Thursday, January 31, 2013

Confession of a helicopter parenting failure

Ouchie. My two oldest kids caught the bus a half hour ago. The weather was fine.

And then it came in with serious rain. As they each have at least a five minute walk into their school they'll be drenched.

But from the start of the day I was paing attention to uniforms, lunches and after school activities. If their mum was home today I'm sure they'd be getting told "there's an 80% chance of rain, take an umbrella" but I didn't think to that.

As my mum has often said "a little healthy neglect can be a good thing" but I'm still not too happy that my kids are walking to school in the rain.

My welcome email to our Market Research students

I still do some teaching for a university here in South Australia. I have 154 students who start Market Research with me in March. As content is a hungry beast, and because there's some interesting (enough) stuff in there I'll reproduce my welcome email here:

After a year out of the course I've been asked to take Market Research III this year, which I'm delighted about.

You may not know me, because I wasn't doing Intro to Marketing II or CBII last year, but some of you who are part time may have had me. I've been here for about four years.

Market Research is my passion and I'll give you the tip now. Here's the riddle:

Q: What is the most important thing about doing any piece of research
A: Clearly defining a research problem and expressing it as a number of research questions

I'm just sitting through a Webinar from the Market Research Society about "Big Data" and the point keeps coming back to me. These days data is cheap but intelligence is hard to find. Lets be honest, jobs in marketing are hard to get but if you position yourself as an intelligent problem solver you'll be streets ahead of your competition.

So as your continuous assessment I'll ask you to write a research proposal for a company / product of your choice, run some indepth interviews and build an online survey. And that will all want to be tied down to a research problem - a theme that should run through your research. To finish I'll get you to analyse some data that we've pulled in from an online survey.

You'll wind up with some very practical skills. You'll be familiar with Qualtrics (for both survey design and data analysis), SPSS for some fancy data stuff, and you'll get some advanced skills on Excel. But importantly we'll get you to talk and think like an intelligent problem solver.


Oh, and I got a response from one, which was nice.

Hello Cullen,
So excited to hear that you'll be taking Market Research! I was in your 2011 consumer behaviour course and I think you're a fantastic teacher and you made the classes very interesting and fun.
See you in a month!

For students, don't ever think these comments are wasted. For the lecturers you like, it's one of the things that keeps them at it.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tim Mathieson: Hoist of Labor's pitard

He made a slightly off joke. I can also see how Asian people, female doctors, a few other people would be offended. Poorly thought out. The biggest own goal was the irrelevant mention of "Asian". Disrespectful and probably belonging to a different era.

Should Tim now be forced to defend the matter in court, against a presumption of guilt? I doubt it, but it is the sort of thing proposed by the new Labor laws.

I'm impressed at how well, often, Australia reins in some poor behaviour of its people. It's sensible. Legislating over the top of it, to do what mostly gets done anyway? It takes away the fact that we regulate this because we want to, and lessens us as a people.

Let's put our energy into not staying silent when sexist or racist or homophobe 'jokes' slip out at a barbecue, instead of litigating. I first saw my wife do that 25 years ago: "I didn't find that funny. No big deal, it just wasn't funny" or "I'm surprised you'd use that word".
May we have more of that.

UPDATE: Nicolas Roxon indicates that the bill was poorly drafted and it will be softened

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Monday, January 28, 2013

I've always greatly respected Nova Peris

She won gold playing hockey. Changed sport and then won gold in track.

Amazing. And she may be great in politics. She's certainly seen as key to Labor's plans.

But the arguments coming out of the NT are that there is already plenty of political talent there. Warren Mundine was up for it last year but it didn't come off. If it is important to get an indigenous woman into parliament then Bess Price is worth a thought too.

Bess Price certainly has credentials but is the wrong political breed:

Price has strongly criticised the high levels of violence in Central Australian indigenous communities and supported the Northern Territory Intervention.[7] In December 2009 she delivered the Bennelong Society's inaugural Peter Howson lecture, also on the topic of indigenous violence, and received the Bennelong Medal[8] She spoke at the Centre for Independent Studies, Sydney, on Mar 23 2011[9] and appeared on Q&A on 11 Apr 2011.

Whatever. Labor is eating itself over this. Can we just acknowledge that Tony Abbot has had nothing to do with it?

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Deadwood: Brilliance

At every turn. The coarsest writing I have ever seen, the worst swearing and reflecting horrid attitudes to women, back then. But a story told from a position of honour, helping us recognise the right way to be and how strength takes many forms.

And quirky humour at every turn.

" X person just f**ed himself in the ass, no mean feat yet how often we bring it off"

I'm really thankful to my brother Chad for bringing this one to my attention.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Free speech: When a right winger and a lefty agree

I have been concerned about this recent development of using confected outrage as a political weapon. I'm as partial as anyone to a good bout of getting offended but using it as a tool to shut down debate? A little Orwellian.

I've always believed in "Let the idiots speak. They make our point way better than we can".

I'm not talking about racism, sexism, homophobia or a whole bunch of other vile stuff. I'm so proud of how far Australia has come and I know that there are places we must improve. I'm talking about the loss of an objective test and reversing the burden of proof.

But take a moment to watch this (rare) four minutes of ideological foes explaining the issue, calmly and intelligently. It's enlightening.

Thanks Catallaxy Files.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Tour Down Under from Melbourne

7.8km to go. Amazingly, more interesting to me as I'm not in Adelaide at the moment.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Road trip: Mount Cole Wineworks

How cool. Edan wanted to stop for the art gallery there. I then tasted a Reisling that means I can stop saying "I don't drink Reisling" and left with a bottle of it and a carton of their cleanskin chardonnay.

From the town of Warruk in Victoria.

Services: Understanding the user experience

Getting into a hotel room, unpacking all your gear and finding the bathroom light doesn't work. Service failure.

Saying "oh right, we know about that would you like to move to another room?" A failure in service recovery.

Because they didn't understand the user experience. Moving once unpacked or shaving in the dark.

Just as well the guy is a lovely man. The halo effect helps.

Poor gullible client - mendacious social media "consultant"

Bad consultants are like a cancer on business. I see a case where a good honest business is being poorly served by somebody who is either misguided or a charlatan.

The real victim is what appears to be a good honest local business who seems to like the idea of social media.

Over a year ago I wrote a quirky post about how I eventually solved an outstanding maintenance problem.

The post tells about how I had left a copper riser unsecured for ten years, knowing that a minor mishap could mean an expensive call to a plumber and that I had just fixed it. Yesterday I got this crap from some random poster:

Rodulf Dela CruzJanuary 22, 2013 at 8:59 PM
I suggest you must find a reliable source to get a good service about your worries. You may visit plumbing Adelaide.

This sort of "half clever" work has exactly the opposite effect as to what the client would hope for. Rodulf Dela Cruz has broken almost every principle of social media marketing and made "Freeflow Plumbing" look like half witted spammers. Worse, the guy is probably charging them for this.

There are plenty of helpful consultants in the social media space, and there are ones who can do you some damage.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

QPMR accreditation: Something to show for 2012

I was keeping it quiet but I had decided to go for an accreditation with the Australian Social and Market Research Society (AMSRS). It involved doing a theory exam (supervised) and a practical take home exam. I did it over the Christmas break and received the QPMR (qualified practising market researcher) accreditation today.

It's a nice thing to have out of the way. After a 2012 where I was thwarted at many turns it's nice to have something to show.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

"Beware: Woman Driver"

Oh, my mistake. I haven't seen overt sexist comments like that (about women) since the late 1980s.

But I'm still hearing the comments - a "man's look" for something, coming down with a case of "man flu". We seem to be halfway there. And these frypans being sold in McLaren Vale warning to stand back when a man is cooking.

I suppose one might revert to the old faithful excuse used by the last of those who would speak about abos and wogs: "it's just jokes".

Or we might talk about the one person who is particularly bad and use that as an argument why all - say - men are the same way.

I'm not particularly offended, but weak logic disappoints me a little. No biggie.

Now it's just time to finish with my other disappointing one: "so now you're getting a taste of it" or "men had it their way for long enough, this is just payback". Yeh whatevs.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Skydiving in "a land of maybe"

Embracing uncertainty. It has always been the way I've managed to deal with it best. Unfortunately I've recently mixed in circles that have made it seem that pursuing certainty is the only way. It seems to be a passport to poor mental health, as well as driving everyone around you to distraction.

Hanging at a drop zone and trying to get a skydive helps cure a person of the need to be in complete control. So many variables - plane, instructor, gear and pilot availability, weather conditions. They all make it really uncertain as to when and if you'll get a jump.

The best way to deal with dz uncertainty is to make sure you have plenty of money and plenty of food, and plan to "hang out". You may get a jump, you may get a few. One thing that won't work is getting all pissy and insistent. It's not cool to be uncool.

So for me, skydiving had always forced me to live in a land of "maybe". A friend asked me three days ago "so you'll jump tomorrow?" and my answer - "maybe".

But I did jump the next day. Returned to hang out at the dz the day after too. I unexpectedly met some great friends I hadn't seen for ten years, and did five skydives with new and old buddies. More "maybe". And remembered that for me, skydiving is family

So will I go back soon? I expect so. Will I jump? Probably, maybe.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Back where my heart is

I jumped out of planes for fun, quite a few years ago. I stopped - couldn't get a PhD and maintain a skydive habit at the time. I knew that. And I've been away a long time. But my heart has never been far away. I sat in on a course last night as a refresher - my old student buddies are now senior instructors and it was like greeting long lost brothers. They've put in the yards and now have five times the number of jumps I have. And looking at this image just makes me want to get out there with them again.

And so I will, very soon.

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Homeopathy is 66% harmless and 33% good sense

Further to my recent "I believe" frustrations I have decided to think a little more about homeopathy. I was first exposed to the theories when reading a book called "Voodoo Science: The road from foolishness to fraud" in 2004. Sure, with a title like that the book was unlikely to be sympathetic, but I let one fact sit with me for about ten years. There is not even one molecule of active ingredient in any homeopathic preparation. That is a fact that is undisputed by the homeopathic community - in fact it's considered a plus. Have a look at Dr Ben Goldacre's three minute walkthrough below:

The mechanism is that "water has memory" and that's about as far as I need to go down that line of discussion.

But it hasn't been a big problem to me. I haven't had loved ones forego cancer treatment in favour of sugar pills (with water memory embedded, apparently) and if a person wishes to pay $10 for the placebo effect then who am I to stop them?

So why do I call it 66% harmless? Because homeopathy has three principles. I got this from "Homeolab USA" but a search on "homeopathy three principles" will give you hundreds. I love the way big words make it seem better:

1. Similitude There should be a connection between illness and remedy.
2. Infinitesimality Homeopathy uses vegetable, mineral and chemically processed mixtures of natural substances, in repeatedly diluted strength to administer minute doses.
3.Totality Since Homeopathy considers a person as a whole, every treatment is based on the assumption that every illness is the apparent manifestation of a much deeper-rooted disorder.

So if we look at those principles, the first two actually cancel each other out. Remember the "no molecule" undisputed fact? To be honest it's just as well there is no active ingredient because here principle 1 is glossed over but it really is "what makes you sick actually cures you". Y'know, cat allergies treated with elements of cat hair? Presumably cancer treated by consuming cancer cells?

Anyhoo, the fact that there is no active ingredient in any homeopathic preparation means that the risk of poisoning our patients is averted. So the first two principles, combined, make the approach harmless. 66%

That last principle, totality, I like. Unfortunately (or maybe not) for the homeopathic movement it pretty much makes the whole process scientifically untestable. The principle means that we should treat the entire patient - mind, spirit (I presume), diet, some exercise. Good, sense. 33%. In science they call those things "extraneous" or "intervening" variables. So, a young girl stops having asthma attacks as she puts water drops under her tongue, but at the same time dust in the house is reduced and she stops drinking milk, gets to bed earlier and her parents stop fighting in front of her? Clever homeopath.

So, 66% harmless and 33% good sense. Where's the 1%? It's probably accounted for by the fact that people can sell bottles of water for $10, or might encourage others to forego medical treatment or (dare I say) vaccination. For an example close to many people's hearts we might consider the argument that homeopathy killed Steve Jobs. So I don't have a name for what that 1% might be called, but I leave it to you, the reader.

And as far as the mechanism of the first two principles I am happy to be convinced, so please just send me the information about "nonmolecular water memory". I am partial to the scientific process, however. Flawed as it may be, like democracy it's the best we've got. And the scientific process did eventually discredit that medical hack Andrew Wakefield and "The Lancet" did retract his bullshit 1998 paper.

But this is about the time I hear "well that's my opinion and I'm entitled to it"

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When "well that's what I believe" signals intellectual shutdown

I recently tweeted about how "not all opinions are equal" and it revolved around how people are entitled to believe what they want, but that for a belief to be treated with respect it needs to pass same tests of commonsense.

A person may believe that water boils at 30 degrees, but if I put a thermometer in a glass and see no bubbles I'm think I'm allowed to say that "that belief appears to be misplaced".

So I am saddened when I hear the death knell of logic. In holiday season these conversations are harder to avoid for me than at other times and I still make the mistake of chatting - out of politeness or boredom. Sometimes I don't notice that I'm being drawn down the path. A person is armed with a few newspaper articles they just read and a ton of belief. If I'm silly enough to pursue the discussion it invariably ends with "well that's what I believe and I'm entitled to it".

Part of me gets annoyed, but mostly I get sad. If I take the time to actually talk about something, I've convinced myself that I might actually learn something. I take in new information for about four hours a day, through newsradio, newspapers, social and web and I won't pretend to know things I don't. I can be a bigmouth, but I'm not a bullshitter. Sometimes (amazingly rarely) these chats provide me with new information or links to it, that give me a new perspective. That's what I hope for. But mostly I simply get the same opinion, voiced more loudly.

So if I present you with a whole bunch of stuff that doesn't square with your thinking I would hope that you'd at least say "gee, that's a lot of information. I'm still very partial to my initial position but I'll have a look at all that stuff". I'll do you the same courtesy.

But instead, I get "well that's what I believe and I'm entitled to it"

Sure, we get to choose what we read and the web is great for having a strident community to support any belief. Ffs there probably is a website dedicated to the belief that water boils at 30c. But that takes us off onto a whole other rant about what real knowledge is, and I'm already tired of writing. You're probably tired of reading, too.

Finally there are many times a person will strongly believe in something and the belief is supported by well researched, logically constructed argument. Those conversations are invariably more pleasant, because I probably agree.

Technical note: for the smartasses among us, it is possible to boil water at 30c. Reducing pressure also reduced the boiling point of water, that's why mountaineers can't get a really hot cup of tea at altitude. So, to boil water at 30 degrees, put a glass in a Cryovac machine. But I think we can agree that's a bit of a red herring.

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