Tue 20 Dec 2005
Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, is a fascinating paperback filled with contemplative studies and analyses of human behavior.
If you’ve ever wondered why you impulse buy at a supermarket, or why you allow the fast-taking car salesman work you over, you’ll appreciate the few hours needed to finish this book. I’ll share two episodes I found particularly interesting. The first is very apropos and timely.
It’s Christmas time and if you have children, they are no doubt influenced by the swarm of advertising all around them. Toy manufacturers and toy stores have come up with a clever scheme to boost sales of toys in January and February (traditionally slow months for them.) Here’s how the scam works, “They start prior to Christmas with attractive TV ads for certain special toys. The kids, naturally, want what they see and extract Christmas promises for these items from their parents. Now here’s where the genius of the companies’ plan comes in: They undersupply the stores with the toys they’ve gotten the parent’s to promise. Most parents find those things sold out and are forced to substitute other toys of equal value. The toy manufacturers, of course, make a point of supplying the stores with plenty of these substitutes. Then, after Christmas, the companies start running ads again for the other, special toys. That juices up the kids to want those toys more than ever. They go running to their parents whining, ‘You promised, you promised,’ and the adults go trudging off to the store to live up dutifully to their words.” (page 66) How cunning!
The second episode concerns a magic word. Can you guess what one word induces compliance more than any other? In an experiment by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer a bizarre truth was discovered. Here’s how the experiment ran: Langer asked a small favor of people waiting in line to use a library copying machine: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” Effectiveness? Ninety-four percent of people acquiesced to the request.
Langer tried another experiment. This time the question was only, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine.” The percentage of consent this time was only 60%.
Nothing particularly surprising here; people like having reasons for behavior. But Langer didn’t stop there. Here’s the final experiment run, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies.” This final trial was sneaky. People thought they were hearing a reason, but in fact, none was given. The result? Ninety-three percent agreed! The keyword “because” was spoken and that was enough to trigger an automatic compliance response rate. (page 4)
In conclusion, the book is choc full of bewildering studies that really get you thinking. In fact, I’ve used the because trick several times since I finished the book, each time with a successful result. Let me know how it works for you because I’d like to know.
Tue 20 Dec 2005
For a first time book author, Sara Bader has really outdone herself with Strange Red Cow (published by Clarkson Potter, 2005). Sara sifted through the last two hundred some years of American newspaper classified ads and compiled a delightful collection of the more interesting entries. Among them:
$50 REWARD.–STOLEN, ON WEDNESDAY (17TH) evening, between 9 and 10 o’clock, a curiously deformed Hen, without a beak, and head shaped somewhat like a monkey; highly valued as a curiousity. The above reward will be paid by returning the hen to No. 234 William streey, N.Y. — May 19, 1865, New York Herald
X.Z. IF YOU MUST HAVE A REASON why I refuse you, understand, then, that I cannot marry a man who wears soiled linen, has foul teeth and breath, and uses tobacco and whisky. Faugh! GENERRA — November 16, 1862, New York Sunday Mercury
MAY MINNIE–FAREWELL, CRUEL GIRL! If not drafted, I will go as a substitute. Your scorn is harder and more pitiless to me than any southern bullet could possibly be. John No. 1. — August 3, 1862, New York, Sunday Mercury
ROSE–IT IS USELESS–YOU ARE TOO LOVELY TO be trifled with. I am married. BENEDICT. — August 27, 1867, New York Herald
To the LADIES. ANY young lady, between the Age of Eighteen and Twenty-three, of middling Stature ; brown hair ; regular Features, and with a lively brisk Eye ; of good morals, and not tinetur’d with any Thing that may fully so distingushable a Form ; possessed of 3 or 400 l, entirely at her own Disposal, and where there will be no necessity of going throu’ the tiresome Task of addressing Parents or Guardians for their consent ; such an one, by leaving a Line directed for A. W. at the British Coffee House in Kingstreet, appointing where an interview may be had, will meet a Person who flatters himself that he shall not be thought disagreeable by any lady answering the above Description. N. B. Profound Secrecy will be observ’d. No triffling Answers will be regarded. –February 26, 1759, Boston Evening-Post
I could continue, but you’d lose the benefit of reading the book yourself, now wouldn’t you?
Mon 19 Dec 2005
On the rare occasion my television viewing happens to stray from the History Channel and land on MTV, I’ve come to expect to see very little of quality. I am accustomed to seeing heavily adorned rapstars surrounded by less-than-dressed libidinous women. The rapstars constantly yell about how much bling-bling they have and how good they are at rapping.
Imagine my surprise when I heard a rhythmic back-beat with lyrics that included “ratiocinate” followed by “recalcitrant” and “circumlocutions”. Something just wasn’t right. This was MTV afterall; polysyllabic is just not cool.
I’m not given to recreational narcotics (unlike our fictional friend Sherlock Homes), nor was I inebriated at the time (or any time for that matter). In generation X parlance, some wack cats had spun some dope phat licks. Remind me never to try speaking like that again.
In case I’ve not been clear, what I’m trying to say is that Blake Harrison and Alexander Rappaport just put out a CD called Flocabulary and MTV was letting them plug their music.
I’d like to jump on that promotion bandwagon. I like the concept of Flocabulary — mixing SAT level vocabulary with hiphop music and rhymes. I also like listening to their CD, which came in the mail earlier last week ($12.95). You can get a study guide too ($9.95).
So you should all go out and buy their CD, unless, of course, you already know what pellucid, protean, and physiognomy mean. But, I didn’t know, and I’m betting you don’t either.
Mon 19 Dec 2005
Clive Staples (“Jack”) Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, an epic masterpiece of the wartime adventures of two brothers and two sisters, is brought alive by the genius of the special effects masters over at Industrial Light and Magic.
The Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media film opened December 9th, but I just managed to see it yesterday. In a sentence, I loved it.
Without a doubt, the cinematography was stunning — and the CG animation amazing (Aslan, the lion, was as near to life as I’ve ever seen in CG). But CG alone doesn’t make a movie; I saw Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong on Friday and though some scenes were spectacular (for example, the dinosaur stampede), I wasn’t horribly impressed with the movie as a whole. Maybe my low rating of Kong derives from the movie’s length; the movie is wicked long; good thing I had my 72 hour kit or I would have perished. In fact, people are still finishing up the movie who went in on Dec 9th. Note to filmmakers: if you can’t cut it down to two hours, break your freaking movie into MULTIPLE films. [Stepping off my soap box. End of rant.]
Ok, back to Clive’s story. We have the Pevensie children, namely: Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan. Peter is the oldest and functions as a patriarch figure over the others (although he is somewhat harsh with Edmund). Lucy is the youngest and is the first to discover the wardrobe. She represents the innocent part of humanity. Susan is the calmest of them all and is a peacemaker. Edmund is the darker one of the family and is tempted by the White Witch through his physical appetites (food (Turkish Delight) and power (to have his brother as a servant)). Together the four children (sons of Adam and daughters of Eve) stand for all of us, and also, in particular, the different parts of each individual.
The White Witch. White is a good camouflage for her evil core. The twisted motif here is that of a classic antagonist with a facade of righteousness.
Are you surprised I used the word “righteousness?” The story is quite clearly a Christian allegory. In fact, it’s more than that, it’s also a parade of central Mormon doctrine. I don’t know how “Brother” CS Lewis did it, but he’s right on the money. Let’s explore:
The children are on a journey in Narnia. Edmund is a traitor (he goes to the Witch and gives her information about his family) and therefore, according to the rules of Narnia, his life belongs to the White Witch (as a sinner’s life is forfeit to Satan without the intervention of God). Fortunately for Edmund, Aslan, the powerful lion king sacrifices his life to save Edmund (and all others similarly situated). Aslan not only voluntarily gives up his life without fighting, but subjects himself to ridicule and humiliation (for instance, they shave his mane) in the process. The New Testament records similar actions by Jesus Christ who also gave his life in an ignominious fashion to save mankind. Along the children’s way, they are given protective armor (the armor of God) and are lead into a battle against the forces of darkness. Goodness prevails and the children reign as kings and queens forever.
Did you notice that the White Witch can’t kill anyone, she merely freezes them? The breath of God brings them back to life (or, in the movie, thaws them). In a similar vein, the bible talks of death as only a temporary state. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55 KJV)
There are lots of unfamiliar creatures in the movie, here are a few:
- Satyr: (Greek Mythology) — A creature with pointed ears, legs, and short horns of a goat
- Centaur: — A beast with the trunk of a man and the body and legs of a horse.
- Faun: (Roman Mythology) — A creature having the body of a man and the horns, ears, tail, and sometimes legs of a goat
- Minotaur: (Greek mythology) — A being with the head of a bull and the body of a man
- Griffon: A fabulous beast with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion.
On a linguistic note, we don’t use the word wardrobe to refer to something that contains clothes anymore (the term has now come to mean the collection of clothes themselves, e.g. “I am going to choose an outfit from my wardrobe”. Some people have taken, instead, to using the French “armoire,” which reminds me of “chest of drawers,” which I used to think was “chester drawers” — but that’s another matter.
What I’m trying to say is that the Chronicles of Narnia is a very good movie.
Thu 15 Dec 2005
It’s no secret that I’m a little nerdy. Here’s an example. I teach the Gospel Doctrine class in my LDS ward (if you are Catholic, think “parish”). Recently, I was teaching on the apostle Paul’s preaching concerning the Armor of God (KJV Ephesians 6:10-18)
Now, a normal teacher would have drawn the armor on a chalkboard, or maybe shown a picture of armor. I had to go out and acquire a full suit of Spanish-artesian-made roman armor and bring it into church. Yeah, I know that’s weird. It’s also kind of cool. Welcome to my world.
My nerdiness probably stems from my background in computers and doesn’t stop at swords and shields and spears. I like building cool things with electronics (robots, etc.).
One of my new nerd pals over at the PLUG (Provo Linux Users Group) is Jason Holt. Jason is a PhD candidate at BYU in computer science. He created a cool microcontroller experimentation board called, fittingly, the Gadgetboard. I just got one of his gadgetboards and I will keep y’all posted on all the cool stuff I find to do with it. For the non-technical out there, basically, the board allows you to use your computer to control things; you might flash a light or control the speed of a motor. I can tell you’all are bubbling over with excitement. Stay tuned for Gadgetboard updates!
Wed 14 Dec 2005
Now you can find out: it’s a cool reverse dictionary; you describe the word and One Look returns the word. Very nice. (Thanks, CBB for the link)
Tue 13 Dec 2005
Are you Mormon and do you like temples? Well, I thought it would be pretty cool to map out the world’s LDS temples with a Google Map. I wrote a script to transcode temple addresses I scraped from an LDS temple site and obtain the latitudes and longitudes. My script created a nifty LDS temple XML file which is read by the first of my maps, the LDS Temples in the United States map
the temple page might not work well in Internet Explorer. Get Firefox
Several (Spig, GK, etc.) have noticed that the google map is missing a few temples. 9 to be exact. Remember I wrote a script to get this information. The site I got the temple info from has several incorrect addresses. Don’t worry I’ll add the missing temples by hand next time I get a sec.
Fri 9 Dec 2005
Food cravings. I’m told women get them. Pregnant women apparently really get them(1). FYI, fewer men report having uncontrollable desires for particular food (67% of men vs. 97% of women).
Can you name the top three foods craved by women and the top three craved by men? (src: KMB)
- Ice Cream
- Red Meat
WAIT! Did someone slip bread in there by accident? Nope. I’ve verified with a dozen women. Turns out bread is huge for the ladies. That explains why bready restaurants like Kneaders always overflow with females. Now you know. Oh, and the one about guys liking potatoes is right on the money. I love potatoes. Can’t get enough. Baked, mashed, whipped, boiled, fried, frenched or made into tots (mexi-fries) — I love them all.
(1) Some pregnant women develop food cravings and crave unusual things including: watermelon, cheese, pickles, coal, ice, chocolate dipped in mustard, dirt, clay, dust and chalk. I’m told this condition is known as pica.
Tue 6 Dec 2005
It’s no secret that I was excited when the federal assault rifle ban expired September 10th of this year. The ban was ironically laughable because, in fact, it didn’t prohibit the sell of assault rifles. As I understand, it merely restricted the selling of a rifle with more than a few assault rifle features* MANUFACTURED after the ban went into effect. During the ten year reign, it was always possible to purchase pre-ban assault rifles. Silly.
So now it’s gone and I’m not alone in my desire to collect a few cool firearms. My favorites? The M-16 (or AR-15), the AK-47 and the Uzi. Now, if only I had a few thousand dollars to spare…
Did you know that you can shoot automatic weapons at Utah’s shooting ranges? Well, I have it on very good authority that you can. Remember, the family that shoots together, stays together!
I am aware that two such ranges exist here in Utah:
One (from our favorite Dell Schanze, of Totally Awesome fame):
Totally Awesome Guns
4075 West 4715 South
Salt Lake City Utah, 84118
and the other, down in Springville:
Range Masters of Utah, L.C.
Spring Creek Industrial Park
712 W. 1300 N.
Springville, Utah 84663
Final note — I am told that it is possible to apply for and obtain an automatic firearm permit. That’s crazy. If you thought a concealed weapons (pistol) permit was bad, the image of machine gun toting denizens should blow your mind. Don’t worry, as the NRA reminds us, “if we outlaw weapons, only outlaws will have weapons” and “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Whatever. What remains is that I’d really like to have a 9mm AR-15 for Christmas.
* assault rifle features include: pistol grip, flash suppressor, bayonet mount, large capacity magazine, etc.