As usual, my eyes were bigger than my stomach this week. William Corbett got pushed off and I’ll add some details below. I am only 25 pages into Born-Again Dirt so that will happen next week. I’m afraid that means I didn’t complete any farm reading this week…you know…for my farm reading journal. This is due, primarily, to a lack of discipline on my part. I read Outliers Wednesday on a whim. I may have played a little Minecraft when I should have done a little reading. So next week…
What is this book about?
I’ll let the author tell you. Here he his at his most succinct on page 267. I’ll edit it a bit to make it even shorter.
…success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. […] Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.
How does one seize the opportunity? Get up early, dedicate yourself to your purpose and just get it done. The issue he raises is that not enough people are given that opportunity and we, as a society, need to focus on providing opportunity and recognizing the value of work.
Is it a classic?
This book has been covered everywhere and by everyone for the last 5 years. That indicates it may be a classic but it may prove to be a fad. I’m leaning toward classic.
Will you read it again?
Not right away. It’s a fast read though.
Does it belong on your bookshelf?
I don’t think so. You can find it online for free, you can listen to the audiobook on YouTube or you can get it from the library. I see no need to own it. However, the audiobook could not keep my attention. I had to read the real book.
Can you relate a favorite passage?
Quite a few, actually. But we’ll stick with my favorite theme.
Lareau calls the middle-class parenting style “concerted cultivation.” It’s an attempt to actively “foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills.” Poor parents tend to follow, by contrast, a strategy of “accomplishment of natural growth.” They see as their responsibility to care for their own children but to let them grow and develop on their own.
“[Middle-class kids] acted as though they had a right to pursue their own individual preferences and to actively manage interactions in institutional settings. They appeared comfortable in those settings; they were open to sharing information and asking for attention…”
…skip ahead a bit…
By contrast, the working-class and poor children were characterized by “an emerging sense of distance, distrust and constraint.” They didn’t know how to get their way, or how to “customize” – using Lareau’s wonderful term – whatever environment they were in, for their best purposes.
Skipping to the end and pulling out a few snippits…
When it comes to reading skills, poor kids learn nothing when school is not in session. … Virtually all of the advantage that wealthy students have over poor students is the result of differences in the way privileged kids learn while they are not in school.
Think back to Alex Williams, the nine-year-old whom Annette Lareau studied. His parents believe in concerted cultivation. He gets taken to museums and gets enrolled in special programs and goes to summer camp, where he takes classes. When he’s bored at home, there are plenty of books to read, and his parents see it as their responsibility to keep him actively engaged in the world around him. It’s not hard to see how Alex would get better at reading and math over the summer.
OK. That’s bananas. Julie and I exercise a decided lack of discipline when it comes to books. Books we buy, books we borrow from the library, books we borrow from friends. Come by our house unexpectedly and you’ll find piles of books on end tables, stacked on the floor or covering tables. We don’t send our kids to summer camp, we don’t drive to the museum regularly but we do work to engage our children…either in things we are interested in or we work to ferret out what they are interested in. We discuss topics at the dinner table together and talk about our plans, dreams and our limited budget. At the same time, though, they are expected to entertain themselves…find their own books or build something or go outside and try not to kill each other with swords. I guess that’s what you get when you bridge between the worlds described above. I suppose we are middle class…but we really don’t live like it. More like poor farmers with too many bookshelves, a leaky roof and one, old minivan.
Another part stuck out to me on a similar theme. A man named Terman found, followed and studied children with exceptionally high IQs throughout their lives. Ultimately, he divided them into three groups based on success. The most successful were group A.
In the end, only one thing mattered: family background.
The As overwhelmingly came from the middle and the upper class. Their homes were filled with books. Half the fathers of the A group had a college degree or beyond, and this at a time when a university education was a rarity. The Cs, on the other hand, were from the other side of the tracks. Almost a third of them had a parent who had dropped out of school before the eighth grade.
I’m going out on a limb here to suggest the books on the shelves weren’t a collection of trinkets. They were carefully chosen part of the family. The books were assimilated into and allowed to change and help define the family culture. But I’m way outside of the text here.
He had a lot to say about KIPP schools. I hadn’t heard of that before. The kids arrive at school around 7:15 and return home around 5. Homework keeps them busy until 10 or so. On Saturdays school is only until 9:30. The school is designed to immerse the kids in learning…to keep them busy, working, and moving forward. It has a high level of success in the worst neighborhoods…neighborhoods where the kids don’t receive educational support from home. They made it a point to say that test scores appear to diverge the most over summer vacations as children wealthier families tend to continue learning over the summer, children from poor families lose a little ground. The KIPP school seems to replace the family at some level…for 10 hours each day. Like Psi corps.
Who should read this book?
You should. You and anyone who has ever told me that “I’m only successful because I’m tall, blonde and male.”
Take home messages:
I have an October birthday and grew up believing I was exceptionally stupid, exceptionally clumsy, unattractive and short…but I was at least a year younger than anyone else in my class! What if I had started school later? Who would I be? Even Bastiat couldn’t say. But I don’t have any regrets and my parents shouldn’t either. I turned out OK.
Allow me to summarize the book. Opportunities abound. Work sucks. But those precious few who embrace opportunities and work hard can achieve extraordinary success. He puts a number to “work hard” saying it’s 10,000 hours of dedicated, correct practice (correct practice because if you practice incorrectly you can get really good at doing whatever badly.) But opportunities for hard work spring from family support, family culture and all kinds of things out of your control. And this is where I felt the book let me down. He seems to attempt to walk some line between simple hard work and dumb luck. Jewish immigrants became clothing manufacturers…not because there was an opening in that market and they were lucky to be prepared. They found that opening in the market because they were desperate. They could only do what they knew so that’s what they did. They identified a market opening and exploited it. It wasn’t timing, it wasn’t luck. They just did the best they could with what they had. Maybe they got a leg up by some incredible timing but…
…that’s kind of the point. His examples are extreme. The book focuses on 0.001% of people. The Outliers. Nevermind that there are lots of Millionaires Next Door who did nothing special, just worked hard, built a solid business and lived frugally after embracing whatever opportunity they happened to come across. That includes every owner of every business I have ever worked for. Well, Bill Canfield may be a truly extraordinary person.
I’m going to throw in one more quote from Outliers will reference it next week when we read Born Again Dirt.
The historian David Arkush once compared Russian and Chinese peasant proverbs, and the differences are striking. “If God does not bring it, the earth will not give it” is a typical Russian proverb. That’s the kind of fatalism and pessimism typical of a repressive feudal system, where peasants have no reason to believe in the efficacy of their own work. On the other hand, Arkush writes, Chinese proverbs are striking in their belief that “hard work, shrewd planning and self-reliance or cooperation with a small group will in time bring recompense.”
Java for Kids
This is not Java for kids, it’s just intro to Java. I applaud the effort but I’m afraid there is nothing here to grab their attention and keep their attention as they work. Nothing at all. If you want to learn Java you are better off to begin at YouTube. There you can find someone who speaks your language…says things in an understandable manner. The book was OK. Not great in any way. It doesn’t belong on my shelf. It doesn’t belong on your shelf. It’s not a classic.
Let me be clear. My criticism is not with Java itself. Clearly Java is a useful solution for a variety of problems. It’s the examples in the book that I take issue with. Let’s write a little code in Java, shall we? I’m going to add 5 and 7. Ready? First we have to write our code. You can use notepad but I like Notepad++.
public class AdditionExample
public static void main(String args)
int firstNum = 5;
int secondNum = 7;
int sum = firstNum + secondNum;
Now that code has to be compiled. (If you are going to play the exciting copy of our home game you’ll need to install the JDK. Just Google it. Be sure to update your PATH environment variable too.) Save your script as AdditionExample.java and remember where you saved it. Open command prompt, navigate to that location and type “javac AdditionExample.java”. That compiles your code. Now, to execute it you simply type “java AdditionExample” as below:
Isn’t that great kids? Look. All that to make the computer say 12!
That gibberish code above is not unique to Java but it’s completely unreadable. Public class? Public static void? String args? What is that stuff? He briefly covers that later in the book but it is still gibberish…not meaningful. But that’s kind of the way it is. Let’s write the same thing in VBScript as an example.
firstNum = 5
secondNum = 7
sum = firstNum + secondNum
Now save that to AdditionExample.vbs and double-click on the file to execute it. What happens? We get a pop-up window telling us “12”. Isn’t that neat kids?
So maybe it’s not the book’s fault. Maybe programming is just boring. Maybe I am boring. Maybe so. But even still, this book is kind of lame. The premise is you can learn to program while making your own calculator. Calculator. A text-based calculator. If you plan to teach basic programming concepts to your children I don’t think this is the place to start. If you or your children already have a handle on the jargon and concepts and are ready to move into Java this book might be OK but, again, YouTube is probably better. Heck, most of what this book covers is covered in the Java howto on the Oracle website.
But I could be totally wrong. I have a real handicap in this topic. I have no memory of learning computerish stuff. I’m sure it didn’t come naturally but I don’t remember doing it other than “Load BC.exe,8,1“. So I don’t know how to teach it. For this reason I tend to leave my work at work and my kids have no idea what I do for a living…just that I work on a computer. I don’t know how to bridge the gap.
Should you read this? Is it a classic? Will I read it again? Does it belong on your bookshelf?
Cottage Economy not revisited
I had planned to read the second half of Cottage Economy this week but I just didn’t want to. There is only so much preaching on bread and beer I can take in one dose. Julie and I were laughing at the extreme level of sexism displayed in the book. A man simply can’t love a woman who can’t bake bread. I want to believe he was considered a pig in his time. Further, it is more important to God’s kingdom that a father ensure his daughter can bake bread than that she can recite scripture.
I put it down. I’ll pick it up again if I feel the need to laugh. The opening statements concerning personal responsibility are gold. The rest of the first half? Not so much.
Article of the Week
Should we go to Mars? How can we pay for it? I know, let’s set up an interplanetary internet using satellites in space…faster than anything we have now. From arstechnica.com:
Musk’s venture will be considerably more expensive, possibly costing as much at $10 billion. It could take more than five years to get operational. “But we see it as a long-term revenue source for SpaceX to be able to fund a city on Mars,” Musk said on Friday night. “It will be important for Mars to have a global communications network as well. I think this needs to be done, and I don’t see anyone else doing it.”
What does space have to do with farming? Variety is the spice of life. I wish you could alter time, speed up the harvest or teleport me off of this rock.
And I say we farm another rock. Diversify our risks as a species. But it’s hard. Mars is a long way away. Let’s look at the solar system if the moon is just one pixel. That means the nearest star is an almost incomprehensible distance away. Just something to think about while you scoop manure as scooping manure doesn’t require much brain power.
Also consider that low Earth orbit is out of any government’s jurisdiction…for now. There is no preventing the dissemination of information. And the promise is faster internet…anywhere on Earth…for everybody. And the proceeds go to Mars. Sign me up!
This Week in Spending Money
I maintain a big line in my budget for books and education. A big line. In years past I have forked over as much as $8,000 of my own money for two weeks of tech training…not counting the loss of vacation time. That’s just what you have to do to stay current in my line of business. Sometimes I get asked, “Chris, how did you learn all this computer stuff? Why can’t I do it?” You can. Just spend 10 or 20 years learning all about it. In 20 years you will be amazed how much you don’t know. I don’t know anything so I still spend money and time learning more. This week, in an effort to increase my own understanding and spark a fire in my children, we bought 5 more books.
Now you, dear reader, may say, “Gosh Chris, you sure spent a lot of money on books this week!” Yes I did. And if just one of those books sparks something in just one of my children (or even my wife! (or even myself)) then the return on investment will far outstrip anything else I could have put that money into. And why all this computer stuff? First, because it’s what I know and do. Second because it’s something that can be done anywhere. I can sit here at my desk and code for a customer in Alaska. No big. I read the book Ranching Full-time on Three Hours a Day some years ago and shortly after spoke to David Hall (who lives near Cody). David expressed a similar amount of time was needed by his cattle operation so he also had rental property, an insurance office and, until recently, an implement dealership. Put your time to work. There are other things we can do on the farm, even if it’s not farming.
But there is something more I want to share. Something that makes me a little bit sad. My wife and children have no idea what I do when I leave here. I come home at night and I’m greeted with a kiss from Julie and hugs from the younger children. Julie asks, “What did you do today?” I realize she’s not really asking but I need you to understand I can’t really tell her. My job is something I do by myself. In absolute isolation…even from my family. I drive there alone. I work alone. I drive home alone. I can’t find an intelligible way to communicate what I do. So I don’t talk about it.
And that hurts a little bit.
There is a part of me I can’t seem to share with my family. Half of my day. Every week day. So I just say, “Oh, the usual.” and we go on about our day.
What if I told them? What if I really said it? “Well, this morning my inbox was flooded with errors. Apparently the SharePoint database backup routine failed last night and the transaction logs grew too large. We didn’t run completely out of disk space but it was a near miss. Then Mike stopped by with a query that suddenly needed a little over a minute to run. I guess the database outgrew its design so we had to tweak it a little. I added an index and got it to a little over a second. Then we had a rush job to write an XML query for a load process. That got pretty rough, let me tell you. After that it was just helpdesk tickets all day long. Nothing too exciting.”
I lost Julie at SharePoint.
But today, as I was installing the newest version of Python 3 for a book I was planning to work through, Julie asked why I wasn’t installing Python 2. The Minecraft Mod book says we need Python 2. Julie has never been more attractive.
Please give me some feedback on this post. I read a lot. Like, a lot, lot. I like to share with my readers when I find a book that helps a farmer out. But I also like to be entertained so I include links to movies and music. Fun books too. Please let me know if there are questions I can answer for you or if you have any suggestions to help make this format more meaningful.
Also, let me know if you are doing any of the reading with me…even if you are running behind. Share your favorite quotes. Tell me if I missed the point.
Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.