february stumbles to an inglorius endramble

February 28, 2007

Whoo, what a day, Dow dropping, Cheney ducking, Iranians thought to be scoping out the Big Apple.... that last ones kind of spooky. Sees like any war in Iran might be brought home to us. Reminds me a bit of WW2 worries about German saboteurs.

Ramble of the Moement
One thing about travelling... it gives me time to read, and also tends to give me ideas to write about. Which might be a result of the reading, or me just turning into some kind of Andy Rooney like crank about travel, as per my earlier ranting about how irritating airlines can be. Who knows... maybe finally returning to a public transit commute (wow, since before I started journaling on kisrael instead of my Palm pilot) will encourage me to be a little more externally reflective.

Anyway, Mr. Ibis suggested Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" (a book that roughly lived up to its title in terms of how quickly I got through it. Grumblesmurf.) It was a neat book about the snap decisions we make, with lots of amazing anecdotes, like how the "Pepsi Challenge" gave Coke the terrible idea to make New Coke, not realizing that the sweeter first anonymous sip of Pepsi gave it an edge that wouldn't last for a whole can, and how this one researcher John Gottmann can watch a few minutes of couples arguing (in an odd bit of synchronicity, hypothetical couples in the book had the name of my Aunt and Uncle (page 19) and then my grandparents (page 60)) and reliably foretell the relationship future of the pair.

One interesting bit was how some "gamblers", asked to pick at whim from a red deck or a blue deck, the former stocked with big payouts but, in the long run, bigger losses, and the latter being the only sustainable-y good choice. According to various sweat sensors and the like, the subconscious started realizing the problem with red before behavior changed, and way before the person was able to talk about the difference. I had a similar situation with the video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andres". When you flip over to the map screen the game shows the player's position with an ornate "gang tattoo gothic arrow". I was kind of irritated that the game used an artsy icon rather than something simpler that could show which compass direction my player was facing. BUT... I realized that I was making a much than chance guess at which way I was heading. The ornate arrow was re-orienting itself to point the way, and my hindbrain knew it, but my conscious mind didn't! (This, of course, also points out the odd occasional rigidity of my otherwise tangental thinking; of course they wouldn't rotate a fancy arrow, games like this don't do a lot of rotation of 2D bitmaps, only 2- and 3-D polygons.)

So you start the book, and the opening stories make it sound as if it might be an optimistic "trust your instincts" kind of tome, but with a few exceptions (like students reliably able to gauge the effectiveness of a teacher after just seconds of video footage, and the thing with the cards) but then there's a cavalcade of counter examples, from the snap judgment of the Amadou Diallo slaying to the election of pretty boy Warren Harding. So the lessons I actually took from the book are: So it's not all that useful. Though it seems like that kind of relationship assessment test could be an enormous boon to humanity, though of course it would be devastating to couples who did poorly, with a 10-15% false negative rate. There's gotta be some money in that.

I think I should be less concerned about snap judgements about music, however. Listening to a few moments of an MP3 I've heard before should let me figure out how to categorize it.

So overall the book was interesting enough to be worthwhile, but I kind of wish it hasn't been 2 years and counting waiting for a paperback version.