Google Needs a -1

Did a search for “behavioral economics phd” and looked at a site that put some for-profit Master’s at the top of the list. Going through its “Perfect School Match”, it does not have behavioral economics PhD listed. The closest is applied economics at all for-profits. Lame. Useless.

Went back to the list and noticed the +1 icon. Staring at it for a couple seconds, I realized even if I +1’d a page I liked, my visit to this crappy site helped it. Some other better site got screwed from being helpful to me and others.

If +1s or visits help a site’s search engine optimization, then we need to be able to -1 or cancel our visit so malicious sites do not benefit. Or… Provide better information about a site so I do not visit it.

A -1 button is like a Dislike button for Facebook: very unlikely to happen.


From Crazy: 90 Percent of People Don’t Know How to Use CTRL+F:

This week, I talked with Dan Russell, a search anthropologist at Google, about the time he spends with random people studying how they search for stuff. One statistic blew my mind. 90 percent of people in their studies don’t know how to use CTRL/Command + F to find a word in a document or web page! I probably use that trick 20 times per day and yet the vast majority of people don’t use it at all.

This incredulousness people do not know how to use Ctrl+F sounds like availability bias. Just because you know how to do something, does not mean everyone or even very many do.

If electronic literacy classes are the solution, then the rate should be below 90% as those have been around since the 1980s. After 30 years, there should have been a dent. Unless keyboard shortcuts are not content taught in these classes as they are so 1980s. People came up with the mouse for a reason, right? Some get so used to the one way they learned how to do it, they do not learn more efficient ways as that takes time and effort and their way is “good enough”. Others are always looking for how to improve how they do things to get it done faster. A few minutes (aka hours) looking for a better way is worth it for something that will improve life.

When I watch people do things on the computer to help me, I pay attention as maybe I can use that in the future. Of course, I would rather be able to do anything I need done on the computer than rely on others to do things for me. More… casual… users may be content to be inefficient so more efficient people will just take over and do the task for them.

UPDATE: By the way, I commented on a friend’s inability to quickly get to the top of a web page without a floating button to go to the top of the page that she could use the Home key. She was pleased to have a new way of doing things. Maybe I should have looked up common keyboard shortcuts and given her the list?

Is Tiger Blinking?

Watching The Brain. In talking about Tiger Woods’ putt, they guess that he really has consciously removed all anxiety by entering “The Zone”. (Must be old.) The physical manifestation of this is supposed to be his lack of blinking.

Now that Tiger is not doing so well, does this mean he is blinking a lot when he misses his puts? Just a teeny bit tempted to watch him play just to verify. Okay, not really.

UPDATE: Brain Science Podcast on Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.

Tea Party = Demosthenes?

Ender Wiggin’s sister, Valentine plays the role of fictional Demosthenes online in several of the books by Orson Scott Card. She would play the role of an extremist to whip up the gullible Americans, while her power hungry psychopath brother Peter played the role of Locke would be the moderate.

In reading Ender in Exile, a speculative train of thoughts hit me. Successful politicians at the highest levels in this country are those who can take the center. Gingrich’s playing chicken with the government budget felt too extremist and solidified Clinton’s re-election. Gore and Kerry played too closely to the liberal base on Social Security, environment, and foreign relations ceding the center to Bush. McCain left the center to whip up the conservative base to give Obama the moderate position.

What would happen if a political party created a pseudo party to attack it and the real opponents from an extreme position, like the fictional Demosthenes? If the real party were distracted by the pseudo party, then the real party members appear more moderate and could take the center.

The fragments from page 31 in EiE which sparked this:

Demothenes was eloquent, but he always pushed a little too hard. Enough to energize the opposition, both inside and outside America. Discrediting his own side with every argument…. True believers in a cause often behaved in self-defeating ways because they expected others to see the rightness of their cause if they just sated it clearly enough.

Again, this was a speculative train of thought not based on any reality what-so-ever. I doubt any real political party has the acumen to pull this off in reality.

Soft Skill Sell

Student workers made up most of the IT work force when I was working at a university. The labor was cheap (no health or retirement benefits, $7-15 an hour) compared to hiring staff. For the grunt work, in my case making web pages and moving files, it was convenient. Sure training them was a hassle, but getting them up to speed was not terrible.

I cared more about selecting for the soft skills in an interview and preferred to teach the hard skills. As Maureen Downey quoted in A harder line on softer skills: If young people can master PhotoShop, can’t they figure out alarm clocks?:

She explains that while hard skills are the factual and technical talents that workers bring to their jobs, soft skills represent their ability to get along with colleagues, sell their ideas, get to work on time, problem solve and motivate others.

I needed them to establish and maintain positive relationships with the various departments whose web sites we maintained. They also needed to work well with each other as one might be asked to make an emergency change to a page while another was out. Being on time to a meeting with a department representative was important to keeping that person happy. I broke all of them calling me if they were going to be a minute late to the office. As long as they kept the clients happy I really did not care whether they were a few minutes or even hours late. (It was work I did not have to do.)

My management style probably introduced bad habits like the supposed soccer coaches rewarding kids for just showing up. I am doubtful this is all there is to it. As I recall, when I was in the position of being a student worker, the same complaints about us late Gen Xers. Going back even younger, I recall my grandmother complaining about student workers having the same complaints about early Gen Xers. My grandmother described her brothers at 18-22 as the same. This is not a brand new problem with Millennials. Identifying who will do a good job is the job of a manager. Get used to it.

The certificate of soft skills mentioned in the article sounds stupid:

A comprehensive career and college readiness bill passed this year by the General Assembly authorizes the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development to establish certification in soft skills such as punctuality, ability to learn, appropriate business attire and the ability to work as a team.

We really are wasting taxpayer money on this? I disagree this is common sense (these things must be taught). My parents did teach me much of these kinds of things.

GRE Cheating

Reuters had an interesting article on Chinese students gaming the GRE by setting up networks to share questions. Basically those who take the test post the questions online. Blogs and SEO ensures those seeking the questions can find them. Because ETS takes forever to ensure each question properly measures what it should, the questions are acquired faster than replaced.

Educational Testing Services places physical security on the tests to ensure the questions are not leaked by people acquiring copies of the test. Unfortunately, memorization of the questions is difficult to defeat this way.

Grade Point Average and tests like the GRE are common admission requirements to a graduate program. A high score becomes an obsession to students looking to attend their chosen program. The desperate seek any edge. Some people hire tutors or educational services who help learn how to take the tests. Bookstores carry study guides. Plenty of web sites offer advice.

The difference between legitimate assistance is the questions are not the real one. Studying the actual questions is crossing the line.

We see the same cheating behavior in other high stakes testing. The testing companies are have done such a great job making their tests the metric that a high score becomes so important people must have a good one. Therefore, defending the validity of the tests requires them to stay one step ahead of cheaters. Guess that is price of attaining the dream for a testing company.


Real Names

Google+ suspends accounts who supposedly violate their real name policy. Google+ then restores accounts of those mistakenly suspended. There are naturally advocates for those seeking to be online under a pseudonym. There do seem to be legitimate reasons to communicate online under a less than real name. Harassment by bullies, stalkers, criminals is just one. Employers are known to fire employees for expressing political opinions, photographs of Macs delivered to Microsoft, and other questionable online expressions. Which is easier? Operate online under a pseudonym or have a good lawyer? Female authors used to publish books under male names because publishers rejected the same manuscript. African-American and Hispanic sounding names on resumes are rejected when the identical one under a Caucasian name is extended an interview.

Then there is the question of brand identity. There were a few years when most people having conversations with me most days in a week knew me as something other than Ezra. Danah describes it nicely…

The thing about the tech crowd is that it has a long history of nicks and handles and pseudonyms. And this crowd got to define the early social norms of the site, rather than being socialized into the norms set up by trusting college students who had joined a site that they thought was college-only. This was not a recipe for “real name” norm setting. Quite the opposite. Worse for Google… Tech folks are VERY happy to speak LOUDLY when they’re pissed off. So while countless black and Latino folks have been using nicks all over Facebook (just like they did on MySpace btw), they never loudly challenged Facebook’s policy. There was more of a “live and let live” approach to this. Not so lucky for Google and its name-bending community.

Of course, there is another side where trolls (people who attack others online), bullies, spammers, and phishers abuse the system. Every web site struggles to deal with these issues. Too large a volume of negativity can kill off a social network. The exodus from Friendster and Myspace started when visitors saw more spam in the Inbox than legitimate messages than friends. Every social network has to figure out how to deal with misuse. Enforcement of aggressive policies are a legitimate strategy when just starting out the idea is not to screw up where the competitor you seek to replace is failing. With enough push back by users, Google+ will figure out what is and is not acceptable. Or… We will find somewhere else.

See! Simple.

TED Talk: How Algorithms Affect Shape Our World

60 Minutes said most stock trades are made by computers without human involvement designed by math wizards for pennies of profits per trade over billions of trades. Milliseconds become important to beating the competition (other computers) by being faster. Getting close to or in the stock exchange buildings has physical effects.

Of course, a bad algorithm or synergy of algorithms can crash the stock market. Getting to the point where no one really understands the system is pretty risky which is why people trade stocks, right?

Children of the Mind

Children of the Mind (Ender's Saga, #5)Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Plikt’s speech of Ender’s death reveals something about all of us.

That was Ender’s life, unpeeling onion of life. Only unlike most of us, he knew that there was no golden kernel inside. There were only the layers of illusion and misunderstanding. What mattered was to know all the errors, all the self-serving explanations, all the mistakes, all the twisted observations, and then, not to find, but to make a kernel of truth. To light a candle of truth where there was no truth to be found. That was Ender’s gift to us, to free us from the illusion that any one explanation will ever contain the final answer for all time, for all hearers. There is always, always more to learn.

We seek truth and find holding on to it like trying to grab water. Maybe it is not so much making truth as resonating with it.

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