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    Tuesday
    Jan052010

    Speedy Budgerigar

    It's a really good thing humans have the whole intelligence going for us as a species.

    Our English Budgie Merlin seems to get from one part of the house to another with remarkable flying speed. He weighs about 32g, and flies at up to 15 meters/second, according to a University of Montana study. That's 478.6mph per pound of bird!

    If I had that same power to weight ratio, I could run down the highway at an astounding 88,500mph.

    To be fair, Merlin has an advantage being so light. But he's also only 4 inches tall, so even by the standard of how quickly he can move one body-length, I'd be scooting along at a brisk 578mph.

    Monday
    Jan042010

    The Renaissance Man

    Does our specialized society still value the generalist?

    I've long considered myself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none". I've rarely found something I wasn't "pretty good" at, but I've certainly never been hailed as the "very best in the world, second to none" at any one thing.

    Consequently, I've done a lot of thinking about whether I'm happy to be a "renaissance man" or whether I should pick a direction and work like hell to fight for the pinnacle in some single area.

    • As a child, I really loved being decent at everything. No kid likes to feel like a loser.
    • Early in my career, I spent a lot of time envying one or two people in each area of my interest, jealous of their far superior skills.
    • More recently, I've realized that if given a magic wand that would grant me A+ skills in one area in exchange for my B+ skills in two other areas, I'd stick the wand in a dark drawer and not look back.
    • I'm open to regretting my current position as soon as my lack of a specialty runs me into a glass ceiling. But I try not to fear that possibility.

    Despite the modern workplace looking for more and more specialists, there's still a natural human draw towards multi-dimensional personalities. Those are the innovators who think outside the box, they are the ones who surprise and educate us.

    I urge even the most ambitious out there to get comfortable with the fact that you'll never be the best in the world at anything in particular.

    Sunday
    Jan032010

    Two Kinds of Musicians

    Being a semi-professional musician for almost two decades, and being married to another, has given me a lot of opportunities to interact with musically brilliant individuals.

    After all these encounters, I believe that as a rough first-pass, you can break down musicians into two natural types. We'll call them the "left-brained", and "right-brained" musicians (although most modern neuroscientists would likely take issue with that characterization).

    For example, I am a "left-brained" musician. My strengths are:

    • rhythm
    • music composition theory and structure
    • sight-reading
    • classical and electronic music
    • math, science, and puzzles

    My wife, by contrast, is a "right-brained" musician. Her strengths are:

    • pitch
    • music improvisation
    • playing by ear
    • jazz and popular music
    • visual arts and spacial skills

    Don't get me wrong, many musicians are superb all-around, but I find that's often the result of years of practice and most musicians will admit which "side" of their talent comes naturally and which side they struggle with.

    Saturday
    Jan022010

    Living Legacy

    Orville Wright (with the help of his brother Wilbur, of course) is generally credited with inventing the airplane, thanks to the famous Kitty Hawk flight of Dec. 17, 1903.

    On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager officially broke through the Sound Barrier flying a Bell X-1 rocket plane. Three months later, Orville Wright passed away at the age of seventy-six.

    Orville Wright lived to see Supersonic Flight! He puttered that first "airplane" into the air for 12 seconds and 120 feet, ushering in a new age of human transportation. I wonder if he ever imagined that he'd see a rocket break the speed of sound in his remaining lifetime. Not to mention that only 21 years later a man would walk on the moon.

    So few of us will ever make such leaps in our lives to be singled-out like the Wright brothers. But a much smaller set will get to personally witness their contributions change the shape of mankind.

    Maybe the pace of such living legacies is increasing. There's no doubt that Vint Cerf continues to watch his early contributions to the internet play out on an extraordinary scale. Perhaps at this intersection of great achievement in both mechanics and information, we're at a place in history when a lifetime's worth of progress will regularly be enough to inspire the kind of awe that Orville Wright must have experienced.

    Friday
    Jan012010

    Welcome to The Daily Thought

    Welcome to a new blog. My name is Will Koffel. Please read more about this blog.

    If all goes well, you can expect a new thought here every day. To read them all, subscribe to the RSS feed. And send feedback! Either from the site, or directly to will@thedailythought.com. I promise to reply to every email personally.

    Until Tomorrow…

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