Reading Journal 2015 Week 4

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…

Anyway.

Outliers: The Story of Success

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.

and later…

“[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 Programming 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;
System.out.println(sum);
}
}

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:

D:\JavaForKids>javac AdditionExample.java

D:\JavaForKids>java AdditionExample
12

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.

Dim firstNum
Dim secondNum
Dim sum

firstNum = 5
secondNum = 7
sum = firstNum + secondNum

wscript.echo sum

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.

And that’s how I excuse including this book in my farm reading journal. I’m trying to bridge the gap. My kids can manage the farm today. If I break my leg some things will need to be cut back and they may need a little instruction but I’m sure the four of them can figure out what little I know. But there is no way my kids could take over my day job…the work that currently pays for the farm. There is a portion of my life that is partitioned away from my family and I think that is a mistake. My blog is a farm blog but it focuses on involving the kids. I want my kids involved in every aspect of my life. You’ll see more programming books in the near future. I hope you understand. In fact, next week I plan to begin working through JavaScript for Kids. The first code we write puts cats on the screen. Cool. That said, Julie showed an interest in learning and teaching Python as she was reading a Minecraft book Thursday morning so we may start with Python for Kids instead.

Should you read this? Is it a classic? Will I read it again? Does it belong on your bookshelf?
No.


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.

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7 thoughts on “Reading Journal 2015 Week 4

  1. I’ve read three Malcolm Gladwell books. Outliers was my favourite, but like you I don’t agree with everything. Most people like Tipping Point best. I also think of these as good books to revisit someday but not necessary to own. They are written in an easily read style, and provide access or a starting point for some interesting notions that can spark great conversation. It’s been a few years since I read this one, but I remember the chapter about birth order and sports teams as being a standout idea that I found myself chatting with others about for some time after I read the book.

    His books have become even more facile since Outliers, and I probably won’t bother with the next one which will surely appear soon, but David and Goliath has another interesting notion, which as a homeschooler you will undoubtedly have a different take on from me – that young people entering college do better if they picked colleges where they could be big fish in a small pond. Instead, if they have the marks, they tend to go for prestigious, Ivy League type institutions and then find themselves working their backsides off to maintain c+ or B.averages, only to eventually drop out in despair, whereas “even” students from state universities end up getting lucrative or interesting careers. In other words, the prestige matters less in the job market than actually finishing the degree – anywhere. He opens the book with his take on the bible story, and that’s interesting too. Thought provoking if nothing else.

    I nearly stalled on Ten Acres Enough, but I’m close enough to the end to finish, so I will. Good book, I think I will endeavour to find a copy somewhere to own so I can dip into it again. The gist seems to be, as you mentioned – manure, lots of it. Weeding. Blackberries. Disposable berry boxes. It was fascinating to learn how fruit and produce was moved into the city each day – the system that was set up, and the speed with which stuff went from the farm to the city market. Pretty impressive. I would be interested in another recommendation for an agricultural classic of some sort, if you have one.

    Cottage Economy – I haven’t read it in a couple of years. I definitely remember about the emphasis on beer, bread and his abhorrence of tea. I also remember the sexism, but put it down to the place and time in which he was writing. I also remember thinking much of what he was advocating wouldn’t necessarily work for those living in the city with no yard, but only a third floor tenement. That condescending, pompous attitude that the man of the family is right, and the little woman is helpful but lacks acumen pervades 10 Acres Enough as well, frankly, as in “my wife fell for the wrong cow because it was pretty” or “my wife was so upset at the thought of me thinning the peaches, that I didn’t do it and now that we got all this small fruit, she’s learned her lesson”. The two books were published 40 years apart by men who were zealous converts to self sufficiency through the necessity of circumstances in their lives, and who were able make a success of it, therefore feeling confident in telling all the rest of us how to do it. There’s going to be a certain amount of condescension from someone in this position, and I think it just has to be taken with a grain of salt.

    We have very different reading tastes in this house. Hubby buys cheap flash sci-fi paperbacks second hand for his late night reading, when he needs to wind down, but is otherwise working his way through the Patrick O’Brian series which begins with Master and Commander. I got him the first 6 for Christmas and his birthday – he might have to slow down since he won’t get the next few until Father’s Day in June. Maybe I’ll get him one for Valentine’s Day. Instead of chocolate. Hmmm. Maybe not. He really enjoyed Andy Weir’s “The Martian”, which I got from the library for him based on your enthusiasm for it. More sci-fi recommendations would be welcome!

    The younger teen got hubby The National Geographic “Science of Everything” book (last year’s edition) for Christmas, and we’ve all been enjoying dipping into it. It basically takes a scientific concept or process and gives brief snippets of ways in which we use that particular concept in our daily life. For example, the section on Mechanical Advantage starts with a hammer, and includes the bicycle, bones and muscles, the wheel (a ferris wheel), gears and pulleys. The kids might like it…and it has some great jumping off places for deeper research if one is interested. Lots of great photography, needless to say.

    I’m currently reading (and hubby is reading it whenever I put it down by mistake) a book by Ruth Goodman (she was in the Edwardian, Wartime and Victorian Farm TV series) called “How to Be a Victorian”. Fabulous read. She writes as she speaks, so it’s quite chatty and accessible, but quite authoritative at the same time. The book is structured around a day in Victorian times in England, starting with waking up – cold floors, cold rooms, getting washed and getting dressed. She talks about how this would have been accomplished at different levels of society (some would not have had easy access to water for washing, some would not have had a mat or rug for the bedside to stand on while dressing). She describes men’s and women’s clothing in detail, from underwear to hats. That’s as far as I’ve got, but the book ends with going to bed, and there are chapters on meals, schooling, working, cleaning, transportation, etc. Fascinating stuff.

    From your reading journal last week, I got hold of “Poems to Learn by Heart” What a lovely book. I love the artwork, and the variety of poetry is wonderful. Some old favourites and some I’ve never seen. Great anthology, so thanks for the recommendation. .

    Have you tried any Louis Bromfield? Early to mid-20th century, he had Malabar Farm and was famous in his time for his farming methods in a similar way to Salatin with Polyface currently. I’ve read two of Bromfield’s books,and own one of them. It’s been several years though, and I don’t remember much detail, beyond the fact that he was able to throw a fair amount of money around, and had quite a lot of labour assistance. He was all about fertility though, and had been profoundly impacted by Faulkner’s “Plowman’s Folly”, and his literary style alone made the books worth reading – at least that’s how I remember it.

    Java – younger teen did a digital media class in school last year that incorporated a Java project, I’m pretty sure they used online tutorial. When I took a computer course back in 1976 (grade 10), we had to use a different card for each character and space to create a design (mine was a happy face), it took us weeks, and then we went with our stacks of cards down to the mainframe at the University where they fed them in while we went to lunch. When the paper came out the other end, an hour later, we got to see how we’d done getting the cards marked correctly and in the right order. My face was not so happy. Not even really a face. A few years later, we were all learning DOS. And now look at us.

    Sharepoint. Argggh. Such a pain from this user’s perspective. And why will it only work in IE? Three years ago our IT dept was all over the idea of using Sharepoint for a bunch of stuff that staff might need to access, but it’s proven very difficult to navigate around in. Whether it’s just not a good fit for the kind of use we had in mind, or what – I have no idea. I do know I can never find anything that’s supposed to be in there. Mostly, anyway, and I guess the issue could be me. We’re moving to Catalyst for some of it, and it seems a little easier to use, at least the beta that I’ve had access to.

    Minecraft – I am besieged daily by kids looking for the Minecraft books that have been coming out recently. I had a mum yesterday whose son wanted one of the Minecraft Construction Handbooks which were all checked out, so I offered her the only Minecraft book in the branch at the time, “The Minecraft Guide for Parents”, and she was horrified – “I don’t want to play this game!”. Thought of you instantly 🙂

  2. Lego seems like a natural medium for Minecraft.

    I have read about half the Hornblower series and really like them. Hubby says the O’Brian books are much better – I think that’s partly the technical aspects of the setting – sailing, naval warfare, etc, which hubby has a keen interest in.j I haven’t read any of the O’Brian books, only seen the movie 🙂

  3. After reading all four of Gladwell’s books I’ve concluded that each is a piece of an explanation for a puzzle. Some are more interesting than others, but taken in their entirety one gets a better picture of life. I liked Tipping Point because it was the first I read. Outliers seemed to explain how things that I didn’t quite understand now fit together a bit better. As an coach I’ve always wondered why some athletes were better and Outliers gave an explanation. I enjoyed Blink the best maybe because I believe that by looking at something differently or ignoring the most obvious we can make better choices. David and Goliath wasn’t as riveting as the others, but made me think in new ways.

    I haven’t read Freakonomics or SuperFreakonomics, but How to Think like a Freak was good. It was like a Gladwell book by someone other than Gladwell. I guess my lasting impression of all of these books is I am no genius, but maybe by reading these I can glean something that will help me be like a genius.

      • Think like a Freak was a Kindle book. The second one I read. I see a place for e-books but still prefer paper books. I mention this as I forgot to comment about your books costs. When the children were younger, books was something we didn’t scrimp on. Now that they are young adults we share books many times. Save some money and even have some good discussions(And some arguments).

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