National Rugby Finals with the Village Lions

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Life | Posted on 17-05-2011

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If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know my biggest passion outside of my work is my rugby team, New York City’s Village Lions.

This weekend is a big one for us. We’re heading to Manassas Virginia for the ‘Sweet Sixteen’ National Finals. Two wins here and we’ll head to Colorado in a couple of weeks for the USA Division II final four. Scores will be on Twitter if you’re curious!

Here’s a video from our big wins in the North East region finals late last year:

And here’s a short clip of yours truly in action a couple of week’s ago:

Quotes & Misquotes

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Internet, Life | Posted on 02-05-2011

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In a soundbite and tweet driven new media world a snappy quote can go a long way. Easy to post, easy to retweet, and also a simple way to look clever (important when ego is a big part of our online profile).

Today the Internet was rabid with conversation focused on the passing of Osama Bin Laden. And many of my friends shared what seemed a thoughtful quote from the great Martin Luther King:

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives but I will not rejoice in the death of one not even an enemy Returning hate for hate multiplies hate adding deeper darkness”

Except The Atlantic reports that not only did MLK never speak these words, they only appeared on the Internet yesterday.

A quick google search turns up lots of tweets, all of them from today.  Searching Martin Luther King Jr. quote pages for the word “enemy” does not turn up this quote, only things that probably wouldn’t go over nearly so well, like “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.” I’m pretty sure that this quote, too, is fake.

Which reminds me of another quote that tells you a lot about communication in an instant world:

A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on.

Update: and not only was the oft-tweeted MLK quote off-base, there was also a quote attributed to Mark Twain all over the Internet that was fake too!

Rugby Bullfighting

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Humour, Internet, Life | Posted on 31-03-2011

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Last year I posted a couple of videos of my rugby team, the mighty Village Lions, in action – both on the field, and trying our hand at Portugese Bullfighting while over there on tour.

Not only has that video gone viral on Deadspin, we also just found out it was featured on TV in Colombia:

Surreal. But I’m glad I can check ’15 minutes of fame for wrestling livestock’ off my bucket list.

QWERTY Why?

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Internet, Life, Marketing | Posted on 26-03-2011

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Right now I’m reading Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel – essentially a quick history of civilization and the role geography plays in shaping our past, present and future.

A chapter on technologies role in history yielded this interesting tidbit of info on the QWERTY keyboard that says a lot about human rationality and the power of vested interests:

Unbelievable as it may now sound, that keyboard layout was designed in 1873 as a feat of anti-engineering. It employs a whole series of perverse tricks designed to force typists to type as slowly as possible, such as scattering the commonest letters over all keyboard rows and concentrating them on the left side (where right handed people have to use their weaker hand).

The reason behind all of those seemingly counterproductive features is that the typewriters of 1873 jammed if adjacent keys were struck in quick succession, so that manufacturers had to slow down typists. When improvements in typewriters eliminated the problem of jamming, trials in 1932 with an efficiently laid-out keyboard showed that it would let us double our typing speed and reduce our typing effort by 95 percent. But QWERTY keyboards were solidly entrenched by then. The vested interests of hundreds of millions of QWERTY typists, typing teachers, typewriter and computer sales people, and manufacturers have crushed all moves toward keyboard efficiency for over 60 years.

The Ups & Downs of Life in New York

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Life | Posted on 05-03-2011

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Twice in the last 24 hours I had ‘ah New York’ moments. Two very different moments, both uniquely NYC. One reminded me just how much you’re a small cog in a machine in this city, the other was one of those little moments of magic that you can only find here.

The first is a very sad story of a homeles lady who froze to death 12 days ago, only 50 metres from the front door of my apartment. Grace was her name, she was one of the many people society forgets who find a home of sorts in the East Village.

I’ve regularly walked past homeless people asleep where Grace passed. And I’m sad to say I’ve rarely thought deeply about the struggles that have brought them to the streets of Alphabet City. So Grace’s story touched me deeply:

Twelve days ago, the frozen body of my childhood friend Grace Farrell was found on a few sheets of cardboard in an alcove at St. Brigid’s Catholic Church on Avenue B in the East Village. It was a tragic end to a sad and troubled life.

Her life was one of missed opportunities and betrayal. She was let down by the authorities in Ireland and the adults who passed through her life. Ironically, one interpretation of the word “grace” is favor or good will. Sadly, it would seem little was shown to her when it truly mattered. As a young child she was bounced around like a ball from one home to another. She searched in vain for answers. By the time she reconnected with her family it was perhaps already too late.

New Yorkers who noticed her passing — if it registered at all — saw Grace as another sad statistic, the first homeless person to die on the streets of New York this year, an immigrant from Ireland who lost her way, a fledgling artist with untapped potential. But those of us who knew her will remember her as a sweet child with a generous heart.

But just when New York seems cold, hard and unforgiving… you see something like the site that greeted Bryce Tom and I as we walked through Union Square station last night:

Midget Michael Jackson impersonators? Only NYC.

Training Skills: Goals, Technique & Feedback

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Life | Posted on 21-02-2011

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This morning while sipping a coffee at Miami airport I read a deeply interesting NY Times article on ‘training’ memory via a tweet from Maya Baratz.

The author spent months training himself to be able to perform mental tasks such as memorizing a deck of cards. The interesting insight – memory, like many things, is a skill that can be learned; the best memorizers aren’t superhumans with photographic memories.

This section from the article stood out for me – and I wonder what other life skills (fitness, work efficiency, general knowledge) you could improve with a focus on goal setting, data-driven decision making and exerting the energy to burst through plateaus?

When people first learn to use a keyboard, they improve very quickly from sloppy single-finger pecking to careful two-handed typing, until eventually the fingers move effortlessly and the whole process becomes unconscious. At this point, most people’s typing skills stop progressing. They reach a plateau. If you think about it, it’s strange. We’ve always been told that practice makes perfect, and yet many people sit behind a keyboard for hours a day. So why don’t they just keeping getting better and better?

In the 1960s, the psychologists Paul Fitts and Michael Posner tried to answer this question by describing the three stages of acquiring a new skill. During the first phase, known as the cognitive phase, we intellectualize the task and discover new strategies to accomplish it more proficiently. During the second, the associative phase, we concentrate less, making fewer major errors, and become more efficient. Finally we reach what Fitts and Posner called the autonomous phase, when we’re as good as we need to be at the task and we basically run on autopilot. Most of the time that’s a good thing. The less we have to focus on the repetitive tasks of everyday life, the more we can concentrate on the stuff that really matters. You can actually see this phase shift take place in f.M.R.I.’s of subjects as they learn new tasks: the parts of the brain involved in conscious reasoning become less active, and other parts of the brain take over. You could call it the O.K. plateau.

Psychologists used to think that O.K. plateaus marked the upper bounds of innate ability. In his 1869 book “Hereditary Genius,” Sir Francis Galton argued that a person could improve at mental and physical activities until he hit a wall, which “he cannot by any education or exertion overpass.” In other words, the best we can do is simply the best we can do. But Ericsson and his colleagues have found over and over again that with the right kind of effort, that’s rarely the case. They believe that Galton’s wall often has much less to do with our innate limits than with what we consider an acceptable level of performance. They’ve found that top achievers typically follow the same general pattern. They develop strategies for keeping out of the autonomous stage by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented and getting immediate feedback on their performance. Amateur musicians, for example, tend to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros tend to work through tedious exercises or focus on difficult parts of pieces. Similarly, the best ice skaters spend more of their practice time trying jumps that they land less often, while lesser skaters work more on jumps they’ve already mastered. In other words, regular practice simply isn’t enough. For all of our griping over our failing memories — the misplaced keys, the forgotten name, the factoid stuck on the tip of the tongue — our biggest failing may be that we forget how rarely we forget. To improve, we have to be constantly pushing ourselves beyond where we think our limits lie and then pay attention to how and why we fail. That’s what I needed to do if I was going to improve my memory.

Village Lions Rugby Videos

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Life | Posted on 10-01-2011

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If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know my big passion outside of my work life is rugby, and in particular the team I play for, New York’s Village Lions Rugby Football Club.

This season we had our best year ever, heading to the USA National Finals as the fourth ranked team in Division II after winning the North East Region Championships last month.

Here’s a video of one of our semi-final wins (it’s a rugby game, so apologies that the language is NSFW).

And a bonus video, of my team on tour in Portugal last May trying our hand at Forcado (Portugese Bullfighting). Or as Deadspin headlined it ‘Here’s Video Of A Rugby Player Taking A Bull’s Head To The Chest‘:

If you look closely you’ll spot me towards the back of the pack and eventually the side of the cow.

Backstory to this is that the local rugby team in Caldas de Rainha, Portugal, who we travelled to play against were also Forcados. They thought it would be a good idea to throw us in the ring for their training… despite the fact the only instruction we got was in Portugese plus some diagrams in the dirt!

No broken bones – and the final score was a tie: Village Lions 3 – Vacas 3.

The Decline, And Rise, of Charity

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Internet, Life | Posted on 20-12-2010

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Google just launched Ngrams, a really cool tool that allows you to search for the occurrence of a word in the 500 year history of millions of books.

The first word I searched for: ‘charity

The occurrence of the word charity hit a peak around 1800 after hundreds of years of high-frequency. Then, as the industrialized world grew charity dropped away, hitting real lows in the materialistic 80s.

What inspires me? The current upwards trend. Is it any wonder that we’ve seen the word charity occur more frequently over the past 10 years? I like to think that this is a sign of society moving forward.

charity: water on ABC 20/20

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Australia, charity: water, Current Affairs, Life | Posted on 19-12-2010

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Friday night was a really cool moment for charity: water as our story was told on ABC 20/20 – check it out here (RSS readers click through for video):

A great way to close out 2010!

In personal news, tomorrow I’m flying home to Australia for Christmas. I’ll be in Sydney December 23 to January 9, if you’d like to catch up comment, email me or send me a tweet!

charity: water september campaign on ABC 2020

Posted by Paull Young | Posted in charity: water, Current Affairs, Life | Posted on 16-12-2010

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This Friday at 10pm ET ABC 20/20 will feature charity: water and the 2010 September campaign as part of a special global healthcare series.

The ABC team visited our charity: water offices in NYC and spent a bunch of time with our founder Scott Harrison, and then headed to Central African Republic to film Jim Hocking and our partner ICDI drilling one of the 200 water projects funded by this year’s September campaign.

Check out this awesome video of Jim at work in CAR

And this clip with Scott filmed in our office in NYC

If you can watch the show live at 10pm on Friday join us on Twitter with the hashtag #2020 – the whole charity: water team, Scott and Jim will be watching it live and live-tweeting during the show. If you can’t catch it live set your DVR or check out the full episode online later on (I’m not sure if you’ll be able to watch it outside the US though).

I’m excited for Friday – I hope you’ll help us spread the word!

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