Tag Archives: Star Trek

Sheldon Cooper Presents “Fun With Flags”: A YouTube Series of Podcasts

The other day I happened to be eating lunch and staring off out the window. While that may not seem important, it is. Most of the time, I like to be reading or doing something, while I’m eating. I completely understand that it’s probably better to not do this, but I often can’t help myself. Anyway, as I was sitting and just eating, an idea came to me. (Don’t you find that ideas come to you when you’re not thinking about them?) The idea, as the title of this post suggests, a web series from one of The Big Bang Theory’s main cast members: Sheldon Cooper.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the show (it’s quite funny), but a few times throughout the six seasons, Dr. Sheldon Cooper has led us on a journey through the wonderful world of vexillology: “scientific study of the history, symbolism and usage of flags or, by extension, any interest in flags in general.” Sheldon’s generally a pretty funny guy (not on purpose, that is, on purpose by the writers, but not by the character himself), so when he does these short podcasts on flags, it certainly provides a laugh or two. To date, there have been 5 instances of “Fun With Flags.”

In the first podcast, Sheldon and his, at the time, “girl who’s a friend, but is not my girlfriend,” Amy Farrah Fowler, introduce us to vexillology and tell us a bit about Oregon’s state flag.

Every time I watch this one, when Sheldon asks Amy about the white flag, I can’t help but laugh… “I’m submitting… to fun.”

In the second podcast, we learn about Bavaria.

In the third podcast, we learn a little bit about flags in Star Trek with Wil Wheaton.

In the fourth podcast, LeVar Burton replaces Wil Wheaton in attempting to teach us about flags in Star Trek.

In the fifth podcast, Penny (Sheldon’s across-the-hall neighbour),  helps teach us about Nebraska’s state flag.

The idea is that these podcasts could actually become an online series that supplements the show. They wouldn’t necessarily have to be every week or even every other week. The idea is that Dr. Sheldon Cooper could teach us about flags. This could be a big boon for CBS and The Big Bang Theory as I can’t imagine it not being a hit with fans of the show. Plus, there’s the whole social media aspect to it. That is, these clips would undoubtedly be shared vehemently across many networks.

Maybe I’m way off, but my guess is that this could really be a creative way for the show to engage viewers on a medium other than the TV. There could even be “special guests” (i.e. other cast members or noted vexillologists [are there any?]).

If you’re an executive at CBS and you’re reading this, I’d encourage you to get the marketing team on this and see if they think that there are enough people to warrant this kind of endeavour. I understand that there’d still be some cost to it (paying Jim Parsons, the film crew, the editing team, etc.), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’d be profitable.

~

For those of you who think that I may be a bit biased because I like these online learning formats (John Green, Hank Green, ASAPScience, Michael Sandel, etc.), I’d encourage you to take a look at some of the number of followers of these accounts. The Crash Course has almost 1,000,000 subscribers. AsapSCIENCE has almost 1.5 million subscribers. MinutePhysics has almost 2 million subscribers. Consistently, the videos that these users upload obtain views in the hundreds of thousands.

One final note — Mental Floss. They’ve, in a sense, tested the market as they already have a “Fun With Flags” kind of series. They’re up to episode 17. Here’s a link to the first.

 

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Tying Up Loose Ends: Food for Thought and Brief Hiatus

Since moving to the new domain (www.JeremiahStanghini.com), this has been the longest time between posts. The last post I wrote was on April 5th. The hiatus from posting will continue for a little while after this post because I’m working on the last requirements for finishing my MBA. There are about 3 weeks left until the end of exam period, so I’ve got a few papers/presentations to finish and a lot of grading of papers/exams.

Whenever I open my computer I see the list of posts that I’ve been meaning to write. In an effort to “clear out some mental space,” I thought I’d do what I’ve done a couple of times in the past and flush out my list of posts to write. In this way, the list will be fresh for when I come back (save for the few cognitive biases that I still want to write about). So, without further adieu, here are some of the things that I had planned on expanding upon. I hope you enjoy!

Cars and Transportation — It’d be really cool if they could *feasibly* develop a car that could transform. A car that could be a single-passenger when commuting, but it could expand/transform into 2, 3, or 4 seats when it necessary.

Political Ideology — What if a given political ideology’s thoughts/plans don’t work unless they can be fully implemented? And because there’s a split in Parliament/Congress, it’s worse. But what if when either party had total control, it’d be worse than this middle-ground between the two ideas?

LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan — A few weeks before the conversation about LeBron vs. Jordan started, I’d had it on my to do list to write about it. I was a bit peeved when the conversation started (without me), but there were some interesting (and some not) things written about it. I think it’s extremely difficult to compare players across decades. It’s akin to comparing players across sports! I remember a few years ago when there was talk that Alex Rodriguez would be the greatest baseball player ever. I think it’s safe to say that conversation has died down a little.

Fear of Public Speaking — I was thinking back to one of the first times I had to stand up in front of a group of people and give a speech. I don’t even remember what I spoke about — but I do remember one of the speeches from my classmates who did quite well (it was about the NBA dunk contest). As I watch some folks present in front of rooms, I can empathize with their nervousness. Heck, even I still get a bit nervous sometimes. One thing I’ve learned — it’s really about repetition. The more times I’ve spoke in front of groups of people, the less nervous I get the next time I go up there. (On a slightly related note: I’d say another key factor in minimizing fear of public speaking is the extent to which you’re prepared to speak on the topic. Read: know your stuff!)

Focus on Labor — I’ve never been the CEO or a highly placed Vice President of a company, but from an outsider’s perspective, I always have a hard time understanding the lack of focus on the labor force. At times, it really looks like labor is the key to success. If the labor force is well taken care of, production and profits tend to do well. It reminds me of that post I did about sustainability and pitchers. The relation here is that when management takes care of the labor force, it is with an eye towards long-term sustainability.

Life, Liberty, and Property? — Why is property so valued? What about nomads or North Americans who show us that land isn’t to be owned? What about animals? They don’t seem to own land.

Star Trek: Inheritance — This is an episode from the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The gist of is that Data has to decide whether or not he’s going to tell his mother that she is an android (when she believes she’s a human). In thinking about this episode, I wondered about the ethics of telling someone they aren’t who they think they are. What about an adopted child?

Social EntrepreneurshipGeorge Mason University‘s Center For Social Entrepreneurship has a massive open online course (MOOC) in social entrepreneurship. If you wanna learn about social entrepreneurship, this is a great place to start!

“I AM” — I saw the movie I AM quite some time ago and there were some cool things that stood out to me. I’ll be brief:

  • The HeartMath Institute — check them out! They’re doing some fascinating work.
  • Animals are more likely to cooperate than we may have first thought. There was a reference to a journal article about how a herd of deer decided to go in a given direction after hydrating at a water hole.
  • Rumi poetry is medicine for the soul.
  • I am continually amazed at the kinds of things that are correlated with Random Number Generators.
  • Did you know that the word “Love” appears 95 times in Darwin’s “The Descent of Man?”
  • A great quote that Desmond Tutu read: “God looked at me and said, all I have is you.”

And so that clears off most of my list. Look for a new post sometime in the next month, but probably not for the next 3 weeks. Happy end of April and early May!

Get a Second Opinion Before You Succumb to the Planning Fallacy: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 4

I know that I said that I was going to be talking about a new bias in judgment and decision-making every Monday and I know that today is Tuesday. To be honest — I underestimated how long it would take me to prepare for my seminar in International Relations. Aside: if you want to challenge yourself, take a course in a subject which you know very little about and be amazed at how much you feel like you’ve been dropped into the ocean and told to swim! It can be a little unnerving at first, but if you’re into exploring and open to new experiences, it can be quite satisfying. Anyway, so today yesterday I’d planned to talk about the framing effect, but since I so conveniently demonstrated the planning fallacy, I thought I’d talk about it.

The consequence of this post being written/published today is directly related to my falling into the trap of the planning fallacy. I planned for the preparation for my International Relations class to take a certain amount of time. When that time lasted longer than I had anticipated, I had no time left to write about a bias in judgment and decision-making. The planning fallacy is our tendency to underestimate how long we’ll need to complete a task — especially when we’ve had experiences where we’ve underestimated similar tasks.

This is something that even the best of us fall prey to. In fact, one of the biggest names in cognitive biases Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Prize in economics, but a PhD in psychology!) has said that even he still has a hard time with the planning fallacy. Of course, this doesn’t make it permissible for us not to try to prevent the effects of the planning fallacy.

Before we get into ways for avoiding the planning fallacy, I want to share an excerpt from an oft-cited study when discussing the planning fallacy [emphasis added]:

Participants were provided with a series of specific confidence levels and were asked to indicate the completion time corresponding to each confidence level. In this manner, the participants indicated times by which they were 50% certain they would finish their projects (and 50% certain they would not), 75% certain they would finish, and 99% certain they would finish. When we examined the proportion of subjects who finished by each of these forecasted times, we found evidence of overconfidence. Consider the academic projects: only 12.8% of the subjects finished their academic projects by the time they reported as their 50% probability level, only 19.2% finished by the time of their 75% probability level, and only 44.7% finished by the time of their 99% probability level. The results for the 99% probability level are especially striking: even when they make a highly conservative forecast, a prediction that they feel virtually certain that they will fulfill, people’s confidence far exceeds their accomplishments.

There were a lot of numbers/percentages offered in the excerpt, so I’ve also included a visual representation of the data in a graph below. This graph comes from a book chapter by a couple of the same authors, but it is about the data in the preceding excerpt.

 

 

 

 

 

Ways for Avoiding the Planning Fallacy

With the first three biases I talked about, awareness was a key step in overcoming the bias. While you could make that argument for the planning fallacy, one of the hallmarks of [the fallacy] is that people know they’ve erred in the past and still make the mistake of underestimating. So, we’ll need to move beyond awareness to help us defend against this bias.

1) Data is your friend

No, I don’t mean Data from Star Trek (though Data would probably be quite helpful in planning), but now that I think about it, Data (the character) might be a good way to position this ‘way for avoiding the planning fallacy.’ For those of you not familiar, Data is a human-like android. In thinking about this way for avoiding the planning fallacy, think about how Data might estimate the length of time it would take to complete a project. It would be very precise and data-driven. Data would likely look at past projects and how long it took for those to be finished to decide the length of time needed for this new project. To put it more broadly, if you have statistics on past projects (that were similar) absolutely use them in estimating the completion time of the new project.

2) Get a second opinion

When we think about the project completion time of one project in relation to another project, we often think about the nuances that make this project different from that project — and by extension — why this project won’t take as long as that project. Planning fallacy. If you can, ask someone who has experience in project completion in the area for which you’re estimating. When you ask this person, be sure not to tell them all the “various ways why this project is different,” because it probably isn’t and it’s only going to cloud the predictive ability of the person you’re asking. You’re probably going to hear an estimate that’s larger than you thought, but I bet you that it’s probably a lot closer to the real project completion time than the estimate you made based on thinking about the ways that this project was going to be different than all the other projects like it.

If you liked this post, you might like the first three posts in this series:

What Will Medicine Look Like in the 22nd Century?

Every now and then, I like to watch some old episodes of Star Trek. I should clarify: I watch “The Next Generation.” I’m a little young for the original series. The Next Generation aired during my younger formative years (and how grateful I am for this). I often think that my strong sense of morals has a lot to do with the fact that I was often presented with ethical dilemmas through the vehicle of this show.

A few weeks ago, I happened to catch an episode from near the end of the final season: Thine Own Self. One of the two featured plot lines for this episode is Data‘s visit to a ‘primitive’ village. Data, suffering from amnesia, is taken in by this village. Maybe I should back-up and tell you how he got there. Data was sent on a mission to recover some radioactive material from a probe that crashed on the planet. Having suffered injuries during this recovery attempt, Data walks to this village (miles and miles away), carrying a box that says radioactive.

As I said, this village welcomes Data — at least for a little while, but I won’t get into all of that. The parts I want to focus on are those that occurred with the town’s healer. Because Data doesn’t know who he is, he is taken to see the town’s healer. Listening to her assessment of Data’s injuries and the like is a real treat. The way the healer reasons that this is causing that because of something unforeseen is just what you might expect from a pre-industrial society. That’s not meant to sound pejorative — societies do the best they can with what they’ve got.

I looked and looked for a clip of the healer diagnosing Data or of the healer diagnosing the members of the village (as some of them get radiation poisoning), but couldn’t find it. However, I was able to find a clip of the healer teaching some of the children about the elements.

Strange, eh?

After seeing this episode again, I had to think to myself, what are our assumptions in medicine today that will seem laughable in 100 years. What about in 300 years? What about in other fields? Will we laugh that we ever used to think that we weren’t able to communicate telepathically? What about seeing things at a distance? Will there still be poverty? Hunger?

Whenever we start to take ourselves and our assumptions too seriously, it’s important to remember the humble beginnings from which we come.

Markets Are Cyclical: Why the Internet Monopolies Don’t Matter (that much)

Survival of the biggestThere was a nice feature on Technology in this past week’s Economist. In fact, there were a number of articles I found intriguing (medical tricorders was a good one!), but I want to draw your attention to one in particular: Battle of the internet giants – Survival of the biggest. The case is made that these internet behemoths are getting too big and that their scope needs to be curbed. Okay, I understand that, but I think that the fear is a bit unfounded. Here’s why.

Remember back to when railroads were the only way to get around? Remember when all commerce and long-distance travel was done by locomotive? Now, I don’t know if this is a perfect comparison, but bear with me for a second. There were at least a few big players in the railroad game back in the 19th century (Union Pacific, Central Pacific, and Southern Pacific). I’m sure that there were people back then who were irked that there were monopolies in the railroad business and probably wanted there to be more regulation (like is being argued in the article about the internet).

However, with the turn of the 20th century, a new form of transportation was starting to emerge: the automobile. It didn’t happen overnight, but the automobile eventually became a much more preferred method of transportation.

There’s another example: television. Remember in the early days of TV, there were just a few channels? If you had a TV (and you watched it), you probably saw the same program that everyone else who had a TV was seeing. Again, I don’t know, but I imagine that some folks were pretty peeved by this monopoly. Although, slowly but surely, there came to be more and more choice of TV channels. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where we’re unlikely to ever see the most watched television program eclipsed because there’s so much choice.  Though, some would argue that there still are monopolies in television.

And now what’s starting to breach the monopolies of TV? The internet and online media. There was a slide deck that was passed around courtesy of Business Insider earlier last week that shows the future of digital. There were lots of graphs and lots of data. One of the graphs showed that the percentage of live TV watching has dropped 25% in just the last 4 years. Conversely, recorded TV watching is up over 50%! And a new category has emerged: streaming TV. Whereas there was no streaming TV watching in 2008, it now makes up 7% of primetime viewing in the US.

So, even with all of this choice in television, there is still room for newness and growth.

Tying this back into my argument about the internet behemoths: maybe we can’t see it now, but based on history, I would bet that there’s going to be something that comes along (eventually) and unseats these internet behemoths. Of course, that’s not a reason not to regulate them, but it is something to keep in mind when you see articles like the one in last week’s Economist.

Lessons from Strategema: the Star Trek Strategy Game

Star Trek was a show that certainly had an influence on me during my formative years. That is, Star Trek: The Next Generation. I remember gathering round the TV with my family to watch new episodes when they came on (or reruns). From time-to-time, I still like to catch an episode or two. Last night, I happened to catch a couple of episodes, one of which I think has an important lesson.

The episode in question is called: Peak Performance. It comes from near the end of season 2 (of The Next Generation). Earlier in the episode, Data and another character, one who is a ‘grandmaster’ at the game Strategema (strategy-like game), sit down to play. During their first encounter, the grandmaster beats Data. This puts Data into a bit of a tizzy as he is an android and should — theoretically — be unbeatable. That’s one of the subplots throughout the episode, but not the main reason I’m writing this post.

Near the end of the episode, the grandmaster grants Data a rematch. I’ve been able to find the clip online, so I’ve embedded it below (at just about the time of the clip where the scene with Data and the grandmaster commences):

It’s such an important lesson — sometimes playing not to win (is a form of winning). In some circles, folks might think of this as playing fearfully. In other circles, one might call this “risk mitigation.” In reflecting on what happened, it seems that Data knew he couldn’t beat the grandmaster, so he employed the next best strategy — stalemate.

I like to play chess every now and again — playing for a stalemate is a strategy. If you know you’re playing against a formidable opponent, a draw may be just as satisfying to you as a win. I think this is one way to look at this clip.

The other way I want to explore is the idea of risk mitigation. I know, I know. That phrase sounds a bit “bleh,” right? Well, it’s important. It’s important to minimize risk, or minimize one’s exposure to risk. This is exactly what Data is doing when he is playing for the draw. If Data had pursued those obvious places for advancements, he would also be leaving himself open to attack.

Art Imitating (Rather, Predicting?) Life

I was reading this past week’s edition of The Economist and came across an . Specifically, the article was addressing how 3D printing was (or could) change the face of manufacturing. If you’re not familiar with 3D printing, it is exactly like it sounds: printing in 3D. From : “3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file.”

As I sat there listening to  gnaw on a stick, I found myself looking beyond the yard where my eyes landed on the railroad tracks. Tracks that have been there for nearly 150 years. Tracks that were the focal point of commerce for quite some time. Then I thought, how the railroad was a revolution in its day — how it took over for the horse and buggy. But the railroad wasn’t the end of the evolution of transportation. Later came the invention of the car and the invention of the plane.

In briefly reflecting on how , I couldn’t help but think of how 3D printing could be just as revolutionary as some of these other inventions through history. And in thinking about 3D printing — specifically — I couldn’t help but think of Star Trek. Do you remember the To refresh your memory, a few of YouTube clips: , , and  (though this last one is a clip of it malfunctioning). There’s been a lot written about how Star Trek has presaged inventions that later came to be (). I might add 3D printing to that list (or any), too.

The thing that really got me thinking, though, was when I compared the to the 3D printer (or replicator). People who know what life is like without the computer often express their disbelief for how small the computer is when compared to its ancestor. “It used to take up a whole room! Now,I can put it in my pocket!” They would exclaim. There’s no doubt that the computer has evolved a great deal from its early days, but I wonder if this will be true of 3D printing? Will the cost of having a 3D printer be such that everyone can afford it? Will the speed at which it prints be so fast that people will laugh at how long it used to take for things to print?

The rate at which technology is able to invent something and then invent something that is twice as good at what it first invented is growing exponentially. It’s hard to believe that just over 100 years ago, the was invented. I’m not sure how far 3D printing will go or if it will take off and be as ubiquitous as computers, but I think it most certainly has a chance.