Successful habits through smoothly ratcheting targets
Dec 28, 2017, 1:13 PM
Adopting new habits is hard! What a shame: New Year’s resolutions could represent such a bright spark of optimism. Instead, they’re a clichéd punchline on the futility of human will. Certainly, my own past attempts have deserved those...
Satisfaction and progress in open-ended work
Apr 25, 2017, 12:18 PM
When we’re in execution mode, we swim in signs of our progress. A day’s work stands crisply in some endless checklist: four problems solved; three features added; check and check. Am I on track? Did I have a good day? Typical productivity...
Exalting data, missing meaning
Apr 8, 2017, 12:08 PM
Science developed out of philosophy. Before we had Copernicus’s planetary tables or Newton’s equations of motion, we had Aristotle’s rhetoric. That medieval natural philosophy was wrong, but it still made useful predictions.I’ve spent my...
Blinded by "how"
Dec 4, 2013, 11:57 PM
Imagine that you’ve just moved to a new city. Whenever you need to go somewhere, you ask a special machine how to get there. But it doesn’t show you a map: it tells you to take twenty steps, turn left, go forward a hundred steps, etc. When...
After Class Is Over
Sep 29, 2012, 11:51 AM
I recently spoke with some kids from a high school with an impressive engineering curriculum. Classes in mechanical, electrical, biological, and software engineering—the mind boggles! I told them my (enormously contrasting) story: how my...
Apr 27, 2012, 11:48 AM
When I was a kid, I spent much of my time making video games. Then I devoted my early teenaged afternoons to making an app for making art for video games. Now I make tools which can (among other things) help make apps for making art for...
Top to bottom; bottom to top
Mar 6, 2012, 12:19 PM
Need I remind you: the human race now sends robots to Mars. That is a thing we do! We derive that absurd capability from generations of previous epistemological revolutions which we compound and extend to create new marvels.
The discomfiting continuum of consciousness
Jan 12, 2012, 1:32 AM
Some folks have ethical objections to eating meat, but no one seems to mind savaging a carrot. Why? Both fish and ficus are living organisms, after all. I doubt vegetarians consider taxonomic kingdoms when making moral judgments: the...
Teach kids to code; watch them cure cancer
Nov 16, 2011, 10:22 PM
People list plenty of reasons why kids should learn how computers work. They could automate repetitive tasks; they’d be empowered to create in all kinds of media; they’d learn powerful new problem solving approaches. That last...
Feeding abstraction with understanding
Oct 27, 2011, 1:11 AM
Abstractions empower and accelerate. As usefully encapsulated nuggets of understanding, the creation of novel abstractions drives a field’s progress, but their invention is possible only with deep understanding of present ideas. So I...
The air sings: sympathetic vibrations
Oct 13, 2011, 2:14 AM
Chords sound rotten on an out-of-tune piano. I’ve written about why we think that might be: harmonics of the detuned lower notes end up a small distance from those of the upper notes, rather than directly overlapping them.
Juggling exploration and exploitation in intuition
Sep 21, 2011, 2:06 AM
I spend my life building abstractions and automating processes. It’s (literally) my job, yes; but my head’s always whirring away to that end.Say I’m tackling some piano piece. I transform the score’s markings into...
Aug 25, 2011, 1:43 AM
In the first chapter of The Beginning of Infinity, David Deutsch writes:The role of experiment and observation is to choose between existing theories, not to be the source of new ones.I have the most fun attacking questions with no...
Aug 9, 2011, 10:46 PM
In advice given to prospective students, my former piano teacher, James Boyk, suggests:
I’m not the teacher you want if you want to be passively turned into a pianist and musician instead of actively turning yourself into one.
Executing my soup program with excellence
Aug 2, 2011, 11:08 PM
This past weekend I encountered the following sales pitch for an industrial food service product: “are you ready to execute your soup program with excellence?”
Corporatese hilarity set momentarily aside, I derived inexplicable...
Vegetable stock: my secret lover
Jul 26, 2011, 2:02 PM
After learning how to season food correctly, homemade stock is the single best thing anyone can do for his cooking. A stock is a liquid extraction of complementary flavors, a broad palette upon which sharper splashes of color may be...
Musical tone and perceived dissonance
Jul 13, 2011, 2:28 AM
Why does a perfect fifth sound so satisfying when a brash tritone is just a half step away?
It seems we have a physiological correlate to these psychological effects. As sounds arrive, the basilar membrane vibrates like an oblong drum...
A Surprising Advantage of Vinyl
Jun 21, 2011, 11:21 PM
I am emphatically not an audiophile. My home contains neither $500 ethernet cables nor “acoustic isolation platforms.” I am absolutely not here to convince you that vinyl recordings sound inherently better than the same data on...
Scaling the mentor–apprentice relationship
Jun 15, 2011, 11:37 AM
Meet Practica Musica, an electronic tutor for music theory and ear training. Let’s not talk about its aesthetics; instead, I’ll use it to focus a couple topics broadly relevant in education.
From brush strokes to big...
Presenting Without Comment
Jun 1, 2011, 2:38 AM
In the Vatican Museums, alongside myriad sculptures of gods, emperors, and scholars, stands this old fisherman. His singular presence among these great figures places this sculpture’s significance firmly in its statement rather...