Thursday, May 26, 2011

10,000 Hours

In Malcolm Gladwell's NY Times bestselling book Outliers The Story of Success, he repeatedly refers to a "10,000 Hour Rule", claiming that that the key to success in any field is a matter of practicing in that field for a total of around 10,000 hours. To back up his claim Gladwell points to successful artists and businessmen like the Beatles and Bill Gates. Gladwell also points out in Outliers that successful people never make it all by themselves; that circumstances, community, upbringing, family and other forces factor into achieving ones success. As an example Gladwell cites that although Bill Gates is a very intelligent and motivated person he had an unique opportunity to access to a computer (which was not very common at the time) at the age of 13. This access gave Gates not only the time to practice for 10,000 hours but also an advantage over other people who did not have computer access at that time (late 1960's).


The first chapter of Outliers talks about how a majority of the best Canadian Ice Hockey players are born during the first few months of a calendar year. Canadian youth hockey leagues determine eligibility by calendar year. Kids born on January 1 play in the same division as those born on December 31 of the same year, making the January child a full year older, more mature physically and mentally than then December child. The January kids are then better players who get more attention from Tournament coaches and All-Star teams. These additional elite teams assist the kids in obtaining their 10,000 hours with the best coaches the league has to offer. Gladwell calls it "an accumulative advantage",  the better kids keep getting better and the not so good kids never get the chance to improve. Or so the theory goes.

Part of Gladwell's theory of success is also about being at the right place but more importantly being at the right time. For instance out of the 75 richest people in the history of the world 14 of them were Americans born between 1831 and 1840. Go here for an explanation as to why. Gladwell also proposes that the best time to have been born to be a computer/technology billionaire was between 1952 and 1958. This would make a person old enough to be working in the field but young enough to take risks (ie no family obligations) at the time computer technology started to expand.

I think about the 10,000 Hour Rule often and how it pertains to my kids. When I was a kid the only thing I ever spent 10,000 hours doing was reading comic books. I wonder if there is any one thing my kids would be willing to invest their 10,000 hours besides watching Wild Kratts or Cartoon Network. Sports? Computers? Academics?

What will be their decades' next big thing that they can take a risk on? I know each one will have to find their likes and dislikes but according to Gladwell it takes many people, a community, to provide the right opportunities. My job as their father, and a member of the community, is to seek and provide the opportunities for the kids and encourage them to succeed.

Recently I talked Max into trying out for the baseball tournament team. Not that I think he is going to become a pro ball player but I wanted to give him the opportunity to get better coaching than me or at the least different coaching than me. Max is an average player for his division and the tournament team was a division higher.  For the tournament try-out he was one of the youngest players. Max did not make the cut. There were some younger players that did make the team (Go Z.G.) but their natural ability and focus on the game will enable them to start their 10,000 Hours earlier than Max. Maxfield did not seem upset about not making the team but I can't help but wonder if he is now going to lose his "accumulative advantage" in a sport he seems to enjoy.

Max has been taking piano lessons for just under a year. His teacher Mindy has been doing a great job. Lauren has been excellent in making sure he practices. I do my best to encourage him. Recently Max played the piano in his school's talent show. It was great to see Maxfield's reaction to the audience applauding him. I know from experience that there is no better rush than that of performing in front of a live audience and doing well. I think out of the 20 or so acts there were only 3 that involved a child playing an instrument. I did not think anything of it until...

The other day I was listening to the Michael Smerconish radio program, his guest was an economist who stated that there are everyday things that people can look at to determine how the economy is in their specific geographical area. They pointed to things like high-end restaurants being slow (people choosing to eat more at home and stretching their dollars) to Lowes and Home Depot being busy (people now need to do their own home projects rather than pay contractors). It was a very interesting conversation. One of the "small town" indicators they discussed on the program was the fact that private lesson music teachers are one of the first things families cut in their budget. There are less and less private music lessons happening in a slow economy.

I find it somewhat sad that one of the first budget cuts a school will make is in the art or music department. I find it unfortunate that families have to cut music lessons from their discretionary spending in a slow economy. It is upsetting that there is a possibility that this decades' generation of kids will not have artistic influences in the early developmental parts of their lives.

But as sad and unfortunate this all is I can't help but smile thinking that Max may become the only piano player in his whole school. Will he practice for 10,000 hours? Who knows. Will he become a rich and famous musician? Maybe.

I think I may have found something worth sacrificing for now to give my kids the accumulative advantage over other kids in the future.




video

Monday, May 23, 2011

Middle Finger

"Dad, can I ask you a question?" my seven-year-old son asked. He and his little brothers were helping me put away laundry.

"Sure Maxfield. What is it?" I responded not looking at him. I was mindlessly sorting pants by size using the air hockey table as a folding table, I had a system going and I was in a groove.

"Kevin, at school, not my cousin Kevin, showed me his middle finger and told me that it was a very bad thing to show just your middle finger to some one. He said you should never do this." Max held up his middle finger, his thumb crossed his other three fingers to hold them down*.

I don't know if my kids noticed that I stopped folding the laundry, my mindless system disrupted, or if they saw me look at the clock wondering if their mom would be home soon to field this question, but they sensed that they were on to something important.

"Like this, dad, like this." Max said trying to show me his middle finger.

"You shouldn't do that pal." I said.

"Why? Why is it bad? What does it mean? Kevin just told me it was really bad?"

"It is like saying something bad in sign language." I told him. I noticed Wyatt was struggling to point his middle finger. I sighed.

"But what does it mean?" Max asked. He was very curious and had a concerned look on his face.

"Just don't ever do it to someone. Okay?"

"Why?"

"Just don't."

"Can you tell me what it means?" Max asked.

Every day, as a parent, I go through some type of debate in my head between telling the truth, protecting the innocence, keeping it real, keeping their youth, knowing is half the battle (GI JOE),  ignorance is bliss etc. etc. I do believe that sometimes the best answers are "Because I said so." But at this time I felt some type of explanation would take some mystery out of the equation and maybe give Max some understanding as to why he should not give the finger. I did not want to talk about the sexual nature of flipping the bird, that would be whole other conversation, but I didn't want him to think it was okay to do. He is too young to be labeled a bad kid for something innocent. I searched my brain for something that I could use to explain the nature of the gesture but also impress upon them why it was bad. A long time ago I read an article about giving someone the finger and it's history. The only part I could recall was the story (which is a false story) about some king cutting the fingers off of his enemy's archers.

I took a deep breath and told them a story.

"A long time ago there was a very evil king. This king was the most evil person alive at that time.  He sent his army from village to village taking property and stealing to expand his kingdom. He would make the villagers work for him in the farms and not pay them. Some of the villagers tried to fight back. The villagers used bow and arrows and swords. The kings army was too strong. When they won the battle the king's army cut off the middle fingers of all the men so they could not fight any more. They cut off the middle finger so the villagers could not pull back a bow or hold their swords. After a while none of villagers in all of the land had middle fingers. The kings army would ride into town and the king's soldiers would hold up their middle fingers to show they were loyal to king and also to make fun of the people without fingers. Over the years, showing someone your middle finger has now become a meaning that you wish that person to be hurt. You wish them harm. It is not nice to wish other people harm. It means you support the evil king."

The room was quiet. Max looked at his middle fingers. Wyatt was still playing the story in his mind.

"So that is why I never want you to show your middle finger to someone." I said.

"What if it is an accident?" Max asked. "What if I use it to point at something. I am not trying to be mean."

"I use my middle finger all of the time to point. Just never point it at someone in the way which you think is bad. Okay?" I said. "Don't do it as a mean gesture."

"Okay." Max said.

I looked at Wyatt.

"Okay." Wyatt said.

We went back to folding laundry.

"Dad, why didn't they just cut off the whole hand?" Max asked.

"Uhhh....so they could still work the fields and do their jobs for the king?"

"Dad, why couldn't they shoot arrows using their other fingers?"

"It's tricky." I said. I grabbed a clothes hanger pretending it was a bow and tried to demonstrate. "Without their middle fingers their aim was off and the strength was off."

"Dad, did they cut off the middle finger on just one hand or both?"

"Both."

"Dad, does a finger grow back if it gets cut off?"

"No. Once it is gone it is gone."

"If a person has their finger cut off and has a baby, will the baby be missing their fingers?"

"No."

"What if both the mom and the dad had their fingers cut off, would the baby still have fingers?"

"Yes."

There was another 30 or so questions that followed (I can't remember them all) as well as a quick discussion about Luke Skywalker's hand being cut off and how it was replaced. Max and Wyatt discussed why pirates could fight with hooks instead of hands and how they would make a hook to replace their middle finger. I listened to them talk and went about putting clothes away. I walked into Jackson's room.

"I would hook you." Wyatt said to Max.

"I would hook you." Max returned.

"No. Hook you." Wyatt said.

"Hook. You." Max said.

And so that is what the middle finger now means. Hook You.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

* For scientific purposes I am conducting a survey. There are two ways to give someone the finger.
1- Middle finger up- thumb holding the other fingers down.
2-Middle finger up- Thumb out to the side.

Say someone cuts you off in traffic and you have to flip them off, do you use #1 or # 2?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Features

Sometimes I look at Jackson, the youngest, and I cannot figure out who he looks like. More often than not I do not see either Lauren or myself in his features.


Other times though, I totally see it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

High Tolerance

Last week I went in to have my upper wisdom teeth* removed.

I am not a fan of any type of surgery but after talking to some friends and my doctor I decided to get it done. After all I was not using them the way they were supposed to be used. They had the potential to cause more problems and complications which could be costly. I was also told that the procedure was not painful, would only take about 30 minutes and only required a couple of days for recovery.

Lauren dropped me off at the surgeon's office the morning of the operation. I asked her to pick me up in an hour. Even though I was only having a local anesthetic the people at the facility suggested I have someone drive me in case I ended up feeling woozy post operation.

I laid back on the chair as the nurse pushed pedals to make adjustments to the height and angle of the chair. The surgeon prepped his instruments. I watched as he inserted a huge needle into a glass bottle of the local anesthetic. He pulled back the plunger and filled the syringe with the clear liquid. The nurse left the room as the doctor started his work.

"You will feel a slight pinch and quick burn. Then you shouldn't feel anything after a few minutes." the doctor said.

I felt a pinch. I felt the burn. We waited.

I watched the doctor grab some shiny metal things and I closed my eyes as he went to work. He must of sensed that I was not completely numb when as he made his first cut I nearly jumped out of the chair.

"Can you feel that?" he asked.

"Yes. How could you tell?" I responded somewhat sarcastically.

The doctor gave me a little bit more of the anesthetic.

I felt a pinch. I felt a burn. We waited.

The doctor went back to work. I could feel him cutting me. I felt him prying and poking with his instruments. I broke out into a sweat.

"I can still feel everything you are doing." I said through gritted teeth.

"Do you feel pain? Or pressure?" he said. "Pressure is normal." He added.

"Pain! I can feel everything you are doing. Every cut, every move, every instrument, everything." My knuckles were white from where I was gripping the chair, my nails were leaving indentations in the vinyl covering.

"You must have a high tolerance the the anesthetic. Most people only require 4ccs. I have already given you 6. I will give you 2 more and we will wait. It should do the trick."

I felt a pinch. I felt a burn. We waited.

The doctor went back to work. I nearly leaped out of the chair.

"I can't believe you felt that?" The doctor said. He was clearly annoyed.

"I am not making it up." I was starting to panic.

"I know. I know. I'm sorry. I just don't understand." He tried to comfort me.

"Let's just get it done." I said. "I will deal with the pain just hurry it up."

He called the nurse into the room and they looked at the bottle of anesthetic, making sure it was within the expiration date. They spoke in hushed tones and I heard him say something about never having to use the full 10cc before but he will try it. The nurse opened and prepped a new syringe and needle. The doctor gave me the last 2cc in original needle.

I felt a pinch. A dull burn. We waited. I was finally numb.

The doctor grabbed his instruments and went back to work being very careful and meticulous. He made sure I was not feeling anything. What was supposed to take a half hour turned into an hour. Lauren texted me to make sure I was okay. She was back to pick me up. I texted back saying that I would be a few more minutes.

The doctor sighed in a way that signaled he was done. He placed his metal instrument on the tray next to him. "Okay. You didn't feel any of that, did you?"

"No." I said. "Am I all done?"

"No." he said. "I still have to do the left side."

My eyes went wide. I may have whimpered. A tear may have slowly rolled down my cheek.

"Don't worry." he said, "I will give you the full 10ccs to start with."




*For the sake of the male readers I substituted the words "Upper Wisdom Teeth" for Vas Deferens.

Monday, May 09, 2011

I'm Swamped

"I've got my country's five hundredth anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it. I'm swamped."  Prince Humperdinck

I have been meaning to post something but life keeps getting in the way.

Some people have written how an oversaturation of blogs in the past few years has really watered down the art of blogging.

Others have written how advertising and terms like "social media", "branding" and "click through rates" have soured blog readers.

Some people say that Twitter and Facebook are killing the medium of blogging.

Here are some of the blogs I read on a regular basis that I think prove the above statements to be incorrect or inacurate. Blogging is just evolving. Go check them out.

Always Home and Uncool

April's Reign

Clark Kent's Lunchbox

Muskrat

GreebleMonkey

Honea

Luke I Am Your Father

Sweet/Salty

The Meanest Mom

Black Hockey Jesus

The Bloggess

Dooce

Absence of Alternatives

Monday, May 02, 2011

Burning

My understanding of the Greek legend of the Marathon is that in 490 B.C. the Persian army had landed in the city of Marathon to punish the Athenians for revolting against the king of Persia. During the battle, a part of the Persian army set out to go to the city of Athens which was 26 miles away. The Athenian army sent Pheidippides, a runner, to Athens to warn them of the invasion. Pheidippides ran the entire 26 miles, told Athens the news, and then died.

"Williameakipeddes!" The General barked. "The enemy has set a bomb, a PU-36 explosive space modulator to be exact, in the Philadelphia Navy Yard on the other side of the city. I need you to run and warn our allies."

"How far is it sir?" Williameakipeddes, who often went by the nickname Meaks, asked.

"Ten miles." the General asnwered, bluish grey cigar smoke billowed from his mouth.

"Can't I just use my cell phone and call the Navy Yard to warn them?"

"No. The signal from the cell phone may activate the device. Now get moving."

Somehow, somewhere, my wife Lauren convinced me to run in the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Philadelphia Broad Street 10 Mile Run.  It would be nice to run another race together she said. After running for the past year, I thought I was ready for a 10 mile race. My shorter running paces have been about a 10 minute mile. I set my goal for this race at an 11 minute mile, figuring I could run the 10 miles in an Hour and in 50 minutes. On Sunday May 1st 2011 Lauren and I woke up at 4:30 am and headed down to Philly to park the car at the finish line, take a subway 10 miles to the starting line and wait around a bunch of Port-a-Potties with 30,000 other people until the race started. Lauren is faster than me and 20 minutes before the race we separated into our separate color coded corrals. Lauren in the Orange group and me one city block behind her in the Grey corral. This is how Lauren and I run together with her always being far ahead of me.

I was by myself with thousands of other people. I put my ear phones in and hit the play button hoping that songs from Ben Folds, Rob Thomas, Peter Gabriel, G.Love and Special Sauce, Bush and Counting Crows would motivate me before the start. I decided that I would try to beat my 1:50 goal and do the 10 miles in 1:45. At 8:30 AM thousands of runners started the race. Different corrals were released every few minutes. The Grey group slowly marched forward to get to the starting line.

"Which way should I go sir?" Meaks asked the General.

"Go straight down Broad street From Olney Ave, around city hall and finish near the sports complex in the Navy Yard. I will give you the code to disarm the bomb."

"What is the code?" Meaks asked starting to get nervous, butterflies fluttering in his stomach.

" Put this paper bib on, there is a microchip in it. If this chip crosses into the Navy yard in the next hour and fourty five minutes the bomb will disarm." The General peered over his bi-focals and focused on Meaks' wide eyes.

"1:45? 1:45? How about 1:50? Can't I disarm the bomb in and hour-fifty? I think that is do-able." Meaks said with hesitation.

"1:45 or the Navy Yard burns. I have faith in you Meaks."

"What if the enemy sees me?"

"Listen you pansy-ass, I will send about 25,000 decoy runners with you. It will make it harder for the enemy to spot you. But be carefull, the enemy may be out there, if you see the enemy you need to run past them."

"How will I know what they look like?" Meaks asked.

"You'll know. You'll know. Now Go."


A loud air horn blasted and the few thousand people in the Grey corral started to run. I took a deep breath, turned up the volume on my music and I started the race. I felt a bit funny in the beginning of the race trying to find my rhythm and pace being trapped by various people all around me. After the first mile either I broke free of the crowd or the crowd broke free of me and I was in a comfortable zone. G Love's cover of the blues classic "Fixin to Die" was blasting in my ears. I realized that although the beat of the song was good for a running, the idea and words may not be that great in the first mile of a 10 mile run. "I've been walking kind of funny, Lord I believe I am fixin to die."

Meaks weaved his way in, out and through the crowds of decoy runners. He kept his head up and did his best to see if he could identify any of the enemy. There was a sea of decoy runners all around him but mostly in front of him. Meaks knew he would have to push himself to finish in the time required. At mile two Meaks felt confident in his mission, he was keeping a 10:15 mile pace. He did a quick mental check of how he was feeling; breathing good, chest good, legs strong, feet okay, bladder full. Wait, what was that? Bladder full? That's impossible. Meaks had made sure he emptied his bladder about 4 times before the mission. Meaks knew if he stopped he may not make his time. Or even worse, the enemy may recognize him or beat him to the end. Meaks decided to push on.

I felt pretty good when I hit the halfway point I was at 51:42. Still on pace for my new goal. There was an older, heavy set, woman with bad spider veins in her legs in a green top in front of me. I focused on her legs and matched her pace step for step. I figured if she could do this then so could I. She was running in rememberance of someone who died from cancer. Thats what her shirt said.

Running is funny, people of all shapes and sizes can run and looks are often deceiving when it comes to speed.

I ended up distracted by the scenery of city hall and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts building on my right. Lauren used to work at PAFA and Maxfield Parrish studied there. I did my best to a get a decent picture of city hall but people kept passing me. Ben Fold's "Effington" came on the music player. Again my music choice was great for running, the lyrics not so much. "I want to die in Effington, Please bury me in Effington."


Williameakipeddes realized he was approaching the center of the city and knew he was halfway to his goal. His bladder did not feel as full and he was keeping a good pace. He spotted an older woman in a green tank top and spider veins. She must be the enemy. This woman was not the first enemy he had encountered. He had determined that there were other enemies.  The 60 year old man in the red shorts and knee high socks, the so called team of highschool students in blue T-shirts, the orange clad team of moms and the girls in day-glo yellow and pink, were all enemies that he had systematically picked-off and passed during the first five miles. The older woman in green, how could someone of her shape and size be running faster than him? She must be an enemy. He focused his attention to her legs and tried to match her pace for pace. He would not let the enemy beat him to the finish. He would save the Navy Yard from explosion.

 
Williameakipeddes kept pace with the Spider Vein lady for the next 20 minutes. She was alone but she was determined. Meaks took advantage of the median in the middle of Broad Street and weaved his way around some decoy runners that were losing their steam. He eventually put himself in the spider vein lady's 8 O'clock position and then muscled past her on her left. Meaks felt invigorated by the increase in his gate and knowing the Navy Yard was only 3 miles away, when the entire left side of his body went numb. The Spider Vein lady must have shot him with a stun ray.

I ran at a steady pace through the Avenue of the Arts section of Broad Street. I could feel myself slowing down and tried to pick up my pace. My left side of my body was going all numb with a pins and needles type tingling. I figured it was my herniated disk in my neck pinching my nerves.  I tried to shake it off but I remembered I told Lauren I would try not to die.  I slowed my run down to a fast walk, keeping my heart rate up but also taking the pressure off of my body. It seemed to do the trick. I noticed a lot of people were starting to walk at this point. After about 200 yards I felt better and began to run again. Some where around mile 8 the feeling came back and I almost stumbled. Luckily I was near a watering station and I walked and drank some water for another 200 yards when I heard someone yell that the finish line was only 1.4 miles away. I looked at my stopwatch. I was still on pace for my goal. I started to run again.


Meaks, as a soldier of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield army knew how to shake off the effects of the stun gun rays. He was hit a second time. The Spider Vein lady was a good shot.  He slowed down and took a few sips of the greenish-yellow liquid on the side of the road. He gained his compusure, looked at his timing device and realized he was 1 mile away with 11 some odd minutes to go to stop the explosive device. Meaks looked up and saw the Spider Vein lady had passed him. Determined Meaks started to run as fast as he could. He trailed the Spider Vein lady by about 25 yards. Slowly and surely he closed the gap.  Meaks felt as if he was hit by a another stun ray but he continued to press on. He was 10 feet behind the Spider Vein lady as they approached a slight upward hill and an overpass. Meaks decided he would use the cover of the shadows under the overpass to push past the Spider Vein enemy. He was now only a little more than a quarter of a mile away. 

Shadows and lights danced in the street as Meaks came out of the cool air of the overpass. He did not see the Spider Vein lady and continued on his current gait and pace. Meaks came down a hill and heard cheers from the decoy runners as he saw the area he needed to cross to prevent the exposion. There! There it was a big banner spread across the road. That must be the area Meaks needed to cross.

Williameakipeddes pushed himself. He felt his knees start to buckle and his chest tighten. He pushed on. He thought he was running as fast as he could. He pushed. He tried to sprint but his body would not let him. Sweat poured down his chest. His face burned from the sun and sweat stung his eyes.

He pushed. He crossed the line. He made it.

Meaks looked up to see the Spider Vein lady a head of him. He looked at his timing device. It read 1:46:43.

Just then the Navy Yard exploded. It burned.



I was finished the race almost two minutes past my goal time. I was disapointed but happy. Lauren finished about 17 minutes before me. It was a great day.

Williameakipeddes sat on the grass of the Navy Yard eating a free soft pretzel and drinking a free bottle of water. He was dissapointed by the fire and failed mission but happy by the light show and the warmth the fire was giving him.