Subtitles and transcripts of podcasts

Subtitles and transcripts are available for some podcasts linked to this blog, for example for all videos on ted.com. Under the video, select Subtitles available in, and to the right of the video, select Open interactive transcript.
For Russian readers / Для русскоязычных читателей: Для некоторых подкастов, описанных в блоге, например, для подкастов на сайте ted.com, есть субтитры и записи текстов. Под видео выберите Subtitles available in Russian, а справа от видео выберите Open interactive transcript.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Firefox: simplify moving between computers, tabbed browsing, and bookmarking

I use Mozilla Firefox for most of my web browsing needs on Windows or Linux. I prefer Firefox because it works on most platforms, it is fast and it rarely crashes. It also has an important advantage over other browsers: an amazing number of free extensions that allow one to automate, speed up and simplify many common tasks. Here are some of my favorite Firefox extensions and features.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Stuart Diamond: Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals in the Real World

Leading@Google: Stuart Diamond - YouTube (video, 1 hr)
Stuart Diamond is a Professor at Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, a master negotiator and the author of Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals in the Real World. In this talk at Google, Stuart Diamond describes some of the techniques he uses for negotiations:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Five Traits of Innovative Companies

Five Traits of Innovative Companies (audio, 13 min)
Rajesh Chandy, Professor of Marketing at the London School of Economics, discusses his research on what makes a company innovative. Here are the traits shared by most innovative companies:
René Magritte
"The Son of Man"
(one of my favorite innovative painters)
  1. Management is more future focused. This is the most important factor in driving innovation. Chandy and colleagues measured this by simply asking managers questions such as what percent of the time they tend to focus on the future vs. current customers and competitors. In other research, Chandy and colleagues used a different metric: proportion of future-oriented words such as "will", "shall", "may", etc in annual reports, board meeting notes, and related materials. These metrics agree with each other. Being focused on the future may sound simple, but it is not easy. CEOs on average spend only 5% of the time focused on the future needs of the company, with the rest of the time spent on putting out current fires, ribbon cutting, etc.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A.J. Jacobs: The Year of Living Biblically

This is my most favorite podcast of all times. It packs into a short space a few great ideas that influenced me over the past few years, and continue to do so, often on a daily basis. You may recall the highly original experimenter, writer and journalist A.J. Jacobs, who was featured in this blog before. In this talk, he tells a story of an experiment in which he tried for a year to live as closely as possible to the literal interpretation of the Biblical laws.  As a true scientist, A.J. Jacobs dove into the experiment with enthusiasm but without preconceived notions. Here are a few gems I found in this "rediscovery of the Bible". 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Kevin Slavin: How algorithms shape our world

Kevin Slavin: How algorithms shape our world | Video on TED.com (video, 15 min)
In this beautifully written and delivered talk, computer game development company CEO Kevin Slavin tells an engrossing story about how algorithms affect our physical reality and minds. Surprisingly, we do not understand those algorithms well. We have written things that have big effects on us, yet we cannot read what we have written. Some of the highlights of the talk:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bill Davenhall: Your health depends on where you live


Bill Davenhall: Your health depends on where you live | Video on TED.com  (video, 9 min). Bill Davenhall, an expert in geo-demographic models, suggests practical ways to improve diagnostic and preventive medicine by combining the existing data on disease rates and environmental hazards by geographic area and our own location data into the electronic health records.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Do you know why I stopped you? I am meeting my ticket quota!

The podcast Right to Remain Silent on This American Life (audio, story starts at 17 min of the 45 min podcast, see the transcript here), tells a story one would not normally expect happening in the United States. In NYPD precinct 81, in Brooklyn (Bedford-Stuyvesant), police officers were getting orders from their superiors to issue a certain number of tickets per day, and to essentially kidnap people off the streets.  Police officer Adrian Schoolcraft disobeyed these illegal orders, secretly recorded them on a tape recorder, and was gradually forced out of the department on false pretenses that he was psychologically unfit. One day a SWAT team from his police department broke into his home, after which Schoolcraft promptly disappeared. With some difficulty, after a few days his family located Schoolcraft in the psychiatric ward of one of the hospitals.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The myths and realities of racial profiling

Over the years, I heard many claims about racial profiling in traffic stops by police. But how much of racial profiling actually exists now? As it turns out, racial profiling in traffic stops is either small or nonexistent at the level of police departments, although a very small proportion of individual officers do engage in profiling. It is also interesting how different statistical techniques can be used to come to very different conclusions in a highly charged political debate.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stephen Petranek counts down to Armageddon

Stephen Petranek counts down to Armageddon (video, 30 min). In this both serious and entertaining TED talk, the former editor-in-chief of Discover magazine discusses the 10 ways the world could end. I have been blissfully unaware of some of these scary scenarios before his talk. So if you have small children in front of your screens, better turn off the internet now, and keep it that way.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Michael Lewis on the financial crisis: Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, financially stable countries are all alike, every bankrupt country is bankrupt in its own way. Listen to this interesting podcast on NPR's Fresh Air How The Financial Crisis Created A 'New Third World' (audio, 39 min) by Michael Lewis, the author of Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, and learn how Greece, Ireland and Iceland recently got bankrupt (or nearly so), with a bonus chapter on fiscal mismanagement of his home state of California.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dan Buettner: How to live to be 100+

Would you like to live a long and happy life? If yes, you may like this engaging TED talk by Dan Buettner How to live to be 100+  (video, 20 min). In the Blue Zones study, National Geographic writer and explorer Dan Buettner and colleagues looked at several groups of people around the world that have unusually long life spans.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What Makes Gen Xers Tick?

In the Harvard Business Review podcast "What Makes Gen Xers Tick?", (audio, 17 min) book author and blogger Tammy Erickson argues that work motivation of Generation X (those born in 1960s-1970s) is quite different from that of the preceding Baby Boomers generation. Gen X'ers are much less motivated by promotions if these narrow their expertise, box them into more specialized corporate roles, and thus reduce their future choices of getting another job.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

In Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, (animated video, 11 min) from RSAnimate, Daniel Pink, the author of Drive and other popular books, describes some very unexpected results from the recent research on motivation. The old paradigm of higher pay for better performance works - but only for mechanical tasks. If the task requires even the most rudimentary level of cognitive skills (as do most jobs!), higher pay leads to worse performance.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Who's Really Writing States' Legislation?

Who but our elected officials would be writing our states' legislature? You may be surprised by the answer. It turns out that American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a low-profile joint organization of corporations and legislators, writes many of our model state legislative bills, according to NPR Fresh Air podcast How ALEC Shapes States' Legislation Behind The Scenes (audio, 32 min).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Errol Morris: Standard Operating Procedure

Standard Operating Procedure, directed by Errol Morris. (Film review)
This deep and gripping documentary film investigates the context of the infamous photographs taken at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003-2004 that show the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. It is an  important film about human nature under extreme conditions. The film is more about psychology than politics. Errol Morris does not try to assign blame to any one person or any specific group. He is answering questions such as: Why were these photographs taken at all? What was their context?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Case For Preschool

The Friday Podcast: The Case For Preschool : Planet Money : NPR
(audio, 21 min, with the relevant part starting from 3:30 min)
In this great podcast, James Heckman, a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and a Nobel Prize winner, tells about randomized controlled studies on the benefits of investing in free preschool for kids. For every $1 we spend for high quality preschool for a disadvantaged kid, we get back 7-10% average annual return, equivalent to $30-$300 over the kid's lifetime.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Terry Moore: How to tie your shoes

Terry Moore: How to tie your shoes | Video on TED.com (video, 3 min)
If you think that you know how to tie your shoe laces, you may be in for a big surprise!
Find out a better way to tie your shoes in this short video.
Here is the strong knot Terry Moore refers to in the video (picture of the reef knot from Ian's Shoelace Site):

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Esther Duflo: Social experiments to fight poverty

Esther Duflo: Social experiments to fight poverty | Video on TED.com (video, 17 min)
Esther Duflo, professor at MIT and the co-author of Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, argues powerfully for using scientific methods in public policy, an idea long overdue. Decision making in medicine changed from mostly guesswork in the past centuries, when the doctors used leeches to "cure" diseases, to more data driven methods, often based on randomized controlled trials, today. Amazingly, decision making in public policy is still stuck in pre-scientific stage full of opinions and angry rhetoric - in other words, in the "leeches" stage. Duflo suggests to add more science to decision making in public policy. She illustrates this on three examples from the poverty prevention in the developing world.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Frederick P. Brooks: The Mythical Man-Month

Frederick P. Brooks: The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition)
(book review)
PROS:
This classic book remains a must read for programmers and managers to this day. It was first published in 1975, with 4 great new chapters added in the 1995 second edition. The short book is chock-full of practical wisdom coming from a computer scientist and manager with a ton of experience. I read it twice, about 10 years ago and again recently, and noticed that with additional experience, the book appears to be more relevant (usually a good sign).

Friday, May 20, 2011

Jonathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives

Jonathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives | Video on TED.com
(video, 19 min)
A must see for anyone who ever had an argument about politics! In this eye-opening talk, Jon Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, shows the fundamental differences between the moral roots of liberals and conservatives. His simple model helps explain much of the variation between these two groups and understand the "other" side better.
Haidt and colleagues classify morality into 5 foundations:
* Harm/care - ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. This foundation underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
* Fairness/reciprocity - generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy.
* Ingoup/loyalty - underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one".
* Authority/respect - underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
* Purity/sanctity- underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).
Studies of tens of thousands of people from different cultures across the world showed that conservatives tend to have a "5-channel morality" (they value all 5 foundations almost equally) and liberals tend to have a "2-channel morality" (they value harm/care and fairness/reciprocity much higher than the other three foundations). One of the tests used in Haidt's research is here - you can find out how you score by taking this short quiz. The results of one of the studies (Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. A. (2009). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1029-1046) are shown in the figure above.
According to Haidt, the progress of civilization, and especially the evolution of social order, benefited from all five foundations. Haidt encourages us to be aware of these fundamental differences between us, and use this knowledge to understand (and value) the moral foundations of people on the other side of the ideological debate. Step out of the "moral matrix" - even if it's just for a moment.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Salman Khan: Let's use video to reinvent education

Salman Khan: Let's use video to reinvent education | Video on TED.com
(video, 20 min)
A reader of the previous post sent me this amazing link. The Khan Academy offers a glimpse into a significant part of the future of education. Salman Khan started uploading video tutorials on YouTube to teach his cousins math and science. The tutorials became so popular (53 million views by May 2011) that eventually Khan quit his job as a senior analyst at a hedge fund and started the Khan Academy. In addition to the tutorials, the site offers self-paced exercises.
Salman Khan and colleagues did a pilot study in 5th and 7th grade classes in Los Altos. They tested supplementing the math curriculum with video tutorials and web-based exercises, with promising results. These web-based methods do not replace traditional education. Instead they essentially automate repetitive work, such as one-size-fits-all explanations and problem solving in the classroom, leaving the teacher to do more creative work. The most valuable metric in the classroom is student-to-valuable-human-time-with-teacher ratio.
Additionally, these methods allow the students with very different learning speeds to pace their own learning. The tools in the pilot study also offer teachers deep insight into the exact mechanics of how students learn, with real-time graphical views of exactly how proficient each student is at each learning module.
The Khan Academy won a $2 million award from Google. And the inspiring talk at the TED conference ends with a standing ovation!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

How to improve math education

Something must be wrong with math education, because so many TEDsters have been rushing to save it! I found these 3 podcasts interesting and provocative.
Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover | Video on TED.com
(video, 16 min)
Dan Meyer, a high-school math teacher, suggests in this smart and funny podcast to improve math education by making math problems less cookie-cutter, requiring more thinking, and encouraging patient problem solving. Meyer compares most math and science problems in current textbooks to mindless sitcoms. In one example problem, the students are given 3 pieces of data, and all they have to do is to plug them into a formula. When was the last time you had a real world problem, in which you had no extra and no missing pieces of data?
In another example problem, Meyer shows an interesting question, which, when posed properly, can help develop in students the ability to think about point labels, grid measurements, and line slopes.

Instead, in the textbook version (pictured here), the problem is dumbed down from real life level to "plug into the formula" level, which makes thinking unnecessary. The workaround that Meyer uses is his daily practice is to rewrite the textbook problems to make them less helpful. In one example, he changed a textbook math problem ("how long does it take to fill a water tank?"). Meyer eliminated all the input data, all the "helpful" intermediate steps, and replaced the precise answer key with an imprecise real life measurement. The students had to figure out what input data they need to solve the problem, get through all the intermediate steps by patient thinking, and verify the answer by comparing it with imprecise (real world!) answer key.


Conrad Wolfram: Teaching kids real math with computers | Video on TED.com
(video, 20 min)
Conrad Wolfram proposes to improve math education by using computers correctly, namely to let computers do the calculations currently done by hand. He suggests to free up the vast time spent on manual calculations to do more creative tasks, such as learning to translate real life problems into the language of mathematics and to verify mathematical solutions in real life. Some manual computation is useful, for example performing mental arithmetic for making quick estimates. And if someone is interested in hand computation, by all means they should do that. But hand computation is a discipline that, due to ubiquity of computers, is almost in the same category now as Ancient Greek, and thus should not be forced upon most people.
Conrad Wolfram, strategic director of Wolfram Research and the brother of the creator of the Mathematica software Stephen Wolfram, stands to benefit financially from this New Kind of Math Education. But, financial conflict of interest aside, I think he makes a good point.


Arthur Benjamin's formula for changing math education | Video on TED.com
(video, 3 min)
Professor of math at Harvey Mudd College, a performer of astounding mental calculations and book author Arthur Benjamin suggests that the pinnacle of math education for all high school students should be probability and statistics, rather than calculus, as it is now. Very few people use calculus in their day to day lives. But a lot more people use (or can benefit from using) statistics. Obviously, this is not about banning calculus in high school (study it if that's what you want), but about a shift towards more sensible priorities for most people.

What do you think? Is the current math education "good enough"? What would you change?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ken Silverstein: Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship

HARPER's magazine's Ken Silverstein on foreign lobbying - Bill Moyers Journal, PBS: video, audio or transcript (video is optional, audio or transcript have most of the info).
This amazing podcast tells the story about two American lobbying firms competing to clean up the public image of a ruthless dictatorship. I found only the first interview (the first 26 min of the entire podcast) interesting.
Ken Silverstein is an investigative journalist and the author of the book Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship. Silverstein posed as a representative of a fictitious business group working for the country of Turkmenistan, and got two top Washington lobbying firms (APCO, and Cassidy and Associates - both well established companies) to propose a campaign to clean up Turkmenistan's image. Until one year prior to the publication of the story (Their men in Washington: Undercover with D.C.'s lobbyists for hire), the country was ruled by Saparmurat Niyazov, a notorious dictator. The self-declared “Turkmenbashi,” or “Leader of all Ethnic Turkmens,” Niyazov built monuments to himself (pictured on the right). Niyazov renamed the month of January after himself. Another month was named for his mother. Vodka and salt were named after the Turkmenbashi. Any opposition to the government was considered treason in Turkmenistan.
Amazingly, APCO said to Silverstein that, among other things, they would seek to arrange events highlighting Turkmenistan with leading U.S. think tanks, and recruit op-eds from academics. APCO would target organizations such as Heritage Foundation, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment. Did this make you wonder how many of these events and op-eds are spontaneous vs. paid for?
The readiness of the lobbying firms to clean up  Turkmenistan's image is not too surprising after one learns that one of the clients of Cassidy and Associates is Equatorial Guinea, which pays the lobbyists $2.4 million a year. Its President Obiang has been in power since he executed his uncle. For years Equatorial Guinea had been on PARADE Magazine's list of the 10 worst dictators. Some of the successes Cassidy and Associates boasted about were that Cassidy got them off the top 10 list (they became number 11 at some point). Cassidy also were able to arrange a meeting between President Obiang and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. APCO in the 1990s worked for the Sani Abacha dictatorship in Nigeria. This was at that time one of the world's worst regimes. APCO was working for them as they were preparing the execution of the nine pro-democracy activists that were hung in 1995.
The price tag for cleaning up the image of Turkmenistan? $600,000 to $1.5 million per year, depending on the lobbying firm you choose.
This is all pretty surreal, and does sound a bit like "Borat" - but it is true...
So what is the solution? According to Silverstein, I'm not accusing them of breaking the law. But they certainly break the spirit of the law. They talked to me repeatedly about how the disclosure requirements are so weak that you don't have to worry about any undue publicity. ... So that's the point. Tighten the law.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Julian Treasure: The 4 ways sound affects us

Julian Treasure: The 4 ways sound affects us | Video on TED.com (video, 6 min)
Julian Treasure offers a mindful view at the different sounds that surround us. Among the highlights:
People's productivity in noisy, open plan offices is 3-fold lower than in quiet rooms. 
You can counteract this by wearing headphones with a soothing sound.
Some sounds such as bird song or surf are almost universally relaxing or reassuring.
I tried this, and agree entirely. I also suggest the sounds of a stream, a river or rain. Try these alone or in combination with bird song. Non-invasive nature sounds usually work better then any music for counteracting the effects of noise. This is because even the most neutral music carries an emotional charge, which can be distracting. You can find such nature sounds on many albums, for example:
Echoes of Nature: Morning Songbirds
Echoes of Nature: The Natural Sounds Of The Wilderness (disk 4 of 5)
I also found that good noise canceling headphones are quite helpful. I tried different brands, and found that the only ones that really work in noisy offices are expensive over-the-ear models. I like Bose QC-2, but other high-end headphones will probably work too. I used them for years until they finally have worn out (literally). Bose now makes QC-15, which I have not tried yet. A good pair of headphones plus the right sound together can nicely suppress distracting office noises, and allow you to work with relaxed concentration.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bob Pozen: Too Big to Save? How to Fix the U.S. Financial System

Motley Fool Conversations podcast (audio, 24 min).
Bob Pozen is the author of Too Big to Save? How to Fix the U.S. Financial System, the former chairman of MFS Investment Management, and a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School. This podcast is full of amazingly common sense (or provocative) ideas on how to improve the financial system. A few highlights are below.
Do not bail out too many institutions. Bail out only the institutions that are critical to the payment system, or those whose failure would have led to multiple other institution failures (a total of 20-30, not 500-600, as was done after 2008).
Have a system to select what to bail out, and do post-bailout reviews to see what works. Before any institution is bailed out, the Treasury Secretary must write down on a piece of paper the reason why it should be bailed out. The decision should be approved by FDIC Chairman and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. After the bailout, the GAO should review the results.
Break the tyranny of quarterly results. Public companies should not provide quarterly earnings predictions, to focus attention on long-term results. At most, provide earnings predictions for the next 1-2 years, and use a range, not a single number.
Use professional boards of directors. Independent directors are not enough, if they lack expertise. Most of the directors of public financial companies, especially those for which the taxpayers are the ones left holding the bag, must have specific expertise in that industry. The opposite was true for many financial companies at the center of the crisis (only 1 director of Citigroup had working experience in a financial institution!). Directors must spend a minimum of a 2-3 full days per month in the company, unlike the current practice of 1 day every 2 months. Thus, directors will have enough expertise to hold more meaningful discussions with the executives.
Do not have Congress regulate executive compensation, because this usually has unintended consequences. For example, Wells Fargo worked around the new law that put a cap on CEO bonuses by simply increasing the CEO base salary by several fold. Instead, let the board of directors make the compensation rules. Executive bonuses should be determined by the recent long term (e.g., several years) financial results. At least some of the compensation of higher executives should be in the form of restricted shares (not cash) that vest after another several years, to align the interests of executives and long term investors. Such shares are essentially stock options. Executive compensation should be indexed by the industry group. If the entire industry goes up by 10%, and the company under-performs the industry and goes up only by 5%, the CEO gets a smaller bonus. If the industry goes down by 10%, and the company over-performs the industry and goes down only by 5%, the CEO gets a bigger bonus.
Use leverage and capitalization regulations to make financial institutions safer. The SEC rule of 2004 that allowed investment bank leverage to go up from 15:1 to 30:1 was a bad idea. With a 30:1 leverage, when the market goes down by even a little bit, which historically happens quite often, you have to sell a lot of assets. If everyone sells at the same time, you have a crisis.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Shawn Achor: Why a Happy Brain Performs Better

Why a Happy Brain Performs Better - HBR IdeaCast - Harvard Business Review podcast
(audio, 15 min, with the interesting part starting at around 6 min).
Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, describes how happiness increases performance at work. These ideas fit nicely with the experience of many people that a good boss, nice colleagues, and a healthy environment at work boost productivity. I think that in an ideal economy, happy companies finish first (higher happiness leads to higher productivity and thus to higher earnings).
Here are a few ideas from the podcast that I found the most surprising, especially with respect to how little effort is required, and how big the resulting changes are.
Doctors perform diagnosis 50% faster when their brain is positive.
When managers increase their praise and recognition of 1 employee per day for 21 days in a row, the teams have 31% higher productivity 6 months later, relative to control groups.
Another study was performed at KPMG, a big accounting firm, right before the busy tax season. They trained 50% of the KPMG tax audit managers for 3 hours on positive psychology techniques, encouraging them to create 1 positive habit over a 21 day period. A few days later, the training group was significantly happier than the control group that did not receive any training. All the way through the tax season, up to 4 months later, the training group had significantly higher levels of life satisfaction, job satisfaction, and lower levels of stress.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A. J. Jacobs: The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment

Motley Fool Conversations podcast with the "immersion journalist" and author A. J. Jacobs about his book The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment (audio, 24 min).
A. J. Jacobs describes a series of experiments he did with his life. There are many interesting ones, but I especially liked these two. 
Unitasking - do only one thing at a time. No multitasking. Unitasking changed his life for the better, making a qualitative difference, with an additional benefit of increased productivity. 
The Rationality Project - pay attention to our cognitive biases (with a nod to Dan Ariely here).  Make buying decisions based on research and rational factors, rather than subjective feelings. Read the restaurant menus from the bottom up to disregard the more expensive dishes that are usually placed at the top of the menu.
Pay attention to the positive events, which we usually disregard, not only to the negative events. For example, note every time your line in the supermarket is moving fast - otherwise our natural bias is to forget these events, which occur most of the time, and remember the rather few negative events, such as when the line was extremely slow.
What I like the most about A. J. Jacobs is not any of his specific wonderful experiments, but his general approach, which reminds us that science is a great tool, and you do not need a Ph.D. "license" or a lab to practice it!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tom Wujec: Surprising lessons about team performance from the marshmallow challenge

Tom Wujec: Build a tower, build a team | Video on TED.com or on The Marshmallow Challenge.
(video, 7 min)
Tom Wujec ran more than 70 experiments where teams of people competed with each other in building the tallest structure made of simple objects. Here are some of the surprising results.
Recent kindergarten graduates perform better than average adults, probably because kids make multiple successive prototypes, while adults design and build a single structure.
Recent business school graduates perform worse than average adults.
Excessive compensation dramatically decreases performance of inexperienced teams.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Matt Ridley: The Rational Optimist

Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex | Video on TED.com or YouTube
(video, 16 min)
Matt Ridley, the author of The Rational Optimist and many other great books, argues that humanity's collective brain created through trading and exchange of ideas is what makes us different from other species.
This simple idea is much deeper than it may appear at first glance.

According to Matt Ridley, over the course of a million+ years, humans started producing more tools that cannot be made by any single person, but require collective intelligence of a (large) number of people. For example, take two objects of similar size: a hand axe, made essentially without additional innovations for 1 million years, and a computer mouse.