Not really, rather trying to understand how he writes:
I like the way Malcom Gladwell writes. I read the “Tipping Point”, “Blink”, “Outliers” and just finished “What The Dog Saw”. When I am interested in a text, I devour it. When getting into a book, I can read through a 300 pages book in two evenings and an afternoon, with breaks. I read “What The Dog Saw” with that speed, which means that while reading one story the last few stories are still present in my mind. And it’s not only the content of the story which is present, it’s the layout. Without taking notes or specifically looking to do so, I started to compare the patterns of how Malcom Gladwell writes. Or I did it because I enjoyed his writing so much and asked myself how he does it? What’s the magic in Malcom’s writing?
To go into matters, I browsed the New Yorker website to select a story which has not been published in “What The Dog Saw”, with the intention to rip it to pieces, literally, with the objective to understand. Again, I appreciate Malcom and think he’s a great writer – so the objective is not to critique or to shine bad light on his writing, but to understand. Hell, I’d love to be able to write like that!
In the first sentence, Malcom introduces “an investor named Henry de Kwiatkowski”.
In other stories the first protagonist might be introduced later, in the second sentence, but the story typically starts with a person. This person has an event: Either something happened to this person, or the person is doing something unusual, great, admirable – or what the person does is just something ordinary, but it is depicted in a way which peaks our interest. In Henry’s case, his name is peaking our interest, too. Kwiatkowski is easy to pronounce for me (being german with a good amount of eastern european heritage), but the average american will probably break his tongue trying to get Kwiatkowski properly out of his mouth or into his brain. Let me help you: Quee (like in squeeze), ut (like in hut) coff (like in coffin) and skii as in skiing.
The awesome / normal thing Henry does is suing Bear Stearns for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. I, like most readers, don’t know quite exactly what Bear Stearns is doing, but I can connect the dots and assume that they have something to do with financial investment and that the accusations could lead, if true, to the company being shut down by the regulator. It sounds like big trouble.
In the Malcom Gladwell writing, this is the big, awesome thing.
He then explains the awesome thing in a bit more detail: Henry had lost a lot of money and blames Bearn Stearns.
The next step is now to back up this story and look at it from a different perspective. This adds trust and authenticity to the article:
Wiliam D. Cohen (whoever that is) has written a book (lots of authenticity points) and in it, Jimmy Cayne, the former Chairman and CEO of Bearn Stears (even more authenticity points, that’s insider knowledge), gives his view on the story.
In the alternative view, yet again a person is introduced: A fat fag lawyer.
Jimmy explains how he verbally abused the lawyer in the bathroom, which is interesting and tells us that Jimmy is an aggressive person with somewhat of a mean streak. It has nothing to do with the story of Henry suing Bearn Stears. But it’s interesting to read and makes Jimmy somehow an Alpha male.
Now we have some personalities introduced and it’s time to change perspective.
Malcom takes now the narrator perspective and tells us about Jimmy. He recounts what has happened to Jimmy, how his reputation go ruined, but that he has merits and skills: “Cayne understood selling; he started out as a photocopier salesman, working the nine-hundred-mile stretch between Boise and Salt Lake City, and ended up among the highest-paid executives in banking. He was known as one of the savviest men on the Street, a master tactician, a brilliant gamesman.”
Yet again, Malcom introduces a two new people: Bill and Andrew: “Bill Bamber, a former Bear senior managing director, writes in “Bear Trap: The Fall of Bear Stearns and the Panic of 2008” (a book co-written by Andrew Spencer)””.
We don’t know them, but they seem credible by title and the fact that they have written a book.
Now Malcom goes into the story. In several paragraphs, he explains the background of the events which lead up to the downfall of Bear Stears. Each paragraph follows a similar pattern:
Then, several paragraphs explain without new actors being introduced. After three or four, another new person joins in and brings yet another perspective. In the “Cocksure” article, that is a psychologist, Mark. Mark has done relevant studies and the results complement the story.
Only in one paragraph Malcom is actually referencing to “scientists”, which is rare. Typically, scientists have names and what they say is backed up by that name.
In the bottom end of the article, Malcom adresses the reader with a question the reader can answer based on all the knowledge accumulated and justified through the article.
At this point, the story is completely disconnected from the initial audacious or awesome thing – it’s not even mentioned anymore, in fact, we don’t necessarily know how the story ended for Henry.
The story is about Jimmy Cayne, who could not accept that he had made mistakes.
Ok, so now that we I have seen a Pattern, let me try to use it. I’m going to write about an invention in science.
My arbitrary choice falls on: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1948/.
My hero will by Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett. However, I can only introduce him later in the story, so they go into my Backlog. My main source of knowledge will be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Maynard_Stuart_Blackett.
My main source for authenticity will be Anderson, Robert, who wrote about Patrick Blackett in Notes and Records of the Royal Society in 1999.
The nobel prize was awarded for the his investigation of cosmic rays using his invention of the counter-controlled cloud chamber.
Cosmic rays. Might be that’s a hook for a good starter. To Gladwell this story, I now need a person which has an awesome thing with cosmic rays.
Cosmic rays can have an impact on electronics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_ray#Effect_on_electronics.
And there I have a nice starter: “Cosmic rays are suspected as a possible cause of an in-flight incident in 2008 where an Airbus A330 airliner of Qantas twice plunged hundreds of feet after an unexplained malfunction in its flight control system. Many passengers and crew members were injured, some seriously. After this incident, the accident investigators determined that the airliner’s flight control system had received a data spike that could not be explained, and that all systems were in perfect working order. This has prompted a software upgrade to all A330 and A340 airliners, worldwide, so that any data spikes in this system are filtered out electronically.” (Wikipedia)
The news coverage can be found here: http://www.news.com.au/travel/news/cosmic-rays-may-have-hit-qantas-plane-off-australias-northwest-coast/story-e6frfq80-1225799520771
Safety investigations in aircraft incidents are typically made public. The relevant authority is the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. Reports are to be found here: http://www.atsb.gov.au/publications/safety-investigation-reports.aspx?mode=Aviation
The report for the incident is http://www.atsb.gov.au/publications/investigation_reports/2008/aair/ao-2008-070.aspx.
Now let’s assume we did some more research and can identify one of the passengers who was on the flight. A woman makes it more interesting, and might be we can add some romance in the first paragraph. Like this:
When Jim O’Sullivan went to Perth airport to pick up his long time girlfriend Mary Simmons, he was late. Mary had been on a business trip to Singapore to present her companies new solution to improve the manufacturing process of digital displays in hazardous environments. O’Sullivan was working in the law practice of Bummer, Heels and Muffers in downtown Perth and being late was giving him a feeling of uncomfort. He had left his office well in time to make it to the airport, but when he turned onto Brearley Ave to get to the newly renovated airport parkings, the road was stuck with emergency vehicles rushing to the airport. His feeling of uncomfort became fear.
Now we have set the scene for something interesting, with some high-tech, romance, despair. It’s time to change perspective, ideally someone telling something interesting about the event without having anything to do with what we want to talk about later:
“When we received the alert from ATC we first thought of a terrorist attack”, First Lieutnant Dan Cowfish from the Learmonth police department told Jamie Tellthisfast from the Learmonth Now, the local Learmonth newspaper. Jamie is, an open, friendly and sharp Journalist in her fourties. When she wrote the story about the incident, she just had joined Learmonth Now in a career move in Journalism which should lead up to receiving the Crumbly Kangoroo, Australia’s prize for excellence in Journalism in 2009.
Jamie had investigated into the event and collected a detailed record of the scene on the ground on that day. “There was chaos”, she explained me in a well lit but traditional coffee shop in Perth, close to the harbor. We could see the ships being unloaded, but chaos and distress were far away on this sunny afternoon. “When the first messages of more than ten injured got into the emergency call center, they had trouble to judge things correctly. That’s why they not only send ambulances, but as well the fire brigades and the anti terrorist unit to the airport. Neither ATC nor the police trusted the messages from the pilots that things were in order and the just had ten injured passengers and one injured stewardess on board”.
Now we have two open strings – Jim waiting for Mary, Jamie opening the question why nobody trusted the messages from the pilots. The people I have introduced are all authentic and trustworthy – Dan because he is a police man, Jamie because she’s a serious woman who even received a reward for her work.
Time to get to the cosmic rays! Now I will change the position and become a narrator:
The reason why nobody believed 1st Officer Arthur McWing when he explained the accident to Air Traffic Control was that he simply had no good explanation. Arthur had spent 1’870 hours flying this specific air craft, of his total 11’650 hours. His Pilot-in-Command, Roger Sawer, had 2’453 hours logged on the A330 they were flying from Singapore to Perth. Still, this experience did not help them describing properly what had happened. They were perfectly on track in excellent weather conditions, when the Autopilot suddenly disengaged and the aircraft went into a dive. McWing and Sawer reacted perfectly. Sawer commanded, McWing executed. They stabilized the plane. A few seconds later, the aircraft again went into a dive. At 1249, the crew made a PAN emergency broadcast to air traffic control, and requested a clearance to divert to and track direct to Learmonth. In the official report on the incident, it reads like this:
“At 1240:28, while the aircraft was cruising at 37,000 ft, the autopilot disconnected. That was accompanied by various aircraft system failure indications. At 12h42:27, while the crew was evaluating the situation, the aircraft abruptly pitched nose-down. The aircraft reached a maximum pitch angle of about 8.4 degrees nose-down, and descended 650 ft during the event. After returning the aircraft to 37,000 ft, the crew commenced actions to deal with multiple failure messages. At 1245:08, the aircraft commenced a second uncommanded pitch-down event. The aircraft reached a maximum pitch angle of about 3.5 degrees nose-down, and descended about 400 ft during this second event.”
Mary Simmons was on her way back from the restrooms when the plane went into the first dive. She experienced part of what astronauts experience when they take a zero-g-flight: She suddenly lost contact to the ground and gravity had lost its impact. Her zero-g experience ended abruptly when Sawer and McWing brought the plane back under control. Mary fell, now with more than one g, and sprained her right ankle. During the second dive she was still on the ground, her foot painfully twisted under a seat.
Now let’s bring in another person who leads us to cosmic rays:
The competent authority for accidents involving aircrafts is the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. Routinely, it was the flight recorder which was analyzed first. Arthur Dolan, Senior Engineer with the ATSB, has analyzed more than 400 of the 1400 incidents investigated by the ATSB. He is used to complex situations and his thoroughness allows him to reconstruct the reasons for accidents based on the smallest pieces of debris found on the ground after an accident. His team collects all these items and puts them back in order. If you ever wonder what is in the big halls right next off the runway 04 of Perth Airport – it’s the remainders of failed flights.
None of this was required in the analysis of the Accident of Quantas flight 72 from Singapore to Perth, though. The blackbox was routinely unloaded from the plane after the safe landing in Learmonth. Arthur took it to his bureau and after running the vendor specific analysis tool knew exactly what had happened: one of the aircraft’s three air data inertial reference units (ADIRUs) started outputting intermittent, incorrect values (spikes) on all flight parameters to other aircraft systems. No reason for these spikes was imminent. All other ADIRUs operated correctly and none of the other sensors on the aircraft had reacted other than expected for a flight in the given conditions.
Time for Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett!
The 1948 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett. Blackett was born 1897 in London. He studied Physics at Cambridge Birkbeck, graduated and became a teacher and researcher at the Osborne Naval College and finally Cambridge University. “Patrick never let up”, his doctoral Advisor Ernest Rutherford described him in an interview with the London Times in 1949. “He was dedicated to his task and driven by the challenge to make the invisible visible”. Blackett was researching cosmic rays. “We knew there was something, but nobody was able to set up a reliable, repeatable test until Patrick started to experiment with the Wilson Chamber”. The Wilson Cloud Chamber is, in short, an aquarium filled with gas: They contain a supersaturated vapor of water or alcohol. When a charged particle interacts with the mixture, it ionizes it. The resulting ions will cause condensation, which is visible as traces – just like the condensation trail left behind an aircraft on the sky. Cosmic rays were suspected to be nothing but charged particles which rain down on earth – and Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett brought this theory to proof.
And now another person!
Prof. Dr. Dra. Djarwani Soeharso Soejoko of the Department of Physics, Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences of the University of Indonesia was born just before Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett was awarded the Nobel Prize for the proof of cosmic rays using the Wilson Cloud Chamber. Dr. Soejoko had almost ended her teaching career when the almost accident of Quantas flight 72 made it into the news. She was among the members who constructed the Physics Department in 1961 and, as a junior faculty member, involved in the purchasing of the equipment. The Wilson Cloud Chamber was outdated already at that time. Donald Glaser had invented the Bubble Chamber in 1952. The Bubble Chamber had widely replaced the Wilson Cloud Chamber because they were easier to maintain and operate. He was awarded the 1960 Nobel Prize for this improvement.
He University of Indonesia did however not have the funds nor the space to install a Bubble Chamber in 1961. A Wilson Cloud Chamber would suffice for the proof of the concept of cosmic rays to students. It became, for more than fifty years, a steady part of the student life of the physics students in Jakarta to read out what the Cloud Chamber showed them.
Dr. Soejoko was still teaching the introduction to nuclear physics and it was in her class that students had to sit down and track electrically charged particles passing through the cloud chamber. When she heard of the incident with the aircraft, she was reviewing the observation notes her students had taken. Within minutes she had the notes from the date and time when the aircraft had experienced the unusual spikes of activity in its computer systems.
Arthur Dolan was stunned when he received the fax from Indonesia. Not only had he ever heard of a Wilson Cloud Chamber, but he never thought that cosmic rays could have caused what almost would have been a disastrous aircraft accident with a couple of hundred casualties. He set out to counter-proof this theory with physics teachers from Brisbane and Perth Universities. After literally blasting a ADIRU with electrons, they could however not counter-proof the theory – in a significant number of cases, the right electrically charged particle lead to the exact spikes as they were seen in the flight recorder.
I will close the almost entirely made up story here – I don’t know if that’s a Gladwell-ish end, but the writing exercise was definitely fun
What I like about the way Malcom Gladwell presents his topics is that he hides his subject at first. He begins a story about a too self conscious business man with the fate of a man who lost a lot of money and sues the company. I start the story about the Wilson Cloud Chamber with a man who wants to pick up his girlfriend from the airport. It’s actually interesting to write that way. Another positive thing is the personalization. Gladwell is extremely good in personalizing stories and giving the view of someone who has experienced the symptoms of whatever happened. This requires a good amount of research and work – I simply made up the Journalist, the Police Man, the names of most individuals besides Blackett. I think that what makes it so interesting to read what Malcom Gladwell writes is the fact that he never writes about technology or business. He writes about people, who experience technology or business.
Der Burgwächter antwortet nicht
Gut. Man kann sagen dass mein RTO zu niedrig ist, aber wenn ich auf die Homepage eines Unternehmens gehe und eine Kontaktanfrage eintippe in der ich beschreibe dass ein Produkt (für mich) nicht funktioniert, erwarte ich eine Antwort. Hallo Firma @burgwächter (ach, die sind gar nicht auf g+), ich biete da einen RT-Kurs an, im Dezember, in Hamburg..
Coole Idee – Code und Fingerabdruck statt Schlüssel
Ich habe also dieses Schloss gekauft, “Burg Wächter Elektronisches Türschloss TSE Business Set 5012 Fingerscan”, brav nach Anleitung konfiguriert und installiert. Das Einlesen der Fingerprints der Erwachsenen klappte einfach und gut, bei den Kindern war’s eher schwierig. Nächstes Problem: Die Kids schaffen es nicht immer, den Finger richtig über den Leser zu ziehen, mit etwas Übung klappt’s aber. Im Notfall könnte man auch noch Codes vergeben. Wenn es denn etwas bringen würde.
Türöffnung per Zufallsgenerator
Einmal montiert hängen Schloss und Lesegerät etwa einen Meter voneinander, das Lesegerät geht brav an, liest den Fingerabdruck oder Code erfolgreich, bestätigt dass das Schloss funktionieren sollte und – nichts.
Manchmal. “Manchmal” ist das übelste Ergebnis, das ein Test produzieren kann. “Manchmal” funktioniert das Schloss und manchmal eben nicht. Änderungen am Funkkanal und an der “Priorität” – was auch immer Burgwächter damit meint – haben keinen Impact. Es bleibt beim “manchmal”.
In Verbindung mit einem Haustürschloss wird “manchmal” zu “vielleicht kommt man rein” und das wird zu “vielleicht kommst Du ins Haus wenn es Nacht ist, Du es eilig hast oder es -20°C sind”. Dieses Statement ist für meine Zielgruppe und mich nicht akzeptabel (und es wunder mich dass so ein Produkt vermarktet wrid). Für die Geeks unter uns sei noch angemerkt dass es natürlich _keine_ vernünftige Möglichkeit des Debuggings gibt, kein Logfile und keinen Trace. Insofern fast ein Produkt von Microsoft-Qualität: Kein oder obskures Feedback an den Benutzer, die Lösung bei Problemen ist: Aufgeben. Mache ich.
Aus Prinzip suche ich den Fehler erst einmal bei mir – habe ich wirklich *genau* nach Anleitung gehandelt? Stimmt vielleicht irgendeine Einstellung nicht? Sind die Batterien voll? Wenn alles gut ist, wende ich mich an den Hersteller, denn vielleicht habe ich ja noch etwas übersehen. Das habe ich dann brav auf der Webseite von Burgwächter ausgefüllt, http://www.burg.biz. Nach zwei Tagen habe ich nicht einmal ein “ok, wir haben Deine Nachricht bekommen und melden uns” bekommen – der Burgwächter schweigt.
Und ich sende das Ding zurück.
Most people know Coppet from the traffic radio, it jams and accidents frequently on the motorway next to it. And “don’t take the lake road, it’s jammed, too”.
But Coppet is at lake geneva and as such, by definition, beautiful.
This is actually not from the 14th of July this year, but I really like this picture of the dog jumping into the water
The fireworks were planned for the 13th, but due to the bad weather they had to be pushed to the 14th.