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#110/111: Real Education

And an other book on education - mostly higher education but also K12. The book consists of two parts. In the first part he talks about the status of education in the US and in the second part he presents his recommendations.

A common dream of lots of American people is that everybody can be a superstar. They think that everybody should go to college and that schools are so bad that it’s not surprising that some people lag behind. Is that so?

Murray takes an interesting approach but not so surprising knowing his background. He takes the theory of intelligence, i.e. g in connection with multiple intelligences and talks about abilities. Most of you are somewhere below in an ability, maybe bodily-kinesthetic or musical. That’s pretty OK, but not everybody have to become a athlete or musician. However, if we talk about two other abilities: logical-mathematical and linguistic - lots of people think that everybody can become above average in them and there’s the first problem. (I will address possible solutions later)

The second problem, which is related to the first problem, is that too many people go to college. It is estimated that only 10-15% of the people have to ability to achieve B- or better in a classical liberal arts education, i.e. languages, maths, science, philosophy, history and psychology. Today, about 90% of all high school graduates want to go to college and 70% enroll.

The third problem has to do with the top 10%. These are often not challenged by school and college or miss important things besides their professional education. Murray says that these people learn to be nice but not to be good.

What could be done? The first and second problem are related and the answer is choice and individual learning. Murray gave an example of someone who had great dexterity (top 5%) but otherwise was in about the top 30% overall. He could either become a electrician with a median income of about $44k or a manager with a median income of about $88k. At first, the choice seem clear but he probably will be a superb electrician but a below average manager. And now a 25 percentile manager is making about $34k and a top electrician more than $90k. Furthermore, in economic stressful times a bad manager will rather lay off than a great electrician.

But how does this student find the alternative that he could be an electrician? Charles Murray got different parts of the solution.

The first is to discover and focus on abilities and strengths in school. If you realize that some people got strengths and not everyone is the same then you can start and cultivate them. Together with this discovery there’s a need for individual learning, that is students who are fast should go as fast as they want. There should be more flexibility in learning. I talked about all this stuff previously.

The last part is the stronger introduction of certifications instead of general college degrees. A favorite example of certifications proponents is the CPA which is acknowledge in the whole US and got a great deal of information about the ability of accountants. I personally think that certifications detached from college degrees are indeed some possibility for the future because knowledge will become more rapidly outdated and jobs will become more and more specialized.

The second part is about the liberal education in college. Some people think that liberal education have to wait till the college. This is pretty much arbitrary. Murray recommends that schools teach about history, science, literature, geography and economics in school, so that everybody will have a solid understanding of it.

The third problem goes in a different direction and Murray proposes that they learn especially about ethics. The main questions should be What is good?  and How to live a Good life? It’s important because a part of these people will later influence the public as writers, public figures or politicians and they should understand these questions and not just be nice. The second characteristics that should be learned is humility. Lots of clever humanities students that think that they are infallible because they never reached their limits. People studying maths or natural sciences nearly always reach their limits and quite fast but there are lots of people who just rush through the humanities without much trouble.

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#98/111: The Passionate Programmer

What is it about?

Most people are mediocre at their job. Some are not like Chad Fowler how talks about being remarkable. This doesn’t only apply to programmers, it applies to every kind of occupation.

What can I learn?

Don’t be a jerk: This one is actually a pretty important thing to learn for programmers. I know a lot of them and many think that people who don’t understand how to program are inferior. They like their tech talk and they isolate their selves from the rest of the company. I don’t know if people can learn this that fast but maybe it’s an beginning. Stop talking tech talk if you talk with non-tech people. They don’t care about every minute detail. They got problems and want them solved. Think more about them and how you can solve their problems.

Learn about business: The next step is to open yourself to new areas like business. You may laugh about sales persons but they make the money. You don’t have to be friends with business people, however it is recommended. Learn about what they are doing. How that accounting work. What do the marketing people do? This insight is extremely valuable among software devs because most of them know a thing about such stuff. You will learn about new problems, new solutions and new persons.

Market yourself: If you realized that there are people out there who actually appreciate if you help them solve their problems and became less a jerk, then it’s maybe time to market yourself actively. An easy way is to start a blog. Write about what you doing, about solutions for problems that you encountered. A big blog will often lead to some invitations to conferences or book deals.

Conclusion

A great book for every specialist. It doesn’t matter if you’re a biochemist, software dev or designer, a lot of tips will help you to build a remarkable career for yourself.

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#93/111: Concrete Abstractions

Following the other basic books I wanted to strengthen my basic knowledge about computer science and this book is excellent for this task. It uses Scheme as the introductory language (like SICP) and does a great job in explaining basic data structures and algorithms. If you want to seriously learn about basic computer science, this is a nice book which is also a bit easy than SICP. You can actually read Concrete Abstractions for free which is quite nice.

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#67/111: Designing the Obvious

What is it about?

What makes a product more usable? Robert Hoekman, jr. shows you how to increase the usability of your web & mobile application and why hover divs aren’t better than pop ups.

What can I learn?

Less is more: I just want to show you this post of milof:

Be forgiving: You often got a pop up asking if you want really delete this message. However, a better way is to allow your user to redo this action. Implement a undo feature into your application. This will maintain the user’s work flow. If you can’t do this because there is a required steps, like entering a valid email address, help your user to do it properly, e.g. use inline validation and some nice Javascript.

Don’t be a jerk: This is probably the conclusion of this book. Your users shouldn’t have to learn how to use your product. The more things your user can do intuitively, the better it is. If they have to learn new things make it easier. Produce videos or screen casts or even some screen shots but don’t just give them 200 pages of plain text.

Conclusion

Designing the Obvious is like Don’t Make Me Think 2.0. Robert Hoekman, jr. also shows how real products could be improved and got a similar causal style. There are some great ideas for better usability. I especially liked the undo function for web applications. Great book, read it for yourself! Recommendation.

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#49/111: How to Write & Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit

What is it about?

Writing a novel and becoming a full-time author is a dream of lots of people. But it is really hard. How about writing a how-to book? Robert W. Bly shows how to write how-to texts and how to market and sell them.

What can I learn?

Research your topic: Before writing your article, blog post or booklet, you should research your topic. You can conduct interviews or read books about this topic. Though, the best thing is to actually do it by yourself. If you want to write an article about fishing, go fishing. If you want to write an article about online marketing, do some online marketing.

Clarity, Concise, Compelling: These are the main guidelines for writing good how-to content. That is, you should write as few words as possible and use a clear structure (headlines, sub headlines, etc.). Furthermore, your content should be easy to read, i.e. no unusual words or too much jargon. Lastly, use examples to give your articles more life.

Break your content down to steps: The last thing to remember is breaking your instruction down to several steps. It’s easier to follow for your readers and supports the structure. In addition, people like lists. Think of Top 3 ways of X, Top 10 Y on twitter or How to eat healthier in three steps.

Conclusion

Originally I read the book because I wanted to know how to improve my writing style. Sadly, only 12 of about 220 pages explain how to write better. The rest is about various formats (books, booklets, articles, etc.) for your content and its marketing. Though, if you want to make money with writing how-to texts this is a great book for you.

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How to open a new book - Boing Boing