30 December 2014

Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Haidt suggests that most of experience a point in our lives where our mortal framework melts away and we transcend our normal state of being. He shows how we compete within and across teams: we compete with each other within the team, jockeying for position and rank, while also competing against teams of other people.

Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

17 December 2014

"The Lightness of Being" by Frank Wilczek

Often I grab books that look like that might be interesting but then decide they are not worth my time to read. This was one of those books. I, in fact, put it down shortly into it: the book is too far out of my league. I started reading another book but could not finish it quickly enough and so returned to 'The Light'. I am still not sure what three quarters of the things the book discusses even mean.

Wilczek dives into the evolution physics and quantum sciences over the last several years and he includes a roadmap for future developments.

Interesting tidbit: magnetic and electrical fields travel at the speed of light.

11 December 2014

Geoffrey West: The surprising math of cities and corporations

West points out that for all the problems that cities create (getting a bunch of people to live in close proximity) but also has potential for great solutions because many of the people are creatives and problem solvers.

He draws some fascinating parallels between biological ecosystems and planning cities.

Geoffrey West: The surprising math of cities and corporations

02 December 2014

The Skill of Self Confidence: Dr. Ivan Joseph

Joseph talks about how to build self-confidence. The key: to make things not novel. He gives some tips and suggestions on how to accomplish that.


The Skill of Self Confidence: Dr. Ivan Joseph

18 November 2014

Hasan Elahi: FBI, here I am!

Hasan was first introduced to the FBI when he topped a local watch list and was detained mid-travel for questioning. After extensive questioning and talks with various agents, he decided to compile his life in such a way that they could check on him wherever he was (which he made public here: elahi.umd.edu). While this may cause panic for most of us, he commented that the data he was posting was so specific and exacting that is was practically useless.

14 November 2014

"Never come in early" and other workplace fallacies

"Never come in early," said the middle aged man. He was giving advice for my working life. This was my first job and he was sort of a friend/mentor (I was too young to know these things).

"Never stay late," was his other maxim. "That's how they get you," was his reasoning. "They start asking you to come in earlier and earlier and they make you stay later and later. All without paying you a dime more."

In hindsight I hear his words with some embitterment that probably came from a long exposure to corporate abuse.

While not really purposeful, I generally followed his advice. I never planned to come in early (more than 15 minutes before my shift was scheduled) and never planned to stay late, unless there was due compensation agreed on beforehand.

As I have worked through the years, and have matured, I have noticed that many people hold this mentality and many companies (regardless of their stated workplace environment policies) foster a place that reinforces this behavior. The mantra from both sides: "Do your job, keep your head down, attract as little attention as possible."

Many people like to think they are bold, open and engaging, they are not really. Employees are frequently encouraged to be social and interactive with open employees but many attempts to learn about other peoples' work are viewed as territorial challenges and are frequently met with subversive hostility and mistrust. "Why are you trying to learn my job?" is a common question. And a fair question. Many companies send unsuspecting individuals in to learn someones job for "redundancies" and "in case they ever go on vacation" then promptly learn off the teacher and replace them with the learner (who is often paid less).

While many companies say they want their employees to be happy and engaged in the workplace, they maintain strict policies of strong management oversight of minutia, accountability over trivial details and dysfunctional behavior towards those who reach outside their ordained silo.

Another issue is that many companies, and some employees, are old and have a long history. This means that there are many, many layers of politics and more delicate boats that cannot be rocked than can be found in the most intense daytime soap.

In hindsight, the saddest places I have worked were the ones that were deserted after 5pm. The places where no one wanted to stay a minute longer than they were supposed. Places where both the employees and the company were just putting in the hours.

In connection with my opening quote, I have realized that I never want to work for such a place where people flee the scene at the end of the work day.

Instead, I want to work at a place that I want to come in early and leave late every night; where the people are so engaging that I count working as "hanging out"; where the work is so interesting that I can hardly call it "work"; where the company is so open that I feel like I can roam free without judgment; where I can learn about other people's jobs with interest and not be scorned for territorial challenges; where big picture thinking is encouraged, not just in words but in action; where my manager is transparent and open.

So, no more with "just putting in my time." If time and money are they only things that get exchanged then the work is not worth either my time or my employers money.

As I think about this, such a workplace requires effort from all the involved parties. Companies have to create an environment of trust where employees can appropriately share information freely without feeling like they need to keep secrets in order to keep their jobs. Employees need to be able to find their work interesting and engaging. This usually requires at least some perspective (many of the most boring tasks I have ever done at work were agreeable because I knew that my contribution was making an impact--not because I was told such but because I knew the big picture). Employee then need to act in this open environment. Being free is pointless if that freedom is not utilized.

The cool part is that the companies that have open environments that employees utilize effectively are the companies that scare the pants off their competitors because those companies are the fastest, most agile and most prone to have a surprise that no one saw coming.

05 November 2014

"Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain" by David Eagleman

I have always thought the brain was cool but in sort of a nebulous, general way. Eagleman writes about many of the most recent findings about the brain and how cool neuroscience is. Most interesting is how much we still do not know or cannot tease out from other things. For example, we know that people use different sides of their brain to do different things, however if half a brain is removed from a child younger than eight, we find no developmental differentiation between the half brained child and a full brained child throughout the rest of their life. We still have yet to understand where all those brain functions went and what they displaced. (As a side note, there are very good medical reasons for removing half a brain--cascading seizures that could lead to death are one--and such operations are not performed arbitrarily "for the sake of science".)


Interesting tidbit: At this point in our research, environment is a better predictor of psychosis than genes.

30 October 2014

Edith Widder: The weird and wonderful world of bioluminescence

Fact: most life on earth can produce light. Widder present her research of these creatures with a captivating, and often humorous, collection of videos.

Edith Widder: The weird and wonderful world of bioluminescence

Bonus: You can purchase your own collection of bagged dinos (like the ones in her bottle) to poke for you own blue-light special amusement from Sunnyside Sea Farms. I highly recommend these and love to poke mine dinos each night before I go to bed. If you watched Life of Pi then you may remember these scenes:


Those are dinos.

15 October 2014

"Rocks Breaks Scissors" by William Poundstone

Humans love to think we know what random is and that we can be random when we want to. As Poundstone demonstrates, we are far less random than we imagine and, interestingly enough, we have trouble identifying randomness when we see it. For example, consider the following string (taken from the book):
--||-|--|-|-|-|-|---|-|-|-|-|-|||-|-||-|-|-|-||-||
Mostly people would consider this to be fairly random sequence (with "-" and "|" having an equal chance of appearing). It is not. The "|" has a 75% chance of appearing. A truly random sequence might look like this:
|----|-|||-|||-||---||------|||--||-------|--||-|-
One reason for our poor randomness skills is that we imagine that things should be uniform in their randomness. The first sequence looks more random because the two symbols alternate more frequently. Gamblers often experience this problem: a run has held steady so they bet that a contrary pattern must appear. True randomness means that each outcome has an equal chance of occurring during each iteration of an event. That is, seven heads in a row does not change the 50/50 odds that the next coin flip will be heads too.

The first half of the book is filled with quick rules and explanations for examining randomness in a variety of situations.

Interesting tidbit: When vetting numbers, look at the second digits. They usually should be fairly well distributed if they are natural. Odd spikes of over usage are signs that the numbers may have been tampered with.

07 October 2014

Yasheng Huang: Does democracy stifle economic growth?

Huang argues that democracy does fuel economic growth but such growth can proceed much quicker when helped by spurts of authoritarianism.

Yasheng Huang: Does democracy stifle economic growth?

01 October 2014

Why you should not try to catch the IT guy

The tawny haired man stumbled through the door, just missing the aluminum frame of the glass door as it pulled open. He dragged a foot as he made his way to the reception desk, all the while clutching at his chest.

“Can I help you?” The receptionist asked in a cool tone. The man looked put generally well put together and in no need of hospital services.

“I need help,” the man said in a distant voice.

She looked him over. His suit was well pressed, lint free and his lavender shirt had a large stain running down it but was otherwise in good condition. There was a bit of a tear near the top of the stain. She froze. It was not a stain but blood running down his shirt.

“Wha… what happened to you?”

“I need help,” he repeated then collapsed on the floor.

The receptionist switched into auto-pilot mode and swooped to his side.

“Here,” she said grabbing his hand and pushing it to his wound. “Keep pushing here.”

“I need help,” the man uttered again, though he complied with the order.

The woman scanned the hallway for a moment before locking eyes with a doctor. “Probably the closest one,” he thought before calling out. “Doctor, here, now!”

The doctor grabbed his pockets to keep them stable then began jogging. He scanned the scene before him: the receptionist pressing the man’s hand to his chest, the man himself covered in blood and barely conscious of what was happening. A hand grabbed the doctor’s his arm and broke his focus. He skidded to a halt.

“Doctor,” an old, frail man said. “When can I expect my results back?”

The doctor stared into the old man’s eyes in disbelief.

“Um, I don’t know.” He muttered. “I have to help the man in the lobby.”

“But I’ve been waiting.”

“Are you dying?”

“Well, no, but I want my test results.”

“Mr. Jones,” the doctor said firmly while detaching himself from the man’s arm. “There is man in the lobby who will die if I don’t help him right now.”

“Now see here young man,” the old man started angrily. “I have given this hospital a small fortune in my time. They’ve even named a wing after me. I am entitled to better service than this.”

His angry words were wasted though, the doctor was already down the hallway working on the stab wound.

--

While most reasons for an IT worker to visit onsite do not involve keeping humans alive, they do in many ways involve keeping the business alive. Few people would behave as Mr. Jones when human life is involved however, countless are even more indignant when the business life is on the line.

To fully understand what it means when an IT worker walks onsite to fix an issue let me share a bit about how most IT people like to work: by remote.

One of the most potent blessings of the modern era is remote control. Today’s technologies allow for an IT worker to remote almost anything. Computers, servers, phones, cellphones, printers, copiers, fax machine and just about everything else in a business. At first glance, it may seem that working via remote is the lazy route, and it is, to an extent.

Working by remote means that issues can be corrected from the comfort of a desk. More importantly, it means that IT persons can stay highly efficient. Many location are physically large spaces. If workers had to walk to each computer to run an update or make a change, something that would take 2 minutes by remote suddenly takes all day to complete. But the real kicker comes when there is a problem.

Contrary to popular belief, most IT people do not have endless stores of solutions to every conceivable technical problem stashed in their heads. Much like doctors, we store a collection of the most frequent and reasonable scenarios and leave the rest to our resources to remember. For doctors those resources include textbooks, encyclopedias and such. For IT workers most of these resources are online in forums, knowledgebases and web searches. Online resources required online access which requires a functional device, preferably a computer.

In the old days (before effective remotes) we would have to leave a misbehaving device to find a working device to do our research on then return to the original device. If our research provided us with the correct solution the first time around (a rare thing) then we were all set. Most often however, we would have to make several trips back and forth.

Today, using a remote control, we can simultaneously remote a misbehaving terminal and research a solution from the same computer. Usually, one configured and setup just the way we like it (no one really enjoys using a computer littered with pictures of someone else’s family—or worse, cat—their Facebook and whatever odd sites they deemed worthy to bookmark). This research method maintain efficiency and when business computers are down, efficiency is key. Few businesses have a bevy of spare devices; often every hour a device is down is an hour of work lost which will need to be made up later, frequently on overtime.

All of this is to say that remote control work is a very, very good thing for IT workers (who can work faster and more efficiently), businesses (who experience less downtime and resource waste) and end users (who experience less frustration, and quicker response and resolution to issues).

Sometimes, however, things go so wrong that remote controls do not work and correction requires onsite work. Personally, I cringe every time this happens. Most other IT workers do to. Partly because we lose our precious efficiency but mostly because of the business equivalent to Mr. Jones: users who swarm the poor onsite IT worker.

On occasion, these delays are good and the users provide new and valuable information. These occasion are very rare. Instead, most swarms include peppering the IT worker with information they already have, regaling them with stories of their system going down and all the things they tried to bring the system back and how sad they are that things are not working correctly and… Honestly, most of this information is useless and, perchance it is not, a good IT worker will be able to quickly gather the relevant information they need to understand what is happening.

Do not be surprised if the IT worker does not ask you any questions though. Why? Because he already knows that something is wrong. For one, someone already called to complain. For two, if he could have remoted in, he would have. For three, IT workers are part doctor and part animal trainer: they can often tell what is wrong by listening to the whining machines and by poking around a bit. Like a sick wildebeest, servers are better at explaining their woes than the user who cannot get them to work.

Be very wary of the worst offence of all: trying to get the IT worker to look at something else. Unless he is just strolling through looking for work, he is probably headed somewhere to do something that was important enough that he could not do it remotely. Your belaying him causes two problems. He is not getting to what he had already promised to do and there is probably a server somewhere collapsed on the floor, bleeding out while you are whining about a slow email connection. The second is that he is going to struggle to remember your problem. IT workers are humans too, we can only remember so many things at once and your problem is probably not important enough to remember in the face of some other dire situation.

So the next time you spot an IT worker or catch them on the phone: wave, say ‘hi’ and ‘thank you,’ offer them a drink and get them quickly on their way. Oh, and send them an email about that annoying little problem you only remember when you see them. They will be grateful and probably be much more cheery when it comes to helping you in the future.

23 September 2014

Larry Lessig: Laws that choke creativity

Lessig addresses the burgeoning copyright issues that we are seeing spawned by the internet. He argues that we need to strike a new balance between allowing the amateurs to engage in a "read/write" culture and protecting the copyright of artists without forcing modern creatives to run from the law.

Larry Lessig: Laws that choke creativity

17 September 2014

"Why We Make Mistakes" by Joseph T Hallinan

This book provides a solid overview of, and antidotes for, the most common reasons we make mistakes. Some of the more common reasons for mistakes (antidotes) include overconfidence (be less confident), unrecognized biases (take a step back to identify what is influencing your decision) and familiarity (have someone else take a look at your your project). Hallinan keeps the whole book light, but meaningful and includes many, often humorous, examples.

Interesting tidbit: Patients who had a reversible version of a surgery performed were more likely to be less happy than patients who underwent the permanent version of the surgery. Hallinan cites Loewenstein: "Hope impedes adaptation." In other words, as long as we have a chance, we resist adapting even if it means sacrificing our own happiness.

09 September 2014

Rives: Reinventing the encyclopedia game

Rives introduces us to an encyclopedia game that he calls "Chimborazo!" From his website:
1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. Enter any word in the search bar.
3. Read until you find a fun fact.
4. Make note of your fact.
5. Click on the hyperlink of an interesting word.
6. Make note of your word.
7. Read until you see another interesting hyperlinked word.
8. Repeat Steps 5-7 until your current link contains your first word. Your back where you started!
9. Find another fun fact and make note of it.

27 August 2014

"The Wisdom of Psychopaths" by Kevin Dutton

Delving into the fascinating realm of psychopathy, Dutton focuses on the many virtues that can be gleaned from this 1 to 2 percent of the our population. Contrary to many myths, most psychopaths are fully functional members of society and include CEOs and US Presidents. Indeed, many of their core attributes--stoicism, the ability to make hard decisions quickly, a lack of emotional attachment--makes functional psychopaths more ideal than the average person for high pressure, fast paced positions. Dutton also makes an interesting connection: many attributes of psychopaths are also shared by the "spiritually enlightened."


Interesting tidbit: psychopaths are more likely to offer and provide unsolicited aid to someone who obviously needs it (such as someone having difficulty functioning with a broken limb) than a normal person.

21 August 2014

Malcolm Gladwell: The unheard story of David and Goliath

Gladwell redefines our understanding of the story of David and Goliath. In short, most things you know about the story is wrong. This talk goes with his book David and Goliath.

Malcolm Gladwell: The unheard story of David and Goliath

12 August 2014

06 August 2014

"How the Mind Works" by Steven Pinker

When I first picked up this book I thought, "Great, I can learn how the brain works." It was not until I was pretty far into this hefty book that I realized that the word "mind" was carefully chosen because it was distinctly different from "brain." Pinker delivers on his promise and the book wanders through many of the wonders of the mind. It contains many fascinating ideas, studies and theories about why we do the things we do.

Interesting tidbit 1: Children will generally accept any food given to them from birth through their second year, after which their tastes and generally "locked in" for life.

Interesting tidbit 2: Children generally learn fears and phobias between the ages of three and five.

Interesting tidbit 3: Tickling is a form of mock fighting and laughing while tickling is a way of saying, "I know this would otherwise be scary because it seems like I am attacking you, but I am just having fun."

29 July 2014

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

Counterintuitively, McGonigal states "Gamers don't sit around..." and in the game world, she is right. While gamers might be physically sitting around, in their game's world they are usually running around a lot: getting quests, vanquishing enemies and leveling up. She goes on to suggest that we use this active nature of gaming to help solve big, complex world problems.

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

24 July 2014

Frans de Waal: Moral behavior in animals

Waal did an amazing study (that I love talking about) that showed that a sense of "fairness" is innate in a lot animals and is not just a societal contract (though the boundaries of fairness can be heavily shaped by a society).

Frans de Waal: Moral behavior in animals

16 July 2014

"You Can't Lie to Me" by Janine Driver

Driver details strategies to detect deception beyond basic body language.

Interesting tidbits: There are seven universal emotional expressions that are the same across all people, everywhere regardless of culture or upbringing.

12 July 2014

Pictures: The Old, The New and The Digital

I had a recent realization: I take as many pictures in an average year as my grandparents did in their entire lifetime and as my parents did in the first 30 years of marriage.

Earlier
Then
Now
Average pictures taken per year 34 58 743
Cost of developing a roll of film $50 $10 free
Relative cost for camera $140 $120 $150
Relative cost of color film per picture Color: $2.08
B&W: $1.00
$.42 Free
'Special' shots
Average number of pictures for a special event 1-5 2-10 5-100
Estimate of time put into 'special' shots 10 minutes 5 minutes .5 minutes
Estimate of effort put into 'special' shots A lot Some Not much
Believability of smiles in 'special' shots Not much Some A lot
Estimate of duplicate 'special' shots 2 5 20
Casual shots
Frequency of random, candid shots Few Some Too many
Number of pictures you distributed and regretted Few Some Too many
Number of steps to send distribute a 'regretful' picture Six: Find camera, remember to bring camera, pull out camera, take picture, develop the roll, mail picture to friends. Five: Remember to bring camera, pull out camera, take picture, develop the roll, mail picture to friends.


Three: Pull out phone, snap picture, post to Facebook.
Factor
Method for 'cool' picture distribution Slideshow (usually with long, boring oratory) Prints in the mail Facebook
Method for 'average' picture distribution Slideshow (usually with long, boring oratory) Prints in the mail Facebook
Method for 'mediocre' picture distribution Slideshow (usually with long, boring oratory) Prints in the mail Facebook
Method for 'sub-par' picture distribution Slideshow (usually with long, boring oratory) Prints in the mail Facebook
Difficulty in taking 'cool' pictures and missing the 'sub-par' ones Hard Moderate Easy
Appreciation
Appreciation for 'great' shots High High Low
Comments on 'great' shots "Wow" "Nice picture" "Photoshopped"
Number of times 'great' shots are view again 10+ 5+ 0

(This data is based on pre-digital camera photography for "Earlier" and "Then" categories based on moderate research. All monetary figures are adjusted for inflation.)

In many ways the digital revolution of the camera has done a lot to make picture taking more accessible and less expensive but it has also robbed us of the 'magic' of those special moments we are seeking to preserve. It is that very word, "preserve", that we find the core of the problem. We have shifted from 'capturing a moment' to trying 'to preserve that moment so it lasts forever'. A shift from creating something to help us remember to trying to create something that can be relived on demand.

The shift from capture to preservation has been further driven by the extensive availability of video capture technology (video cameras built into our phones and digital cameras). It comes through in the way that we rabidly try to capture as many moments as possible in video but so rarely look back at the videos we have taken. It seems that such clips are only viewed in moments of great grieve or after severe tragedy. Perhaps that is the best place for them. After all, if you have the real person, place or thing available to you, why would you want to settle with watching old videos of them.

It only takes a couple of times of trying to capture a breathtaking sunset, and being disappointed by the results, to realize that most of life is better enjoyed the first time. Instead of trying to preserve each moment, try to soak in the moment and only snap a picture or two.

09 July 2014

"Brave New Universe" by Paul Halpern and Paul Wesson

Partly an review of the history various theories physics and quantum theories and partly an exploration of the implication of those same theories.

Interesting tidbit: The solar winds leave the sun at approximately 100,000 mph. If there was air in surrounding it, there would be a perpetual sonic boom.

03 July 2014

Jenna McCarthy: What you don't know about marriage

McCarthy aggregates several studies done on marriage. She presents many very interesting facts. For example, the chances of a given couple getting a divorce increase by 75% if a close friend get a divorce.

Jenna McCarthy: What you don't know about marriage (TED)

25 June 2014

"Everything is Obvious" by Duncan Watts

Watts makes a direct attack against the foundation of what we call 'common sense.' He backs his assault with a bevy of studies, done by himself and others. It was interesting to note that we are really bad at making predictions... of any kind. Yet we think we are fantastic at it because so many things seem obvious to us, especially in hindsight. This is a common theme of the book.

Interesting tidbit: experts are generally not statistically significantly better than a non-expert crowd at making predictions.

Why I miss the old Star Trek

Do not get me wrong, I love the new Star Trek movie. It is witty, engaging and has amazing special effects. In the end though, it seems to be missing all of the grand culture of the original movies and TV series (mostly The Next Generation). I fondly remember how Dr. McCoy and Spock would throw out obscure Shakespeare quotes for the other to guess. There would be entire episodes and movies centered on exemplifying a philosophical concept (such as "The Drumhead" about the need to protect human rights on all levels, "Darmok" about understanding your roots or "Tapestry" or "Star Trek IV: The Journey Home" about preserving our environment). Then there is the music: so diverse (Jazz), so moving (Classical), so inspiring (and Classical again).

Star Trek would blend, often beautifully, philosophy, music and morals all together to show how we could become better not at some far distant future point but right now. This is a blending we have seemed to move away from our modern era.

I will continue to enjoy to new Star Trek movies while occasionally sneaking away to watch the old ones.

17 June 2014

Stephen Wolfram: Computing a theory of everything

Wolfram talks about his book, A New Kind of Science, and the development Wolfram Alpha including some of the difficulties and capabilities of the computational service.

Stephen Wolfram: Computing a theory of everything

12 June 2014

The art of asking: Amanda Palmer

Palmer, a musician, talks about overcoming her fears of having a non-traditional job and challenges the traditional of making money by simply asking her fans for what she needs.

Perhaps there are times in no life when you want or need something. Next time, try simply asking for it. You might be surprised by what you get.

The art of asking: Amanda Palmer

03 June 2014

Half a million secrets: Frank Warren

"Secrets can take many forms..." Warren collects anonymous secrets and shares a select few.

Half a million secrets: Frank Warren

P.S. You can find a live feed at postsecret.com.

29 May 2014

Great design is serious (not solemn): Paula Scher

Splitting hairs over the distinction between "serious" and "solemn," Scher argues that great design comes from being serious but not solemn.

All children have serious play, it is the grown ups who force them to become solemn.

Great design is serious (not solemn): Paula Scher

20 May 2014

The first 20 hours -- how to learn anything: Josh Kaufman

Traditional research tells us that it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert at something (that is 40 hours a week for about 5 years). Kaufman suggests instead of trying to become an "expert," we should focus simply on being reasonably good which only takes about 20 hours. To do this:

  1. Deconstruct the skill into smaller components. This will give you manageable pieces to practice on a daily basis.
  2. Learn enough to self-correct. Kaufman suggests getting three to five sources that will give you enough information to able to know when you are making a mistake.
  3. Remove distraction.
  4. Practice at least 20 hours. The commitment will help you overcome the frustration barrier.


The first 20 hours -- how to learn anything: Josh Kaufman

15 May 2014

The hidden meanings in kids' movies: Colin Stokes

Stokes presents a blunt discussion about how movies, particularly childrens' movies, are melding our children, and society in general, in a negative way.

The hidden meanings in kids' movies: Colin Stokes

06 May 2014

Mike Rowe: Learning from dirty jobs

Rowe shapes a humorous story of castration and enlightenment as he argues that we, as a society, have waged a war on work. We try so hard to avoid work when it is work that allows us to experience "anagnorisis" and "peripeteia" (a great self discovery of personal identity and a reversal of behavior caused by that discovery).

Mike Rowe: Learning from dirty jobs

23 April 2014

"The Information" by James Gleick

While it is a massive book, The Information is a fantastic read. It summarizes the evolution of information and communication through time. From the early pioneers of long range communication (early African drummers and later the telegraph), standardizing the English language through the publication of dictionaries through to the development of information theory (which had an odd start branching off from math).

Interesting tidbit: Ranchers, in the early days of the telephone, would connect through cattle fences together and run the phone line through the barb wire instead of running new wire.

22 April 2014

Amy Webb: How I hacked online dating

Webb discusses how she found that the the online persona presented through online dating sites often do not match the persona of the real person. She also shares several funny stories.

Amy Webb: How I hacked online dating (TED)

17 April 2014

Peter van Uhm: Why I chose a gun

As the highest commander in the Netherlands armed forces, Uhm shares his motivation for choosing a can to promote peace. He suggests that the armed services efforts are invaluable to achieving and maintaining peace world wide.

Peter van Uhm: Why I chose a gun (TED)

08 April 2014

Philip Zimbardo: The psychology of evil

Zimbardo addresses the "why" of evil behavior. Contrary to most thoughts, evil behavior, he suggests, stems not from the individual but from a system that allows an individual to be evil.

Philip Zimbardo: The psychology of evil (TED)

02 April 2014

"The Invisible Gorilla" by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

A book about how we humans can miss the most obvious of things because they are outside the realm of our expected exceptions. The authors give six types of cognitive illusions:

  • Illusion of Attention, in which we think we are paying attention when we are not; such as staring straight at a motorcyclist on the road and not recognizing the existence of the vehicle.
  • Illusion of Memory, such as being able to accurately recall a very detailed memory, most of which is probably made up by your mind.
  • Illusion of Confidence, such as distrusting a doctor who openly consults with reference material, even though such doctors are much better at making accurate diagnoses.
  • Illusion of Knowledge, such as thinking you know everything about how a bicycle works but most people cannot draw an accurate, detailed diagram of it.
  • Illusion of Causality, in which we falsely attribute some later events to earlier ones simply because they happened in a chronological order.
  • Illusion of Brain Capacity, such as playing classical music thinking it will increase our brain power even though it really does not.


Interesting tidbit: talking on the phone leads to driver impairment whether they are hands free or not.

18 March 2014

The power of seduction in our everyday lives: Chen Lizra

In Cuba (where Lizra visits frequently), being seductive is all about personal confidence and interplay with fellow humans. Lizra suggests that we could all be better at being seductive on a daily basis and that doing so will allow us to be more playful and happy.

The power of seduction in our everyday lives: Chen Lizra

11 March 2014

JP Rangaswami: Information is food

Rangaswami makes some fun analogies between food and information consumption and suggests that we need to watch our consumption of both to stay healthy.

JP Rangaswami: Information is food (TED)

06 March 2014

John Kay - Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly

"Obliquity is the idea that when we are pursuing very complex objectives, we very often approaches these objective indirectly, obliquely," Kay comments. He produces several examples of how greatness has been accomplished obliquely.

John Kay - Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly

04 March 2014

27 February 2014

Jason Fried: Jason Fried: Why work doesn't happen at work

Fried talks about how unproductive employees are at the office. Employers are frequently trying to cram everyone into small spaces to do work (where they are frequently distracted) when, instead, they should be pushing people to go to their most productive place (where they can control the distractions). He suggests that we set aside "no talking time" in which employees do not engage one another (especially managers engaging employees), using passive communication tools (e.g. email, instant messaging) which allow the sender and respondent to communicate when it is most convenient to them and cancelling meeting that do not need to happen (or reducing the number of people tied up in those meetings).

Jason Fried: Why work doesn't happen at work (TED)

20 February 2014

Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better

Treasure suggests that we need to improve our practice of listening by:

  1. Experiencing 3 minutes a day of silence
  2. In a noisy environment, count the number of different channels of sound you are hearing
  3. Savor a single, simple, mundane sound
  4. Practice changing your "listening position" (switch from passive to active, critical to empathic)
  5. Remember, R.A.S.A. (Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, Ask)
He states that by listening consciously we can live more fully.

Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better

18 February 2014

Dambisa Moyo: How the West Was Lost

Moyo suggests a two-fold strategy for western economic recovery. The first is refined and directed application of educational funds aimed specifically at improving our manufacturing capabilities (to help employ the poor) and to become more closed in our trading (to allow the wealthy to strengthen our core). She notes that this is the policy of eastern nations that have continued to allow them to grow.

Dambisa Moyo: How the West Was Lost (RSA)

13 February 2014

David Crystal - Texts and Tweets: myths and realities

David Crystal dispels many common myths about how texting and tweeting are ruining language. For example, the younger a person gets a mobile phone and starts texting, and the more they text, the better their writing (including spelling) and reading skills are. Which, he points out, is obvious because the whole mechanism of texting is writing messages and reading responses. He also identifies studies that show that texting shorthand is not showing up in school papers and essays.

David Crystal - Texts and Tweets: myths and realities (RSA)

11 February 2014

What's invisible? More than you think - John Lloyd

Lloyd takes viewers on a short (animated) journey through the world of things that we cannot see. Interestingly, most of the things we cannot see provide the foundation of the world we can see.

What's invisible? More than you think - John Lloyd

04 February 2014

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

Most moments are never remembered because our "remembering self" forgets most of them and focuses on the beginning, middle and especially the end. While we often focus on making our "experiencing self" happy, it is our remembering that determines whether an experience made us happy beyond the moment in which we experienced it.

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory (TED)

30 January 2014

Brian Greene: Why is our universe fine-tuned for life?

Greene ties together several modern theories to paint a description of the universe that we see today and what it might look like in the future.

Brian Greene: Why is our universe fine-tuned for life? (TED)

21 January 2014

Brian Goldman: Doctors make mistakes. Can we talk about that?

Goldman talks candidly about the fact that doctors make mistakes. He suggests that instead of turning a blind eye to such mistakes and pretending like good doctors are perfect, we would address the fact that no amount of training can make a perfect doctor and instead we should focus our efforts on creating systems to minimize those mistakes.

Brian Goldman: Doctors make mistakes. Can we talk about that? (TED)

16 January 2014

02 January 2014

Donald Sadoway: The missing link to renewable energy

"If you want to make something dirt cheap, make it out of dirt." Sadoway talks about how he developed an industrial size battery that is incredibly reliable, simple and cheap.

Donald Sadoway: The missing link to renewable energy