Study Hacks Blog Posts from August, 2010 - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

Passion Must Be Actively Pursued, Not Passively Waited On — Welcome Zen Habits Readers

August 31st, 2010 · 20 comments

Passion and Minimalism

For those interested in the deep contentment of a minimalist lifestyle, few strategies work better than using a passionate pursuit to focus your attention beyond the clutter and distraction of modern life. But where do such pursuits come from? This is the topic of my recent guest post on Zen Habits, one of my favorite blogs (and the original inspiration behind my Zen Valedictorian philosophy).

The post is based off Part 1 of my new book about finding a Zen path through the college admissions process. Specifically, it details the research I discovered about how deep interests are formed. (Preview: you can’t forcefully identify them with self reflection or personality tests; you must instead expose yourself to bulk positive randomness and see what sticks.)

For Zen Habits Readers: This blog is dedicated to strategies for building a remarkable life, which I define to be one that is both remarkably accomplished and remarkably enjoyable to live. Though the site started out focused on achieving this goal as a student, I have since broadened its scope to cover all walks of life.

Here are a few highlighted articles to give you a taste of what Study Hacks has to offer. If you like what you see, consider subscribing to my feed.

Articles on Building a Remarkable Life

Articles for Students

An Open Letter to Students on the Danger of Seeing School as a Trial to Survive

August 27th, 2010 · 42 comments

Dear Students,

In an innocuous office complex, three blocks south of Northwestern University, and a short walk from Lake Michigan, you can find the Yellowbrick psychiatric treatment center. Though Yellowbrick treats the expected spectrum of mental disorders, from anxiety to schizophrenia, its mission is unique: it’s the country’s only psychiatric center dedicated exclusively to emerging adults — young people in the ever-expanding gap between adolescence and the stability of family, a mortgage, and a settled career.

Unfortunately for you, my dear student reader, business at Yellowbrick is booming.

In a recent New York Times Magazine article, journalist Robin Marantz Henig provides a haunting portrait of a typical Yellowbrick patient: he’s a young man “who had done well at a top Ivy League college until the last class of the last semester of his last year, when he finished his final paper and could not bring himself to turn it in.” This brief moment of existential despair spiraled out of control.

“The demands of imminent independence can worsen mental-health problems or create new ones for people who have managed up to that point to perform all the expected roles,” explains Henig. “[They] get lost when schooling ends and expected roles disappear.”

In other words, when you go through life thinking “if I can make it through this, things will be better later,” you eventually forget what “better” means.

This doesn’t mean that every student who sees school as a trial to survive will end up at Yellowbrick, but the despair that accompanies the perpetual postponement of an enjoyable life has a way of making its presence known. It is seen, for example, in the regular e-mails I receive from college students suffering from deep procrastination — an advanced stage of burnout where, as with the Yellowbrick patient mentioned above, completing work becomes impossible — or the quiet desperation of the overworked law associate who strains to remember why, exactly, law school had once evinced such certainty.

I didn’t write this letter to chastise. In fact, I’m dismayed by the growing number of (often Ivy League educated) voices in the student stress debate who cry out “there’s more to life than Harvard!”, but provide little guidance to what such a life should entail.

I write instead to suggest an alternative.

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Study Hacks Hacked!

August 24th, 2010 · 18 comments

UPDATE (4:17 pm): Attack Repelled?

After a day spent counter-hacking, Study Hacks should once again be back in business. That being said, please help me keep a wary eye for anything else amiss — it’s always possible a backdoor was left open.

I apologize for the few hours this afternoon when the site was down as I scrubbed it clean and updated it. For those who are interested in this type of thing, the attack I suffered is called the Online Pharma Hack. It’s a clever beast that presents the normal site to every user…except Google’s index spider, to which it presents spam. The idea is to hijack the site’s reputation in Google’s eyes to increase the ranking of certain keywords. The effect of the attack will still be seen for a while in Google search results (search for study hacks cialas to see what I mean), but hopefully, with re-indexing, they will eventually return to normal.

Finally, someone in the comments was worried about their e-mail information from subscribing to my feed. The e-mail subscription is handled by FeedBurner and all of your information is safe.

Study Hacks, Perhaps Ironically, Has Been Hacked

It appears that hackers have gained access to Study Hacks and have been inserting spam ads, among other intrusions, throughout the site. (Search for “Study Hacks” on Google to see the attacker’s “brilliance” in action.)

I’m working with my host company to re-secure and sanitize the site, and it should still continue to work fine in the interim, but there may be some weirdness in the near future as I update my software, etc., so be warned.

Two Notes:

  • If you notice any hacked pages, please e-mail them to my attention to aid my efforts in cleaning things up (
  • If you know anything about WordPress hacking/securing and want to help, I would appreciate any assistance.

I’m crossing my fingers that any inconvenience will be minimal…

Quick Hits: Tales of Disconnection, Free Books, and Tips for Aspiring Writers

August 16th, 2010 · 15 comments

Update (8/17/2010): I forgot to mention that a loyal reader has set up a Facebook fan page for Study Hacks. I’m not on Facebook, but I can still view this page and the comments you leave, and I really appreciate the support. If you’re a fan, consider joining (liking? friending?) the page as a way to spread the word to your own network of friends.

Quick hits is an occasional feature where I take a breather between my epic big idea posts to share ideas, ask questions, and in general provide a catch-all place for me to catch up with you.

Tales of Disconnection

Rough Type, the blog of Nicholas Carr (my favorite commentator on digital distraction; c.f., The Shallows), recently pointed me toward two fascinating articles…

Outdoors and Out of Reach. This latest entry in the New York Times’ meme-spawning series on how data overload affects our brain, follows five neuroscientists on an offline wilderness rafting trip. My favorite quote comes near the end of the article, when a hyper-connected lab director realizes:

“I have a colleague who says that I’m being very impolite when I pull out a computer during meetings. I say: ‘I can listen.’ … Maybe I’m not listening so well. Maybe I can work at being more engaged.”

Off-Line, I Reconnect. This article, from the Montreal Gazette, follows a freelance writer who works from home with no Internet service. He makes do by going online once a day, for about an hour, at a local Internet cafe, where he checks his e-mail and looks up any needed information. My favorite quote:

“Once I eliminated the Internet from my apartment, I rediscovered the joys of reading books (not blogs). It’s a feeling I haven’t experienced this intensely since my adolescence, when I devoured books, like a human sponge with a lust for everything.”

Book Update

The launch of How to Be a High School Superstar is underway. (As always, if you like my philosophy and either know someone in high school, or are curious about how to build an interesting and engaging life — at any age — please consider buying a copy.)

You may have seen my guest post on Tim Ferriss’ blog. I have three more blockbuster guest posts lined up, so stay tuned. In the meantime, check out this fantastic series on interestingness (a key concept from High School Superstar) at Justine Musk’s blog, Tribal Writer.

Last Friday, I sent out my first batch of signed books to readers who helped me spread the word about High School Superstar. Their book-earning actions included calling members of their school board to recommend my book, adding the title to a class reading list, and designing me an an excellent poster.

I have a couple more copies to give away; if you’re interested, do something cool to help spread the word, and then send me a report on what you did.

Finally, if you bought a copy of the book and enjoyed it, please consider leaving a review on, as this helps other students decide whether or not the book is right for them.

Agent Obvious

Interested in publishing a book? My sharp literary agent, Laurie Abkemeier,  became Internet-famous for the “Agent Obvious Tip of the Day” feature on her twitter feed, which corrects obvious mistakes that (too) many aspiring writers make. This wisdom has now been captured in a clever new iPhone app called Agent Obvious. If you’re trying to break into the world of publishing, listen to Laurie: trust me, she knows what she’s talking about!


Beyond the 10,000 Hour Rule: Richard Hamming and the Messy Art of Becoming Great

August 9th, 2010 · 61 comments

Math Problem

What Makes Great Scientists Great?

In March of 1986, an overflow audience of over 200 researchers and staff members from Bell Laboratories piled into the Morris Research and Engineering Center to hear a talk given by Dr. Richard Hamming, a pioneer in the field of communication theory. He titled his presentation “You and Your Research,” and set out to answer a fundamental question: “Why do so few scientists make significant contributions and so many are forgotten in the long run?”

Hamming, of course, knew what he was talking about, as he had made his own significant contributions — you can’t even glance at the field of digital communications without stumbling over some eponymous Hamming innovation.

But his original interest in the question came from his years spent in Los Alamos at the height of the Manhattan Project. “I saw Feynman up close. I saw Fermi and Teller. I saw Oppenheimer. I saw Hans Bethe,” Hamming notes.  “I saw that although physically I was the same, they were different. [T]o put the thing bluntly, I was envious.”

Forty years later, as he took the podium at the Bell Labs auditorium, he set out to describe, in plainspoken detail, everything he had learned…

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