28 July 2012

Malcolm Gladwell: What we can learn from spaghetti sauce

You may recognize Gladwell from my reading list, I love his books. He is also a fun lecturer. In this lecture, Gladwell tells the story of the expansion of the spaghetti sauce business. From this story he launches into a deeper understanding of human psychology and how business misinterprets what people want. Gladwell describes some good data analysis tools as well.

Malcolm Gladwell: What we can learn from spaghetti sauce (TED)

26 July 2012

Darian Leader: What is Madness?

A frank discussion about ‘madness’ and an advocacy that we need to use a more flexible stick when measuring insanity. Instead of simply reading through a checklist of symptoms to see if the patient matches up, doctors need to dig into the causes of those symptoms to better understand their causes and thus if the diagnosis really fits. For example, a person who has a hard time being around other people because they are not sure about how they should act should not be considered crazy. However, a person who has a hard time being around other people because they think that other people can hear their thoughts should be considered crazy.

Darian Leader: What is Madness? (RSA)

24 July 2012

David Harvey: The Crises of Capitalism

There have been many ideas and descriptions of the recent financial crisis, but Harvey presents an alternative point of view: as Marx would. That is, instead of blaming bad decision making or bad forecasting, Harvey suggests that it is the nature Capitalism to simply move issues around without ever addressing them. Harvey suggests that instead of sticking dogmatically to capitalism, we should consider a financial revolution.

23 July 2012

Barbara Ehrenreich: Smile or Die

While it is a common to say that your problems and issues, Ehrenreich firms states that it is wrong and cruel to insist that bad things only happen to those who mentally focus on bad things and thus we need to think positively. Instead, she suggests, that we think realistically, hoping for the best but being prepared for the worst.

Barbara Ehrenreich - Smile or Die
RSA Animate - Smile or Die

19 July 2012

Keith Barry: Brain magic

Barry is a mentalist at work. Some elementary extraction of concepts but mostly good brain stopping fun.

Keith Barry: Brain magic (TED)

18 July 2012

Sherry Turkle: Alone Together

Addressing new issues of information proliferation. Turkle comments that we used to have gatherings, say a fifteen year old birthday party, which we often did not want to go to, but we went to anyway and we would grow and expand because “we did this hard thing.” Today, we see people mentally checking out by pursuing their virtual world; this makes it hard to emotionally progress because we no longer do “this hard thing.” In essence, if we are not careful, we will be alone even when we are together.

Professor Sherry Turkle - Alone Together (RSA)
Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone? (TED)

16 July 2012

Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover

Meyer advocates a makeover of way we teach math. He identifies several areas in which we can improve our teaching methods, including some simple realignment of the curriculum. Meyer suggests that instead of training people to extract data from a problem (that only has the relevant information) and plugging them into a formula; we should train students to sift through information to find the relevant information, figure out what the answer they want and discuss through how they can get that answer from the available information.

Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover (TED)

12 July 2012

Jack Horner: Shape-shifting dinosaurs

I love Jack Horner. He and I go way back. Well, not really. I read an article once that was an interview with him in which he discussed his Halloween preparation (which, apparently, are quite elaborate) and his work on the recently producer Jurassic Park movie in which he was consulted regarding the look and appearance of the dinosaurs.

In this lecture: he discusses a realization (“Where are the little, as in juvenile, dinosaurs?”), a theory (that dinosaurs change over time much like their avian posterity) and a discovery (many of the ‘different’ dinosaurs are actually the same dinosaurs while they are growing up).

Jack Horner: Shape-shifting dinosaurs (TED)

11 July 2012

Dave Birch: The Future of Money

The technology of money has been evolving for several centuries and is now facing its midlife crisis. After recapping a brief history of money through time (a really fascinating dissertation) and then suggests that we should disband the “cash economy” in order to progress money to its next phase of life.

Dave Birch: The Future of Money (RSA)

10 July 2012

Robert Frank: The Darwin Economy

An economic lecture in which Frank discusses how the current capitalistic model is likely to lead us to a place with massive corporation that have to act in extreme, economically and socially, bad ways in order to continue to compete. He attributes this to the evolution escalation principles identified by Darwin. In this principles, individuals do what helps them survive best, even if it is detrimental to the whole. For example, the antlers of the modern bull elk, measuring at some massive four feet wide, represent an enormous investment on the part of the elk. In order to compete, the other bull elks need to grow equally large, or larger, horns representing a similar individual investment. In the end however, if all the bull elks grew foot long antlers, they would all have the same relative advantage without the deep personal resource investment.

To manage the some competitiveness in a capitalistic model, Frank suggests removing the income tax and installing a progressive consumption tax. Such a tax, he argues, would discourage the enormous waste that comes with lavish spending because it would in effect bring the upper end of the extreme to a lower margin. Instead of having to build a 4,000 square foot house to spend a million dollars (with most of the money going to the builder), you would only have to build a 2,000 square feet (with say, half the money going to the builder and the other half paying a consumption tax).

Robert Frank: The Darwin Economy (RSA)

04 July 2012

The Penguin, the Monkey and the Butterfly


Duffy, the monkey, was sitting quietly watching an army of ants work their way up a nearby log when he something caught his ears. It was a moan coming from a nearby clump of trees. Being a very curious monkey, Duffy went to go see what it is. He crept ever closer to the clump of trees trying to not make a sound. The moaning got louder and angrier with every step Duffy took.

When he finally got close to the trees he stopped and wondered if he really wanted to know what was making the angry noises in the trees. Sometimes, when he was too curious, he would find himself in a lot of trouble. He really wanted to know anyway so he gently pulled back the bushes just enough to see the hairy back of a gorilla. Duffy smiled and thought of all the fun tricks he could play on the sleeping gorilla. Until, that is, the gorilla rolled over and Duffy saw it was Mildred.

Now some gorillas can be nice, but most are a bit on the cantankerous side. Mildred was the most cantankerous of them all, especially when she was trying to sleep and she was always trying to sleep. Only the King of Kong himself would dare mess with her, especially when she was napping. Mildred looked like she was trying to sleep but she had a most peculiar way about her. Her eyes were closed and she was lying on some giant leaves but she was tossing, turning and flailing her arms in the air. Each time she flung an arm she moaned. It was the oddest sight Duffy had ever seen.

Duffy was a generally good monkey who happened to get into quite a bit of trouble when he got too curious or tried to play pranks, and, being a good monkey, he knew better than to mess with Mildred so he decided he would leave. Just as he was about to let go of the branches and go back to the ants he noticed a blue flicker around Mildred’s head. He pushed his face through the small opening in the brush to get a better look: it was a butterfly fluttering about. It was one of the most beautiful butterflies Duffy had ever seen. It had dark blue wings with bright blue spots on the tips.

Just then, Mildred’s hand went flying past Duffy’s nose and almost knocked it clean off. Duffy jumped back rubbing nose for the near miss. Creepy back to the brush, Duffy pulled the branches back again. Mildred’s fit made more sense: the butterfly was trying to land on her nose and Mildred was trying to keep it away. If she was successful, she would probably squash the poor thing. Duffy carefully reached through the trees and snatched butterfly just before Mildred’s hand swung again. Jumping back, Duffy cleared the branches and ran from the trees, just in case Mildred had awoken.

Slowly, Duffy opened his hand. The blue butterfly gave a few quick flutters of its wings before taking off. The poor monkey was sad as he watched the butterfly fly away. Before he could shed a tear, the butterfly came back and landed on his hand.

“Hello again,” Duffy said.

The butterfly slowly opened and closed its wings but said nothing.

“I bet,” Duffy continued, “I bet you are looking for your home, somewhere warm and comfortable.” The butterfly still did not respond. “Well, Mildred is no place for a delicate butterfly.”

Duffy started to walk and think. He was thinking of all the warm places a butterfly could live in. As he was walking and thinking he heard another sound in the bushes. This was less of a moaning sound and more of a rustling sound of something trying to hide; it was coming from the nearby tumboa plant.

Duffy sneaked around the tumboa and lifted some of the leaves, careful to not frighten the blue butterfly. Under the leaves was a small animal which was surprised to see Duffy staring at it. Slowly and sheepishly, the animal crawled back through the tumboa leaves until it was out in the open. It was a penguin, one of the last animals that Duffy ever expected to see in the Wu Kong jungle. The penguin’s eyes seemed fixed on the butterfly, and that made Duffy nervous.

The penguin looked closer at the butterfly and then suddenly burst into a series of excited quacks and squeals while wildly flapping its wings. “Oh my goodness!” she shouted in a shrill voice. “I am so happy I found you! I have been looking everywhere. I thought I lost you forever, and then where would that leave me? I will banned, that’s where I would be. Banned for life! They would have thought I had eaten him or something. I mean, I don’t even like bugs. Fish... I love fish, but not bugs and definitely not a cute little butterfly like you. How could I ever?!”

The little penguin kept going. Duffy wondered if she would ever stop even to breathe. The penguin did eventually pause for a moment, this time to look at Duffy who had just realized that the penguin had just barely realized that the butterfly was actually being carried.

“Ah, hello,” Duffy said. The penguin stopped and started rocking back and forth while looking at Duffy. Her face lit up.

"Hi!” she almost shouted, “I’m Pidg. Thank you so much for finding my little Dott. Now, we must get him back before they notice he’s gone. Oh, I am sure they would be so worried! But if we are quick then they won’t even notice and everything will be okay, right?”

Duffy was a little worried. It was one thing to get in trouble for a prank he played or for being too curious, but it sounded like he was in trouble for rescuing a butterfly from certain squashing. And that did not sound like fun.

“Do you have a name?” Pidg asked. “It’s okay if you don’t. I mean, not everyone has to have a name, although I find them terribly useful. How else do you call someone and have them know that you are trying to talk to them?”

“Duffy, my name is Duffy.”

“Well then Duffy, shall we return Dott?” Pidg asked as she reached her flipper towards Duffy. Duffy paused for a moment and considered simply handing the butterfly over to the penguin and wishing her luck, but just then he heard a distant crashing of branches and he remembered the sleeping Mildred from whom he had rescued Dott. Pidg had probably wakened her up. Duffy knew that of all of the places he could be, the last place he wanted to be was wherever Mildred was when she was grouchy and he was sure the crashing branches meant she was grouchy. So, with a shrug of his shoulders, he grabbed Pidg’s flipper and tried to keep up with her as she took off through the forest.

03 July 2012

Ian Leslie: Necessary Lies

Strangers tell an average of three lies in the first ten minutes of their meeting. Most people would adamantly deny that they lie so often but most people would indeed be lying. Leslie suggests that we in fact need lies in order for society to continue. Self-deception is itself critical to advancing creativity and innovation.

Ian Leslie - Necessary Lies (RSA)

02 July 2012

Renata Salecl: The Paradox of Choice

There has recently been a lot of research on choice, much of which is interesting. Salecl discusses how we used to think that choice was a liberating force, that the more choices on has, the more freedom and sociable they would be. We are finding that this is not true. Instead, we spend a lot of time being anxious over our choices and their moral and social implications. When we make the wrong choice, we feel strongly judged and by society, that we have somehow failed to live up to our humanity and we become ashamed of ourselves. When we make the right choice, we feel a bit of joy from making a good choice and then are plummeted into self-doubt about whether we actually made the right choice. Additionally, as we continue to make so many choices about consumption we begin to feel empowered by our consumption and thus liberated when in reality we have actually subjected ourselves to consumption and are not really the masters we thought we were.

Renata Salecl - The Paradox of Choice (RSA)
RSA Animate - Choice