Monday, February 21, 2011

Photographic Memory

I've always been very doubtful of the existence of "photographic memory", but never read anything about it. I just happened to think about it while sitting in front of the computer, so had time for some quick research, which pretty much confirms my beliefs. From Wikipedia:

Much of the current popular controversy surrounding eidetic memory results from an over application of the term to almost any example of extraordinary memory skill. The existence of extraordinary memory skills is reasonably well-documented, and appears to result from a combination of innate skills, learned tactics, and extraordinary knowledge bases (you can remember more of what you understand than you can of meaningless or unconnected information.) Technically, though, eidetic memory means memory for a sensory event that is as accurate as if the person were still viewing, or hearing, the original object or event. Almost all claims of "eidetic memory" fall well outside this narrow definition.[citation needed] A handful of recent studies have suggested that there may be a few, rare individuals who are capable of a limited amount of eidetic recall. This recall is theorized to be essentially 'unprocessed' sensory memory of raw sensory events. (i.e. "raw" images devoid of the additional (usually automatic) perceptual processing, which in normal memory inseparably attaches to the image information about the object's identity and meaning. The documented eidetic abilities, however, appear to be far more circumscribed, and far less common than popularly imagined.
Marvin Minsky, in his book The Society of Mind, was unable to verify claims of eidetic memory and considered reports of eidetic memory to be an "unfounded myth".[citation needed]An example of extraordinary memory abilities being ascribed to eidetic memory comes from the popular interpretations of Adriaan de Groot's classic experiments into the ability of chess Grandmasters to memorize complex positions of chess pieces on a chess board. Initially it was found that these experts could recall surprising amounts of information, far more than non-experts, suggesting eidetic skills. However, when the experts were presented with arrangements of chess pieces that could never occur in a game, their recall was no better than the non-experts, implying that they had developed an ability to organize certain types of information, rather than possessing innate eidetic ability.

From Slate:
This seems like as good an opportunity as any to clear up the greatest enduring myth about human memory. Lots of people claim to have a photographic memory, but nobody actually does. Nobody.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Star-Tribune Premium Content

The Star-Trib is offering Premium articles now. As far as I can tell, there is nothing distinctly special about this content. I can't really blame them for trying, but I predict total failure--if the NYT can barely get people to pay to read articles, I don't think the Strib has any chance.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Grocery Chains in General, Wegman's in Particular

I am constantly surprised by the lack of consolidation in the grocery business. Within my lifetime (45 years), I personally have witnessed consolidation in one retail segment after another: video stores (down to Blockbuster + online), department stores (Wal-Mart and Target), electronics (Best Buy, general discounters and online), bookstores (Borders and B-Dalton). But there are dozens of grocery chains across the country, and for the most part they seem to be very, very regionalized. As a general principle, I don't understand why consolidation hasn't occurred. And in particular, I don't understand why Wegman's isn't marching across the country, Wal-Mart-like, to own the business.

I have no idea how Wegman's does what it does, but they seem to be magically head-and-shoulders above the competition, analogous to how much stronger Wal-Mart was than its competitors. Their stores are very, very nice, huge, with great selection. Yet they have lower-than-average prices, including many great, knockoff store brands. Their employees are friendly and happy, and their customers LOVE them. That is no exaggeration. I can understand how a niche player like Trader Joe's can achieve these things, but it is simply amazing for a full-service grocery store to manage the feat.

The only explanation I can come up with is that Wegman's is privately owned, and they simply aren't ambitious enough to become the Wal-Mart (or, if you prefer, the Costco) of groceries. Because, as my son would say, they could "own" the market, if they wanted to.

Texting While Driving

Studies also show that it can be difficult for people to ignore the ping of an incoming text or call — for  psychological and physiological reasons. People may fear missing an important call from a friend or boss, or get excited by the prospect of receiving interesting news. Physiologically, researchers say, the lure of mobile devices has addictive properties, in that people feel an adrenaline burst when a call or text comes in and get a rush when they answer.
Those are the key points. I'm not too excited about the TMobile service on its own merits--$4.99 per month is just plain greedy, and I don't think it is the ideal implementation--but as a step toward wider awareness (I posted about that a year ago), it is an important start.

Somebody Should Acquire Sony

Cingular acquired AT&T, a hallowed brand that was out of gas, and very successfully re-built their own brand around the AT&T iconography. Someone should do the same thing with Sony.

Vampire Squid: Trial Lawyers

I'm ambivalent about the extent to which Matt Taibbi's characterization of Goldman Sachs is populist excess:
The world's most powerful investment bank [Goldman Sachs] is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money
but, as this article notes, "the spirit of Taibbi's piece, if not its details, has really caught on. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal attacked Goldman Sachs as a heavily subsidized, implicitly guaranteed firm akin to Fannie Mae. They called it 'Goldie Mac'."

Now if someone would just change "Goldman Sachs" to "Trial Lawyers"...

Gallup Q20

A few years ago, Gallup seemed to have a lock on the mindshare for organization-wide, annaul internal surveys of employee attitudes. Like any good marketer, they worked hard to brand it, including affixing a catchy, eponymous name--the Gallup Q12. Part of their value proposition was the vast internal database they had accumulated, so that they could slice the data in different ways, to provide all kinds peer comparisons, for value-add. In other words, their product had a strong network effect--people chose Gallup because of their broad customer base, and that created an ever broader customer base. Even our church used it.

Somehow, though they seemed to have lost the mindshare. Maybe the value of the internal database came to be seen as less than meets the eye. I have been at several companies and organizations, and each one seems to be using a different survey vendor, none of which I have ever heard. of.

Un-Silencer App

Sometimes my wife forgets to turn the ringer volume on her phone, after silencing it for church and the like. This causes a certain amount of frustration for me and the kids. Fortunately, she has an Android phone, so there is an app for that. The un-silencer app is wired in to the "set vibrate" event, so that you don't actually have to remember to use the app--it automagically gets triggered, when you set your phone on silent/vibrate. It pops up and asks you to set a timer for when to take the phone off vibrate. Works very well.

That is the kind of thing that is SO cool with Android and iPhone--you aren't dependent on the limited ambitions of the phone manufacturer, for cool features that matter to you.

Shows recorded but never broadcast

I wonder how many Oprha, or Dr. Phil shows are recorded, but don't work out very favorably, and are consequently never broadcast?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

No Good Comes from Fabrications

This is an interesting article on Simon Wiesenthal, about whom I have long heard not known very little beyond the moniker "Nazi hunter".This is the part that really interests me:
It is thus unfortunate that his fabrications and falsehoods now threaten to overshadow his real accomplishments...Wiesenthal's most egregious distortion of the historical record and Segev's response to it. In the 1970s, Wiesenthal began to refer to "eleven million victims" of the Holocaust, six million Jews and five million non-Jews, but the latter number had no basis in historical reality...When Israeli historians Yehuda Bauer and Yisrael Gutman challenged Wiesenthal on this point, he admitted that he had invented the figure of eleven million victims in order to stimulate interest in the Holocaust among non-Jews. He chose five million because it was almost, but not quite, as large as six million...Any falsification with respect to the Holocaust, whatever its purpose may be, gives comfort and solace, not to speak of ammunition, to Holocaust deniers.
I agree. You just see this strong, human tendency to spin, to twist, to fabricate and distort played out over and over. Of course contemporary pols do it all the time, but you see it often in professional life. The glib managerial response that smooths over the question in today's meeting sows confusion, distrust and cynicism when later shown unjustified.