Thursday, February 23, 2012

13 Ways You Can Be Fooled

I Pity 'da Fool!
Mark Twain said, "There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Politicians love this adage.  They will have you believing the Earth is flat even while you're in orbit peering down at its obvious roundness.

Why do everyday people—intelligent people—doubt things like Man-made climate change, the safety of vaccinations, and the evidence for the evolution of species?  People still doubt well-established facts, even with the availability of overwhelming evidence derived through the scientific method.

How can this be?
It's not simply because they have been fed lies.  The truth is, it's surprisingly easy for anyone to be fooled by faulty thinking.

Here are thirteen reasons why people can be fooled into believing nearly anything.  And yes, I am guilty of #9 ;-)

1. Confirmation Bias - Favoring evidence that supports your position while ignoring contradictory evidence.

Just remember, Columbus concluded that he had arrived in India; thus, he called the natives "Indians".

2. Slippery Slope Fallacy - Arriving at an extreme or absurd conclusion in order to discredit the initial premise and conclude it too must also be absurd.

A popular fear in the automotive industry was that once robots were introduced, all of the human assembly jobs would be eliminated.

3. False Dichotomy - Considering only two possibilities for an argument, so if the first is falsified, then the alternative must be true by default.

The following phrase is an example of a false dichotomy, "if you're not with us, you're against us." 

Actually, choosing "neither" is also a viable option, but it is ignored by this false dichotomy.  Things aren't always black-and-white.  That's why one of my favorite songs is "The Beauty Of Gray" by Live.

4. Correlation Does Not Imply Causation - A relationship between two events does not necessarily mean one event caused the other to occur.

In 2006, Airborne, an herbal supplement company, paid $23M to settle a class action lawsuit settlement for making claims their product boosted the immune system.  David Schardt, a senior nutritionist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, "There's no credible evidence that what's in Airborne can prevent colds or protect you from a germy environment."

This surprised many people who had never gotten sick after taking Airborne before entering crowed surroundings.  But correlation does not imply causation.  They would have likely experienced the same effect by taking sugar pill or nothing at all.

5. Popularity - Conforming to an ideology because of its popularity rather than its merits.

Slavery, need I say more?

6. Coincidence and Ignorance of ProbabilitiesBelieving an improbable, (or inevitable,) event is caused by an unseen force or conspiracy.

This is related to #1 above.  We tend to exaggerate the significance of seemingly unlikely events because we generally don't understand the true statistical probabilities involved.

Do you know someone who shares your birthday?  The statistical probability that two people in a group of thirty randomly chosen people will have the same birthday is 0.71.  (The closer that value is to 1, the higher the certainty.)  Doesn't seem so profound now, does it?

7. Baby Goes Out With The BathwaterDiscarding every argument on the basis of falsifying only one.

This is a popular tactic in the courtroom.  To discredit, or to raise reasonable doubt, of a single statement can be grounds to throw out the rest of the testimony.

8. Comfort ZoneResisting ideas that run counter to one's familiar ideologies.

We have a vested interest in being 'right' in society, so we fight very hard to avoid admitting any flaws in our cherished ideas.

For example, it's easier to just vote for one particular political party because that's how your family has always voted, even though the party's current policies will actually cause you and your family significant trauma.

9. Hasty Generalization - Drawing a conclusion without considering all of the variables.

One bad apple spoils the bunch, is a hasty generalization.

10. Authoritativeness - Drawing a conclusion with an overreliance on authority.

The relative fame, or perceived intelligence of an expert can sway you to accept their position even if they are wrong.  Look how many people were convinced not to vaccinate their children because of Jenny McCarthy's recklessness.  (See #4.)

11. Burden of Proof - Not understanding that the burden of proof really lies with the person making the extraordinary claim against conventional wisdom.

This is how science works.

12. Ad Hominem Attack - Attacking the person making the argument, rather than their claim.

Politicians, lawyers, and pundits, oh my!

13. Easy Way OutDeciding to believe 'simple and wrong' with certainty.

Often there is no simple answer to a complex problem.

Just remember, "There are two ways to be fooled.  One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true."  Søren Kierkegaard

Have you ever been fooled in any such manner?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Billions of Free Story Ideas - At Your Fingertips!

I had a major realization on Valentine's Day.  And no, it had nothing to do with loneliness or feeling needlessly pressured to commit.

While I was arranging my candy conversation hearts into suggestive phrases, (yes, I can be quite immature,) I was struck by a clever idea for the writing process.

As you know, there are billions and billions of possible combinations to the Rubik's Cube.  Actually, there are over 43 Quintillion.  (But, let's just say, infinite to us mortals.)

Well, if a small bag of stale Sweetheart candies can produce at least one gem of an innuendo, just think of the possibilities with 43 Quintillion hearts!

What does this have to do with writing?
  • Do you ever get writer's block?
  • Not too thrilled with your current plot ideas?
  • Do you have a scene in Act II that just doesn't cut it?
What if you had a convenient and portable way to spice up your writing?

Introducing The Rubik's Cube Writing Prompt Generator.  With this device, I guarantee you will never come up with the same scene or story idea twice.

So, here's the deal.

You can use a Rubik's Cube to generate six master plots or dramatic conflicts with every scramble.
A Rubik's Cube has six sides, each with nine different stickers on it.  A major story element can be written inside of each sticker: conflict, setting, character flaw, etc.  Mix up the cube, and you just may end up sticking that vampire in a zombie apocalypse.

One thing you should know.

The center positions are never going to move relative to each other.  Therefore, this should be a central conflict or one of the universal plots you enjoy working with.  The other stickers are completely up to you.  A single word.  A small phrase.  Random.  Related.  It doesn't really matter.

New prompt every time.

The great thing about The Rubik's Cube Writing Prompt Generator is, every time you scramble the cube, you have six different story ideas to choose from.  Even if you end up with something you don't like, you can always scramble it some more for a totally new set of ideas.

The Rubik's Cube Writing Prompt Generator can help you generate new and fresh ideas when you are stuck.  It's very flexible, infinite, and, unlike Sweethearts, you won't have the dreaded Sugar Crash.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

13 Reasons Why Songwriting Is Great Writing

I love music.  My entire life seems to play out to music.

Sure, there are plenty of stories that I wish I had written.  But it's usually a great song that stirs me up emotionally every time I hear it.

Today's post is dedicated to great songwriting, because hey, songwriting is writing.

13 Reasons Why Songwriting Is Great Writing

1. OHIO by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
"Four dead in Ohio."

2. PAINT IT BLACK by The Rolling Stones
"No colors anymore, I want them to turn black."

3. HURRICANE by Bob Dylan
"And though they could not produce the gun, The DA said he was the one, who did the deed, And the all-white jury agreed."

"If I said you ought to give him some of your water, you'd shake your canteen and walk away."

5. SUSPICIOUS MINDS by Elvis Presley
"You don't believe a word I say."

6. IT'S A MAN'S, MAN'S WORLD by James Brown
"This is a man's world but it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman"

7. LOSE YOURSELF by Eminem
"He choked but he won't give up that easy."

8. BIG TEN INCH RECORD by Aerosmith
"She just loves my big ten inch...record of her favorite blues."

9. ROOSTER by Alice In Chains
"Ain't found a way to kill me yet."

10. WHERE IS MY MIND by The Pixies
"Your head will collapse, but there's nothing in it and you'll ask yourself, Where is my mind?"

"Determination makes you run, never stop, got to win, got to run 'til you drop."

12. ONE by Metallica
"Fed through the tube that sticks in me [...] trapped in myself, body my holding cell."

13. THE UNDERTAKER (Renholder Mix) by Puscifer
"Thank you for [...] making it easy to murder your sweet memory."

What are your favorite song lyrics?

Thank you Jorik De Beer on Flickr for the incredible picture!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Are Your Writing Tools Versatile?

I try to avoid acquiring single-function items because they are usually good for one thing:  taking up space.  Ask anyone with a bread maker or an indoor grill.

Actually, some items can function exceptionally well at a single task and enrich our lives.

Take the Rubik's Cube.  I spent countless hours feeling challenged, frustrated, and ultimately fulfilled.

Yet, it's still a 'single-function' puzzle.  I needed variety.  So I ended up buying scores of different 'single-function' puzzles.  Each with a different twist (obvious pun).  It wasn't until I discovered the Rubik's Revenge (4x4) that I became enamored with its versatility.

The Swiss Army Knife of Puzzles

I expected the Rubik's Revenge to be more complex than the Rubik's Cube.  It may not be apparent at first, but it has four mobile center pieces on each of its side.  They are not fixed to a center axis like the Rubik's Cube.

What I did not expect was the Rubik's Revenge is actually three puzzles in one.

In addition to its four slices on each side, the Rubik's Revenge can be operated as two other puzzles shown above.  So, with this single puzzle I can emulate three totally different puzzles.

Okay, I did not discover the Grand Unified Theory of physics, but it was still a pleasant surprise.

Another Versatile Tool

I recently discovered another versatile tool:  the Kindle.

I wanted an eReader specifically for one thing, and one thing only:  to read.  Strictly a single-function item, right?  I did not want a tablet computer.  I did not want games.  I did not want the Internet.  I wanted the eInk variety.  The small Kindle, WiFi only.

But I discovered the Kindle is much more than a simple eReader for short story collections and novels.

If you are the type of person who likes to read in a jazzy coffee shop but instead find yourself reading on a bustling commuter train, you can use the built-in MP3 player to listen to your favorite music.
You can also create an eInk photo album on your Kindle.  Create a folder called "pictures" on your Kindle while it's connected to your computer.  Inside that folder create a sub-directory named "Album 1" with picture files copied into it.  Once you disconnect your Kindle and navigate to the Home screen, press Alt+Z.  Your new album of photos should now be listed in your library.

The Kindle can also be an extra USB memory drive in a pinch if a friend or colleague is trying to get you electronic data.

Not Just For Reading eBooks

The Kindle is great for reading documents, too.  I stare at a computer screen all day for work, so I avoid reading on a back-lit screen as much as I can.

It's great for the editing process.  I will transfer my WIPs and my critique partners' pieces to the Kindle for the initial read-through.  Of course I wouldn't do a complete red-line on the Kindle, but I do capture some important notes so I won't forget them later.

For my day job, I will also use my Kindle to read sales proposals and technical requirements documents.  It not only saves printer ink, but also saves my eyes.

Finally, if you are one to store your favorite recipes in a document on your computer, consider storing and viewing them on your Kindle.  They'll be quickly at hand and you can bookmark your favorite recipes.

Although I originally thought of the Kindle as a single-function item, it is more versatile than that.

What reading or writing tool is more versatile than you thought at first?