I read Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell, a discussion on what factors enable someone to be successful.
The main takeaway is, success requires preparation and lucky opportunities. Gladwell’s cherrypicked examples include Bill Gates, the Beatles, and a prominent litigator.
In the book, Gladwell claims that superstars are not innately talented, it is only by hard work that one can become an expert. Roughly 10,000 hours of practice appears to be the requirement to become an expert. He notes that people with extremely high IQs are not more likely to be successful; rather, there is a threshold where an IQ is “good enough.” The socioeconomic class of the parents contributes the most to the child’s success, more so than raw IQ.
Gladwell says there are three things that make work meaningful: autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward. Children are more likely to be successful if they have parents who perform meaningful work.
While the first part of the book is how success is granted through opportunity, the second part is how legacy makes a difference. Gladwell argues that Asians are better at math because Asian cultures emphasize hard work, and the way numbers are structured in Asian languages makes it easier to perform basic math operations. On the other hand, cultural legacy can cause issues. He cites cockpit recordings from Colombian and South Korean flights that crashed, and notes how deference to authority caused the first officers to be indirect in their emergency warnings to the captains.
The self-indulgent epilogue is the story of Gladwell’s mother, and how various chance opportunities aligned so that Gladwell could become the successful author that he is today.
I visited Amsterdam, the city of canals and over a thousand bridges. The city has a relaxed vibe and is bicyclist-friendly. The bridge railings were covered by locked bikes, mostly black-colored. The locals are generally patient, unless they’re biking, in which case, pedestrians better steer clear.
We started our walk in Dam Square.
The houses had hooks on them, for moving furniture. In olden times, property tax was determined by the width of the house. We saw the narrowest house along the canal.
We walked by several coffeeshops. In Seattle, weed is legal. In Amsterdam, weed is neither legal nor illegal. And yet, the coffeeshops somehow get stocked. But I did not partake, because I made a vow to never do drugs for my entire life. At the college I went to, the economics professors supported the legalization of drugs, to curb the violence associated with distribution, generate tax revenue, and institute quality standards.
We passed by Spui, a public square where protests often take place. Once, after a streak of rainy days, there was a protest against the rain.
We walked around FOAM, the museum of photography. The main exhibit was a William Eggleston retrospective. In the past, only black-and-white photos were considered legitimate enough to display in galleries. Eggleston changed this with his color photography. The photos on display were a selection of the thousands he took of everyday America. He used dyes to produce vivid colors and effects, as though the picture was shot with an Instagram filter.
We took a day trip to Keukenhof, where millions of flowers were in bloom. It was like the Skagit Valley Tulip festival, but on a grander scale. For example, there was a windmill like the one in RoozenGaarde, except much larger. The display gardens were elaborate. Flowers were placed into frames link 3D paintings. Tulips were arranged into a Mondrian grid. There were fields of tulips of every color, as far as the eye could see. There was even a music machine, about as large as a food stall. A man fed punch cards into the machine. Each song was a whole folded tome.
I took a day trip to Bruges, a medieval town near Brussels. That said, most structures were rebuilt and not truly from the medieval era, save for a couple pillars. Locals still live there, but if felt touristy.
The history of Bruges is filled with rebellion and general rowdiness. An example is the legend explaining why there are swans in the canals. The people of Bruges imprisoned Emperor Maximilian, then forced Maximilian to watch the execution of his friend and advisor, Pieter Lanchals (“Longneck”). So as punishment for the revolt, Maximilian decreed that Bruges would have to keep swans, long necks, in its canals.
Another story is the origin of a beer brewed in Bruges, Brugse Zot, translated as Bruges fool. To calm down Maximilian after imprisoning him, the people of Bruges threw a party for him. They also wanted funding for a mental hospital. When the request for the madhouse was made during the party, Maximilian said the town was already full of fools, all they had to do was close the town gates and they would have their madhouse. Now, the nickname, Bruges fools, is a point of pride for the locals.
At the town square, Markt, there was a mix of renovated modern buildings and old-style buildings.
One prominent structure on the edge of Markt is the Belfry. The Belfry was rebuilt after fire and expanded to be taller several times. We climbed the Belfry, pausing in the middle to see the mechanical gears that controlled the bells.
At the top of the Belfry, we had a panoramic view of Bruges.
We walked by the Gruuthuse Museum. Gruuthuse was a prominent family in Bruges. They became wealthy from taxing gruit, an ingredient in beer.
In Bruges, there is a beguinage, a community of single and widowed women. The community was self-sustaining. It produced its own food and had its own church. If someone committed a crime outside the beguinage, they could enter the beguinage for safety.
On the way back to the train station, we passed by a fair. There was a ride covered in American flags. Also painted on the ride was a pirate flag, a shark, and a topless woman. I thought this was a strange choice for depicting an American beach city.
I stayed in Brussels for a few days, sightseeing in this very walkable city.
I had to try Belgium waffles and beer. The waffles are normally eaten plain, as they are already sweetened. But like a filthy tourist, I piled on ice cream, chocolate, and berries. I ate Belgian frites cooked in animal fat. They tasted like regular French fries (burn!!!). And I sampled different varieties of beer. While Germany has the Reinheitsgebot (“German Beer Purity Law”), in Belgium there are no regulations for ingredients. The brewers can throw all kinds of random ingredients in, such as coriander.
At the Grand-Place, we saw the various guild houses and the Town Hall. The Town Hall was asymmetrical because one side was built first. So the other side has different windows. And the other side is shorter in length, to not block the road. Engraved into a wall is a monument for Everard t’Serclaes, who scaled the city walls and opened the gates to recover the city from the Flemings. People would touch the statue, since that will supposedly make sure you can return to Brussels again.
The most famous statue in Brussels is a 24-inch sculpture called Manneken Pis. It is a sculpture of a boy urinating water into the fountain. One theory on the origin of the sculpture is that it is to commemorate the boys who were piss poor. There were tanneries, and the leather making process requires ammonia. So piss poor boys would sell their pee. This beloved statue was stolen multiple times, once by a French soldier. This upset the people of Brussels, so King Louis XV returned the statue and knighted it. French soldiers would have to salute the statue when they passed it. Now the statue is dressed in different costumes each week.
There are comic murals painted on walls, such as the one below of Tintin. Belgium has the highest concentration of comic creators.
The comic below of Broussaille was controversial because of the purposefully ambiguous gender of the person on the left. The mayor forced artist Frank Pé to add earrings to make the person more feminine so that the couple looked like a heterosexual couple. To date, the mural is on Brussel’s gay alley. Belgium was the second country to allow same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands.
We walked by some interesting buildings, such as the Bourse (the Stock Exchange, now an exhibition hall), an indoor mall (Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert), the Art Nouveau Musical Instruments Museum.
We walked around Place Royale, home to museums and the Palace of Justice. We also saw the Royal Palace, extended by King Leopold II. King Leopold II exploited Congo’s natural resources, and under his authority, atrocities were committed against the people of Congo. Using the wealth obtained from Congo, Leopold II built many buildings in Brussels, earning the epithet the “Builder King.”
Brussels is the capital of the European Union. There were EU government buildings and embassies surrounding the center garden.
We also visited the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, which are only open to the public a few weeks a year. That said, the gardens were not particularly impressive, and we had to wait in a long queue during Belgium’s Labor Day (May Day). The glass buildings were iridescent, shaped like crowns.
We were in town during a jazz festival and caught a jazz performance in a small jazz club. The musicians were not notable or of spectacular talent, but it was nice to sip on some drinks in an intimate environment. After each set, there was one extremely enthusiastic audience member whooping and cheering them on much louder than the rest of the audience, saying how great they were, asking for encores. I wish everyone could have their own hype man.
I visited Paris for a few days, seeing the most popular attractions in a whirlwind tour. We walked around the Seine, visited the Louvre, climbed Sacré-Cœur, took pictures of the Eiffel Tower.
I am thankful that I had the opportunity to study math in Paris several years ago. During the study abroad program, I visited the Louvre 5 times, versus the quick few hours I spent on this last visit. All the art is visual overload, and I appreciate the art more when I can see each room at a leisurely pace.
I was able to visit a few places that I had always wanted to see, but missed the last time I was in Paris. First was the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris. The permanent exhibit featured murals, one showing people in motion by Matisse. Another mural showed the history of electricity. The main exhibit was for Karel Appel, who made large, “violent brushstrokes” to paint globs of vibrant color onto canvas. The forms appeared to have been drawn by a kindergartner with no sense of proportion, as he purposefully went against classical styles and methods of painting.
I walked around Parc des Buttes-Chaumont for a few hours on a weekday. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a park in the northeast part of Paris, with a gazebo overlooking an artificial lake. Students playing hooky and some elderly folk strolled on the grassy hills and trails. From the gazebo, I could see Sacré-Cœur perched on Montmartre.
In the study abroad program, I lived at Cité Universitaire, so I would always pass by Denfert-Rochereau, the metro stop near the Catacombs. After waiting in line for two hours, I finally got to see the ossuary. There were stacks and stacks of bones, some neatly arranged, others tossed carelessly into a pile. The bones were arranged in groups, some from soldiers of a certain conflict, some were moved from overfilled cemeteries.
As I walked through the underground tunnels, surrounded by thousands of bones, I felt a chill. Each skull used to belong to a living person. Also, the tunnels were drafty.
I did the Fremont GeoTour with two friends. I’m glad they joined, because I would not have been able to find all the geocaches by myself. We walked around the familiar streets of Fremont, a neighborhood that has retained its quirky charm in spite of the new construction springing up all over Seattle. Most of the geocaches had fun puzzles, as the Geocaching headquarters is located in Fremont.
We got brunch at Pete’s Egg Nest, then began the 9-cache GeoTour.
We started at a coffeeshop near the Fremont Bridge. There was the artsy bike rack that I would frequently pass, but never realized it contained a geocache. Using the stones on the sidewalk, we figured out the combination to open the cache.
The next geocache was under the Aurora Bridge, under a fake rock in the middle of the landscaping.
The next cache was a newspaper vending machine.
We found the next geocache near a cafe. We had to solve a puzzle and input the correct digits into a fake payphone to unlock the cache.
It was hot, so we stopped by the cafe for some delicious burnt lemonade. Then we made our way to the Fremont troll. I turned over nearly every rock to no avail. There were a lot of tourists posing for pictures, so if they spotted us they probably thought our behavior was strange. My friend noticed one particular rock looked odd, so she flipped it over to reveal the “troll dropping” geocache.
We headed to the Fremont library, and found the clue to the geocache along a walkway behind the building. The clue gave the Dewey Decimal of the geocache, an old atlas in the library.
The next geocache was in a “Chairy Tree,” a tree artfully decorated with chairs. My friend spotted a tiny chair high in the tree, which he retrieved by turning the pulley attached to the tree.
The next geocache was another multi-cache. We read the informational placards about the Fremont rocket and the Lenin statue. We answered questions about these sculptures to get the coordinates for the geocache’s location, by the Fremont dinosaur topiary.
We walked along the water to reach the location of the final geocache, a boardwalk that extended into the canal. We combed the boardwalk, looking for some kind of magnetic box attached to the bottom of the boardwalk. This cache was the most difficult to find, but my friend managed to spot it under the stairs.
The GeoTour was a good walk. Afterwards, we were hungry and went to a friend’s house for her fatty food party.
We also found a couple geocaches that were not part of the Fremont GeoTour.
We found a magnet geocache near the Fremont rocket.
We also found a film canister geocache under a bench.
I hiked to Talapus Lake and Olallie Lake, 6 miles roundtrip with 1200 ft. elevation gain. The trail was wide and had a constant climb, never steep.
There was a hot breeze blowing through the trees, and the sunlight was harsh in areas without cover. Whenever the trail neared a creek, the breeze became cold and refreshing, and the air felt 20 degrees cooler.
There were patches of deep mud. Before Talapus Lake and halfway to Olallie Lake, the ground was covered in snow. I lost the trail a couple times.
At Talapus Lake, hikers sunbathed on the logs. The smaller logs were rather unstable and one woman accidentally slipped into the water.
Olallie Lake was still covered in snow. But that did not stop a man and his dog from swimming in the frigid water.
Overall, this was an easy hike, perfect for a relaxing holiday. I saw some people slip and land on their butts in the snow. So to be safe, I wore microspikes and used trekking poles, but they weren’t necessary.
I hiked to Heather Lake, roughly 5 miles roundtrip with 1000 ft. of elevation gain. Along the trail, we passed by stumps of old-growth trees, with new, thinner trunks shooting off the stumps. We hiked by waterfalls and over rickety wooden boardwalks. A section of trail was flooded by shallow running water. Near the lake, the trail was covered in snow. I had waterproof boots, microspikes, and poles, so there were no issues. I even had mats to sit on in the snow. It’s great to be geared up!
The lake was mostly covered in ice and mushy snow. We rested on the shore in the snow, a strange contrast to the bright, sunny, 70° weather. We could hear the roar of waterfalls on the other side of the lake, a robust flow from the snowmelt. As we milled at the lake, the number of arriving hikers started to pick up, and on our way down there were some traffic jams. We also missed a turn, and ended up doing a loop through the snow, stepping over tree branches and walking through mud.
Overall, I enjoyed the hike to Heather Lake. It was leisurely, and the views at the lake were gorgeous.
I finally read Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. I like Nabokov’s effusive prose, so good.
I read One Hundred Years of Solitude, about the rise and fall of the Buendía family over seven generations. At the beginning of the book, I read it as realistic fiction due to the matter of fact tone. But then flying carpets and magical elements were introduced, and I realized these things were taken for granted as completely ordinary, versus to be interpreted as metaphor. Adding to the realism of this fantasy novel, the book interwove actual historical figures and events into the story, such as the banana massacre. Every time I picked up the book, I felt somber afterwards. The decline of the family and their village is foreshadowed and feels inevitable. Buendía family members are born, grow up, live a unique and solitary existence of their own making, then die. In each generation, the children are named after other family members, and so everyone has one of a few names, and the generations follow a cyclical pattern. Events that happened prior in the book are often recalled. The weight of prior generations stack, so that by the end of the book, at the mention of a single room, several generations’ worth of memories in that room are recalled. At the end of the novel, a mystery introduced at the beginning of the book is finally revealed, and everything comes full circle.
I moved back to the westside, so I have a long commute. I started geocaching again to pass the time until traffic dies down. Oftentimes, the coordinates given for the cache are off, but they get me to the general vicinity. So I have to rely on a punny name for clues. Here are my latest finds by campus.
There was a Honeywell box geocache under a lamppost skirt near the Honeywell building.
This “basset” cache was found in between rocks in a parking lot.
This “tired” cache was found near a golf course.
This tree hugging cache was found in a tree by a parking lot.
This cache was found on the side of a bike trail. I took a travel bug to bring overseas.
This cache was tricky, because the coordinates pointed to a different lamppost. But the hint was “Black,” so when I saw the black tape I looked under the heavy metal lamppost skirt.