« March 2005 | Main | May 2005 »

Difference between Japan and US

Two manhole covers--one about 100 yards from my Colorado house:

and the other on a typical residential district in Tokyo.

Any questions?

Beauty and attention to design detail... everywhere I turned during my two week stay (Tokyo and Kyoto), I saw it. Every--and I mean every Japanese restaurant (including the fast-food sushi joints) had an architectural bent. A sense of style. An aesthetic sensibility you just don't see throughout the US!

Does this matter for the rest of us? If you listen to Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, yes. It matters deeply. It might even mean our jobs.

Eric gave a brief preview of the book in this entry, and I'll do a more thorough review when I finish, but his main premise is that in the new economy, we can no longer rely on left-brain activities (he uses left and right brain as a metaphor), because those are being outsourced and automated. And because there's so much abundance of goods out there, you cannot compete on utility and function. You must add meaning (or what he calls "significance"). Through aesthetics... look and feel. Adding beauty and style and fung shui or...

His notion is that if you are doing something that a computer can do, or that can be done by someone else for less money, or that is not in great demand (either because nobody wants it or because the supply is already so great), you better start looking at enhancing and evolving your right brain skills. Design is one of those.

Really, we're all designers -- at least with a lowercase "d". We're all trying to create solutions. But we should all--ALL OF US--be adding design to the list of "must learn" topics for this year.

The Japanese are being raised with a design/art/aesthetic sensibility, and we need to do the same. Besides the manhole covers and the gorgeous Japanese lunchbox take-out meals, I noticed another dramatic example of the relative importance of design to the Japanese vs. the average American:

I went into a large Borders-like bookstore in Kyoto, and considered how it matched (or didn't) the way one of our large US bookstores is laid out. The main difference? In a typical Borders or Barnes & Noble in the US, the art/design section is off in a corner somewhere while the top bestsellers (DaVinci Code, etc.) are all displayed right up front near the cash registers or wherever the most prominent location is for that store. But in this Japanese store, the bestsellers were off to one side and the art/design section was in the center location right in front of the main registers! But that's not all... it was also the most crowded section. I had to fight my way in while Japanese of all ages were browsing through books on everything from architecture to zen gardens to pop culture graphics to photography to illustration and... (not anime, which got its OWN section).

We should all start thinking like designers. Lots of folks are talking about it, and we made references to it in Beth's entry Why cool is good for your brain and my earlier How well do your know your user's brain, where I gave links to Don Norman and Virgina Postrel's books on rise and importance of aesthetics today.

The good news is anyone can learn design. With a lowercase "d". A good book to start with might be one of these two:

Design Basics, or the newer Universal Principles of Design.

And you can also start by picking up a design magazine like iD or HOW, or something on architecture. It'll be good for your brain, and good for your users. Whether you're a software engineer, marketer, teacher, doesn't matter. We all need to start thinking more like designers and we all need to add meaning and significance to the things we create from software applications to learning experiences to books.

I'm a little too jet-lagged to say any more right now except to leave you with some fun links I found about others who've been captivated by manhole covers (I had no idea).

the Flickr manhole group

Drainspotting, a manhole enthusiast site.

A company that sells some cool ones (why isn't that nautilus one on MY street?)

And someone else who blogged about the beautiful Japanese manhole covers here.

Vancouver Canada is doing something interesting, considering manhole covers "art under foot", here.

Have fun! I'm glad to be back... I missed y'all. Thanks Beth for your wonderful blog entries, and thanks to the rest of you for participating.

Posted by Kathy on April 30, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Flying to Tokyo now...


I'm leaving for the airport in a couple hours, and I'm going without a laptop. I'm conducting a little experiment to see how much I can actually do without one, and to help with my "research", I was forced to buy a Zodiac and a PalmOne full-size keyboard. Both things fit into my pocket (the keyboard folds up into it's own case quite cleverly).

Yeah yeah yeah I could have got an old beater laptop for that amount of money but a laptop would be:
A) heavier
B) use up its battery power after the first 7.2% of the flight over (I'm flying United cattle car, and the lack of power on that plane has been confirmed)
C) not as much fun

This Zodiac is awesome--you get the lastest Palm OS PDA, but with a gorgeous (and large) screen, extra gaming controls, and it even vibrates when you, say, run into a wall doing 140 in the driving game. What a great time to be a geek! I now have a new PDA, the tiniest but totally capable typing machine, and a cool little game device all for under $300 (that includes the extra wireless keyboard). It's not as sexy as the new Playstation portable, but I can actually do real work on this thing (or so I'm telling myself... a half-hour after I brought it home I "accidentally" went to the Tapwave site where I "accidentally" bought the Tony Hawk skateboard game and "accidentally" loaded it into my Zodiac...)

Anyway, I'm supposed to have a new chapter done when I return, so we'll see how much actual typing I can do on this thing. I did some experiments using the WordSmith word processor on the thing, and it works surprisingly well. Then you can just sync it right back into Word or (in my case) a TextEdit RTF file (which I'll later drop into Adobe InDesign, which is what we use to make our books).

I won't be checking email or blogging on it, although I could pick up a wireless card for it and I'd be able to blog, browse, and email. But there will be enough computers at Sun's Tokyo office, where I'll be working, so I should be able to have at least some contact with the rest of the world.

I don't expect to make more than two or three blogs, though, because the project I'm on is extremely intense and the hours will be looooooong. And at night when we're done working, well, there's that karaoke bar...

Eric and Beth will be here and they'll make some posts. Maybe if I ask nicely, they'll even tell us about that Joseph Campbell retreat they just returned from ; )

Be adventurous while I'm gone!
(I'll be back April 28)

Posted by Kathy on April 14, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The muse always comes late


Is it possible to be creative on a deadline?
Last Friday I went to a wonderful presentation at The Conference on World Affairs where film critic Roger Ebert hosted Dave Grusin, Oscar-winning film composer and jazz musician (and founder of indie label GRP). The guy has more than 90 film scores to his credit!

During the Q & A, a music student asked Dave, "I'm a song writer, and I want to know how you can be creative on a deadline. How you can come up with something because you must. I have to wait until it hits me before I can do anything... I can't seem to make it happen; I just have to wait for it to come to me."

Upon hearing this, Roger Ebert jumped in with a comment about how "The muse never shows up at the beginning." Dave Grusin laughed, said he appreciated the guy's pain, but was very clear that creativity is not something you "wait for the muse to appear before starting." He said you just sit down and start the hard work, and trust that it will happen, even if it doesn't feel like it.

A long time ago I worked as copywriter for a radio station, writing 30 and 60-second commercials. That was my first experience with "creativity under pressure", and I was surprised to find out that when you must be creative, you can. (Using all the tricks and tools for creativity, of course.) It's like the advice a mother might give a shy teenager, "Just start acting as though you have confidence and eventually it'll become true." The point is:

When it comes to being creative, you have to make the first move!

We have to do this a lot with our books, which (unlike how one might imagine writing a technical text book might be) involve a great deal of creativity. But we use tricks! All four of us, for example, use mind maps for (among other things) initial brainstorming and idea-generation (I talked about mind maps a little in the why I want a tablet PC post).

The key to using mind maps for brainstorming (as opposed to using them for "graphical organizers" that I showed in my earlier post) is to go really fast. The idea is to engage your "right" brain (metaphorically speaking) while simultaneously supressing your judgemental, logical, rational "left" brain. Something magical happens when you just start throwing down nodes and drawing connections and linking ideas without giving ANY real thought. The moment you start thinking/analyzing, you're screwed. But if you just let it happen, you'll find yourself looking down at your paper 10 minutes later and seeing things you never would have come up with using a logical thinking process. So it's not a matter of "waiting for the muse", but it's also not a matter of using brute force thinking. You just have to do something!

Beth offered a ton of great resources for creative brainstorming in this post, which is a great place to start.

So if you're procrastinating or waiting for the muse to show up before you can be your most creative brilliant self, don't bother. Chances are, the muse is waiting for you. When you're smack in the middle of work, even if what you're coming up with is total crap, the muse will reward you for the effort, and for sticking it out no matter what (or how little) stuff you're coming up with.

And here's another little article from US News on how anyone can be creative. It references a book on creativity by the brilliant choreographer Twyla Tharp called The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for life (OK, no muse around during the creation of that title, but still...)

Twyla says, "Art is work. It is not inspiration." But she also mentions the creativity killers including, "Routine, habit. That we become enmeshed in patterns of behavior and we don't question them. We can become complacent, we can start taking things for granted, and we don't ask questions. Creativity is about questioning."

So, what are you doing to shake things up for yourself? To break out of your normal habits? Which, by the way, is also a key to keeping your brain in top shape. Check out this article on brainfitness that mentions a book (and approach to life and work) that I highly recommend, Keep your brain alive by Lawrence Katz.

And you can start by eating your next meal using your non-dominant hand (the trick used by the teacher played by Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society), and taking a slightly different route home from work. And picking one unusual new thing you're going to learn this week, that isn't a work-related requirement.

Have fun : )

Posted by Kathy on April 13, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Who's in charge--you or your brain?

When you look at this picture, a special area of your brain kicks in to process it. An area tuned just for recognizing faces (or anything that kind of looks like a face). And you don't get a say in this. That face-processing area is so primitive, in fact, that your brain can detect an angry face even before you consciously know it's a face!
And here's the strangest one of all--from neurologist Richard Restak's book Poe's Heart and the Mountain Climber--"After damage to the right inferior parietal cortex... the affected person frequently loses the ability to perceive or respond in any way to things in the opposite (left) visual field. But that doesn't hold for angry faces... Despite the affected person's usual inability to consciously see and describe anything on the blind side, his or her amygdala responds when the experimenter projects an emotional picture to that side--evidence of a split between conscious and unconscious perception."

So there are scenarios in which you might not even be able to see the face, but your brain still reacts to it! This is a life-saving skill, of course, and studies have shown that a neutral or relatively pleasant face doesn't cause the same reaction as, say, a face where the person shows disgust. BabyfaceSeeing another person crinkle up their face in disgust has probably saved a gazillion lives throughout history ("Oh! I think I'll take a pass on that meat...")

And that's just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to your brain responding to things beyond your conscious awareness or control. That's why it surprises me how little the average person knows--or even cares to know--about how their own brain works. Most of us go through life under the illusion that we're in charge of our all of our reactions. And it's just not so.

That's one of the reasons that all four of us on this blog (Eric, Beth, Bert, and I) have tossed our televisions forever. (More on that later)

Beth's recent post about the latest issue of Scientific American Mind reminded me of how the four of us have such a strong interest in the brain, as brain users, not brain scientists. Her post also mentioned the marvels of the new brain scanning technologies like fMRI, and that struck a very personal chord for me that I'll share in this blog, despite my aversion to revealing personal details.

[Sidebar] My interest in the brain began when I had my first grand mal seizure at the age of four. The first in a long series that dominated the rest of the my childhood until inexplicably (but apparently quite common), the frequency of seizures dropped dramatically by the time I was in college. But when I was young, my mother had a very tough choice to make--accept that I would be one of the millions for whom the cause is unknown, or submit to a series of potentially life-threatening procedures to try to find out. Painless and harmless brain scans weren't an option! My seizures were severe and frequent, but usually not life-threatening, so her option (and later mine) was to weigh the odds. She decided to wait it out, knowing that there was a risk my brain "storms" were caused by something that could ultimately kill me, like a brain tumor. I still remember the day as a teenager when my neurologist finally said, "Well, since you made it this far, whatever is causing your seizures probably won't kill you." Fortunately, I am one of the lucky ones who has long "auras" before every seizure, which means I have a minimum of three hours advanced warning. So the chances of my having a seizure while driving, skiing, climbing, or even just standing on a cement floor (which would suck to fall onto) are virtually zero. I can do anything without fear of having a seizure, which is why I'm allowed to have a driver's license (although I've had to do battle with the state of California over this). [/Sidebar]

Enough true confessions. Back to my point:
Everyone should know how their brain really works, because it--not you--is running the show!

I'm making a distinction between the conscious "you" and your brain, of course, but that's because it matters. Remember, while you live in the 21st century, your brain still reacts as though you're in a far more primitive time. You're dealing with a legacy brain.

The more you learn about the brain, the more you learn all the ways in which you're being manipulated by things like ads (especially ads), pop culture, the words and behaviors of those around you, movies and television, peer pressure, political spin, news media, beauty, and ulimately--chemistry. Hormones. Neurotransmitters. What's floating around up there naturally, and how you might alter it with alcohol, food, drugs, sex (or pictures of sex), or even by just sitting in a room with a television turned on!

In our books, we exploit some of this to try to manipulate or "trick" your brain into thinking that what you're trying to learn is as important as where that next mammoth hunt will be. Because remember, while you're thinking, "This is important! I have a test next week!", your brain is thinking, "This is SO not life-threatening." Your brain looks for certain telltale shifts (even subtle ones) in chemistry, and if they aren't there, your brain has a special agent (creb-2) that's working overtime to STOP you from remembering. It's trying to save bandwidth for the really important stuff... and you aren't in charge!

You and your brain, it seems, are not "of a mind". You often want one thing while your brain is leading you to something else. Like another beer. Like that piece of cheesecake. Like that terribly attractive but oh-so-wrong-for-you potential mate.

Anxiety is another place where this becomes a huge issue. People have been found suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome from merely watching the images of the twin towers falling. And we all suffer from at least one form of irrational fear (or at least mild anxiety) that we consciously don't want, but can't seem to shake.

But learning about the brain can offer hope there too. In the Restak book I mentioned earlier, he talks about some promising studies that have shown ways to reduce anxiety not by trying to get you to forget, say, a bad experience, but by using techniques that can cause you to transform or "reappraise" the experience. He mentions an experiment carried out on "normal" volunteers who where given a shock to the wrist after seeing a yellow square on a screen. Naturally, the subjects became tense when they saw the yellow square. But the experimenter gave them instructions to think of "soothing images drawn from nature at the instant they saw the yellow square. In other words, the volunteers were encouraged to reappraise the situation: focus on a soothing image, rather than the fact that the square preceeded a shock."

What was really interesting about the study is that they were able to prove that the subject's "physiological arousal" (heart rate, etc.) was reduced when the did the reappraisal, and more significantly--the brain scans showed that their brain's fear response was reduced! They showed more "thought" activity in the prefrontal cortex, which corresponds to a dampening of the amygdala (the primitive part that reacts to things it perceives as threatening).

I'm going to Japan on business later this week. The moment I learned of the trip, I should have been excited. But I instantly felt my body tense up. Because the last (and only) time I was in Japan was just over ten years ago, and I woke up on my first morning in Tokyo to the sounds of screaming, terror, sirens, and I was alone there. I looked out my window and saw a scene from a sci-fi/horror movie--people in something like space suits, surrounded by ambulances and, well, you probably guessed that my first morning there involved a WMD--the sarin gas attack on the subway just below the hotel.

But I wanted to go on this new trip, so I pulled out Restak's book where I had dog-eared the part about reappraisal, and that's what I've been doing. I focused on the cherry blossoms that are in bloom right NOW in Tokyo, and the way the breeze felt on my skin as I sat in a park across from the hotel the night before the disaster. I thought of the beautiful garden at the Zen center in Rochester where my friends got married, and focused on the magical places in Kyoto I'm planning to visit at the end of the trip. And it's working!

Fortunately, this is a fabulous time to learn about your brain because of the resources springing up from recent interest in what some are calling "recreational neuroscience". But I don't think it's just for recreation. I think it can mean the difference between a happy, alive, mindful, awake, passionate life and... one that isn't. And there are some great references including the Scientific American Mind magazine and books like the super cool (if not always practical) Mind Hacks (you can link to the book from that blog).

If you're a marketer, a programmer, a designer, or a... human, you owe it to yourself to learn what your brain is doing so you can make conscious choices whether to be manipulated. In a movie, you decide to be a willing co-conspirator to "suspend disbelief" and fall into the story. But what happens when the network news is trying to suck you in with the "if it bleeds it leads" approach? What about advertising? Political messages? Culture? Peer pressure? Family pressure? Finding our how your brain works is in many ways the key to taking back your life.

An earlier edition of Scientific American Mind, Volume 14, number 1, has an article on Television Addiction that I wish everyone on the planet would read. You can still be in charge and have television, but it's extremely difficult. Personally, I didn't feel up to the challenge, and it wasn't worth what it does to your brain and body, so I dumped mine (as did the others here). If you haven't tried it, it's like 1,000 pounds of stress and weight being lifted off your shoulders. You'll most likely lose weight, and more importantly--you'll more likely read more, get more done, spend more time with other hobbies and, oh yeah, have more sex. : )

(Yes, that part about sex was manipulative, after all--isn't that what advertisers say or at least hint about virtually everything? But in the case of TV, it's true! Trust me on this one ; )

Posted by Kathy on April 11, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Code for Head First Java second edition

If you want to download the code JAR for the second edition of HF Java 2, I've posted it here (on the wickedlysmart site). But thanks to John Croucher for pointing out that the first edition code is also still available here.

I'm really sorry about the confusion--we thought O'Reilly was managing the code and they thought we were, so we ended up with hidden links to both versions of the code. The errata page for the second edition is on the O'Reilly site.

Which version of the code do you need? If you're using Java 5.0 (aka Tiger aka Java 1.5), you need the second edition code, regardless of which version of the book you're using. If you're using Java 1.4 or 1.3, you need the first edition code, even if you're using the second edition of the book. However, unless you're using a Macintosh, you should be using Java 5.0 if you have the second edition of the book! On the Mac, the only way to get Java 5.0 (legally ; ) is to either join the Apple Developer Program (the free membership level doesn't work), and get the beta version of Mac OSX 10.4 (also known as Tiger), or wait for the Tiger OS to be released. You can preorder it here from Amazon, and it should be out in the next couple of months.

I'll have to shoot you if I tell you that I've been using the beta version of OSX 10.4, which means the beta version of Java 5.0 (so, Tiger on Tiger), and it's been a ton of fun.

Warning: if you're using Java 5.0 but have the first edition of the book, most of the code will still work (although the code that uses an ArrayList will give you compiler warnings, but will still run). But... the BeatBox code won't loop! Sun made a few little changes to the sound API, and I had to modify the code to loop. If you're familiar with that code, in the first edition we do a hack to cause the sequence to loop, by listening for a meta event and basically restarting the sequencer each time. But in Java 5.0, looping is set through the API. But since we upgraded the code to use the looping, that broke the way we handled the tempo change. In the old code, tempo changes you make at runtime are picked up each time the sequencer is restarted, but since the sequencer no longer restarts in the new code, we had to modify the tempo handling. The changes are very simple, but without them, the BeatBox will play once and just stop until you rerun the program!

And while we're here... we're still about six weeks away from finishing the update to our Sun Certified Java Programmer exam certification book, to match the upcoming Tiger/Java 5.0 version of the exam. Oh MAN is the new exam going to be hard, although several of the more challenging questions were lost during beta. During the beta test, if even the experts get a particular question wrong, we assume that something is ambiguous or particularly evil about the question, and it won't appear in the publicly released exam.

You still have a chance to take the current (Java 1.4) exam for probably the next four months at least, if you choose. Sometime later there will also be an upgrade exam for those who are already SCJP certified, on an older version, and want to bring their certification up to the new Java 5.0 version. That exam will have roughly half the number of questions as the full exam, and focus mostly on the newer objectives, although you will get at least a few questions from other objectives. We're working on the upgrade exam objectives now, and those should be posted fairly soon.

Good luck!

Posted by Kathy on April 9, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

You and your users: casual dating or marriage?


I was unexpectedly gone for a few days because I fell in love... with my new skis. What was supposed to be a late-season one-day trip became three of the best skiing days of my life. And all because I was on skis that made me feel like I kicked serious alpine ass. ; ) No, this is more than love... this is passion.

I've always been in love with skiing, and it's been close to a passion. But despite my love for what you do with skis I was never seriously into skis (or any other equipment as long as it worked). If you'd asked me a week ago, I would have said that I "loved" K2 skis. My first pair of skis as a teenager were K2s, and every pair I've had since then have been K2s. If the company had tracked me, they'd have said I was a loyal, perhaps even passionate user. And I thought so too. But it turns out, I was merely a little sentimental about the company.

When the time came to make a new buying decision, I discovered just how unpassionate I really was for K2. When I found an expert to help me (a ski guru at Boulder Ski Deals), we narrowed it down to two skis: a new K2 women-specific ski (very cool idea) called "One Luv", and a women-specific ski from Volkl, the 724 EXS Gamma.

But here's the thing -- although I favored the K2 because I had thought I was a fan of the company, when it turned out they didn't have them in my size and I'd have to wait a few days for them to come in, I switched. My so-called love and loyalty evaporated.

And I think a lot of businesses probably mistake customer retention (repeat buyers) for customer love, when it might be nothing more than the fact that humans tend to be habit-driven, especially in the face of so many choices. I tended to buy K2s because I knew it was a good company, and they'd always worked for me in the past. Although until this week, I probably never uttered the words, "I love my skis!" So when presented with a choice between something new I could have right then (and even at a slightly higher price) or waiting a couple days for my "love" brand, I dumped K2 without the tiniest flicker of emotion. I wasn't a passionate K2 user, and it turns out I wasn't really even in love.

But now, with Volkl, it's a different story. Because of the combination of an awesomely-engineered pair of skis, and the expert thoughtfullness with which the sales guy at the store made his recommendations, I ended up with a pair of skis that took my skiing into an entirely new plane. After the last three days, I am not just passionate about skiing, I'm telling everyone I know to pay attention to Volkl, especially women. My passion for the sport of skiing has now been permanently bonded to a particular ski vendor. (And the store where I got them as well.)

Let's say these skis are stolen next month or next year. After I back away from the ledge, I'll do whatever it takes to get another pair of these skis. And if that model is discontinued, I'll buy a different pair of Volkl skis. I'm absolutely certain of this:
Ill wait as long as it takes to get them, and I'll pay a premium.

Remember, it doesn't matter how your users feel about YOU, all that matters is how they feel about themselves as a result of interacting with your product or service.

By making me kick ass, Volkl now has my undying loyalty and passion. Something K2 never managed to do. And yet, even if I'd had only good (but not fabulous) experiences on my K2s, the company could have inspired my loyalty and passion by giving me something more to believe in. But they didn't. At least not in advance. It turns out that K2 women donates a portion of their sales to the Breast Cancer Research Fund, a cause dear to my heart (my mother died from breast cancer at the devastatingly young age of 40). But at the time of my purchase, I didn't know that. It might have tipped the balance, actually.

Could K2 have done something to turn my perceived-but-not-real loyalty into a long-term commitment? Probably, although I'm not sure how. Maybe they needed an aggressive ski registration system, so they could have known--and rewarded me--for being a K2 owner.

Hmmm... this gives me a lot to think about, but most important is the need to stop confusing loyalty with love, and love with true passion. Great customer service and a great product can earn you satisfaction, and often love, but until we get something close to passion, an attractive outsider can still turn a user's head. And the way to move toward passion, is to give your users the kind of experience I had this week... where I thought I was simply the hottest thing on Copper Mountain (I wasn't, of course, but that's not the point ; )
So, what are you doing to give your users the "I kick ass" experience? And what are you doing to help lock in your relationships with regular, but not yet passionate users?

Posted by Kathy on April 8, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Why I want a Tablet PC


I could not live without mind maps. All four of us (Bert, Beth, Eric and I) all use mind maps exclusively to map out a book, then a chapter, then each topic, before we go to storyboards. We don't use the concept of a conventional "outline" for our books--mind maps take us from initial brainstorming to final storyboards.

So when I made my tutorial workbook for the ETech participants, it was a no-brainer to have the attendees create mind-maps, rather than writing linear outline notes. From the overview to the last page, everything in the tutorial was done via mind maps like this initial one:

A typical page in the workbook gave the center part of the map (the central theme) and the users were to fill in the rest of the map as we went along:

The main reason I do it this way is because when you use a linear format rather than pieces radiating out from the center, the brain imposes a hierarchical structure on the content, regardless of whether one was intended. And this matters. It changes, even if subtly, the way you process and understand the material. Another thing mindmaps let you do is make connections between different nodes; something that's especially hard (or impossible) to do with linear notes.

BUT... when it came to ETech, I had completely overlooked one crucial thing...a lot of people take notes on their laptops! And for all the right reasons... they have an electronic copy they can store, file, share, modify, blog, whatever.

That meant, however, that there was a serious mismatch between what they were being asked to do-- fill out mind maps-- vs. what they could do--type linear notes into a text editor or outliner.

And a lot of the mind maps I was asking them to create didn't just involve organizing the words into nodes, but also included simple drawings for them to sketch out. So even if they were using mind-mapping software (I'll give some links in a moment), they still couldn't draw the pictures. Although using mind-mapping software would still be a huge step closer to the intended idea, what I really wanted was a way for people to replicate the experience of taking notes and sketching in the paper workbook. I wanted them to do on the computer exactly what those not using a computer were doing. Mind maps, pictures, everything.

Then... I met a guy from Microsoft Search, Brady Forrest, who I'll never forgive for what happened next. He came up with his tablet PC and showed me the notes he took during my tutorial:

He'd created a mind map... complete with drawings! I fell in love right there in the hallway. Just to make sure I wouldn't recover, he then handed me the tablet PC and the pen and said, "Here... draw something..." Then he even had me enter my contact info into a mind map.

The software he used was Mind Manager from MindJet, and it seemed to do a fantastic job of capturing everything I intended, and in a natural way (and that also lets you collapse the thing in various ways and even print an outline and a set of HTML pages!) Here's a close-up of one section of his map:

There are other programs out there, including an open source Java project Free Mind.

At home, I don't have a problem because I use a Wacom tablet instead of a mouse. But I never realized how hard it would be to take notes in a presentation using my laptop with a tablet. I'd have to, say, ask the guy next to me if I could rest my Wacom on his thigh : )

Anyway, that was the most expensive hallway meeting of my life, because now I simply must have one. And I don't even like Windows. I've been hearing Robert Scoble talk about them (almost endlessly), but they registered a zero on my personal emotional richter scale, until I saw what Brady had done, and it finally hit me how much more natural this was.

If you haven't become a mind map convert, you might not be able to appreciate the dramatic difference between typing linear notes vs. creating branching (non-top-down hierarchy) mind maps. The important point is that your brain knows the difference. You can see things with a mind map that you simply won't see with a hierarchical top-down representation.

I urge you to try it whether in software or on paper. There are some instructions on getting started here and here, but a quick Google search should tell you everything.

Gee, thanks Brady. There goes that new camera I was going to get with my next royalty check ; (

Posted by Kathy on April 4, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (41) | TrackBack

Reese, Kevin, and The Monty Hall Problem

"There's a car behind one of those three doors... and goats behind the other two. Pick the door you think the car is behind. OK, now before I open the door you chose, I'll open one of the other doors... [door opens revealing a goat] and you can see there's no car behind that one. But I'll give you a chance to switch your door for the remaining closed door. What do you say? Do you want to switch or keep the one you originally chose?"

And that's one way of looking at the Monty Hall problem that's been inciting/confusing/intriguiging/pissing people off for years.
(You can try it yourself through this applet.)

In my recent blog on Seduction and Curiosity I made up a kind of variant on the Monty Hall problem, only this time the problem was for Kevin to pick the business card that had Reese's phone number on the back, from a pile of three business cards. Threecards After Kevin made his choice, Reese turned over a blank card, and asked if Kevin wanted to stick with the one he had, or switch for her remaining card. He declined, thinking, "Each card started with a 1-in-3 chance, and nothing could change that." But when he didn't switch, she criticized him for not realizing that switching would have improved his odds... something his friend Manny confirmed by saying, "Your odds would have gone from 1 in 3 to 2 in 3."

I wasn't really thinking when I posted the problem... it was just the first thing that came to me when I thought about the puzzles that have made me curious, so I used it as an example. (And you can definitely count me among the huge group of Those Who Did Not Get It when I first saw it.)

And I intentionally left a few things up for speculation that people have wondered and argued about in the Monty Hall problem including, "Does the motivation of the host matter?" "Do they ALWAYS offer the choice to switch, or does it depend on whether the host (Monty) knows that the contestant got lucky and picked the winning door..."

And then when I posted my Java code (in the comments to the original post), that repeated the Reese/Kevin thing 500 times, Daniel pointed out that there was the potential for another issue if my code was trying to model the real-life scenario of Reese and Kevin. The problem was that in my code Reese had a very specific algorithm--she always turned over the "A" card to show Kevin (revealing that it was blank) unless it happened to be the winning card, in which case she turned over the "C" card (Kevin always picked "B"). So that meant that if Kevin wasn't too drunk at this point, then he could eventually figure it out. Think about it... if Kevin is really paying attention, and he sees that most times Reese turns over the "A" card, then those times when she does turn over the "C" card, he thinks, "Oh... that must mean that the winning card is "A", because this time she didn't turn it over..." It would be just like if in the Monty Hall problem, Monty always looked at the doors from, say, left to right, and he always revealed the left-most of his two doors, unless that's where the car was. When the contestant saw him skip the left-most door and open the other one instead, the contestant would have new information he could use.

So, in my problem, the code was just meant to show you that if the EXACT same scenario were repeated 500 times, with Kevin always picking "B", and the winning card is randomly distributed among the three cards, and that if Reese ALWAYS reveals a blank card and offers Kevin the chance to switch, then indeed Kevin's chances go up to 2 in 3 instead of his original 1 in 3. In other words, in this example, Kevin should always switch. . (And this is exactly how Marilyn Vos Savant answered the question in the infamous article that started the controversy--she said the contestant should always switch.)

But as promised, here is my attempt at an explanation. But with

huge disclaimers:

1) I don't know or care where the math gene is... I was born without it. (Proving that good-at-programming doesn't always imply good-at-math). So, my explanation might be completely ridiculous.

2) This is not a subject I have ever--or will ever try to teach or write about, since it's WAY outside my knowledge comfort zone.

But if you're still reading and still wondering how switching could possibly improve the odds when all three business cards started with a 1 in 3 chance of being the right card... here's my biggest hint:

It's not about three individual cards. It's about two stacks.

Here's another way of thinking about it. Imagine I have, say, 50 cards divided into two stacks, and only one of the 50 cards has the winning phone number on the back. Stack X has just one card while stack Y has 49 cards. Twostacks And now I pose the question, "Which stack do you want?" Hmmmm... which stack is more likely to hold the winning card? ; ) Of COURSE you choose stack Y, the big one. The odds of the winning card being in the bigger stack are 49 in 50. A hell of a lot better than the 1 in 50 odds you get if you pick the stack-of-one, stack X.

The point of the Monty Hall/Reese-and-Kevin thing is that it was always about two things, not three. It was always about the host's big stack (two doors/cards, etc.) vs. the contestant's small stack (one door/card).

The person running the show (Monty or Reese), starts out with a bigger stack!

Reese has the bigger stack... the one with a 2 in 3 chance instead of a 1 in 3 chance.Kevinandreesestacks
And by offering you the chance to switch, Reese is really giving you the chance to swap your SMALL stack for her BIG stack. It was always about Reese's bigger stack!

Her turning over a card made it look as though it came down to just the two cards--her remaining one and Kevin's original pick. But in reality, she was simply giving you the chance to switch for her bigger stack, and the fact that she revealed one of the cards in her stack doesn't change the fact that the winning card was always twice as likely to be in Reese's bigger stack.

But again, there's the important assumption in my explanation that says, "Reese always offers Kevin a chance to switch, no matter how many times they might repeat this." So Kevin doesn't have to wonder whether Reese is giving him a chance to switch only because she already knows he DID pick the winning card.

Finally, here's one more way to look at why switching ups the odds... the point is that if Kevin sticks to his original pick ("B") and doesn't switch, the only way he can win is if he got lucky the first time and "B" was the winning card--the 1 in 3 chance. But if he does switch, then he doubles his chances, because Reese always turns over a blank card. If the winning card is "A", Reese turns over "C" and gives Kevin a chance to pick "A". If the winning card is "C", Reese turns over "A" and gives Kevin a chance to pick "C". If Kevin always picks "B" and always switches, he has two chances to win instead of one. If Kevin always switches, then the only time he loses is when he happened to pick the winning card the first time (the 1 in 3 chance that "B" is the winning card). But if the winning card was either "A" or "C", then Kevin wins if he switches.


OK math heads and stats folks -- or anyone who has another way to think about this, please feel free to post your comments (and thanks so much to those who did in the original, with special mention to Brad Corbin, Matt Moran, and Woolstar) And if my explanation is just completely lame and makes no sense, feel free to say that too. I'm so out of my area of expertise here it's astonishing : )

And now, back to somewhat less geeky blogs...

Posted by Kathy on April 4, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Announcing Head First Scheme

We're proud to announce that the next book in the successful Head First series will cover the incredibly exciting programming language known as Scheme, described by some folks at MIT as "... a statically scoped and properly tail-recursive dialect of the Lisp programming language". Wow! If that doesn't work up your passion for programming, you shouldn't be coding.

The four of us have spent the last 3 months secretly writing Head First Scheme, and while the tragically-underappreciated language may not have taken over the world yet, it should and it will. Sure, Java's cool and all, but seriously--can you really trust your mission-critical apps to a language named for a hot beverage?

Once again, Tim O'Reilly has proved his savvy (and bravery) in allowing us to do the book we wanted--market size be damned.

Preorders will start on Amazon beginning April 1! Order yours now, and await all the tail recursion, closures and Y-combinators you'd ever want. As we've subtitled this book, it is a "brain-based guide to programming nirvana." And we think it's the perfect language for just about anything: teaching, enterprise backends, mobile devices (we even have a tutorial on The Little Toaster--with a Scheme interpreter running on a variety of kitchen appliances), and of course any kind of Web Service.

Have fun!

Posted by Eric Freeman on April 1, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (44) | TrackBack