Friday, February 24, 2012

Strengthening memory

Is there still a value in memorization when we can simply Google what we wish to know? Some believe that technology should not take the place of human accomplishment. That is one of the values behind Memrise, the site I wrote about for Internet Evolution

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Geek: from freak to chic

The word "freak" in the title is used in a specific sense. In the earlier part of the 20th century, a "geek" was a freak attraction at a carnival, a definition  that retains, though it does first offer the slang meaning more familiar to us today, someone who is inept, particularly in social settings, though s/he may be very accomplished technically or scientifically.

If you ever read the book or  see the 1947 film adaption  Nightmare Alley, you would encounter the term "geek" in its carnival sense and a symbol of the ultimate degradation a man can experience. (BTW this proves the Oxford  Dictionary of Modern Slang entry on the word incorrect, as it dates the US meaning of "fairground freak" only to 1954)

Houghton Mifflin Word Origins can only speculate on when exactly the meaning shifted away from the freak people paid to see to a person some may have tried to avoid:
The exact date is hard to pin down, but in student slang of the 1970s and later, a geek was someone who partied too little and studied too much. And when these geeks migrated to Silicon Valley and began building computers and writing software programs that made them millionaires, they gained respect. artlife on Etsy sells these 

And that turn around brings us to pride in self-identifying as geeks and the ultimate compliment paid to the type in  the form of "geek chic"
Although being described as a geek tends to be an insult, the term has recently become more complimentary, or even a badge of honor, within particular fields. This is particularly evident in the technical disciplines, where the term is now often a compliment, denoting extraordinary skill. Geek Pride Day has been observed on May 25 in Spain since 2006 (May 25 being the world premiere date of Star Wars and also Towel Day). The holiday promotes the right to be nerdy or geeky, and to express it in public without shame. A new convention, Geek.Kon, has sprung up in Madison, Wisconsin with a purpose to celebrate all things geek. The website BoardGameGeek is an online community of boardgamers who identify themselves as geeks at game conventions; they call their website "The Geek," for short. Technical support services such as Geek Squad use the term geek to signify helpful technical abilities. In recent history, some geeks have cultivated a geek culture, such as geek humor and obscure references on t-shirts. The so-called geek chic trend is a deliberate affectation of geek or nerd traits as a fashion statement. Nonetheless, the derogatory definition of geeks remains that of a person engrossed in his area of interest at the cost of social skills, personal hygiene, and status.

Related post:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Avoid Jargon

Today I shared I took note of a link I saw on Google+ for the language of the excerpts:
"The only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers," wrote Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff. "Brand, manufacturing, distribution and IT are all table stakes. The only source of competitive advantage is the one that can survive technology-fueled disruption, an obsession with understanding, delighting, connecting with and serving customers. In this age, companies that thrive ... are those that tilt their budgets toward customer knowledge and relationships."

Terms like "technology-fueled disruption" sound like something you would see see in "Dilbert." In "Politics and the English Language,"Orwell made the point that jargon gets in the way of clarity and impedes communication. Sometimes that is the point -- to keep the information obscured so that people feel they need your insight. You can market your services to those who are ignorant of which "sustainable competitive advantage" will "survive technology-fueled disruption" by assuring them that you know because you know the terms.

Given that start to my day, I found this list of sales jargon terms to avoid from Inc. a most welcome breath of fresh air. I almost had to laugh because one of the terms mentioned, "low-hanging fruit" was used in an email I received today. I wasn't impressed when I read the email even before I read this article. That may just make these things a it more bearable -- making a game of finding the jargon in business communication, particularly from people who pretend to be experts on writing, as was the case for the email I mentioned.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vintage Vocabulary

If you have a love of words, be sure to read through this post on the words that first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary back in 1951. That was the year of the nerd, fast food, Vegan, and 401 others. "Nerd" and the word's creation is attributed to none other than Dr. Seuss: "The origin is uncertain, but signs point to the 1950 children’s book If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss, which uses nerd as the name of a creature, as its inspiration."

The lines have "Nerd" capitalized as a proper name: "And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Katroo / And bring back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo, / A Nerkle, a Nerd and a Seersucker too!"

The word "Vegan" is listed as a proper name, as well; the meaning then was "an alien from a planet orbiting the star Vega," not someone who conforms to a particular type of diet.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Online match ups

I wrote a post about the latest research on online dating in Dating Data Analyzed

Also check out the study of lies in online profiles at

For a different kind of pairing online, read about the teaming up of General Mills and Meredith to market cereal  in connection to fitness goals.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Google data for doctors and marketers

I wrote about the uses of Google flu for medical professionals in "A Dose of Google Data for Doctors & Hospitals" , Here is how marketers use the data to their advantage in promoting a thermometer to a market targeted by areas identified in the data.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The usefulness of art

"All art is quite useless" is one of Oscar Wilde's famous sayings. In looking it up, I found a letter in which he elaborates on the point. He offers an analogy: "A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers." You can Letters of Note link to see the letter as written and more of the transcript.

There has long been a debate over whether literature should simply entertain or entertain and instruct. Most of us read fiction for fun, not for information. However, The Business Case for Reading Novels contends that there is utility is what has been deemed "useless." It expands a bit on the research presented in the following paragraph:

Over the past decade, academic researchers such as Oatley and Raymond Mar from York University have gathered data indicating that fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness. For instance, in fMRI studies of people reading fiction, neuroscientists detect activity in the pre-frontal cortex — a part of the brain involved with setting goals — when the participants read about characters setting a new goal. It turns out that when Henry James, more than a century ago, defended the value of fiction by saying that "a novel is a direct impression of life," he was more right than he knew.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

If you work in New York

If you freelance or do other self-employed work in New York, you should be aware of the updates to MCTM tax for this year. The threshold went up to $50K a year net, a substantial difference from the previous years when it was only $10K.

Section 801(a) of the Tax Law that imposes the MCTMT on self-employed individuals has been amended. For tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2012, an individual will be subject to the MCTMT only if his or her net earnings from self-employment attributable to the MCTD exceed $50,000 for the tax year. Prior to the amendment, an individual was subject to the MCTMT only if his or her net earnings from self-employment attributable to the MCTD exceeded $10,000 for the tax year. The rate of the MCTMT for self-employed individuals (.34%) has not changed.