Monthly Archives: February 2009

Book Review: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

How to be original when writing about infidelity? It’s been done so many times: stories of affairs, one-night cheats, deceit, confessions, broken love.

The plot line usually goes something like this. A man and a woman fall for each other. Love swells. Then love swoons. One party feels emotionally alienated. Or one party begins to lust after another, more attractive person. The cheat. The cheater at first finds thrill in the escapade but pretty quickly regrets acting out. He considers whether to come clean with her, but decides that would hurt her too much so keeps what happened to himself. The cheated-on inevitably finds out second-hand. The cheater begs for forgiveness. Sometimes she grants it, sometimes not. Usually we’re left with ambiguity, such as the final airport scene in the movie Love Actually where the wife begrudgingly says to her arriving husband (who cheated on her), “It’s good to see you.” Does this mean she’s taking him back?

Eventually, for the sake of his long-term sanity, the cheater deeply rationalizes the whole experience. “She let herself go physically,” he might say, “I was no longer attracted to her.” Or the cheating woman might say, “He was emotionally unavailable,” the catch-all invocation from women everywhere, “I felt hurt.” Yet the cheater never quite escapes his/her own moral failings, rationalization notwithstanding, and the cheated-on never quite gets over the emotional fraudulence of a person she deeply trusted.

When plotting this familiar arc, screenwriters and novelists, ever the moralizers, pass on lessons we’ve heard a million times. We are supposed to learn that acting on sexual impulse — having emotionless sex — doesn’t offer lasting satisfaction, the insta-intimacy not worth a destroyed relationship. That hiding a misdeed from your partner never works, and in fact adds to the hurt. That a guilty conscience leaks internally — you can never escape it, not when you look him deep in the eye and profess your monogamous love, not when you sit in the kitchen trying to eat cold pizza, alone.

We are taught these and other lessons over and over, but, apparently, we never learn them.

By taking on the infidelity storyline and thus the risk of irrelevance via an undifferentiated product, Zadie Smith in her third novel On Beauty shows herself a fearless novelist. In her story it’s a married male professor who sleeps first with a colleague and then with a female student. Scandalous! But also cliché, like the boss who sleeps with the secretary. Piggybacking on built-in power dynamics is easy but doesn’t win points for inventiveness.

Smith, fortunately, doesn’t just piggyback. Where she addresses infidelity — from the sex scenes to the inner-monologue guilt to marital collapse — it feels fresh more than formulaic. And this is a novel about much more than infidelity: it’s about race (the husband is white, wife black), the liberal politics of academia, Britain and the U.S., art, and the private feuds of two contrasting families. All woven together masterfully.

She’s most entertaining when she exposes a cerebral person’s contact with real life. Brilliant professors innocent to the world as it actually is. The introverted professor’s daughter who experiences “the daily miracle whereby interiority opens out and brings to bloom the million-petalled flower of being here, in the world, with other people.” Or when the wife, cheated-on, mockingly consoles her professorial husband by saying how annoying it is when one’s dick insults one’s intellectual sensibilities; how an intricate, caring mind must also accommodate the recklessness of a penis.

It is impossible to read a story about family dynamics, love, the pretentiousness of academia, and relationships, without reflecting on where these things stand in your own life. So I imagine your enjoyment of this novel depends in part on the personal place you’re coming from when you turn to page one. Still, I recommend this novel widely.

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Here’s Zadie Smith’s interview with Charlie Rose. It’s worthwhile. She is very beautiful, very smart, and has an irresistible British accent. 33 years-old. At the end Rose says, “I’m smitten talking with you.” Yep.

Think Different TV: Marty Nemko and Me

Episode #4 of Think Different TV features Marty Nemko, #1 career counselor, author, and U.S. News and World Report journalist and me in conversation for 35 minutes. I recommend watching it on the Vimeo site and letting it load all the way. Then you can use the chapter markings on that page. Here's an MP3 audio file of the episode. Here are the topics we discuss:

  • Where should you look for a job in these times?
  • Is China the next big entrepreneurial power? Will capitalism crush communism?
  • How does a liberal media, liberal president, and liberal congress affect things?
  • How can advocating an unpopular view make an impact?
  • Should productivity and achievement be a more important goal in life than happiness?
  • Do romantic adventures and misadventures contribute to more misery than happiness, on the whole?

It's a fun conversation with some disagreement along the way, which always keeps it interesting.

Marty_screenshot

0:55 Marty's clients are now freaking out about finding a new job, not just how to move up in the ranks.

1:22 There are two groups of people: the entrepreneurial and non-entrepreneurial people. Non-entrepreneurial people should work for the government or government contractors.

3:17 What should entrepreneurial people do?

3:28 Obama has become religion, followed by environmentalism.

4:20 There'll be opportunities in mass transit, thanks to Obama.

6:00 The developing world will also be rich in opportunity.

6:30 Marty says: CHINA!

7:13 U.S. has been reluctant to consider nuclear power whereas China is doing it.

8:00 Liberal media, liberal presidency, liberal congress: Marty says this may strangle options for growth

8:24 Ben says China doesn't have a "billion entrepreneurs" as Marty suggests. Unless capitalism crushes communism, is it sustainable in the long run?

10:00 Marty disagrees and says there's an obsession with entrepreneurship.

11:00 Don't get complacent about China and entrepreneurship.

11:30 Ben says bringing in a few profs on entrepreneurship doesn't change an underlying culture.

14:25 What unpopular causes does Marty champion?

15:53 To make a difference, focus on issues where others aren't focusing.

16:15 Boys and men are treated terribly in the school system, higher education is America's most overrated product.

18:45 The censorship of the left suffocates the exploration of unpopular ideas.

19:20 Ben says the grip of CNN and NYT is loosening and the media landscape is nicheifying.

21:43 Are people under the age of 30 going to the liberal MSM for news? Ben says they won't be as influential going forward.

25:00 Is being ambitious un-cool?

26:00 The most self-efficacious people Marty knows want to die at the workplace, at their computer. Marty tries to spend as many moments of his life as possible trying to make the world better.

27:45 Marty says he doesn't like his work. It's work. Spiritually, the life well led is making a difference and working. Not to have fun.

28:38 Marty says he's not happy, sometimes content.

30:00 So much of career and life advice centers around the happiness goal. If that's not your goal, the advice is not very applicable.

30:55 Most people are made less happy by their romantic misadventures, says Marty.

31:45 "We assume love is the answer when it often is not," says Marty.

(thanks Charlie Hoehn for editing this.)

Book Notes: Ambition by Joseph Epstein

Ambition

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend about a mutual acquaintance who I referred to as “a pretty ambitious guy.” My friend responded, “Yes, he’s nothing if not ambitious.” The word “ambitious” hung in the air a bit, carrying a heavy, negative connotation.

To characterize someone as ambitious is not necessarily a compliment, unfortunately. There are certainly favorable aspects to the label — energy, drive, an overarching desire to make the most of one’s life. But ambition also bears less kind associations, too — “that it is antisocial; that is is insatiable; that it is corrupting; that it leaves only victims…the ambitious view of life is forbiding and unforgiving. Its price is too high. It is inhuman in its demands; it is inhumane in its toll. If life is to be lived differently, if life is to be more spiritual, more tender-minded and large hearted, ambition, clearly, must go. Or so it is said.” Those are Joseph Epstein’s words.

What makes me squirm even more than the unattractive single-mindedness of stereotypically “ambitious” people is their relentless humorlessness. They take their ideas, goals, and life too seriously. I’ve blogged about being at once serious and self-mocking — an optimal point too few go-getters achieve.

For these reasons I have never embraced the label while at the same time not denied it altogether. This would sadden Joseph Epstein. In his book Ambition: The Secret Passion, he mounts a spirited defense of ambition in the face of those who have given it a bad name. He calls ambition the fuel of achievement. He says that to deny a natural drive to achieve and do and push oneself is to deny the full experience of living. There’s not so much a thesis here as much as various examples of how figures dead and alive have discovered, cultivated, and applied their ambition in a healthy, positive way. (And there are the examples of those who did not.)

What’s fantastic about this book is the breadth of Epstein’s examples. He samples literature, movies, philosophers, and others. He interweaves telling quotes on the sentence level — it’s the author with a strong grasp of his material who can find pithy, revealing quotes and display them mid-sentence, as opposed to slapping them generically at the top of chapters.

And then there’s the writing. Epstein writes about ambition — and success, money, high society, literature, and many other topics which don’t quite cohere — with characteristic flair. He is the “wittiest writer alive” according to the late Bill Buckley, and this book fulfills the praise: it’s a pleasure to read if only to study the writing.

Here’s the last paragraph of the book, which is excellent.

We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, or the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time or conditions of our death. But within all this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we shall live: courageously or in cowardice, honorably or dishonorably, with purpose or in drift. We decide what is important and what is trivial in life. We decide that what makes us significant is either what we do or what do refuse to do. But no matter how indifferent the universe may be to our choices and decisions, these choices and decisions are ours to make. We decide. We choose. And as we decide and choose, so our lives formed. In the end, forming our own destiny is what ambition is about.

Below are various excerpts and favorite paragraphs, all Epstein excerpt for the italics which is me. They continue below the fold. As always with these excerpts I hand picked the best from a long book, so enjoy!



Ambition is one of the Rorscach words: define it and you instantly reveal a great deal about yourself.

As drunks have done to alcohol, the single-minded have done to ambition — given it a bad name.

In the modern world, and especially in America, a new distinction, a cruel twist, has been added: not to succeed means to fail. Leaving aside for a moment what it is that constitutes succeeding — something that depends upon where one starts out from, what aspirations one sets for oneself, what league one chooses to play in — the crux of this distinction is that it enters everyone in the race for success. The need to succeed, in other words, can also be viewed as the need to avoid failure. And as to which is greater, the hope of success or the fear of failure, this, in individual cases, does not always allow a clear answer.

Disraeli wrote that “our business in this world is not to succeed but to continue to fail, in good spirits,” but the philosophical calm behind that remark could come from only one source — years of success.

When a person asks himself what he wants out of life, he is asking a question that cuts to his soul. To answer it with candor and precision and realism about one’s own limitations requires self-knowledge of the highest kind.

If it has any logic, human destiny, at its simplest level, is a compound of the qualities of an individual and of the spirit of the community in which that individual lives. “The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community,” said William James.

Some people hold that we are, essentially, what we keep hidden about ourselves, our fears and secrets. Other people hold that, whatever our personal secrets and fears, we are what we do.

Where does ambition come from? Why for some does it burn within whereas others, as Epstein puts it, fail to feel the heat?

Is the key to success, as Hemingway once claimed it was key to being a good writer, having an unhappy childhood? Is ambition really as simple as a wish to make the most of one’s abilities and thus to get the best the world has to offer? Does it arise from a consciousness of superior worth? Or is it instead really a more or less secret desire for revenge for humiliations received? A cover for fear of being discounted as a negligible person? A disguised cry for love and attention? Or the acting out of some other psychic scenario? Not known, nor soon likely to be.

“Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from inside is simply a series of defeats.” – George Orwell

One cannot speak about winners and losers unless there is some rough agreement on fundamentals. But agreement on fundamentals is far from being had at this time in the U.S. How important is work in one’s life? Is achievement more important than happiness? Are the two separable? Does one truly have an obligation to make the best use of one’s gifts? What is the just reward for a life of effort, and is it commensurate with the effort? When such questions are even asked — as they are, repeatedly, nowadays — fundamentals are in dispute, and no scorecard exists to tell the winners from the losers.

Inside [high society life] can become phantasmagorical; one can become lost in the glitter, the elegance, the forests of family trees. If order can be the reigning virtue of life in the cage, monotony can be its vice. Much there is in life that is not countenanced in the cage; many experiences are sealed off to its occupants in a style of life where decency is more highly esteemed than courage and scandal more greatly dreaded than cancer. If the cage protects from the harshness of life outside its gilded confines, the price of its protection to its inhabitants is often innocence. “The innocence,” as Edith Wharton remarked in The Age of Innocence, “that seals the mind against imagination and the heart against experience.”

Continue reading

“Someday I’ll Pursue Higher Things. First, I Make Money.”

Joseph Epstein, in his book Ambition, which I will review tomorrow, writes:

There is a fantasy commonly held by many who have been given a liberal arts education but who lack either the talent or the opportunity to practice any of these arts. It runs something like this: Very well. I will spend the first fifteen or twenty years of my life striving in the canyons of Wall or La Salle streets, or in the law courts, or in the long halls of corporations, and during this time, through concentrated exertions, I will pile up enough money to free myself forever from such grubby pursuits, and devote the remainder of my days to the Higher Things: literature, philosophy, music, beautiful pictures. Alas, it is a fantasy seldom achieved.

Seldom achieved indeed: it’s hard to ever pile up enough money to free oneself entirely, it’s hard to get off the treadmill of a familiar activity, it’s hard to rekindle the Higher Thing passion that burned within long long ago.

Most people who have artistic interests aren’t talented enough to pursue them professionally full-time. So they do banking, consulting, law, medicine, business, and say to themselves, “Someday, once I’m set for life, I’ll do photography full-time.”

This is usually a wise economic call. I don’t look down on the hard headed photography enthusiast who decides to go into consulting since it’s a surer economic bet. I don’t automatically embrace the wannabe actress who blindly “follows her passion,” moves to Los Angeles, spends 10 years waiting tables, and wakes up at age 30 with zero real prospects.

As my friend Penelope Trunk put it in her post titled How to build a career as an artist, the starving artist routine is bullshit. Her points #4 and 5 are “you do not need to quit your day job” and “you are not a better artist if you can do it full time.”

Instead, you should try to find real jobs that allow you to put your artistic talent to use as much as possible, and also set aside time nights and weekends to paint, or write, or whatever.

What’s neat about the internet and blogging is it’s easier than ever to have an outlet to post your creative output and build a following that someday might even support your work full-time.

Bottom Line: If you have a passion for philosophy, literature, music, or photography, but can’t pursue these activities professionally full-time, find a day job for which you draw upon these passions as much as possible. And set aside Saturday mornings for them, too. That faraway day where you will be freed from money concerns and can sit on mountaintops writing romantic fiction will likely never come. But that doesn’t mean you have to drop it altogether.

In-Person Conversation Skills

Good conversation is one of life’s pleasures.

Some people are better conversationalists than others. What skills or techniques do they employ? Stan James and I have been interested in this question for a long time and first discussed it in Costa Rica last summer. We came up with a grab bag of do’s and don’ts for in-person conversations (not email or phone). Your additions?

Don’t selfishly hijack. This is the most annoying habit of bad conversationalists. You say, “I met some really interesting people at that conference.” He says, “Really? I met nobody interesting.” Or, you say, “My classes are all terrific.” She says, “Really? Mine suck.” In other words, whatever you say he takes as an invitation to share his personal experience / opinion instead of probing on your statement or at least clarifying or re-phrasing it. Once you start watching for this you see it all the time. Don’t be that guy. Don’t hijack conversations to bring it back to yourself. Wait your turn. Be interested in the other person.

Answer questions at the appropriate level of detail. If you’re in a job interview and the potential employer asks about your last job, you will offer detail. If you’re at a cocktail party and someone you don’t know asks the same question, the appropriate (initial) answer calls for very little detail. Too many people deploy the same answer to common questions without customizing it to the particular conversation.

In groups, avoid topics that not all can follow. Pursue topics common to all participants.

Don’t try too long to remember something. To use a technical term, “time-out” after a 10 seconds. Don’t make everyone wait as you try to remember the name of that book you were reading (“Gosh what was its name, I know it, it’s, it’s, it’s, gosh let me think…”). Drop it and move on. It will come to you later.

Fidelity to an objective isn’t always necessary. Some business meetings call for strict adherence to an agenda. But many of the best conversations follow new and unknown directions. The joy is in the journey.

Be self-aware about self-interruptions. Meanderings and tangents contribute to the wonderful spontaneity of conversations. Just announce your intention to pursue an off-point before doing so. E.g., “Ok, I want to come back to this, but let me tell you a quick related story…”

Feel free to shift gears quickly. After you’ve plumbed the depths of a topic, move on, even if it’s abrupt. Not every new statement needs to iteratively build on the prior one. For example, you talk about business ideas with your conversation partner, there’s a pause, and then you say, “Ok, changing topics, how’s your family?”

Recognize “just need to be heard” conversations. These are unique conversations between friends or romantic partners. One party just wants to feel heard, not engage in debate or discussion. The best thing you can do is listen really well. E.g., she says, “I feel like nobody at work appreciates me. I’m there ten hours a day and I hardly ever get a thank-you.” You say, “Yeah. So you’re saying nobody at the office is giving you love?”

The Traffic Light rule of communication. “During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green. That means your listener is listening and not thinking you talk too much. During the next 30 seconds, your light is yellow. That means the risk is increasing that your listener is bored, overwhelmed, or dying to respond. After the one-minute mark, your light is red. Yes, occasionally, you can go beyond a minute, for example, when telling an interesting story, but generally you should stop or ask a question.”

Be okay with silence. Don’t rush to fill silence in a conversation. Some people particularly need silent time to think and reflect, if only for a moment. And wasn’t it Aristotle who said that true friendship is when silence between two people is comfortable?

Recognize people who are “getting in line” in the conversation. Notice people who tried to say something but got cut off. Notice people “raising their hand” to speak but haven’t been able to say their two cents. Circle back to them.

Taking notes during the conversation. I’ve blogged about the pros and cons of taking notes during a one-on-one conversation. Pros: you remember what was talked about and show respect for the other person’s ideas. Cons: can overly formalize the interaction and create a weird status dynamic if only one person is scribbling.

Don’t deploy conversation-stopping phrases. “It’s complicated” or “But here’s a counterexample!” or “Correlation doesn’t equal causation!”

Tell stories. Communication experts the world over agree that stories are the most effective way to convey ideas. Here are some tips on how to tell a good story.

Listen well. Listening skills deserves a post of its own. Suffice to say here that being an active, respectful, genuine listener will energize your conversation partner(s), and lead to a higher overall quality conversation. One way to improve on this front is to talk with good listeners (you know who they are because when you talk to them you feel heard). Notice their habits.

Recognize when the conversation is over. If you start talking about the stuff you started off with, it’s sign you’re looping back and nearing the end. If your partner seems to be disengaging (for example his eyes start wandering), take this as a cue. In any event, respect everyone’s time and proactively bring a conversation to a close by saying, “This has been lots of fun. We should probably get going. But I really enjoyed it – thanks.”

Grand Unified Theory of Economics of Free

Mike Masnick has a terrific, brief post up about the economics of free and the scarce and infinite components of a company's offering. It's a thought provoking framework to think about scenarios such as "All music is legally free for consumers by 2015 — how do the artists make money?" Here's how Mike thinks a recording company should think about the economics of their business:

1. Redefine the market based on the benefits you're providing rather than the specific product you're selling. If you're a musician, for example, you're not just selling a specific song — you're selling the experience of musical enjoyment.

2. Break the benefits down into scarce and infinite components. An infinite good is something that costs nothing to give away to someone else. E.g., the music itself. Scarce goods are everything else — concerts, backstage passes, people's time and attention.

3. Set the infinite components free, syndicate them, make them easy to get — all to increase the value of the scarce components. When people can easily listen to your songs, they're more likely to get interested in your concerts or merchandise.

4. Charge for the scarce components that are tied to infinite components. E.g., charge for the concerts and t-shirts, access to the band becomes more valuable.

Most record labels stumble on Step 1: redefining their offering in broader terms. Same with newspaper companies. Most have a hard time thinking about themselves as news companies instead of newspaper companies.

Speaking of which, Marc Andreessen says the "game is completely over" when it comes to newspapers and that the New York Times should turn off the printing press tomorrow. I assume he would also say record companies should stop manufacturing CDs and distribute music exclusively online.

(thanks Jon Bischke for pointing me to this article)

The “Soundtrack of Your Life” Delusion

Ryan Holiday nails it:

Try spending the day listening to an iPod as you go about your business. How much more important it all seems. Put your hands in your pockets and start walking down the street. It's you, oh fearless warrior, and your battle against the world.

Welcome to the narrative fallacy.

God forbid you should ever have one with you when you're running and it begins to rain. If you don't have a shirt on, it's over. Out of the corner of your eye, you'll swear that trees are bowing as you pass.

Welcome to the "movie about your life."

Listening to an iPod while going about your business can also be a nice pick-me-up, I've found. And it does make you feel like you're in a movie.

A New Status Anxiety is Infecting Affluent Hipdom

The always-witty Sandra Tsing Loh has a piece in the latest Atlantic Monthly titled Class Dismissed: A new status anxiety is infecting affluent hipdom. It’s a Brooksian take on how the self-styled cool and rich are signaling status. I excerpt the best grafs below.

On the new search for self-expression:

In the relatively affluent post–Cold War era, the search for self-expression has evolved into a desire to not have that self-expression challenged, which in turn necessitates living among people who think and feel just as you do. It’s why so many bohemians flee gritty Los Angeles for verdant Portland, where left-leaning citizens pride themselves on their uniform, monotonously progressive culture—the Zipcars, the organic gardens, the funky graphic-novel stores, and the thriving alternative-music scene. (In the meantime, I’ve also noticed that Portland is much whiter than Los Angeles, disconcertingly white.)

On signaling one’s degree:

Even today, I think one’s relation to one’s alma mater is fraught with haute-bourgeois peril. In descending order of coolness are:

1. Dropped out of prestigious college;

2. Graduated from prestigious school, never bring it up unless asked—then as joke;

3. Graduated from prestigious school with honors, bring up quickly, no irony;

4. Graduated, have become garish, cheerful head of alumni booster committee.

On charity and the convenience of caring about the faraway poor:

Charity itself is complicated when one hates to admit that one rules. Although old-school WASPs might tinkle their G-and-Ts while hosting an annual spring benefit for The Poor, the creative class will throw a star-studded fete to combat a politically fashionable disease, with celebs relaying anecdotes about personal frailty (as detailed in their candid new addiction memoirs). They can be rich and feel vaguely anti-establishment at the same time. The New World is all Richard Branson interviewed by Charlie Rose onstage at the Clinton Conference on Global … Whatever—with a faint chunky mix-in of Third World Poverty. (The creative class usually prefers faraway poor people to the local variety, and always prefers the “ethnic” poor to the white kind.)

Great little anecdote on San Francisco and trusting Craiglist over the police:

In 2000, the research of Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, showed that the correlation between the health of civic culture and the affluence of the local economy was actually negative; the highest-tech cities tended to have the lowest rate of civic connections. I think of the Silicon Valley runner guy we met in San Francisco who, when we showed him a set of lost car keys we’d found on the path in Golden Gate Park, said: “I wouldn’t trust the police with those. Post a notice on Craigslist!”

Rep. Peter Stark: An Exemplary Public Servant

Congressman Peter Stark (D – California) represents all that is great about American politicians: humility, wide-ranging and mature vocabulary, and a genuine warm-heartedness towards those interested in political issues.

Take his must-watch interview with libertarian Socratic Dialogue devotee Jan Helfeld discussing the national debt. Congressman Stark, tripped up after saying that a country's wealth increases as its national debt increases, tells the interviewer to "shut up." He then tries to end the interview by telling Helfeld to "get the fuck out of here or I'll throw you out the window." See the clip below.

Stark has quite a record. In a 2001 debate, he falsely stated that all of the children of Congressman J. C. Watts of Oklahoma were "born out of wedlock." In another debate, he called Congresswoman Nancy Johnson of Connecticut a "whore for the insurance industry" and suggested that her knowledge of health care came solely from "pillow talk" with her husband, a physician.

Elsewhere on the web, here are the Top 10 Most Disastrous David Letterman interviews ever. #10 is Joaquin Phoenix. The Madonna one is pretty funny. Here is a news release about heroic efforts to create braille pornography for blind people.

I thank Andy McKenzie, David Lee, and Chris Yeh for sending the above links. I'm sitting in this Hilton hotel room in South Carolina laughing my ass off, by the way. You know when you're laughing so hard that your muscles become weak? That's me. I can't get the damn bar of soap out of the little hotel package due to muscle weakness.

Three Things I’m Doing to Become Healthier and Smarter

1. I take four Kirkland Natural Fish Oil Omega 3 pills a day. Each pill has 1000 mg of total fish oil with 300 mg of DHA and EPA each. 1200 mg/day seems to be a good target amount. Here's a page comparing fish oil to flaxseed oil. Here are all of Seth Roberts' posts on Omega-3. Here is Tyler Cowen on his flaxseed oil supplement which he calls "good for his heart, brain, and gums" and says "the Omega-3 ingredient has a scientific consensus in its favor, with no evidence for negative side effects."

2. I'm tracking personal metrics. I'm starting with sleep and exercise. I record in Excel when I went to bed, when I woke up, and how many minutes I exercised. See the article titled You Are Your Data to learn about the burgeoning Quantified Self movement. I hope to track nutrition soon. And maybe one day I will be able to carefully track my time spent on different activities.

3. I'm interviewing local neuro-psychologists to see if they can help me understand how I learn. I am still unsure how I process information best. People with learning disabilities work with these folks. I don't think I have a learning disability but I do think I could do a better job at taking in information in ways that are optimal for my cognitive makeup. I'm also researching SPECT scans, but these have its critics and are expensive.

I'm not a self-improvement maniac. But I am on the lookout for ways to become healthier, happier, and smarter, and all these things seem likely to help in one or all of these fronts.

Thanks to Seth Roberts, Andy McKenzie, Tyler Cowen, and a Child of the Kemp for their direct or indirect advice.