In no particular order:

I love the Timberwolves. I was going to go to some party thing tonight but instead stayed back to watch the game. Beautiful.

Jamming, Better Luck Tomorrow, three sets of tennis, a play improbably titled Calculus: Newton’s Whores, Appleseed Cast and Cursive live at Bottom of the Hill, birthday dinner for Marianne, working on projects, playing Rat Screw and Spades during office hours.

Gossip Guy is the king (click for vulgar, offensive hilarity).

kejordan made the insightful observation that it’s strange that we find nature beautiful. Many of our likes and dislikes can be explained from an evolutionary perspective: sweet things, ‘beautiful’ people, and so on. But nature, like music and art, really has no “reason” for being liked. It’s strange. I actually have some more thoughts on this but I would rather try to prod Kerry into writing about it as a) she needs to write in her LJ more and b) she is a much better writer than I.

While I’m regurgitating other people’s ideas, my brother has a great theory with which I agree completely. It’s this:

The 80% rule: You can reach 80% of your historical best in any particular activity without much work.

That is, once you’ve developed a skill, you can let it languish and then recover it fairly quickly. So if you were once a pool shark but haven’t played recently, it won’t take you long to start kicking ass again. Same with painting, calculus, piano, video games, public speaking, or whatever. In my experience this is very true. Then we have

Corollary: It is better to get really good at several things serially, in succession, than to attempt to learn them all simultaneously.

When you do a bunch of things at once, you have to spend time maintaining your skills in each of them; it’s much better, therefore, to master one thing and then move on to the next, because by the 80% rule you can always recover most of your skill quite quickly when necessary.

What do you think? Evidence for or against? If it’s really true then it provides some practical advice for living, certainly…

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7 Responses to G-L-O-R-I-A

  1. Anonymous says:


    So you think you can get better at Quake again, or at least 80%? :p A while ago, I saw someone’s modification of the original code to add shadows from multiple light sources and dynamic lighting, it looked nice — well compared to the original at least.

    If the skill requires a high level of physical fitness, and you’re terribly out of shape, I think you’ll need to put a lot of effort into getting 80% of your skill back. When you get older, the amount of effort required probably increases as well. And thanks to spatial memory, re-learning an instrument or a sport is not too difficult as long as it has not been completely forgotten. Alterations in your body size or shape are potential obstacles in the re-learning process.

    I wonder if this is true with languages as I’ve met some people who spoke English fluently when they were young, but after years of English study in Korean school, they are still not very fluent. I’m sure you could conduct some experiments and make headlines on cnn.com (they publish results of all sorts of meaningless studies).

    I don’t know about working on re-learning multiple skills simultaneously — do you mean doing several things like playing piano while practicing juggling when one hand gets a rest? And what activities were you working on re-learning at the same time when you noted that working on them serially was more productive than working simultaneously?


    • aj says:

      Re: fun

      80% of my best at Quake? Yeah, no question. Probably within one week.

      I agree, the primary limitation is going to be physical. For instance, if I were to start playing trumpet again today, it would almost certainly be several months before my lips got back into reasonable shape. But I’m fairly confident my skills — double-tonguing, fingering, phrasing, vibrato, etc — would come back quite quickly.

      “I don’t know about working on re-learning multiple skills simultaneously — do you mean doing several things like playing piano while practicing juggling when one hand gets a rest?” No, I mean like trying to learn several instruments at once, etc. When your practice time is divided up between many different things.

      “And what activities were you working on re-learning at the same time when you noted that working on them serially was more productive than working simultaneously?” I didn’t say I had any evidence for the corollary :). Obviously, it’s nearly impossible to get such evidence anyway with just one person (you’d need a control, etc.).

  2. awu says:

    Why is it odd that we find nature beautiful?

    Our judgments on beauty, as you point out, can be justified from an evolutionary perspective. Well, what we perceive as nature has had a lot of time to evolve, ne?

    • aj says:

      I meant our judgements on human beauty, as it approximates fitness.

      But why nature? What’s the benefit?

      • awu says:

        If our judgment on beauty approximates fitness, then why shouldn’t we find nature beautiful? Most anything in nature is incredibly “fit”.

        Perhaps the benefit isn’t that we find nature beautiful, but that we find beauty at all, in terms of form, symmetry, and composition. We admire its self-similarity and minimally efficacious form.

        Or perhaps nature is not inherently beautiful; We just find it more beautiful than most of our manmade constructs, which often lack that Quality without a Name.

        • aj says:


          Perhaps I didn’t adequately describe the strict evolutionary perspective from which I approached this question. When I say “fit” I mean “fit for reproductive success”. There is a distinct evolutionary advantage to being able to differentiate between good mates (strong, free form disease, etc.) and bad ones — hence the notion of beauty, which is kind of an unconscious way to do exactly that.

          So in that sense, nature is not “fit”. In fact there’s no reason to prefer it to anything man-made (and of course, in fact, many man-made things are pretty: Golden Gate Bridge, Eiffel Tower, etc.). You might think that beauty corresponds to benefit (“hey, this looks like a good shelter”, or “all this water will sate my thirst”), or symmetry or whatever, but it doesn’t seem to in the case of nature.

          I don’t think it’s surprising that we find things beautiful in the general case. Beauty is just another indirect way of getting us to maximize our reproductive success. It’s less obvious than, say, the fact that sex is pleasurable, but I think the intent is the same.

  3. kejordan says:

    natural beauty

    Hi dude :) Sorry for the lack of posts in response to your prodding. Just finished the semester today, and had a rather hellish last couple of days. But, promise a coherent post soon on this topic! :)