10-8-11 Hodgepodge

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Who Inspires the Inspirational?

America has clearly lost a great and inspiring man (via HBL) in Steve Jobs. But who inspired him? The New York Times has a story on Polaroid's Edwin H. Land, who invented instant photography:

Both built multibillion-dollar corporations on inventions that were guarded by relentless patent enforcement. (That also kept the competition at bay, and the profit margins up.) Both were autodidacts, college dropouts (Land from Harvard, Jobs from Reed) who more than made up for their lapsed educations by cultivating extremely refined taste. At Polaroid, Land used to hire Smith College's smartest art-history majors and send them off for a few science classes, in order to create chemists who could keep up when his conversation turned from Maxwell's equations to Renoir's brush strokes.

Most of all, Land believed in the power of the scientific demonstration. Starting in the 60s, he began to turn Polaroid's shareholders' meetings into dramatic showcases for whatever line the company was about to introduce. In a perfectly art-directed setting, sometimes with live music between segments, he would take the stage, slides projected behind him, the new product in hand, and instead of deploying snake-oil salesmanship would draw you into Land's World. By the end of the afternoon, you probably wanted to stay there.
Read the whole thing.

Weekend Reading

"Call hypocrisy by its proper name, and treat it accordingly – in yourself and in others." -- Michael Hurd, in "Avoid Hypocrisy for Positive Change" at DrHurd.com

"In earlier generations, civil disobedience like the Montgomery Bus Boycott or women's suffrage movement used nonviolent protest to combat blatant violations of individual rights." -- Jonathan Hoenig, in "Occupy Wall Street: A Sad Display" at SmartMoney

My Two Cents

Hoenig makes three invaluable observations about the "occupation" in his column that I have seen nowhere else: (1) It certainly doesn't occupy the moral high ground, in marked contrast to past examples of civil disobedience; (2) It is sad; and (3) It is, nevertheless, quite dangerous.

A Snapshot of Confirmation Bias?

From a story on four strange Android phone glitches:
Users across the Internet dreamed up all sorts of fixes. Some claimed that there was a plastic film that needed to be peeled off the lens. Other were convinced that a good, solid cleaning of the glass with a lint-free cloth was the ticket. Still others said it was a hardware flaw. It turns out none of them were right, but it does illustrate the effect of confirmation bias for those obsessively cleaning the lens.

One fine morning a few weeks after the device launched, everyone woke up to a functional camera. A stealth OTA update? No, as it turns out, there was a date-dependent bug in Android 2.0 that would cycle every 24.5 days. So every few weeks, the autofocus would flip between working and not working. [minor edits, link to confirmation bias added]
Maybe, maybe not...

Following the second link above, I see that some people, inspired by things they read about the phones shipping with an oily film on their camera lenses, performed "experiments" that involved wiping said lenses. Although I am sure some of these people may have cleaned their lenses just as the date bug caused their cameras to (temporarily) start working, I wonder what they did twenty-five days later. Whether this was an example of confirmation bias depends, in part on the answer to that question.

Those who permitted confirmation bias to distort their view of reality would have gone on cleaning their lenses and insisting that their less-than-crisp snapshots were good; and those who did not would have admitted their mistake and started looking again for the correct answer.

Even the above depends on further context, for example, on what "green focus" means, and whether there was some objective way to know what level of image quality the camera should have produced. If the problem was subtle and "green focus" was an indication that could yield false positives on top of the focus bug, I am not sure the concept of confirmation bias could apply to the mistaken judgement that some people obviously made as to whether their cameras were working.

-- CAV

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