Archive for June, 2014

June 30, 2014

Cassandra Complex

martha mitchell effect

cassandra and apollo

The Cassandra complex occurs when valid warnings or concerns are dismissed or disbelieved. The term originates in Greek mythology. Cassandra was a daughter of Priam, the King of Troy. Struck by her beauty, Apollo provided her with the gift of prophecy, but when Cassandra refused Apollo’s romantic advances, he placed a curse ensuring that nobody would believe her warnings. Cassandra was left with the knowledge of future events, but could neither alter these events nor convince others of the validity of her predictions.

The metaphor has been applied in a variety of contexts such as psychology, environmentalism, politics, science, cinema, the corporate world, and in philosophy, and has been in circulation since at least 1949 when French philosopher Gaston Bachelard coined the term to refer to a belief that things could be known in advance. The Cassandra metaphor is applied by some psychologists to individuals who experience physical and emotional suffering as a result of distressing personal perceptions, and who are disbelieved when they attempt to share the cause of their suffering with others, and they feel like they are being ignored.

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June 27, 2014

Megastructure

space elevator

rendezvous with rama

Megastructures are very large man made objects, ranging from ziggurats, to skyscrapers, to hypothetical, star-sized artificial constructs. One requirement of a megastructure is that it is self-supporting; other criteria such as rigidity or contiguousness are sometimes also applied (so large clusters of associated smaller structures may or may not qualify). Megastructures are the products of megascale engineering (building things larger than 1000 km, e.g. the Great Wall of China) or astroengineering (building in outer space, e.g. the International Space Station).

Most megastructure designs could not be constructed with today’s level of industrial technology. This makes their design examples of speculative (or exploratory) engineering. Those that could be constructed easily qualify as megaprojects (construction projects in the billion dollar range).

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June 26, 2014

Sedentary Lifestyle

couch potato

Computer addiction

A sedentary lifestyle is characterized by a lack of physical activity. A person who lives a sedentary lifestyle may colloquially be known as a ‘couch potato.’ It is commonly found in both the developed and developing world. Sedentary activities include sitting, reading, watching television, playing video games, and computer use for much of the day with little or no vigorous physical exercise. A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to many preventable causes of death. ‘Screen time’ is the amount of time a person spends watching a screen such as a television, computer monitor, or mobile device. Excessive screen time is linked to negative health consequences, such as insufficient blinking and tear flow.

The term couch potato was coined by a friend of underground comics artist Robert Armstrong in the 1970s; Armstrong featured a group of couch potatoes in a series of comics featuring sedentary characters and with Jack Mingo and Allan Dodge created a satirical organization that purported to watch television as a form of meditation. With two books and endless promotion through the 1980s, the ‘Couch Potatoes’ appeared in hundreds of newspapers, magazines and broadcasts, spreading its ‘turn on, tune in, veg out’ message, garnering 7,000 members, and popularizing the term.

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June 25, 2014

Reinventing the Wheel

square wheel

antipatterns

To reinvent the wheel is to duplicate a basic method that has already previously been created or optimized by others. The inspiration for this idiomatic metaphor lies in the fact that the wheel is the archetype of human ingenuity, both by virtue of the added power and flexibility it affords its users, and also in the ancient origins which allow it to underlie much, if not all, of modern technology. As it has already been invented, and is not considered to have any operational flaws, an attempt to reinvent it would be pointless and add no value to the object, diverting the investigator’s resources from possibly more worthy goals which his skills could advance more substantially.

‘Reinventing the wheel’ may itself be an ironic cliche—-it is not clear when the wheel itself was actually invented. The modern ‘invention’ of the wheel might actually be a ‘re-invention’ of an age-old invention. Additionally, many different wheels featuring enhancements on existing wheels (such as the many types of available tires) are regularly developed and marketed. The metaphor emphasizes understanding existing solutions, but not necessarily settling for them.

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June 24, 2014

Antipattern

peter principle

bikeshedding

Antipatterns are common practices that initially appear to be beneficial, but ultimately result in bad consequences that outweigh hoped-for advantages. The term, coined in 1995 by programmer Andrew Koenig, was inspired by a book, ‘Design Patterns,’ in which the authors highlighted a number of practices in software development that they considered to be highly reliable and effective.

The term was popularized three years later by the book ‘AntiPatterns,’ which extended its use beyond the field of software design and into general social interaction and may be used informally to refer to any commonly reinvented but bad solution to a problem. Examples include analysis paralysis (over-analyzing a situation while indefinitely delaying making a decision), cargo cult programming (the ritual inclusion of code that serves no real purpose), death march (pressing ahead on a project members feel is destined to fail), groupthink (a desire for harmony in the group results in an irrational decision-making outcome), and vendor lock-in (preventing customers from seeking alternatives).

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June 23, 2014

Wet Bias

the signal and the noise

loss aversion by carl richards

The term wet bias refers to weather forecasters deliberately reporting a higher probability of rain than their predictive models show. The Weather Channel has been empirically shown, and has also admitted, to having a wet bias in the case of low probability of precipitation (for instance, a 5% probability may be reported as a 20% probability) but not at higher probabilities (a 60% probability will likely be reported accurately). Blogger Dan Allan noted that the channel is also biased at the upper end (a probability of 90% or higher will be rounded up to 100%). Local weather stations have been shown to have a significantly greater wet bias, with some reporting a probability as low as 70% as a certainty.

In 2002, computer scientist Eric Floehr started analyzing historical weather prediction data on a website called ForecastWatch. He found that the commercial forecasts were biased and the National Weather Service forecasts weren’t. His findings, though known within the meteorology community for some time, was first popularized in Nate Silver’s 2012 book ‘The Signal and the Noise.’ According to Silver, the phenomenon is due to skewed incentives: if the correct low probability of precipitation is given, viewers may interpret the forecast as if there were no probability of rain, and then be upset if it does rain. Forecasters are compensating for the fact that people have greater loss aversion than they think they do (and are especially prone to miscalculate their cost-loss ratio when it is low). Silver quotes Dr. Rose of The Weather Channel as saying, ‘If the forecast was objective, if it has zero bias in precipitation, we are in trouble.’

June 21, 2014

The King of Comedy

the king of comedy

The King of Comedy is a 1983 American black comedy film starring Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis, and directed by Martin Scorsese. The subject of the movie is celebrity worship and the American media culture.

DeNiro plays Rupert Pupkin, a stage-door autograph hound and aspiring stand-up comedian whose ambition far exceeds his talent. After meeting Jerry Langford (Lewis), a successful comedian and talk show host, Rupert believes his ‘big break’ has finally come. He attempts to get a place on the show but is continually rebuffed by Langford’s staff and, finally, by Langford himself.

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June 18, 2014

Gamesmanship

diving

flopping

Gamesmanship is the use of dubious (although not technically illegal) methods to win or gain a serious advantage in a game or sport. It has been described as ‘Pushing the rules to the limit without getting caught, using whatever dubious methods possible to achieve the desired end.’ It may be inferred that the term derives from the idea of playing for the game (i.e., to win at any cost) as opposed to sportsmanship, which derives from the idea of playing for sport. The term originates from British author Stephen Potter’s humorous 1947 book, ‘The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship (or the Art of Winning Games without Actually Cheating).’

Potter cites the origin of gamesmanship to be a tennis match in which he and the philosopher C. E. M. Joad competed against two younger and fitter men who were outplaying them fairly comfortably. On returning a serve, Joad hit the ball straight into the back-netting twelve feet behind the back-line. While the opponents were preparing for the next serve, Joad ‘called across the net, in an even tone: ‘Kindly state clearly, please, whether the ball was in or out.’ Being young, polite university students, their opponents offered to replay the point, but Joad declined. Because they were young and polite, the slight suggestion by Joad that their etiquette and sportsmanship were in question was extremely off-putting, and distracted them for the rest of contest. Potter and Joad went on to win the match.

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June 17, 2014

Letter and Spirit of the Law

scalia

pound of flesh

The letter of the law versus the spirit of the law is an idiomatic antithesis (a common expression where two opposites are introduced for contrasting effect): When one obeys the letter of the law but not the spirit, one is obeying the literal interpretation of the words (the ‘letter’) of the law, but not the intent of those who wrote the law. Conversely, when one obeys the spirit of the law but not the letter, one is doing what the authors of the law intended, though not necessarily adhering to the literal wording.

‘Law’ originally referred to legislative statute, but in the idiom may refer to any kind of rule. Intentionally following the letter of the law but not the spirit may be accomplished through exploiting technicalities, loopholes, and ambiguous language.

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June 16, 2014

Tactical Ignoring

dont feed the trolls

Tactical ignoring, also known as planned ignoring, is a behavioral management strategy used in response to challenging behavior that seeks to receive attention or to gain a reaction from others. It is a commonly used strategy when the person displaying the attention seeking behavior would feel rewarded even by a negative response. An example of this is a cough or noise that is excessively loud in order to gain sympathy from work colleagues, loved ones, and friends, which is still seen as desirable attention by the person.

Tactical ignoring can be one element of a behavior management plan when there are a variety of challenging behaviors being addressed. As such, it is a method of responding to a behavior, complemented by a positive reinforcement schedule and skill development in learning a more appropriate method of seeking attention.

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June 13, 2014

Chronocentrism

francis fukuyama by david levine

Chronocentrism has been defined as ‘the egotism that one’s own generation is poised on the very cusp of history.’ The term had been used earlier in a study about attitudes to ageing in the workplace. Chronocentricity (‘only seeing the value of one’s own age cohort’) described the tendency for younger managers to hold negative perceptions of the abilities or other work-related competencies of older employees. This type of discrimination is a form of ageism.

Another usage is related to ethnocentrism (judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture). By comparison, chronocentrism is perceiving and judging a culture’s historical values in terms of contemporary standards. An example of this usage is racism. In times prior to the advances of the civil rights movement, racist views and public expression were much more acceptable than they are today. This results in a tendency to judge those then making such statements in a harsher light.

June 12, 2014

Bald–hairy

bald hairy by stephen wildish

Bald–hairy is a common Russian joke that there is, apparently, a strict rule applying to the country’s politics for the latest two centuries: a bald (or balding) state leader is succeeded by a non-bald (‘hairy’) one, and vice versa. Whilst this pattern is most likely a coincidence, it has held true since 1825 (with the exception of Georgy Malenkov, who was Premier of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1955), starting from Nicholas I. However, some videos of Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference showed that he was balding.

Nicholas I’s son Alexander II formed the first ‘bald–hairy’ pair of the sequence with his father. The current pair of Russian rulers are the balding Vladimir Putin and the hairy Dmitry Medvedev. Putin was the president from 2000 until 2008, Medvedev held the post until 2012, and Putin became president again in 2012.

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