonstrating how it doesn’t work.

It feels like his thesis is that the answer is somewhere in the middle of those two poles. What I found lacking in the book was that he didn’t articulate that clearly and early enough. I found myself reading chapters of the book and as I went through the paragraphs, I was trying to figure out what his point was. Was he challenging my preconceptions? Or was he reinforcing them? What does this story say about our culture?

It’s possible that was intentional on Gladwell’s part. It’s also possible I missed the point early on. It wouldn’t be the first time. The problem, though, is that I found myself flailing about in this pool of new knowledge without a core thesis to grab onto.

I found his discussion of birthdays fascinating. Generally, someone born earlier in the year will be more successful than someone born later in the year. It’s because of the accident of the school calendars. If a school starts classes in September, and will take any student who turns 6 during that calendar year, the student who turned 6 in January will be more successful than than one born in December, because even though the both turn 6 that same year, the first student is nearly a year older, more mature, and developmentally advanced than the second student.

Gladwell starts this discussion with stories of expert hockey players and how their birthdays cluster together.

This issue has more impact the younger the kids get separated into advanced classes or sports leagues. The older students perform better sooner, and get more advanced training earlier, and it becomes much more challenging for the younger ones to catch up.

Recently, two economists-Kelly Bedard and Eliza-beth Dhuey—looked at the relationship between scores on what is called the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS (math and science tests given every four years to children in many countries around the world), and month of birth. They found that among fourth graders, the oldest children scored somewhere between four and twelve percentile points better than the youngest children. That, as Dhuey explains, is a “huge effect.” It means that if you take two intellectually equivalent fourth graders with birthdays at opposite ends of the cutoff date, the older student could score in the eightieth percentile, while the younger one could score in the sixty-eighth percentile. That’s the difference between qualifying for a gifted program and not.

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Dhuey and Bedard subsequently did the same analysis, only this time looking at college. What did they find? At four-year colleges in the United States—the highest stream of postsecondary education—students belonging to the relatively youngest group in their class are under- represented by about 11.6 percent. That initial difference in maturity doesn’t go away with time. It persists. And for thousands of students, that initial disadvantage is the difference between going to college—and having a real shot at the middle class—and not.

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Gladwell doens’t claim an early birthday guarantees success.

The question is this: is there such a thing as innate talent? The obvious answer is yes. Not every hockey player born in January ends up playing at the professional level. Only some do - the innately talented ones. 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.

Page 38

Gladwell spends sometime one the theory of 10,000 hours. The idea is that to be truly successful, talent is not nearly enough. It takes work -- at least 10,000 hours of work. He talks about the Beatles getting their 10,000 hours during a grueling time in Hamburg. He talks about Bill Gates getting his 10,000 hours of coding on a computer in High School and illicitly at the University of Washington.

“I’d leave at night, after my bedtime. I could walk up to the University of Washington from my house. Or I’d take the bus. That’s why I’m always so generous to the University of Washington, because they let me steal so much computer time.” (Years later, Gates’s mother said, “We always wondered why it was so hard for him to get up in the morning.”)

Page 53

Gladwell discusses, in some detail, the experience of professional musicians and the impact of that magic 10,000 hours.

In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice. By contrast, the merely good students had totaled eight thousand hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over four thousand hours.
The striking thing about It Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals,” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.
‘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.

Page 39-40

Gladwell also address the question of IQ. IQ is one of those topics that is a popular target these days. A tremendous amount of energy goes into books and articles that tell us IQ doesn’t matter, and that smart people are dysfuntional. We here more and more about “different” intelligence” or “emotion quotient.”

(To step outside the book for a moment) I can understand what some IQ critics are saying, but if other metal attributes are important, do we really need to call them “intelligence?” If they’re important, then perhaps they need their own terms. They can be praised and elevated without denigrating IQ and embracing the anti-intellectual mood that has been rising in the country over the last 15 years.(End Rant)

Gladwell tells stories of people with different IQ and he looks at a number of long-term studies about it. While it seems popular to say IQ doesn’t matter, Gladwell does not make that point. There is an advantage to having a higher IQ, but it’s limited

But there’s a catch. The relationship between success and IQ works only up to a point. Once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn’t seem to translate into any measurable real-world advantage.’’

Page 79

Gladwell does talk about “practical intelligence” as an alternative to IQ, and he talks about how it’s important to success.

The particular skill that allows you to talk your way out II of a murder rap, or convince your professor to move you from the morning to the afternoon section, is what the psychologist Robert Sternberg calls “practical intelligence.” To Sternberg, practical intelligence includes things like “knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it. and knowing how to say it for maximum effect.” It is procedural: it is about knowing how to do something without necessarily knowing why you know it or being able to explain it. It’s practical in nature: that is, it’s not knowledge for its own sake. It’s knowledge that helps you read situations correctly and get what you want. And, critically, it is kind of intelligence separate from the sort of analytical ability measured by IQ. To use the technical term, general intelligence and practical intelligence are “orthogonal”: the presence of one doesn’t imply the presence of the other. You can have lots of analytical intelligence and very little practical intelligence, or lots of practical intelligence and not much analytical intelligence, or—as in the lucky case of someone like Robert Oppenheimer—you can have lots of both.

Page 101

Towards the end of the book, Gladwell gets into some deeper cultural discussions. Korean Airlines was having an issue with crashes. Ultimately, Gladwell says, part of the reason for crashes was cultural. First officers were too deferential to their Captains. They solved the problem by doing extensive retraining and by making them all speak English. This broke through the problems created by the superior/subordinate relationship.

The issue may have been most prominent with Korean Air, but it’s also a problem with other airlines. Captains have no problem bluntly telling a First Officer when the Frist Officer makes a mistake, but First Officers are reluctant to do the same to the Captian. The raise questions more subtely. They are aren’t as blunt because standing up to a superior officer is problematic.

Implementing procedures to mitigate this issue has had a significant impact on safety.

But historically, crashes have been far more likely to happen when the captain is in the “flying seat.” At first that seems to make no sense, since the captain is almost always the pilot with the most experience. But think about the Air Florida crash. If the first officer had been the captain, would he have hinted three times? No, he would have commanded—and the plane wouldn’t have crashed. Planes are safer when the least experienced pilot is flying, because it means the second pilot isn’t going to be afraid to speak up.

Combating mitigation has become one of the great crusades in commercial aviation in the past fifteen years. Every major airline now has what is called “Crew Resource Management” training, which is designed to teach junior crew members how to communicate clearly and assertively. For example, many airlines teach a standardized procedure for copilots to challenge the pilot if he or she thinks something has gone terribly awry. (“Captain, I’m concerned about...” Then, “Captain, I’m uncomfortable with...” And if the captain still doesn’t respond, “Captain, I believe the situation is unsafe.” And if that fails, the first officer is required to take over the airplane.) Aviation experts will tell you that it is the success of this war on mitigation as much as anything else that accounts for the extraordinary decline in airline accidents in recent years.


Gladwell takes the cultural discussion further and I think at times he goes a little too far.

Cultural issue impact the standardized math test cited earlier. But it’s not that a culture is inherently better at math. It has more to do with the ability to diligently complete a task and the patience involved.

When students sit down to take the TIMSS exam, they also have to fill out a questionnaire. It asks them all kinds of things, such as what their parents’ level of education is, and what their views about math are, and what their friends are like. It’s not a trivial exercise. It’s about 120 questions long. In fact, it is so tedious and demanding that many students leave as many as ten or twenty questions blank.

Now, here’s the interesting part. As it turns out, the average number of items answered on that questionnaire from country to country. It is possible, in fact, to rank all the participating countries according to how many items their students answer on the questionnaire. Now, what do you think happens if you compare the questionnaire rankings with the math rankings on the TIMSS? They are exactly the same. In other words, countries whose students are willing to concentrate and sit still long enough and focus on answering every single question in an endless questionnaire are the same countries whose students do the best job of solving math problems.

Page 248

Gladwell also looked at research regarding academic performance across economic and racial lines in US schools.

But look back at the second table, which shows what happens between September and June. Schools work. The only problem with school, for the kids who aren’t achieving, that there isn’t enough of it.

Page 259

The biggest problem underperforming students have is that summer vacation. Students who perform well year after year are students who are engaged over the summer. They come from families that have books and value education. They attend summer camps and enrichment programs. Students who don’t have educational opportunities over the summer fall behind and continue to fall behind as the years go by.

Where Gladwell really loses me is when he starts trying to examine why students from asian cultures outperform students from other cultures in areas of math and science. He starts by talking about the difference in number systems, which makes some sense.

The number system in English is highly irregular. Not so in China, Japan, and Korea. They have a logical counting system. Eleven is ten-one. Twelve is ten-two. Twenty-four is two- tens-four and so on.

That difference means that Asian children learn to count much faster than American children. Four-year-old Chinese children can count, on average, to forty. American children at that age can count only to fifteen, and most don’t reach forty until they’re five: by the age of five, in other words, American children are already a year behind their Asian counterparts in the most fundamental of math skills.

Page 229

But he goes beyond that and starts discussing the differences between rice cultivation and wheat cultivation. The different techniques in procedures created a cultural legacy, according to Gladwell, that permeates modern culture. Rice cultivation required incredible attention to detail and contant work. Wheat cultivation required period of tremendous work but only at certain points in the process. The rest of the growing process was much less labor intensive.

The constant, detailed process involved in rice versus the significant, yet uneven, labor process in wheat meant that rice cultures developed a different work ethic optimized for math skills.

I’m not sure I buy that, but the rest of the book is still interesting.

Gladwell sums up his work this way:

Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. If it were, Chris Langan would be up there with Einstein. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them. For hockey and soccer players born in January, it’s a better shot at making the all-star team. For the Beatles, it was Hamburg. For Bill Gates, the lucky break was being born at the right time and getting the gift of a computer terminal in junior high. Joe Flom and the founders of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz got multiple breaks. They born at the right time with the right parents and the right ethnicity, which allowed them to practice takeover law for twenty years before the rest of the legal world caught on. And what Korean Air did, when it finally turned its operations around, was give its pilots the opportunity to escape the constraints of their cultural legacy.

Page 267-268

The big message that I took away from the book was the importance of getting that 10,000 hours in an area of expertise to be successful. As for being born earlier in the year, well, I can’t do much about that. Fortunately April doesn’t seem to cause too much trouble.

Gladwell’s writing style holds the book together. There’s a lot to learn, and Gladwell teaches it in an entertaining style. The problem is that he doesn’t tie his thesis well enough into the narrative, and I found that distracting. It made it more difficult understand the whole point.

I’m not sure if I recommend Outliers: The Story of Success. The stories and research he talks about are important and worth knowing. The chapters are good. I’m just not sure if there’s an actual book here.

You can find more of my Book Reviews here.


The cutest 25 seconds of the week

Okay, this is just adorable.  It's a Dreaming Kitten.

I first saw this on "The Daily Onigiri."