Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Marshmallow Test

In the late 1960's, Walter Mischel of Stanford University conducted experiments to study the mental processes of delayed gratification in children. These same experiments were later used to see if there was any connection to impulse control in children and success later in life. The experiments were simple. A number of 4 year olds were placed in a room, one at a time and given a treat such as a marshmallow. They were told that they could eat it now or if they could wait 15 minutes they would be given a second marshmallow. The results were that about a third of the children ate the treat immediately, a third waited the whole time and gained a second marshmallow and the rest tried to wait but gave up at some point before the 15 minutes were up. What Mischel later found is fascinating. Those children who were able to wait for the second marshmallow turned out to be significantly less likely to have behavioral problems, were more socially competent and academically successful. The children who immediately ate the marshmallow were more likely to experience behavior problems, self-esteem issues and struggled academically. The study has been replicated in various forms with similar results.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Brain Teaser 5

Got this one from Braingle. This is an easy one but I thought it was fun so...

A man is trapped in a room. The room has only two possible exits: two doors. Through the first door there is a room constructed from magnifying glass. The blazing hot sun instantly fries anything or anyone that enters. Through the second door there is a fire-breathing dragon. How does the man escape?

Answer below.

He waits until night time and then goes through the first door


A flowchart is a type of diagram used to visually communicate the steps in a process. It utilizes various arrows and symbols to map out the order of processing steps and divergent paths determined by variable choices.

Though there are many flowchart symbols which can be used, the following are the most basic:

Some guidelines include:
-Flowcharts usually run from left to right or top to bottom.
-Only one flow line may come out of a process symbol.
-Two or sometimes three lines may come out of a Decision symbol.
-Avoid letting flow lines cross over each other.

The following is a simple flowchart on the process of determining whether or not to bring an umbrella:

In problem solving, flowcharts can be used when defining a problem & verifying root causes, especially when the problem involves a process. These flowcharts map out the current state of your processes. After you have identified root causes, flowcharts can be used in the solution development stage by drawing new charts which demonstrate how the solution(s) will be integrated into the existing process.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Leaving Iraq

Last month it was announced by the Obama administration that the United States will be leaving Iraq by the end of the year. This will come as a relief to many americans who are weary of almost nine years of news of americans dying in a war which was started on incorrect intelligence. But pulling out of Iraq also causes one to consider a bigger question. Why is it that the United States is so militarily involved in world affairs?

To drive home the point of my rhetorical question lets compare the military spending of the United States to that of the rest of the world. According to Global Issues, total world wide military spending in 2010 came to 1.62 trillion dollars of which the 43% was spent by the United States. Let me repeat that. The United States accounts for almost half of all the worlds military spending.

This hefty expense accounts for about 20% of the federal governments annual budget as depicted in the following graph from The Center on Budget Policy Priorities.
(click image to enlarge)

In addition, the United States has a military presense which spans the globe. The following graph comes from the wikipedia entry 'List of United States Military Bases'.
(click image to enlarge)

Now don't get me wrong, I do believe in having a strong military but maybe instead of spending six times more than China (our biggest competitor) we could only spend, say, 3 times as much. What do you think?

 But on a more serious note, there is really no reason for the United States to play police man for the world. It allows our allies to spend far, far less on their military since they know they can rely on the U.S. to help them if there is ever a need. Also, it has been a major contributor to our current economic woes and if not addressed, will likely help bring about our economic destruction within the next couple of decades.

Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about such reductions occuring anytime soon. There are powerful interest which benefit from the military industrial complex and as a result, changes are unlikely to happen until the money well runs dry.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Telefon Tel Aviv / Fahrenheit Fair Enough

Title track from the 2001 album by Telefon Tel Aviv. Somewhat experimental, it is an interesting combination of soothing melodies with at times frantic electronica sounds. The result of this odd mixture is a very chill song which is able to immediately lower my blood pressure.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New real estate law in Cuba

Just read this article in the New York Times regarding a new Cuban law which will allow the sale and purchase of Real Estate. I found it relevant considering that there seems to be a new interest in socialism via some of the Occupy Wall Street crowd. The article states that "For the first time in a half-century, Cubans will be allowed to buy and sell real estate openly, bequeath property to relatives without restriction and avoid forfeiting their homes if they abandon the country." Prior to the new law, Cubans were not allowed to sell their homes. According to this website, per Law 65 Cubans could only trade with another citizen thus making it impossible to use the homes equity and severely restricting their ability to relocate to another area. Apparantly there were similar restrictions on car sales as this article discusses. Just a little food for thought to counter some of the more radical notions which have been floating around.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Brain Teaser 4

Here is another brain teaser from Brain Bashers. Not too hard, solved it in about 20 minutes before bed.

At the recent web developer's bowling match, two games were played. Kev beat Stuart in both games, also Richard beat John in both games. The winner in game 1 came second in game 2. Richard won game 2 and John beat Stuart in game 1. No player got the same placing twice. Can you determine who finished where in each game?

First Game:1.Kev, 2. Richard, 3. John, 4. Stuart
Second Game: 1. Richard, 2. Kev, 3. Stuart, 4. John

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

When lunch boxes attack!

Just watched this nanny of the month from Reason TV

With that kind of ego and desire to control the actions of other people, principal Carmona should really consider a career in politics. But maybe I have it all wrong. Perhaps the kids were studying Orwell's 1984 and Carmona just wanted to let them experience a little bit of it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

5 Whys

The 5 Whys is a simple tool which can help discover the cause and effect relationships underlying a problem. The method involves repeatedly asking 'why' until root causes have been determined. Though it is called the 5 Whys, you may have to ask fewer or more 'Whys'.

A simple example would be:
The vehicle will not start.
Why? - The battery is dead.
Why? - The alternator is not functioning.
Why? - The alternator belt has broken.
Why? - The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced.
Why? - The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (root cause)

From the paper Change Resistance as the Crux of the Environmental Sustainability Problem by Jack Harich, 2010
"How do you know when to stop? A root cause has three identifying characteristics (compare to Rooney and Heuvel, 2004, who list 4 characteristics):
"1. It is clearly a (or the) major cause of the symptoms.
"2. It has no worthwhile deeper cause. This allows you to stop asking why at some appropriate point in root cause analysis. Otherwise you may find your-self digging to the other side of the planet.
"3. It can be resolved. Sometimes it’s useful to emphasize unchangeable root causes in your model for greater understanding and to avoid trying to resolve them without realizing it. These have only the first two characteristics.
"This definition allows numerous unproductive or pseudo root causes to be quickly eliminated.
"The important thing is to not stop at intermediate causes. These are plausible and easily found. Working on resolving what are in fact intermediate causes looks productive and feels productive. Intermediate cause solutions, more accurately called symptomatic solutions, may even work for awhile. But until the true root causes are resolved, powerful social agents will invariably find a way to delay, circumvent, block, weaken, or even rollback these solutions, because intermediate causes are symptoms of deeper causes. One must strike at the root."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


5W2H is simple technique which can be useful in problem solving and decision making. It is particularly helpful when trying to write a problem statement.

1. WHO - Who is associated with or affected by the problem?
2. WHAT - What are the symptoms of the problem?
3. WHEN - When did the problem start? Include all time related details.
4. WHERE - Where does problem occur. Location related details.
5. WHY - Why is this a problem?
6. HOW - How was the problem detected?
7. HOW MUCH - How big is the problem in quantifiable terms?