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Monday, February 25, 2002

Dynamic Duo
The Physical Genius and The Art of Failure by Malcolm Gladwell: An interesting duo of pseudo-related articles. The first posits the existence of a "physical genius", someone who posesses an "affinity for translating thought into action". The ironic thing about a physical genius, however, is that they really can't be described by cut-and-dry measurements of athleticism (in other words, there is no measuring stick like IQ for a physical genius). There is, in fact, much more to it than merely performing act itself; its knowing what to do. In the other article, The Art of Failure, Gladwell posits that there are two different types of failing: regression and panicking. Regression is when you become so self conscious that you are thinking explicitely about what to do next instead of relying on your instincts and reactions (which you work hard to put into place; years of tennis lessons will give you an innate tennis sense, so to speak - but if you explicitely start think about each step, you will fail). Panicking is a sort of tunnel-vision, in which you are so concerned about one problem, you forget that you already know the usually simple solution.

Of course, Gladwell makes the points ever more elegantly than I just did. In fact, I've found almost all of Gladwell's work fascinating, well researched, and well thought out. I found these two articles interesting because it seems that the physical genius doesn't really regress back to their explicit mode of operation. Why? I think it might be because they never learned these things explicitly, at least, not the same way in which your average person does. They just know what to do, and they do it. I guess that's why they are called "geniuses".
Posted by Mark on February 25, 2002 at 08:46 PM .: link :.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections™ on Happiness
Civilization, Thermodynamics, and 7-Eleven : "Man has never really solved problems so much as exchange one set for another, and what we call progress has simply been a series of shrewd trades that, while never reaching utopia, have at least left us with more desirable issues than the ones before." Everything has advantages and disadvantages, and we attempt to maximize our advantages while minimizing our disadvantages. But you'll notice that the disadvantages are never really eliminated. This is all well and good, but why do so few people see it? Its almost like we were raised to be unhappy. We're shown what we don't have, we learn that success means winning trophies and money, and that happiness relies on how much stuff we have. We're expected to live our life in constant, multi-orgasmic bliss, and if we find ourself unhappy, then we're a failure. Of course, since we don't live in a Utopia, we will always be unhappy, and thus we will always be seeking new trophies to make us happy. Striving for self-improvement isn't wrong (its quite honorable), but it won't necissarily make you happier. All too often, we set our sights on that one mystical thing that, if we could just achieve it, would make us happy. The only problem is, if you can't be happy now, chances are, you won't be happy in the future, even if you do achieve your goals.

To paraphrase Dennis Miller, happiness doesn't always require resolution, but rather an in the moment, carefree acceptance of the fact that the worst day of being alive is better than any day of being dead. Happiness isn't settling for less, its just not being miserable with what you've got. So reach for the stars, but remember, you're just trading one set of disadvantages with another, and you might not be any happier than you are now...
Posted by Mark on February 21, 2002 at 01:02 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Way of the Gun
Two stories of the pistol by Roninspoon : Utterly compelling stories about the Entry Control Point (more commonly known as a gate) of a patriot missile site in Saudi Arabia. Oddly enough, the conficts described here are not of attacking forces, but rather, internal ones. You see, its a general rule that the gate guard has absolute authority that exceeds the rank of anyone entering his area of responsibility. As usual, there are those who believe that the rules don't apply to them... (it made me laugh when I saw someone referred to as Tallman). Mr. Spoon has also written a few other military stories (Army stories, Sir! Now with %5 more fiction.), none of which are quite as gripping as his pistol stories, but worthy of a read nonetheless.

Along similar lines is an article critiquing the portrayal of naval operations in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The article is an interesting read, as ST:TNG was way off base on a number of issues, but the portion of the essay that deals with the distinction between line officers and staff officers is fascinating (as most people don't even know that the distinction exists). In the US Army, Line is infantry, armor, artillery, engineers, and helicopter pilots. Staff is medical, chaplains, quartermaster, transport, intelligence, etc...
If a Second Lieutenant of the infantry (a line officer) gives an order to a surgeon whose rank is full colonel (but nonetheless a staff officer), military courtesy demands that it be phrased as a "request", but military law firmly establishes that it has the force of an order, and if the surgeon refuses to carry it out, he risks court martial.
This concept is fascinating, and I suppose it applies to Roninspoon's stories above as well. If, for example, an Army engineer is clearing a minefield, I would assume he has rank over anyone on the field (excluding higher ranking engineers, etc.), just as 'Spoon had authority over anyone in the dead zone. Of course, ST:TNG got this completely wrong, having Counselor Troi and Dr. Crusher sometimes take command of the ship, when, in fact, any line officer, even an ensign, should be in charge.

Oh, and yeah, sorry about that whole not-updating-for-almost-a-month thing. I think I've got some cool stuff on the horizon, so I'll try and keep on top of it.
Posted by Mark on February 20, 2002 at 05:44 PM .: link :.

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