Archive | 2011

The One-Eyed Man Is King

My first real job was a software developer in a start-up that built massively-parallel supercomputers; the machines had up to 16K processors and handled very large datasets. While the company was staffed with seasoned hardware types, many of us software developers were relatively inexperienced. Not wanting to admit our greenness, we usually tried to solve problems…

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The Nocebo Effect is Serious Medicine

A decade ago I read an intriguing article entitled “The Nocebo Effect: Placebo’s Evil Twin” which argued a patient’s pessimistic attitude could have negative consequences on their health. Research showed that patients who were warned of gastrointestinal side effects from repeated use of aspirin were almost three times as likely to exhibit the side effects…

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Are you diversifying your choices?

We are creatures of habit. -OR- Variety is the spice of life. Both are commonly held beliefs which seemingly contradict each other. Which is it? Do we always choose our favorite food/toy/song or do we opt for less-desirable alternatives so we don’t get bored? The answer is yes. When faced with multiple simultaneous options, people…

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Tabulating Taboos

What percentage of people wash their hands after going to the restroom? This is a difficult question to answer accurately. Surveys are unreliable because people are not likely to be truthful about behavior that is considered socially unacceptable. Surveys under-report the true percentage. Even if it is difficult, estimating the percentage of people who engage…

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Sculley on Jobs

Leander Kahney, editor and publisher of Cult of Mac and author of the New York Times bestseller Inside Steve’s Brain, provides a fascinating interview about Steve Jobs from John Sculley, former CEO of Apple.  It’s amazingly frank; among other things, Sculley suggests it was a “big mistake” to hire him to run the company when…

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It’s Right to Be Wrong

Once I thought I was wrong but I was mistaken. It’s a classic expression which is both a play on words and recognition that it’s very hard for us to admit we’ve made a mistake. Kathryn Schulz, author of “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error,” claims you can’t just admit your mistakes but…

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Our Memories Are Cloudy

In graduate school I conducted a psychology study on sports recall that showed participants could remember every Super Bowl/World Series/Final Four team over the previous 10 years. What’s more, with a little work, some of them could remember the score, the most valuable player, or even the date the game took place. While I was…

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To Do or To Have?

If you had $100 to spend to make yourself happy, would you buy something or spend it on a memorable experience? According to a Cornell paper entitled “To do or to have: That is the question“, the things you own don’t make you as happy as the things you do.  The authors provide three primary…

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