Quote of the Day

Quote of the day

“It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” –Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871)
See also The Dunning–Kruger Effect.


Guess which headline is troll-bait?

Quote of the Day Technology

Steve Jobs talks about the Crazy Ones – who think different.


In Memory of Steve Jobs

Here I sit in front of my iMac, with my wireless keyboard and trackpad. Also in front of me are my iPhone, iPad, Magic Mouse and my MacBook Pro. In the living room is the AirPort Extreme, in the kitchen the AirPort Express to stream music. My wife has her MacBook Pro, her white iPhone, and her postage stamp-sized iPod. Since we started buying computers, our household has owned at least 6 Apple computers. In my basement is a Mac Classic.
I use built-in iChat screen sharing to troubleshoot other people’s computers on a daily basis. I use built-in videoconferencing to talk to my son while I am traveling (and I have FaceTimed with my wife, her dad, my brother and my co-workers, all sporting iPhones). We capture countless pictures and videos on our phones, that we will all have to share from now on.
My 7 year old son installs more apps on my phone and iPad than I do.
I have used AppleScript to automate many of the tedious repetitive things I have to do at my job, so that I can push one button or issue one voice command and my computer will do for me what it used to take me many steps to do. I use these a hundred times a day, no exaggeration.
I’m not one to watch a movie more than once… it needs to be great for me to want to watch it again. We have a half a dozen Pixar DVDs that we have each watched many times over.
It is truly difficult to understate the impact Steve Jobs has had on my life.
Steve, where the rest of your industry saw things as “good enough”, you had the awareness to know better, the brilliance to imagine how things could be, and the drive to make it so. May we all learn that lesson.

Positive Thinking

Quote Of the Day

Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill

Positive Thinking

Everything is a Message for You

An anthropology professor told me that in some cultures people like to play a game called “what if everything is a message for you”. It’s a great game because it promotes regular reflection and introspection, always a healthy thing to do. I also like it because when seen in this way, it is irrelevant whether divine forces really are trying to talk to us or not; it’s just a healthy habit to adopt.
Relevant here is the reticular activating system: the part of the brain whose job it is to distinguish relevant input from the mass of sensory data that we receive constantly. It’s the part of the brain that sees Volkswagen Jettas everywhere immediately after you purchase one, or wakes mom up from the slightest whimper of her infant two rooms over while otherwise sleeping soundly in an urban environment. The reticular activating system naturally likes to play this game and makes you excellent at it (though it’s not as good at sniffing out metaphors). Let me get you started with examples:

  • Toilet clogged? Where are you having trouble eliminating shit from your life?
  • Joint problems? Where are you inflexible?
  • Throat trouble? How are you at speaking up for yourself?
Whenever I play this game I always seem to find a pertinent message, and it always seems to be exactly what I’m dealing with that day… and I get a kick out of the spookiness out of it!
Positive Thinking

What Makes You Think This Is Not A Good Thing?

There is a Taoist tale from the Lieh-Tzu about a man who loses and gains different things.

Among the people who lived close to the border, there was a man who led a righteous life. Without reason, his horse escaped, and fled into barbarian territory. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said : “what makes you think this is not a good thing?”
Several months later, his horse returned, accompanied by a superb barbarian stallion. Everyone congratulated him. But the old man said: “what makes you think this is cannot be a bad thing?”
The family was richer from a good horse, his son enjoyed riding it. He fell and broke his hip. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said: “what makes you think this is not a good thing!”
One year later, a large party of barbarians entered the border. All the valid men drew their bows and went to battle. From the people living around the border, nine out of ten died. But just because he was lame, the old man and his son were both spared.

from The Book of Lieh-tzu: A Classic of Tao, translated by Angus C. Graham, New York: Columbia University Press (1960, revised 1990)


Cunning, Tricks and Manipulation

I recently wrote a response to Kristina Bjoran’s Psychological Manipulation in eCommerce Design over on my professional blog. I want to further follow up because it is such a valuable conversation. If you haven’t already read my first response, go ahead and read it now.
I’m not singling out Kristina here— her negative judgment of e-commerce processes seems to be common; look at the number of shares and re-tweets that her article got. But her position is not personally useful. Her assessment of those online offers and processes as trickery and manipulation is wrapped up in notions of victimhood and ultimately disempowering to herself.
Let me present the closest example to manipulation in sales I can think of from my personal life.
In the late 90’s I went to my local VW dealership to lease a bright blue Volkswagen Jetta Turbo. The same color blue that’s on the Blue Angels, but on my car, sweet. That car was a head turner, but I digress. I signed the initial paperwork, but they did not have that exact car on the lot. They assured me that they would get one as quickly as they could; we shook hands and I left. The next day I got a call from the salesman who said, “your car is on a cargo tanker off the coast of Brazil. It will take a couple of weeks to get here. I can put you in a different car on my lot today.” I did not believe that this dealer’s procurement process was so broken that that was the quickest he could get me this car.
It sure sounded to me like a lie, but I was not about to call him a liar on the phone. So instead I said, “that’s okay, I’m in no hurry to get my car.” We hung up. The next day the salesman called me back and said, “good news, we found the same car at a nearby dealership. You can pick it up tomorrow.”
Let’s assume for one moment that the salesman did not lie to me when he told me my car was south of the equator in the Atlantic Ocean. I know, I know, but bear with me. My hunch was correct: the dealer’s procurement process was in fact not that broken. All they had to do was call the next dealer over and get the car from them.
If this is the case, then why did the salesman tell me that my car was two weeks away before he even attempted to call the next dealer over? Clearly, his directive was to move some of the slower inventory on the lot, and that was the process for doing it. Lie to the customer.
Was I manipulated? Clearly no, because I got what I wanted. But did he lie to me? It sure appears that way. If the situation were slightly different—if I really did need to get the car right away—I might have felt that I had no choice but to pick a different car on the lot. At that point manipulation seems apt: a lie in a negotiation that gives the liar the upper hand.
Back to two of Kristina’s examples:

  • Amazon’s free shipping on orders of $25 or more
  • Groupon’s limited time offers

Not even approaching the level of a lie, these are simply how the merchant structured deal. We do this in our personal lives all the time: “Honey, will you take out the trash today?” This is what that party is willing to offer in order for them to be happy. You are free to accept or decline the offer.
Her third example:

  • iTunes receipts e-mailed two days after purchase

The reason for this is explained in the very Wired Magazine article that she cites as her source material: “Apple is trying to batch-process your credit card transactions to reduce its interchange fees”. Somehow Kristina fails to mention this perfectly legitimate reason and goes on to describe it as “feels a bit, well, cunning.” Kristina needs to check her internal barometer of cunning.
But there is yet another way to look at delayed billing. I remember hearing a story about an exclusive Japanese restaurant where the entire dining experience is heavenly. The restaurant is only open a couple days a week and the waiting list is six months. The proprietor made a conscious decision to not present the bill at the end of the meal; instead the bill is mailed to their house after the fact. They did not want the dining experience to be diminished by the act of paying a bill. Brilliant! And I say that not from the perspective of a businessman but from the perspective of the consumer.
Describing a transparent transaction (no lies) as manipulation is unwise at best. Like “The Influencing Machine”, we refuse to acknowledge our active and willful participation in the transaction— it was not me that pushed the “buy now” button. There is comfort in the abdication of responsibility and the projection of that responsibility onto the other party: we avoid the uncomfortable acknowledgment of our own error in judgment and replace it with the slightly more comforting feeling of victimhood. The failure to see our own power in a purchasing process ultimately hurts ourselves, as we are remain comfortably asleep to the fact that we had the power all along, and certainly doomed to repeat the same scenario of buyers remorse.


Words Matter; Choose Them Wisely

A recent article over at Apple insider reveals the following about how Apple carefully crafts the words that they use throughout their business:

In keeping with a positive theme at Apple’s retail stores, those who hold the title of “Genius” are reportedly told to say “as it turns out” rather than use the word “unfortunately.” This choice of language is intended to sound less negative when a Genius cannot solve a customer’s problem.

A wise choice.


Carl Sagan vs. Skepticism

A great quote by Carl Sagan:

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Works for God, UFOs, ghosts, etc. Seems ironic because skeptics are fans of him, yet by taking this quote to heart, skeptics would have to give up their posture that they think they know.