Survivorship bias: when we focus only on success

We were sitting around with friends and family recently over some very nice red wine when our friend Noel asked me about my weekly Toastmasters meetings, and specifically about whether I thought there are some people who simply never learn to feel comfortable speaking in public even after Toastmasters training. After a moment’s contemplation, I replied to Noel:

“I can’t really say – because those who actually feel too uncomfortable probably just stop attending after a while. The ones who stay seem pretty happy!”

It turns out that what I was describing is essentially what’s known as survivorship bias.*  Continue reading

Infographics: have we gone too far?

Paul Marcinkowski

Jonathan Harris, despite his role as one of the pioneer creators of the modern infographic, takes aim at those ubiquitous splashy charts and graphs that take a pile of stats, facts and percentages and morph them into poster-like images, for better or worse:

“Culture’s interest in data is becoming incredibly obsessive and almost pornographic with the rise of infographics.”  Continue reading

The selling of yoga

I was downtown shopping at our new public market last month when I stopped to watch a yoga demo nearby.  The fittest, most eye-poppingly flexible woman with the darkest spray tan I’ve ever seen was demonstrating yoga poses that left me gobsmacked – but not in a good way. She was wrapping limbs around body parts that I’m pretty sure were never designed to have said limbs anywhere in the vicinity. Her stretches made my own hamstrings ache. She didn’t look even remotely serene doing yoga – she looked, in fact, quite cranky.

I’m pretty sure that the hopeful intent of the yoga studio owner who organized this demo was to inspire and motivate me and other spectators to sign right up for their yoga classes. But instead, I was utterly horrified, and scurried quickly away to sample the cinnamon pear balsamic vinegar on tap at the olive oil shop, where I soon found serenity.

It turns out that there’s yoga – and then there’s yoga.

Continue reading

The Google Glass hypefest: “Look at me! Look at me!”

google-glass-On my early morning walks along the sea wall, I used to regularly see a man upon whose shoulder perched a large parrot. As we approached each other on the path, this man would smile his vaguely goofy big smile at me, while motioning towards the parrot with a sideways head bob to make sure that I noticed the bird. He looked pathetically eager to draw attention to himself (and really, why else would he walk around town wearing a real live parrot on his shoulder?)

His was the silent screech: “Look at me! Look at me! Notice anything?”  And because some perverse part of me recoils at paying any attention whatsoever to those who seem so cloyingly needy, my response every morning was to just look away until both man and bird were nicely behind me on that path.

Sadly, I’m now seeing a variation of that vaguely goofy big smile on Twitter.  These belong in the profile photos of tech geeks who are beta testing The Next Big Thing, which is, of course, Google Glass. Their gleeful faces too seem to screech at the rest of us: “Look at me! Look at me! Notice anything?”   Continue reading