Salad

by George Taniwaki

The local Kroger store sells sushi and wakame salad. Is it fresh? You bet, it’s good until 02-30. And that bright green color not found in nature. It contains enough blue and yellow food coloring to scare away any self-respecting bacteria. Tastes pretty good, just don’t look at it too carefully.

PoppyHamantashen

Poppy Hamantashen just like my mom used to make. Photo by George Taniwaki

by George Taniwaki

Because of the pandemic I can’t join in big crowds and dance in the streets to celebrate Purim. Instead, I will remain in isolation and snack on poppy Hamantashen from Kroger.

Unfortunately, I have never participated in a Purim celebration in the past. Though, the Japanese have a custom of bestowing sweets when traveling, called omiyage. Luckily, I don’t need an excuse like a holiday or a visit to stuff my face with sweets.

GraphicMedicine

Comics are fun. That makes them a good way to explain behavioral changes needed to stay healthy and safe. Image by Gemma Corell from Creativity in Captivity

by George Taniwaki

The latest issue of JAMA (Nov 2020) has a short article about the best nontechnical graphic work in medicine this past year. Naturally, the most popular topic has been the coronavirus pandemic.

I’m a big fan of visual displays of data and of comics, so this story really piqued my interest. In case you cannot access the JAMA article, I reproduce the links below.

Instructional comics

Argha Manna – Be Aware of Droplets and Bubbles

Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles – The Side Eye: Viruses vs Everyone

Zach Weinersmith, et al. – A Comic Strip Tour Of The Wild World Of Pandemic Modeling

Weiman KowHow COVID-19 Spreads

Personal stories

Gemma Correll – Creativity in Captivity

Gemma Correll – Save it for a Rainy Year

The Nib and Thu Bui – Inequity in the Time of Pandemic 

Comics as Therapy

Graphic Medicine, Drawing TogetherThe Age of Covid-19

New York Times, The Diary Project

Teresa Watson – Welcome to the Covid-19 Mental Health Struggle

Anders Nilsen – How Do We Wrap Our Heads Around Something This Big?

Demi-denims

Demi-denims, an acceptable form of pants for women. Image from Wikimedia

by George Taniwaki

For no particular reason, today I will demonstrate my lack of fashion sense, narrow-mindedness with regard to gender roles, and general lack of imagination. It’s time to play, what (not) to wear, summer edition. My six rules to be a dedicated follower of fashion are defined below.

  1. Women may wear pants of any length and style. They may be made of any material and worn plain or with a skirt or even another pair of pants.
  2. Men may wear full-length pants that cover their ankles.
  3. Men may not wear short pants that are longer than their knees. The exception is that world famous male explorers may wear short cargo pants that end below the knees on the condition that they also have a machete hanging from their belt and they know how to use it.
  4. Men may wear short pants that end above their knees, but in no case shall their pants be shorter than their boxers. This is especially true if the boxers have leg openings with a diameter larger than their pants and cause them to expose themselves every time they sit.
  5. Men may not wear Speedo briefs. The exception is men with body hair the same color as their swimwear and you cannot tell where the shorts end and their bare legs and chest begin.
  6. Men may not wear culottes unless they are descendants of samurai and are wearing hakama. Such men must also know how to use a machete.

PlaidPants TacticalShortsMachete

LongBoxerShorts HairyBody

Hakama

Acceptable forms of pants for men (from top to bottom), Living proof that dead men don’t wear plaid; Actor Danny Trejo is allowed to wear cargo shorts; Just say “no” to boxer shorts longer than outer pants; Trunks with matching body hair go swimmingly well together; A man who won’t put up with your bushido

MentalError

Don’t let mental errors cloud your thinking. Image by Jan Buchczik for The Atlantic

by George Taniwaki

Arthur Brooks is a conservative social scientist. He is on the faculty of Harvard Business School and was formerly president of the American Enterprise Institute. Since 2019, he has been writing a series of articles in The Atlantic, now called “How to Build a Life.” With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the articles have included advice on how to live a a happier and better life by understanding our life circumstances.

In his Apr 23, 2020 article entitled “Two Errors Our Minds Make When Trying to Grasp the Pandemic”, he makes the case that we would be happier if we understood the difference between two experiences that make us unhappy and two conditions that make us nervous. It is a very thought provoking article and I highly recommend it.

Regret and disappointment

Regret and disappointment both lead to unhappiness. They seem similar but are not. We should only feel regret for bad decisions that we have made. Then we should work hard to develop strategies to do better next time. But we should not feel disappointment.

In contrast, we should only feel disappointment when we are in situations where we had no control, like the Covid-19 pandemic. And once we recognize we have no control, we should endeavor to stop our disappointment and get on with other thoughts that will make us happy. As Brooks says, “rumination on what you would be doing if it weren’t for the coronavirus is a destructive waste of your time.”

Risk and uncertainty

Most people dislike risk and uncertainty. Again, these conditions seem similar but are not. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously stated, “There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Risks can be thought of as the known unknowns. These are outcomes that we cannot accurately predict, but understand well enough that we can forecast them using stochastic models. We can also mitigate and manage risks by working hard using the appropriate strategies and interventions.

Uncertainty are the unknown unknowns. How many people will die from Covid-19? Is it safe to open schools in the fall? Will I or a family member get the disease? We don’t know and can’t predict these with the information currently available. That is, we as laypersons cannot convert uncertainty into risk. Thus, we should not spend a lot of time worrying about these questions. Doing so will exhaust us and make us unhappy without leading us to a better prediction.

Acknowledge, distinguish, resolve

Mr. Brooks has a three step solution to overcoming these two cognitive errors. He calls his solution “acknowledge, distinguish, resolve.” As he writes, “Disappointment and uncertainty are inevitable, but we don’t have to turn them into suffering.”

apocalypse now

This is the end… Image from MGM United Artists

by George Taniwaki

On June 1, 2020, President Donald Trump led a group of White House cabinet members and advisors across the street to St. John’s Episcopal Church. Once there he staged a photo op of him holding a bible. He took a few questions but did not have any prepared statements. Then everyone walked back to the White House.

Prior to the walk, National Park Service police cleared out mostly peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square through use of rubber bullets and pepper munitions. Once they “captured” the square, they formed a cordon around the path for the president and his entourage.

I was rather startled by this event and immediately thought of the parallels to a scene in the movie Apocalypse Now. This classic Vietnam War movie, released in 1979, was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. In the scene I am thinking of, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, is the leader of a helicopter cavalry unit. He decides he wants to go surf with his men, so he calls in a napalm strike against a fishing village sympathetic to the Viet Cong. Once the beach is “neutralized” he ends up unhappy because the napalm and helicopters are causing the wind to blow the wrong way, ruining the waves.

One of the most famous quotes from the movie are spoken by Duvall’s character during the scene. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning… It smells like victory.” I can almost imagine Trump saying it.

CharlesDuvallApocalypseNow CharlesDuvallApocalypseNow2CharlesDuvallApocalypseNow3 CharlesDuvallApocalypseNow4

More scenes from Apocalypse Now. Images from MGM United Artists

Check out the images below from news sites and compare them to the images at top and above taken from the movie.

TrumpBible TrumpBible2

TrumpBible3 TrumpBible4

TrumpBible5 TrumpBible6

Images from President Trump’s photo op (from top to bottom): Park Service Police clearing Lafayette Square (AP Photo Alex Brandon); Trump and his entourage crossing the Square, Trump giving a fist bump to police; Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in fatigues on the right (AP Photo Patrick Semansky); Trump ignoring the graffiti of FTP (AP Photo Patrick Semansky); Trump holding the bible while pointing at reporter

Update: Corrected first paragraph. President Trump did take questions. But he did not have a prepared statement.

TSA Pre✓Renewal

A simple questionnaire with a big flaw. Image from TSA Pre✓

by George Taniwaki

I recently received a voice mail message from the Transportation Security Administration. A woman’s voice told me that my Known Traveler Number (KTN) would be expiring soon and that I would need to renew it if I wanted to remain in the the TSA Pre✓ program. That’s the short line through security at the airport.

I haven’t been to the airport recently (and I hope you haven’t either) so I don’t know how long the lines are right now. But joining the TSA Pre✓ program is not expensive ($85 for 5 years) and has been worth it for me. So I pointed my browser to https://universalenroll.dhs.gov/ and started the renewal process.

Near the end of the process, I landed on a very unexpected page. It was a survey form asking questions about my flying habits (see screenshot at top of post). There are many problems with this survey that market research experts will immediately catch. But check out the fourth question. “How satisfied are you with your overall airport security experience?”

Geez, I hate airport security. It is intrusive, arbitrary, and time consuming. It also subjects you to radiation and chemicals of unknown safety. I guess it would be worthwhile if it effectively stopped violence and terrorism at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of efficacy and lots of evidence that it is really expensive.

Now, how should I answer this question? There is no explanation on the page about how your response data will be used. Specifically, there is no assurance that the responses will not be associated with your personally identifiable information (PII) and only aggregated data will be provided to the TSA.

Since TSA can make your life miserable, including revoking your KTN, the safest thing to do is to tell them you love your experience with airport security. Question 4 has 10 unlabeled radio buttons with the phrases “Extremely Poor” and “Extremely Satisfied” at the ends. I decide to pick the 9th button. High but not perfect. I figured anyone picking the 10th button will also be flagged for attention as either a liar or an obsequious bootlicker.

Anyway, as a marketer you may be tempted to increase response rate to your market research survey by integrating it into a customer transaction flow. Don’t do this. Your responses will be biased.

* * * *

Update1: Revised the third paragraph to clarify that there are many other problems with this survey. Thanks to my friend and colleague Carol Borthwick for reminding me that not all readers of my blog are survey experts. Below is a list of some of the obvious errors in this survey.

  1. In the first question, how should one respond if you fly for both business and pleasure? And really, you fly to a destination for pleasure, you don’t fly because the experience itself is pleasurable. Almost nobody flies for pleasure, unless they are a pilot.
  2. In the second question, what is the TSA trying to measure? My guess is the number of times respondents are screened by TSA in a year. A round trip usually involves two waits through the TSA line. However, one should not count trips on private aircraft where you don’t go through TSA lines or flights that originate outside the U.S., even if you go through U.S. immigration at the foreign airport.
    Further, if you have a connecting flight on a US domestic flight, you usually do not go through a TSA line again. If you arrive from an international flight and pass through immigration after the flight, you usually do go through TSA before boarding the next flight.
  3. In any event, this survey was probably designed before the collapse in travel due to Covid-19. Does the TSA want to know the number of trips respondents took last year, this year (zero for me so far), or how many they would have taken if there was no pandemic. It doesn’t say.
  4. What’s up with those weird ranges in question 2? And which radio button should respondents select if they fly exactly 31 times a year?
  5. In the fourth question, notice that the wording of the two end point labels for the scale are not parallel. The low end should read “Extremely unsatisfied”. Also there are no labels for any of the intermediate points, leaving the distance between points up to the respondent’s imagination.

* * * *

Update2: Getting back to question 2, if you have a KTN, the TSA records each time you pass through security. So it should already know the actual distribution of how many times a year KTN holders pass through security. So what will it do with the survey data? Compare the response data to the actual data for accuracy? Check for lying and throw out outliers? Who knows.