5 years, 3 months, and 10 days. Living a good life is challenging. Live well anyway.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Today is a hard day.  Actually, it’s been a hard week.

But, no one promised you life would be easy.  If anyone did, he or she lied.

Life is a struggle … to do the right thing, to do the best you can under the circumstances, to be true to yourself despite pressures from all sides to conform to the wishes and demands of others, etc.  As Anton Chekhov said, “Any idiot can deal with a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.”

Live well anyway.  What choice have you?  You could lie, cheat, steal, and boot-lick your way up, but there is no honor in that.  Further, you will find that path unpleasant on the way up and that it never ends.  Change is a constant, and you must constantly kiss ass to remain in the position.  Is it really worth it?  Would you rather live honestly or would you rather be a two-faced, back stabbing bootlicker who’d sell his own mother for profit?

Be true to yourself, my sons.  It’s a tough road, but it is one that will enable you to look back on your life with pride.  It will give your life meaning, and will give reasons for those who matter in the world to celebrate your life instead of long for your death.  See, e.g., https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/17/us/barbara-bush-dead.html; and, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/04/18/southwest-airlines-victim-jennifer-riordan/527363002/.

Buck up!  There will always be difficult days. But, strive to live such that more of your days are pleasant than unpleasant.

We are surrounded by ankle-biters, who will never amount to much.  But, that is the nature of ankle-biters: they are often of low- or poor-skills, will never make much of their lives, and are best at pulling others down to their levels.  Ignore them if you can, deal forcefully with them if you must, but spend most of your time pursuing your goals and dreams.  Your success is what they fear most … because it makes more stark their failures.

Be you.  Be the best you.  Find joy wherever and whenever you can.  Make it a priority to spend time with friends and people who love you.  Make friends.  Let nature nourish your body, heart, mind, and spirit.  Experience life.

Love with all you heart and soul because that is the only way to love and live.  To hedge your bet or to reciprocate only the feelings of another is to empower your mind to cage your heart and imprison it in fear.  Don’t do that.  Experience life.  With great love may come great loss, but at least you would have loved and lost rather than to have never experience such miracle and exquisite beauty.

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All my love, always.  You are the best of me.

Dad

P.S., don’t buy the “fake news” crap that the dishonest espouses.  Reputable newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post build their reputations over decades, and have processes in place to protect the hard-earned good-will and reputation they cultivated.  They make mistakes, as all humans are want to do, but they try to be fair and accurate.  That is a lot more than others who won’t even bother to be fair, accurate, or even truthful.

Congratulations to the New York Times, Washington Post, Arizona Republic, and others on their Pulitzer Prizes.  http://www.pulitzer.org/prize-winners-by-year/2018.

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5 years, 3 months, and 6 days. Be kind to your audience.

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Pity the readers.

https://kmh-lanl.hansonhub.com/pc-24-66-vonnegut.pdf (emphasis added)

http://kmh-lanl.hansonhub.com/pc-24-66-vonnegut.pdf

My dearest and most precious Shosh and Jaialai:

Kurt Vonnegut said it best and most succinctly:  “Pity the readers.”  Be kind to your audience.  They occupy not your life and live not in your head; thus, they have the difficult task of trying to follow your thoughts — be it in written or oral form.  Help them.

First, know your audience.  Who are they?  What do they want out of the interaction with you?  What are their interests?  What are their levels of education?  What is their frames of reference?  For example, if you were talking to high school graduates who are sports fanatics, and you peppered your conversation with quotes from a philosophy book, do you think your audience would be hooked by your presentation or bored?  Know your audience.  Speak their “language” — be it words, anecdotes, imagery, etc.

Second, as the speaker or writer, IT IS YOUR JOB to communicate your thoughts clearly to your audience.  Don’t shirk your duties.  Worse, don’t blame your audience for your failure to do your job.

For example, your job as the writer is to help your readers understand what you are saying by clearly giving them roadmaps and textual clues for them to follow along.  Thus, use signals – such as commas, and words like “but” – to tell readers what to expect and to better help them understand your points.

Shosh, when you were a toddler, you visited me at the office and scared my staff.  Ms. T asked why you liked construction equipment or something that simple.  You responded with, “Well, I like them for three reasons.  First, …”  Your detailed analysis as well as clear and organized thinking freaked them out.  Mr. D said he’d rather have kids who are not as smart since they would be easier to teach.

In life, you will find that if you care about your audience, they will care about you in return.  Do the hard lifting and complicated analyses for your audience and explain complex ideas in simple terms for your audience, and they will knock down your door to get to you and your services.  I promise.

Be well, my sons.  Live well.  Be happy.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

 

5 years, 3 months, and 2 days. Trust not the talking heads and marketers: they have no love for you, only themselves.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg got into an awkward exchange with a top Democratic senator on Tuesday when the lawmaker began asking him personal questions.

During the blockbuster hearing on Capitol Hill, Sen. Dick Durbin asked Zuckerberg, “Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?”

“Um,” Zuckerberg said before a long pause. “No.”

The audience and panel of senators erupted in laughter at Zuckerberg’s hesitancy to answer the question, but Durbin used it to make a point about personal privacy, which was the focus of the joint hearing between the Senate’s Judiciary and Commerce committees.

“If you’ve messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?” Durbin asked.

“Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here,” Zuckerberg said.

“I think that might be what this is all about — your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you’d give away in modern America,” Durbin said.

http://www.businessinsider.com/dick-durbin-asks-mark-zuckerberg-what-hotel-he-stayed-at-2018-4 (emphasis added).

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Zuckerberg allowed a full eight seconds to lapse and grimaced and chuckled before he finally said he admitted that he wouldn’t share the name of the hotel he stayed at the night before.  http://metro.co.uk/2018/04/11/mark-zuckerberg-got-flummoxed-asked-share-something-private-7456950/.  We’re talking about just the name here, not even the room number.  Yet, Zuckerberg was unwilling to share that information while his company (Facebook) not only scanned your postings and data-mined them, but sold and shared them with complete strangers who used that information to manipulate you, to target you for ads and misinformation.

(To be clear and to be fair, Facebook claims it gives you control over your data, and you can opt out.  However, such controls are often buried in obscure provisions under mounds of legalese that would bore most people to tears and cause most people’s eyes to glaze over.  So, did Facebook effectively give you control, or only the illusion of control?

This strategy is nothing new.  At the Enron of Healthcare, despite insurance laws requiring insurance policies to be written in clear and easy to understand language, they buried and obfuscate critical provisions such that they were able to tell policy holders certain benefits were not covered when, according to internal emails, they knew full well those benefits were covered.  They knew full well few people have the time, resources, and ability to fight them.  They bank on that.)

How is that right?  Does Zuckerberg care about you, one of the billions of Facebook users?  Does he give damn about your privacy, your protection?  No.  His actions speak much louder than his words: he wouldn’t share with the public even the name of his hotel, yet he mined all of your posts and sold them to complete strangers.  He cares about himself, not you.

That’s reality.  Businesses and business owners are there to make a profit for themselves.  That’s their primary motive.  If their interests and yours should align, then that’s a bonus.  However, if their interests and yours diverge, know that they will protect their business interests and profit motives first and foremost.  Only fools think otherwise.  Thus, be not surprise that a businessman sold you out for profit.  You were a fool to think he wouldn’t.

Don’t be fools.  Never trust a business or businessman to have your best interest at heart regardless of what he says.  He only has his best interest at heart.  Remember that always.

Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, said he’s left Facebook on account of its data collection practices.  https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2018/04/08/apple-co-founder-steve-wozniak-says-hes-leaving-facebook/497392002/.  Others have also.  You may wish to consider doing similar.

You have a voice.  Use it.  Vote with your feet and/or your wallet as appropriate.

Remember, you are responsible for teaching others how to treat you.  If you let them abuse you, then you must accept responsibility for allowing it — and they for their misdeeds.

Now, let me be clear that I’m not a fan of Facebook.  I dislike it for several reasons.

First and foremost, studies have found Facebook use positively correlates with depression.  See, e.g., http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0069841; https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/21st-century-aging/201308/facebook-depression;  https://www.forbes.com/sites/amitchowdhry/2016/04/30/study-links-heavy-facebook-and-social-media-usage-to-depression/#385bdfa64b53; https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/how-facebook-makes-us-unhappy.

Second, Facebook creates echo-chambers and encourages users to limit their exposure to the world.  For example, studies show that more than 60 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook and Twitter.  http://www.niemanlab.org/2015/07/new-pew-data-more-americans-are-getting-news-on-facebook-and-twitter/.  The danger is that the algorithm for those social media sites limits and tailors what they post to each user’s based on the likes and preferences of that user.  In other words, you will only see and hear what you want to see and hear.  Echo-chamber.

The danger of echo-chambers cannot be over stated.  For example, America’s first attempt at creating a union under the Article of Confederation failed because the states balkanized.  Today, the nation is fractured because people balkanize by confining  themselves to silos of only like-minded individuals.  In other words, they limit themselves to echo-chambers.  Facebook plays a significant role in creating this phenomenon.

We while away the hours with phantom “friends” on Facebook instead of walking down to the local park to hang out with our neighbors, or to the local outdoors market and expose ourselves to the wide variety of people who inhabit our communities, our country, our planet.

Groupthink causes all sorts of problems.  It can whip us into a frenzy because outside perspectives are disallowed or discouraged — they are not part of the echo-chamber.  Groupthink encourages mob mentality, and that is never a good thing.

No, my sons, limit your use of, and exposure to, Facebook and other social media.  It’s a tool.  Use and control it, instead of allowing it to control and use you.

As I have said before, limit your screen time to no more than a couple of hours a day — including TV, computer, smart phone, video games, etc.  Step outside.  Enjoy the fresh air, grass, and people.  Embrace life.  Don’t live vicariously through others.

Now, turn off the computer and grab your brother to go for a walk around the neighborhood as we used to do.

All my love, always,

Dad

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5 years, 2 months, and 4 days. Arrogance prohibits you from being the best you can be, so don’t be arrogant.

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/47/69/4e/47694e4319ae46dbc7d552528137541f.jpgMy dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Because of the ubiquity of the problems of, relating to, and caused by arrogance, allow me to expand upon it a bit more before we move on.  Before we get into the nitty-gritty of that conversation, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite shows, “The Newsroom”.  https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1870479/.

In one episode, MacKenzie, who is the executive producer in that newsroom, said of Will, the star anchor of the newsroom:

You know what I like about Will? He’s not absolutely sure about anything. He struggles with things. He’s never certain he’s right and sometimes he’s not. But he tries hard to be. He struggles with things.

https://www.quotes.net/show-quote/60552 (emphasis added)

I love those lines because they put into practice another teaching to which I aspire to live by:

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Stated differently,

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Perfect knowledge rarely, if ever, exists.  Life and circumstances will always dictate how much time and resources you can devote to any given decision.  Thus, all you can do is make the best decision you could under the circumstances — given the time and resource constraints.

Absolute knowledge is an illusion most often grasped by self-delusional fools.  Thus, I love that Will struggles with decisions.  Getting it right is hard!  Making the right decision is a struggle if you really cared about the outcome of that decision.  It is a challenge to identify all the appropriate and relevant stakeholders, the appropriate and relevant data points on which your decision should rest, and the appropriate analytical strategies and processes that should be brought to bear in making your decision. Only fools claim otherwise or think otherwise.

As an aside, this reminds me of a great advice that originated from Dartmouth College on how to organize and structure your paper when writing: once you’ve finished brainstorming and data-gathering,

Keep working [your outline] until … [it] fits your idea like a glove.  When you think you have an outline that works, challenge it. I’ve found when I write that the first outline never holds up to a good interrogation. When you start asking questions of your outline, you will begin to see where the plan holds, and where it falls apart. Here are some questions that you might ask:

  • Does my thesis control the direction of my outline?
  • Are all of my main points relevant to my thesis?
  • Can any of these points be moved around without changing something important about my thesis?
  • Does the outline seem logical?
  • Does my argument progress, or does it stall?
  • If my argument seems to take a turn, mid-stream, does my thesis anticipate that turn?
  • Do I have sufficient support for each of my points?
  • Have I made room in my outline for other points of view about my topic?
  • Does this outline reflect a thorough, thoughtful argument? Have I covered the ground?
 https://rosenenglish.weebly.com/uploads/1/4/1/4/14147635/how_to_structure_and_organize_your_paper.pdf (emphasis in the original)

Planning your decision-making strategies is not that different from outlining your paper.  Both require you to ensure you have the most relevant and appropriate data points, that the process and logic of getting from where you start to where you hope to end are sound, and that your arguments are coherent and cohesive.  If you replaced the words “goal” for “thesis” and “decision-making process” for “outline”, then you may find useful the above-listed questions in your decision-making process.

With that background, we now turn to our original point: the arrogant thinks he know all, and this delusion inhibits his motivation to reexamine his data or analyses.  Thus, he fails.  Thus, he can never be the best he could be.  As my mother always said, “Even a dog can catch a fly every once in a while when he yawns.”  Luck may intervene and produce a good outcome from a bad decision-making process, but Lady Luck is fickle.  It is best to not leave in her hands the outcome you hope to achieve.

Think critically and plan your decision-making process carefully.  Don’t let pride, arrogance, etc., interfere with critical, clear, and appropriately expansive thinking.  If you do this, success will find you.

Critical thinking is necessary to problem solving, and the world always needs problem-solvers.  What does it take to solve problems?  You must

  1. identify with clarity and precision what is the problem you’re tying to solve — in graduate school at Duke University, we spent a significant amount of time on this step for each project;
  2. know intimately the stakeholders involved and what their objectives, interests, needs, and fears are — without the support of stakeholders, your strategy will likely fail (even if it were the best and most appropriate strategy) because the key players will not help you and may even work against you;
  3. find a pathway that achieves your goal and gets the relevant and critical stakeholders on board — you can’t please everyone, but you must gain the support of the most critical players;
  4. execute according to your plan — too many fail this step; and
  5. continue to revisit and update your data and strategies as necessary during the execution stage to ensure you remain on track to achieving your goal and are using the latest and most relevant information available — don’t forget: it’s a reiterative process.

(If you think about it, the above problem-solving/decision-making process is not unlike the writing process where you must identify the purpose of and audience for your writing, brainstorm for ideas, outline your arguments, write, and rewrite.  Thus, the above-reference to the Dartmouth method of outlining is not wholly inappropriate.)

Anyway, I digressed.  My sons, always think critically.  Don’t allow pride or arrogance to interfere with your critical thinking process.

Too often, people fail because they think they know it all (i.e., they are arrogant) and fail to understand their audience, markets, or stakeholders.  As a result, they fail to gather all the necessary and relevant data point in order to devise the best strategy for outcomes which would meet the needs of their audience, markets, or stakeholders.

Be not like them.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

5 years, 2 months, and 3 days. Beware of the ignorant and arrogant. A wise man knows what he doesn’t know.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Today’s lesson is really a permutation of the last.  Emotion (in this case, pride) interferes with critical thinking and produces bad results.

We see this all the time in both the young and old.  For example, when you were a toddler, Shosh, you once said, “I know French — ‘french fries’!”  You were proud — rightfully so — of having made the connection between “French” as a language and the use of that word in “french fries”.  What you said as a two-year-old is adorable.  However, when such sentiments are expressed by adults, they only make the speakers appear foolish.  For example, a college graduate — who is a teacher no less! — once explained to me that drinking coffee will darken your skin, and drinking milk will whiten it.  Yeah, right….

Unfortunately, such foolishness is not limited to those without advanced degrees.  For example, someone who attended Tuft University’s Graduate School of International Affairs for a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy claimed she knew as much law a lawyer with a Juris Doctor.  Another, who claims to have two master’s degrees and worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative, claimed she knew as much about medicine as a Medical Doctor.  Recently, I overheard two Ph.D.’s assert that government issued driver licenses and other identification papers based on a fraudulent birth certificates (i.e., not one’s own) are valid because the papers are government issued.  Wow…

(Regarding the latter, it should go without saying that anything achieved under fraud pretense cannot be cured by a subsequent lawful act because that latter was obtained under false pretense.  For example, if someone stole my car and sold it for good money to an unsuspecting buyer on Craigslist, although the purchase may have followed all legal formalities [i.e., the seller forged my name on the car registration and the buyer successfully submitted it to the DMV to obtain a new DMV-issued registration for the car in the buyer’s name], the sale would still be invalid because the “seller” stole the car and was not its true owner.  This is not hard to understand.  See, e.g., https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-07-99-00570.pdf.)

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Remember when I said what people say tells you something about them?  What do these things tell you about the speakers?  Are they wise or are they foolish?

Don’t be like them.  Don’t let emotions, including pride and arrogance, cloud your judgement.

Likewise, don’t let cultural mores blind you and cloud your judgement.  For example, in the Asian tradition, age is respected.  As my mother always said, “70 learns from 71”.  While that may have once been true in olden times, when formal education was limited to the few and experience was the teacher for the masses, in modern age, when education is accessible to the many, it is no longer valid. A  17 year-old with the academic degree Doctor of Medicine knows significantly more about medicine than a 90 year-old layman.  http://www.kansashealthcarecareers.com/10-youngest-doctors-in-the-world/.  Out of politeness, accord your elders a modicum of respect.  However, that respect is temporary and lasts only until you have gathered sufficient information to judge on your own whether respect is appropriate.  In other words, an elder telling you to do something doesn’t not entitle you to suspend your critical thinking faculties.  Any failure resulting from your action would remain with you, not the person who told you to take that action. Thus, don’t let cultural norms, like respect for the elder, cloud your critical thinking.  Sometimes,

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Remember, your mind is your greatest asset.  Money, title, fame, etc., may come and go, but if you have a sharp mind, you will always be able to rebuild.  Friends of ours lost everything to a false friends who robbed them blind, but they were able to rebuild their lives to a higher degree than it was.

Because your mind is your greatest asset, make the most of it.  Be informed.  Think critically, broadly, and clearly.

Also, protect your greatest asset.  Take good care of it.  Nourish and use your mind well.

As reported in an article in The Lancet, researchers in San Diego examined the death records of almost 30,000 Chinese-Americans and compared them to over 400,000 randomly selected white people. What they found was that Chinese-Americans, but not whites, die significantly earlier than normal (by as much as five years) if they have a combination of disease and birth year which Chinese astrology and Chinese medicine consider ill-fated.

The researchers found that the more strongly the Chinese-Americans attached to traditional Chinese superstitions, the earlier they died….

The researchers concluded that they died younger not because they have Chinese genes, but because they have Chinese beliefs. They believe they will die younger because the stars have hexed them. And their negative beliefs manifested as a shorter life span.

It’s not just Chinese Americans whose fears about their health can result in negative health outcomes. One study showed that 79% of medical students report developing symptoms suggestive of the illnesses they are studying. Because they get paranoid and think they’ll get sick, their bodies comply by getting sick.

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-9690/scientific-proof-that-negative-beliefs-harm-your-health.html#. (emphasis added)

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My dearest sons, I love you more than words can describe, and I want the best for you.  Surround yourself with good people and positive role models. Avoid, like the plague, bad elements.  They do nothing but hurt you — even if only by modeling bad examples, limiting your world view and dreams, etc.  This includes relatives on your mother’s side who have felony conviction, who have been banned from driving because of repeated substance abuse, and whose friends got into a knife fight during the wedding ceremony.  Try to spend more time with my side of the family, where most of use have college degrees, many of us have advanced degrees, and most of us hold notable positions with prestigious organizations.

All my love, always,

Dad

4 years, 10 months, and 26 days. The art of deconstruction and college admission.

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Read the essay about pizza that got this student into Yale

 

Carolina Williams, who graduated high school in Tennessee recently, has been accepted into Yale University with the help of an amusing essay.

Williams says her Yale application included an essay prompt asking her what she enjoys doing. The first idea that came to her was her love of ordering pizza, especially from Papa Johns, so that’s what she wrote about. Here’s the full text of her essay, which was published in the Washington Post:

“The sound of my doorbell starts off high, then the pitch mellows out, and the whole effect mimics an instrumental interpretation of rain finally finding a steady pace at which to fall. I have spent several minutes analyzing its tone because I have had many opportunities to do so, as one thing I love to do is order pizza and have it delivered to my house. When the delivery person rings my doorbell, I instantly morph into one of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating to the sound that signals the arrival of the cheesy, circular glory. It smells like celebration, as I love to rejoice a happy occasion by calling Papa John’s for my favorite food. It tastes like comfort, since having pizza delivered to my quiet home is a way for me to unwind. It looks like self-sufficiency, because when I was young, ordering pizza made me feel grown-up, and it still provides that satisfaction for my child at heart. Accepting those warm cardboard boxes is second nature to me, but I will always love ordering pizza because of the way eight slices of something so ordinary are able to evoke feelings of independence, consolation, and joy.”

It worked.

Soon, Williams received a letter in the mail extending her an offer of admission to the Ivy League institution. The admissions counselor who reviewed her application even included a handwritten note. “I laughed so hard on your pizza essay,” the admission counselor wrote, adding, “I kept thinking that you were the kind of person that I would love to be best friends with. I want you to know that every part of your application stood out in our process and we are thrilled to be able to offer you a spot at Yale.”

Pizza wasn’t the only thing that helped Williams get into Yale. She had a high GPA after taking rigorous courses, was very active in volunteer work, and participated in several prestigious academic and leadership organizations.

Williams tweeted a photo of her acceptance letter to Papa Johns’ twitter account, and they later give her a few gift certificates.

But Williams has decided not to attend Yale. Instead she plans to attend Auburn University, which she says felt like a stronger fit. “I’ve never met a person who went to Auburn that didn’t like it there and I thought that spoke a lot about it,” Williams said. She plans on majoring in business with a minor in economics—and is excited to have plenty of Papa John’s pizza at the restaurant’s location on Auburn’s campus (Balakit , The Tennessean,  5/26; Henderson, AL.com, 5/31; Wong, Washington Post, 6/4).

https://www.eab.com/daily-briefing/2017/06/05/pizza-essay-got-student-into-yale (emphasis added)

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I miss you, and I worry about you boys.  I cannot imagine how difficult it has been for you boys to grow up without me, especially given how close we were.

I still remember that day in third grade when you had the school concert, Shosh.  This was after your mother and I had split up, and you boys were starting to  spend every other week with me.  The concert was during one of the weeks when you were at your mother’s.  After the show, when I knelt down to give you a big hug for the wonderful job you had done, you simply leaned into me, put your head on my shoulder, and cried.  You must have stood there and cried in the middle of the crowded school gym for a good 3 – 5 minutes.  It broke my heart.

I worry about you, Shosh, because you are the sensitive one.  You wear your heart on your sleeve … and, boy, is it a big heart!  It is good to have a big heart and it is okay to wear your heart on your sleeve.  That is who you are!  But, that wonderful character trait of your may predispose you to getting your heart bruised more often.

I am so sorry that we have to be apart for this period, and I cannot bear to think how this separation must affect you.  But, we must deal with the vagaries of life as we encounter them.  This circumstance was not of our choosing.  Evil and lies may assert themselves, but truth and justice will prevail.  We shall be reunited.

For now, I want you to focus on doing your best in school and in life.  Be the best young men you can be.  Live honorably.  You have but your name and your reputation.  You come a from a long line of great and honorable people on my side of the family.  Don’t sully their names.

Shosh, I need you to start thinking about college admission and how best to get into top colleges.   Remember, good grades and high test scores aren’t enough.  Almost everyone who applies to top Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, etc., have high GPAs and high SAT scores.  You must find ways to stand out in that august crowd.

Differentiate yourself by the contributions you make to your community and to the world.  Find meaningful ways to help those around you.  Be not takers, but find ways to give back, to make the most of the talents you have been given.  Don’t just follow the crowd and volunteer as everyone else does because it’s the path of least resistance.  Find your own way.  Create your own path.

Additionally, remember that America is about popularity contests.  (Whether we like that or not is irrelevant: it is.)  Unless you  are a genius like Steve Job, it is difficult to succeed in America without being likeable.  In HR, for example, one of the critical tests for being hired is being able to fit in with the organization.  No matter your brilliance and accomplishments, most organizations will not ask you to join them if they think you wouldn’t get along with the people within the organization.  Thus, you must work on improving your social skills and your soft skills (e.g., collaboration, communication, and critical thinking).

When applying to college, make the best use of the personal essays and letters of recommendation to tell your story, share your contributions, and  show your likeability.  Your GPAs and test scores present but the side of you that’s most easily quantifiable.  That’s only part of your story.  It is your privilege to share more intangible — and more interesting — side of you.  Thus, when working on letters of recommendations, talk to your teachers and make sure each teacher would tell different parts of your story — the intangible parts beyond the grades and test scores.  Together, the personal essay and letters of recommendation should paint for the admissions committee a better picture of who you are and why they would be at a loss to not invite you to join their school.

Regarding your essay, brainstorm the heck out of it and find the best story, incident, item, etc., that represents you best and the best you.  Make it interesting.  Be likeable.  It is your marketing piece and not simply another writing assignment.  Thus, treat it accordingly.

Now, look at the pizza essay again, and deconstruct it to see its beauty and brilliance.

“The sound of my doorbell starts off high, then the pitch mellows out, and the whole effect mimics an instrumental interpretation of rain finally finding a steady pace at which to fall. I have spent several minutes analyzing its tone because I have had many opportunities to do so, as one thing I love to do is order pizza and have it delivered to my house. When the delivery person rings my doorbell, I instantly morph into one of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating to the sound that signals the arrival of the cheesy, circular glory. It smells like celebration, as I love to rejoice a happy occasion by calling Papa John’s for my favorite food. It tastes like comfort, since having pizza delivered to my quiet home is a way for me to unwind. It looks like self-sufficiency, because when I was young, ordering pizza made me feel grown-up, and it still provides that satisfaction for my child at heart. Accepting those warm cardboard boxes is second nature to me, but I will always love ordering pizza because of the way eight slices of something so ordinary are able to evoke feelings of independence, consolation, and joy.”

Note how each sentence is built and the sentences connect logically to each other to form the essay.  Note the word choices and how the theme is interwoven into each sentence.  For example, instead of saying “it feels like celebration” and “it feels like comfort”, in keeping with the pizza theme, she said, “It smells like celebration” and “It tastes lie comfort.”  How brilliant!

(Now, if you break down each sentence and read each closely, you will find a grammatical error.  Do you see it?)

Do likewise when you read and write for school, for the SAT, and for your college applications.  Break down each idea, each sentence, each paragraph, each section, etc., to make sure it is concise, internally consistent, well-organized, and coherent as a whole.  Take the time to deconstruct your readings and writings in order to maximize your efforts.  Reading is an exercise of the mind more than of the eyes.  Likewise, writing is more of a mental exercise than a mechanical one.  Take the time to read and write well.

I leave you with a quote I love by Mark Twain, one of my favorite authors.

https://i0.wp.com/img.picturequotes.com/2/418/417552/i-didnt-have-time-to-write-a-short-letter-so-i-wrote-a-long-one-instead-quote-1.jpg

 

All my love, always,

Dad

 

4 years, 10 months, and 21 days. Stop reading like a baby. Reading for high school and college uses different strategies.

 

Harvard Report

As an experiment, Dr. Perry (psychologist), Director of the Harvard Reading-Study Center gave 1500 first year students a thirty-page chapter from a history book to read, with the explanation that in about twenty minutes they would be stopped and asked to identify the
important details and to write an essay on what they had read.
The class scored well on a multiple-choice test on detail, but only
fifteen students of 1500 were able to write a short statement on what the chapter was all about in terms of its basic theme. Only fifteen of 1500 top first year college students had thought of reading the
paragraph marked “Summary”, or of skimming down the descriptive flags in the margin.
This demonstration of “obedient purposelessness” is evidence of “an enormous amount of wasted effort” in the study skills of first year students. Some regard it almost as cheating to look ahead or skip around. To most students, the way they study expresses “their
relationship to the pressures and conventional rituals of safe passage to the next grade”.
Students must be jarred out of this approach. The exercise of  judgment in reading requires self-confidence, even courage, on the part of the student who must decide for himself what to read or skip. Dr. Perry suggested that students ask themselves what it is they want to get out of a reading assignment, then look around for those points.  Instructors can help them see the major forms in which expository material is cast. Students should also “talk to themselves” while reading, asking “is this the point I’m looking for?”
My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:
I miss you.  The past several nights have been burdened with restless and dream-filled slumber.  As typical of my dreams, I fight evil during the night and wake up exhausted.  Worst, I’ve been waking up overwhelmingly sad.  I hope everything is okay with you guys.
Remember, this too shall pass.  Keep breathing in and out.  Put one foot in front of the other, and marshal on.  We will make it through this trial.

Until we reunite, I want you boys to continue working towards success.  For now, it means forming good reading, note-taking, studying, and critical thinking habits.

Today, let’s talk about reading.  When you, you were taught to read each and every word.  That was then.  You are no longer an early reader.  Now, you must learn how to read as a young adult.  Unfortunately, as evident from the Harvard Report quoted above, school does a poor job of teaching you how to read as an adult.  Think about it, before diving into the reading, only 15 out of 1500 Harvard freshmen knew to skim the summary, headings, and other information flagged by the author as being important.  15 out of 1500.  That’s one percent!!!

Studies show that readers can improve their reading comprehension by 10-20 percent by skimming the title; headings; subheadings; charts and graphics; and, words that are called out as being important by the author by being italicized, bolded, underlined, capitalized, placed in quotation marks, etc.  It takes minutes to skim the structure and highlighted portions of the reading to understand how the material is organized and gain a significant boost in your understanding of the reading.  Why wouldn’t you do that?

 

For example, if you’re visiting Paris for the first time, wouldn’t you want to know the lay of the land in order to figure out where you need to go to see each of the famous sites?  Is that not a better strategy than to simply walk out into the street and bump into what you may?  By glancing at which district each major site is located, where the districts are in relations to each other, the major roads that cut through the city and take you to each district, you gain a better understanding of the city and how best to conquer it.

It is the same with reading.  Before you read, skim the headings and highlights to get a sense of the skeleton of the arguments presented therein.  Once you have a sense of what the reading and its arguments are about, call on what you know about the subject to help guide you through the intricate arguments and assess their veracity.

Next, as you read, use the conventions of writing to help guide you and identify the important points the author is trying to communicate to you, the reader.  For example, if you are struggling to understand a sentence, break it down into its component parts: subject, verb, object, etc.  Once you pull away all of the ornaments, you lay bare the meaning of the sentence.  Likewise, to help you decipher a paragraph and find its main point (remember, if it’s well-written, each paragraph should have but one main point), use textual clues such as topic sentence, concluding sentence, the repetition of key words or ideas, the author’s highlight of key words or ideas by underlying or italicizing them, etc.

As you read, ask yourself the following:

  • “What is the main point the author is trying to tell me in this paragraph?”
  • “How does it relate to the thesis of the writing and the points presented in the preceding paragraphs?”
  • “So what?”

Make annotations in the margins to capture your thoughts and understanding.

Reading is not just a visual exercise:  it is primarily an analytical one.  Think.  Engage the author.  The more you engage yourself in the reading, the more you will understand it, and the easier it will be for you to remember it and explain it on tests and in your papers.  Your grades will improve, as will your body of knowledge.

Education is less about grades (that’s just one indicia of how well you learned something), than it is about building a useful body of knowledge that will serve you well in life.

I leave you with my favorite quote from the Jefferson Memorial, one of my favorite places in Washington, D.C.

https://i.pinimg.com/564x/f0/49/55/f04955c4b277b4390be7c41f5206cfde.jpg

Do not continue to wear the coat of a child.  Learn and grow into the great men I know you can be, my sons.

All my love, always,

Dad