Butter Sculpture

One of the things I miss the most about my home town is the State Fair of Texas. Imagine the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Got it? Now get rid of the rodeo and concerts, but make all the other stuff--the rides, games, exhibits, and food tents--about five times bigger. That's the State Fair. It's where corny dogs were invented, it's the home of Big Tex, and it's the mothership of weird fried foods. It's also, if you're more artistically minded, a place to see amazing sculptures made out of butter. Yay art!

Study Tip: read Cal Newport

Cal Newport is a computer scientist at Georgetown University. He works with distributed algorithm theory, whatever that is. But his hobby is thinking about—and writing about—productivity and efficiency. The past few years he’s really focused his productivity work on Knowledge Workers: academics, designers, writers, people like that. Knowledge Work is most likely the kind of work you aspire to.

But early on, while he was still a grad student at M.I.T., he wrote a lot of really good stuff about being a more successful, efficient, and happy student. Check out his book How to Be a High School Superstar. If you’re about to be out of high school, look for Howto Win at College. Also go to his blog called Study Hacks. It’s a calnewport.com/blogs. When you get to his blog, click on the “if you’re new to Study Hacks click here” link on the right and scroll down to the “What did you used to write about?” section. Read those older blog posts. They’re very worthwhile.

Music: ( )

Sigur Ros's 2002 album ( ), commonly referred to as "the bracket album," is one of those I can listen to over and over and over again. It's intense. A few things about it:

  * There's some music great for listening to on a drizzly grey day. This album, however, is the best album there is for listening to during a nighttime storm.

  * The lyrics are sung in a made-up language called "Hopelandic." They don't "mean" anything.

  * I have a strong memory of NPR using track four as interstitial music connected to the World Trade Center attack. In my mind, they played a snippet on September 12, 2001. Since the album was't released until over a year later, I guess that's not possible. Maybe it was for an anniversary piece? Maybe it was another Sigur Ros song, but my mind has replaced it? Maybe it was another tragedy? Whatever the inaccuracy of my memory, I still associate the song, one of my favorite songs in the history of everything, with the sadness of that day. And the first four songs are considered the happier half of the album.

That skinny Hamlet

I start Hamlet with my seniors tomorrow morning. And as I read the play again, I know one question I'll have at the back of my mind: is Hamlet fat?

Land Art

Stan Herd reproduced a Van Gogh painting using over an acre of ground. It's like the outfield of a professional ball park, only a little more detailed.

Tattoos forever!

You've been warned that when you get a tattoo you're stuck with it forever. But now you can make it last even longer! There's an organization that will get your body art after your body is dead, preserve it and frame it for your heirs. Seriously.

Study Tip: consider waking up early

You should be getting eight to ten hours of sleep a night, but we all understand that sleeping that much isn’t always possible. When you need to sacrifice some sleep for work, consider waking up early instead of staying up late.

For example, imagine it’s midnight, and you’re tired. You normally wake up at seven, and you still have about two hours of work to do. Instead of staying up until two, consider going to bed right away and getting up at five. You get five hours of sleep either way. You have two hours to work either way. But if you go to bed and wake up earlier, you’re doing those two hours of work rested and refreshed instead of sleepy and worn out. You also have fewer distractions, since most of your friends are still asleep.

And remember, work and life-changing experiences are the only things worth losing sleep for. The games, social media, and art projects can wait.

Cubist tattoos

Check out these gorgeous tattoos on Colossal.

A major find from Ancient Egypt!

Where was this eight-foot leather scroll discovered? A tomb? A pyramid?

It was found in a library in Cairo, where it was apparently placed and forgotten 70 years ago. Oops!

Alec Baldwin interviews Andy Warhol

Well, no. Of course not.

But the latest edition of Here's the Thing does feature Baldwin interviewing Eric Shiner, director of the Warhol Museum. It's got a lot of fascinating biographical facts I never knew. Give it a listen.

Study Tip: you don't work better under pressure

Many procrastinators tell themselves—and others—that they procrastinate because they work better under pressure or time constraints. This is almost never true. We tell ourselves this for two main reasons:
·      Waiting until it’s almost too late and then finishing the essay or project triggers the risk-and-reward chemicals in our brain. It feels good to procrastinate and then somehow get it done. It’s the same type of reward stimulation that makes driving too fast feel fun, and it’s the same type of risk that makes driving too fast dangerous and stupid. There are safer, more interesting ways to stimulate your brain than putting off your work. Play a video game (as a reward after you’ve finished your work); challenge yourself to build something in less than an hour; get up the nerve to ask that person out on a date; go for a run—all of these are better options.

·      Very often it seems we work better under pressure because it’s only when we’re under pressure that we give ourselves time to focus. It’s 1 am and you have a paper due at 8? And you haven’t even begun it yet? You’re going to focus and “power through” on that essay, and you might think it’s the powering through that made you write a good paper. It’s actually the focus that made it good. Had you allotted two or three hours to focus and work only on the paper when you weren’t sleep-deprived and in a panic, you would have written an even better paper. Give yourself time for deep focus, and don’t always make it in the middle of the night before something is due.

So, next time you have a big essay or project due, allot yourself a big chunk of time before the last night to work on it. Turn off any distractions. Reward yourself with something creative and fun when you finish. If after trying this a few times you still think you’re the rare genius who works better under pressure, go for it. But there’s a 99% chance you’ll just do better work and get better sleep.

Music: Lisbon

The Walkmen had been on my radar for a long time. I was visiting a friend in New York City some time between 1997 and 1999, I don't remember which specific visit. One night he took me to a bar to hear a band called Walkmen. I remember that I liked the venue, that I thought the band was pretty good, and that the lead singer didn't sound anything like Bono, but still gave off a Bono-ish feeling. His voice was loud and strong and gravelly.

Over the next few years I came across The Walkmen from time to time. I first heard the song "We've Been Had," and then listened to their first few albums once or twice as they came out. I liked them, but I didn't think they were necessarily anything special.

And then I heard Lisbon, their 2010 sixth album. Lisbon is more than good--it's transcendent. The guitar and the vocals, which had always been a good match, suddenly sounded like they were meant for this moment. I don't think Lisbon is a great social album; it's not made for listening with a group. But whatever isolated mood you're in, be it a quiet funk or a nervous energy, Lisbon is an album you should try.

Tribute in Light

The New York Times had a thoughtful essay and video yesterday about the power of the simple-but-profound light memorial at the World Trade Center.

Cross-curricular activity

University of Houston engineering professors are teaming up with the Blaffer Museum and and artist Jo Ann Fleischhaur to see if they can tell just what goes on when you make and consumer art. Brain scans and art will surely combine to form something interesting!


Who needs a Stonehenge when there's a Superhenge nearby?

(This guy maybe does.)

Study tip: use the Pomodoro Technique

When you sit down to perform a task, whether it’s homework or studying or writing, focus completely on the task for 25-minute intervals. The Pomodoro Technique says to:

1.   Set a timer for 25 minutes.
2.   Work on the task without interruption or distraction for the full 25 minutes. Use SelfControl or another app to keep you off the internet if you need. Put your phone on Airplane Mode.
3.   When the timer goes off, take 3-5 minute break to do whatever you want. Mark an X to keep track of completed blocks—this help you monitor time and also build confidence.
4.   For every four blocks—once you’ve marked four Xs—take a longer, 15-30 minute break.

If you use Chrome, Strict Workflow has a Pomodoro extension that will help block web use during the 25-minute blocks.

Quirky fact: the method gets its name from the tomato-shaped timer the creator used. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato.

Teddy Abrams in Louisville

Photo PBS. He's wearing a leather jacket, so you know it's cool.

When it comes to answering the question "how do we keep Classical musical relevant?" the answer seems to be, in so many words, "hipsters."

  * Kevin Yu designs a high-tech tuxedo shirt for musicians.
  * The Prometheus Chamber Orchestra plays conductorless, sometimes in a soup kitchen.
  * Bryce Dessner, guitarist for The National, also writes classical music for the Kronos Quartet.
  * Danielle Kuhlman, member of the local River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, plays a horn with a pink bell and also plays with a quartet called Genghis Barbie.

But for all these cool and outsider sorts of innovations, there's also the centuries of tradition and ritual that many classical musicians and programmers don't necessarily want to give up.

A great way to see these two sides work together is to follow PBS's series Music Makes a City, about the new 27-year-old director of the Louisville Orchestra. Each episode is short, only about 6 minutes. And it's exciting. Give it a try, even if you don't think you like Classical music. Especially if you think you don't like Classical music.

(CVHS students: I never tire of talking about and advertising R.O.C.O. Ask me about this amazing and innovative local orchestra any time.)