Month: May 2009

Decoding Conan O’Brien

Comic talent: what’s it made of?  A new profile by Lynn Hirschberg gives us an X-ray of soon-to-be “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien at work, and the results are fascinating. 
Hirschberg on O’Brien’s comedy strategy:
O’Brien’s approach to comedy and television is analytical and exact. There’s a split in his psyche: he can be goofy, but he …

Big Muscles, Bigger Skills.

As Alex Rodriguez returns after confessing to using performance enhancers, he raises an important question: when can an athlete truly be considered “clean”? The intuitive answer is that they are clean when the stuff is no longer in their body – or perhaps when their muscles deflate to normal size.
But it’s not that simple.
Performance enhancing …

Super Memory Club

Check out this fascinating story by Benedict Carey that explores the reasons why certain older people (90 and over) are able to maintain their mental sharpness. In a nutshell: researchers have found little evidence that diet or exercise makes a difference (kind of surprising). So who makes it into the club? People who spend their days …

Graduation Gifts

Great idea from Timothy Noah at Slate – we need more commencement speakers who talk about the underrated usefulness of failure, screw-ups, and falling short. Sounds like a buzzkill, but as Noah wisely points out, success is a lousy teacher, and besides, failure makes for far more entertaining stories. 
Here’s someone already taking his advice: J.K. …

Jack Kerouac’s Spring Training

What’s the best training to be a writer?
 Part of the answer might be revealed in this Chip McGrath article which details the youthful creations of one of the most energetic of writers, Jack Kerouac, author of On The Road.  
Turns out Kerouac spent much of his youth creating imaginary baseball games. It was not a casual …

Growing Willpower

Check out this marvelous article about self-control in this week’s New Yorker by the consistently fascinating Jonah Lehrer . The takeaway: science is giving us a new way to think about willpower as a skill circuit you can hone with the right kind of practice. 
 [When] Mischel gave delay-of-gratification tasks to children from low-income families in the Bronx, he …

Deep, Deep Practice

I was talking with my friend Allison the other day, and she had a cool idea I thought I’d pass along. Allison, who’s in her thirties, is an amateur dancer with a group here in Homer. Whenever she can’t catch on to a complicated move — some spin or leap — she heads for the …

Cognitive Cash

Fascinating story in the NY Times today on the science of concentration by the reliably interesting John Tierney. His subject is Rapt, a new book by Winifred Gallagher. The upshot: focus is like money. We each get only so much, and we can only spend it one place at a time.
“Multitasking is a myth,” Ms. Gallagher …

Dirty Jobs, Sharp Skill Circuits

Like a lot of people, I love watching Mike Rowe on “Dirty Jobs” because of his lightning-fast mind. Like all great improvisers, Rowe is essentially unsurprisable, always ready with a response calibrated to poke a little fun (usually at himself), and reveal a little truth. That he’s doing this on the fly, usually covered in …

Kid Talk

One of the questions that comes up often is about talking to kids–specifically, how do you encourage them along? The simple and surprising answer from the research is to praise them for their effort, not their innate skill. The reason, as Carol Dweck explains, is that when you praise for skill, kids tend to react …