30 Days

I really like the Morgan Spurlock created show 30 Days. If you’re not familiar, Morgan Spurlock is the guy who made Super Size Me, and he’s extended that type of stunt documentary to create the series. People spend 30 days in someone else’s shoes to better understand other’s lives or the other side of a polarizing issue The first season included Spurlock and his fiance spent 30 days living on minimum wage, a christian living with a muslim family, and a homophobic man living with a gay man. This season has had an atheist living with a mega-church-attending christian family, an anti-immigration minuteman living with a family of illegal immigrants, and the finale will have Spurlock going to jail for 30 days.

The iTunes music store has both seasons of the show avaiable for sale. The powerful illegal-immigration episode and a making-of the jail episode are available for free.

Wisdom of Crowds and IBM

I’m working my way through James Suroewiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, which is excellent. I was struck by an observation about the difference between socialogical diversity and cognitive diversity in a discussion about the culture at NASA around the time of the shuttle Columbia disaster. From page 183:

What was missing most from the MMT, of course, was diversity, by which I mean not socialogical diversity but rather cognitive diversity. James Oberg, a former Mission Control operator and now NBC News correspondent, has made the counterintuitive point that the NASA teams that presided over the Apollo missions were actually more diverse than the MMT. This seems hard to believe, since every engineer at Mission Control in the late 1960s had the same crew cut and wore the same short-sleeved white shirt. But as Oberg points out, most of those men had worked outside of Nasa in many different industries before coming to the agency. NASA employees today are more likely to have come to the agency directly out of graduate school, which means they are also far less likely to have divergent options. This matters because, in small groups, diversity of opinion is the single best gurantee that the group will reap benefits from face-to-face discussion.

This paragraph immediately made me think of IBM. IBM has always been one of the leading corporations in valuing sociaological diversity, but the vast majority of its new hires are fresh collge graduates. In my (limited, since I was never a manager) experience, hiring a so called “experienced hire” was like getting blood from a stone, whereas there always seemed to me lots of money earmarked for college hires. In fact IBM seems to focus large amounts of energy on gobbling up as much of the latest graduating class as it can, particularly the top N computer science programs with internship programs like Extreme Blue.

I can’t knock the value of hiring under-represented groups like women and minorities into a company, but does that really give you a pool of diverse cognitive experiences if everyone went to the same schools? If a person is fresh out of a given school, I doubt their opinons on things will vary much because they’re male or female, black or white – given the same crowd a few more years to get some experience, see what works and doesn’t work; that’ll give you cognitive diversity.

Tivo: Infallible no more

I’ve long considered my Tivo one of the few pieces of technology that just works – set up a show to record and it gets done. Maybe it records three extra episodes of a show, but it gets the one you want. Until now.

I got home Sunday night expecting to sit down and watch the second to last episode of West Wing. The only problem was that it was recording Family Guy. I scratched my head and checked the season pass listing: West Wing is top priority, so it should take precendence over everything else. The problem extended to next Sunday as well, so I had to manually record the final episode. What gives? The only remotely feasible explanation is that these episodes have their rerun flag inadvertantly set.

Its unfortunate that Tivo has fallen into the larger category of devices that I need to keep my eye on. Oh well.

At least the pope is still infallible.

Soledad slaps away the race card

I just saw this great interview between Soledad O’Brian and Rep. Cynthia McKinney. Backstory is that the Rep. wasn’t recognized by Capitol Police going though security, felt insulted, tried to keep going, got grabbed by the officer, and then hit the officer in the chest. Now she may have charges filed against her for assaulting an officer. So the Rep. tries to call it racial profiling, starts blabbing about discrimination, minorities, the war in iraq, a potential strike against Iran, anything but the issue at hand, which is her side of the story about what happened.

Soledad does a great job at relentlessly shutting down Rep. McKinney nonsensical tirades. Bravo!

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Who knew when you’re embalmed they sew your anus closed and put little spikey plastic cups on your eyes to keep your eyelids closed?

I read this great book a couple of months ago – once I got started, I couldn’t put it down. Mary Roach has a hilarious stream of consciousness writing style; even while writing around a topic like death, all kinds of tangental asides are made. The book documents the history of how society had dealt with death and slowly learned about anatomy, and some of the strange things that happen to your body when you die (especially if you give your body to science).

Totally worth your time, and much funnier than Coal

American Morning on CNN – Wasted Airspace

I was at the gym this morning and noticed a couple of disturbing things on the television. Next to the TV tuned to MTV which seems to play the same 3 videos every morning that I’m on the treadmill, hospital there was one tuned to CNN. I’m starting to wonder if that middle “N” means news anymore.

About 8 this morning, they spent around five minutes talking about McDonalds coffee and doing a blind test test in the studio and with passers by on the street. Is this newsworthy? I guess I now know that people can’t really tell one coffee from another. (If you’re read gladwell, you also know about the effectiveness of blind test tests). I would like to know how much McDonalds was paying for this infomercial segment, and if they aren’t paying, then why CNN is wasting time covering this crap. I’m sure we can find some more topics to talk about, like the anti-free speech crackdown in Kenya. People would probably have been better served by a video of a waving flag.

In the dreaded crawl during this time I notice this (paraphrasing a little because I didn’t have a notebook with me on the treadmill) “Women from 50 countries sign letter to Kofi Annan accusing him of paying lip service to gender equality and doing nothing to promote women’s rights” – Which is completely redundant. That’s what lip service means! You don’t need to add on the “and did nothing” part.

What’s next, defining all the words in the crawl to make sure people understand what’s going on?

Someone please invent a band stalker!

Earlier this week I found out that two bands I like, Stars and Snow Patrol, are coming to town. One the next day, one next month. Of course I find out after the tickets are sold out…

Unfortunately there’s no one repository for tour information. Rich at Basement.org points out that Pollstar doesn’t have RSS feeds, and in this case, neither Pollstar or Eventful (the other site he mentioned) even were aware of the Snow Patrol show in time (the tickets went on sale last saturday, so now its too late).

It seems the only way I could have become aware of the Snow Patrol concert in particular would have been to a) be on their mailing list or b) visit their site constantly- (they don’t have a feed) – neither of these approaches really scales well.

Gathering enough up to date information (and not from joe q public listing an event when he gets around to it) seems to be the hardest problem, but how about a service that would accept uploaded itunes music library files and zip codes, and give me back an rss feed of events involving artists in my library, in my area, as they become known?

The downside of this is that hardcore fans who would go to the band’s site every day could get shut out as the information finds its way to the more casual fan with less friction.

Universal Principles of Design

I’m taking an engineering psychology class called “Applied Design of Software User Interfaces” this spring, for which our optional text book is “Universal Principles of Design : 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design“. The title is a mouthful, but this book is a real gem. Its more of an encyclopedia with 100 topics covered in two pages each, with one page of text with references to the primary/seminal works, and the other page devoted to beautifully illustrated and designed examples of the effect described in action.

I’d recommend it to anyone interested in effective design of any kind, or even just to read the interesting psychological explanations of certain effects.

Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML

Mostly because I love Kathy Sierra’s Creating Passionate Users blog and have heard much about the style of writing in the Head First book series, I ordered Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML as soon as it was released. (Ok I also got it because CSS is a paticularly nasty time-sinkhole for me when I’m working on anything web-related.)

I love the book, but for me it was too much of an introduction to HTML. Skipping ahead to the later chapters, I did learn some important things about CSS. Discounting that, the book is great. It’s sarcastic conversational tone keeps you engaged in the material, it has great examples and frequent special sections that break up the flow nicely.

This book is especially well suited for people entirely new to HTML- I’d definately recommend this book for that audience. The pacing is so well thought out, almost anyone could learn HTML here.

I enjoyed the parts I actually did read so much, I ordered Head First Design Patterns (taking advantage of my “free” trial membership in Amazon Prime) because I never quite got through the real Design Patterns book.