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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Monday, September 3, 2007

"Did Gandhi live to the age of 140?"

When I was a small child, I thought the idea of subliminal messaging was way cool. Learn languages in your sleep! Control people's minds by inserting inaudible dialogue into the background! Wicked!

To the best of my knowledge, that type of subliminal messaging -- a hidden, language-based message -- doesn't exist (but if you have evidence of one, please comment!). Influencing another's actions turns out to be pretty easy. There are many well-documented ways to manipulate others. I will focus here on getting the answers you want. Basically, response management comes down to how you phrase the question.

In a classic study by Tversky and Kahneman, participants were given two options for combating a plague that was projected to kill 600 people. Plan A was sure to save 200 people. Plan B had a 1/3 probability of saving 600 and a 2/3 probability of saving nobody. 78% of participants took the safe option: A. Rephrasing the question in terms of deaths (400 guaranteed under Plan A; 1/3 probably of 0 and 2/3 probability of 600 under Plan B) reversed the result: 78% of participants chose plan B. This is because humans are risk-prone when dealing with losses ("let's hope for the best") but risk-averse when dealing with gains ("let's keep what we have").

In another study by Tversky and colleagues, they found that if you offer a shopper a "one time only" sale on a piece of merchandice (e.g., a Sony CD player), most (66%) will buy it, happy to avoid further shopping. If you offer them two different products (one by Sony, one by Aiwa), both on sale, nearly half (46%) will continue shopping rather than buy either. The addition of choices makes people less likely to choose.

In a different study (Strack & Mussweiler; pdf) asked one set of participants "Did Gandhi live to the age of 140?" The participants presumably all responded, "No." The second question was to estimate how long Gandhi lived. The average estimate was 67. The second group of participants was first asked "Did Gandhi live past the age of 9." Again, presumably everybody replied correctly. On the second question, they estimated on average that Gandhi lived to 50.

There are many other examples. This is why experts will tell you that polls are next to meaningless unless you know the exact wording of the question. It's not subliminal mind control like in the movies, but manipulating people's decisions (or, at least their answers to surveys) is fairly easy.

Posted by Ajay :: 6:05 PM :: 0 comments

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The British tend to consider heroic a person who doesn’t have any ambition … In America, a person without any ambition is more of a loser,” says television producer Greg Daniels in a New York Times article by Dave Itzkoff (8/28/07). Greg is trying to explain the American reaction to “google-eyed, maladrot Mr. Bean, that British comedian Rowan Atkinson has proven adept at blundering his way through all manner of challenges.” True to form, Rowan is currently blundering through the challenge of American box office success, as his latest attempt, “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” finished fourth in its first weekend, collecting just $10.1 million.

Maybe that’s not so bad — except that the film is absolutely blockbuster “throughout the rest of the world, where it has brought in more than $188 million since March.” And it’s all the more perplexing given that Mr. Bean “communicates in the international language of pratfalls and sight gags.” He’s kind of “a throwback to silent-screen clowns like Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp and Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot.” Some speculate that it’s Mr. Bean’s British accent that turns off Americans. Not bloody likely. Others think that, unlike, say Homer Simpson, Mr. Bean is a total loser who never even attempts to redeem himself.

Still others say that it’s Mr. Bean’s slapstick sight-humor that’s just not in style here these days. “It’s the most dangerous thing in the world,” says Frank Oz, the director. “You can cut dialogue. You can’t cut out physical comedy if it doesn’t work.” And then there’s the notion that British comedies almost never do well in America, no matter what. Indeed, no British comedy has ever made “more than 25 percent of its total worldwide gross in America” None of this stops Rowan Atkinson, who will be back in American theaters soon in a reprise of his “2003 spy-movie parody, ‘Johnny English.’” Why? Well, because as producer Tim Bevan explains: “Rowan’s happy to bump into a lamp post. He’s done his Shakepeare already.” ~ Tim Manners, editor.

Posted by Ajay :: 5:25 PM :: 0 comments

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Why is the violin so hard to play?

When you pluck a note on a guitar string, there isn't very much that can go wrong. You may not play the right note at the right time, of course, but a single note will always come out at the expected pitch, and sounding reasonably musical. When a beginner tries to play a violin, things are much more difficult. When a bow is drawn across a string, the result might be a musical note at the desired pitch, but on the other hand it might be an undesirable whistle, screech or graunch. This difference stems from a fundamental distinction between the physics of plucked and bowed strings.

Linear versus nonlinear: plucked versus bowed
A plucked string, like that on a guitar, can be described by linear systems theory. The essential feature of a linear system is that if you can find two different solutions to the governing equations, then the sum of the two is also a solution. In the context of vibration, this idea has a direct physical application.
Read Full Text:

The first few vibration modes of a vibrating string...

A vibrating object like a stretched string has certain resonance frequencies, each associated with a particular pattern of vibration called a vibration mode. The corresponding resonance frequencies are the "fundamental" and "harmonics" of the note to which the string is tuned. If the string is set into vibration in the shape of one of these modes it will continue to vibrate in this shape at the corresponding resonance frequency, with an amplitude which gradually dies away as the energy is dissipated into sound and heat.

... and a string vibrating in all three modes at once
Now if the string is vibrated in a way that involves several of the mode shapes at once, then the principle of linearity comes into play. Each mode simply goes its own way, vibrating at its particular resonance frequency, and the total sound is the sum of the contributions from these separate modes (you can read more about adding harmonics in Music of the Primes in Issue 28). The guitar player can vary the mixture of amplitudes of the various modes, by plucking at different points on the string or using a different plectrum, but the set of resonance frequencies is always the same. In musical terms, the pitch of the note is always the same but the tonal quality can be adjusted.

A bowed string is different. A note on a violin can be sustained for as long as your bow-stroke lasts, with a steady amplitude. Although energy is being dissipated into sound and heat, somehow the bow is supplying additional energy at exactly the right rate to compensate. This is one identifying sign of a non-linear system, for which the idea of adding contributions from different vibration modes cannot be applied in the simple way described above. The theory of such systems is always more intricate, and there is scope for very complicated outcomes and chaotic behaviour (read more about chaos in Issue 26). The range of good and bad noises which can be made on a violin string are examples of these complicated outcomes. The same general comments apply equally well to other musical instrument capable of a sustained tone such as the woodwind and brass instruments.

The motion of a bowed string

The string appears to vibrate in a parabola-like shape...
So how does a violin string vibrate? This question was first answered by Hermann von Helmholtz 140 years ago. When a violin is played in a normal way to produce a conventionally acceptable sound, the string can be seen to vibrate. To the naked eye, the string appears to move back and forth in a parabola-like shape, looking rather like the first mode of free vibration of a stretched elastic string.

... but it actually moves in a V-shape.
However, upon closer inspection, Helmholtz observed that it moved in a very unexpected way: the string actually moves in a "V"-shape, i.e. the string gets divided into two straight portions which meet at a sharp corner. The fact that we see a gently curving (parabola-like) outline to the string's motion with the naked eye is because this sharp corner moves back and forth along this curve. Hence we only normally see the "envelope", or outline, of the motion of the string.

This motion, called Helmhotz motion is illustrated in this animation:

Posted by Ajay :: 9:52 AM :: 0 comments

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The life Of Call Girl

To the potential sex workers who write me:

“Looking to try this,” you say. “Is it really, really awful?” you ask. Some of you sound reluctant, like you want to be told no. Others like you’re just looking for the word to bolt into a new lifestyle. You’re college students and single moms and probably none of you as sweet and fresh-faced as I’m picturing. You want tips and pointers and even when you’re asking about prices and services, the question deep down at the bottom of your emails is “If I do this, will I be ok?”

I know I’m not the only reason you want to try sex work. But I know also that you’re responding to something you’ve found in my writing–the vicarious thrill of someone who seems to have played with fire and barely singed her fingertips. That glamour exists–the empowerment of getting away with something, embracing your sexuality and behaving in a way society tells you you’re not supposed to. It can be empowering to get something back on the body that has for so long been used and abused and objectified. And the money is good. But there’s another side to this deal that I’m afraid I haven’t shown you.

It’s not easy to write about prostitution in a totally honest way because it is painful. Painful like being fat growing up and having people yell lardass at you out car windows and strangers approaching you on the street to tell you to lose weight. Painful like being a 13-year-old girl saving her virginity for marriage and being held down and robbed of that. I am embarrassed to talk about my pain, about the times I have been hurt. Especially when the road there was tricky and circuitous and partially of my own design. It’s hard for me to sift through the detritus, much easier to poke fun, to glam it up, to be some badass character. You guys don’t come to this blog to be depressed and there is plenty to write about that isn’t depressing. But when I get these letters, I see the danger in that approach.

I want to be very clear that I recommend this lifestyle for no one. It is easy enough to cross the line because the line is invisible. Much harder still to go back, to return to a time when you shared no piece of yourself with strange men, men you don’t like, even men who don’t like you. I detached myself completely from the work I was doing and felt that I was getting off scot-free with minimal psychological impact. I was having fun at first; I felt beautiful and confident and adored and I was financially secure for the first time ever. But those nights found their way underneath my skin. They just burrowed down deep under the folds of my subconscious like a rat nestled at the bottom of a shopping bag.

The first thing that happened is I started throwing up. After a job, too shiftless and scattered to cook dinner, I’d stop and pick up a huge bag of chips or order a whole pizza. I’d gorge myself until I felt nauseous, then bend over my toilet and make myself puke. In pictures from this period my eyes are puffy and swollen and dotted red with busted blood vessels underneath. I look older than I do now.

I drank too much and fell down the stairs in my heels a lot. I was lucky that I didn’t get into the harder drugs during my hooking days, but I considered free drinks and pot part of the asking price. This got me in trouble.

I saw a Jewish lawyer named Michael about once a week, and we’d chug red wine and smoke a few joints before I put my legs around his neck and let him pound his mattress askew. Afterward, he would ask me to rub his feet, which I did until he abruptly kicked me out. I know it’s no speedball, but the combination of booze and pot in my bloodstream is particularly lethal to my sense of balance.

That night I tripped back into my open-toe heels and prepared myself for the slow downstairs descent, gripping the railing and going down sideways. I had the marijuana-induced sense that each cluster of steps was taking me 1,000 years to navigate. I was supposed to have another appointment, but my cell phone was suddenly very difficult to operate. It was full of numbers, so many numbers, and such tiny buttons.

I lose the narrative thread at that point and the rest comes in flashes –me on the street corner, calling the john on my cell phone, getting in a cab, answering my phone again, talking to a voice I don’t quite recognize but who says I called him and asks me to meet him at the corner of 53rd and 6th. For whatever reason, I gave the cabby the new directions and soon was standing on a new street corner waiting for my mystery dream date. Would he be a stud? Or a dud?

Turns out he was someone I didn’t recognize at all, but I faked it. He kissed me on the cheek and led me back to a bar where friends of his were waiting. I remember desperately trying to pretend I was not falling-out-of-my-seat trashed, but I am sure I was only semi-successful. A part of me wondered if the client had slipped me something, but I wasn’t sure why he would drug me only to ask me to leave. The friends were very nice despite my deplorable state, and when one of them asked where we had met I smiled vacantly and waited for my new friend to connect some dots. “We just met tonight!” he unhelpfully chirped. I shifted through my mental Rolodex-was he a man I was corresponding with on Nerve personals? Or someone I met through Craigslist? Was he a potential trick, and if so, did his friends know I was a hooker? Overwhelmed by the mystery of it all, I told him that I had to leave, and he insisted on walking me back to the train.

Outside, with the fresh air doing little to clear my head, he invited me back to his place. When I told him that I was going home, he led me the wrong way with a grip on my arm. “You’re gonna come back to my place,” he corrected in the chiding tones you’d use with a little girl. My debating skills were weak; I continued to mumblingly insist on going home, but I followed where I was led, despite the fact that I could barely walk.

The last thing I remember is insisting that he wear a condom and being completely ignored.

I woke up in a basement apartment with the sun streaming through the windows onto my naked chest, next to the man whose identity was still completely unknown to me. Unfortunately it was far too late to ask. From what I could remember of the previous night’s events, I can at least be sure he’s an asshole. He never called me after that night. I don’t think about it a lot, but it was something akin to a bottom–I still don’t know who he was.

That didn’t happen just because I was a hooker, but sleeping with men for money made me lower the boundaries around my body. Afterward I had trouble knowing how to say no, because after all what’s it to me to sleep with one more guy? Sometimes it just seemed easier. And detaching myself from some of the demeaning and demoralizing situations I found myself in was hard work, and I held those demons at bay with alcohol. I then got myself into dangerous situations drunk.

I was drunk. I was depressed. I had an eating disorder and practically non-existent self-esteem. Whether the sex work led to these issues or these issues drew me to sex work, within 6 months I was a straight-up mess, and not a hot one either. I am still in therapy and I still struggle with depression, now with the help of my round white boyfriend named Lex A. Pro.

I am a tangle of contradictions. I am not ashamed of my choices and I will fully defend mine or anyone else’s right to make them. But when you ask me if you should do this? My immediate instinct is a loud, desperate no. It’s hard for me to write you back. I can’t make your decisions for you, but I am scared for you. I just want you to know that for every dollar you make there is a price. It’s up to you to decide if that price is worth paying.

College Callgirl, who promises to be funnier tomorrow

Posted by Ajay :: 9:48 AM :: 0 comments

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