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Come to Think of It...

By Leee ·
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Have your Pi and eat it too

by Leee In reply to Come to Think of It...

<p class="MsoNormal">Forget St. Patrick?s Day this year. March 14?Tuesday?is the
highest of high holy days in all of geekdom: Pi Day.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">Think about it. March 14. 314. 22 ? 7 (give or
take). Or, if you believe the old urban legend about simplicity in Alabama
schools, 3. Pi is, as you may remember from school, the ratio of a circle's
circumference to its diameter. Bet you use it every day. I certainly do.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">In any case, Pi Day has a celebrated history beyond its
status as the sixteenth letter of the Greek alphabet. Although its actual
origins are unclear, it can hardly be a coincidence that those who partake in
Pi-related festivities are most likely to recognize the man who really made
math sing: Albert Einstein. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist, mathematician
and icon was born?you guessed it?March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany. Other
noted?or, as Albert might say, <i>relative</i>?Pi
Day activities include eating pie and pineapple, calculating Pi, and competitive
recitation of Pi to the nth decimal place. Gather ?round, friends. It?s going
to be a blast.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">It is said that MIT?s admissions office sends out acceptance
letters to high school seniors in the days leading up to March 14. I guess it
would give the matriculating students an additional reason to celebrate Pi Day,
visions of Pi dancing in their heads.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">Speaking of brilliant minds and fantastic visions, <i>five</i> astronauts have the additional
distinction of a March 14 birthday: Frank Borman (1928, Gemini 7), Gene Cernan
(1938, Gemini 9), Bill Lenoir (1939, STS-5), Pedro Duque (1963, International
Space Station) and Edward Fincke (1967, also of ISS fame). Coincidence?</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">Of course, Pi Day is not for everyone. For example, if
you?re an adherent to the international date format, 14/3?perhaps you?d prefer
to celebrate Pi Approximation Day, July 22, or 22/7.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">I was barely aware of the extent of Pi Day?s, um, importance
until several years ago, when I dated a mathematician, someone with even more
geek cred than I ever dreamed of attaining for myself. As much as I?d like to
attribute his interest in me to the good taste inherent in all geeks, I suspect
that the real reason for the fascination was the potential for bragging rights:
having a girlfriend born on?you guessed it?Pi Day. I even watched?twice!?the
1998 Darren Aronofsky film, about a mathematician who eventually takes a power
drill to his head in order to break himself of his obsession with Pi. My
darling math geek thought it was cool. I didn?t. We broke up shortly afterward.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">And therein lies the lesson: for all but the most diehard
math geek, there is a thing as too much Pi, in which case I?ll skip this one
and see you July 22. I?ll bring the you-know-what.</p>

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Buzz kill

by Leee In reply to Come to Think of It...

In 2003, a <em>Time </em>survey found that two out of five Americans counted public speaking as their greatest fear--more than twice the number of people whose number-one fear was dying. <br /><br />In other words, getting up in front of a crowd was a fate worse than death.<br /><br />Now, in a step that compounds both fears into one handy terror, there's actually <a href="http://www.newscientisttech.com/article.ns?id=mg19025456.500">a computer that will tell you whether you're boring your audience to death</a>. Using an algorithm, the software scans the faces of your audience and, based on the input of 100 actors expressing various emotions, determines what listeners <em>really </em>think.<br /><br />The software's practical application is to help autistic people determine whether they're boring or annoying others, which, according to a spokesperson at MIT, is important for them to learn because without the cues readily obvious to non-autistic individuals, they will further be isolated when people avoid them. So, while being a useful tool for social integration, a more sinister use may arise.<br /><br />Imagine a politician wearing eyeglasses with this "emotional social intelligence prosthetic" attached and a vibrating monitor in his shirt pocket. (If listeners seem bored or uninterested, an attached monitor will silently buzz to allow the user to compensate--or walk away.) Audience not engaged? Poll numbers already down? Change the subject. Tell them what they want to hear.<br /><br />Or...how about a guy at a party, looking for a
date? He talks to various women and the computer studies their reactions until
he finds the woman who finds him the most captivating. In a few short minutes,
mission accomplished, scientific experiment completed. The only buzz he leaves with is the one he got from a few drinks in the company of his new girlfriend.<br /><br />On a less self-serving note, this technology may be a confidence-destroyer rather than -builder. Consider an otherwise shy Ph.D. student defending her dissertation. Already
anxious, she studies the stone-faced committee. She senses she's losing
them. And then--<em>bzzzzt!</em>--like
Pavlov's dog salivating at the bell, the would-be doctor loses her
poise, her voice shakes, and for weeks afterward she remains paralyzed with
fear, worrying about the judges' assessment.<br /><br />Perhaps instead of a computer telling you whether you're boring, a kind friend would be a gentler informer of whether you're dull. But then, unless you're going to be in the public eye or giving presentations regularly, an electronic charisma meter may not be the most pressing need. Live performers--singers, dancers, actors--tell of picking out a person in the audience and playing to that one person the entire show, and in engaging that one fan, <em>that </em>is success. Looking at the face of someone whom you know wants to listen, it doesn't take a computer to tell you that one person's dullness is another person's fascination.

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Buzz kill

by Sonja Thompson Staff In reply to Buzz kill

<p>Ok, Leee.... how many friends do you have who are dull? Chance are, if they are <em>consistently</em> dull, they won't be your friend for very long. I think most people are painfully polite, even when it comes to complimenting wardrobe choices - ones that should arrested immediately by the fashion police. I've looked at lots of things in between people's teeth, makeup smudges, and boogers hanging just barely in sight - without saying a word!!  The only thing I make mention of post-haste is the dreaded zipper that isn't completely zipped. Hey, I do have some morals. </p>

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Buzz kill

by Leee In reply to Buzz kill

There is a difference between boring and unkempt. But thanks for the heads-up about zippers.

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Buzz kill

by Sonja Thompson Staff In reply to Buzz kill

<p>You're right about the "boring vs. unkempt" differentiation. However, I still don't think very many people would tell their friends that they are boring. If you find that your friends are always busy when you call them up to do stuff, that could be a warning sign that you need to spice things up a bit. Next time you call them, ask them if they want to go sky diving or bungi jumping. You don't really have to follow through with these plans, but their interest will help determine your "dull factor."</p>

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Buzz kill

by jrh300 In reply to Buzz kill

Leee - instead of relying on a technical gadget (that really may not even be accurate - after all, it used actors to determine the level of interest) or friends (who may or may not tell you the truth), people should invest in organizations designed to help people with public speaking skills.  I am a member of Toastmasters, International, and can't tell you how much my speaking ability has improved.  For a modest investment (depending on individual club dues, it's only $54-$100 per year) you'll get honest feedback on your speaking habits.

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Buzz kill

by BFilmFan In reply to Buzz kill

<p>Just for the record Sonja, you are neither unkempt or boring. Amusing and insightful would be a more accurate description.</p>
<p>I agree with the previous commentor that Toastmasters is an excellent idea for learning to give speeches before audiences. Plus, you can make a large number of business contacts and none of us can have too many social and business contacts.</p>

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Buzz kill

by dcrooks In reply to Buzz kill

<p>What we need is a tool to help the speaker see the audience naked.  Or, maybe not. Do guys really have that problem?</p>
<p> </p>

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Buzz kill

by DC Guy In reply to Buzz kill

<p>Talk about an invention whose time has already passed. Haven't these people heard about the virtual world? The one we'll be spending an increasing part of our working life in until in ten or twenty years we all get to live wherever we want and telecommute?</p>
<p>So many of you younger people have already adapted to doing most of your non-recreational and much of your recreational communication via cellphone and e-mail. You get along just fine without being able to read facial expressions and body language, and half the time without even the non-verbal bandwidth of oral communication like pitch and cadence.</p>
<p>How often have any of you actually "given a speech" or a presentation to a flesh-and-blood audience? How many of your friends did you initially meet and form your first impression of in person? The latest news flash said that almost 20% of the Americans who got MARRIED last year met online!</p>
<p>Except possibly for diplomats and psychotherapists, nobody relies more on non-verbal cues than con men, why they even have their own trade jargon for the various types of "tells" they spot--something like 70 for men and 120 for women, who apparently are far more expressive with their bodies than we are. Yet con men are absolutely thriving in cyberspace. They've made the transition without complaint; since nobody would have taken their complaints seriously they just had to figure it out for themselves.</p>
<p>I think **** sapiens is rapidly moving way beyond the "tells" that this software is designed to measure. Interesting idea perhaps, but wrong century.</p>

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Will play video games for money

by Leee In reply to Come to Think of It...

About two years ago, I saw a <em>New York Times</em> article about <a href="http://tech2.nytimes.com/mem/technology/techreview.html?res=9E04E7DE1530F936A15750C0A9629C8B63">a USC program for students interested in video game design</a>. I cut it out and gave it to my then-eight-year-old nephew. At the time he was a straight-A student who, like any other kid his age, liked video games. Aside from becoming Neo from ?The Matrix,? had no long-term career plans. He was eight, for crying out loud. What could it hurt, telling him that such a field existed?

<br /><br />Big mistake.

<br /><br />In the two years since, my nephew has become obsessed with ?going to that video game school.? (According to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/22/arts/design/22vide.html?ex=1290315600&en=f26dbe96bc527f0e&ei=5088">this article</a>, there are more than 100 such programs teaching video game design and, more important, the critical thinking skills crucial to their development.) Telling him that the parent company of my employer also owns a <a href="http://www.gamespot.com">video game news site</a> didn't help either. (He asked if I could get him a job playing games.) Somewhere between the article's publication and the present day, the ?design? part has fallen by the wayside, and he has come to believe that he can make piles of money playing video games. Yes, there are television shows in South Korea where glazed-over joystick-wielders (or whatever they?re wielding these days) compete for big cash prizes, but my nephew has no interest in learning Korean or even leaving the house. He puts off his math homework?all homework, actually?in favor of practicing karate moves (the Neo thing may work out after all) and dreaming of wealth born of his PS2 playing. <br /><br />Truth is, my nephew is not particularly extraordinary a player, and I think he knows it. Like a rapper or professional wrestler, his bragging belies this knowledge. Still, I'm not ruling out the prospect of a future in development for him. I?ve gently reminded him that to be an actual video game tester requires a mathematically-based core understanding of how the games <em>work</em>, but he shakes his fist and yells that ?math is <em>evil!</em>? Like the skateboarder Tony Hawk, who has built a multi-million-dollar empire doing something ?fun,? my nephew assumes that anyone?well, not anyone, <em>he</em>?can make a quick million playing ?San Andreas.? If no one has done it yet, why not him?<br /><br />Yes, ?San Andreas.? Have I mentioned he?s only in the fourth grade?

<br /><br />My mother refers to my generation as ?The Instant Generation.? It all started with microwave ovens. Instead of waiting 40 minutes for a baked potato, it now took six long, finger-drumming minutes. My nephew?s generation has raised this impatience to a new level. Having grown up with video games and computers?my nephew does not have access to a computer at home, mind you, as my sister-in-law never got around to hooking up the one I gave her so the kids might learn how to use one?they have gone beyond ?instant.? There is, of course, disbelief that we ?old people? had to wait until Saturday morning to watch cartoons. ("That's stupid," he says. "Why didn?t you just turn on Cartoon Network?") But there is a palpable and pervasive culture that holds that school is unnecessary, learning business skills is a waste of time, interacting with people of the non-digital variety is boring, real-life violence is as simple as action on a screen?and too many kids his age and their parents (who see nothing wrong with buying a pre-pubescent child an M-rated game, as it is ?just a game?) seem to agree.<br /><br />As my now C-student nephew grows older, he may or may not waver from his focus (there does seem to be a budding interest in girls, particularly of the digital variety), but the culture of instant success despite mediocrity (or perhaps because of it) isn't going anywhere. If you need evidence, look no farther than your spam filter.

<br /><br />I think it would be really cool if my nephew were to become a video game developer one day?but even at ten I knew that grown-up work, even stuff that <em>looked </em>fun, was not all fun and games. The <em>Times </em>clipping about the USC program is long gone, abandoned in a routine sweep of anything analog, colorless, solid, <em>old</em>. But the idea remains, with no road mapped out to its destination.

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