book review: mindset

by Carol S. Dweck, Ph. D.

This book somewhat subversively takes on the overachievers in America, well the overachievers who think that they are entitled to their status by nature of their genius.

Let me start over: Dweck posits in the book that there are two types of people: fixed mindset people and growth mindset people. The fixed mindset people feel that whatever their intellectual status is currently, that is fixed, and really they can’t do anything about it. No getting smarter or, for that matter, growing dumber. In the overachiever crowd, many of these people were in the gifted and talented classes at school and now, as they have aged, rather than fail at a new endeavor, they decide to avoid any project where there is a potential for failure. The growth mindset people, by comparison, are always looking for new things to try, are not afraid of failure, and they know that through hard work, you can become better at things.

Dweck then reviews different areas in our lives where our mindset might be beneficial or detrimental to our lives: school, work, children, relationships, and leadership. Not being afraid to fail can make us stretch further and try new things. We might be capable of more than we expect. Maybe failure is ok sometimes. While fixed mindset people are good to have in jobs which are highly repetitive, as they prefer to master a topic, and continue working on that topic.

Peppered throughout the book are stories of people who have changed their mindsets or who have begun to better understand the mindsets of their colleagues.

In first or second grade I was not put into the gifted and talented program...and I am still trying to prove I belonged! :)

(Click the image above to see it in more detail.)



Really people, this is a great show. And while the summaries of the show say it is about a writer who is on the skids, and his family...well, that is what I think it is about. We just finished the whole first season and LOVE it. LOVE. Best show ever. Really. Watch it on Netflix.


book review: stop getting ripped off

by Bob Sullivan

One of my favorite personal finance books is, Getting A Financial Life: Personal Finance in your 20’s and 30’s. I bought the book for all of my siblings at one point or another because I think the book has a lot to offer. I really like this new book as well. The book is subtitled, Why Consumers Get Screwed, and How You can Always Get a Fair Deal. Sullivan does a great job outlining how industry’s goals, making a profit, are not aligned with your best interest, getting things at the best price.

What I found most useful in the book was how he outlined in detail the fees associated with purchases such as buying a house or your cell phone contract. He goes through the HUD-1 form, explaining, for example, fees associated with Title Insurance should bring up a red flag in your mind at closing.

He also separates the readers into three buckets when he talks about credit cards: 1. People who pay off hteir card in full every month, or deadbeats to the credit card industry, 2. People who sometimes carry a balance, and 3. People who always carry a balance. Sullivan then explains how best to utilize your credit depending on the type of credit user.

The most useful chapter to me, however, was the chapter on “Getting a 21st Century Raise.” He explains how you can go about utilizing your off hours to generate extra income. I really liked some of his ideas about “having the conversation” with your boss about a raise, what you need to put together to get the raise, and what to do if you don’t get the raise.

As some of you know, Brent and I conceptualize money differently. He is great at tracking where he is spending money, but I need a plan looking to the future. For me, spent money is gone, so of little consequence. To get over this difference, we created a one page document. The first chart has our each of our incomes, yearly and monthly, gross. The second chart lists all of our debt: student loans, etc, laid out in total, and with our monthly amount owed. The third chart lays out our fixed expenses for the month: cell phones, TIVO, rent, etc. I then take table one (income) and subtract table three (monthly expenses) which equals the amount of money we have left at the end of the month to tackle our combined debt. We update the page monthly and have been using this method for about a year, to great success. It really allows us to see how much money we are paying off. (If you would like a copy of our sheet, drop me an email.)

Sullivan advocates a similar approach in his book, and calls it a debt map.

I think this book is great. By the way, this is another “early” review…which I think is pretty fun. The book is due to be published January 2010.


rainstorm and a guy walking down the street

Took this shot the other evening out my favorite window in our apartment.


article review

I think I sent this article out to most of my readers, but just in case...

The first few paragraphs of the article is below (click below to go to the whole article). The article says, in very short, that:

1. Taking vitamins is at the least a waste, and at worst, harmful for your health.
2. Taking tamoxifen can reduce the incidence of breast cancer in half.

Yet, we continue to take vitamins and not tamoxifen.

Why? Why wouldn't we take the wonder drugs? Money? Capitalism? Someone can't make money on the drugs that work, so they aren't proscribed? People avoiding breast cancer would be bad? A drain on society?

Interesting, especially given the recent recommendation that mammograms begin when women turn 50, rather than 40.

I am not sure what to make of this other than I am frustrated. I just picked up another weight loss book this week at the library and all I kept thinking while reading was this is all crap. In one part of the book they are telling the reader to eat better, exercise more, and take vitamins, while in another part of the book they are saying that my thyroid is out of whack. Great. How do I re-whack it? That would be news I could use.

NYTimes, November 13, 2007
Medicines to Deter Some Cancers Are Not Taken

Many Americans do not think twice about taking medicines to prevent heart disease and stroke. But cancer is different. Much of what Americans do in the name of warding off cancer has not been shown to matter, and some things are actually harmful. Yet the few medicines proved to deter cancer are widely ignored.

Take prostate cancer, the second-most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, surpassed only by easily treated skin cancers. More than 192,000 cases of it will be diagnosed this year, and more than 27,000 men will die from it.

And, it turns out, there is a way to prevent many cases of prostate cancer. A large and rigorous study found that a generic drug, finasteride, costing about $2 a day, could prevent as many as 50,000 cases each year. Another study found that finasteride’s close cousin, dutasteride, about $3.50 a day, has the same effect.

Nevertheless, researchers say, the drugs that work are largely ignored. And supplements that have been shown to be not just ineffective but possibly harmful are taken by men hoping to protect themselves from prostate cancer.

As the nation’s war on cancer continues, with little change in the overall cancer mortality rate, many experts on cancer and public health say more attention should be paid to prevention.


the value of a newspaper

I was talking to my co-worker today, a former documentary film maker, about the new media model. He pointed out something that I think gets lost a lot when we talk about the end of media as we know it. Namely, that paying for a newspaper was basically having that media filter out what was important to you. I think that today, we are more self-centered and therefore less interested in reading about topics that might not be of interest to us, but are good for us to know about. Kind of like eating your veggies. The more you eat, the more you want to eat.

Sorry to be behind on the blog. Visitors are gone, so game on! I have a few books to review, and some other thoughts of feminism coming up.


from brent's blog: the future of news is NOW

We've been hearing a lot lately about the impending demise of the mainstream news media. Newspapers around the country are failing or in big trouble, including some of the premier names. Ditto for the major (American) newsmagazines and even the network TV news divisions. It is true that businesses--even whole industries-- come and go. But many people fear that the decline of news organizations could leave us without an important check on government corruption, abuse, and oppression.

Most commentators are blaming the Internet for these changes. Craigslist allows anyone to post for free the kind of classified ads they once had to pay a newspaper to print. Google News allows anyone to browse the stories from news sites around the world. And many papers themselves put their content on the web for free. Certainly the Internet has already changed the music industry and seems poised to change television and the movies. Why should newspapers be immune?

But there's one type of news source that no one seems much worried about even though it faces intense pressure from the internet: celebrity news. While the Great Recession has taken a toll on even the venerable People Magazine, this area of news seems vibrant and healthy. It seems that because celebrity news isn't considered "important news" by the traditional media, no one has spent much time wondering what it might have going for it.

First off, millions of people actually find celebrity news to be interesting enough that they're willing to shell out money for it. The fact of the matter is, a lot of people just aren't that willing to pay for news about corruption in City Hall. They may be glad that the newspaper is out there exposing it, but they'd rather not shell out to read about it. Lack of interest isn't created by Craigslist or Google News. More likely it's created by Facebook and Twitter and the bazillion other things that people have to entertain themselves with. Competition for our attention spans has never been spread over a wider spectrum o media: live performances, print, radio, television, movies, gaming platforms, Internet websites, cellphones, cellphone apps, and on and on.

But there are those who are still interested in the news and willing to put down the game controller long enough to read a magazine or newspaper. So far, however, the traditional news media hasn't been very creative in thinking about when and where to reach them. Where do most people buy their celebrity magazines? At the checkout stand. You're standing there in line and you see an intriguing cover. Jumping online to TMZ.com isn't an option in the grocery store line (at least not just yet) and so the magazine has you. The downside to this approach is that People and the like don't have a lot of steady subscribers. But the upside is that they have found a way to position themselves in a time and place that works for them.

Now think about your local newspaper. It probably gets delivered to your door every morning (or it would if you actually subscribed to it). When you wake up in the morning do you want to sit down and read the paper with your coffee like grandpa used to? Or are you checking your Blackberry and looking up what the morning commute is like right now? If you drive to work you cannot safely or efficiently read the newspaper (no, seriously, you cannot read and drive, yes I mean you). Would your boss approve if the first 30 minutes of your day was spent reading the newspaper? Finish your workday, drive home, put the kids to bed and all you want to do it watch some entertaining TV.

The newspaper is obsolete. The general interest news magazine is obsolete. This is not something that will happen in the future--this has already happened. A generation has grown to adulthood without the habit of reading the paper in the morning. No amount of handwringing will change this back. Although it's dangerous to generalize from one's personal experience, the way I interact with the news is drastically different from the way I did when I was in college. I used to subscribe to the paper Wall Street Journal. I now read it only online, along with the New York Times. But I also use Google Reader to subscribe to a number of blogs and news feeds (including a couple of blogs by the Wall Street Journal). On my walk to work each morning I listen to podcasts from NPR and the Economist, but also to recorded speeches from my former law school and elsewhere. Today I was listening to Alan Greenspan speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations about the financial crisis--a speech which I'm not even sure I saw reported anywhere. And perhaps worst of all from the perspective of my local newspaper, lately I've taken to picking up a free copy of the political newspaper Politico. While most of the country can get Politico only online, actual paper is given away free in the DC area. I take it to my desk and peruse it each morning it's printed. But it's short and focused and relevant.

I'm a news junkie and yet my local newspaper, the venerable Washington Post, is not in the mix. I don't have time to read the physical paper; the website is poorly designed and frustrating to use; the blogs I followed for a while were uninteresting; and the podcasts nonexistent as far as I know. If there are great blogs or podcasts why isn't the Post doing a better job of letting me know they're out there? I get a letter every month urging me to buy a subscription to a format I'm unlikely ever to go back to. And I like newspapers, I genuinely miss getting the physical object. I remember from my earliest days seeing my dad at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading the paper and thinking, "this is what grownups do." I subscribed to the Wall Street Journal as a senior in high school and read every single issue (really) for 15 years. But my nostalgia isn't strong enough for me to go back to a traditional newspaper subscription and I doubt that nostalgia will be a viable business model for the newspapers.

I don't have all the answers and maybe I don't have any. But the traditional media had better recognize that you cannot save something which is already extinct. If anyone in my generation ought to be reading a newspaper, it's me. But I've moved on. My children won't even know that there was something to be nostalgic about. We so readily and condescendingly accept that factory workers displaced by globalization need "job training" and "new skills." Why should white collar reporters be immune. Buy a Flip video camera and make us a video, get a decent microphone (actually, shell out for an excellent one) and make us a podcast. Do it now. Do it like your future depends on it.


this is way funnier


we love lunch too


Five, 10, 15 years from now

Walking through Carroll Gardens this weekend, our friend Anja asked us were we would live if we could live anywhere in the US. We were stumped.

And recently I was asked by my friend Laura to consider where I want to be in my life in five, ten, or fifteen years from now. I feel bifurcated on this question.

Chose your own adventure 5 year option A: debt free, except for our government law school loans, working as a writer and photographer, possibly a little person running around; option B: leading projects at my current job as a bureaucrat watching my life go by.

Not really two options there. So I need to proceed with Option A.

What do you do when you feel that what you want out of life and where you are currently positioned in life don’t align? Make a plan. Our plan to get from here to option A has been to work to pay off our debt. We need to reduce our costs. Simplify. Because I am unsatisfied in our daily work, we spend money and spare time doing things that we do find fulfilling.

But there is another leap that is necessary: I need to figure out how to make money, less money I am sure, writing and taking pictures for a living.

And I am worried about the day I decide to make this leap and what I will do on the next morning. Really? One day I will just decide to make this change? I suppose it will be more of a long-term migration in that direction.

But it is scary. What if I don’t like it? I know I will just try the next thing.

The impulsive side of me wants to enact Project 37 tomorrow, not five years from now. Realistically, I need to wait. Keep my eye on the prize. Bleh.

What are your five, ten, and fifteen year plans?


new york new york

Headed back up to New York this weekend to see my friend in from Germany, Anja. Had a wonderful, if exhausting weekend. Ready for the short work week! (Click here to see pictures of this weekend and last weekend with Amy.)

We visited The High-line Park today too. How fun. They took an abandoned elevated train track in the meat packing district and turned it into a park. There is a hotel that goes over the tracks. As I was walking up the stairs to the park, I said to Anja and Brent, "Wouldn't it be funny if we could see a naked person?"

Ask and ye shall receive: there was a naked guy. I took a picture of a fully clothed woman instead.


book review: on guerilla gardening

Ever heard of guerrilla gardening? People all over the world are taking over unused land and planting gardens! It is such a fun idea, especially if the land is lying fallow. And now there is a manual for people who want to try it: On Guerrilla Gardening. The small book includes the history of the movement and pictures of people out there doing it.

Did you know that Victory Gardens during World War II supplied 42 percent of all fresh food to the country? There seems to have been a recent resurgence of interest in gardening. And if you don’t have the land, why not set up a guerrilla garden?

A few people did just that down the block from our house. They planted flowers in a circle on an empty lot. I so enjoyed seeing the flowers there. And what harm do flowers do? I mean, they could only help to beautify the land.

The book explains a lot about gardening, the how of it all. And tells the personal story of the author and his guerrilla gardening adventures. I would recommend borrowing it from the library if only to learn more about the movement. And you can read more about guerrilla gardening at: www.guerrillagardening.org.


fun facts about protein

In the book, Eat to Live, there is a chart that shows that brocolli has more protein per ounce than sirloin. I did the math, and might have it wrong. This sentence links to the book page where the information is found.

Amount of protein in half a pound of sirloin: 12 grams

Amount of protein in half a pound of broccoli: 13 grams

Amount of protein in half a pound of Brussels sprouts: 15.4 grams

Interesting. Who knew?


candy corn cone

At work I came across a posting about a street artist who had painted orange cones to look like candy corn. HOW CUTE I thought...and then I saw one with my friend Amy! I was so excited. I loved it.

On the way home tonight our candy had been smashed in half. :( So I went and healed him. He was up right again. This is a picture of him by the artists, pre-injury. Click this link to see more of Diabetik's work. Enjoy.


book review: the guinea pig diaries

By A.J. Jacobs

The Guinea Pig Diaries is a book of crazy stunts, not unlike the stunts I dream up to try in my life. What fun to read about someone else pulling these silly stunts! And boy, is the author's wife a saint, which the author knows. His first two books I have heard of but not read: The Year of Living Biblically, and The Know-It-All.

The book collects Jacobs’ various articles written about experiments doing things such as outsourcing his life to India, or trying to behave rationally all of the time, or living a brutally honest life. These are all funny and some are even laugh-out-loud funny. When he outsources his life, he has personal assistants in India respond to all of his emails and buys all of his gifts online. He got the idea from the book, The World is Flat, which describes how much of our day to day lives is already outsourced (at least that is what I gather, because I have not read that book). He loves not having to worry about all of this email, and his assistants, in addition to being cute, write the best email responses! The brutal honesty chapter was one of my favorite chapters because that's I how I try to live my life. I am a direct communicator. I don’t beat around the bush. But I suppose 90 percent of my readers already know this. Ha. Jacobs, on the other hand, often lies. Little white lies. We all tell them. But when he stops telling the lies, both large and small, he feels somehow liberated. But he kind of feels bad for hurting people’s feelings too.

Because he wrote all of the articles at sometime in the past, he adds a coda to the end of all of the experiments. He said the rationality project has been the most lasting or life altering. In that experiment, he read up of cognitive behavioral psychology and tried to put what he had learned into action. I do this when driving; when I am in traffic I try to rationally remember that the other lanes only seem to be moving more quickly, because it's an optical illusion that the lanes look like they are moving more quickly.

His most genius experiment is spending the month being his wife’s slave. He does everything she asks, including turning up the volume on the TV manually even though she has the remote in her hands. His wife does the coda in this chapter, where she reveals the positive impact the experiment had on their relationship. Jacobs realized how much of the household work his wife does in comparison to him. Maybe this is something we should all try?

Jacobs said in his notes that he responds to all emails he gets. So as an experiment, I emailed him a few things I thought might interest him: 1. A photo of Bumpass, Virginia because of a reference to a similar sounding town in Virginia found in the book, 2. The essay I wrote about men sitting down to pee in Germany, something also mentioned in the book, and 3. I asked him to respond.

And he did! I was so excited! I got the response and did a little happy dance, until Brent reminded me that in his brutal honesty experiment he coped to having lied to a bad poet to protect the poet’s feelings. So his calling the German men peeing essay hilarious might have just been his being nice to me.

In any event, the book is good fun and the main qualms I have with it are the cover and the title. The cover sucks and the title is not as enticing as it could have been. If the book had not been recommended by someone else, I never would have picked it up. I did not tell Jacobs this when I emailed him though: it seemed gratuitously mean...maybe I am not as brutally honest as I think.