What Might We Be Missing?

14 Sep 2016 /

Joshua Bell is a violinist, one of the world’s greatest classical musicians. The Washington Post a few years ago did an experiment where they put him in a DC metro station wearing a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. Like a street musician. He’s got an open violin case in front of him so people can put money in.

It’s about 8 a.m. on a Friday, morning rush hour. He plays for 45 minutes, and 1,097 people pass through the area where he’s playing.

Before watching the video, you may want to consider out of that many people — more than 1,000 — how many will recognize the quality for what it is? How many will stop and listen? How much money will he make?

Before you answer, keep in mind that he’s not going to play popular tunes that a lot of people will recognize. He’s not going to play Star Wars, he’s not going to play Disney songs. That’s not the experiment. These are enduring masterpieces.

The piece you’ll hear at the beginning is “Chaconne” by Bach. It’s like the Stairway to Heaven of violin solos. Brahms, also a famous composer — not as famous as Bach but still pretty famous — said: “If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”

The violin he’s playing is a Stradivarius handcrafted in 1713. Price tag? $3.5 million. So he’s got a good fiddle. That’s not the problem.

Americans . . . we’re busy, busy, busy. It’s amazing, funny and dismaying at the same time.

In 45 minutes, seven people stopped what they were doing to listen for at least a minute, 27 gave money for a total of $32.17. That leaves 1,070 people who completely ignored what was happening right in front of them.

As it happens, exactly one person recognized Bell. She enters the video around the 1:35 mark. For the record her name is Stacy Furukawa, a demographer at the Commerce Department.

“It was the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen,” Furukawa said. “Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?

Well, she lives in one of the (allegedly) most cultivated cities in America. This is not Bakersfield . . . it’s not Des Moines, Iowa. No offense to people from Iowa but in Iowa they’d just call the cops and have the guy thrown out of there.

What I was hoping you might contemplate is — what might we be missing in our haste to catch the subway, get to work, meet expectations, prove that we belong and keep up with all the minutiae of life?

What might we be missing that’s right in front of us and we’re failing to see the beauty of it?

2 Weeks

12 Sep 2016 /

Sometimes I feel I know
how the story ends
But I go
through the motions anyways
And try to forget

— Arlene Kim Suda, “2 Weeks”

Segregation Was a Marketing Issue?

11 Sep 2016 /

MOCA and the Broad

11 Sep 2016 /

My niece and nephew were visiting from Texas . . . my niece in particular wanted to see the Infinity Mirrored Room installation at the Broad, so off we went.

(Scroll down for photos.)

Unless you reserve tickets well in advance, entry to the Broad is handled via a standby line, which, when we showed up Saturday morning, was about an hour wait, i.e., the museum opened at 10 a.m. and we got in about 11:00.

Because the standby line is in direct sunlight, Broad staff thoughtfully hand out umbrellas to anyone in the queue who wants one. (They do ask for the umbrellas back when you enter.)

The Infinity Mirrored Room is an experiential artwork . . . one visitor at a time enters the room for 45 seconds. It requires a separate reservation which you can make, pending availability, after entering the museum.

Once you get signed up with your name and cell phone, you get a text when it’s your turn to see the room. Our reservation came with a wait time of 4 hours and 35 minutes. Good to know.

That gave us enough time to take in the rest of the museum, and walk across the street to MOCA and take in their entire offering.

A couple of differences between the Broad and MOCA:

  1. MOCA is more museum-y. It makes you feel like whispering. The Broad is more open, playful and fun.
  2. Admission to the Broad is free. MOCA costs 12 bucks.

After wrapping up MOCA and heading back to the Broad, we were able to get an update on our Infinity Mirrored Room wait time. We were prepped to get some lunch and come back if we had to wait out the full 4-1/2 hours, but no: only 15 minutes left! Total wait was only about 3 hours.

Here’s a few photos:

Starbucks Chile Mocha Review

9 Sep 2016 /
Starbucks chile mocha

It sounds like a prank, putting chile powder in someone’s coffee. To be honest, the chile is a bit punishing on the palate, but then coffee itself is a punisher, pummeling its consumers into a state of heightened alertness.

So while I wouldn’t order another chile mocha myself, I can understand how some masochists might appreciate the extra kick.

This Morning at Starbucks

9 Sep 2016 /
starbucks name tag

The girl at Starbucks greeted me by name this morning, which surprised me because she’s still pretty new.

“How do you remember people’s names so fast?” I asked.

She kind of shrugged it off . . . “If I see someone enough times, I remember.”

“I know your name, of course. Sophia. But it’s easier for me because they’re are only a few employees to remember.”

“And we wear these name tags.”

“Yeah, that too.”

They’re Looking for the Ottoman Empire?

6 Sep 2016 /

If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.

Posted by on 4 Sep 2016

We Did It the Old-Fashioned Way

2 Sep 2016 /

I overheard a couple people discussing IVF today . . . here in Southern California the cost apparently runs $15,000 – $20,000 for a single IVF cycle, which of course includes no guarantee of success.

When my wife and I decided to have a child, I knocked her up on the first try. Just wanted to put that on the record . . .

Gender Sliders

31 Aug 2016 /

First time I remember seeing this on a web form:

Gender dropdown

Possible UI design trend: no more dropdowns or radio buttons for Gender, replace by sliders.

What Would You Charge for an EpiPen?

29 Aug 2016 /

I don’t mean hypothetically, I mean I literally want to buy an EpiPen from you right now. My kid got stung by a bee, his face is swelling up like a balloon and his lungs are about to shut down.

I see a lot of people are mad at Mylan for charging $600 for EpiPens but they don’t seem to be mad at everyone else in the world who won’t sell them an EpiPen at all.

Not to mention, $600 for a life-saving treatment seems like a pretty good bargain to me.

Hillary Clinton has called for reducing the price of EpiPens. Hillary Clinton has never lifted a finger in a productive enterprise in her life. She will not sell you an EpiPen no matter how much you want or need one.

If the amoral profiteers at Mylan have an obligation to sell cheap EpiPens, why doesn’t Hillary Clinton? Why don’t you?

Today I Learned . . .

25 Aug 2016 /

. . . if you show college students a video of Randy Newman, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and John Fogerty, they won’t recognize any of them.

Chancellor Dirks Resigns

23 Aug 2016 /

“Among other things,” Dirks said, “I’m tired of damned fools stopping me in the street for photos.”

Me and Chancellor Dirks

Income Inequality Explained

23 Aug 2016 /

I saw this sign at a gas station soda fountain . . .

Don't fill cups with the lid on

Good News (for Teachers), Bad News (for Students)

22 Aug 2016 /

Carmack on Government

22 Aug 2016 /
John Carmack

My core thesis is that the federal government delivers very poor value for the resources it consumes, and that society as a whole would be better off with a government that was less ambitious. This is not to say that it doesn’t provide many valuable and even critical services, but that the cost of having the government provide them is much higher than you would tolerate from a company or individual you chose to do business with. For almost every task, it is a poor tool.

Given the inefficiency, why is the federal government called upon to do so many things? A large part is naked self interest, which is never going to go away — lots of people play the game to their best advantage, and even take pride in their ability to get more than they give.

However, a lot is done in the name of misplaced idealism. It isn’t hard to look around the world and find something that you feel needs fixing. The world gets to be a better place by people taking action to improve things, but it is easy for the thought to occur that if the government can be made to address your issue, it could give results far greater than what you would be able to accomplish with direct action. Even if you knew that it wasn’t going to be managed especially well, it would make up for it in volume. This has an obvious appeal.

Every idealistic cry for the government to “Do Something” means raising revenue, which means taking money from people to spend in the name of the new cause instead of letting it be used for whatever purpose the earner would have preferred.

It is unfortunate that income taxes get deducted automatically from most people’s paychecks, before they ever see the money they earned. A large chunk of the population thinks that tax day is when you get a nice little refund check. Good trick, that. If everyone was required to pay taxes like they pay their utilities, attitudes would probably change. When you get an appallingly high utility bill, you start thinking about turning off some lights and changing the thermostat. When your taxes are higher than all your other bills put together, what do you do? You can make a bit of a difference by living in Texas instead of California, but you don’t have many options regarding the bulk of it.

Helping people directly can be a noble thing. Forcing other people to do it with great inefficiency? Not so much. There isn’t a single thing that I would petition the federal government to add to its task list, and I would ask that it stop doing the majority of the things that it is currently doing. My vote is going to the candidates that at least vector in that direction.

— John Carmack

This Year’s Recital

21 Aug 2016 /

I’ve been doing these student recitals once a year for three years, since I started taking piano lessons. Here’s this year’s version. I didn’t nail it but I didn’t botch it either. It was somewhere in-between.

Anecdote: At the refreshment table after the recital, one of the piano teachers in attendance said to me with some surprise, “Your teacher is younger than you?”

“Every person here is younger than me,” I pointed out.

Why You Should Never Tell Someone to Relax

20 Aug 2016 /

The one that really gets me is being told to “calm down” by someone angrier than I am . . .

Life is like stepping onto a boat which is about to sail out to sea and sink. — Shunryu Suzuki


For My Daughter

10 Aug 2016 /

When I die choose a star
and name it after me
that you may know
I have not abandoned
or forgotten you.
You were such a star to me,
following you through birth
and childhood, my hand
in your hand.

When I die
choose a star and name it
after me so that I may shine
down on you, until you join
me in darkness and silence

— David Ignatow, “For My Daughter”

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