Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Web Secret 564: The Culture Map

Vignette #1: At work, my 25 year old son is in charge of an international group of interns, most of whom are barely younger than him. He told me he had to give a stern lecture about business etiquette to his Korean interns who persisted in sending work emails festooned with emojis, many with obscure, untranslatable meaning.

Vignette #2: I am very direct when giving feedback - whether at work or with my children. Some attribute this to a lack of tact and considerable arrogance. It took me years to even learn that sometimes I need to pull my punches.

Today, I came across the work of Erin Meyer and all is explained. Erin is a professor at INSEAD, one of the leading international business schools. Her work focuses on how the world’s most successful managers navigate the complexities of cultural differences in a global environment. Erin has figured out how to explain the differences between countries through eight workplace behavioral scales.

To get a feel for Erin's work, enjoy this 30 minute presentation on The Culture Map.

So going back to vignette #2. Let me begin by saying that my formative years were spent in the French school system and living in Europe. Then let me add that one of Erin's scale is "Evaluating." This scale measures a preference for frank versus diplomatic criticism. The French, for example, are much (much!) more direct when it comes to negative feedback.

For the French, this approach starts as early as first grade, when even the most minor assignments are graded on a scale of 1 to 20. (PS: the score of 20 is rarely given, the French don't believe anyone is perfect.) In addition, everyone in the class is ranked in every subject versus his/her peers. This evaluation is underscored every trimester, when, at the end of the marking period, two levels of honor role distinction are given.

So that was my exposure to negative criticism. I'm used to it. I find it useful. But in the US that is not acceptable business practice. Negative feedback is best received when tempered with some positive words.

Erin, where were you when I became a supervisor in 1986?

I have no explanation for the emojis.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Web Secret 563: Oddly satisfying videos

A recent New York Times article "Finding What’s ‘Oddly Satisfying’ on the Internet" aims to describe a curious niche of videos that human beings find satisfying for as yet unexplained reasons.

As the author explains: "These videos are compilations of physical objects being manipulated in certain highly specific ways: melted, smoothed, extruded, carved, sliced, dissolved. Frosting piped fluidly over a layer cake. Molten glass slowly ballooning from the tip of a blowpipe. Crayon wax swirling in a factory vat, propelled by the rhythmic swoosh of a giant paddle."

A few examples below.

I hated the music in this one, and prefer to watch it muted.




This one provoked more revulsion than satisfaction:


Here is a compilation of objects being crushed in a hydraulic press. Loved it.


These kinds of videos typically have hundreds of thousands, nay, millions of views - which begs these questions:

What is the evolutionary reason for this commonality of satisfaction?

Is understanding why these videos are appealing trivial or important to understanding mankind?

Is the evoked satisfaction exclusive to 21st century humans?

There is no question that watching the icing video relaxes and puts me to sleep in a matter of minutes and it's a lot safer than popping an Ambien.

And I seem to have vivid, happy memories of extruding Play-Doh from my childhood.

Well guess what? There are many videos of grown ups "demonstrating" vintage and recent Play Doh kits. Here is one with over 8 million views:



It's a mystery.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Web Secret 562: Mix

One of the very first websites I blogged about way back in 2008 was StumbleUpon.

StumbleUpon discovered web sites based on my interests. The personalized recommendation engine learned what I liked, and brought me more.

It was easy. And FREE.

Today, having once again fallen into a blogging rut, I went to visit StumbleUpon only to find out that it has been gobbled up and transformed into a website called Mix

Much like its ancestor, Mix promises: "All your favorite things. All in one place. Mix learns what you love to show you even more."

After I fed it my interests in the web, nerd culture and gizmos, Mix showed me dozens of articles like:

Six artists who are shaping the future of AI

Top 10 free iPhone only apps that you will not find on Android

The five most worrying trends in artificial intelligence right now

Mix - I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Web Secret 561: Talking to Machines

I came across an article in Fast Company "Could talking to a bot help you feel better?". It provides a nice summary of the state of the art of chatbots, as well as their promise.

Not much about the peril.

Let me summarize:

One of the world’s first chatbots was a therapist. Built in 1964, the program, called ELIZA, was designed to mimic techniques from Rogerian psychotherapy where the therapist prompts the patient to examine their own thoughts and feelings.

ELIZA had no memory or understanding of the conversation. It merely searched for a keyword in the last sentence typed in by its interlocutor and calculated an answer using a rule associated with the keyword. Nevertheless, many users became convinced that ELIZA understood them.

ELIZA created the most remarkable illusion of having understood in the minds of many people who conversed with it.” Users would often demand to be permitted to converse with the system in private. This phenomenon became known as the ELIZA effect.

These days we’re surrounded by chatbots and voice analysis apps, a growing number of which are geared toward improving how we feel. Aimed at users who suffer from conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or simply from stress, chatbots claim to be able to identify the mood or condition of the user, and in many cases can also offer advice or suggest therapeutic exercises.

There is even a chatbot for substance use disorders.

As with ELIZA, many users had emotional interactions with this chatbot. They thanked it for its help. One participant struggling with domestic problems and opioid abuse even sent the bot photos of her vacation at Disneyland with her children. “Hey, I know you are not real but I just wanted to send these pictures of my family out at Disneyland having a great time,” the user told the bot. “I’m doing better now. Thank you.

For all of the supposed benefits of mental health and counseling bots, critics have questioned their safety and point to a lack of regulation. Others have wondered if a reliance on bots and screens might deprive people of the benefits of real-life communication and connection.

The concerns about connection coincide with a rise in loneliness. Recent research on the placebo effect suggests that the effect may actually be a biological response to an act of caring. A study explains that human beings “evolved in an environment which did not require them to distinguish between authentic and simulated relationships.” So when people interact with a non-human listener, they may feel as though they are dealing with a sentient being who cares about them.

At the end of the article, the author notes: "In a society where people seek constant validation via social media, yet feel chronically lonely, can non-human listeners ease our sense of isolation and the problems that result from it, or could these listeners become the ultimate “online only” friend, addressing our basic human need for connection and caring in a way that ultimately leaves us even more alone?"

Sobering.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Web Secret 560: Do Not Disturb

Countries around the world are banning bosses from texting and emailing workers after business hours and on weekends.

It's toxic.

Your relatives and friends need to be stopped from driving you crazy too.

Thank you Whitson Gordon for explaining how to configure the Do Not Disturb mode to let calls through from certain people, at certain times, or only in case of emergency.

iPhone users have a plethora of options for Do Not Disturb mode, ensuring that only the important stuff gets through. Head to Settings > Do Not Disturb to customize it. In particular, you’ll probably want to adjust the following options:

Scheduled: Turn this on, and set it to whenever you go to bed and wake up. Notifications will still appear on the lock screen; they just won’t make noise. If you’d prefer to hide them from the lock screen as well, turn the Bedtime switch on — that way, they’ll only appear when you drag down the Notification Center, rather than tempting you to answer emails at 10 p.m.

Allow Calls From: By default, your iPhone will silence all calls when Do Not Disturb is on. With this setting, though, you can allow calls from your Favorite contacts, like your spouse or parents. Also, consider turning on Repeated Calls, too, which will allow calls through if it’s an emergency and the same person calls twice within three minutes. (But watch out for spam callers who try to get around it by calling multiple times in a row.)

Those are the crucial ones.

Peace and quiet.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Web Secret 559: Reply all

I hate "reply all".

It appears few email users ever consider whether it makes sense for everyone to receive their thoughts.

In a recent New York Times article, writer David Pogue asked his readers "How to Handle the Dreaded ‘Reply All Moment’"

Here were some of their suggestions:

1. Resend a corrected version of the same message four times. The flood of identical emails may minimize the amount of attention attracted by the first one.

2. Resort to deception. Blame a computer virus or a young child.

3. Enlist someone you have good rapport with to Reply All to your Reply All, and say something funny to cut the tension.

4. In general, though, the wisest course seems to be quick action and a huge helping of humble pie. “You own it, make apologies, spend 48 hours in shame, and move on.”

Here's how to avoid the fiasco in the first place:

Enter the address last. Compose the email, and only then go back and enter the address(es). This technique requires extra steps, but it guarantees you’ll never accidentally Reply to All.

Give yourself an “Oh no!” window. In some email programs, you can set up a freakout delay. Your email will wait 60 seconds (or more) after you click Send, giving you a window in which to realize your gaffe and stop the message in its tracks. Other programs allow you to "unsend" the offending email.

Think, people, think.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Web Secret 558: The Cannabis Reporter

Like it or not, very soon medical and recreational cannabis will be the law of the land.

The Cannabis Reporter podcast aims to provide information about this complex world through interviews with experts, policy makers and other individuals shaping the future of cannabis culture.

Here is a sampling:

Navigating the Regulatory Rifts of Intercontinental Cannabis Banking & Commerce

Advantage Canada: How Legalization Will Help First Responders Access Cannabis for PTSD

A Higher Calling Down Under: Cannabis Research & Alzheimer’s

Why do I hope for a federal law legalizing medical and recreational cannabis?
  • The current legal situation is a mess - there are 50 states in the US and each of them has a different stance about legalization.
  • Many states have decriminalized possession of small amounts.
  • There is no standardization of product.
  • It is difficult to conduct large scale research on the positives and potential issues raised by cannabis use.
  • Chronic pain sufferers will tell you we have a dire need for alternatives to opiates and non steroidal inflammatory meds.
  • TSA security officers do not search for marijuana.
  • Good luck to corporations with work sites in different states with different cannabis regulations. What should be your policy when a terminally ill employee asks to use medical marijuana during a lunch break to manage nausea?
We need one federal law in this land so that we can regulate cannabis just as we have regulated alcohol and tobacco use.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Web Secret 557: Baron Fig

I don't exactly know what I was looking for on the Internet when this article popped up in my browser: "The 100 Best Pens, As Tested by Strategist Editors."

I'm not sure what was more exciting - that the testing was rigorous, that I knew about or had owned 99 of the 100 pens tested, or that the pen that came in first place was unknown to me. My husband thinks it is indicative of a disturbingly profound degree of nerdiness. No surprise there.

Anyway, the pen that came in first place was the Baron Fig Squire Roller Ball. It was judged best for smoothness, low smudging, lack of bleed-through, feel, and looks.

The Squire was first introduced during a highly successful 2016 Kickstarter campaign that I somehow missed.

My only problem is that I can never remember the name of this company.

I keep thinking it's Fig Newton.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Web Secret 556: meal subscription plans

True confession: I hate to cook.

I have been on a mission to find a meal delivery service that is delicious, has an easy interface and meets the nutritional needs of the three people in my household. In addition, since the only kitchen appliance I will operate is the microwave, all meals need to be zapable.

This is not as easy as it sounds.

Here are all the programs I tried and ultimately rejected:

Sakara, promised "Life-transforming, plant-rich super meals delivered to your door."
My review: This is the meal plan if you are 5 feet tall and weigh 90 lbs - the portions are tiny. Delicious but tiny. And expensive given their tininess.

Fresh N Lean promised "Healthy Meals Prepared & Delivered To You." My review: Their breakfast muffins were great, as were their almond snacks. But the meals were mediocre and tasted the same. Unless you try their a la carte option - way too expensive - you get no choice over what they send you. And their user interface as quite frankly, a pain in the ass, usually requiring a phone call. And they got it wrong anyway.

The Good Kitchen promised "fresh, fully prepared meals delivered."
My review: not enough vegetrian options. Just not that good, kitchen.

There was a paleo plan that was terrible.

And a vegetarian plan that only offered meals that looked like wet dog food.

Currently I am giving Freshly a try. They promise a "flexible subscription with chef-prepared recipes and ingredients that not only come fresh (not frozen), but are ready to eat within 2 minutes of opening — no prepping, cooking, or cleaning required."

I'll let you know...

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Web Secret 554: Bandersnatch

I remember the early "choose your own adventure" video games of the 1980s.

Laborious and slow, black and white and pixelated, it could take half an hour to move a primitive character down a black corridor. You answered questions like: "Does Igor go left or right" by typing in "R-I-G-H-T."

So how does 30 years of technological advances impact an early video game?

You get Bandersnatch, the first ever interactive film. Thank you, Netflix.

Set in the 1980s, Bandersnatch centers on Stefan, an ambitious video game developer. Inspired by his favorite childhood choose your own adventure novel, Bandersnatch, Stefan sets out to create an innovative text-based game where the player's choices influence how the story unfolds.

Every so often, as you watch the film, a text field appears and you have what feels like 15 seconds to make a decision. Does Stephen eat Frosties cereal or the other kind? Does he spill tea on his computer or does he run out of the room? Does he bury the dead body or chop it up? You click on your choice. And your decision gets played out.

Now here is what is truly amazing: the film never stops while you make your selection, and whatever you decide unfolds seamlessly. I was blown away by the sheer technology of it.

The movie typically runs for about 90 minutes, depending on the choices you make at the plot's branching points. Bandersnatch has more than 1 trillion possible permutations of its story, but the piece has "five main endings" that viewers can eventually end up with.

Play Bandersnatch and you are experiencing the future.

Right now.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Web Secret 553: Snopes

In this age of fake news, who tells the truth?

Snopes.com.

Snopes promises to be "...the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation."

Take this statement: "18 Migrant Children Died in Border Patrol Custody During the Obama Administration."

Snope says the following about it:

"What's True

A 2016 Human Rights Watch report analyzed ICE death reviews of 18 adults who passed away while under detention by U.S. immigration authorities at various facilities between 2012 and 2015.

What's False

We found no documentation supporting the claim that any migrant children, much less 18 of them, died while in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol during the administration of President Barack Obama.
"

This is followed by an extensive discussion on the origin of the statement and a series of references that support Snopes corrected version.

Not all the statements Snopes dissects are political. Some are nutty social media stories like:

Was a Man Hospitalized After His Apple Airpods Exploded in His Ear? Short answer: No.

Ingesting "a tablespoon" of fruit syrup every 15 minutes for an hour can help someone dealing with vomiting or diarrhea.. Short answer: Unproven.

Snopes is bipartisan:

Did a GoFundMe Campaign to Fund a Border Wall Raise Millions of Dollars Within a Few Days?. Short answer: Yes.

We all need Snopes.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Web Secret 552: A Great F*cking Bag

I don't know what this says about our civilization, but there are endless Kickstarter campaigns featuring bags, backpacks, luggage, and packing systems.

So it takes genius marketing to stand out from the crowd.

Hello, Använda. A Great F*cking Bag.

Anvanda's 2 and a half minute intro video is inspired, simultaneously making fun of the backpack invasion and differentiating themselves from other products with the inspired use of humor and profanity.

Their copy follows in sync with their video and is hilarious.

Study the whole thing.