Monthly Archives: May 2009

Prison Card Fight and Punishment!

cards-as-weapons

I had a dream that I was in prison for some reason. I guess the reason is irrelevant. I imagine I was innocent and was unfairly accused of committing some crime. Anyway, since weapons are not allowed in prison I decided I would carry a pack of playing cards around and I’d the use cards as some kind of shiv if I got into a tussle.

I think the idea originates from when I read about a book (I think this was in some kind of magician’s manual) that explained it was possible to get so proficient at throwing cards that one could, if thrown with enough velocity, lodge a playing card into a watermelon. I’m not sure if this is even really possible. I should look it up or ask it as a reference question to a librarian.

Okay, after a brief digression, I found the book: Cards as Weapons. But apparently it’s just a hoax/parody. Oh well.

Anyway, back to the dream. As expected (think about Chekhov’s gun), I eventually got into a major prison fight using cards (my opponent also used cards to fight back). We actually fought with two cards in each hand, sort of knife style or something. The prison guard broke up the fight and had to punish us. This is where the story gets interesting. He used the face value of our cards to determine how severely to punish us! I have to hand it to my dream guard, he sure knows how to make things interesting. Is that just me complementing my own subconscious? I don’t know.

The guard was gonna add up the value of the cards we used as weapons and probably put us in “the box” for a duration of time appropriate to the value of the hand. Or something. In the middle of the guard figuring out the value, I woke up. Good timing, I think.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

mindset-the-new-psychology-of-success

A while back I wrote a post about rejection and how I dealt with it. I also mentioned a book that I had on hold at the library that seemed kinda related. I got the book and read about half of it. Then I got really busy and had to return the book. After putting it on hold again and getting it back I finished it. So here’s my thoughts (I’m totally a completist so I really have to read the ENTIRE book before I count it as finished).

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, has a really simple message behind it. Depending on your perspective, or “mindset” on life, you can really affect your own learning and personal growth. Basically, people with a “fixed” mindset believe that a person’s qualities are predetermined and set in stone. So people who are good at math won’t fail and those who are bad at math will never be good at it. Conversely, people with a “growth” mindset will understand that with practice and reflection, people can improve in just about any measurable quality. They see failure as a challenge and thrive on improving themselves rather than proving their superiority. (quick anime example: Rock Lee is totally growth and Sasuke is totally fixed)

I suppose I’ve been trying hard to adapt to the growth mindset, even before reading this book (see this post for more on that). Previously I think I probably did have a sort of fixed mindset in that I felt I was pretty smart and got through all of high school fairly easily. In college I stumbled a little bit because Computer Science forced me to think in ways I wasn’t used to thinking. I came into an intro course that had hundreds of students of which, by the end, only a fraction remained. I made friends with a guy who had programmed all his life. Another one of my friends had never programmed before. The experienced guy did well on talent, my other friend dropped saying it was too hard and I had to work really hard to keep up. Though at the time I felt a bit inferior to everyone else because I actually had to study hard and struggle, looking back I’m really proud of what I accomplished. Computer Science courses basically taught me that with hard work, I could understand really complicated problems and work out solutions.

As for the book itself, It’s very easy to read. In fact, I think it might be a little too easy to read. I think I spent too much time in the past two years reading nothing but academic papers. While I appreciate the colloquial language of the book, it feels sometimes like I’m being written down to. Also, some of the examples and suggestions seem really cheesy, for lack of a better word. Example: If your child displays a fixed mindset, turn dinner into a conversation on how each family member learned something. Soon the kid will be policing you and making sure you show a growth mindset! Sounds like a scene from Family Circus (not the Nietzsche version).

I’d also have to say that the first few chapters really contain the meat of the book. They explain the two mindsets, give examples of each in action and spell out how each one affects a person’s outlook on learning and growth. After the third chapter or so, the book just goes into examples of the mindsets in different contexts: sports, business, relationships, parenting. A good deal of these chapters feels really redundant and a little boring, honestly. I guess they’re useful in reinforcing the ideas, but not completely necessary if you actually read the first three chapters. The last chapter is a workshop of sorts for changing your own mindset. I’d say it’s worth a read as well.

Overall, I think the book is an interesting read and the concepts it introduces have a lot of potential. I wouldn’t label the book as self-help; it’s more of a psychology book that you can actually apply in your own life (sort of like Stumbling on Happiness). At the very least, it’s made me more perceptive of how I react to situations as well as how others around me react.

Wii Fit Anniversary!

So today is the very near anniversary of me starting Wii Fit. My first day was actually May 23rd 2008, but I think If I wait to post something I might forget to do it in two days. So here’s my anniversary post.

It’s actually kind of interesting that for the last few sessions I’ve been feeling pretty tired. Today I felt really energized though. I have no idea why. I was sick the past few days but today I feel pretty much at 100%. Maybe it’s because I got a lot of sleep while sick. I also had a Twig and Berry salad from Zingerman’s today for lunch.

Anyway, when I started Wii Fit about a year ago I was obese (according to the machine) and weighed about 202 pounds or so. Today the Wii Fit declared I am merely overweight and that I weigh about 179.9. So within a year I lost 20 pounds. I actually lost the 20 pounds between May and November, I wanna say. Then between November and now, I think I hit some kind of ceiling (or floor). I’ve sort of slowly been losing again. I think it might be a seasonal thing.

Besides the lost poundage, I’ve been consistently feeling better (physically) ever since I started, and have been getting better and better. These days I can walk to and back from campus very easily when a year ago it’d feel like a hike (it’s a little over a mile each way, I think). I believe my general endurance and energy levels have been better, too. I haven’t only been doing Wii Fit to get healthier though. I’ve also been trying to eat better and live more healthily in general. No more soda (pop) for me.

I’m pretty happy with my progress with Wii Fit so far. I wish I had done better between the November-Now time points, though I will admit that I made non-pound progress (I am now doing 20 push-ups instead of 10 and lunges are doable when before they were insanely hard). Hopefully I’ll be able to report back in a year with even better numbers and results.

Bonus actual anniversary update: (5/23/09)
I look at my time completed in Wii Fit and it appears that I did 83 hours and 33 minutes of working out. Not too bad. I know I did less in the beginning and have been ramping up to about 34-45 minutes of workout each session though I don’t do it every day. I’ll probably have more time to commit to working out over this summer though.

Freakonomics – Book Report!

freakonomics

I was first introduced to Freakonomics in my grad school stats class. Part of the readings (don’t worry, we also had a textbook) included two chapters from the book. I liked the chapters and eventually subscribed to the Freakonomics blog (which sadly only has excerpted stories in its RSS feed). It’s been kind of overdue for me to finish reading the book. I finally checked it out from the library last month and finally had enough time (sick time) to finish it today.

There have been a lot of reviews on this book, so I don’t think I need to go there. I’d rather just give my reactions to it. Basically, after reading the book, and assuming the work that’s done in the book is in the realm of economics, I’d really like to become an economist. Seriously. Do economists just sit around at universities all day and think about interesting answers to difficult questions? I’m sure not all of them do. Maybe just a select few who are able to look at the world differently.

Maybe it’s a stretch to try and relate my own field of study to the book’s. Maybe not. In my former (I just graduated!) program, a lot of importance was given to contextual inquiry, incentive-centered design, user-centered design, etc. Basically, you can understand a problem better if you understand the context and the people who are experiencing it. I’m actually surprised that there wasn’t formal game theory introduced into the book, though they did touch on that with the example of how a real estate agent’s time would be much better spent trying to get rid of a house than work a little harder for a much smaller commission (volume versus quality).

I think that one of the overarching ideas of the book is that incentives drive the behavior of people. People cheat because it benefits them and they can get away with it. They don’t always do what’s best for them, though they might do what seems best given their situation. The world is much more complicated than a few variables in a regression analysis (though it’s still a pretty useful tool!). Also, correlation does not imply causation.

The book takes a strictly practical approach (“if morality represents an ideal world, then economics represents the actual world”), which is nice, if you can handle having some of your underlying beliefs questioned. In fact, I think the main thing I learned from the book is to really question “common knowledge” and “popular opinion,” because it almost always seems to be informed more than just fact.

I like that this book takes research (and a number of research methods like statistical analysis and surveys) and explains them in a intelligent and easy to understand way. It’s probably why my professor used it as part of the class readings (or maybe she just likes the book). It makes me yet again wish I had still applied for some PhD programs (though whenever I do, I again remember how crappy applying to grad school is and they sorta cancel out).

I wonder if this book will have the effect that in twenty years or so, people who read this book and encouraged their kids to become economists will cause a huge uptick in economics degrees…