Mr. Rieur in front of the slides he uses when teachingJack Rieur was the most wonderful teacher I ever had and perhaps the best teacher anywhere on the planet and for all time. I first met him in 1963 when he was my 6th grade teacher and we have kept in touch ever since.

Sure, he covered the state mandated syllabus, but what he really taught was that the world was something we go out and live in and not read about in the classroom. And learning was fun; the most fun you can ever have. And if you pay attention you can learn from life itself and the point wasn’t that there was a test at the end of the semester but later in life you had to teach others because the human race is not a race to the finish but a relay race where near the finish line we must pass the baton.

For example, he taught geography not from the book but from the slides he took personally when he visited all the places in the book. Here is a picture I took of him back when he was a spry 89-year-old in front of the 79,662 slides he used in practicing his craft and that have since been digitized and stored by the Archives at the Consortium Library. I have been to more than 40 countries so far and have set up housekeeping in a few (and I’m no where near done). Had I not had him I might have run the risk of having gone to Canada once and seen a few other countries for a few hours each on a cruise.

He died this last August but his spirit lives on in me. For example he came to my rescue just now when I was stuck writing one thing and I got unstuck by writing something else.

Mr. Rieur’s other name was Jack but he insisted his sixth grader’s call him Mr. Rieur. It was not a matter of respect for age but of class. You only got to call him Jack if you became a teacher too. Well I have approached raising my children and managing my businesses and all my writing as a teacher, and so I think I have earned the right to call him Jack posthumously. However if you have done none of those things then please call him Mr. Rieur out of respect.

How to write if you cannot concentrate.

People tell me that they cannot concentrate long enough to write anything coherent that isn’t trite or a cut-and-paste job of things off the web, which doesn’t count anyway.

I say, “So?”

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by Brooke Allen

Ask yourself this question, “What do employers owe the people they do not hire?” I asked myself that question more than a decade ago and it changed my life forever.

On Sunday, January 18, 2004, I ran a help-wanted ad in the New York Times that read in its entirety, “Programmer – Will train, enjoyment of mathematics a plus” followed by an email address. I was heading a statistical arbitrage trading desk and I needed help maintaining all the code I’d written.


I was surprised to get more than 300 resumes and because nobody had experience in the language we use (APL), and I could not gauge learning potential from a resume, I sent everyone a link to a 500-page manual (latest version available here), and I suggested applicants try their hand at a half-dozen puzzle questions they could easily answer in this language.

Thirty-eight people answered the questions so I invited them in for an open house. I had them sit on our trading floor for a bit where they played a game I’d written called BF Game that simulated an information market. We talked about the technology and the nature of our work and then I asked them what they thought I should do next.

Classroom1Twenty-seven of the applicants suggested I teach them all first and then make a hiring decision, so I ordered tables and chairs that arrived the next day. And the day after that we built a classroom.

A friend  gave them two days of formal training in APL and then I left them alone for three weeks with some pretty difficult problems. These included the  automation of investment, liquidation, and index arbitrage strategies in BF Game, and the creation of a Bayesian statistical technique for analyzing the words in Tom Sawyer so as to calculate a probability that a given passage comes from Huckleberry Finn.

Within a week they’d created an on-line community on Yahoo with 73 members who volunteered to help them with their project including an out-sourcing company in St. Petersburg, Russia, that sent all their training materials (in English), an author in England who sent a draft of a forthcoming textbook, and numerous trading experts who helped them develop strategies. These eager students opened my eyes to a new way of collaboratively solving problems.

Three weeks later the class had met all my challenges and now I had two problems:

  1. How do I pick someone to hire?
  2. How do I help the people I don’t  hire?

I brought my candidates in asked one question, “If you were me and you could only hire one person and it could not be you, who would it be?” It was fairly unanimous and so I made offers to Orlando and Onyema.

Meet40Then I rented a ballroom in mid-town Manhattan and invited everyone from the APL community to meet the 13 of my

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In every job that must be done there is an element of fun.

Over Super Bowl Weekend (Feb 1-2) some friends and I will be attending an Education Start-UP Weekend to develop tools that will help people bring more fun to work.


Here is how you can help us:

1) Tell us your stories: How did you or someone you know make an onerous task more fun? How do you teach others to do the same thing?

2) Tell us your needs: How could your work be more fun?

3) Tell us your ideas:  How could employers make work more fun? How can employees do the same? How can job hunting be more fun?

4) Tell us how to help you: Our goal is to create something you can use whether you are doing work, looking for it, or managing others. Tell us how we can contact you when we have something to give you.

Noel Coward thought work is more fun than fun.WHY THE URGENCY?

At Start-UP Weekend events you are only given from Friday night at 6:30 until early morning on Sunday to come up with an idea, implement it, and launch it into the world. Early afternoon on Sunday we will need to present our project to a panel of judges.

Although we appreciate your ideas no matter when you submit them, if you can get them to us by 6PM on Saturday, Feb 1, 2014 then we can include them in our project.


Please write to me with your ideas right away:




Woman in Mirror by Dennis Brekke - creatie commonsResearchers have shown that it if you want to do something it is better to
ask yourself questions rather than to tell yourself things.

Ask, don’t tell

by Brooke Allen

If you want to exercise today then it is not a good idea to get up in the morning and say, “I will exercise today.” This tells your unconscious that the issue is settled so there is nothing to do. Of course, as you go to bed you might say, “Gee… I forgot all about exercising.”

Instead, ask yourself, “Will I exercise today?” This question can only be answered in the affirmative by actually exercising, and this makes it much more likely that you will actually exercise.

The Lens of MotivationI have used this in the design of the 54 questions to ask yourself that I’ve printed on a deck of playing cards. You can use these to design a personal philosophy of life, and you can find them at

Question form

I call my questions “lenses” and they are in the form: “Because X, ask yourself: Y.”

Some examples:

The Lens of the Boss: Because it is important to know who will bear ultimate responsibility for your life, ask yourself: Who is the boss of me?

The Lens of Needs: Because we survive and thrive by meeting each other’s needs, ask yourself: What do I need? What is needed of me?

The Lens of Followership: Because followers have responsibility too, ask yourself: Have I chosen my leaders wisely? Am I blaming my leaders for things that could be my responsibility instead?

Help us make work more fun

Following on the success of The Lens Game, I’ve begun working on “Work as Fun” ― a series of questions to ask yourself that can help you make work more fun. After all, as Mary Poppins said, “In every task that must be done there is an element of fun. Find the fun and – SNAP – the work’s a game.”

What questions do you think should be included in this project?

Remember, the form of the question is “Because X ask yourself Y” where X is an irrefutable reason for why the question is important, and Y is in the form of a “first person interrogative” – which is fancy talk for a question that you ask yourself.

Here are some examples appropriate to making work fun.

Lens of Fun: Because fun is hard to define and it encompasses much more than just pleasure, ask yourself: What does fun mean to you?

Lens of Optionality: Because it is no fun to be forced to do something, ask yourself: How can I see something that must be done as a choice I make voluntarily?

Lens of Leveling Up: Because what was once fun can become boring once you’ve mastered it, ask yourself: How can I up my game?

What do you think?

Because many brains are better than one, I ask myself: What ideas might my readers have for questions you can ask yourself?

Send me the questions you think everyone should ask themselves if they want their work to be more fun.

I am at:





What is your passion?

by Pamela Haag

It’s true that “passion” and “mission” get tossed around a lot these days. They sound like things that any college freshman can pick up at the salad bar.

How will you even recognize your passion when you encounter it? Perhaps unwisely, I’m going to propose a practical rather than a gauzy, ponderous answer to that question:  A passion is something that you love so much that you want to keep doing it even when you’re failing at it, you need to work hard to do it, and the doing of it occasionally is no fun at all.

That comes as close to a mission in life as I can imagine. I love writing in almost any genre or permutation, even when it’s a nightmare.

Too often, what we’re good at gets

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What is your mission?

by Clint Korver (Stanford)

There is this lovely period when you are working on a Ph.D. after you have gotten all your coursework and tests out of the way when nobody cares what you do; it is kind of an intellectual romp all over the place.

During this time I ran across The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. His second habit is to begin with the end in mind. He basically says that you should create a mission statement for yourself.

So I spent a month or two trying to create a mission statement and I failed utterly. I would think things like, “What if I created a company like Hewlett-Packard; that would be pretty cool.” But if I were on my deathbed looking at my life, would that do it for me? I could imagine ways of doing it that wouldn’t be very fulfilling. It was the same story for everything I came up with; it would depend on how it happened.

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How does a poor student become a good one?

by Mark Halfon (Nassau Community)

I graduated from high school with a 69 average, which at least was better than all my friends in my Brooklyn street gang. My high school counselor told my mother that I was just not “college material.”

He might have been right; no college wanted me as a student, and who could blame them.

As it turns out Pace College in New York let me pay for classes as long as they didn’t have to give me credit for attending thereby dragging down their rankings. They call this being a “non-matriculated” student. Despite my poor high school record, I excelled in mathematics and thought I would become an accountant.

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What would you tell your high school self?

by Adrienne Rodney (

Hi Adrienne,

You probably have an idea (or wish) of what life will be like at 32. I’m sure you’re very successful (you want to be a publicist, right?), thin, educated and probably married with children. I’m sure you also got to where you wanted to be by 27. Am I right? Is this what you imagine?

Unfortunately life doesn’t work the way you want it to. That doesn’t mean life is worthless, just that what you envision is not always reality.

Life at 32 will be NOTHING like you think it will be, but that’s okay. There are some lessons I’ve learned along the way that I’d like to pass to you.

1. Don’t let others make important decisions for you.

I’m going to let you in on a secret. You’re going to want to

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How does college relate to the real world?

By Jeffrey J. Williams (Carnegie Mellon)

When I was 20, I left college and took a job in a prison. I went from reading the great books as a Columbia University undergraduate to locking doors and counting inmates as a New York State correction officer. Since I’m an English professor now, people never entirely believe me when the issue comes up, probably because of the horn-rimmed glasses and felicitous implementation of Latinate words. I fancied I’d be like George Orwell, who took a job as an Imperial Police officer in Burma and wrote about it in “Shooting an Elephant.” I thought I’d go “up the river” to the “big house” and write “Shooting an Inmate” or some such thing. It didn’t quite happen that way, although as a professor, I’ve worked 14 of 16 years in state institutions.

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Are our students the customers, the product, or something else?

by Leonard Schlesinger (Babson)

Schools that identify students as customers are missing the essential reciprocal nature of the educational relationship. As someone who has spent most of his adult life running service enterprises that were truly taking care of customers, the use of that word for what is essentially a partnership relationship demeans the work that faculty do. You would not “flunk” your customer because you don’t want to make him or her unhappy.

The customer mode generally implies a transactional encounter. So, when they’re in line at the dining hall or bookstore or engaging in the administrative functions on campus, then, absolutely, students are customers.

However, what goes on in the classroom is not transactional. When they’re in the classroom, each student is a PILE—a Partner in the Learning Enterprise. A Partner in the Learning Enterprise recognizes that each of us has a set of

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What should colleges teach?

By: Brooke Allen (

The problem with talking about Intellectual Virtues is that it can give intellectuals the feeling they are virtuous when they are just talking.

Colleges might not think of themselves as being in the business of teaching virtues (like honesty, courage, fairness, wisdom, and love of the truth) but the fact is they can reinforce or squash good instincts. For example, a student I know wrote a college admissions essay that began with a graphic description of the earth under attack by aliens when he, as super-hero, arrived to save the day. His essay concluded by saying he wanted to go to college to save the world.

Three years into college I introduced the student to the Heroic Imagination Project ( Its founder, Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, wrote to the student asking how they might work together to change the world. The student wrote to me, “I’d rather not change the course of history than risk changing it for the worse.” I can not tell you how imagined courage become timidity but I can tell you when and where it happened.

Question: How can the people at colleges do a better job teaching courage?

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How do you teach people to do the right thing?

by Daniel Kittle (Wartburg)

In the syllabus, the title of that day’s class was “Leadership and Cultural Competencies.” As part of an introductory course on the elements of leadership, it was supposed to include a discussion of prejudice and the traits, values, and skills necessary for leaders in our diverse world. But my students were about to encounter intolerance much closer to home.

Earlier in the year, an openly gay man on the college staff had been the victim of vandalism on the campus, with homophobic slurs scratched into the door of his vehicle. I asked the students: What would they have done had they known the identity of the vandal or witnessed the act? How would they have responded if they’d heard someone joking about it?

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What would you tell your grandchildren?

by Brooke Allen (Q4Colleges)


Dear Grandchildren,

You and we have a common enemy: your parents.

This is just the natural order of things. Parents and children put each other through hell everywhere. Your dysfunctional family is no big deal.

Think about it. You imagine you are the center of the universe even though you can’t even wipe your own butt. Unless your parents sell you into slavery, you cost way more than you are worth. The reason babies are cute is because otherwise parents would kill them.

And your parents are the Devil incarnate. They are hell-bent on controlling you – telling you what to do, how to do it, and what to think. Even if by some miracle you feel your parents are not idiots it is only because they are good at manipulating you. If children were not dependent on their parents they would kill them.

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What have you learned about life?

by Roxanne Owens (DePaul)

My husband’s theory is that if he does not have money in his pocket, he can’t spend it.  My counter theory is that if I don’t have money in my pocket, I have to make more frequent trips to the cash station. After checking our account balance and in deference to my husband’s cheapskate attitude (or frugality as he prefers to call it) I withdrew only one crisp $20 bill on a recent trip to the cash station.  I knew that was all I needed for the next few days, as long as I didn’t do anything too indulgent—like give in to a desire for obscenely overpriced coffee drinks for instance.

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How do you teach people to do the right thing?

by Brooke Allen (

The unspoken contract when you are hitch-hiking is that you need to be more interesting than the radio. One summer (circa 1973), Debra and I decided to see how far away from New Brunswick, New Jersey we could get when all we had was $49 and three weeks.

We knew that repeating your own life story over and over gets repetitious so we used a little trick. We would ask each person who gave us a ride to tell us their story and then we would tell the next person the previous person’s story.

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What would you tell your high school self?

by: Sarah Stroup (

Dear Sarah,

I am Sarah of the future writing to you to provide you (us?) with some perspective on how your life right now will look once you are seven or eight years down the road.  If you are tired of people trying to tell you what to do, how to think, and who to be, then I don’t blame you.  Old people love to try to give young people the answers, if only just to feel like their age is useful somehow.  If you are already annoyed enough to stop listening, then it’s possible that you don’t need my advice because you already have enough confidence in yourself to go get yourself into scrapes, have adventures, and prosper.  Ultimately, that’s what I want to say to you anyway.

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How did you come to value what you do?

by Beth Adubato  (Rutgers)

First of all I have wanted to go to William and Mary my whole life because Thomas Jefferson went there and we have the same birthday. That’s what I wrote about in my essay and I’m pretty sure I got in because of my essay; I’m the only one who got in from Essex County in my year. The most students apply from New York and New Jersey and more females apply than males, so it’s really hard to get into William and Mary.

When I got there I didn’t like it. But I wanted to go there my whole life so I decided to stick it out. And I wanted to major in political science and go to law school; that was the whole plan.

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by Ava L. Lovetask

Dear Ava,

I’m writing you a short letter because I know what is in your heart and mind and what awaits you. I know that you can do much better. So please take my advice:

1) Stay firm
Never bend when you know right from wrong, no matter how people may judge you. People will disappear from your life, and you will grow up to realize you never needed their acceptance anyway.

2) When you know that something is right, do it
Don’t be afraid, have more courage. Otherwise you will never be able to forgive yourself knowing that it is much worse to distinguish between good and bad and not go for the good because of fear, than not to distinguish and do what is bad.

3) Be wise. Think about your future
You don’t have so much time as you think you do. Time flies and when you realize it, it will be late for many things that you could have achieved.

4) Do not underestimate the importance of education and your personal development
Be more disciplined and structured in your English lessons. You will soon need it.

5) Learn to be disciplined, patient, and persistent
Good things take time, work and patience. Don’t give up just because you’re easily bored or because it seems too difficult in the beginning. Don`t become lazy because it seems very easy. Nothing is easy in life, and what is easy doesn’t last long.

6) Work more, in every area of your life
Don’t be lazy. Believe me, work pays off more than talent or inclination. It also brings more luck.

7) Don’t believe every book you read
Reading books is good, but you tend to accept without questioning. Don’t easily accept every new idea you read or hear about as reality is very different. Some ideas can be harmful, and some must be experienced. A day will come when you will test what you have learned, and only a few ideas will pass examination.

8) Learn to be practical and stay down to earth
Start thinking about what you can do to make some of those dreams reality.

9) Be softer in the way you think and act, be more humble
Pride is neither a good advisor nor a great quality no matter what anyone may say.

10) Don’t give up your belief, never forget it and never put any person above it
That’s the most important thing for you to remember.


by Jacky Brighton

Jacky BrightonDearest Jack,

In keeping with the tradition of writing postcards from the holidays home to yourself, here’s a letter from your nearly-enlightened self in the year 2013.

In the last years I have learnt so much about myself that I feel the need to pass some of

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Professor Marshall Poe speaks to NSoW about his brainchild, “The New Books Network“, and how it could become a model to provide high-quality, inexpensive education online.

We met Marshall Poe when we learned that in his history classes he encourages students to  produce movies rather than term papers (see: Every Monograph a Movie). He embodies the spirit we promote with No Shortage of Work; when he sees something that needs to be done, he doesn’t wait around for someone to pay him to do it. He does it first. Only now that he has proven his idea is a good one is he looking for funding.


NSoW: Who are you?

MP: I’m a professor who thinks that professors do a bad job of educating the public. I’m trying to fix that.

NSoW: How?

MP: I founded a business called “The New Books Network” . It’s premised on the idea that while most people won’t read serious books, they might listen to the authors of those books talk about the ideas in them. Reading is hard and inconvenient; listening is easy and convenient. We interview authors with new books, make “radio shows” out of them, and distribute them on the web as podcasts. The NBN started with one host (me) and one channel (history) a number of years ago; today it has 90 channels and 90+ hosts, all volunteers. We produce about 10 new interviews a week.

NSoW: Are you reaching people?

MP: Yes. A year ago, we were downloading about 1000 interviews per day. Today we are downloading over 3000 interviews per day. We have thousands of subscribers all over the globe. We also have a major social media presence. “New Books in History,” for example, has over 4,600 Facebook fans.

NSoW: So what’s next for the NBN?

MP: My vision is to make the NBN an economically sustainable enterprise. The first step in that direction is for me to quit my day-job and begin working fulltime growing it. In order to do that, I need to find investors or at least a different job.

NSoW: Why would anyone invest in the NBN?

MP: I’d like to think one reason is that it’s a proven, public-spirited project. A lot of people complain about the low quality of “public discourse,” but almost no one has any idea how to raise it. There are exceptions. I’d point to Wikipedia, Khan Academy, and some of the MOOCs. They use the web to engage millions of people in learning. I think the NBN does the same thing, or could given the right management and investment.

NSoW: But what about dollars and cents?

MP: I’ve investigated various business models, and the one that seems to have the most potential is integration with an on-line retail company. The NBN is a tool of public enlightenment; that’s our mission. But we’re also a remarkably efficient content provider and book recommendation engine. Outside of my time, the NBN costs a few thousand dollars a year to run, yet we produce well over a million “impressions” annually within a high-value demographic. And we are growing rapidly. With the infusion of a bit of capital, the NBN could become synonymous with “author interviews” the way iTunes is synonymous with “on-line music” and Amazon is synonymous with “on-line books.”

NSoW: So your plan is to build the NBN and sell it to Apple or Amazon?

MP: My plan is to educate the public, and I think one way to do that would be to work with Apple, Amazon, or someone in the on-line retail space. We provide an inexpensive, public- spirited way to reach people who are serious about books and the ideas in them. The fact that these same people also happen to be well educated and wealthy is a definite plus from the standpoint of an Apple or Amazon.

NSoW: What do you need right now?

MP: A salary of $50k a year and budget for development. Of course, the investors would get a chunk of the company. I’d also be happy with a part-time job writing, editing, doing research, or interviewing smart people about smart ideas. Anything that gives me the time I need to grow the NBN.

NSoW: How do people get in touch with you?

MP: The best way to reach me is by email:

Marshall Poe received his PhD at Berkeley in 1992 and then went on to teach at Harvard, NYU, Columbia, and the University of Iowa. Poe was also an editor and writer at The Atlantic, where he wrote on digital media and the Internet. He is the author of many articles and several books, including most recently, A History of Communications: Media and Society from the Evolution of Speech to the Internet (Cambridge University Press, 2010). You can find his personal website here.

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