26 September 2011


"We learn by neither thinking nor doing, but by thinking about what we are doing." - George Stoddard

12 September 2011

Social Currency

From a Grantland response to Facebook stalking in college:
From what very little I've been able to ascertain about business school — like a cult, you can only "get it" after it's already gotten you — it seems like an eccentric and expensive world where homework is called "case studies" and must be completed in groups, with every group consisting at least 85 percent of Type A personalities; talking to someone is called "networking" and immediately enters both parties into a binding lifetime agreement that they will "reach out" for endless referrals and small favors until their dying days; and people are now being awarded scholarships for tweeting haikus.
The point being: I can't pretend to know how Facebook works in such an apocalyptic environment as b-school. We've got the full range of crazy: I've seen people who join the CLASS OF 2013 Facebook groups the second they're established and friend every last classmate before even arriving on campus. These people love "networking." But I could also imagine a Tracy Flick type hoarding friend requests, accepting them only strategically, and then writing papers about the practice that include the phrases "social currency" and "as Groucho Marx said …" These people are the ones who will ruin your silly case studies, and someday, your life.

08 September 2011


In class the other day, my professor used a word I wasn't familiar with: "Shibboleth."  Apparently the word stems from the Biblical account (guess I missed this one!) of a battle fought between neighboring tribes, the Gileadites and the Ephraimites.  After routing their enemies, the men of Gilead posted sentries at the river crossing to prevent the defeated soldiers from crossing over.  The trouble was, no one could tell who was from Ephraim or not just by looking at them.  And so they designed a way of sorting them out:
And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;
Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand. (Judges 12:5-6)
From this, a shibboleth has come to mean "any distinguishing practice that is indicative of one's social or regional origin...it usually refers to features of language."  Wikipedia further notes that American soldiers used shibboleths in WWII, discovering enemy spies by using the word "lollapalooza" in the Pacific and a working knowledge of baseball in Europe.  (This is how they discover the bad guy in a great scene from one of my favorite movies, Stalag 17.) On a side note, I would think that the "th" sound would be a major distinguishing sound for native English speakers.

Anyway, I went home and was contemplating language and shibboleths when I came across an article which states that the assumption that British and American accents diverged after the Revolutionary War is largely accurate, but it was British who changed!  In essence, most everyone used to speak in what we would identify today as the American accent, but in the early 1800s the British aristocracy developed a "more refined" manner of speaking.  The upper class took on a non-rhotic accent--meaning that they don't pronounce their Rs--which was gradually adopted by most of England (but not Ireland or Scotland).  Meanwhile, some of the parts of US more heavily influenced by the Brits (Bah-ston, pahts of the South) also dropped their Rs.  Crazy, huh?

But most importantly, all those knocks on Kevin Costner's Robin Hood not having a British accent are ill-founded.  

02 September 2011

My Billion

Minor stream of consciousness here: I was reading a brief article on "Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Time" that has been circling the web the past week or so.  The last of these reads:
10. A lifespan is a billion heartbeats. Complex organisms die. Sad though it is in individual cases, it’s a necessary part of the bigger picture; life pushes out the old to make way for the new. Remarkably, there exist simple scaling laws relating animal metabolism to body mass. Larger animals live longer; but they also metabolize slower, as manifested in slower heart rates. These effects cancel out, so that animals from shrews to blue whales have lifespans with just about equal number of heartbeats — about one and a half billion, if you simply must be precise. In that very real sense, all animal species experience “the same amount of time.”
Humans seem to be the exception to this rule; our species is generally allotted something closer to 3 billion heartbeats over a lifespan of roughly 80 years (at least here in the Western world). At any rate, this made me think of Gary Fincke's poem "The Billion Heartbeats of the Mammal" which you owe it to yourself to read.

"Feel this," my father says, guiding my hand
   To the simple braille of his pacemaker.
   "Sixty," he tells me, "over and over
   Like a clock," and I mention the billion
   heartbeats of the mammal, how the lifespan
   Can be rough-guessed by the 800 beats
   Per minute of the shrew, the 200
   Of the house cat, speeding through their billion
   In three years, in twelve. How slowly we act,
   According to our pets. How we are stone
   To the frantic insects. "The hurry-up
   To nowhere," he says, working out the math,
   Busy with wiping down linoleum
   The way he swirled a mop through locker rooms
   Before striding the push broom up and down
   The grain of gym sweep, repeating the moves
   Of twenty kinds of cleaning between ten
   And six-thirty in the high school I used
   Between eight and three-fifteen. He might have
   Been following the Peterson Method
   For care, learning the neat lines and ovals
   Of my mother, who wrote to me, the day
   She died, a perfectly scripted letter,
   Pages of open vowels so nothing
   She said could be misread. And even now,
   In the attic, inside her black notebooks
   Stacked and banded, her carefully copied
   Familiar quotes, the good advice
   Of the writing exercise dating back
   To a hundred lines of ovals, fifty
   Of the properly slanted line. Penciled
   Pages of strict, block printing, the two-space
   Capitals, the touch of the tall letters
   To the roof of lines, my father finding
   By multiplication and division,
   The thirty years of the human, how he is
   Closing in on three billion while I am
   Nearing two. How we are the exception
   To the heartbeat system, taking so long
   To come of age we have time to practice
   The Peterson Method for memory,
   Preserve these things to open up and read.

It occurs to me that being about a month shy of 30, I have just about exhausted my first billion heartbeats.  Here's to the next two billion.