Posts tagged “experiment”

ChittahChattah Quickies

Give And Take: How The Rule Of Reciprocation Binds Us [NPR] – While “you can’t control other people” is a constant life lessons, it’s interesting to consider what science teaches about how we can influence and induce behaviors in others.

Kunz was a sociologist at Brigham Young University. Earlier that year he’d decided to do an experiment to see what would happen if he sent Christmas cards to total strangers. And so he went out and collected directories for some nearby towns and picked out around 600 names. “I started out at a random number and then skipped so many and got to the next one,” he says. To these 600 strangers, Kunz sent his Christmas greetings: handwritten notes or a card with a photo of him and his family. And then Kunz waited to see what would happen. About five days later, responses started filtering back – slowly at first and then more, until eventually they were coming 12, 15 at a time. Eventually Kunz got more than 200 replies. “I was really surprised by how many responses there were,” he says. “And I was surprised by the number of letters that were written, some of them three, four pages long…We got cards for maybe 15 years,” he says.

Tapping citizen-scientists for a novel gut check [SF Chron] – While we always come up with new methods to get people involved in data collecting for research, this was something I hadn’t really thought of before. By the way, the notion of the microbiome is a fascinating one that seems to be continually gaining traction. Although we haven’t had the guts (if you will) to actually do it, we declared we would stop using “ecosystem” in client presentations and start talking about “microbiomes.”

Now for a fee – $69 and up – and a stool sample, the curious can find out just what’s living in their intestines and take part in one of the hottest new fields in science. The American Gut Project, aims to enroll 10,000 people – and a bunch of their dogs and cats too – from around the country. uBiome, separately aims to enroll nearly 2,000 people from anywhere in the world. Scott Jackisch, a computer consultant in Oakland, Calif., ran across American Gut while exploring the science behind different diets, and signed up last week. He’s read with fascination earlier microbiome research: “Most of the genetic matter in what we consider ourselves is not human, and that’s crazy. I wanted to learn about that.” Testing a single stool sample costs $99 in that project, but he picked a three-sample deal for $260 to compare his own bacterial makeup after eating various foods. “I want to be extra, extra well,” said Jackisch, 42. Differing gut microbes may be the reason “there’s no one magic bullet of diet that people can eat and be healthy.”

“We don’t just want people that have a gut-ache. We want couch potatoes. We want babies. We want vegans. We want athletes. We want anybody and everybody because we need that complete diversity,” added American Gut co-founder Jeff Leach, an anthropologist.

White points mean prizes for safe driving in Dubai [The National] – Is our preference for carrot or stick culturally constructed? Schemes that give students rewards for good grades are often seen as “bribery” and decried for encouraging the wrong thing. Yet inverting our punishment-based driving-record approach seems so kindly. I suppose its efficacy needs to be proven, whether in Dubai or Dubuque.

Motorists who go the longest period without a traffic violation will be given priority in a new police system that rewards good driving with prizes, including a car. Under the white points system, drivers of vehicles registered in Dubai are awarded a point for each month without traffic offences or Salik toll-road fines. Drivers who go 12 months without any violations will be eligible for prizes worth a minimum of Dh500 each. Dubai Police say there will be between 250 to 500 prizes. The head of Dubai Police traffic department, Maj Gen Mohammed Saif Al Zaffin, said today that if there were more good drivers than prizes then those with the longest standing clean sheets would be given priority. “We have a specific budget for the prizes so there might need to be a selection process based on the number of people who will be eligible for a prize as part of the scheme,” Maj Gen Al Zaffin said.

Creativity is a practice (not a perfect)

Being creative ain’t always pretty and it’s rarely easy. Creativity is a practice that brings out the best and worst of us. The articles below have me pondering the shadow side of creative pursuit, how to stay motivated through the highs and lows, and which of these creative calisthenics I should try first.

How Creativity Connects with Immorality [Scientific American] – Citing a number of studies that link creativity to unethical behavior by employees, this article suggests that there is a dark side to creativity. This comes as no surprise to me. The internal tension that pits notions of “accepted” against “unheard of” is one of the most fundamental and key ingredients in creative production. Creative thinking is frequently predicated on a willingness to question the norms and accepted rules. In fact, if you want to practice your divergent thinking a bit today, I invite you to think of a rule at work (i.e. thou shalt not take the sticky notes home) and come up with ten, make that twenty, ways around it.

The authors hypothesized that it is creativity which causes unethical behavior by allowing people the means to justify their misdeeds, but it is hard to say for certain whether this is correct given the correlational nature of the study. It could just as easily be true, after all, that unethical behavior leads people to be more creative, or that there is something else which causes both creativity and dishonesty, such as intelligence.

What Doesn’t Motivate Creativity Can Kill It [Harvard Business Review] – I have a serious creativity crush on Teresa Amabile and particularly value her research contributions in the area of creativity and business. Here she emphasizes the importance of intrinsic motivation for fostering creativity within the organization and the delicate balancing act required when leaders utilize goals, evaluation, reward, and pressure to fuel innovation.

In the end, it’s level, form, and meaning of the motivator that makes for that perfect balance. Being told to do a tough job in a particular way, with no tolerance of failure, little expectation of recognition for success, and extreme, arbitrary time pressure, can kill anyone’s creativity motivation. But being given the same job, in a positive atmosphere where false starts are examined constructively and success is recognized, can drive creativity – and innovation – forward.

The articles above reminded me of an RSA animation for a talk given by Daniel Pink about how intrinsic motivation functions. I love it for both medium (graphic animation) and message (rewards come from within when you do what you love). If you are looking to amplify your creative practice, start with what you love to do already. And then do more of that.

Coarse Art: A 30-day experiment [Scree] – Definitions of creative thinking often refer to the four key skills of originality, flexibility, fluency and elaboration. Fluency is all about quantity- generating as many ideas as possible. Go. Go. Go. The more the merrier! My friend Emily, an Innovation Catalyst at a global corporation, recently undertook a month-long experiment in pursuit of creative fluency by committing to something she calls Coarse Art. Thirty days of making something, quickly, every single morning. No judgment, no reasons, no justifications. She just made something every day, celebrated the practice of it and reflected on all the struggles that this seemingly simple and deceptively challenging practice raised. You can find her article (and her art) on page 38. And if you are looking to develop your own creative fluency, it’s pretty simple. Commit to creating something (i.e. words, poems, assemblage, song, painting, culinary delight) everyday for 30 days in a row. And be sure to celebrate every single day, no matter what.

We readily celebrate the brilliance of a child’s first artistic experiments, noting the highly abstract elements and excitement inherent within their expression, though as grownups we suffer from massive celebration delay.

‘Inspiration is 80% Mental, 40% Physical’: Your Secrets of Creativity [The Atlantic] – Last month Jared Keller asked Atlantic readers how they come up with their best ideas. This article is filled with responses. It is like a pinata of productivity exploded into a shower of suggestions for generating new ideas. Take a look, there is something for everyone here. You will likely find at least one suggestion that resonates with you and inspires you to try a new way to get your creative juices flowing.

Do not silo your brain. I find myself at my most creative when I am connecting disparate things. How should I connect this blog post about reality television with a Congressional Budget Office white paper on home foreclosures? I am envious of designers who draw inspiration from a variety of sources: photography, textile patterns,medieval architecture, 1990s Geocities sites and the like. Inspiration needs room to breathe. I create this space by combining what I am working on with what I like.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] New book about recurring technological failures [Pasta&Vinegar] – [Nicolas Nova has written a lot of great articles, presentations, and blog posts about failure, technology, society, and design. Now he's got a book. Let's hope an English version appears before too long?] My new book about recurring technological failures has been released two weeks ago. It’s called “Les flops technologiques: comprendre les échecs pour innover” which obviously means that it’s written in French. Based on the analysis of several cases (the intelligent fridge, the visiophone and e-books), the book describes the notion of recurring technological flops, discusses the very notion of failures and their underlying reasons. It also addresses strategies and design tactics to take them into account.
  • [from steve_portigal] The Art of Garfinkling [Splunderousnoog] – [We tend to conceptualize experiments and research as dispassionate or disconnected endeavors, but there's so much that can happen when we as experiments or researchers risk our presumptions and comfort level in order to get deeper understanding. In describing ethnography, I often refer to the researcher as the "apparatus" who is embedded and gathers data through that experience.] Carry out a simple experiment. When you are on the bus or the train, ask a person to give up her seat. Make sure you're young and fit. To make it easier, ask someone who is as fit or fitter than you. It is a hard thing for most to do. There is emotional distress involved. The fear of opprobrium, the need to be liked, to be nice…This sort of experiment is known as a "breaching experiment". It involves violating social norms. A famous, pioneering exponent of breaching experiments was a chap called Harold Garfinkle. So much so that "breaching experiments" are known as "Garfinkling"!
  • [from steve_portigal] Jeter’s 3,000th Hit Will Bring About as Many Marketing Possibilities [NYTimes.com] – [Merchandising a celebration.] Tablespoonfuls of the dirt will be poured into capsules to dangle on key chains; ladled into disks to be framed with photographs of the hit (in what is called a dirt collage); and glued into the interlocking NY carved into commemorative bats…The selling of Jeter’s hit…is quite a list: T-shirts, caps, jerseys, bobbleheads, decals, cellphone skins, wall murals, patches, bats, balls, license plates and necklaces made by licensees…Jeter will share royalties with M.L.B. and the players’ union; Already, he has designated proceeds from the sale of a silicone bracelet to benefit his Turn 2 Foundation. Everything Jeter touches or wears as he pursues his 3,000th hit carries value. So will the bases he steps on. In deciding what to provide for sale, Jeter controls his cleats, wristbands, bats and batting gloves. The Yankees control what they provide to him, like his uniform, warm-up jackets, and caps, as well as the dirt, the bases and the pitching rubber.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Lessons from the 50s Housewife Experiment [Jen But Never Jenn] – [Jen chooses to spend a week doing like a 50s-era homemaker would have done, writing about the experience as it happens. Here's where she wraps it up] I'm not sure if it's residual resentment from societal expectations / limitations like the one above, a new set of expectations that you're not really contributing (to society / your home / womanhood, even) unless you bring home a paycheck, or new standards of living that insist we need to be making more money – but the appreciation for the homemaker has dwindled along with the number of people who actually earnestly take on the role. You don't hear of many people who have chosen a career in homemaking. Yes, there is the stay-at-home mom (although of the stay-at-home moms I personally know, all but one brings in some revenue through at-home businesses, part-time work or consulting – so even she often wears a career hat). But the stay-at-home wife (and not the trophy-wife-with-a-maid variety)? She's officially on the endangered list.
  • [from steve_portigal] Sears.com for Zombies – [When you think of the Sears brand, you probably don't think of edgy, humorous, ironic, or meta. But this landing page for their e-commerce site is full-on zombified, with all the product and model shots replaced by zombies, benefit statements, messaging, navigation, etc. all tweaked to suit the undead. There's even a multi-language option, replacing English with Zombian gahhhrs and gaaahks. This is very much the type of parody humor we find online, but we never see a major retailer all-in like this. It's really refreshing. Probably won't be active much past Halloween.]

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] University to Students: No Facebook, Twitter for A Week [Technologizer] – [Asking people to stop doing something they often do is also a research technique, ask people to make a change and then reflect on it. This implementation is a bit paternalistic but hopefully very valuable for participants] The provost of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is taking an unusual step to teach his students a lesson on how social media is impacting their lives: he has banned both Facebook and Twitter on campus for an entire week. Provost Eric Darr doesn’t look like he’s anti-technology, rather he believes that students may take these technologies for granted. “Often, there are behaviors or habits, ways that we use technology that we may ourselves not even be able to articulate because we’re not aware of them,” he told the NPR in an interview. “If someone feels the need to borrow their friend’s phone to go check Facebook, it’ll be interesting to ask the question at the end of the week: Why did you feel the need to do that? What compelled you to do that?”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] On The Media: "Debunk This!" (August 27, 2010) – [Pervasive myths affect product adoption as well as political or cultural stories. This is an area we are sometimes asked to explore] BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, this study is building off previous research that you've done on correcting misperceptions, research. But can you give us just a quick rundown of what those earlier experiments showed?
    BRENDAN NYHAN: My coauthor, Jason Reifler, and I looked at can the media effectively correct misperceptions, which seems like a simple question, but no one had really tested that scientifically.
    BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you found actually that when people had their misperceptions challenged certain people, at least, were more likely to become more firmly entrenched in that belief.
    BRENDAN NYHAN: People were so successful at bringing to mind reasons that the correction was wrong that they actually ended up being more convinced in the misperception than the people who didn't receive the correction. So the correction was making things worse.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Cows with names produce more milk, scientists say – The story is slightly hyperbolic – a cow with a name is a proxy for all the other differentiating factors in cow-care. "Placing more importance on knowing the individual animals and calling them by name can – at no extra cost to the farmer – also significantly increase milk production. Maybe people can be less self conscious and not worry about chatting to their cows."
    (via @timstock)
  • Time magazine has called Beer Lao Asia’s best local beer, but outside Laos it's almost impossible to find – Like a film festival winner without a distribution deal, the rice-based lager has struggled to turn cult status into anything other than good press. Just 1 percent of its annual production is exported. Lao Brewery hopes to change that. It would like to see 10 percent sold abroad, and it is counting on Vang Vieng’s beer-loving backpackers to help them make the sale.

    Lao Brewery is building a network of fans-turned-distributors who import and sell the beer in select markets. Some distributors are former travelers who see potential in a brand with little international exposure. Others just really like the beer.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • PETA (hopefully tongue-in-cheek) attempts to rebrand fish as "Sea Kittens" – Sorta reductio ad absurdum re: my latest interactions column, Poets, Priests, and Politicians
  • Rug company Nanimarquina brings global warming to your living room – "If there is an iconic image that represents the natural devastation of global warming, it is the lone polar bear stuck on a melting ice flow. Now eco rug company Nanimarquina has teamed up with NEL artists to create a beautiful ‘Global Warming Rug’ – complete with stranded polar bear floating in the middle of the sea – to represent the most pressing issue of our time. Rugs have been traditionally used throughout the ages to tell stories and communicate messages, and we think this is a lovely, poignant new take on a time-honored tradition." What effect does it have when an issue like global warming gets iconified and aestheticized like this? Does it drive home the seriousness of the situation, or make it more palatable?
  • Asch conformity experiments – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Asch asked people about similarity of height between several lines. Confederates answered incorrectly and this influenced the subject themselves to support this incorrect answer.
  • Confirmation bias: the tendency to seek out information that supports what we already believe – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) The 2-4-6 problem presented subjects with 3 numbers. Subjects were told that the triple conforms to a particular rule. They were asked to discover the rule by generating their own triples, where the experimenter would indicate whether or not the triple conformed to the rule. While the actual rule was simply “any ascending sequence”, the subjects often proposed rules that were far more complex. Subjects seemed to test only “positive” examples—triples the subjects believed would conform to their rule and confirm their hypothesis. What they did not do was attempt to challenge or falsify their hypotheses by testing triples that they believed would not conform to their rule.
  • Overcoming Bias – Blog by Eliezer Yudkowsky and others about (overcoming) biases in perception, decisions, etc.
  • Hindsight bias: when people who know the answer vastly overestimate its predictability or obviousness, – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky)
    Sometimes called the I-knew-it-all-along effect.
    "…A third experimental group was told the outcome and also explicitly instructed to avoid hindsight bias, which made no difference."
  • Planning fallacy – the tendency to underestimate task-completion times – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Asking people what they did last time turns out to be more accurate than what they either hope for or expect to happen this time
  • Cognitive Biases in the Assessment of Risk – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Another example of extensional neglect is scope insensitivity, which you will find in the Global Catastrophic Risks book. Another version of the same thing is where people would only pay slightly more to save all the wetlands in Oregon than to save one protected wetland in Oregon, or people would pay the same amount to save two thousand, twenty thousand, or two hundred thousand oil-stroked birds from perishing in ponds. What is going on there is when you say, “How much would you donate to save 20,000 birds from perishing in oil ponds,” they will visualize one bird trapped, struggling to get free. That creates some level of emotional arousal, then the actual quantity gets thrown right out the window.

    [I am not sure that's the reason why; I think there could be other explanations for the flawed mental model that leads to those responses]

  • Conjunction fallacy – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) A logical fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that specific conditions are more probable than a single general one. Example: Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

    Which is more probable?

    1. Linda is a bank teller.
    2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

    85% of those asked chose option 2 [2]. However, mathematically, the probability of two events occurring together (in "conjunction") will always be less than or equal to the probability of either one occurring alone.

What I Read On My Vacation

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Where Were You by Rob Walker
Walker collects a year’s worth of reactions to various obituaries. While I admire his lo-fi approach to turning a habit into a publication, and acknowledge that he promised very little except “here it is” I mostly found this unsatisfying. Walker is a good storyteller, journalist, writer, etc. He gets his facts in line and then tells us what it means. He (by design) doesn’t do that here. And so you get a lot of “I didn’t really know this…” or “I don’t really care about that” which mostly generates a squawk reaction in me. What?! How could you not know….how could you think that…etc. etc. And that isn’t pleasant. It was a quick experiment as a reader, so no regrets.

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How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman
This is the sort of book I’d imagined writing someday – sitting down with a bunch of folks in a similar field and interviewing them. I ran an impromptu panel discussion at a regional IDSA event in 2004 where I did just that. And I’ve done a few podcasts for Core77 (including one with Debbie Millman). For the most part, this book was fascinating. It’s a powerful demonstration of how crucial rapport is to a good interview. In many cases, Debbie is interviewing people with whom she has a historical relationship, and so that rapport comes from friendship/colleagueship. In other cases, she’s encountering them for the first time in their (in-person or email) interview. I’m not sure, but I think I can tell the difference; certainly the in-person interviews range wider and allow for more following up and clarification, and that’s often where the good stuff comes out.

The subjects are all prominent in the graphic design field (although many of them were names I did not know) and many of the questions are exactly the same; this reveals itself more in the email interviews where the lack of opportunity to follow-up creates a disappointing sameness. By the end of the book, I was pretty bored in the same questions over and over again. I could see cutting out some of the interviews and letting the remaining ones go a little longer.

The book is mostly fascinating, however. Some themes and characteristics emerge: relevance, ego, humility and insecurity, thoughts on creativity and collaboration, and what I found to be the biggest personal a-ha – the relationship of other professional-level endeavors to support the primary one. These folks all identify as designers, but most of them also express themselves as painters or writers, and tell a coherent story as to how that activity is a critical complementary pillar to their design process/identity. Maybe that’s true for many of us; do we talk about it enough or is there a concern that this will dilute our perceived quality in our primary professional identity. Certainly for me, writing and photography feed into the work I do with our clients. I’ve advocated for others to develop these secondary pieces in order to support their main work. Still, it was gratifying to see that emerge strongly and consistently across these thought leaders.

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Rochdale: The Runaway College by David Sharpe
My time at University of Toronto was blocks away from this rather drab senior center; one day I heard from one of my residence pals that said building had once been a den of hippiedom, an out-of-control social experiment. I picked up bits and pieces over the years, but this was my first chance to read an in-depth history of the Rochdale experiment. It’s a perfect artifact of the 60s idealism/naivete giving way to abuse, crime, drugs, financial ruin, and every other form of entropy.

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Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
I know we’re supposed to love Vonnegut for his sadly wry commentary about the nature of man, but this is my third Vonnegut in a short time and I have been left wanting each time.

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Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan by Alex Kerr
I just started this book in advance of our trip to Japan in just a couple of weeks!

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Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs by Dave Bidini
What is it about the Canadian book publishing industry that they can’t afford copy editors? Bidini tells a story about how in the early days of his band (the Rheostatics) they blew off a record exec who got the name of an XTC album wrong. But Bidini makes a couple of errors himself when referring to the titles of popular rock songs (while he’s being dismissive of those songs, even); his publisher should make sure he doesn’t look like a hypocrite! Anyway, it’s another round-the-world book from Bidini. In 2002 he went across the globe to play hockey in strange places, here he’s playing rock-n-roll in strange places. His adventures are great, his writing is improving (editing notwithstanding), and he’s fairly fearless in engaging with strangers across the barriers of culture, politics, alcohol, and hunger.

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Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan
All the books in this series are complex, mysterious, hardboiled, techy, and filled with action. I love ’em.

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JPod by Douglas Coupland
I’m already on record objecting to this book, since Coupland figures as a character. I finally read the book (rather than criticizing it without having read it) and it was…okay. The parts with Coupland were extremely distracting, taking you out of the narrative to wonder why the author put himself in the book, why the author had the narrator despise Coupland so. Is that clever irony, oh, Coupland wrote the book but he’s using someone else to talk crap about him? It’s really him that’s saying that? See…distracting. Otherwise, it was a satisfactory Coupland romp, without the soul-cutting brilliance that a third of his books reaches. Oh, and J-pod has nothing to do with Japan or iPods. Phew.

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