I was walking to my dorm when I passed a girl who was bawling… From what I made out, she had taken a final today that didn’t go well, and was apologizing to her mom at the prospect of getting a B- in the class… She said she had stayed up until 6am studying, etc…

It’s not my place to judge, but I think this is a real indicator something is going wrong with college…

Unrelated, here is an excerpt from one of my favorite poems. It’s part of an ad for Tourism Melbourne that airs whenever the Australian Open is on.

Let me watch the sea-rain falling,

Smell the salt, deck-driven spray;

Let me hear the bush-birds calling

At the dawning of the day.


Let me see the sun-bars streaming

Down the valleys, ere the night

Fills the world with pleasant dreaming

Love and coolness and delight

“Far and Wide”

E.J. Brady




NYTimes (or at least their contributors) seems to be railing against the meritocracy lately.

“Some people are born on third base and go through their entire lives thinking they hit a triple”

Don’t know who said this though… A quick google search gives conflicting accounts.

Riley WilsonassortedComment

From Tyler Cowen’s MR

Honestly found the above pretty funny. I especially liked 2, 9, 10, 22, 28, 32, 33, 35, 36, 45.

When I’m feeling down or freaking out about my own situation, I really like to read anything by William Deresiewicz. Today it was a little from A Jane Austen Education, which is a little difficult because I haven’t read any of Jane Austen, but it’s also part memoir so you get a good feel of how Deresiewicz was as a young man.

It’s so comforting to me because his book Excellent Sheep has influenced me greatly and probably will forever. I actually sat down and did an interview with him once… I was so nervous and odd and inarticulate so it was awful, but I loved it nonetheless. Maybe this winter break I’ll get around to either transcribing it or editing it and putting it up.

Riley WilsonAssortedComment
Link + Lines


Don’t watch much TV, but this one might get me. From my personal experience (knowing those with large social media followings…), attempting to be an “influencer” can be an incessant grind. Every outing is dominated by pictures and there’s a lot of stress over if a post is doing well or not.

On an unrelated note, I was thinking about something my roommate said a little bit ago. He is a transfer from the University of Denver and said he’s never seen more lines for things than he has at UCLA. There are lines to get in to lecture, lines to get into dining halls, lines for food etc…

He’s right. There’s a pair of take-out restaurants on the residential side of campus that frequently get lines of 80+ people. The average time for the line to advance one person is probably around 45 seconds, so these people are waiting (80x45)/60 = 60 minutes to get a burrito/chicken bowl when there are numerous other (more expedient) options available!

Prima facie waiting an hour for a dining hall burrito seems ridiculous (I would probably only wait that long for a chipotle burrito if I was starving) but people still get in the massive line, and the big reason why I think they do is technology. When we’re able to distract ourselves at will, we’re willing to tolerate waiting an hour to get a burrito or a free t-shirt. I believe this more and more whenever I walk past one of the lines on campus and see everyone looking down at their phones.

The point above is probably pretty obvious, but I think it’s funny because it shows how bizarre our behavior can be. Somehow, we’ve reached a point where we can tolerate incredible inefficiency or wait times in real life, but get frustrated whenever a web page takes longer than four or five seconds to load. It seems to me that as long as our distractions are quick and timely, it doesn’t matter if the rest of our life is because we can retreat into the former at our convenience.

This reminds me of one of the main ideas driving Sherry Turkle’s book, “Reclaiming Conversation.” To paraphrase, she says that now we expect less and less out of our significant others, and more from our technology. We can see this clearly in the line example. I know boredom isn’t ideal and it’s bad practice to romanticize the past, but what would students in the 80’s or 90’s have done? Maybe they would have thought about something silly, whistled a tune, or made a joke with the person beside them. Maybe they would have taken the time to relax, or perhaps they would have skipped the line altogether, realizing how valuable their time was.



Interesting application of Girard’s ideas to explain why college seems to be such an incredibly fraught place. I’ve heard the conclusion many times before (all people want is money/power/prestige) but hearing about how the similarity of all of the actors in a situation plays into it is interesting.


Also interesting to hear that the Minerva curriculum is going well. I was skeptical of a university that has only online classes (considering how terrible I think many MOOCs are) but it seems like they got something right with the design. The fact that they students they have are exceptional could also help. I e-met a couple of them during my time in the Edsurge independent cohort and they were incredible. I personally still think a more traditional, personal education with heaps of face-to-face time with your teachers is the most valuable, but Miverva’s success could convince me otherwise.

UCLA Ed-Angst

I was thinking about the clear gap between institutional prestige and undergraduate educational experience that I’m seeing at UCLA. Yes, I know UCLA is a research university and the students tend to come second, but that shouldn’t stop me from thinking about it.

Because I have only experienced UCLA (and a little of Babson/USC,)I could go to other colleges and universities and take some classes there for a semester/quarter and come back to report on what the undergraduate experience is like but that’s impractical. I have asked some of my friends that do go to other universities how their education is shaping up and the results fall into two categories: If they go to a liberal arts or “elite” school, they generally love their experience so far and wouldn’t change it for the world. Otherwise (large public university/large private university), they either hate it, or don’t think about their educational experience that much (and to be fair, not everyone has to).

But I do think there is something ironic/tragic about one of the so-called “best” universities in the world (ranked #19 by US News and World Reports, whatever that means) giving the average student only a lackluster education. I would expect any university that’s good enough for Terence Tao is good enough for me, but I now know that’s bad thinking as Terence is one of the most brilliant mathematicians who have ever lived, and I am incapable of doing any type of academic research.

Personally, I think students (myself included) should stop falling for large universities. I understand they are a financial necessity for many and a great fit for some, but if you don’t want to spend the rest of your formal education sitting in lecture halls functionally taking MOOCs or having your papers read by TA’s, don’t come here. If you don’t want to have to apply to for nearly every undergraduate club, don’t come here. If you don’t want to go through entire classes never knowing the name of a single one of your classmates, don’t come here. If you really want to have to fight for the type of education that you want, do come here. I’ll do it with you.


I recently found a podcast with Malcolm Gladwell that I really enjoyed.


I’m starting to read more of Cowen’s blog, Marginal Revolution, and I’ve been loving it so far. It’s the perfect combination of high-powered academic mixed with your cool neighbor across the street who’s interested in a ton of things. His daily links are also guaranteed to lead you to something current and interesting, too.

The podcast I enjoy for a couple of reasons. One, it brings up so much personal information about Gladwell that I didn’t know beforehand. He’s Jamaican (I had no clue), enjoyed a brief stint as one of the fastest runners in Canada, and makes a career telling stories in part because stories weren’t told in his household growing up.

Two, you really get to hear Malcolm stumped. I’ve always thought of Gladwell as a type of hyper-eloquent super person, but there are so many times when Tyler asks him a question and he stumbles with his words for a bit before giving an answer. I read something great a little bit ago about the value of watching other people think on their feet (can’t remember exactly where though…) and this is something you can really hear in this episode. Sometimes, he sounds exactly like you and me!

Misidentification of Cliché

Note: this paper was originally submitted for Philosophy 23: Meaning and Communication taught by Sam Cumming and TA’d by Esther Nikbin. Because I’m still not over cliché and think there’s a lot more to it than what I talk about in this paper, I’m currently writing another paper that goes more into cliché’s “thought stopping” capabilities and how this can lead to moral danger, among other things.

My interest in cliché started in middle school when I thought Shakespeare was a boring author because he lacked original plot. Of course, murderous Macbeth has to be crushed under his own hubris and Romeo and Juliet are destined to be together only in the afterlife. In the media age, these clichés had made their way into the children’s books I read to the cartoons on TV, and I felt like a sucker for being told an old, old, man in England can get away with using them and even being called the greatest for doing it. I might as well have been crowned the best literary critic ever to have lived in the 7th grade if I hadn’t been criticizing the very origin of the storylines I had grown to recognize, and resent, but I’ll argue I have hundreds of years of Shakespeare imitators to blame for my misperception.

Still, the question of what is cliché and what is not remains. How is cliché different than idiom? Are all resonant expressions or ideas destined to become cliché?  The goal of this investigation is to the uncover the bounds that limit the application of the word “cliché” and differentiate it from other trite expressions that fill our language. In order to carry out this investigation, I consulted native English speakers, dictionaries, academic papers, and a book on brainwashing.

“Cliché” is not a word like “aunt” or “billionaire” that denotes a clear relationship or quantity of ownership. As a result, we are going to have to rely on less exact methods to pin down its meaning. Using to a survey I administered to (relatively few) native English speakers over the internet, a typical cliché begins to take shape. When respondents were asked to define “cliché” as they use it, several parameters were important. First, an overwhelming majority of answers invoked ideas of over-use through phrases such as “too much,” “too often,” and “too many people.” In order to qualify as a cliché to native speakers, the phrase in question must be notoriously ubiquitous in common language or in certain contexts. Examples given include phrases like “there’s plenty of fish in the sea” in situations about relationships, or captioning your old vacation photos on Instagram “take me back.” Second, speakers emphasized how clichés belie a sense of unoriginality in their users. According to one, these phrases become “cop-outs,” that are used in the English classroom to appear thoughtful without having thought. The phrases themselves are undeniably true to a fault, and consequently their use says more about the lack of knowledge of the speaker as opposed to any real understanding.

Dictionaries tend to corroborate these two main aspects of cliché, overuse and lack of real substance, gleaned from the intuitions of native English speakers. Definitions range from, “a phrase or opinion that’s overused and betrays lack of original thought,” to “a trite phrase or expression; also: the idea expressed by it,” but these definitions always invoke the two main pillars of cliché (Oxford English Dictionary; Merriam-Webster). A less authoritative source has also voiced her own opinion on cliché and defined it as “a metaphor characterized by overuse,” and even supplied her own cliché test. If you can begin a sentence, stop half-way, and then know the conclusion of it, then it is a cliché (Morgan). However, either by accident or design, this test includes swathes of phrases that the general population would normally regard as idiom and not cliché. An idiom, such as “read between the lines,” is defined as a non-compositional phrase, and although common, the phrase does not seem especially trite or meaningless, and thus wouldn’t be called cliché. While this test is inaccurate, it does begin to expose how speakers observe or ignore the frequency of certain words.

This image of cliché in the minds of speakers seems to be at odds with how we actually deploy the word. For example, the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned” is undeniably a cliché, but you are highly unlikely to encounter it as frequently now in the 21st century as in the 18th, when it was conceived and presumably more popular in common conversation. Indeed, some common phrases such as the aforementioned “read between the lines” and “bearing in mind” are not considered trite in the slightest, yet appear more frequently than established cliché (Dillon). ‘


Frequency of Phrase “A Penny Saved is a” From 1800 to 2000


Frequency of Phrase “Bearing in Mind” From 1800 to 2000

(Google Books)

The data supports this. According to Google’s analysis of books, the popularity of the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned” has been declining since the 1820s, but the phrase “bearing in mind” reached an all-time high in usage in the 1970s, as seen above. This is evidence against the idea clichés are overused phrases or ideas, and for a working definition that focuses on how salient the unoriginality, or “trite-ness,” of the phrase is to the hearer, regardless of how many times they have encountered it before.

This is the defining characteristic of cliché. Consider one of my earlier respondents who said clichés are “cop-outs,” and the OED, which claims clichés “betray lack of original thought.” The psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton has done research on cliché as a tool of thought reform carried out by totalitarian regimes, and has supplied his own definition. He says cliché is when, “the most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases easily memorized and easily expressed” (Lifton). To him, repetition is not what makes something cliché, but how well it reduces huge problems or ideas into simple phrases. This definition gets more into the essence of what makes a cliché, as to have a simple phrase that addresses a large, common problem is useful, and it will probably be repeated as often as a holder of the phrase encounters the problem.

Given what we know about how we deploy the word and what definitions, institutions, and fellow speakers supply to us, the meaning of cliché is slightly different than we believe it to be. Cliché as we use it leans more towards statements that conspicuously display a lack of thought as opposed to ones that are often repeated. The two share a large intersection, but don’t necessarily encompass the same phrases or ideas. This is why I (wrongly) thought Shakespeare to be cliché, but give no notice to the banality of phrases such as “bearing in mind.” Perhaps we’re in denial. There is much more cliché in our language than we care to admit, and thus reserve the term for the most egregious offenses to originality.



Dictionary.com. Cliché. n.d. Febuary 2018. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/cliche>.

Dillon, George L. "Corpus, creativity, cliché: Where statistics meet aesthetics." Journal of Literary Semantics 35.2 (2006): 97-103.

Google Books. Google Books Ngram Viewer. n.d. 12 Febuary 2018. <https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=as+a+matter+of+fact&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cas%20a%20matter%20of%20fact%3B%2Cc0>.

Lifton, Robert Jay. Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China. UNC Press Books , n.d.

Merriam-Webster . Cliché. n.d. Febuary 2018. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cliche>.

Morgan. What is a Cliché? . n.d. 12 Febuary 2018. <https://westegg.com/cliche/definition.html>.

Oxford English Dictionary. Cliché. n.d. Web.

First "daily"

For a period of time I was experimenting with having another page that I used as a blog because I felt like not everything deserved a pretty image. However, Squarespace will not allow me to have one blog with a “grid style” like this page and another with the “list” style you see on most other blogs. As a result, I’m going to start putting some of my less polished stuff on this page in order to keep everything together.

Here are the two “posts” I made on a plaintext webpage that I used as a blog before switching over to this format.


Finals week is approaching and my obligations are piling up. There are a ton of articles I want to read and I recently stumbled across a couple of blogs I wouldn’t mind exploring, but I fear I will not get to them for a while.

To remind myself of these, I’ll post the links below.








Part of me wants to abandon all my work and dive into them. The last one seems especially interesting as I’m currently working on an essay for Pique about cliché that builds off of a paper I wrote last year for a philosophy class.

Above all, I’m impressed at the number of well-written blogs I’m finding. I never would have guessed men and women in industry (putanumonit, constantin, danwang) would have enough time to give serious thought to the ideas they’re writing about. Props to them. It gives some real inspiration to people like me.


Because I don’t want to mess up the formatting of the homepage (thanks, squarespace) this page of the website will function more like a traditional blog being updated semi-regularly and consisting almost entirely of half-baked ideas. Anything more polished will appear on the homepage.

"Taxing Encounter" (Humor)

I knew of a woman, ambitious and factual.

“Tell me,” she said, “how do I acquire the most capital?”

“Ah,” said her friend. “Work for Juul! Gen Z makes the most lucrative customer pool.”

“No,” said another. “Go into finance. Sell mortgages to the masses, any credit rating will pass!”

A passerby interjected. “Here!” he shouted, “work for a non-profit; your morals will never be doubted”

The woman’s friends laughed, feeling invincible, “What a silly man” they said, “leading you towards a life without principal.”

Inspired by JHU HC ‘54

HumorRiley WilsonComment
"Middle Class College Student Shocked at the Horrors of a Desk Job" (Satire)

DENVER — After a recent workday as a paid summer marketing intern at a local software start-up, Jeremy Mallow realized office life wasn’t for him.

“When I was in high school, my parents didn’t let me get a job. They told me to focus on my schoolwork.” Mallow explained.

Jeremy, having read numerous business books about “passion” and “entrepreneurship” thought the drudgery of work had been left in the 19th century owing to the introduction of open office plans, cool start-up wall art, and conference rooms named after sci-fi characters.

“It turns out having a 2-hour meeting on deploying cloud-based scalable enterprise software solutions in ‘Chewbacca’ isn’t very fun,” Jeremy adds.

Mallow’s co-intern in the sales department, Jessica Gonzales, has a similar take. “I’ve spent so much time in Salesforce I caught myself mentally converting the cute cashier at Grassa to a Sales Accepted Lead from a Market Qualified Lead after he said hi to me. If his Pardot score jumps any more, a Sales Development Rep will give him a call so we can move him down the marketing funnel and close on an opportunity won.”

Friends of Mallow report that since taking the internship, Jeremy has grown increasingly depressed. “He’s been a bit off lately,” says Mallow’s close friend, Ryan. “He used to enjoy books and having spirited conversations with us. Now all he does is talk about how Silicon Valley culture is a form of social control, and how the ‘Dilbert’ comic strip is comparable to scripture.”

Yet, Jeremy seems grateful about the entire ordeal. “I understand it now. After working 8-hour days at a desk staring at a screen, I finally get it. I can see why working professionals are so emotionally distant, how divorces start, why so many adults have back pain, why there’s such a large market for self-help books, and why Elon Musk probably weeps himself to sleep every night.”

Mr. and Mrs. Mallow knew this would happen all along. “We were trying to preserve the fragile viscera of his soul by allowing him to cultivate interests and social relationships during the summers,” says Heather Mallow. “Then, we pulled the one-two punch and forced him to work a desk job this summer with no time for anything else. Welcome to the real world, Jeremy!”  

Meanwhile, Pedro Gonzales, Jessica’s 26-year-old cousin, had just finished his 14-hour shift gutting salmon in the canneries outside of Anchorage, Alaska. “Eh, it’s an O.K. gig. Puts food on the table, no?”

HumorRiley WilsonComment
Take Me to Alaska (Podcast)

Most teenagers wait tables or work at their the movie theater for their first summer jobs. 

Not Charlie. Right after school got out he took a flight to Kenai intent on spending the next two months gutting salmon for 14 hours a day. 

Today, we call him up and talk management styles, crazy Alaskan rents, and why he even chose to do this in the first place. 

(interview and narration originally recorded in June 2017) 

podcastRiley WilsonComment
Tim Leatherman (Podcast)

Tim Leatherman tells us about his table tennis career, Vietnamese luggage racks, and absentminded professors, and some stuff about a funky little tool

On a more serious note, Tim Leatherman is best know for inventing the Leatherman tool after he found his Boy Scout knife ineffective in repairing a cranky Fiat during a road trip through Europe. Now, the Leatherman Tool Group does over $100 million in annual revenue by selling their tools all over the world.

This is an interview I did with him while I was in high school in Portland, Oregon. 

[Intro recorded at the bottom of a stairwell] 



podcastRiley WilsonComment
[S]language (Podcast)

What is slang? How many people need to use a word before it becomes a word? What types of people do these need to be? 

This is a re-edit of a podcast I did in high school with my friend Kate Leblanc. Special thanks to her, and anyone on NW 23rd who was happy to share their slang with me. 

Relevant links:



Also, thanks to Kevin Macleod for the music. 


podcastRiley WilsonComment
Let's Talk About Education (podcast)

We sit down with UCLA professor of education Lorena Guillén and talk about school, it's history, and how it affects us now. 

Pique is a student-written, recorded, and hosted podcast. 

You can check us out online at www.piquepodcast.live

McCluskey Article:


Thanks to Kevin Macleod for the music. 


podcastRiley Wilsoneducation