Blog Year Challenge Comes to an End

After typing over 70,000 words, publishing 255 posts, and thinking critically for eight months, I’m ending my Blog Year Challenge. Seeing as I cut the experience four months short, I guess my performance averages out to a C-/D+.

Does this mean I’m quitting for good? Icing my writing hand and patting myself on the back?  No. Over the next few weeks, I am revamping my blog design to accommodate my podcast this summer. Given that finals are in two weeks for Berkeley, I will resume blogging on May 17th, following a bi-weekly schedule from then on.

Design plans

After finishing web design changes and finals at Berkeley, I will begin writing long-form posts twice a week (i.e. between 1800-3000 words). The articles will focus on small and medium-sized businesses. This subject is intentionally generic to keep it fun for you and me. 

I’ll continue to write book reviews and reflections upon interesting events (e.g. attending the Berkshire meeting). But they’ll no longer be available to public scrutiny. I’d be doing you a disservice by contributing to the noise, robbing my longer articles of their clout as a result. I might put them behind a subscriber paywall. We’ll see.

TLDR:

I’m not blogging while I finish up finals; tune in after to follow my next project.

Blog Update Dingo

Bringing you up to speed on a few things.

Blog Design Revamp

After trying (and failing) to build out a new website design on my own, I’ve found a few talented WP developers to help me out. The problem is, I’m a broke college student. Thus, design revamps will be on hold until I start cashing paychecks from my internship. Rest assured though, I still intend to change the blog’s design.

Erratic Publishing

I learned a lot by publishing irregularly (my blogging only looks consistent because I backdated posts to the day I conceived the idea). Mainly that I hate it, and will start blogging daily again. This is to ensure I’m delivering high-quality content, staying on the Blog Challenge schedule, and enjoying the act of blogging.

Sundays

I’m going to dedicate Sundays to a long-form post from now on. This means I’ll try to write 2000 word articles on those days, and go more into depth on a subject that interests me. Let’s call it *drumroll* Lazare’s Sunday Special.

Talk soon,

LH

Blog Update Bandicoot

Two changes to talk about, one small and one big.

Plugins

I was lazy in interpreting the data I collect from you guys (click rates, comments/post, etc.). After doing some research, I found Avinash had the best advice for what to measure. Although the Blog Year Challenge will be my priority, I’m beginning to think of life after the challenge. I want to create a community of experimenters, tinkerers, and eternal students. In light of that goal, let’s try a small experiment. Please comment what you like the most about the blog and what you dislike the most. Don’t worry, I won’t cry (loudly).

Appearance

Over the next week or two, I’m going to revamp my blog’s appearance and move this blog to the Short Form category. It’ll look something like this (click to see full size):

I’ll try to make the transition as smooth as possible, but there’s a small chance that the email feed or the website could be down for a day or two.

Thanks for accompanying me on this journey,

LH

Oliver Sacks: Gratitude

It is important to find and emulate the creators of magnificent work, whether in science or literary synthesis. Thus, I’ve reproduced a passage from one of Dr. Sacks’s final essays. I hope you enjoy.


I have been increasingly conscious, for the last ten years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate–the genetic and neural fate–of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

Blog Update Alpaca

Have you ever walked into a restaurant, looked at the menu, and almost had a heart attack over the exorbitant price of the first item? So you decide to be frugal, and happily order a $14 salad instead.

You just got played. Few people consider acts of omission when considering options; they rarely ask what isn’t on the menu tonight.

The composite features on my website are a certain kind of “menu”. The way it presents my content will subtly influence its appeal, regardless of my intent.

This becomes a problem when features inadvertently mislead website users. That’s why I’m implementing several new features to optimize website transparency.

These changes include reformating URL’s to show the upload date of the article. This gives you a better sense of how outdated my technical information is (which should only be an issue on biotechnology posts).

Additionally, I’m implementing a “suggested read time” at the top of each post to facilitate your time management. I want you to choose to read a post instead of getting click-baited into a ten minute read.

Finally, I’ve began queueing blog posts. This allows me to allocate my time more effectively and disengage from electronics every now and then (although I’m probably just writing in my notebook instead).

I’d rather have a meaningful impact on one thousand readers than hypnotize a million. As always, I welcome thoughts, concerns, and feedback.

Something to Ponder

Something to ponder.

“There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you…Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.” –David Foster Wallace

The Future of Education: From Pre-K to Higher Ed

As a college sophomore, I can readily recall the trials and tribulations of learning. I grew up in Washington State’s education system, where acronyms like WASL accompanied state tests. Then I moved to California where STAR was used instead. Having attended 7 schools and studied under 11 educational institutions, here’s my humble opinion of where American education is and the direction it’s headed.

Elementary School

It takes a village to raise a child

Reading, writing, basic math. Can a teacher actually screw up elementary school? Yes. Take Robert Rosenthal’s study of South San Francisco students. He found that if a teacher simply expected a young pupil to be intelligent, he or she got smarter faster than the other kids. Rosenthal called this the Pygmalion effect: higher expectations lead to better performance. Equally important, the study found that an erroneous perception of student aptitude does not affect older children.

This means young students are at an extraordinarily formative phase of their lives. I see more and more brilliant kids being homeschooled or ferried into private institutions because the public’s teachers don’t have a vested interestin quality education. It’s not their kid, the pay sucks, and they cannot be fired easily. Where’s the incentive that distills the quality teachers from the free riders?

What About Tech?

Information technology will not enable elementary-aged children to forge their own path. Access to the internet provides too many temptations along with the potential to learn. Steve Jobs and Chris Anderson’s status as low-tech parents is a testament to the persuasiveness of product design and marketing teams. Why rely on qualitative endorsements though? Here are the numbers:

Source

“Astonishingly, the average person will spend nearly two hours (approximately 116 minutes) on social media every day, which translates to a total of 5 years and 4 months spent over a lifetime.” (socialmediatoday.com)

If social media snares the average adult, it’s a tall order for a kid to successfully ignores the internet’s digital circus of toys and games without proper guidance.

There is no secret sauce or tech. Early in life, everyone needs an adult (parent, teacher, or guardian angel) to coax youthful curiosity out of them and nourish it. The most valuable gift an adult can give a child at this stage is an environment that extracts their natural talents in an enjoyable manner. Michael Phelps started training at the age of 7 because his mother noticed he fairly bounced with excess energy. A family friend of mine noticed his 10-year-old son’s quiet, inquisitive nature and placed him in coding classes.

The best mentors don’t get frustrated if the activity doesn’t fit the kid. I trained in diving, tae kwon do, soccer, basketball, and baseball before middle school. The message my parents taught me couldn’t be clearer: if I didn’t like my current situation, I needed to tweak it until I do!

In short, I don’t see elementary school changing substantially in either content or learning tools. At this age a kid just needs someone looking out for them.


Middle School

Nothing could be as hard as middle school

Middle school is the stage where the utility of current education begins to drop off. Historically speaking, elementary and middle school served as the best alternative to having one’s kid work.

Source

One motivation [for compulsory education] was the growing public concern over child labor and the belief that compulsory attendance at school would discourage factory owners from exploiting children. (source)

Obviously nobody hides their kids from factory recruiters anymore. This begets the question: Why does America still need compulsive education? Because kids need rigor in their lives. Because the skills they’re taught prepare them for entering the workforce. Because that’s the way it’s been done!

Many families don’t find administrators’ answers satisfactory. The number of homeschooled children continues to rise. And since kids have proven they can effectively run companies or train for the Olympics, the future will see an unprecedented boom in trailblazing youths who craft their own community of learners.

I sense an outcry for the “fundamentals” of education. Such a reaction is ill-founded. Once students hit their stride, school should not become a deadweight or hurdle on their chosen path. I grew weary of school’s lessons in 6th grade too. I was quite interested in two or three subjects, yet teachers inundated me with the “classics” instead. This feeling of homogenization will continue to alienate the brilliant minds of the future, pushing them to seek alternative reservoirs of knowledge.

What About Tech?

Teachers utilize technology in the classroom more frequently and thoughtfully now. However, I find that the fundamentals of many subjects change so slowly-if at all-that a smart board upgrade is a negligible improvement over chalk.

Technology in middle school (especially online teaching) will continue to grow its user base because it’s so cheap! The school pays one person to teach the material effectively, and now every student can learn at their own pace. Online education also prevents complaints about inequitable treatment and simplifies grading.

I empathize with all the furious teachers that sat a little straighter in their chairs. Online teaching for middle schoolers seems distant and cold; it lacks the personalized mentorship outlined earlier. But with cheaper technology, an increasingly globalized market, and inconsistent teaching quality tugging at America’s sleeve, there’s no feasible, better alternative.


High School

“The opposite of happiness is boredom.” -Tim Ferriss

The first few years of my high school were a time of generic course loads and bland groups. Most people tried so hard to fit in that they willingly gave up the best aspects of their personalities. My teachers contributed substantially to my personal growth during this time by keeping me excited. They set high expectations and encouraged me to break through plateaus in writing, science, music, and athletics. Instead of trying to fit in, I got to jump through the hoops and explore areas that intrigued me.

In the future I see high school becoming a time of specialization where people devoted to certain fields can take unique course loads tailored to their interest. School will become both more flexible in course offerings by accepting classes from digital platforms for credit. This will lead to a wonderful hybrid system where education in fundamental subjects compliments the unique interests of the student. Such systems already exist for high-level athletes in certain schools; the only difference would be specialized training in the brain instead of on the turf.

Tech?

The most profound shift in educational technology will occur at the high school and collegiate level. The advent of platforms like UdemyCoursera, and Kahn Academy means a student can pursue his or her passions in unparalleled depth.

Information technology has made the traditional classroom experience insufficient. I remember my dinosaur of a history teacher, who could immediately recite the date of any major event. Impressive? Yes. Necessary? One sec, let me google it.

Access to information is now the norm rather than the exception. Students that use timely information to solve real-world problems will shape our future, not the grade-chasers who can regurgitate information. This highlights how unhelpful grading based on rote memorization is. Let me repeat that, knowing more “stuff” does not adequately prepare students for the future. Dynamically tackling problems (which presupposes basic knowledge of the field) is the skill in short supply.


College

These teachers are here to make the world more complex for you -Bryan Stevenson

There is an increasing disconnect between students’ majors and the jobs they end up taking after graduating. They’re realizing that passion and excitement count for much more than rote memorization.

Source

With the rapidly rising cost of upper education, on paper college is a worthless investment for those who don’t wish to be doctors, lawyers, or professors. However, there are important qualitative aspects of college that can make the experience worthwhile.

Exposure to Diverse Perspectives

Being around people who will respectfully and coherently disagree with my stance on an issue is a priceless gift. My peers force me to reevaluate my long-held opinions fairly regularly. This diversity also gives me a steady infusion of novel ideas in the areas I’m learning about. At elite institutions, this means rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful too.

Significant Resources

Although out of plain view in public institutions, there’s a plethora of people and groups who want to see students succeed. The number of brilliant men and women who have talked to me because I’m a college student touches and astounds me. Having access to a library that contains a mind-boggling number of books doesn’t hurt either.

Autonomy

Nobody really cares what grades I get. Being on my own means I get to reap the rewards of triumphs and bear the brunt of failures. Responsibilities are stressful but lead to substantial personal growth over four years.

Branding

The average Joe will make unfair assumptions about students depending on where they went to school. Having a prestigious institution’s brand behind a student’s name will give the Joes of the world an inflated perception about their level of professionalism and competence.

The future role of universities could play out in a few ways. If colleges continue to expand their brand (via Coursera courses and extension programs), they might be able to create a new payment structure of high volume low-paying students. This would fundamentally change collegiate brands from exclusive ivory towers to public diffusers of quality information. Alternatively, the vagaries of Washington politics could change funding to reduce student cost, maintaining the current payment scheme.

Regardless of how colleges adapt, I predict an exodus of highly intelligent students into the workforce. With the ability to learn and connect effectively via the internet, people have access to novel methods of building a professional reputation. To these tenacious and intelligent individuals, college’s archaic incentive system is a poor fit.


The Future in 30 Seconds

Instead of no kid left behind, focus on giving kids advocates to help them flourish. Not failing isn’t the same as success. The fundamentals of a strong education haven’t changed.

Creating fiery passion and enthusiasm for a subject is the greatest gift an education can give. The kid who finds joy in working his or herself to utter exhaustion in their chosen field will achieve more than the one counting down the hours until they can be somewhere else.

The grading systems of middle school, high school, and college are archaically based upon the regurgitation of easily accessible information. Unless this flaw is remedied-or expenses greatly reduced-independent online courses will poach larger and larger numbers of students who care about problem solving instead of credentials.

Extra Tidbit: Three Things School Never Taught Me

  1. Life is not meritocratic. Talented individuals will frequently be passed over for people who either add value in unorthodox ways or are lucky.
  2. Life is not a zero sum game where somebody’s A+ comes at the expense of another’s F-. In the real world people go for win-win solutions.
  3. Rote memorization rarely helps people in the real world; passion and excitement take them much further.

Further Reading

Here’s some formative literature that deepened my understanding of the current incentive system of high school and college. I don’t presume to know your lot in life, so arm yourself with literature before making any major decisions.

  1. Excellent Sheep
  2. The Price of Admission
  3. Stressed For Success
  4. Don’t Drop Out

Seth Godin Freelance Exercise 5

What is your client afraid their boss will think if they say yes?

That I’m too inexperienced and wet behind the ears to justify the risk. Since I have no quality product/service to build trust, there’s no way to verify my ability to perform adequately.

What would your client tell their boss to explain why they bought from you?

They’d need a free product/service I did for them that shows real potential. Otherwise they might explain that I add value by inundating them with novel ideas and a diverse background that keeps gives depth to their somewhat homogeneous perspective on the market.

Seth Godin Freelance Exercise 4

Things that aren’t the thing. Things like timeliness, confidence, respect, a story, etc.

Definitely connections both to other people and novel content that they haven’t heard about before. There was one extremely busy founder I met at a meetup who I helped out by showing him a fascinating blog that blends AI and traditional marketing.

I also think dedication to quality and my story as a college student are key assets to getting sympathetic ears. Almost all older people want to give back in some capacity, especially to motivated and respectful youngsters. Being concerned with a quality blog/side hustle/etc. makes it a lot easier for them to help you out since they know their advice won’t fall on deaf ears.