Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dominate Your Market What's Your Dash?

If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:

1. Become the best at one specific thing.
2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.

The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort.

There is a lot of advice out there of people saying become the best at something. Often these same people forget to explain what it takes to do that. If you want to become Olympic-class (top 1%) at anything you're going to have to put in a lot of time to practice.

To master any skill it take about 5000 hours of practice to get to that level. If you work at it full time 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, it will take you about 2 and a half years to get that time in.
Most people don't have the capability to do that, but you may be able to squeeze in 1 hour a day. That will take 20 years.

On the other hand, if you just want to get really good at a skill (top 25%) that can take only 1000 hours or less. That will only take 4 years at 1 hour per day. A college course often is only about 50 hours of study and you end up knowing quite a bit.

Becoming good at two or three things and presenting it as a package can be a really great way to break into a market. Look at Ben&Jerry, there were lots of big ice cream companies, so they dual-classed with organic-ice cream. Haggen-Daas went with gourmet-ice cream.

What is your dash?
I am an engineer and I also write. I am an engineer-writer. Can I dominate in a market with that? I think I can.
How about you?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Serious Literature

I've been surfing the web to read about what people think about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and I came across this amazing comment.

...my husband, a Tolkien scholar, often observes that these days, in literature, to write about deep and ultimate themes, it is almost impossible to do so in, say, poetry or "adult" literature and be taken seriously - for that, you must write in fantasy and/or children's literature - and then your readers will find you.

I certainly believe it. One of the worst parts of high school were the English classes. I love to read and even back then I was a voracious reader, reading lots of material outside of the requirements of school. But all that "great literature" was something I read but couldn't really stand. All it showed was that life and living was pointless and we all died even if you win you lost. "The Old Man and the Sea" was particularly nasty that way. They all ended with the protagonist (I can't call them heroes) either dead or insane. The best case for one was merely social and financial ruination. We only studied the tragedies of Shakespeare where everyone pretty much died. After 3 years of that is it any great surprise that the average American doesn't read for fun. There is no pleasure in it. Then I find a post like this that just pegs the sad/pity-meter.

I sampled all kinds of genres when I was young, it was fun to wander into the library and choose a book at random to see where it might take me. I still do that but not so often. I settled on scifi and fantasy because some of them would deal with hard and troubling questions.

What makes us human and different from the animals?
Why do people make choices that are obviously bad for themselves and others?
Why are so many people listening to someone who despises them and doing what he says?
How can good people do awful things?

There are plenty more questions but these are a good start. Too much great literature is only based around jealousy or envy, that isn't necessarily bad but there are far more emotions out there then just those.

Harry Potter generally is a coming of age story, but is also about love and the nature of good vs evil.

If schools really wanted people to learn to read they would offer a huge variety of material to read. Encouraging people to find the books they like best. That will help them learn to like to read if find some they want to read.

But it is still interesting that the literature that explores the hard stuff is considered kids stuff. Is that irony I smell.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

We didn't get the book until very late on Saturday and while I read the first three chapters out loud of my family I after our daughter went to bed I settled in for a a couple of hours good reading before bed. I was slightly annoyed with myself when I closed the book and noticed the sun up coming up and my alarm clock going off as I stood up.

We are reunited with many old friends and revisit just about everywhere we've been before, before ending up back at the beginning.

A good strong opening with Harry equipping himself of the hunt. Like the heros girding themselves for battle Harry is readying himself for what he expects to be coming, but he knows that he doesn't have all the knowledge that is wishes he had, not being able to heal a small cut is the key image here. The goodbye with the Dursleys was not what I expected and Dudley seeming dimmer then usual. A harrowing battle as the protection breaks and Harry is taken to safety. It was a good plan and it mostly worked.

This is followed by a wonderful interlude at the Burrow, Hermione tells Harry just how much she trusts him and how important what he has to do is to her. That blew me away. The wedding is broken up by the fall of the Ministry.

Then we are off on the Quests. There is more then one. They are pretty smart together and very courageous, but they are still just three kids. Harry has so much to overcome within himself that the story seems slow in the middle, but that is only because we expect fast, easy resolutions to conflict in our sit-com world. Harry has to make serious choices and he actually spends time working them out and not just going with whatever pops into his head. He has learned from the mistakes he's made in the past and that is really important. He knows people are on his side and fighting for his cause, but he has to focus on winning the war instead of turning the tide on any particular battle. He shows great maturity. He also learns of the ultimate choice he has to make. He shows just how powerful love is.

There are some great scenes in this book that I am sure the special effects artists reading now are beginning to sweat over. The Battle for Hogwarts may not beat the Battle of Pelinor Fields but it may come close. They better get to work now.

Snape rocks.

Molly is not just a quiet little homemaker, she never really was since she had been in the original Order of the Phoenix but we finally see her at full power and she is something else. They better not leave that out of the movie!

Voldemort has his weakness but he is smart enough to learn from his encounters with Harry. He never does take a stupid pill, but his weakness sends him down wrong paths. And that is just fine for a well written villain.

There are few books out there that have enticed me to stay up all night reading them. This was worth it. The obvious comparison is Lord of the Rings. Do I think that Harry Potter will be celebrated in 100 years? Yes, I do.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I saw this film with my wife as a date which we haven't had in a long time and we gave it a solid 3 of 5 stars.

The opening scene with Harry, Dudley and his gang was well done and quite intense. In general he stayed as close to the book as he could, using quite a bit of the dialog, but given the nature of book 5, very introspective which is hard to put on screen, there was a lot to skip over as well.

The wizards battle at the end was extraordinary, the rest of the movies have something to live up to now.

My biggest problem was that the music was too bland, it didn't support the movie as much as it could have. I was also disappointed in the lackluster attention to detail. There were many things I was expecting to be in place that just weren't there, particularly in the second act which lacked emotional intensity.

Daniel has improved tremendously as an actor as have the others, if not as much, though it maybe because they didn't have as much to do. I really enjoyed Luna, she really got into that character and tended to steal the scene. I hope to see more of her.