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Friday, May 27, 2011

Meditations on Annoying!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Annoying is a well-crafted, valuable read. The authors give generous treatment both to the social psychology and physical science mechanisms of much that annoys. That includes public cell phone conversations, the blaring of sirens, the buzzing of flies, the cracking of knuckles, the machinations of Newman on Seinfeld. As a closet Lothario, I was intrigued that attractive traits in courtship like independence and caring can prove annoying in marriage when they morph into aloofness and cloyingness. As a Red Sox fan, I was grateful to the authors for their resurrection of Yankee reliever Joba Chamberlain’s ordeal in the 2009 playoffs against both the Cleveland Indians and swarms of annoying midges from Lake Erie.

Forgive the authors’ occasional digressions that treat descriptions of scientific processes as ends unto themselves. They are, after all, science hounds. (Joe Palca is an NPR science reporter; Flora Lichtman is an NPR multimedia science editor.) Most of the time though, their physical science is apropos, like their description of the genetic and cellular mechanisms that screw up oxytocin flow, which correlates with an individual’s capacity to empathize and absorb stress (i.e. to be less annoyed and abrasive.)

Rare in popular social science books is the authors’ admirable scientific restraint in refraining from generalizing beyond their data—Don’t expect a unified field theory of annoying. But they do offer the insight that much that annoys us may be attention-commandeering stimuli that once presaged dire outcomes (evolutionarily speaking). In evolutionary terms, schlumps who got annoyed were more likely to survive. That makes annoying in the  21st century truly affordable. Why not, in gratitude, elevate your next dinner party with tales that enchant and annoy. Here's an example from Wig and Pen:

A Horological Annoyance. In the mid 1970s my late father’s wife redecorated the family homestead with a pseudo-antique table clock that announced its presence on the half hour with a metallic stridency that might have been a soundtrack for a cartoon featuring animated cookie cutters. One afternoon, while the lady of the house was out and about, a friend who repaired clocks as a hobby and who could stand the sound no longer, marched over to the clock and gently adjusted its chime hammer. Presto! Hyde became Jekyll. Metallic annoyance became dulcet. But my friend had only massaged a symptom of the underlying problem. When the clock’s owner returned, she immediately detected its kinder, gentler timbre, and demanded immediate restoration of its previous persona. I heard the clock’s annoying ring for the final time in 1983 on the night of my father’s funeral.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Glass-Is-Half-Empty Weather Forecast Images

Consumer advisory: In its popular 7-day forecast web page, the National Weather Service assigns a weather image to each day and night ahead that often views the weather-glass as half empty. As a former U.S. president might have complained, Those stormy pictures are often big hat, no cattle. That is why this blog as a public service has grafted two Seasonal Affective Disorder lights like bookends around the sorry sequence of weather images above. Note that 40% and 50% chances of rain receive decidedly rainy images. We might, of course, just as well be looking at 60% and 50% chances of dry weather.

Even more inspirational for the umbrella trade is the torrential rainy image at left, where the chances of no rain are 70%. Perhaps the Weather Service in its image choice is emphasizing the intensity rather than the chance of ill weather. On the other hand, if there is a 100% chance of only a 15 minute downpour, will the NWS serve up a tsunami image?

To date, this blogger has failed to resolve these troubling questions. Perhaps his friend, Dr. Roberto—an often reluctant economic forecaster—is right when he says: “Although weather forecasting is more reliable than many of our other predictive arts, the Weather Service like the rest of us may have much to hedge about, especially in covering for themselves should bad news prove worse.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Graduation Wishes from on High

For the second year running, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony featured a nationally prominent keynote speaker that mirrored the university’s increasing national stature. Last year, FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair got the call. On Friday, May 13, national political pundit and former advisor to four presidents David Gergen was at the podium welcoming his own generation’s future passing of the leadership baton to the generation that includes the 2011 graduating class.

Exit, Stage North. While few among the Class of 2011 were unenthusiastic about that prospect, they and Mr. Gergen were absolutely wowed by the message from outer space from astronaut Catherine (Cady) Coleman that followed on several supersized screens. Seated in the International Space Station with her hair coursing upwards in zero gravity, Coleman, who holds a Ph.D. in polymer science from UMass Amherst, emphasized the importance of teamwork. After releasing a miniature bobblehead likeness of the university’s mascot—the Minuteman—into weightlessness—she bid adieu to the Class of 2011 with the Serling-inflected message—I look forward to your future! Then she released her own seat restraint and levitating northward, vanished from the frame. View Cady’s extraterrestrial remarks and choreography here:


Monday, May 2, 2011

Turning away from the American Public, Obama Embraces Us

At the end of his 9-minute announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s demise, President Obama threw his audience an unexpected behind-the-Barak-pass. Speech over, he turned 180 degrees and ambled off down a hallway with his backside to his audience. A remarkable forensic sayonara from an American president.

To decode that nonverbal passage, this blog spoke with several marketing professors and practitioners. “It’s about closure,” one of them remarked. “By showing us his back, he’s closing the book on Bin Laden and much of the 9/11 trauma. Obama’s body says better than W’s words ever did:  Mission Accomplished!" “After walking away from us, Obama takes a sharp left and disappears into another room,” noted a second observer. “His gait is calm and business-like as if he’s about to take care of more business of state, even though the nation is about to party.”

Another marketing pundit was more prescient: “By walking ahead and away from us, especially when he’s just registered a political slam dunk, Obama is inviting us to follow him--for six more years.”

The final 30 seconds of the Obama speech: