EppsNet Archive: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

How Can I Be as Great as [Insert Famous Person’s Name Here]?

17 Feb 2015 /
Mozart

Young Composer: “Herr Mozart, I am thinking of writing a symphony. How should I get started?”

Mozart: “A symphony is a very complex musical form and you are still young. Perhaps you should start with something simpler, like a concerto.”

Young Composer: “But Herr Mozart, you were writing symphonies when you were 8 years old.”

Mozart: “Yes, but I never asked anyone how.”


Teaching Computer Science: Collected Thoughts

10 Jan 2015 /

If you recognize the person on this next slide, please raise your hand. Don’t yell out the name, just raise your hand.

Derek Jeter

About two-thirds of you recognize Derek Jeter. I thought everyone would recognize him, but still a clear majority.

I’m not a Yankees fan or a Derek Jeter fan particularly but the Captain and I are on the same page on this topic. I have to admit I was pretty competitive as a student. I didn’t want anyone to do better than me and I especially didn’t want anyone to do better than me because they worked harder than me.

This Jeter quote reminded me of a quote from another notable sports figure . . .

Bob Knight

This is Bob Knight, college basketball coach, most notably at the University of Indiana. He won 902 games, three NCAA championships, and he coached the 1984 Olympic basketball team to a gold medal.

Notice that he says “everyone” and “no one.” He doesn’t say some people don’t want to come to practice. There’s a universal aspiration to accomplish great results without a corresponding level of effort. I recognize that in myself, definitely. As far as I can tell, this approach rarely if ever works, even for people we think of as prodigies.

Mozart used to say that anyone who thought composing music came easily to him was very much mistaken. While all the other kids were playing kickball, Mozart was in the house practicing his music lessons. In case you’re thinking that kickball wasn’t even a game at that time, you may be right. The point is that if there was kickball, Mozart wouldn’t have been playing it because he was practicing his music lessons.

One more on this topic . . .

Michelangelo's David

This is a quote from Michelangelo. Nothing great seems to happen without a lot of practice.

Once again, please raise your hand if you recognize the person on this next slide.

Anton Chekhov

He looks Russian.

Yes, he is Russian.

Dostoevsky? Tolstoy? Mendeleev? Pushkin? Boris Pasternak?

No . . . he’s known as an author of plays and short stories.

[A student sitting next to a smart but quiet young man from Russia points to the Russian boy and says, “He knows.”]

Who is it? Chekhov.

Right . . . this is Anton Chekhov. He wasn’t a programmer but his advice is relevant to many different endeavors.

Don’t overcomplicate things. A good heuristic – which is a fancy way of saying “rule of thumb” – is to do the simplest thing that could possibly work. Method A could work, Method B could work — which one should we try first? Try the simplest one first.

Note that the heuristic doesn’t say to do the simplest thing. If the simplest thing couldn’t possibly work, don’t do it. Do the simplest thing that might actually work.

One final slide. I don’t think anyone will know these people so I’m not asking for a show of hands.

2 days in a closet

I saw an article last week about a man and a woman who were “trapped” in a janitor’s closet at the Daytona State College Marine and Environmental Science Center for two days. They got themselves in the closet last Sunday and finally on Tuesday, the gentleman on the right got the idea to call 911. Why that idea took two days to incubate is unclear. Police showed up to let them out and found out the closet was not locked. They could have opened the door themselves.

Maybe the lock was meth’d up, like the woman. “Meth’d” up, get it?

Are they students at Daytona State College? The article doesn’t say. Do any of you have Daytona State College on your college wish list? If so, you may want to take it off. Or just keep it as a safety school in case Harvard and the Sorbonne don’t come through for you.

What can we learn from this story? I don’t want to say “don’t make assumptions” but don’t make unwarranted assumptions. Don’t make assumptions about things that you can easily verify. If you’re in a closet, don’t assume the door is locked. Try it and see. A lot of uncertainty can be dispelled by trying things out.

Assumptions can hurt you as a programmer. You might be stuck because you’re assuming some condition is true that isn’t true. Or you’re assuming that some condition can never be true when it really can be true. Don’t make unwarranted assumptions.

I couldn’t help noticing that a lot more people recognized Derek Jeter than recognized Anton Chekhov. If you want to achieve great renown, if you want to be part of the public consciousness, entertain people in a simple-minded way, like hitting a ball with a stick and running around in a park. People can be entertained by Derek Jeter without expending any effort.

Where Chekhov went wrong is that he failed to anticipate a world where nobody reads anymore. Furthermore, he believed that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them. His plays and stories don’t have a traditional structure where everything is tied up neatly at the end, so you not only have to put in the time to read them, you have to go into overtime to ponder the moral ambiguities. Who has time for that in their busy lives?


EppsNet Book Reviews: The Known World by Edward P. Jones

23 Feb 2014 /

I bought this book and read it because it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. See, it says so right there on the cover: “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.”

Did you know there was a time in our country’s history when black people were bought and sold as property, sometimes by other black people? And did you also know that 15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance?

Human slavery is deplorable, yes, but at this late date, can it be deplored any more than it has been already? If you have new depths of insight into the hearts and minds of the participants, by all means offer them, but Jones doesn’t have them. Reading The Known World is like reading a history book, albeit with a little more authorial contempt for some of the characters.

It’s customary in book reviews to mention authors whose work is called to mind by the volume at hand. The reviews included in my copy of The Known World cite

If you want to say something nice about a black author writing about the American South, you can’t go wrong with a Morrison or Faulkner comparison, although comparing an author writing his second book to Faulkner (or García Márquez) makes as much sense as comparing a young composer to Beethoven or Mozart. (I can’t comment on the Toni Morrison comparison as I have to admit I haven’t read her work.)

The author that Jones most reminded me of is Kurt Vonnegut, who once wrote

I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, which I think I have done.

Jones follows the Vonnegut model of introducing a lot of characters of equal importance and weaving their lives together via seemingly insignificant details. Vonnegut has written better books than The Known World — most notably, in my opinion, Breakfast of Champions, although many people prefer Slaughterhouse-Five — but he did not win, nor was he ever a finalist for, a Pulitzer Prize.

So it goes.

Rating: 3 stars


Did Mozart Play Kickball?

2 Feb 2010 /
Mozart

Do we hear about Mozart playing kickball? I know, there wasn’t kickball. But if there had been, he wouldn’t have played it. Because you give up stuff.

So I guess what I’m saying is that being an expert in something requires frugality. It’s not just a spending frugality. It’s a focus frugality.


The Myth of the Natural Genius

16 May 2009 /

The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.

— Emile Zola
 

People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.

— Mozart

EppsNet Interview Tips

11 Jan 2009 /

Willingness

I been warped by the rain, driven by the snow
I’m drunk and dirty don’t ya know, and I’m still willin’

— Little Feat, “Willin'”

If you’re a genius like Mozart and you’ve got a 1000 IQ in music or whatever your specialty is, then you can distinguish yourself by doing things that other people are simply not capable of doing.

Mozart

Lucky you!

On the other hand, if you’re a person of moderate intelligence like me, you’re going to have to distinguish yourself by doing more than other people are willing to do — not more than they’re capable of doing, but more than they’re willing to do.

We were interviewing candidates this week for a web editor position. One of the candidates brought in some mockups he had made to illustrate how we could incorporate social networking elements into our web site.

Were the ideas groundbreaking in any respect? No. Could the other candidates have done the same thing? Probably, if they’d been willing to put in the effort.

But they didn’t.

I have to assume that you’ll approach the job the same way you approach the interview. Are you willing to do more than what’s absolutely required?

Wrong hat!

Preparation

If you want to pull a rabbit out of your hat at the interview, first you’ve got to put a rabbit in your hat.

In fact, you may want to put 10 rabbits in your hat and be ready to pull out whichever one you need.

At the very least, you must be absolutely prepared to answer the question, “What makes you the best person for the job?”

Even if that question is never explicitly asked, everything you say and do must be targeted at answering it.

Put together a list of the unique contributions you’ll make to the job and the company. Brush up on a few stories that show you at your best in the workplace.

In politics, these are called “talking points.” Politicians don’t try to think up answers on the fly to every question someone throws at them. They have a prepared list of points to make, no matter what you ask them.

So do you!


Mozart for Muslims

29 Sep 2006 /

A German opera house announced that it would cancel its staging of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” because Berlin police concluded that staging the opera — which includes a scene in which Jesus, Buddha, Poseidon and Muhammad are beheaded — would pose an “incalculable security risk” from jihadists. Germany, recall, proudly opposed the Iraq war — but still narrowly missed a Spain-style terrorist attack on its rail system this summer.

A leading Muslim spokesman in Germany explained that he was all for free speech, as long as it didn’t offend Muslims. The Germans’ all-too-typical appeasement of terrorism no doubt makes them “safer” and “creates” fewer terrorists.

And all it cost them — for now — is Mozart.


A Bruce Lee Christmas

24 Dec 2003 /

I’ve been reading Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do, in which he says that most athletes are not willing to drive themselves hard enough, and that only through extraordinary effort can one unlock the potential of the human body.

Continue reading A Bruce Lee Christmas