Monday, September 24, 2007

Leading by example

No comment needed, I believe.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

And your spin... large, or extra-large?

Last week, I made a flight reservation on; I wanted to be on row 14, to be seated close to L, who already got her ticket. While choosing my seat, I am very pleased to discover that row 14, by virtue of being located between rows 12 and 25, has "Plenty of legroom".

How could I be so naive! For a minute, I thought that "plenty", as in "more than sufficiently, to a considerable degree" (Webster) meant that I would have more space that most passengers to stretch my legs. A quick look at the entire floor plan revealed that "Plenty of legroom" was instead to be opposed to "More legroom", or "Most legroom"; or, in other words, that "plenty of legroom" was the worst section of the airplane. Welcome to marketing, were the world exists in large or extra-large only!

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Monday, September 17, 2007

More emotion, better decision

Reuters ran a piece a few days back under the title "Hot-headed investors make better decisions". The article covers a recent study, where 101 stock investors were monitored over a four-week trading simulation; the study concludes that

Contrary to the popular belief that the cooler head prevails, people with hot heads -- those who experienced their feelings with greater intensity during decision-making -- achieved higher decision-making performance.

After more carefully reading the piece, it turns out that the title is more than a bit misleading. defines hot-headed as

1. Easily angered; quick-tempered: a hotheaded commander.
2. Impetuous; rash: a hotheaded decision.

Based on that definition, the study does not seem to draw any relationship between hotheadedness and sound decision making. Once deflated from the (very annoying) sensationalism, the conclusions are still pretty interesting, though. Essentially, people whose emotions run high would tend to make better decisions, because they are more aware of their feelings, and have more experience dealing with it. Decision analysis as a discipline does emphasize a rational approach, precisely because important decisions are usually emotional, and to reach a clear conclusion one needs to consider carefully personal biases; but that a more emotional decision-maker may ultimately be better trained to decide, is an unexpected twist!



That's it - Last Friday was my last day as a full-time employee of Applied Strategies, and technically, I am now beginning my first week of self-employment. It feels very odd, a mixture of excitement and nostalgia.
This Friday, I was invited to "a picnic in the park"; going out for lunch in the park, away from the computer for a little while, has been a ritual of mine, and the whole team had put a twist on it, with a beautiful setup. Except for Ryan and Kristina, everyone was there, and it was a very emotional moment. It has been almost exactly five years since I had started with this company, with lots of memories gathered along the way. Possibly the most touching moment for me was when I saw a familiar silhouette coming under the trees; Sandy had called up L, who joined and finally met everyone.
A page is turned - and a very exciting time is coming ahead, trying to find the right balance between what I love about that job, and my personal life; I am really looking forward seeing what shape this will all take!


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mother of Invention

Two years sometimes make a difference, and sometimes they don't. About two years ago, Andrew Utter started the Mother of Invention Acting School in San Francisco, and I attended one of the first (if not the first) "Friends and Family" evenings, where students present scenes they have been working on.
I have never been a fan of theater; I understand the appeal on some level, but it fails to engage me emotionally. Still, I had a great evening: the acting was as enjoyable as it gets for me, and Andrew was vibrating with energy and enthusiasm for his project.
Last week, I decided to catch up, and go to the Friends and Family evening with L. Andrew had promised "new things", and indeed, the two years have made a difference; the organization is smoother, more playful - the picture below may give you a hint of what surprises you may be in for, but you will have to go by yourself if you want to know more.
What has not changed is the energy level of Andrew, and the excitement of the actors. I unfortunately haven't seen the enlightenment of theater in the last two years, but almost regret it, after seeing the intensity that emanates from the Mother of Invention acting class...

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The thrill of the chase

Money has a nice piece by Jason Zweig on the behavior of investors, and more specifically on how greed and fear would be hardwired in the human brain and explain some common irrational decision making patterns.
Zweig describes an experiment which indicates that, while the possibility of receiving a larger gain is strongly exciting, actually receiving a larger gain is only marginally satisfying.
clipped from
Why is it so hard for most of us to learn that the old saying "Money doesn't buy happiness" is true?
Our brains come equipped with a biological mechanism that is more aroused when we anticipate a profit than when we get one.
I lived through the rush of greed in an experiment run by Brian Knutson, a neuroscientist at Stanford University.
a display inside the fMRI machine showed me a sequence of shapes that each signaled a different amount of money
If the symbol was a circle, I could win the dollar amount displayed; if it was a square, I could lose the amount shown.

When Knutson measured the activity tracked by the scan, he found that the possibility of winning $5 set off twice as strong a signal in my brain as the chance at gaining $1 did.

On the other hand, learning the outcome of my actions was no big deal. Whenever I captured the reward, Knutson's scanner found that the neurons in my nucleus accumbens fired much less intensely than they had when I was hoping to get it.
 blog it

Any person who has played the lottery knows this is true; and I could not help but think that monetary gifts or bonuses also fall in this category, for the opposite reason - I won't ever complain when receiving a bonus check, but somehow, in the back of my mind, I always end up imagining that the check could have been larger, not smaller...


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The right tool

A few weeks back, L and I went to a Korean restaurant on Geary boulevard. The waiting line was pretty long, and we had plenty of time until our names were up, so we went for a walk in the neighborhood, and ended up in a Korean grocery shop. The experience was like entering an alternate reality, with a bit of the childhood pleasure of searching through an attic full of strange objects. It has the familiar organization of a grocery store, and yet everything is off, from slightly odd products - we purchased a bag of pumpkin candies, which tasted like, well, pumpkin - to frankly unidentifiable ones, like this... tool? Device? Contraption? I still have absolutely no idea what it can be used for; your suggestions, explanations, or hypotheses, are welcome!