The Danger Of Zippers

People are always scared of new technology. On the first trains, people had nervous breakdowns, because they were going too fast. When the first bicycles came out, people were warned about getting “bicycle face.” [Atwood pulls back the skin on her face to demonstrate, looking like the victim of a bad plastic surgeon.]

What people were really worried about was that it could enable sex, because you could get away from the home and parental control. There were similar concerns about the automobile. And a similar uproar was caused by the zipper. People preached sermons about the dangers of zippers. And now we have velcro! That’s even easier.

I really like Margaret Atwood now. “Every Time Technology Changes, It Changes What People in the Plot Can Do.

Although to be fair, zippers can be very dangerous…

How Advertisers Convinced Americans They Smelled Bad

And that’s when Young went radical, and in doing so launched his own fame. A door-to-door survey conducted by the advertising company had revealed that “every woman knew of Odorono and about one-third used the product. But two thirds felt they had no need for [it],” Sivulka says.

Young realized that improving sales wasn’t a simple matter of making potential customers aware that a remedy for perspiration existed. It was about convincing two-thirds of the target population that sweating was a serious embarrassment.

The advertisement goes on to explain that women may be stinky and offensive, and they might not even know it. The take-home message was clear: If you want to keep a man, you’d better not smell.

The advertisement caused shock waves in a 1919 society that still didn’t feel comfortable mentioning bodily fluids. Some 200 Ladies Home Journal readers were so insulted by the advertisement that they canceled their magazine subscription, Sivulka says.

In a memoir, Young notes that women in his social circle stopped speaking to him, while other JWT female copy writers told him “he had insulted every woman in America.” But the strategy worked. According to JWT archives, Odorono sales rose 112 percent to $417,000 in 1920, the following year.

via How Advertisers Convinced Americans They Smelled Bad | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine.

Abe Lincoln on motivation

I am reminded of a story about Abraham Lincoln. According to the story, Lincoln was riding with a friend in a carriage on a rainy evening. As they rode, Lincoln told the friend that he believed in what economists would call the utility-maximizing theory of behavior, that people always act so as to maximize their own happiness, and for no other reason. Just then, the carriage crossed a bridge, and Lincoln saw a pig stuck in the muddy riverbank. Telling the carriage driver to stop, Lincoln struggled through the rain and mud, picked up the pig, and carried it to safety. When the muddy Lincoln returned to the carriage, his friend naturally pointed out that he had just disproved his own hypothesis by putting himself to great trouble and discomfort to save a pig. “Not at all,” said Lincoln. “What I did is perfectly consistent with my theory. If I hadn’t saved that pig, I would have felt terrible.”

– Ben Bernake

On being really good

Have you ever told someone “wow, you’re really good at SOMETHING”, where SOMETHING could be mean “good at tennis” or “knowledgable about history”, or anything else, and then you get the reply

“Oh, thanks, but I’m not really that good”

Sometimes it’s the person being humble. Sometimes it’s not.

I tend to notice this where it’s something that the person works hard at. To work hard at something means that you’re working to improve things that you aren’t satisfied with. So, when someone says “you’re really good at this”, the person looks at things from their own point-of-view and sees any number of issues they’re still not satisfied with.

This type of person is also likely to continue improving. Their cup isn’t full yet.

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. “It’s overfull! No more will go in!” the professor blurted. “You are like this cup,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.”

— Zen Stories To Tell Your Neighbors  – Empty Your Cup

Watch for this pattern in life. I see it often.

If money doesn’t make you happy, you aren’t spending it right

Here are some words.

The relationship between money and happiness is surprisingly weak, which may stem in part from the way people spend it. Drawing on empirical research, we propose eight principles designed to help consumers get more happiness for their money. Specifically, we suggest that consumers should (1) buy more experiences and fewer material goods; (2) use their money to benefit others rather than themselves; (3) buy many small pleasures rather than fewer large ones; (4) eschew extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance; (5) delay consumption; (6) consider how peripheral features of their purchases may affect their day-to-day lives; (7) beware of comparison shopping; and (8) pay close attention to the happiness of others.

If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right – Journal of Consumer Psychology 21 

We live in a consumer world. This paper seems legit by me. Definitely worth keeping in mind.

hat tip Rahmin


This video is titled “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”. At about 3:38, Feynman discusses his father and how Feynman was raised.

This is video of someone who is arguably one of the smartest people to ever live, who is widely known for being able to explain things well, and who is at an advanced enough age that he’s had a lot of time to think about his own life, as well as watch other humans grow from children into adults (which means he’s been able to observe the process many times).

To me, that makes the next 90 seconds very interesting. I think he explains the secrets of raising genuinely smart kids (or rather, what to do with kids in order to raise a genuinely smart adult).

  1. Spend time with them
  2. reading facts to them
  3. and discussing what you’ve read with an emphasis on relationships between things, cause and effect, etc.

You’re teaching the kid how to process thoughts — literally a “thought process”. You’re teaching them how to process the written word (and spoken word), as well as what to do when they have the thought in their head: do I understand this thing? Is it true given all the other things I know are true? If this is true, what else must be true?

And the rest of the video is good too.

Journal of Consumer Research

I’ve been noticing a lot of articles in the news lately, all citing The Journal of Consumer Research. Odds are that it’s because newspeople are paying more attention to consumption thanks to America’s holiday traditions, but that doesn’t make it bad. In fact, I’m impressed with some of the stuff that they’re doing research on. I wonder who pays for it, but regardless, they are interesting questions.

I find this interesting because we’re all consumers, so there are some neat studies in here that apply to us all. Most recently — if another person brushes against you in a store, you’re more likely to leave without buying something. Amazing.

Unless you’ve got access to it through a university account or otherwise, one of the best options is their Publicity page, followed by the usual googling of the study’s authors to find out more about how it was actually done.

Batman drank ginger ale

Bruce Wayne drinks ginger ale at parties to help keep his body and mind in top shape. I don’t have a good source for this, in that there’s no single authoritative reference that I can link to.

Since I don’t have a single authoritative reference, let’s go with this: a comic about two dinosaurs, one of whom is going to give up drinking. I’m talking about a comic character anyways, right? Another comic is basically a primary source.

There’s also Wikipedia. Just go to the Batman page, and then search in the page for “ginger ale”.

This makes me happy, because I like Batman/Bruce Wayne, and I also like ginger ale. Generally when I’m at a bar, there’s whiskey and a slice of lime involved, but this isn’t a bad idea for ending the night if I have to drive.

Also, Batman used ginger ale as a replacement for champagne. Something worth remembering for NYE. Happy 2012, everyone!

On being a white rap fan.

When singing (or in this case, rapping) along with Kanye, do we say a certain racially insensitive word or do we censor ourselves?

Valid arguments were made for both sides.

Saying the N-word
Pro: Remaining true to Kanye’s artistic vision, saying his words, each of them, exactly as he intended, even the ones that might not be so artistic.
Con: Inciting a full-scale race riot and/or getting our arses kicked.

Not saying the N-word
Pro: Showing our support at the ugliness of the word, the hatred of a term filled with venom.
Con: Drawing even more attention to the word as a mostly white audience goes mute, leaving only Kanye to say it, thus inciting a full-scale race riot and/or getting our arses kicked.

We ultimately decided to self-censor, but we also faced another dilemma: what word do we say in its place? Sure, Kanye helped us with “Now I ain’t saying she’s a golddigger, but she ain’t messing with no broke, broke,” but there was nothing to save us from Jesus Walks’ lyrics in which restless (N-words) might snatch your necklace or jack your Lexus before being told who Kanye West is.

Rap music is all about the rhythm and flow of the words, so it’s not really possible to just replace the N-word with a more politically correct term – “Now I ain’t saying she’s a golddiger, but she ain’t messing with no broke African-Americans.”

Rap Concerts Can Pose A Problem

I feel like this is a real problem for white rap fans.

Eminem doesn’t drop n-bombs. Chamillionaire also stopped cursing — and his records don’t feel like they’ve been toned down.

But megastars like Kanye and Jay Z haven’t. Not to mention that even if they did, there’s a long legacy of music that we aren’t going back and re-cutting, like some rap version of George Lucas, trying to uncover the “original artistic vision”.

I’ve personally started using ‘brother’ in my head since it’s the most reasonable approximation that doesn’t destroy the continuity (“Where’d you get the beauty scar, tough guy? Eating pineapple?”), ends in -er, and it’s not terrible for rhymes that require the hard ‘g’ sound. Plus, in “Golddigger”, you get a nice consonance on the ‘b’: “I ain’t sayin’ she a golddigger, but she ain’t messin with no broke brother”.

I do think this is interesting, because racism is an issue that’s gone on for generations, and I wonder if things like Kanye saying “okay just this once” is a way of breaking the ice and improving the social (not economic) situation. It’ll be interesting to see how this progresses over the next 40 years.

News (Halloween-headless-horseman Steve Jobs riding a Harley edition)

I read an article today about Steve Jobs on Obama, and I know everyone gets all excited when it’s a Jobs quote, but I think his take on this is right, and if anything, the fact that he said it might push some people to pay attention.

‘You’re headed for a one-term presidency,” Steve Jobs told President Obama at the beginning of a one-on-one session the president requested early last year. As described in the authorized biography by Walter Isaacson, Apple’s founder said regulations had created too many burdens on the economy.

Jobs was an Obama supporter, but his just-disclosed comments are typical of a new frustration with Washington among Silicon Valley executives. Their high-tech companies are supposed to be the country’s engine for growth, but the federal government is gumming up the works.

Mr. Isaacson reports that Jobs offered to Mr. Obama to “put together a group of six or seven CEOs who could really explain the innovation challenges facing America.” But after White House aides got involved with planning the dinner, it became unwieldy and Jobs pulled out.

When a smaller dinner was arranged last February, the result was more estrangement of Silicon Valley from Washington. Mr. Obama was seated between Jobs and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The dinner also included top executives from companies such as Google, Cisco and Oracle.

According to Mr. Isaacson, Jobs “stressed the need for more trained engineers and suggested that any foreign students who earned an engineering degree in the U.S. should be given a visa to stay in the country.” The president reportedly replied that this would have to await broader immigration reform, which he said he was unable to accomplish.

“Jobs found this an annoying example of how politics can lead to paralysis,” Mr. Isaacson writes. “The president is very smart, but he kept explaining to us reasons why things can’t get done,” Jobs said. “It infuriates me.”

Jobs told Mr. Obama that Apple employs 700,000 factory workers in China because it can’t find the 30,000 engineers in the U.S. that it needs on site at its plants. “If you could educate these engineers,” he said at the dinner, “we could move more manufacturing jobs here.”

One of the benefits of free trade, including in the movement of labor, is that skills would go where they are most valued. Jobs made the point that Silicon Valley is mystified by a policy that instead educates foreigner engineers at top U.S. universities, then sends them home immediately.

Among the attendees at the dinner was venture capitalist John Doerr, who during an Internet conference in 2008 described the absurdity memorably: “I would staple a green card to the diploma of anyone that graduates with a degree in the physical sciences or engineering in the U.S.”

Foreign nationals in the U.S. now account for 70% of doctorates in electrical engineering and half the master’s degrees. They would be more productive if permitted to remain in the U.S. Academic studies estimate that a quarter of technology businesses started in the U.S. since 1995 have had at least one foreign-born founder. Half of Silicon Valley startups are founded by foreigners.

The U.S. issues 140,000 green cards a year, which is not enough to meet demand even in this soft economy. Worse yet, the work-permit laws say that the residents of no country can get more than 7% of the permits. This is fine for Andorra and Liechtenstein but not for India and China, which have 18% and 19% of the world’s population, respectively. The National Foundation for American Policy calculates the 7% limit means a backlog of 70 years of applications from prospective Indian workers and 20 years from Chinese ones.

Vivek Wadwha is a native of India who started two tech companies in the U.S. before becoming an academic specializing in immigration. He recently testified to Congress that the U.S. is “giving an unintentional gift to China and India by causing highly educated and skilled workers, frustrated by long waits for visas, to return home.”

There’s little prospect of reform, even though Mr. Doerr’s staple-a-green-card idea has been endorsed by everyone from Mitt Romney to Chuck Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York. Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, proposes the Staple Act (an acronym for Stopping Trained in America Ph.D.s from Leaving the Economy). As Pia Orrenius, author of “Beside the Golden Door,” says, letting more skilled workers stay in the U.S. is “as close to a free lunch” as the economy can get.

Jobs himself was the biological son of an immigrant professor father from Syria, who was lucky enough to be a graduate student in the U.S. in the 1950s when it was easier for foreigners to stay. (Jobs was adopted as a newborn.)

The culture of Silicon Valley is defined by engineers who approach problems logically, searching for the most elegant solution. Washington is different. Members of both parties prefer scoring political points on immigration even though this delays smarter approaches. It’s no wonder that people like Jobs who value innovation find Washington so infuriating.

I think that he’s right. I’ve been lightly involved with the IDEA Act going through Congress (thanks Craig Montuori and Tarik Ansari) which is trying to fix some of these issues.

The thing is, the IDEA Act is focused on entrepreneurs, but it’s also nuts that we kick out people who we have trained up to a very high standard who just want jobs. Not just jobs. Taxable jobs. High tax bracket jobs. For all the people freaked out about the economy, and how there are a lot of people not paying taxes (47% of Americans?), by keeping foreign-born, high-wage earners here, we’ll be benefiting by getting more money in taxes, which means lower tax rates for everyone else (what happens to the taxes after they’re taken is a totally different story, but…one piece at a time). Otherwise, we’re wasting money by training people to build up the economies of other countries.

Remember, it’s not “dey took our jerbs”, it’s “our jerbs got replaced by different types of jerbs that America isn’t doing a good job of training citizens for”

To reach more women, who account for about 10% of U.S. motorcycle owners, Harley dealers hold “garage parties,” such as one attended recently by Ms. Ruschman and several dozen other women. Scott Miller, marketing director of the Mentor dealership, spray-painted his hair pink and extolled the psychic benefits of cycling. “It’s about your ability to kind of extend your personality,” he said as the women sipped wine. “Or develop a new one.”

Harley pitches models with lower seats as easier for women to handle. The Harley website has a video showing how even a small woman can use leverage to pick up a bike of 550 pounds or more if it topples over. “The muscles that make it possible are in your legs and your butt,” the video explains.

Harley, With Macho Intact, Tries to Court More Women

Classy move…it seems like they thought through the feelings and mental state of what stops women from getting into riding motorcycles, and then went out to deal with the issue head-on. Much better than just making a new bike but not following through on getting women to enjoy motorcycling. There’s a lot to learn from this — excellent move on product-design-product-management. Might be interesting to watch these guys in the future.