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Friday, August 31, 2012

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Bribing your kids to study: Does it work?



Geri-Ellen Dow trying to bribe her 14-year-old son to do his summer reading.

Kai Ryssdal: I had a conversation a month or so ago with Steven Levitt about the Freakonomics of getting kids to get good grades. And how Levitt says we oughta just pay 'em. Fifty bucks for an A was what he got when he was a kid. Me: not one thin dime. But that's a whole 'nother story.
Anyway, Geri-Ellen Dow heard the segment and tweeted us a picture of two crisp $20 bills -- one labeled "Great Expectations," the other labeled "The Odyssey" -- and a note saying the money was there for the taking by her 14-year-old son if he read the books in question.
So of course we had to call her up to see what happened. Geri, good to talk to you.
Geri-Ellen DowThanks. It's nice talking with you, Kai.
Ryssdal: So you heard me talking to Steven Levitt about the Freakonomics of paying kids to study, and what did you do? Tell me about your experiment.
Dow: I'm always looking for ways to motivate the kids because they don't seem to be really excited about school themselves.
Ryssdal: Shocking, shocking.
Dow: Yeah, it is. So I thought that, well my son had two books to read over the summer -- "Great Expectations" and "The Odyssey."
Ryssdal: So how much were you going to pay them?
Dow: So I figured $20 a book was reasonable.
Ryssdal: Oh man. See, I'm not going to read "The Odyssey" for $20.
Dow: Yeah, you know, as it turns out, he felt probably the same way as well.
Ryssdal: So tell me what happened.
Dow: So what happened was, he finished "Great Expectations" maybe four days ago, five days ago, and then he started "The Odyssey" two days ago. And I just have to point out that school starts tomorrow.
Ryssdal: So you're going to get your $20 back.
Dow: Well...
Ryssdal: No, are you give it to him? Come on.
Dow: He's 250 pages into it. And the hesitation was he seems to be plowing through it, which I don't understand how you can do that.
Ryssdal: Yeah, no. You're going to pro-rate this then, is this what I'm hearing you tell me?
Dow: We had a really heated discussion yesterday about whether I intended to pay him if he got it done before school or before the comprehensive test.
Ryssdal: Yeah, that's actually a very good point, which I should probably raise to Steven Levitt -- you've got to define the terms of the agreement.
Dow: Yes, and I was not clear on that. Although I think as it happened, and I had some different ideas about what I would have done if I was doing it over again.
Ryssdal: Like what?
Dow: Well I would have offered him more than $20.
Ryssdal: Yeah, you got that right.
Dow: For a 500-page book that was written 2,000 years ago.
Ryssdal: Now, Levitt and Dubner, the guys behind Freakonomics, would say, 'Well your sample size is a little small, and you need more information over time.'
Dow: So you think I should maybe have more kids and do it longer, is that what you're suggesting?
Ryssdal: No. Well, that's a personal choice actually. But really, you need to do the experiment over a longer period of time so you can have more data, more information, right?
Dow: And with more rigorous controls in terms of what the expectations are. Yes.
Ryssdal: Are you thinking you might do this again next summer? I guess you're going to wait and see how it goes, right?
Dow: Yes, I'm going to wait. I don't know. I don't know.
Ryssdal: This is so fun, you are clearly conflicted about this.
Dow: I am conflicted about it, yes.
Ryssdal: Huh. Well Geri, thanks a lot for your time.
Dow: All right, thank you Kai.

Autism Research leads to computers that can tell how an advertisement makes you feel.

On Super Bowl Sunday, an advertising startup that spun out from the research launches a website where ad viewers can have their emotions observed and catalogued.


If you have ever called your bank, your phone company or even your own office and slammed head-on into a voicemail system that has made you want to scream, this story is for you.

That's because several researchers at MIT's Media Lab have decided the time has come to create computers that understand our emotions. They hope computerizing emotional intelligence could improve customer service, create new autism treatments and maybe even help make this weekend's Super Bowl ads more amusing. To help advance this work and gather information, they started a company — Affectiva.

"Pretty much all communication, all of our experience has emotion," says Rosalind Picard, a professor at MIT's Media Lab and co-founder of Affectiva. "It's like weather; it's always there. So ignoring it is really rude. Right?" Picard has been trying to teach computers to mind their manners and pay attention to how we humans feel.

"Most people think [that] technology doesn't need emotion," she says. "But it does need to show respect for people's feelings. And you can't really show respect for people's feelings unless you can see people's feelings."

Affectiva's Web tool watches viewers watch ads and collects information about their emotions. Participants use the camera on their computer to provide their facial expressions to Affectiva.

Affectiva's Web tool watches viewers watch ads and collects information about their emotions. Participants use the camera on their computer to provide their facial expressions to Affectiva.

And understand them. So Picard has spent her career doing things like teaching computers to recognize human facial expressions and the emotional tenor in our voices.

"In the early days, we were trying to teach computers to recognize emotion, and we gathered a bunch of video examples from Disney. They're the masters of emotional animation," Picard says. "And we're showing these to computers with our machine learning systems, trying to teach the computer how to recognize happy, sad, angry and so forth, and a friend of mine comes in and he says 'Have you thought of using this for autism?' "

At the time, Picard knew almost nothing about it.

"Next thing I know, I'm learning about his brother and a whole lot of people and their experiences and challenges understanding emotion, especially processing it live, in real time, in a face-to-face interaction."

Picard and her colleagues realized that if they were going to teach computers to recognize real facial expressions in the real world, animated videos of Goofy and Mickey were not going to cut it.

"To actually do this, we needed a lot of data. We needed a lot of spontaneous data — people expressing emotions for real," says Rana el Kaliouby, Picard's partner. They needed to record and analyze thousands of facial expressions.

Try It Out

 

Want to try your emotions on Affectiva's computers? Visit its site starting Super Bowl Sunday.
That's when they started Affectiva. It turns out marketers were eager to use their technology to test ads, and those tests would give them the data they needed. Affectiva is now a thriving little startup. One of its products, Affdex, is being used to test Super Bowl ads.

It's simple. You watch an ad online, and if you opt in, Affdex watches you with your own webcam. Its algorithms will automatically recognize if you are smiling or smirking or shocked.

"Using just a webcam is a really appealing option to us because it's very simple," says Graham Page of Millward Brown, a market research company. His clients include some of the largest advertisers on the planet.

Last year, Affectiva used this technology to test a famous ad for Volkswagen featuring a little boy dressed as Darth Vader, using the force — or trying to.

"The more people watched it, the more enjoyable this ad became," el Kaliouby says. She says even people who had seen the ad many times will still smile in anticipation of the punch line.

"This is an essential element of a successful, or a great ad that's going to go viral," she says.
And this year, after the Super Bowl, Graham Page and Millward Brown will be testing more of his client's ads. Anyone, anywhere will be able to log on to Affectiva's website and watch commercials from the game.

"We'll be recording things like whether people are smiling, whether people are frowning, whether they're shocked and surprised, and whether they're even paying attention," Page says.
The site will let you compare your reactions with the rest of the world's, and Picard says the amount of data they will collect could be invaluable for advertisers — and even for autism research.

From National Public Radio's All Things Considered. To listen or see more, click here.

A new digital divide, money buys you access and knowledge

The Better-Off Online

People in higher-income households are different from other Americans in their tech ownership and use.
Analysis of several recent surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Projects finds key differences between those who live in households making $75,000 or more relative to those in lower-income households.

Some 95% of Americans who live in households earning $75,000 or more a year use the internet at least occasionally, compared with 70% of those living in households earning less than $75,000. Even among those who use the internet, the well-off are more likely than those with less income to use technology.

From February 2, 2012...

Citical Thinking and Communication: Top Three Things Learned


Top Three Things Learned
by a student (name withheld) Spring, 2012 

NOTE: REFERENCES ARE SAMPLE OF APA STYLE CITATIONS. 

The most significant things this author learned about critical thinking were the comments provided by Professor Lynch. That is because his comments challenged this author to look beyond the boundaries of the text book and allowed Ms. Henning to see critical thinking applied. Following are the top three:
1.     Professor Lynch encourages using one’s ego to advantage (Ruggiero, 2012, p. 185). In the “Strategies to Develop Critical Thinking” exercise, the professor provided these comments: “Egocentrism is difficult to deal with. In some cases over thinking can feed egocentrism. It may be useful to realize that egocentrism is part of how our brains work naturally. How would developing the skill of empathy help with our tendency toward egocentricism?”
2.     Regarding the “Detecting Media Bias” paper, the professor demonstrated the significance of curiosity (Ruggiero, 2012, p. 111). In his comments he said, “But why did the writer pick these three [threats]? What was the focus of the article? Was it news or a commentary? Was it public relations or marketing based? What was the focus and purpose of the story? Which publication? Who pays for it? Who edits the publication? What is the target readership? All these and more must be considered in critical thinking about content.”
3.     Pertaining to the assignment “Problem Solving Process,” the professor highlighted possible deficiencies when refining solutions (Ruggiero, 2012, pp. 201-203): “Quite often a solution may be logical and ‘faultless’ on paper, but execution will run into barriers, particularly when you’re dealing with people. This is where the ‘buy in’ is important.” 


Ruggiero, V. (2012). The art of Thinking: A guide to critical and creative thought (10th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

Children's literature is a fast-growing genre thanks to 'Potter' & Co.

The success of 'Harry Potter, 'Twilight' and other has created a halo effect for the entire genre. And kids aren't the only ones doing it.

The children's literature genre has something to smile about.
The children's literature genre has something to smile about. (Dave Wheeler Studio, For The Times / August 17, 2012)
For years, the book industry has been mired in debates about the plight of independent booksellers, the rise of Amazon and the fate of print as it struggles with the relentless march of technology. But doom-and-gloomers forecasting "the end of books" probably haven't strolled through the children's section lately or considered what's coming this season, from picture books through titles for teens.
This fall's offerings span a wide variety of topics and suggest why children's books have turned into the fastest-growing segment of the publishing industry.

The magical spell J.K. Rowling cast over kid lit with "Harry Potter" found new blood with Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" saga and most recently, Suzanne Collins' fight-to-the-death "The Hunger Games," creating a halo effect for the entire genre that doesn't show any signs of slowing. Last year, overall publisher revenues for children's books were up 12%, to $2.78 billion, and e-books made astounding gains, according to BookStats, a collaboration of the Assn. of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group.

This year is no different. It used to be that when readers finished a groundbreaking series, they struggled to find others with similar appeal. No more. The millions of readers who followed Bella as she pursued supernatural true love or Katniss as she navigated a post-apocalyptic U.S. can now find dozens of bestselling paranormal and dystopian series that will see further installments this fall.
Similarly, in the middle-grade space, Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" has opened up a whole genre of illustrated, humorous, confessional-style bestsellers, which will continue in the coming months.

That's to say nothing of the increasing numbers of celebrities and well-known adult-book authors who are applying their talents to younger readerships this season — including Emma Thompson with a Peter Rabbit picture book and Elizabeth George with her young adult debut — and legions of talented unknowns who are likely to score hits with their children's book debuts, such as Stefan Bachmann and his buzzed-about fairy tale, "The Peculiar," and Fiona Paul's Renaissance murder-romance, "Venom." In fact, many forthcoming children's books have already been snatched up by movie studios.

The young adult, or YA, category is particularly healthy as a result of blockbuster franchises and strong crossover readership. Many young adult books are read as much by adults as they are by their intended teen audiences.

Click here to continue reading this story in the LA Times.



Will Rogers on "Trickle Down" economics


Should be all of our history textboks



Robin Williams TV plans.Nielsen 'people meter' changed TV. Al Jazeera to use Soccer to increase its reach. 'The Possession' to possess box office. The good, the bad and the ugly at Repubulican Convention.



Robin Williams
Robin Williams may return to TV. (Warner Bros. / August 31, 2012)
After the coffee. Before figuring out what to do with a long weekend.
The Skinny: One thing I'll be doing this weekend is taking my cat in for his semi-annal crew cut. His haircut costs more than mine but it also looks better. Friday's headlines include the box-office preview for the holiday weekend and Robin Williams may return to television.

Daily Dose: For everyone who wants to get HBO without having to pay for cable, now you have a chance. There's only one problem. You'll have to move to Norway to do it. The pay-TV channel is launching HBO Nordic and will offer consumers the option to buy the channel as a streaming service. In the U.S. and much of the rest of the world, if you want HBO you have to have a pay-TV subscription from a cable or satellite provider.

Scary weekend. The horror film "The Possession" is projected to scare up enough viewers to take in $15 million in box office over the Labor Day weekend. However, overall attendance at the movies this weekend is what will likely really be scary. Also opening is "Lawless" starring Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy, which will do battle with the documentary "2016: Obama's America" for second place. The bomb of the weekend will be "The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure." Box-office previews from the Los Angeles Times and Variety.

Nielsen People Meter
The Nielsen "people meter," circa 2004, changed the television industry; for one thing, it made it more difficult for network executives to be patient with shows. (Nielsen Media Research)
Instead of relying solely on the diaries that members of "Nielsen families" filled out by hand, listing the shows that they watched, the device provided a more efficient and accurate way to measure who was watching what shows and when. Diary results were always suspect because procrastinators often waited until the end of the month-long "sweeps" periods, typically November, February and May, to fill out the diaries.
But with the introduction of people meters into 2,000 homes in 1987, the networks suddenly got overnight ratings results.
The updated measurement technique made the TV business more competitive. It became more difficult for network executives to be patient with shows, allowing promising ones time to gain traction. 
The devices also accelerated the trend of advertisers zeroing in on key demographics, such as viewers 18 to 49. Shows that appealed to younger audiences became more valuable than shows that had older-skewing audiences.
Today, the Nielsen "people meter" panel has expanded to 20,000 homes, which measure the viewing habits of a sample audience of approximately 45,000 people.  Nielsen reports that more than 289.4 million Americans live in homes with TVs, and the average TV viewer consumes on average more than five hours of television per day.
While Nielsen has been slowly trying to phase out the handwritten diaries, they are still used in smaller markets, according to a Nielsen spokeswoman. "We collect more than two million paper diaries from across the country each year during sweeps," she said. 


Call my lawyer. Former News of the World lawyer Tom Crone is the latest major arrest in the British government's investigation of phone hacking and other wrongdoing at the now-shuttered tabloid paper. Crone, who spent more than a quarter of a century at the paper, is also known for contradicting James Murdoch's statements regarding how extensive hacking was at the paper. Coverage of Crone's arrest from the Wall Street Journal.

Goal! beIn Sport, a small cable network owned by Al Jazeera, has been gobbling up rights to soccer in an effort to boost its profile and beef up its reach in the United States where the sport's popularity continues to grow. But another reason beIn Sport may be spending heavily is that if the channel gets stronger, Al Jazeera could be in a position to try to use it to leverage distribution of its news channels. A look at beIN Sport from the New York Times.

Change-up. Fresh from a big new deal with ESPN, Major League Baseball is now trying to wrap up new contracts with its other distributors. However, the deals being talked about could lead to some dramatic changes in the television landscape. A look at what's being discussed from the Los Angeles Times.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Mary McNamara on Clint Eastwood's improv routine at the Republican convention Thursday night.

Follow me on Twitter. I promise not to tweet to an empty chair. @JBFlint