Saturday, December 06, 2008

Is your blog written by a man or woman?

Apparently, there is a 75% chance that my blog was written by a man, according to the Gender Analyzer (Hat tip: TaxProf blog) which is a website where you put in your blog URL and it uses Artificial Intelligence to determine if a homepage is written by a man or woman. It doesn't seem too accurate as it asked if it guessed my sex correctly and when I clicked on "no," it showed stats indicating that 46% of the time, the Gender Analyzer was inaccurate. That's no better than chance.

I read on another blog by a tax blogger who was female that her sex was also guessed incorrectly. I wonder if the Gender Analyzer stereotypes about what the various sexes should write about and if you do not follow suit, it messes up. This particular blogger theorized that perhaps it gets confused by gender neutral names but what part of Dr. Helen sounds like a guy? I've never met a male Helen, have you?

Anyway, you can go here for fun and put in your URL to see if it guesses your sex correctly.


"The average person lies three times per ten minutes of conversation."

So says an expert on a new Fox TV show that I read about on Maggie's Farm called Lie to Me based on the work of psychologist Paul Ekman. For those of you who are not familiar with Ekman's work, he is the author of Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage and is a renowned expert in emotions research and nonverbal communication. I have his book and have used it in my work often, it is terrific if you are a layperson or professional and want to learn more about the clues to deceit.

However, I have to ask: do people really lie three times per ten minute conversation? That really seems extreme. I suppose it depends if you call an exaggeration a lie. People probably exaggerate all the time but flat out lies this often? What do you think? Do you lie in almost every conversation that you have? I don't think I do but perhaps I am just naive about what constitutes a lie.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

The Gift of Annoyance

I was scouting around on Amazon this morning looking for toys for holiday gifts and came across this gem--a $374.00 (originally $699) Kid Trax Red Fire Engine Electric Ride-On for two to five-year-year-olds that was described as follows:

Little ones can rush to the rescue on this electric ride-on fire truck by Kid Trax. Flashing emergency lights, a working fire hose, and lighted dashboard make each ride thrilling for youngsters ages three and up. The two-speed transmission has speeds at 2.5 mph and 5.0 mph, with reverse at 2.5 mph. Forward and reverse motion is controlled by a clutch located at the bottom of the seat. Parental control ensures safety as the child drives this ride-on.

A working megaphone allows the toddler to call out to victims and the little hero can then put out the blaze with the 1-liter capacity super-spray hose. Fire truck gauges, sturdy grab bars, and pre-applied graphics add to the fun.

How much must you hate the parents of the kid that you give this to? I can't imagine how annoying and loud this thing must be. Nothing like a loud megaphone, flashing lights and a working fire hose to bring tranquility to the house.

What is the most annoying gift you have ever received for yourself or your kids? What happened to it?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

"If this is meant to scare young men like me out of ever getting married, it's working!"

A reader sent me a link to a video and site called that is supposed to be a joke but seems anything but. The video and site are connected to the jewelry store inside JC Penny. I'm surprised that they didn't realize how ridiculous and sexist their little video was. If you want to skip it, it basically shows a man giving his wife a vacuum cleaner for Christmas and he is sucked into a doghouse where other men who have given "sexist" gifts are sent.

One man is sent before a tribunal of women to decide how to get out of this torture chamber and is given advice by the women on how to stay out of the doghouse. At the end of the video, there is a warning to men, "Stay out of the doghouse this holiday" with the implication that buying jewelry is the only way to do this. Is this funny? I don't think so. I agree with one of the Youtube commenters who states: "If this is meant to scare young men like me out of ever getting married, it's working!" Here is the video:

Update: Another reader sends the same link to the video and adds: "I'm thinking if the genders were reversed in this ad, they'd be burning J.C. Penney's to the ground in every mall in America." No, there never would have been an ad like this one up to begin with.


Dust off that old manuscript

This is kind of interesting--Amazon has announced the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards where you can send in your unpublished novel for consideration:

The Breakthrough Novel Award brings together talented writers, reviewers and publishing experts to find and develop new voices in fiction. If you're an author with an unpublished novel waiting to be discovered, visit CreateSpace to learn more about the next Breakthrough Novel Award and sign up for regular updates on the contest. Open submissions for manuscripts begin in February 2009.

So, if you have a finished novel you wrote 10 years ago up in the attic, dust it off and send it in. You never know--you might just get struck by dumb luck.

Success: luck, opportunity or something more?

I spent yesterday reading Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers: The Story of Success. His basic premise is that we do not get to be a success alone--our culture, community, privilege and even dumb luck play a part in making a success. He gives examples such as the best hockey players in Canada were mainly born in January or early in the year. Why? Because the cut-off date is early January and the kids born then are bigger and more mature. They get into the better teams and then with more practice and opportunity, get to be the best. The rest are not as good because they are smaller, less mature, and don't get the practice and attention that the older kids get. They will always be behind--just like the kids who get sent to school early in kindergarten. The older kids always do better in the class, Gladwell claims, and they never catch up to their peers.

Gladwell discusses computer whizzes like Bill Gates and Bill Joy, commenting that rather than just sheer genius, these two made it because they were born at the right time, had opportunity and just sheer dumb luck. How? Well both were born in the mid 1950's, and were just at the right age when the personal computer came along. Their success was about opportunity, Gladwell surmises, not necessarily talent. If you read the book, you will see that Gladwell's theories are more complicated than what I am laying out here, but for bevity's sake, I will not go into detail. Read the book if you want to know more.

My problem with Gladwell's book is that he fails to do much critical thinking when he lays out his theories of success; he doesn't let the reader know about research that does not support his theories and makes blanket statements that sound good, but do not necessarily hold up to critique. For example, do younger kids who start kindergarten early always fall behind their older peers and never catch up? Not necessarily. For example, here is a study suggesting otherwise:

The new study is a challenge to decades of research linking age to academic achievement that has led states to push back kindergarten entrance age deadlines and convinced more parents to start children later than the once-traditional age of 5.

Though older students have an early edge based on an extra year of skill development, the study maintains that older and younger students learn at the same pace once they enter school, based on a review of federal education data.

And it seems to me that the genius of some people like Gates or Joy is that they see opportunity where others see none. I know people who had the same opportunities as these guys but they did not see the computer in the same way that these two did. As a psychologist, I think there is something inherent in some people's personalities and mindset that allows them to make opportunities for themselves when others see none. My guess is that if Gates did not have the computer as his opportunity, he would have found another one and done well anyway. Gladwell wants us to think that success is not self-made and is mainly the result of communtity, culture and luck. He says that success is "grounded in a web of advantages, and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky--but all critical to making them what they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all."

Perhaps the outlier in all this is the ability to see opportunity where others see none. In my opinion, this makes someone an outlier, whether Gladwell wants to believe that or not. That said, the book is interesting and filled with some good information about what leads to success. It is worth a read.

Update: Soccer Dad points out in the comments a very good extract on the book in The Guardian.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Are teens more ethically-challenged now than in the past?

I have to wonder after reading two different articles sent in by readers (thanks!) about the types of ethics that teens are learning these days. The first link was to a study showing that teens are cheating and lying more than ever these days:
American teenagers lie, steal and cheat more at "alarming rates," a study of nearly 30,000 high school students concluded Monday. The attitudes and conduct of some 29,760 high school students across the United States "doesn't bode well for the future when these youngsters become the next generation's politicians and parents, cops and corporate executives, and journalists and generals," the non-profit Josephson Institute said.

As if the current crop isn't bad enough!

Blogger Cheryl, who sent me the study points out this troubling statistic from the study:

The end of the article tells the rest of the story: Some 93 percent of students indicated satisfaction with their own character and ethics, with 77 percent saying that "when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."

Perhaps the kids are telling the truth. The other people they know may be even more sleazy than they are themselves. But is it okay just to be better than the other sleaze balls you're hanging around with?

The other article about teen depravity is from the Smoking Gun blog entitled, "Teens Charged In Nursing Home Abuse." It seems that a group of teen girls spat on, spanked and humiliated infirm elderly according to cops:

A group of teenagers working at a Minnesota nursing home abused and sexually humiliated elderly residents suffering from Alzheimer's disease and dementia, prosecutors allege. The six young female caregivers were named yesterday in criminal complaints charging them with a variety of cruel behavior at the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Albert Lea, a city in southern Minnesota.

The first article stated that boys were more likely to steal or lie according to a survey but my guess is, they are more willing to admit antisocial behavior and girls are more likely to hide any type of antisocial behavior. Girls, like the ones mentioned above however, are turning to more unethical and troubling behaviors, just like the boys.

Here is my two cents. Unethical behavior is often overlooked in our society today--there are few consequences for acts of lying, cheating or even stealing. I have worked with teens who got away with all three until finally, they comitted some atrocious act that no one could overlook. And what should we expect when we do not hold certain people and groups accountable when they mess up? If one lies to the public, they can go on to earn six figure speaking gigs rather than suffer for it. If companies fail, they are bailed out by our government. The public is enthralled with aberrant behavior as evidenced by the fascination with shows that portray the bad guy as the hero and the good guy? He's now a chump. With ethics like these, what can we really expect from our kids?

Give this, not that

I started to write a political post this morning but I decided to take a break and post about something more cheerful--holiday gifts. With Hanukkah and Christmas around the corner, many of us are trying to find uplifting books as gifts for those who are going through trying times. Here are my suggestions for a few of those types:

If you want something for a family member or friend who is expecting a child or has a young child, I recommend the book, The Optimistic Child by Martin Seligmen (my review is here). The book is upbeat and very helpful for new or parents of young children. I don't suggest books such as Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child : Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries for holiday gifts as this might send the message to the parent that they have a problem with the kids, which, of course, they might, but it is not the best idea to let them know this at Christmas. Suggest this excellent book, instead, if you are asked for advice at a later time. Sure, your family member's kids might be driving you bananas with their crummy behavior during the holidays, but it would be best not to rub it in the parent's faces at Christmas but wait until a more opportune moment.

Ditto giving a book such as Albert Ellis's How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything: Yes, Anything for a holiday gift to a depressed friend, it might send the signal that you think they are miserable, which, again, you might, but it would be better to give such a book if sought for advice, not as a gift. Perhaps a more appropriate title would be Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. The title sounds more upbeat and does not include the word miserable in the title, suggesting that is what you think they are.

Finally, for a friend going through a divorce or break--up do not hand them a copy of He's Just Not That Into You: Your Daily Wake-Up Call but rather, give them a more suitable title such as Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. It shows you believe they can be happy again.

Remember, titles mean a lot when giving a gift of a book. Make sure the gift comes across as an act of caring rather than one of criticism. If you have other suggestions for uplifting books that would be good gifts for those who are going through trying times at the holidays, share your selections in the comment section.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Is Googling good for the brain?

A new study thinks it may be (via Newsalert):

Can Googling delay the onset of dementia?

A new UCLA study, part of the growing research into the effects of technology on the brain, shows that searching the Internet may keep older brains agile - it's like taking your brain for a walk.

It's too early to conclude that technology will help vanquish Alzheimer's disease, but "our study shows that when your brain is on Google, your neural circuitry changes extensively," said psychiatrist Gary Small, director of UCLA's Memory & Aging Research Center....

The MRI results showed that both text reading and Internet searching stimulated the regions of the brain controlling language, reading, memory and vision. But the Internet search lit up more areas of the brain, additionally activating the regions controlling complex reasoning and decision making. The increased brain activity, which is probably due to the many rapid choices such searches involve, suggests that subjects had a richer sensory experience and heightened attention.

We hear so much bad press about the internet, it's nice to hear something positive. However, I must say, in my experience, the more time I spend on the internet, the more adept I get at it, but the less adept I get at other parts of my life. Mainly, because I am thinking about something I read or thinking about something I want to read or find and I don't focus on what I am doing in my non-virtual life. In other words, my memory seems fine on the internet but off of it, I notice I misplace things, can't remember what I was doing, or have a harder time focusing on non-computer-related tasks.

What do you think, does your internet time help or hurt your memory?