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Very brief summary of main themes
1) “Follow your passion” is terrible advice for most people. Don’t try to find your “true calling” because it’s a false concept.
2) The craftsman’s mindset: build skills through deliberate practice.
3) The importance of control: use your career capital to ask for and obtain autonomy, and other things that make jobs pleasant.
4) Have a mission: once you have skills, use them to explore options and find something that can be your life’s work and driving motivation.
This book came to me highly recommended, and didn’t quite live up to its reputation. It’s not that I disagree with anything, but Newport seems to be trying to claim that his point is more new and exciting than I think it actually is. The style reeks of self-help manual. (This isn’t a thing wrong with the book itself, just a fact about my personal taste). Still. It has some points that would be new to me if not for LW/CFAR, and it frames them all together in a tidy package, which may not have happened before. I would definitely recommend it to the average smart high school student.
1) Promoting Hufflepuff. The world needs more people making hard work and conscientiousness look shiny.
2) The concept of deliberate practice, associated with a career. Deliberate practice doesn’t seem to be an obvious concept, and I’ll get behind any popular book that explains it.
3) Pointing out that mastery can create its own enjoyment; that it’s possible to grow to love an arbitrary activity, if it’s challenging and you can take pride in your skill. Example: the author quoted a study1 that asked people whether they considered their work to be a job (just a way to pay the bills), a career (a path towards better work), or a calling (a vital part of your life and identity.) Looking at a single occupation, college administrative assistants, the study found that the employees were roughly evenly split between calling it a job, career, or calling, and that the strongest predictive factor was time spent in the position. Although there’s a possible sample bias here (employees whose needs aren’t satisfied will keep looking for other opportunities and leave if they find them), it’s still an important point.
4) The fungibility of this thing called “career capital.” You don’t have to find the perfect dream job in order to be happy; you can find a job that provides value to society and is bearable, build up enough skill that you’re indispensable, and then bargain for the things that actually make jobs good over the long term.
5) Specific examples of people exploring opportunities and using their career capital in creative ways. For example, the book mentions a marketing executive, Joe Duffy, who wanted to work creativity into his working life–but instead of quitting and trying to make a living as an artist, he build skills and a reputation in brand icons and logos, until he was offered a job at a company that gave him the creative freedom he wanted. The anecdotes still aren’t that specific, but they feed the availability heuristic with examples.
The author disparagingly discusses the popular literature on career choice. I think that the “don’t follow your passion” point is less novel than he’s making it out to be. I read a lot of self-help career books as a young teenager, like ‘What Color is your Parachute’, and I wasn’t left with a belief that I ought to follow my passion. If I had been, I’d have gone into music or physics, not nursing. I don’t think that “do what you love, and the money will follow” is by any means the common sense advice peddled by life coaches.
I’m more prepared to believe that pop culture says there’s a tradeoff between doing a poorly paying job that you can love, or a well-paid job that will be boring; that you may have to make a choice about which one you want. There are solid economic reasons for this to be true.
I’m not sure to what degree the author cherry-picked his examples, but it would have been very easy to do, even without realizing. The examples break down into ‘naive, idealistic people who daydreamed about being famous and quit their jobs to pursue fantasies’, and ‘driven hard-working people who pursued ambitious careers and were lucky enough to succeed big.’
If he’s trying to make the point that drive and hard work matter more than idealism, I am the easiest person to make that point to...and I still don’t like the way he makes it. Where are the ambitious people who burned out and quit? The unambitious people who found steady jobs and raised families and had gardens in their backyards and lived happily ever after? The rest of the people in the world who don’t fit clearly into one category or another?
I guess maybe my true rejection is that none of the people profiled were nurses, or anything in that reference class. The book, however it claims not to, seems to implicitly reinforce the idea that there are “good” jobs–shiny high status jobs that anyone would find impressive–and then there are jobs like community centre manager and social worker and librarian and nurse, which aren’t even worth mentioning.
Thoughts on learning coefficients, economic demand, and how the book applies to my life
This isn’t mentioned in the book explicitly, but it’s a thought that came to me afterwards and feels related.
The “career capital”, or bargaining power, that you have in your job depends on how valuable you are to your employer. This, in turns, depends on several things: one of them is your skill relative to the other people they could be employing, but another factor is the supply/demand balance of people with your qualifications.
I’m pretty good at writing, and I suspect I could get a lot better if I spent the time. But I’m by no means an above-average nurse, even for my reference class of nurses with just under a year of experience.
I still have a ton of bargaining power, probably much more than I’d have in any job that involved my writing skills. Being a writer is cool, and lots of people want to do it, but there’s not that much need in the world for writers...and so it’s hard to make a living, even if you’re a very good writer. Nursing, on the other hand, is unglamorous and hard, and the supply/demand mismatch is in the opposite direction. As a result, less than a year out of university, I have a lot of something like career capital. I’ve managed to bargain for a flexible part-time position that lets me work basically as many or as few hours as I want to (at the cost of a weird schedule), with arbitrary flexibility to take time off and travel. I could move to approximately anywhere in the world and have a job on a few months’ notice. And I happen to like my job a lot, so I win all around. The author doesn’t mention this type of career capital at all.
Still, I guess the thing that I’m doing with my career capital–getting a flex schedule so that I can do shiny exciting things like volunteering for CFAR, without having to give up income and stability–is probably something that Newport would approve of would approve of.
1. Wrzesniewski, McCauley, Rozin, et al. “Jobs, Careers, and Callings: People’s Relations to Their Work,” Journal of Research in Personality 31 (1997): 21?33.
Brad Plumer, "Two Degrees: How the World Failed on Climate Change", Vox 4/22/2014:
"If you’re serious about 2°C, the rates of change are so significant that it begs the way we see the world. That’s what people aren’t prepared to embrace," says Kevin Anderson, a climate scientist at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research. "Essentially you’d have to start asking questions about our current society and how we develop and grow."
But I missed the interestingly diverse range of ways that beg has been re-lexicalized as a result of people's attempts to make some sense of question begging: it can be taken to mean "(the question) comes up", or "(something) brings up the issue of", or just plain "(someone or something) asks". Some internet examples:
The question therefore begs the way to combat obesity or maybe the slightest excess weight as well as answer is based on healthy eating.
And during all this, you'll get sexual theory that underlies the actions, which begs the way into the next level of the book…
It begs the way I feel about my wife and the music just makes me want to cry….for joy.
The question begs — what is the role of P-glycoprotein in normal physiology?
Verdict begs: What happened to civility?
Forty Years After Martin Luther King's Assassination, the Question Begs: What if He Had Lived?
Admirable – but the question begs what, if any role DISPERSANTS play in this training?
I love the question Facebook begs: what have you been up to?
Curiosity begs… What is your opinion on Unitarian Universalists?
The question begs. What language are you translating?
So the question begs, what is this going to cost US?
The question of the ontology behind it is intriguing because it really begs whether this is a legitimate question to ask or whether we're just able to ask this question since we did come into existence.
A thought-provoking piece that begs whether we should rethink medical privacy to accelerate advancement.
This begs whether the United States should have invaded Afghanistan in the first place.
This definition begs whether every expression can be put into standard form; the answer is positive and provided by this lemma.
post a comment
If you want to catch my attention, put the word "ninja" in the title of your movie! It's stereotypical for a geek girl, I know, but I can probably hear it from a room away over several ongoing conversations.
So when I heard about Office Ninja from writer and director Bin Lee, I needed to at least find out what it was! He was kind enough to send a review copy in advance of its release on ITunes today. When C-Man heard about the plot he said we should review it. I think something about programmer rivalries and ninjas combined was too much for him to resist.
We laughed so much! This is such a geek movie, y'all.
Here's the setup. Tomas (Jade Carter) is a programmer whose bow-tied boss is still using an overhead projector with those plastic sheets to run meetings. His co-worker Jett (Rob Padgett) is a jerk who steals Tomas's work and gets promoted to a position Tomas really wanted and kind of needs, considering his dad has just been seriously ill and there are bills to pay.
So clearly, the only way to resolve this is dress up like a ninja and run around his office spying on Jett, right? Tomas's goofball co-worker Raheem (Jose Rosete) and new hire Jessica (Jessica Mills) aren't sure what to think of the appearance of an office ninja... and neither is Tomas once he encounters another ninja. What?!
Copyright 2002-2014 Skye Kilaen - Planet Jinxatron
I have a special place in my heart for any creative project that people clearly work on from a place of love. This is one of those projects. The cast is obviously having such a good time with this preposterous story, especially the folks playing the more exaggerated characters. The look of glee on Todd Johnson's face as his boss character clicks back and forth on his new digital projector is priceless. Also, an impressive amount of action and physical comedy is crammed into the very small physical setting of a set of cubes and offices and the hallways between them! (One tackle in particular caught me completely off-guard and it was so funny because I was so surprised.) This isn't a polished big-budget Hollywood comedy where every line is perfectly written, but it's a bunch of fun, talented people getting together to make something entertaining. Especially if you're steeped in geek humor already. Thank goodness that all movies don't require a Hollywood-size budget, right? Or we'd miss out on a lot of stories.
One small fly in the ointment for me was Tomas and Raheem's continued sexual harassment of Jessica. Raheem's behavior towards Jessica is almost as bad as Jett's, and yet the film mostly gives him a pass because he's one of the Good Guys. Tomas isn't innocent either but we're supposed to see it as "he likes her." It also struck C-Man as "off" and we wished they'd figured out another angle for the comedy they were going for. (A minor note: I also personally have a low tolerance for bathroom humor and there were a couple of jokes about that. I'm really not a mainstream audience member on that topic, though, so I just pretended I didn't hear them.)
We spent quite a fun evening watching Office Ninja, and I'm pleased to help spread the word. You can like Office Ninja on Facebook, follow along on Twitter, or most importantly, buy it from the ITunes store. It's just $5.99 to get it in SD which isn't all that much more than a movie rental and less than any movie ticket price I can find these days.
Here's the trailer so you can get a preview:
p.s. Can whoever dressed Jessica for this role dress me too? Thanks!post a comment
Fuckin’ A–it’s finally here!
After fantasizing about starting a podcast for nearly two years, after being asked hundreds of times, The Tim Ferriss Show is now live.
Sometimes you have to stop over-thinking things, bite the bullet, and figure it out as you go.
To launch, I’ve posted two episodes that are vastly different. They are available on iTunes and, for Android folks, Stitcher.
I have an important favor to ask, which I don’t do often:
1) Please listen to one or both episodes.
I will read EVERY review and, based on that feedback, I’ll either stop or keep doing this podcast.
If you seem to like them, I promise to do at least 6 total episodes in the next 1-2 months. And trust me: I have some amazing people lined up and ready to go. Constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement are welcome, whether on iTunes or in the comments below.
All that said, here are the first two episodes! I really hope you enjoy them.
I consider Kevin Rose one of the best “stock pickers” in the startup world. He can predict even non-tech trends with stunning accuracy.
Kevin is a tech entrepreneur who co-founded Digg, Revision3 (sold to Discovery Channel), Pownce, and Milk (sold to Google). Since 2012, he is a venture partner at Google Ventures. He’s also a hilarious dude, and this episode involves heavy drinking.
In this finding-my-feet episode, Kevin and I get down on a bottle of Gamling and McDuck while discussing, among dozens of topics: why Kevin would love to work at McDonald’s, how he kicked my ass on the Twitter deal, and — just a wee tad — biohacking.
Dive in, folks!
Josh Waitzkin was the basis for the book and movie Searching for Bobby Fischer.
Considered a chess prodigy, he has perfected learning strategies that can be applied to anything, including his other loves of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (he’s a black belt under phenom Marcelo Garcia) and Tai Chi Push Hands (he’s a world champion). These days, he spends his time coaching the world’s top performers, whether Mark Messier, Cal Ripken Jr., or hedgefund managers. I initially met Josh through his incredible book, The Art of Learning, which I loved so much that I helped produce the audiobook (download here, at Audible or DRM-free Gumroad).
This episode is DEEP, in the best way possible. Josh will blow your mind.
And for a change from Episode 1, I’m totally sober. I’d be curious to know which Tim you prefer.
Listen to it here, and please subscribe!
Show Notes for Episodes 1 and 2
Special thanks to my friend Ian for helping with show notes. Much obliged, kind sir.
These notes only partially cover the conversations, but they will give you a taste.
EPISODE 1: KEVIN ROSE
SOME LINKS FROM EPISODE 1
EPISODE 2: JOSH WAITZKIN
Meditation | Journaling | “Undulation” (Capacity to turn drive on and off)
The Waitzkin Library:
By now, the sinking of the South Korean MV Sewol on April 16, 2014, with 476 persons on board, is known to the whole world. Especially tragic is the fact that most of the passengers were high school students on an outing and that the ship's captain had behaved in an extremely irresponsible manner, resulting in the deaths of many individuals who might otherwise have been saved:
Checking background information for the students, Rachel Kronick was looking at the Baidu page for Ansan si 안산 시 (Ansan City; Chinese 安山市), where most of them were from. Surprisingly, she found that the name of the city in roman letters is currently listed as "Mr Andreessen". As Rachel says, "A very interesting choice of transl(iter)ation! And I thought it might make good blog fodder for you."
So how did the city get this weird name in English (according to Baidu)?
Marc Andreessen's full name in Chinese is usually given as Mǎkè Andélǐsēn 马克·安德里森. Occasionally, however, he is referred to by the much shorter, Chinese sounding name Ān Shān 安山. It seems that Baidu got its wires crossed and rendered Ansan si 안산 시 (Ansan City; Chinese 安山市) as "Mr. Andreessen" (Ān Shān xiānshēng 安山先生).
When I first started to investigate how this switch occurred, I was confused by the fact that there seemed to be two 安山 ("Tranquil Mountain"), one in South Korea and one in China. It turns out, however, that, though the names sound identical in Mandarin and in Korean, the city in China is actually called 鞍山 ("Saddle Mountain"). It also happens to have a small percentage of Koreans, around 10,000 out of a total population of 3,584,000. Not only that, 安山 (Gyeonggi Province, South Korea) and 鞍山 (Liaoning Province, China) are sister cities.
I'm sure that there's a tremendous amount of sadness in both cities after the horrifying capsizing of MV Sewol last week.post a comment
There’s no doubt that the quality of tech reporting in major newspapers has improved in recent years. It’s rare these days to see a story in, say, the New York Times whose fundamental technical premise is wrong. Still, it does happen occasionally—as it did yesterday.
Yesterday’s Times ran a story gushing about mesh networks as an antidote to Internet surveillance. There’s only one problem: mesh networks don’t do much to protect you from surveillance. They’re useful, but not for that purpose.
A mesh network is constructed from a bunch of nodes that connect to each other opportunistically and figure out how to forward packets of data among themselves. This is in constrast to the hub-and-spoke model common on most networks.
The big advantage of mesh networks is availability: set up nodes wherever you can, and they’ll find other nearby nodes and self-organize to route data. It’s not always the most efficient way to move data, but it is resilient and can provide working connectivity in difficult places and conditions. This alone makes mesh networks worth pursing.
But what mesh networks don’t do is protect your privacy. As soon as an adversary connects to your network, or your network links up to the Internet, you’re dealing with the same security and privacy problems you would have had with an ordinary connection.
To its credit, the project being hyped in the Times, called Commotion, doesn’t seem to be making inflated security claims. Commotion’s own site says that it “can not hide your identity”, “does not prevent monitoring of internet traffic”, and “does not provide strong security against monitoring over the mesh”.
The Times article follows a pattern common in overhyped security stories: it talks about a security problem, points to an exciting new technology, and offers quotes about how useful it would be to solve the security problem. What it doesn’t do is explain how the exciting new technology actually solves the security problem. And the quotes, unsurprisingly, are not from security experts.
Our government has apparently spent millions on the development of Commotion. That may be justified, given that the availability and resilience of mesh networks do help to foster freedom of expression by making it harder for governments to cut off their citizens from independent information sources.
But if government wants to invest in security for Internet users in challenging places, it would be better off putting the money elsewhere. To give just one example, the money spent on mesh networks could probably have paid for security audits for OpenSSL and other critical components that hundreds of millions of people around the world rely on every day.post a comment
Many states and jurisdictions are rushing to write laws and regulations governing the testing and deployment of robocars. California is working on its new regulations right now. The first focus is on testing, which makes sense.
Unfortunately the California proposed regulations and many similar regulations contain a serious flaw:
This is quite reasonable for testing vehicles based on modern cars, which all have steering wheels and brakes with physical connections to the steering and braking systems. But it presents a problem for testing delivery robots or deliverbots.
Delivery robots are world-changing. While they won’t and can’t carry people, they will change retailing, logistics, the supply chain, and even going to the airport in huge ways. By offering very quick delivery of every type of physical goods — less than 30 minutes — at a very low price (a few pennies a mile) and on the schedule of the recipient, they will disrupt the supply chain of everything. Others, including Amazon, are working on doing this by flying drone, but for delivery of heavier items and efficient delivery, the ground is the way to go.
While making fully unmanned vehicles is more challenging than ones supervised by their passenger, the delivery robot is a much easier problem than the self-delivering taxi for many reasons:
A typical deliverbot might look like little more than a suitcase sized box on 3 or 4 wheels. It would have sensors, of course, but little more inside than batteries and a small electric motor. It probably will be covered in padding or pre-inflated airbags, to assure it does the least damage possible if it does hit somebody or something. At a weight of under 100lbs, with a speed of only 25 km/h and balloon padding all around, it probably couldn’t kill you even if it hit you head on (though that would still hurt quite a bit.)
The point is that this is an easier problem, and so we might see development of it before we see full-on taxis for people.
But the regulations do not allow it to be tested. The smaller ones could not fit a human, and even if you could get a small human inside, they would not have the passive safety systems in place for that person — something you want even more in a test vehicle. They would need to add physical steering and braking systems which would not be present in the full drive-by-wire deployment vehicle. Testing on real roads is vital for self-driving systems. Test tracks will only show you a tiny fraction of the problem.
One way to test the deliverbot would be to follow it in a chase car. The chase car would observe all operations, and have a redundant, reliable radio link to allow a person in the chase car to take direct control of any steering or brakes, bypassing the autonomous drive system. This would still be drive-by-wire(less) though, not physical control.
These regulations also affect testing of full drive-by-wire vehicles. Many hybrid and electric cars today are mostly drive-by-wire in ordinary operations, and the new Infiniti Q50 features the first steer-by-wire. However the Q50 has a clutch which, in the event of system failure, reconnects the steering column and the wheels physically, and the hybrids, even though they do DBW regenerative braking for the first part of the brake pedal, if you press all the way down you get a physical hydraulic connection to the brakes. A full DBW car, one without any steering wheel like the Induct Navia, can’t be tested on regular roads under these regulations. You could put a DBW steering wheel in the Navia for testing but it would not be physical.
Many interesting new designs must be DBW. Things like independent control of the wheels (as on the Nissan Pivo) and steering through differential electric motor torque can’t be done through physical control. We don’t want to ban testing of these vehicles.
Yes, teams can test regular cars and then move their systems down to the deliverbots. This bars the deliverbots from coming first, even though they are easier, and allows only the developers of passenger vehicles to get in the game.
So let’s modify these regulations to either exempt vehicles which can’t safely carry a person, or which are fully drive-by-wire, and just demand a highly reliable DBW system the safety driver can use.post a comment
Linguists have often assumed that the principles of English syntax do not allow a dependency between the head noun and the "gap" in a relative clause to span the boundaries of an adjunct such as a conditional if phrase. They will invent pairs of this sort to illustrate the ungrammatical results:
In the first, the meaning of the relative clause is "I think you would absolutely hate him", and syntactically there is a gap where the object of hate (underlined) would have been. But in the second, the meaning of the relative clause is if you saw him you would throw up, and the underlined pronoun is inside the conditional adjunct if you saw [him]. Having the gap inside the adjunct is not permitted, they say.
And they mean that descriptively: the claim is not that you ought to avoid sentences like 2 above; the claim is that all speakers have a natural instinctive aversion to syntactic structures of this sort.
But is that true?
Michael Hamiel wrote a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle (published April 19, 2014, p. A10), commenting on a story about an executive who was fired from Yahoo but got a $58 million severance package. "Yahoo is to be commended for raising the bar," he wrote. And he continued:
The gap is in the conditional adjunct, which has the meaning "if all fired employees got it". The noun kind in the phrase kind of exit packages is modified by the relative clause that if all fired employees got __, state and federal unemployment bureaus could be closed down saving the government millions.
This is exactly the sort of structure that syntax specialists have regularly said the syntax of English (and perhaps all languages) disallows.
Now, the situation is more subtle than you might think. Nobody doubts that sometimes people who write letters to the newspaper get their letters printed despite the fact that they contain mistakes. (The previous letter in the Chronicle had a typo in it.) So this could be an inadvertent syntactic slip that the editors didn't catch or decided not to fix.
Or it could be crucial evidence that ordinary, unreflective language use is not governed by any inbuilt mental constraint forbidding dependencies between head nouns and gaps that span the boundaries of adjunct phrases.
There's no simple or immediate way of deciding this. Yet the validity of a general syntactic theory will hang on deciding indefinitely many such quandaries correctly. Linguistics ain't easy.
However, Jerry Friedman found some more examples with the same structure in COCA (the Corpus of Contemporary American). This is a quote from Trent Lott:
Here is one from Geraldo:
So now it's looking a bit more like the sentences are deep-down grammatically OK, rather than slips, isn't it?post a comment
Consider three recent news articles about online privacy:
These are just a few examples of the dozens of articles that come out every month informing privacy-conscious users that they need to change some setting, install a tool, or otherwise take some action to protect their privacy. In particular, companies often release new features with permissive defaults and an opt-out setting. It seems that online privacy requires eternal vigilance.
Eternal vigilance is hard. Even as a privacy researcher I often miss privacy news that affects me; for the majority of people who don’t have as much time to devote to online privacy, the burden is just too much. But before concluding that the situation is hopeless, let’s ask if there’s a technological solution.
There seem to be two problems with the status quo. First, there is no way to separate the articles on privacy that provide direct, actionable solutions from those that conclude “this is an outrage!” or “write to your congressperson today!” [*] Second, only a small fraction of these stories affect any given user because they only affect specific demographics or users of a specific product.
Here’s how we could build a “privacy alert” system that solves these problems. It has two components. The first is a privacy “vulnerability tracker” similar to well-established security vulnerability trackers (1, 2, 3). Each privacy threat is tagged with severity, products or demographics affected, and includes a list of steps users can take. The second component is a user-facing privacy tool that knows the user’s product choices, overall privacy preferences, etc., and uses this to filter the vulnerability database and generate alerts tailored to the user.
While the core design is very simple, we can imagine a number of bells and whistles. The vulnerability database could utilize crowdsourcing to increase coverage and expediency, and offer an open API so that anyone can utilize the data. If the user-facing tool taps into browsing history and other personal information, it can automatically infer which vulnerabilities are relevant to the user. Of course, this raises its own privacy concerns, so the tool would have to be offered by a company or organization that the user trusts.
The ideas in this post aren’t fundamentally new, but by describing how the tool could work I hope to encourage people to work on it. It would make for a neat student project, and I’d be happy to collaborate with someone who wants to build it.
[*] Of course, sometimes there simply aren’t any meaningful protective steps an individual can take in response to a privacy intrusion, and collective action is the only recourse. But this post is about simplifying dealing with the 90% of privacy threats that do have individual-level solutions.
Thanks to Jonathan Mayer for reviewing a draft.
Edit: fixed link.post a comment
478 comments post a comment
Another month has passed and here is a new rationality quotes thread. The usual rules are:
And one new rule:
post a comment
In response to "What would a "return to philology" be a return to?", Omri Ceren proposes a simple explanation for Paul de Man's assertion that literary "theory" was just a return to philology:
You might be overthinking the de Man thing.
He did the same thing with "philology" that he did with "rhetoric." It's just the bald assertion that he's doing the same thing you're doing, except he doesn't want to put in the time learning specialized methods or doing the empirical grunt work (sustained effort, especially in de Man's case, not being the hallmark of the deconstructionists).
Philologists analyzed the evolution of words to study the structure of language; de Man mentioned words and noticed that language has structure; hey, they're doing the same thing so he must be a philologist too!
It's like summer camp. You get to be whatever you want to be. He pulled the same nonsense with rhetoric. Rhetoricians analyze tropes to understand how language becomes persuasive; de Man mentioned tropes and noted that language is persuasive; hey, they're doing the same thing so he must be a rhetorician too!
You'd think he's just trying to hijack the ethos of philology for whatever hand-waving he's engaged in, and you'd be mostly right. But there's also a more pernicious move, which becomes more noticeable when it's applied to scientific rather than humanistic disciplines (though it's applied by this crowd to both). It's the same double-move every time: "rigorous methods don't have any privileged access to knowledge" (the you're-not-doing-anything-special move) and "postmodern methods are just as rigorous as any other methods" (the what-we're-doing-is-just-as-special-as-w
Or more tersely, now that I've read his philology essay: "hey, philologists think about language; I Paul de Man think about language; I'm doing philology too!"
The move requires a strange combination, driven by a con man's confidence but insulated by ignorance.
If we take some uncontroversial 30,000ft view of knowledge — disciplines split off when particular methodologies align nicely with particular objects of study, so that we can squeeze out new insights — then you can see how total ignorance of specialized methodologies would help. If you don't actually know what someone is doing, you can say with confidence you're doing the same things they are. So Lacanians who can't do math or logic claim they're doing analytical philosophy. Literary scholars who have not the foggiest clue about phonology or morphology are doing philology. And per Richard Rorty, we're all doing science, because after all that's just a narrative too.
There's an anti-intellectual version of this conceit, which is buoyed by the kind of journalism that insists experts ain't all that smart anyways. There's a version found in the workaday academy, which is usually cashed out as complaints about boundary policing. But if you're a former Nazi sympathizer with a European accent taking in the rarefied air of the 1960s humanities, it goes all the way to being the height of sophistication.
I'll add another perhaps-relevant factor: the supreme intellectual prestige of "philology" in Europe through the middle of the 19th century, and to some extent until WW I. Thus de Man implicitly positions post-modernism as a return to pre-modern verities. The publisher's blurb for James Turner, Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities (2014) explains:
Many today do not recognize the word, but "philology" was for centuries nearly synonymous with humanistic intellectual life, encompassing not only the study of Greek and Roman literature and the Bible but also all other studies of language and literature, as well as religion, history, culture, art, archaeology, and more. In short, philology was the queen of the human sciences. How did it become little more than an archaic word? In Philology, the first history of Western humanistic learning as a connected whole ever published in English, James Turner tells the fascinating, forgotten story of how the study of languages and texts led to the modern humanities and the modern university.post a comment
I wrote earlier on how we might make it easier to find a lost jet and this included the proposal that the pingers in the black boxes follow a schedule of slowing down their pings to make their batteries last much longer.
In most cases, we’ll know where the jet went down and even see debris, and so getting a ping every second is useful. But if it’s been a week, something is clearly wrong, and having the pinger last much longer becomes important. It should slow down, eventually dropping to intervals as long as one minute, or even an hour, to keep it going for a year or more.
But it would be even more valuable if the pinger was precise about when it pinged. It’s easy to get very accurate clocks these days, either sourced from GPS chips (which cost $5) or just synced on occasion from other sources. Unlike GPS transmitter clocks, which must sync to the nanosecond, here even a second of drift is tolerable.
The key is that the receiver who hears a ping must be able to figure out when it was sent, because if they can do that they can get the range, and even a very rough range is magic when it comes to finding the box. Just 2 received pings from different places with range will probably find the box.
I presume the audio signal is full of noise and you can’t encode data into it very well, but you can vary the interval between pings. For example, while a pinger might bleep every second, every 30 seconds it could ping twice in a second. Any listener who hears 30 seconds of pings would then know the pinger’s clock and when each ping was sent. There could be other variations in the intervals to help pin the time down even better, but it’s probably not needed. In 30 seconds, sound travels 28 miles underwater, and it’s unlikely you would hear the ping from that far away.
When the ping slows down as battery gets lower, you don’t need the variation any more, because you will know that pings are sent at precise seconds. If pings are down to one a minute, you might hear just one, but knowing it was sent at exactly the top of the minute, you will know its range, at least if you are within 50 miles.
Of course things can interfere here — I don’t know if sound travels with such reliable speed in water, and of course, waves bounce off the sea floor and other things. It is possible the multipath problem for sound is much worse than I imagine, making this impossible. Perhaps that’s why it hasn’t been done. This also adds some complexity to the pinger which they may wish to avoid. But anything that made the pings distinctive would also allow two ships tracking the pings to know they had both heard the same particular ping and thus solve for the location of the pinger. Simple designs are possible.
Two way pinger
If you want to get complex of course you could make the pinger smart, and listening for commands from outside. Listening takes much less power, and a smart pinger could know not to bother pinging if it can’t hear the ship searching for it. Ships can ping with much more volume, and be sure to be heard. While there is a risk a pinger with a broken microphone might not understand it has a broken microphone, otherwise, a pinger should sit silent until it hears request pings from ships, and answer those. It could answer them with much more power and thus more range, because it would only ping when commanded to. It could sit under the sea for years until it heard a request from a passing ship or robot. (Like the robots made by my friends at Liquid Robotics, which cruise unmanned at 2 knots using wave power and could spend years searching an area.)
The search for MH370 has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, so this is something worth investigating.
Other more radical ideas might be a pinger able to release small quantities of radioactive material after waiting a few weeks without being found. Or anything else that can be detected in extremely minute concentrations. Spotting those chemicals could be done sampling the sea, and if found soon enough — we would know exactly when they would be released — could help narrow the search area.
Track the waves
I will repeat a new idea I added to the end of the older post. As soon as the search zone is identified, a search aircraft should drop small floating devices with small radio transmitters good to find them again at modest range. Drop them as densely as you can, which might mean every 10 miles or every 100 miles but try to get coverage on the area.
Then, if you find debris from the plane, do a radio hunt for the nearest such beacon. When you find it, or others, you can note their serial number, know where they were dropped, and thus get an idea of where the debris might have come from. Make them fancier, broadcasting their GPS location or remembering it for a dump when re-collected, and you could build a model of motion on the surface of the sea, and thus have a clue of how to track debris back to the crash site. In this case, it would have been a long time before the search zone was located, but in other cases it will be known sooner.
Reporting has not been clear, but it appears that the ships which heard the pings did so in the very first place they looked. With a range of only a few miles, that seems close to impossibly good luck. If it turns out they did hear the last gasp of the black boxes, this suggests an interesting theory.
The theory would be that some advanced intelligence agencies have always known where the plane went down, but could not reveal that because they did not want reveal their capabilities. A common technique in intelligence, when you learn something important by secret means, is to then engineer another way to learn that information, so that it appears it was learned through non-secret means or luck. In the war, for example, spies who broke enemy codes and learned about troop movements would then have a “lucky” recon plane “just happen” to fly over the area, to explain how you knew where they were. Too much good luck and they might get suspicious, and might learn you have broken their crypto.
In this case the luck is astounding. Yes, it is the central area predicted by the one ping found by Inmarsat, but that was never so precise. In this case, though, all we might discern — if we believe this theory at all — is that maybe, just maybe, some intelligence agency among the countries searching has some hidden ways to track aircraft. Not really all that surprising as a bit of news, though.
Let’s hope they do find what’s left — but if they do, it seems likely to me it happened because the spies know things they aren’t telling us.post a comment
I was going to post this as a comment to Mark Liberman's "What would a 'return to philology' be a return to?", but it got to be too long, so I'm putting it up as a separate piece.
To begin with, when people ask me what my profession is, I've always replied that I am a Sinologist, but most people don't know what a Sinologist is, so that leads to complications.
Let me illustrate.
The first book that I published with a commercial press was Tao Te Ching: The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way (New York: Bantam, 1990), a translation of the Literary Sinitic text, with extensive commentary and notes. My editor asked me how I wished to identify myself, and I told her that I was a "Sinologist". She said, "That won't do, because nobody knows what a Sinologist is. Can't you call yourself a linguist?" I told her "That won't do either, because I'm not a linguist."
I do not consider myself a linguist (e.e., historical linguist, phonologist, etc.) per se, though I certainly do dabble in these things quite a lot, but truly am a Sinologist, and have been since I began graduate school. Yet it's not only in commercial publishing that I can't call myself a Sinologist, in current academia it's not fashionable to refer to oneself as a Sinologist either, so I am formally designated as "Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania".
If I have time and opportunity to go into more detail, I still will always style myself as a Sinologist. When people look at me and say, "Huh, what's that?", I reply that a Sinologist is a philologist who specializes on matters pertaining to China. To which they will generally ask, "Huh, what's that?" Whereupon I will say, "A philologist is someone who studies ancient texts for the purpose of understanding the languages and cultures of the times in which they were written."
I definitely think of myself as a philologist specializing in Sinology. Disciplines parallel to Sinology are Indology, Japanology, Semitology, and so forth. For the majority of scholars, these have now morphed into Indian Studies, Japanese Studies, Semitic Studies, and so on, but I'm old fashioned and still cling to the old ideals and old methods of Sinology, though happily assisted now by modern technology and techniques (computers, data bases, online resources, etc.). There is, however, clearly an effort on the part of many to get Beyond Sinology (title of a brand new book by Andrea Bachner, with the subtitle Chinese Writing and the Scripts of Culture), by which they usually prescribe the approaches of individuals like Paul de Man (born as Paul Adolph Michel Deman), Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser, Stanley Fish (though he sometimes gets serious about textual and historical studies), Fredric Jameson…. (the list is very long).
My views on all of this are spelled out in a lecture entitled "Sinology then and now: Methods and Aims", which I delivered at Peking University, June 7, 2012, available here and here, but it's two hours long, so don't start watching it unless you have a leisurely morning, afternoon, or evening with nothing else to do.
In closing, I would like to declare, as I have on many occasions, that although I do not consider myself a pucka linguist, I deem it a very great honor to write for Language Log, where everyone else is a real linguist.
[Thanks to Stephan Stiller]post a comment
Either the NYT has changed its policies, or some editor was asleep at the beeper and let this through by mistake — "Raptors Drop Expletive and Game to Nets in Playoff Opener", NYT 4/19/2014:
Sparked by a stinging expletive the NBA playoffs got off to an explosive start as the Brooklyn Nets landed the first blow in a suddenly bitter Eastern Conference first round match-up with a 94-87 win over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday. Out of the playoffs since 2008, Toronto's return to the postseason was both eventful and controversial, upping the ante in the best-of-seven series.
With A list celebrities, including rappers Drake, Jay-Z and Beyonce, occupying courtside seats, an embarrassing technical malfunction and a jaw-dropping expletive delivered by Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri to thousands of frenzied supporters at a pre-game pep rally, the first game of the NBA postseason offered a little bit over everything.
Despite topping the Atlantic Division and setting a franchise record with 48 victories, the Raptors have had a harder time winning respect than games. Meanwhile the Nets dropped four of their last five contests, including a 29-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in their season finale, to cement a Toronto match-up.
The Nets denied any suggestion of subterfuge but Ujiri made his position crystal clear, shouting "Fuck Brooklyn!" at a fan rally outside Air Canada Center prior to the start of Game One.
It's a Reuters wire story, but still — things were different for Bina Shah just a few days ago ("#KholoBC", 4/12/2014).
Obligatory screenshot:post a comment
I recently read Peter Brooks' "The Strange Case of Paul de Man", NYRB 4/3/2014, which is a review of The Double Life of Paul de Man by Evelyn Barish. Brooks' central argument seems to be that it's unfair to call de Man a fascist thief, because he was really just a charismatic sociopath. But the thing that caught my eye was a reference to an essay by de Man that I hadn't read:
He began teaching Reuben Brower’s famous course in Harvard’s General Education program, “Humanities 6: Introduction to Literature,” which had a transformative effect on his own approach to literature, as he noted in one of his last published essays, “The Return to Philology.”
I was curious about this, because I associate de Man with a movement in literary criticism that removed from American English departments nearly all traces of what I always understood philology to be, namely an old term for linguistic analysis, and especially comparative and historical linguistics as applied to analyzing and understanding texts in dead languages such as Old English and Middle English.
My own awareness of the critical, even subversive, power of literary instruction does not stem from philosophical allegiances but from a very specific teaching experience. In the 1950s, Bate's colleague at Harvard, Reuben Brower, taught an undergraduate course in General Education entitled "The Interpretation of Literature" (better known on the Harvard campus and in the profession at large as HUM 6) in which many graduate students in English and Comparative Literature served as teaching assistants. [...]
Brower [...] believed in and effectively conveyed what appears to be an entirely innocuous and pragmatic precept, founded on Richards's "practical criticism." Students, as they began to write on the writings of others, were not to say anything that was not derived from the text they were considering. They were not to make any statements that they could not support by a specific use of language that actually occurred in the text. They were asked, in other words, to begin by reading texts closely as texts and not to move at once into the general context of human experience or history. Much more humbly or modestly, they were to start out from the bafflement that such singular turns of tone, phrase, and figure were bound to produce in readers attentive enough to notice them and honest enough not to hide their non-understanding behind the screen of received ideas that often passes, in literary instruction, for humanistic knowledge.
This very simple rule, surprisingly enough, had far-reaching didactic consequences. I have never known a course by which students were so transformed. [...]
The personal experience of Reuben Brower's Humanities 6 was not so different from the impact of theory on the teaching of literature over the past ten or fifteen years. The motives may have been more revolutionary and the terminology was certainly more intimidating. But, in practice, the turn to theory occurred as a return to philology, to an examination of the structure of language prior to the meaning it produces.
This passage compounded my confusion. It seems to confirm that de Man meant philology to mean more or less what it means to me – but I can't recall ever having read anything in his work that could plausibly be described as "an examination of the structure of language", whether "prior to the meaning it produces" or posterior to it. Perhaps a reader will be able to point me to an example or two.
Meanwhile, this led me to wonder what others have taken philology to mean. And when I looked into it, I discovered that the attested senses are much more diverse than I had thought.
Some dictionary entries, starting with the OED:
1. Love of learning and literature; the branch of knowledge that deals with the historical, linguistic, interpretative, and critical aspects of literature; literary or classical scholarship. Now chiefly U.S.
By the late 19th cent. this general sense had become rare, but it was revived, principally in the United States, in the early 20th cent. For a fuller discussion of this, see A. Morpurgo Davies Hist. Linguistics (1998) 4 i. 22.
2. Chiefly depreciative. Love of talk or argument. Obs.
3. The branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of languages or language families; the historical study of the phonology and morphology of languages; historical linguistics. See also comparative philology at comparative adj. 1b.
This sense has never been current in the United States, and is increasingly rare in British use. Linguistics is now the more usual term for the study of the structure of language, and (often with qualifying adjective, as historical, comparative, etc.) has generally replaced philology.
The American Heritage Dictionary:
n. Literary study or classical scholarship.
n. The humanistic study of historical linguistics.
The Collaborative International Dictionary of English:
n. Criticism; grammatical learning.
The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia:
n. The love or the study of learning and literature; the investigation of a language and its literature, or of languages and literatures, for the light they cast upon men's character, activity, and history.
Dictionnaire de l'Académie française, 8e édition
(1)PHILOLOGIE. n. f. T. didactique. Science qui, dans son ancienne extension, embrassait toutes les parties des belles-lettres. Cette science encyclopédique ayant vieilli, on tend à substituer à ce terme, dans l'étude des langues, les mots : linguistique, grammaire, critique des textes, grammaire comparée.
Dictionnaire de l'Académie française, neuvième édition
(1)PHILOLOGIE n. f. XVe siècle. Emprunté, par l'intermédiaire du latin, du grec philologia, « amour de la parole », lui-même composé à partir de phileîn, « aimer », et logos, « parole, discours ». 1. Science qui embrasse l'ensemble des disciplines littéraires telles que la grammaire, la poétique, la rhétorique, la critique, etc. Spécialt. Ensemble des travaux de recherche concourant à l'édition critique de textes le plus souvent anciens ; en particulier, étude des différents manuscrits, de leur transmission et de leurs variantes. L'établissement de l'apparat critique d'un texte relève de la philologie. 2. Science ayant pour objet l'étude diachronique et synchronique d'une langue ou d'un groupe de langues, à partir de documents écrits. Philologie grecque, latine. Philologie romane, germanique, sémitique.
If we look at philology texts from 1900 or so, we get a picture that looks exactly like my original idea ("an old term for linguistic analysis, and especially comparative and historical linguistics as applied to analyzing and understanding texts in dead languages") — e.g. Eustace Hamilton Miles, "How to Learn Philology", 1899; Walter William Skeat, "A primer of classical and English philology", 1905.
And if we look at the contents of the first few volumes of Harvard Studies in Classical Philology (1890 onwards), we get a general confirmation of this view, with things like Albert A. Howard, "On the Use of the Perfect Infinitive in Latin with the Force of the Present"; Frederic D. Allen, "Gajus or Gaius?"; Thomas D. Seymour, "On the Homeric Caesura and the Close of the Verse as related to the Expression of Thought"; James B. Greenough, "Accentual Rhythm in Latin"; Richard C. Manning, "On the Omission of the Subject-Accusative of the Infinitive in Ovid"; James B. Greenough, "Early Latin Prosody"; John Henry Wright, "Five Interesting Greek Imperatives".
For another viewpoint, here's Sheldon Pollock, "Future Philology? The Fate of a Soft Science in a Hard World", Critical Inquiry 2009:
First, what precisely do I mean by philology? It is an accurate index of philology’s fall from grace that most people today have only the vaguest idea what the word means. I have heard it confused with phrenology, and even for those who know better, philology shares something of the disrepute of that nineteenth century pseudoscience. Admittedly, the definition of any discipline has to be provisional in some sense because the discipline itself is supposed to change with the growth of knowledge, and there isn’t any reason why the definition of a discipline should be any neater than the messy world it purports to understand. Still, philologists have not done much to help their cause. An oft-cited definition by a major figure at the foundational moment in the nineteenth century makes philology improbably grand —“the knowledge of what is known” — though this was not much different from the definition offered by Vico in the previous century,for whom philology is the “awareness of peoples’ languages and deeds.” Perhaps in reaction to these claims, a major figure in the twentieth-century twilight, Roman Jakobson, a “Russian philologist,” as he described himself, made the definition improbably modest: philology is “the art of reading slowly.” Most people today, including some I cite in what follows, think of philology either as close reading (the literary critics) or historical-grammatical and textual criticism (the self-described philologists).
What I offer instead as a rough-and-ready working definition at the same time embodies a kind of program, even a challenge: philology is, or should be, the discipline of making sense of texts. It is not the theory of language—that’s linguistics—or the theory of meaning or truth—that’s philosophy—but the theory of textuality as well as the history of textualized meaning.
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