October 24, 2014

Give ‘em the razor; sell ‘em the blades


hp no5

Freebie marketing, also known as the ‘razor and blades’ business model, is a business model wherein one item is sold at a low price (or given away for free) in order to increase sales of a complementary good, such as supplies. For example, inkjet printers require ink cartridges, ‘Swiffers’ require cloths and cleaning fluid, mobile phones require service contracts, and game consoles require accessories and software. It is distinct from a loss leader (an inexpensive product sold at a loss to stimulate sales of more profitable ones) and free sample marketing, which do not depend on complementarity of products or services.

Although the concept and its proverbial example ‘Give ‘em the razor; sell ‘em the blades’ are widely credited to King Camp Gillette, the inventor of the disposable safety razor, he did not originate this model. The usual story about Gillette is that he realized that a disposable blade would not only be convenient, but also generate a continuous revenue stream. To foster that stream, he sold razors at an artificially low price to create the market for the blades. However, Gillette razors were expensive when they were first introduced, and the price only went down after his 1901 patent expired: it was his competitors who invented the razors-and-blades model.

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October 23, 2014

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch


‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’ (TANSTAAFL) is a popular adage communicating the idea that it is impossible to get something for nothing. The phrase dates to the 1930s and 1940s, but its first appearance is unknown. The ‘free lunch’ in the saying refers to the nineteenth-century practice in American bars of offering a ‘free lunch’ in order to entice drinking customers.

The phrase and the acronym are central to Robert Heinlein’s 1966 science-fiction novel ‘The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,’ about the revolt of a lunar colony and the installation of a libertarian regime. Free-market economist Milton Friedman used it as the title of a 1975 book, and it is often mentioned in economics literature to describe opportunity cost (the value of the next best thing you give up whenever you make a decision). Macroeconomist Campbell McConnell writes that the idea is ‘at the core of economics.’ Continue reading

October 22, 2014


kony 2012

ice bucket challenge

Slacktivism (‘slacker activism’) is a sometimes pejorative term that describes ‘feel-good’ measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from having contributed. The underlying assumption being promoted by the term is that these low cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research.

Proponents argue that slacktivism plays a significant role in repressive and authoritarian regimes. Journalist Courtney C. Radsch argues that low level engagement was an important form of activism for Arab youth during the Arab Spring because it was an outlet for free speech and sparked mainstream media coverage. She contends that when a hashtag becomes ‘a trending topic [it] helps generate media attention, even as it helps organize information. The power of social media to help shape the international news agenda is one of the ways in which they subvert state authority and power.’ Continue reading

October 21, 2014

Zeigarnik Effect

Zeigarnik recall

Bluma Zeigarnik (1901 – 1988) was a Soviet psychologist and psychiatrist who discovered the Zeigarnik [zy-gar-nikeffect, which states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. She first studied the phenomenon after her professor, Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin, noticed that a waiter had better recollections of still unpaid orders. However, after the completion of the task – after everyone had paid – he was unable to remember any more details of the orders.

The advantage of remembrance can be explained by looking at Lewin’s field theory (a framework which examines patterns of interaction between the individual and the total field, or environment): a task that has already been started establishes a task-specific tension, which improves cognitive accessibility of the relevant contents. Task completion alleviates the tension. In case of task interruption the reduction of tension is impeded. Through continuous tension the content is easier accessible and it can be easily remembered. Continue reading

October 20, 2014

Behavioral Immune System

rachel herz

The behavioral immune system is a phrase coined by psychologist Mark Schaller of the University of British Columbia to refer to a suite of psychological mechanisms that allow individual organisms to detect the potential presence of disease-causing parasites in their immediate environment, and to engage in behaviors that prevent contact with those objects and individuals (or remediate their effects).

These mechanisms include sensory processes through which cues connoting the presence of parasitic infections are perceived (e.g., the smell of a foul odor, the sight of pox or pustules), as well as stimulus–response systems through which these sensory cues trigger a cascade of aversive affective, cognitive, and behavioral reactions (e.g., arousal of disgust, automatic activation of cognitions that connote the threat of disease, behavioral avoidance). Continue reading

October 19, 2014

Jordan Peterson

maps of meaning

Jordan B. Peterson is a tenured research and clinical PhD psychologist at the University of Toronto. He frequently appears on TVO (an Ontario television network) to speak about his research interests including, self-deception, mythology, religion, narrative, neuroscience, personality, deception, creativity, intelligence and motivation. In student surveys his courses are regularly described as ‘life-changing.’

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October 16, 2014


the odd couple

In fiction, a foil is a character who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight particular qualities in their counterpart (the term derives from the practice of backing gems with foil to increase their brilliance). In some cases, a subplot can be used as a foil to the main plot, particularly in metafiction (‘breaking the fourth wall’) and the ‘story within a story’ motif. A foil often differs drastically from the lead character, but can also be extremely similar, with only a key difference setting them apart. Foils generally serve one or more of three broad functions: contrast (‘this is different than X’), exclusion (‘this is not X’), or blame (‘X did this’).

In ‘Frankenstein,’ by Mary Shelley, the two main characters of Dr. Frankenstein and his ‘Adam of your Labors,’ his ‘creature,’ his ‘wretch,’ are both together literary foils. Both are hungry for knowledge, but whereas the doctor is selfish and arrogant, the monster is compassionate and gentle. In ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ Mary’s absorption in her studies places her as a foil to her sister Lydia Bennet’s lively and distracted nature. Similarly, in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar,’ the naive Brutus has foils in Cassius and Mark Antony, who are ambitious and experienced politicians.

October 6, 2014


Sancho Panza by Antonio Saura

A sidekick is a close companion who is generally regarded as subordinate to the one he accompanies. Some well-known fictional sidekicks include Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza, Sherlock Holmes’ Doctor Watson, The Lone Ranger’s Tonto, and Batman’s Robin.

The origin of the term is unknown. It was originally ‘side kicker’ (as seen in the short stories of American writer O Henry), having grown from the 1850s term ‘side partner.’ Contrary to popular folk etymology, it is unrelated to the early-20th century British pickpocket slang ‘kick,’ referring to a trouser pocket. One of the earliest recorded sidekicks may be Enkidu, who adopted a sidekick role to Gilgamesh after they became allies in the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ (an epic poem from Mesopotamia). Other early examples include Achilles’ Patroclus from the ‘Iliad,’ and Moses’ Aaron from the Bible. Continue reading

October 3, 2014

Comic Relief


Comic relief is the inclusion of a humorous character, scene, or witty dialogue in an otherwise serious work, often to relieve tension. It is a narrative technique that momentarily alleviates the stressful emotions and angst building up in a dramatic story. Comic relief often takes the form of a bumbling, wisecracking sidekick of the hero or villain in a work of fiction. The secondary character will often remark on the absurdity of the hero’s situation and make comments that would be inappropriate for a character who is to be taken seriously. Other characters may use comic relief as a means to irritate others or keep themselves confident.

Comic relief can also occur during dramatic moments in comedies. Greek tragedy does not allow any comic relief. Even the Elizabethan critic Sidney following Horace’s ‘Ars Poetic’ pleaded for the exclusion of comic elements from a tragic drama. But in Renaissance England, Marlowe among the University Wits (a group of late-16th-century English playwrights and pamphleteers who were educated at Oxford or Cambridge) introduced comic relief through the presentation of crude scenes in ‘Doctor Faustus’ following the native tradition of Interlude which was usually introduced between two tragic plays. In fact, in the classical tradition the mingling of the tragic and the comic was not allowed.

October 2, 2014

Jar Jar Binks

The People vs George Lucas

Jar Jar Binks is a fictional character from the Star Wars saga created by George Lucas for his prequel trilogy. He was the first lead computer generated character of the franchise, he was portrayed by Ahmed Best in most of his appearances. Jar Jar’s primary role in ‘Episode I’ was to provide comic relief for the audience, and was generally met with extremely negative comments from both critics and viewers. He is often acknowledged as one of the worst and most hated characters of all time.

Joe Morgenstern of ‘The Wall Street Journal’ described him as a ‘Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit on platform hoofs, crossed annoyingly with Butterfly McQueen.’ Race theorist Patricia J. Williams suggested that many aspects of Jar Jar’s character are reminiscent of blackface minstrelsy, while others have suggested the character is a ‘laid-back clown character’ representing a black Caribbean stereotype. George Lucas has denied any racist implications. Ahmed Best also rejected the allegations, saying that ‘Jar Jar has nothing to do with the Caribbean.’ Continue reading

October 1, 2014

Fan Edit

The Phantom Edit

A fan edit is a version of a film modified by a viewer, that removes, reorders, or adds material in order to create a new interpretation of the source material. This includes the removal of scenes or dialogue, replacement of audio and/or visual elements, and adding material from sources such as deleted scenes or even other films. The field was popularized by an individual calling himself the ‘Phantom Editor’ (later revealed as professional editor Mike J. Nichols). He removed elements from George Lucas’ ‘The Phantom Menace’ that he felt detracted from the film, and made minor changes in dialogue, languages, and subtitles to give the film’s villains a more menacing tone.

There were a total of 18 minutes cut from the original film, reducing the run time from 136 minutes to 118 minutes. The end result became known as ‘The Phantom Edit,’ which circulated Hollywood studios on VHS in 2000. It was the first unauthorized re-edit of a major film to receive publicity and acclaim and inspired dozens of other edits to surface on the internet. Lucasfilm, the production company of series creator George Lucas, condoned the edit, and did not pursue legal action against its distributors. Continue reading

September 30, 2014

Bayesian Probability

bayes by Shannon May

Bayesian [bey-zee-uhnprobability is the likelihood that something will happen based on all available evidence. The more commonly understood concept of frequency probability is the chance that something will happen based only on past occurrences. Rather than interpreting probability as merely the propensity of some phenomenon, Bayesian probability is a quantity assigned for the purpose of representing a state of knowledge, or a state of belief. This allows the application of probability to all sorts of propositions rather than just ones that come with a reference class (historical data).

‘Prior probability’ is information about a hypothesis known before the experiment is undertaken (e.g. a flipped coin has a 50% chance of landing on heads), information learned afterwards is called ‘Posterior probability’ (e.g. if a coin lands on heads many times in a row it is probably improperly weighted). The term ‘Bayesian’ refers to 18th century mathematician and theologian Thomas Bayes, who summarized the theory thusly: ‘The probability of any event is the ratio between the value at which an expectation depending on the happening of the event ought to be computed, and the value of the thing expected upon its happening.’ (i.e. Likelihood equals Prior probability over Posterior probability.) Continue reading

September 29, 2014

Under the Banner of Heaven

blood brothers

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith’ is a 2003 investigative nonfiction book by Jon Krakauer. It is a juxtaposition of two stories: the origin and evolution of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and a modern double murder committed in the name of God by brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who subscribed to a fundamentalist version of Mormonism.

The title is drawn from an 1880 address by John Taylor, the third president of the LDS Church, defending the practice of plural marriage: ‘God is greater than the United States, and when the Government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven against the Government. The United States says we cannot marry more than one wife. God says different…’ Continue reading

September 24, 2014

Flehmen Response

cat butt

horse flehman

The flehmen [fley-muhnresponse is a common animal behavior when investigating sites of particular interest (e.g. a male smelling female urine) characterized by curling back the top lips exposing the front teeth and gums, then inhaling and holding the posture for several seconds. The behavior may be performed over particular locations, in which case the animal may also lick the site of interest, or it may be performed with the neck stretched and head held high in the air.

Flehmen (German: ‘to bare the upper teeth’) is performed by a wide range of mammals including ungulates (hoofed animals) and felids (cats). The behavior facilitates the transfer of pheromones and other scents into the vomeronasal organ (pheromone detector) located above the roof of the mouth via a duct which exits just behind the front teeth of the animal. Continue reading

September 23, 2014

Ideomotor Phenomenon



The ideomotor [id-ee-uh-moh-tereffect is a psychological phenomenon wherein a subject makes motions unconsciously; for example, the body produces tears in response to powerful emotions without the person consciously deciding to cry. As in involuntary responses to pain, the body sometimes reacts reflexively to ideas alone without the person consciously deciding to take action.

The effects of automatic writing (an alleged psychic ability allowing a person to produce written words without consciously writing), dowsing (a type of divination employed in attempts to locate ground water without the use of scientific tools), facilitated communication (a process by which a person supports the hand or arm of a communicatively impaired individual while using a keyboard), and Ouija boards have been attributed to the phenomenon. Mystics have often attributed these effects to paranormal or supernatural force. Many subjects are unconvinced that their actions are originating solely from within themselves. Continue reading


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