Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2010-07-30 11:59:00
Tags: reviews books
Words: 254

Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict is my most recent read. It wasn't as exciting as the title indicates :-) Basically, it's a collection of political science essays. My synopsis below:

Statistics are important, but very hard to measure when they involved armed conflict, drugs, or trafficking. Agencies push numbers that make them look good to try to ask for/justify higher funding. Even if the number is totally made up, it acts as an "anchor" for people trying to make their own estimates.

A good example is casualties of the war in Bosnia. In 1992, the president, foreign minister, and commander of the army met to decide what number to use, and agreed on 150K civilians killed by Serb nationalists. Then the foreign minister announced that 250K civilians had been killed, which became the number that "everyone" used for a while. Years later, the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center worked on a project that led to publishing The Book of the Dead in 2007, which counted everyone killed and came up with a number of 97K. This made some people very angry and they denounced the project and people who had worked on it.

One school of thought is that it's OK to exaggerate numbers in order to draw attention to a problem. This school of thought makes me mad :-)

Anyway, what I took away from the book is basically never trust numbers for things that are really hard to count, like most things involving illegal activity.


hospice care
Mood: tired
Posted on 2010-07-29 15:58:00
Tags: links
Words: 499

Atul Gawande has a new article about how our health system does a bad job at end-of-life issues, and how hospice care is really a pretty good idea if the patient wants it, and how really the most important thing is to decide what kind of treatment you want before something terrible happens. WARNING: really really depressing! Here's a good summary:

The simple view is that medicine exists to fight death and disease, and that is, of course, its most basic task. Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And, in a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don’t want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knew how to fight for territory when he could and how to surrender when he couldn’t, someone who understood that the damage is greatest if all you do is fight to the bitter end.

More often, these days, medicine seems to supply neither Custers nor Lees. We are increasingly the generals who march the soldiers onward, saying all the while, “You let me know when you want to stop.” All-out treatment, we tell the terminally ill, is a train you can get off at any time—just say when. But for most patients and their families this is asking too much. They remain riven by doubt and fear and desperation; some are deluded by a fantasy of what medical science can achieve. But our responsibility, in medicine, is to deal with human beings as they are. People die only once. They have no experience to draw upon. They need doctors and nurses who are willing to have the hard discussions and say what they have seen, who will help people prepare for what is to come—and to escape a warehoused oblivion that few really want.

To cheer you up, here are all the title sequences to Doctor Who played back to back.

I had lunch at California Pizza Kitchen today and they were running an interesting promotion. When the waitress gave me the check, she also gave me a "thank you card", which had some sort of prize in it (probably 10% off a meal, but first prize is $100000). She then explained how it worked: I had to bring the card back next time I ate there and a manager would open it for me and reveal the prize inside (if I opened it on my own it was void). Also, if I won one of the big prizes, she (my waitress today) would get a share of it.

This struck me as a pretty clever gig: since you already have the card, it makes you want to go back to see if you're "already a winner", even though that's basically equivalent to getting a card next time you go and opening it then. You can also feel good about potentially helping your waitress, I guess? That part was a little weird.


FlightPredictor wins! and a new life rule
Mood: happy
Posted on 2010-07-28 10:09:00
Tags: health asmc palmpre projects
Words: 83

Palm just posted the official results of the Hot Apps competition, and FlightPredictor made the list! Really looking forward to improving it and making some new apps once I have some free time...

Speaking of which, a new life rule: no sushi close to shows. Of course, the one time I get sick from it is during a rehearsal. (nothing overly dramatic, but I did feel pretty crappy and sat down a lot) Hopefully tonight is better - only 2 days until we open!

1 comment

happier when busy, sorta
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2010-07-26 10:22:00
Tags: asmc links
Words: 43

We're happier when busy but our instinct is for idleness - interesting study and it kinda jibes with what I've noticed about myself.

Seemed appropriate since yesterday was the beginning of Hell Week for the summer musical. So I guess I should be ecstatic :-)


a few links
Mood: awake
Posted on 2010-07-21 10:27:00
Tags: links
Words: 113

The Big Lies People Tell In Online Dating - more fascinating data from OkCupid; people lie about height, income, etc.

A graph of tweet volume during the World Cup by country - those Brazil fans are really representing! Although the highest volume (3283 tweets/second) happened when Landon Donovan scored that goal against Algeria to advance the US to the knockout round.

Top 10 and bottom 10 state/province flags - Texas is #2! And look at that lettering on "Kansas" and "Montana" - yuck! Also, I learned there is a group that studies flag designs, which is pretty neat.

There is a Wells Fargo ATM on Antarctica - actually there are two, but one is basically for spare parts.


Brain Rules
Mood: happy
Posted on 2010-07-20 13:34:00
Tags: reviews books
Words: 471

Another neurosciency book, I recently finished Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina. Note that the book has an official website at that describes each of the rules and has some chapter excerpts, etc.

I was hoping the book would give me tips to learn better, etc., and there was some of that, but there was a lot more stuff along the lines of "this is interesting but not really helpful". But, interesting for interestingness's sake isn't bad, right? Here's some stuff I learned:

Exercise is really good for your brain - even fidgeting on the couch is better than not fidgeting. The gold standard for exercise (for the brain, anyway) is 30 mins of aerobic exercise 2-3 times/week. This has been shown to decrease Alzheimer's by 60% and dementia by 50%, and it's around as successful as medication for treating depression/anxiety.

The main function of oxygen is to absorb free electrons left over from digesting food to prevent them from damaging/killing cells.

We adapted to walk on two legs because it's more energy efficient, leaving more energy left over for the brain. Our brain is 2% by volume but takes 20% of our body's energy.

Learning new skills literally rewires the neurons in your brain. Some neurons are for surprisingly specific tasks - there is a neuron (at least in a "typical" patient) that activates only when you see a picture of Jennifer Aniston, and a different one for Halle Berry.

Your brain can't really multitask in what you're paying attention to - things are pretty much sequential. You can pay attention to something for around 10 minutes, then you need a break or to shift focus to something else.

People are naturally sleepy in the mid-afternoon, and a short nap can dramatically help performance. (a 26 minute nap improved a pilot's performance by 34%) Sleep is really good for your brain. Falling behind on sleep puts you into sleep debt, which can severely impact performance.

Stress is a coping mechanism designed for short-term problems. (i.e. a cheetah is about to eat you) Being stressed long term makes you 3x more likely to catch a cold, etc. Some people, however, are very tolerant to stress, which seems to be a genetic trait. One of the defining characteristics of stress is that the stressor is out of your control, so taking control is a good strategy to reducing stress.

A workshop called Bringing Baby Home (designed by John Gottman who got a lot of shoutouts in For Better)) can help new parents to improve their relationship, which reduces their stress levels when the baby is born, which makes the baby develop in a less stressful environment, which makes them cry less and develop better emotional regulation, etc.

Pretty interesting stuff, and available for borrowing.


FlightPredictor featured on palm homepage!
Mood: excited
Posted on 2010-07-15 12:50:00
Tags: palmpre projects
Words: 24

As with LJ for WebOS before it, FlightPredictor is now on the Palm homepage! Screenshot:

(it's the "plane with clock symbol" at the top)


a handful of interesting links
Mood: calm
Posted on 2010-07-15 12:24:00
Tags: links
Words: 129

to celebrate my last free day until the summer musical opens!

- A plot of where beverages fall on the caffeine v calories scale. Adding the word "frappucino" to a drink seems to add around 200 calories.

- The "bee sting" theory of poverty - once you have seven bee stings, treating just one of them really doesn't seem that important.

- Apparently, just just exercising may not be good enough if you spend the rest of the day doing sedentary things. It sounds like making your sedentary activities less sedentary is helpful, too.

- Jewel does undercover karaoke - exactly what it sounds like.

- Chart of how many people live in places where gay marriage is legal - right now around 3.7% of the world population. Also, Argentina passed a gay marriage bill just yesterday!


Old Spice: awesomeing it up
Mood: amused
Posted on 2010-07-14 13:42:00
Tags: links
Words: 77

Yesterday, the guy from the Old Spice commercials (first one, second one) spent some time answering questions from Twitter/Facebook/YouTube. He posted a ton on his Twitter feed, and here are some good ones: one, two, three. (she said yes!)

Word is that the guy (Isaiah Mustafa) and the writers read the comments, wrote up quick snippets and filmed a bunch of them in front of a shower. Well done!

(also, this probably goes without saying, but: mmmmmmmmm)


Who really won the World Cup?
Mood: geeky
Posted on 2010-07-11 16:22:00
Tags: soccer math
Words: 579

Congrats to Spain, although the final game was not super impressive.

Anyway, before the World Cup, I bought an ESPN magazine guide. It included "measures of success" for all 32 teams, so I thought it would be fun to see who did the best relative to their predictions.

HH = Happy to be Here = 0 points
OG = Out of Group stage = 1 point
QF = QuarterFinal = 2 points
SF = SemiFinal = 3 points
F = Final = 4 points
W = Win it all = 5 points
(note that the score = 5 - log_2(# of teams left at that stage))

So, without further adieu: (mouseover flag for country name)

South KoreaBOGOG0
New ZealandFHHHH0
North KoreaGHHHH0
South AfricaAOGHH-1
Ivory CoastGSFHH-3

By group:

GroupTotal successTotal actualDifference

By continent:

Continent# of teamsTotal success (avg)Total actual (avg)Difference (avg)
Asia/Australia53 (0.60)2 (0.40)-1 (-0.20)
North America34 (1.33)2 (0.67)-2 (-0.67)
Europe1325 (1.92)15 (1.15)-10 (-0.77)
South America514 (2.80)10 (2.00)-4 (-0.80)
Africa611 (1.83)2 (0.33)-9 (-0.81)

- The least successful group was group C, the most successful was group D. (and of course both group D teams won their round of 16 game against a group C team)
- The group with the worst difference was group G, although the bar for success was very high.
- Group F was expected to be the least successful, but thanks to Paraguay winning their knockout game they got one more point than Group C.
- South America was the most successful continent on average and the one from which most was expected on average, but Asia/Australia was the "least disappointing", mostly because so little was expected. (indeed, if none of their teams had advanced to the knockout round they still would have been "least disappointing", which probably points to a problem with the methodology :-) )
- All but one of the top seeds coming out of the group phase won their next game. The exception was the good ol' USA.
- Exactly half of the teams either met or exceeded their criteria for success. Well done!
- The measure of success for three teams was to win it all (Spain, Brazil, Argentina), but no one's measure of success was just to make it to the final. Interesting...

I was going to make this a spreadsheet and try it with different weights on the various outcomes (probably 2^n-1) but that would be a lot more work and I'm not sure the results would be very interesting. If anyone does, let me know!


quick linkies
Mood: busy
Posted on 2010-07-09 13:19:00
Tags: links
Words: 286

Bad news: The Republican governor of Hawaii vetoed the state's civil union bill.

Good news: A federal court in Massachusetts has declared part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional! The decision will probably be appealed by the Department of Justice, even though Obama is supposedly against DOMA. (and yes, the DOJ would probably appeal regardless, but I'm still a bit annoyed at the fact that Obama is "against" DOMA but unwilling to spend any political capital about it)
Edit: A friend informed me that if the ruling is not appealed, it will only apply to Massachusetts (because that's the jurisdiction of the court that made the ruling). So we actually want it to be appealed, assuming that we can win again. Learn something new every day!

Funny and kinda sad news: A trader moved the global price of oil to an eight-month high in a "drunken blackout".

Exciting local news: The Chevrolet Volt will be launched in Austin (among other places) this year. Were I in the market for a new car, I would consider getting one. Maybe someday...

Thoughtful news: Why is cheating OK in football? (soccer) May be a little biased since it's from an English paper about England's non-goal, but it raises a good point. Just because you can get away with it doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. The ethics on the pitch seem to be "win at any cost" which is somewhat disappointing (see also: diving/faking injuries).

Somewhat surprising news: Mortgages over $1 million are being defaulted on at a much higher rate than cheaper ones. Although this quote:

“The rich are different: they are more ruthless,” said Sam Khater, CoreLogic’s senior economist.
seems probably a bit unfair.


Lesson learned: avoid "authorized retailers"
Mood: okay
Posted on 2010-07-08 12:41:00
Tags: palmpre
Words: 233

I got the skinny on my phone today - I did buy it less than a year ago, and the warranty does carry over to the replacement phone, but because I bought it at a Sprint "authorized retailer" and not a corporate store, they sold me a refurbished phone! Maaaaaybe this was mentioned at the time (I was somewhat under duress, having just lost my phone) but I certainly don't remember them saying that. The guy at the store I went to was sympathetic, saying someone came in last week in the same situation. (then I paid for the repair, and I'll get a refurbished phone shipped to me in a few days)

So: from now on, corporate stores for me. It's certainly not clear from Sprint's website, but I guess the "Sprint Store by Direct Store" is supposed to clue me in. That's the Arbor Walk location, to be clear. And apparently the manager of that store was a real jerk to Shawn, so another reason to avoid them!

But, I still like Sprint - cheaper plans, coverage seems fine, and because I'm a "Sprint Premier" member (read: been on any smartphone plan for 6 months) I'm eligible to upgrade phones every year instead of every two years. And the customer service, at least at the corporate store on Capital of Texas (which I am sadly quite familiar with) has been friendly and competent.


so it begins
Mood: grumpy
Posted on 2010-07-07 10:44:00
Tags: asmc palmpre links
Words: 246

Tonight is the first real summer musical rehearsal. I know it'll be fun (as it always is), but rushing home most nights to have dinner and then rush off to rehearsal gets a bit tiring. And the rehearsal schedule is brutal - WFSa this week, MWFSa the next, and then eleven days in a row until we open.

My Palm Pre's screen wouldn't turn on on Saturday, and the Sprint store told me it was out of warranty and would cost at least $100 to fix. Later that day, it started working again, but it conked out last night and hasn't come back. So I guess I have to argue with them about why it's out of warranty (I think their stance was that this phone is already a replacement, but the warranty should carry over, right? I'm still within a year since I got the phone...)

And I cut my finger last night just enough to be annoying. And my legs/feet/ankles are sore from ice skating, which means rehearsal tonight might be kinda painful.

Anyway, enough whining: check out this story about the Russian spies. Apparently one of them made contact with someone who she thought was from the Russian consulate, although none of her actual contacts vouched for this guy, who was in fact an undercover FBI agent. She was having trouble with her laptop that she used to contact the Russians, and then handed over her laptop to the FBI agent to fix it.


home energy usage - new shiny graphs!
Mood: geeky
Posted on 2010-07-06 11:09:00
Tags: projects
Words: 163

I've been wanting to play around with Tableau Public, so I decided to revamp my home energy usage graph.

Anyway, the new version is here, and I think it does a good job of showing the difference that having someone upstairs during the day makes, as well as the new A/C unit we bought a few months ago. I used a quadratic fit which seems to fit the data much better than the linear one I used before (you can mouseover the trend lines to see the equations!). Now I just need to wait to get some more data points!

You can click on points in either graph to see the corresponding one in the other, and Tableau makes it easy to download the raw data I used. If you select "True" for "Upstairs during day?" you can really see the effect of the new A/C. (green points vs. orange)

Thanks to Robert Morton for his help in getting it up and running!


8 webOS apps to buy - while they're on sale!
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2010-07-02 12:49:00
Tags: essay palmpre
Words: 202

Since the 50% off sale is going on for another few weeks, here are my favorite webOS apps:

  1. FlightPredictor - OK, I'm a little biased here, but it's gotten great reviews on the App Catalog and is one of Palm's Featured Apps. Great for frequent fliers!

  2. Plumber's Nightmare - connect the pipes to leave no gaps. There are 60 levels and it's great when you have a few spare minutes.

  3. My webOS Apps - Very easy way to keep track of your app sales and statuses. Great for webOS developers!

  4. TweetMe - Beautiful Twitter client that's very functional. Just look at those screenshots!

  5. Sports Live! - A great way to keep track of your favorite US sports. Lives in the notification area so you can always know what the score is. There are also cheaper versions available for individual sports - I have the baseball one myself.

  6. Poker Drops - Trace out poker hands for points. The same developer (whom Palm hired a few weeks ago) also wrote Wobble Words, which I'm also a fan of.

  7. FlashCards - A great way to brush up on stuff you should know. I've been working on my state capitals :-)

  8. CrossWords - Tons of puzzles available, and keyboard navigation makes it very easy to use!


world cup links
Mood: happy
Posted on 2010-06-30 13:17:00
Tags: soccer links
Words: 292

Totally unrelated: happy 10 year anniversary to my wonderful husband!

Sadly, today is the first day since the start of the World Cup with no games. So, to pass the time:

- A cool visualization of which World Cup players play in which leagues - there's a lot more cross-pollination these days, with the English, German, Italian, and Spanish leagues benefiting the most.

- Why Lionel Messi is so awesome. Go Argentina!

Another fun soccer story:

In the 1994 Shell Caribbean Cup, Barbados and Grenada were playing their final group game, with Grenada ahead by 3 goal differential, so Barbados needed to win by 2 to advance. This tournament was played under weird rules, including the fact that no games were allowed to end in draws, and if the game was a draw after 90 minutes, it would go to sudden death extra time, with the winning goal counting double.

Barbados was up 2-0 until Grenada scored to make it 2-1 in the 83rd minute. Since Barbados needed to win by 2, and Grenada was playing very heavy defense, Barbados instead deliberately scored an own goal to tie it 2-2. That way, if they could manage to win in extra time, they would get the win by 2 they needed. (since the winning goal would count double)

It didn't take long for Grenada to figure out what was going on, and so they tried to score an own goal to put Barbados back ahead by 1. But Barbados was planning on this, and started defending both goals while Grenada tried to score on either one.

Amusingly enough, Barbados was successful in preventing Grenada from scoring, and it went into extra time where Barbados did in fact win! Here's a Snopes article about the whole thing.

1 comment

Palm: money to burn?
Mood: thoughtful
Posted on 2010-06-30 10:49:00
Tags: essay palmpre
Words: 229

Since the HP acquisition of Palm is expected to close this week, Palm has been spending money on their platform like crazy. To wit:

- On June 17, they announced all apps in the App Catalog would be 50% off until July 9, and they'd reimburse the difference to developers. So instead of making money on every app sale, they're paying the developer for each sale.

- Monday, Palm extended the 50% sale until July 23.

- From the beginning, the policy has been that each app in the catalog (unless it was open source) had a $50 submission fee. Yesterday they announced that not only are they getting rid of that fee, they're refunding all the $50 fees they've collected in the past, which is pretty ridiculously generous.

One could argue that these are nothing particularly new - Palm's been courting developers pretty heavily from the beginning, what with making homebrew very easy to do (no rooting required!) and giving away $1 million in their Hot Apps competition (of which I'm hoping to collect some), and having another Hot Apps competition starting in July for PDK apps. But the timing of these last three moves, plus the fact that they're insanely generous, make me think that they're related to the acquisition. I assume that HP was on board with these moves - if so, it bodes very well for the future of webOS!


Fun World Cup fact of the day
Mood: surprised
Posted on 2010-06-28 16:34:00
Tags: soccer
Words: 136

In 1989, Chile was playing a World Cup qualifying game at Brazil. If they lost, they would be eliminated from the 1990 World Cup.

They were down 1-0 in the 70th minute when their goalkeeper, Roberto Rojas fell down, writhing and clutching his bloody forehead. A firecracker had been thrown from the stands and landed close by. The Chilean team refused to play on, claiming the conditions were unsafe, and the game went unfinished. evidence after the fact showed that he had not been hit by the firecracker - his injury was self-inflicted with a razor blade he had hidden in his goalkeeper's glove!

So Chile got banned from the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, and Rojas as well as the doctor and coach were banned from FIFA for life. (although he was reinstated in 2001)

1 comment

For Better
Mood: tired
Posted on 2010-06-27 17:35:00
Tags: reviews books
Words: 661

Continuing the neurosciency trend, my latest read is For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope. I gleaned a lot of information from it, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. (if there's anything the last book taught me, I'm not going to try to explain why, because I don't know!)

Here's lots of random stuff:

The statistic that "50% of all marriages end in divorce" is misleading - the divorce rate has been going down significantly since the 1970s. Big risk factors for divorce include getting married before the age of 25, and not having a college education.

A good marriage improves your health, but a bad one hurts it, due to higher stress levels (and the fact that the stress is happening at home, which is supposed to be your sanctuary). A study on stressed-out women showed that holding hands with their husband reduced the pain they felt from an electric shock. (holding hands with a stranger helped some, but not as much)

Conflict: early in a relationship, some amount of conflict seems to make things healthier in the long run. (according to John Gottman, who is cited enough to deserve a coauthor credit) The number of fights you have is not nearly as important as the way you fight - a complaint ("I wish we had sex more often.") is better than a criticism ("You never want to have sex - you're always too tired."), which is better than contempt ("You're such a slob."). The difference between complaints and criticisms sounds minor, but from personal experience I definitely react much more poorly to criticisms. The first three minutes of a fight is a good predictor of the strength of the relationship. Eye rolling during an argument is another good predictor that the relationship is in trouble.

Children can take a big toll on marriage. On average, parents spend more time with their children than they did in the 1960s. This is fine, but it's better to make sure your marriage is healthy. Parents in happier marriages are more effective parents. When kids were given one wish to change the way their parent's work affects their life, they wished that their parents would be less stressed and less tired. (not that their parents would spend more time with them, which is what the adults predicted) Couples that did the best with kids (in terms of their marriage) were the ones that planned in advance - when they would have kids, who would take care of them, etc. Breaking the gender roles is also good, e.g. fathers do more housework, mothers give up some control about how things are done.

Sharing chores/housework is important. Money is another common point of contention; spendthrifts are attracted to tightwads and vice versa, but marrying one tends to lead to trouble. Maintaining some monetary independence from your spouse (being able to spend money on what you want) is helpful. Spending money on things that help your marriage (a vacation, for example) - also good.

Having outside relationships with friends and family is a very good thing; apparently this is more common in same-sex couples.

Finally, her prescription for marital health:
- Celebrate good news
- You need at least five times more positive interactions than negative ones to be stable. So after a fight, just saying "I'm sorry" once isn't enough. (say it four more times?)
- Keep your standards for your marriage high
- Pay attention to family and friends, as this puts less stress on the marriage to be emotionally fulfilling on all levels.
- Don't expect your spouse to make you happy - some studies have shown that most people have a personal happiness "set point" which they tend to return to.
- Have sex. Even if you're not in the mood, usually you'll get in the mood after a few minutes.
- Reignite romance by sharing new experiences and adventures.

Anyway, it was reasonably interesting, and available for borrowing as usual.

Next up: more neuroscience!

1 comment

everybody's linking for the weekend
Mood: happy
Posted on 2010-06-24 14:37:00
Tags: links
Words: 231

I lack the time to make this post shorter, so:

One of my new favorite blogs is You Are Not So Smart - each post is about a different sort of bias or self-delusion. Dovetails nicely with the ice cream book and my general interest in neuroscience!

Also related: this earthquake simulation game shows people are terrible at planning - even though they know an earthquake is coming, they wait to improve their house until it's too late.

IBM has built a system that can play Jeopardy decently. You can even play against it and see how you do!

Another awesome music video by Ok Go - this one goes from very slow motion to very sped up.

Apple censored an image of two men kissing in a graphic novel. Although now they say to resubmit it, so I guess it was just a mistake? I wonder how many other mistakes are not reviewed unless they get wide attention...

Yes, cosmic rays can flip bits in memory. Now I know what to blame my bugs on - cosmic rays flipping neurons in my brain :-)

Giant spike in Internet traffic following Landon Donovan's winning goal

The Fellowship of the Vuvuzela

An analysis of the crazy 1000 point and subsequent recovery of the Dow.

Lots of people are moving to Texas. (and Austin, specifically)

Random: a banana equivalent dose of radiation. Bananas are radioactive! Didn't know that.


How We Decide
Mood: intrigued
Posted on 2010-06-21 13:05:00
Tags: reviews books
Words: 682

Bookwise, I've been on a neuroscience kick lately - they feel a lot like self-help books (which I have a soft spot for, wanting to improve myself) but with science and studies to back them up!

My latest read is How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, affectionately known (at least to me) as "The Ice Cream Book" since it has pictures of different flavored ice cream cones on the front.

For a long time, people thought rationality and reason were what separated us from the animals, and that was what we used to decide pretty much everything. It turns out that is very, very wrong. We make emotional decisions all the time, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you're skilled in a particular area, making a decision based on how you feel is usually a good idea. (an example: Tom Brady doesn't have time to consciously decide whom to throw to, so he glances at each receiver and gets a "gut feeling")

The trick is knowing when to use emotion and when to use reason. One of the best examples (the author gives a lot of interesting examples ala Malcolm Gladwell) is Michael Binger, who won third place at the 2006 World Series of Poker. He's played poker for long enough that after playing at a table for a little while, he can glance at the other players and instinctively know how to play the hand (whether to be aggressive or not). Actually, this part of the book reminded me of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. (which I haven't actually read) But Binger also uses reason to avoid making big mistakes right after losing a hand - it's easy to get upset and your emotions can easily lead you astray.

Another good example was a study known as the Iowa gambling task. (great name, no?) The setup is that the subject is given four (virtual) decks of cards with different amounts of money on them and asked to maximize their money. Two decks are "good" (many more good cards than bad) and the other two are "bad". At first subjects pick more or less randomly, trying to figure out which decks are best, and after about 50 draws people generally stick with the good decks, although it takes around 80 draws before they can explain why. However, after about 10 draws people start getting emotional reactions - they get nervous when they're about to pick from the bad decks! People with a dysfunction of the orbitofrontal cortex (which is responsible for emotional decision-making) don't get the nervous reaction, and never figure out which decks are good.

One example I found amusing was choosing a strawberry jam. Some college students were given four unmarked containers of jam and asked to pick which was best - their choices lined up reasonably well with the reviews in Consumer Reports. (correlation of .55) However, when a different set of students were asked to choose the best and explain why, they preferred the worst jam to the best one! (correlation of .11) The theory is that when we have to justify our decisions, our rational brain kicks in and picks something to rank them on, like a chunky texture. But maybe the texture doesn't really affect how good the jam is - it just sounds like it should.

There are lots of fascinating examples in the book, and he concludes with a few principles on making decisions:
- For simple problems (like choosing a can opener), use reason.
- For novel problems (unfamiliar situations), also use reason.
- Embrace uncertainty - being certain about a conclusion can easily blind you to new contradictory evidence.
- You know more than you know - the "emotional brain" is much better at solving problems with many different variables, like choosing furniture or a car.
- Think about thinking - be aware of whether you're choosing based on reason or emotions; emotions can be great at certain types of problems but they're easily fooled when it comes to others.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the book - I've read it twice already! It's available for borrowing if you're interested.


more world cup goodness
Mood: okay
Posted on 2010-06-17 10:25:00
Tags: soccer links
Words: 108

I'm accumulating quite a stack of non-World Cup links, but to hell with them!

Nate Silver's World Cup odds update. To advance, the US has to either beat Slovenia tomorrow, or draw and then beat Algeria next Thursday.

My bracket which isn't looking too great.

Missed the England-US game? Here's a video recap with adorable Lego players.

The Guardian has this neat visualization of events during the games and popular terms on Twitter, so you can see how quickly Twitter reacts to goals, etc.

The Wall Street Journal is tracking every goal scored in the World Cup and breaking it down by player, team, country, day, stadium, etc.


Best World Cup commentating so far
Mood: amused
Posted on 2010-06-15 13:53:00
Tags: soccer
Words: 66

During the Italy-Paraguay game (paraphrased) - they had just been talking about how excited the Italian players were after winning the 2006 World Cup:
Commentator 1: They were doing some crazy things - some Italian player slept with his young daughter (slight pause) with the trophy in the bed.
Seriously awkward few seconds
Commentator 2: I gotta say that wasn't where I thought you were going with that...


Best story of the World Cup so far
Mood: amused
Posted on 2010-06-11 12:13:00
Tags: soccer
Words: 41

The final World Cup roster for each time has to have 23 players, 3 of which are goalkeepers. As the ESPN commentator put it, North Korea tried to "smuggle in" an extra striker by calling him a goalkeeper. (it didn't work)


The World Cup starts tomorrow!
Mood: excited
Posted on 2010-06-10 14:25:00
Tags: soccer links
Words: 108

and in its usual awesomeness, the Alamo Drafthouse is showing a bunch of games at Lake Creek and at least the US/England game at the South Lamar location. Tim League (the founder) recently took over as CEO of the Drafthouse, which means cooler events and preshow stuff at Lake Creek, like this!

A comprehensive calendar of World Cup games, organized by team, group, stadium, and date.

A neat visualization of which countries are most successful in the World Cup (hint: Brazil, Germany, Italy)

Personally I'm rooting for the US and Italy, but I picked Argentina to win it all, and I'm just happy to watch some good soccer!

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