Review: The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness

The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness
The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part history, part biography, part call-to-action, The End of Average isn’t your average non-fiction book. Then again, there’s no such thing as an average non-fiction book, nor, according to author Todd Rose, is there an average person. So why compare people to averages?

Most of us of a certain age (say, older than 30, maybe even younger) are products of a system that sought to evaluate, sort, and assign us based on our abilities compared to an average. The problem is two fold: the “average” is artificial, representing no living person, and the average is a distillation of many different abilities lumped together and labelled with an otherwise meaningless “grade.” So a person who is good at Math (A) but bad at English (D) has the same average grade as someone who is bad at math but good at English. We say those two people are of the same class.

In fact, the very instruction given to those two people was probably based on the way an “average” person learns, which is why the one was evaluated “bad” at math and the other “bad” at English. Rose, and all of the research he quoted, claims that there are better ways to teach.

And it’s all very compelling, and as a new father, a subject I am keenly interested in. I, myself, did not have the best experience in high school (oh, I “excelled,” but that was despite my teachers’ best efforts). I have every intention of taking a large role, if not the largest role, in my son’s education. That there are institutions are developing ways to personalize learning for the individual is, frankly, inspiring.

Rose discusses not only education, but job recruitment and performance as well. Companies from small startups to behemoths like Google and Microsoft are shifting their focus away from treating employees according to efficiency-based averages and allowing for more individualization, which has led to increased innovation, employee satisfaction, and a stronger bottom line.

The End of Average is not very long, somewhat repetitive (not necessarily in a bad way) and well supported with a long list of references. A quick, informative, good read.

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The 5 Miler, Extended to 10k

I unceremoniously took out the xpand-laces from my shoes and relaced ’em very loosely for this run. Goal for today was to take it easy. Isn’t that always my goal?

Donned my one running tank-top and stepped out into unseasonably cold air. Actually, it was the usual Seattle temperature, a break from the heat wave we’d been having. But I didn’t go back and change shirts. It wasn’t *that* cold.

Walked up to 1st avenue and Roosevelt before starting, heading north. My shoes kind of flopped on my heals, and I purposefully allowed my feet to roll with some exaggerated pronation, all to avoid cramps. Spoiler alert: it worked.

Crossed 145th street, with a small pause waiting for the light, and then the drop towards 155th. Mile one a little before the left turn, next to Twin Ponds Park; 9:26 although moving pace was obviously faster.
155th street is flat until Meridian, and then really jumps up at Wallingford. The next two block, before the right turn on Ashworth, are very steep, but having run Maple Leaf four times in a row, it was a piece of cake. A stale piece of cake, but cake nonetheless. Paced stayed in the slow 9s.

Ashworth keeps going up, but just barely. Mile 2 was a little before 165th street, a 9:21. “Faster” (if you count the pause) than mile 1, how about that? The “climb” levelled off, and then a left turn on 175th where it jumps up again a bit. Passed the new Trader Joe’s, then a left onto the Interurban Trail and a long descent. Mile 3 ahead of 167th street, next to the cemetery. 9:04, and no leg pain at all.

There’s a short “segment” between 167th and 165th, and I was feeling good, so I went for it, getting my pace up and peaking at a 5:44. Achieved my 4th best time ever, 46 seconds; (my best is 39 seconds).

Continued on the Interurban. There’s a portion where it goes up to a pedestrian walkway across Aurora, then down, the up again for another walkway across 155th. I think the GPS gets a little confused here, because although it traces the route accurately, I think it fudges on the moving distance. It has me dropping to a low speed of 11:02 per mile on a downhill portion. I’m being too picky, I now– over the long run (pun!) I’m sure the reported average pace is close to correct.

Still, when I hit mile 4 as I climbed up from 155th toward 145th, and my watch said 9:11, it was a little deflating. That pace is a good one for me, but considering the little fartlek I’d had, and that mile 4 was mostly downhill anyway, I think my real pace was faster.

Anyway, moving on (another pun. Sort of). Crossed 145th, almost got hit by a car that thought the red octagon sign said “slow down but keep moving” instead of “stop,” and kept on going. A left turn on 137th, a nice and clear Aurora to cross, and a big drop down and climb back up– feeling fine, no worries at all. Mile 5 at Interlake, 9:26, but really more like 9:06 because of the pause for the jerk who almost hit me.

A right on Ashworth, and that sweet descent. A left into the school parking lot, cutting behind the swimming pool to emerge onto 133rd. Across Meridian, a drop and a jump, across 1st avenue, and I decided to go until I hit 10k. So a left on 3rd avenue, and a final left on 135th, and then done.

Walked a few blocks and was home again. 57:04, 9:11 overall pace, and best of all: no foot pain.

Maple Leaf, South on 8th Ave Attack

Fourth run in a row up Maple Leaf, ending the series with whimper, not a bang. Short version: laces too tight, foot and calf cramps, had to walk bits. The irony: running up hill was more pain-free than running down. That horror: ran the whole thing shirtless.

Started off in the evening, around 8:30 PM, and walked to 5th avenue and 130th street. Used two crosswalks, and then started, south on 5th. The way my bluetooth headphones and hat sat on ym head my my sunglasses bounced funny, so I took them off. Didn’t need em. A left on 127th, a right on 8th, in anticipation of returning on a loop- for some reason, I eschew running any street twice in one run, if I can avoid it.

8th avenue is a nice, gentle drop, and I took it easy, mile one right before Northgate at a 9:16 pace. My feet were already starting to hurt. A little more descent after that, and then the lowest point, crossing 105th street, next to a bog called the Beaver Pond Natural Area.

And then, up. Of all the ways up Maple Leaf from the North, 8th avenue has the steepest portions. My speed dropped to 11:30 or so for a few blocks, but came back up to 10:00 or so. Having running up hills for the last three runs was paying off: steep as it was, it was very doable.

Mile two right at the left turn onto 92nd Street, 9:46, are you kidding me. A little more climbing to Roosevelt, crossed that, and then descending to 15th Avenue and the left turn.

And now the big descent, and the return of that bad foot cramping. Low point at 105th street again, and I told myself I would try to walk it off at mile 3– glanced at my watch, and I was right at mile 3. 9:04. I started walking.

Walked for about a 3rd of a mile, then picked it up again. Then a pause crossing Northgate, and I managed to keep going, climbing, albeit gently, all the way to 125th. Mile 4 right at the left turn, 10:21, not bad considering a third of that was walking.,

125th drops down and the goes up as it curves right to turn into 130th street, and I had another much appreciated pause waiting for the light at 5th avenue. And then, to stretch the run to 5 miles, I continued past 3rd Avenue to 1st Avenue, the right turn, and finished the run in the dark by turning right on 133rd, stopping when the watch said 5 miles on the nose. 9:34.

Final moving average was 9:36, and that’s okay by me considering the hill, the pain, the lateness of the day. Got a PR for a segment, that part from the lowest point at 15th Avenue and 105th street up to 117th street, .6 miles, 150 feet up, a 6% grade. Strava tells me I’ve run this once before, back in May. This time I did it in 6:27, nine seconds faster.

So that’s that. Lesson learned: looser laces.

That Tasty Middle-Class Angst

After 72 hours and several calls to technical support, an issue I am having is nearing resolution. All of the human beings I’ve spoken with- some of whom simply could not help me- have been polite, attentive, and expressed what felt like genuine concern.

It’s not the people, but the broken systems and tools they’re forced to work with. And this in a company with a market value of 16 billion dollars.

I’ve been reading, lately, books about Wall Street (which just goes to show you how good the writer of said books is, as it’s not a subject I otherwise have much interest in). Talk about a broken system. Talk about tools that don’t work.

Consider, also, what’s going on in American politics right now. Nominees, duly selected, and utterly reviled at the same time.

My own brain, even. A few days ago I wrote about short-circuiting my own natural tendency to get bogged down in pointless, fruitless thoughts. These damned heuristics.

I see the appeal of shortcuts and tools, obviously, but they take on a life of their own. We go for efficiency, but there’s no escaping entropy. I’m trying to do more writing lately, right? But I end up spending more time playing with novel-organizing software, reading advice from so-called plot-masters, moving my manuscripts from Word to Scrivener to Google-docs. These processes can be emotionally satisfying—but they’re also absolutely unproductive. Maybe I get a burst and do some actually writing, but nothing’s getting finished.

Maybe this is why people tend towards a zen of simplicity. And urge to throw it all away. I’m all for self-reflection, and blog posts like this one are simultaneously the very problem I’m talking about and a kind of impetus to discover a solution. A kind of koan? I don’t know. I’m just trying to say I get why people are so gosh-darned smarmy about finding a way to “just be.”

That’s an excuse I make for myself, anyway, when I’m frustrated by what I said above, about how “nothing’s getting finished.” At least I’m writing. At least I’m being. And yet and yet and yet. All these tools, all these algorithms, all these soul-less artifacts.

When I climb into bed at the end of the day, with a book, I’m not thinking “let’s get lost in another world.” I’m thinking “let’s finish this and write a review and make note in my diary of my writing word-count and get on to the next book.”


Review: Out on the Cutting Edge

Out on the Cutting Edge
Out on the Cutting Edge by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Matthew Scudder used to be addicted to alcohol, but now he’s sober. Lawrence Block, however, is still addicted to killing young women, waiting for a several months, and then sending Scudder on a cold trail to find them. I don’t have a problem with this. (I mean, in terms of reading mysteries, I’m not advocating of murder in general, obviously.)

Here we are in the 7th Scudder novel, and we’re sort of returning to form. The first 4 novels had a Scudder who investigates, frequents bars, feels a kind of malaise. Then Block shook things up and gave us a look-see at Matt struggling with his alcoholism. And now, in Out on the Cutting Edge, instead of frequenting bars, Scudder frequents AA meetings. A decent author would probably be able to rewrite the earlier novels so that the bar visits were all AA visits too: and Block is a very decent author.

Which is what I mean when I say we’re returning to form. Existential Angst gave way to Struggling With the Human Condition and now, thankfully, we’re back to Angst. Not quite as Existential, but verging on the Absurd (not the “silly” absurd, but the “there’s no explaining things so why bother” absurd). Block achieves this by giving us a two-fer in Cutting Edge: two mysteries instead of one.

And the cynic in me wants to holler “but Deus Ex Machina!” at how those mysteries end up solving one another, and the handy little “I’m done writing so here’s the end” bow that Block puts on it at the end of the book. But I’m just glad we’re back to the good old Scudder novel, less than 200 pages, not too demanding on the morality front.

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If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Ignore ‘Em

I’ve been getting this jones to do some writing lately. Fiction writing. I’ve gotten literally dozens of unfinished pieces in different folders and at different stages. I don’t know that my urge is to finish them; I just want to get lost in the process.

So I’ve dipped my toes when I have time. But a few days ago this happened: I was in the kitchen, mulling some ideas in my head while I put together a bottle for the baby. A newspaper was on the kitchen table, and in it, yet another article about Trump. My brain started doing what it always does: arguing with imaginary people.

I know better than this, and forced myself to stop after a few minutes. I tried to return to those thoughts from before, ideas for the stories I’m working. Gone. Utterly gone. The idea of sitting down and writing felt like a chore, and a Sisyphean one at that.

And I realized: this happens all the time. This has been happening to me for a long time now. No wonder I never write nuthin’.

What I’m getting at here is not supposed to be any kind of political stance or discussion about the looming election (although, you have to admit: it sure does loom, doesn’t it.) Instead, I want to mentioned a different epiphany I had today. Because I was on the internet, on Reddit and Facebook, and the articles about Trump: they were legion.

Somehow, instead I ended up watching some YouTube videos. First I watched The Robert Randolph band play Squeeze and Voodoo Chile. Then I watched a short video on how to play the Black Lion opening in chess. Then I read an article about a guy who paced a 3:55 marathon for a bunch of people.

And it was back! The urge to write. The desire to get in there and pound some keys and make up whacky stuff. It was like an antidote to all the… what do you call it (ha, here I am, an urge to write, and I’m at a loss for words). All the cynicism and bitterness and doom and gloom, all of that weight was just gone.

It seems so obvious, I know. But it’s easy to forget the obvious when your brain is more or less constantly trying to solve the complicated puzzles of saving your soul from the degradations of the world. So call this a reminder Find things that delight you, immerse yourself in the awe of witnessing genius, and use it to erase the malaise of all this dreck that seems to earn so many page hits and generate ad revenue.

And then go write about it!

Maple Leaf Hill, West 92nd Street Attack

I had every intention of going for a run on Saturday, and when that didn’t happen, I was supposed to go on Sunday. That didn’t happen either. And so I made it out there this morning; but that was on three days’ rest, so I don’t know if today’s run was better or worse for that. I mean, as I write this, my left leg is sore, my left knee is sore. I’m going to blame the shoes.

Or, if not the shoes, the laces specifically. I got me some of them Xpand laces, the kind that you put in and lock-down and then there’s no tyying or untying: you just slip on your kicks and off you go. I need to adjust them a bit through a few runs, I think– one foot felt loose, the other tight. Or maybe I’m a lopsided person.

Today’s run was yet another hill attack. Started up a Roosevelt to 1st Avenue, a left turn and heading south, to Corliss, a right-ish turn, around Haller Lake to Meridian, and a left to turn to continue south. Mile 1 was just past 120th street, 8:41. I would have preferred 9:15; one of these days I’m going to learn how to warm up slowly.

After Northgate, Meridian is called College Way, and I continued, all descent until 103rd street (where I used to live, back in the day), then a short sharp rise up to and past North Seattle Community College. At this mini crest, mile 2, 8:34, and a total for the run of 135 feet below where I started.

At 92nd street I turned left, and this is where the climbing began. Up and up, over Highway 5, and mile 3 was just as I passed 8th Avenue, a 9:20. I peaked at Roosevelt, turned left, dropped a bit to 94th, another left, and a right on 5th avenue to start descending again. Mile 4 was right after the lowest point, a 9:14. (Running downhill is tough. When I was doing the Ragnar, I had one drop that was so long and steep I had to make a conscious effort to change my gait every ten steps or so to avoid getting a stitch.

And then climbing again, continuing up 5th avenue. A minute of waiting at the crosswalk at Northgate, and then up some more. By now I was feeling really heavy. But I have to say, that these multiple days of climbing hills– I was able to kind of zone-out and just trudge up. Foot numb, leg kind of achy, lungs near to bursting, but I didn’t have that emotional fatigue that sometimes gets the best of me.

Mile 5 just past 125th street, a 9:47. Then a left on 130th, a right on 3rd Avenue, Roosevelt and home. 5 and half miles, 50 minutes or so, 9:04 average (when moving). 382 feet of climbing. I had it in my head that dropping to College way and 92nd was not as low as the other attack points for Maple Leaf, but it turns out it’s more or less the same. All told, an okay run.

Review: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my third Michael Lewis book, and I’m starting to detect a pattern. There’s always a guy, near the beginning, who figures “it” all out and writes as much in a newsletter, or blog. In Moneyball, “it” was that OBP was more important than batting average; in The Blind Side, “it” was that the left tackle was probably the most important player on the field after the quarterback; in The Big Short, “it” was that our nation’s economic backbone was run by incredibly stupid people.

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but “stupidity” was the overlying theme of The Big Short. Who knows, maybe Michael Lewis decided that “out-and-out” fraud was too libelous, and even guys who crashed the stock market still had enough money left over to sue him a few dozen times over. Indeed, one wants to believe the folks who run billion and trillion dollar companies are villains, not idiots. It fits a better narrative and, in the long run, is way less scary.

But what you get out of The Big Short is that the people at the top of the money-food-chain are too arrogant and complacent to see the through the many layers of obfuscation they’ve built to disguise their utter greed. And the result of this was little guys, at the bottom of the chain, finding a loophole and exploiting it.

Michael Lewis does a pretty good job explaining something that literally only a handful of people in the world really understand. More or less he beats you over the head with it, but stacking the story into a character-driven narrative and repeating the malfeasance of the corporate elite over and over again. Trust me, you won’t get it the first time he explains credit-default swaps. By the tenth time, you might.

You know what the truly horrible part of the this book was, for me? Even though all those “too-big to fail” companies failed, the stock market went kerflooey, and the US Government gave away hundreds of billions of dollars to slap a band-aid on what should have been a better regulated system… my life wasn’t really all that effected. In 2008 and subsequent years, my middle-class lifestyle was as it ever was and has been since. And this is horrible, because I’m not the only one, am I. All that money, all the stupidity, and for most of us, the only take-away was: oh goody, another Ryan Gosling movie.

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Maple Leaf, 15th Avenue North Attack

The plan was to wake up with a 5-Hour Energy drink, and then go for a run at some point. But I got busy and forgot about my “vitamins.” Didn’t realize it till I got back. Don’t know if I would have had a better run if I’d had the 5HED. Probably not. I was just sore from yesterday’s hills.

But so what. More hills today. Same hill as yesterday, but a different approach. Roosevelt to 3rd Avenue to 130th which turns into 125th to 15th Avenue. Nothing much to say about that. Mile one was done right afterI made the right onto 15th Avenue, 9:04. Normally I’d say “too fast!” but my GAP (Grade Adjusted Pace, which accounts for hills) was 9:28 which seems good to me. This, despite some aches and pains in hy right foot.

Down 15th Avenue, across Northgate, and the lowest point at 105th street. Right after that, before the hill really kicked in, mile 2, in 8:56 (GAP 8:53). And then a half mile of climbing. At 95th I made the right turn to keep on climbing, up to Roosevelt. I read on Wikipedia yesterday that 95th and Roosevelt was the 3rd highest point in Seattle.

It dropped after that, and mile 3 was done when I passed 5th Avenue: 9:43 (GAP 8:51). Now that’s what I’m talking about. My legs felt very heavy. But the foot pain was mostly gone.

Down to 1st Avenue, and the right turn. This descent bottomed out as I passed the Northgate Transit Center. The rest was a gentle rise. Mile 4 just passed Northgate Way, 9:25. And more rise as 1st Avenue goes North, swinging left to cross Highway 5, and a right turn to stay on 1st rather than continue on 117th. Mile 5 between 128th and 130th. My legs were lead at this point. 9:37. GAP was 8:39. I’ll take it.

And finish by taking 1st Avenue to Roosevelt, a right turn, left into my driveway. Sweaty and out of breath, but happy I did it. 51:15, 9:18 average pace for my moving time. I’ll rest tomorrow, see if I can get in a less hilly run Saturday after the wife comes home.

Maple Leaf, 5th Avenue North Attack

The idea here is that I’ll write about attacking the various hills in the city and I’ll come up with some kind of consistent nomenclature to describe these runs. So for now “attack” means “run up a hill” and I’ll indicate the direction from which I ran: in this case, I was north of Maple Leaf, meaning I ran towards the south.

Ragnar was last Friday/Saturday, and I figured if I wasn’t recovered by now, I’d just get more sloppy. So I went out for a run, with a goal of 5 miles. And since some of the latter hills on the Ragnar treated me poorly, I got this idea that I’d do more hills for the next year, starting today.

We’ll see how long THAT lasts.

Went up the small bit of Roosevelt towards 1st Avenue, and south. Crossed 130th, waiting for the light. Then down 1st ave to the Highway 5 cutover, finishing mile one in 8:50– too fast, but it was mostly downhill, and I did have those three days’ rest.

The cutover leads to 3rd Avenue, so I went south, cutting across to 5th Avenue behind Target along 112th Street. A right turn at 5th Avenue, and downhill some more, until 103rd Street, the low point. The climb started, and mile 2 happened a block later, an 8:48. Don’t worry, it gets slower after that.

Climbed up Maple Leaf to 95th Street, which is where 5th ave peaks, but on 95th it keeps climbing to an apex at Roosevelt. I turned left there, and started dropping. Mile three was at 104th Street, 9:28 this time.

More dropping, all the way down to what would be 107th street if it crossed Roosevelt. And then it starts to go back up again. I crossed 105th, waiting for the light first. Mile 4 was where 124th Street would be, and this mile was a 9:18.

Roosevelt continued, still going up, and then a left turn on 125th street, which is angled at this point and eventually turns into 130th. I made a right on 3rd Avenue, and since I wanted to get in 5 miles, stayed on 3rd up to 135th street, a last bit of climbing to 1st Avenue, and the south again to Roosevelt and where I started.

5 miles, 46:28, 9:07 average per mile, 381 feet of climbing.