Saturday, 31 January 2009

Multitasking - Are Women Really the Bees' Knees?

Several research studies (by women) have concluded that women's brains are much better than men's at multitasking. This research has never been successfully challenged, and has become accepted, to the point that various writers (women) have taken it forward to argue that men have either lost it, or never had it in the first place. One such stellar document generously tells us Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget.

While I am sure that there is a grain of truth in the findings - few men would dispute that women do seem to remember birthdays better than men, for example - most of it is pure over-generalized tosh, and three simple experiments can knock the whole lot into perspective.

Not only that, these three experiments can be replicated easily at minimal expense and effort.

I commend them to you.

1. At The Supemarket Checkout

  1. Place 'next customer' bar after previous shopper's items.
  2. Move own items from basket to moving belt, placing heavy and bulky items first, small, fragile or valuable items last; spaces items knowing that the moving belt will bring them safely to the cashier..
  3. Place 'next customer' bar after his items.
  4. Locate bank card and reusable bags.
  5. Greets cashier with a smile and a polite greeting.
  6. Packs items neatly in bags, efficiently placing bulky items first and carefully arranging fragile items on top.
  7. Pays and thanks cashier.

  1. Place 'next customer' bar after previous shopper's items.
  2. Stacks own items from basket to moving belt, in no particular order, and creating high, unstable pile as if only allowed to use a small part of the belt.
  3. Does not place 'next customer' bar after her items.
  4. Think aloud about the length of the queue, the inefficiency of the cashier and imply that the previous customer is wasting time with loud 'tuts'.
  5. Ignores cashier's greeting.
  6. Realises she only got one of 'buy one get one free' - goes off to search.
  7. Returns with item - decides she doesn't need either, and asks cashier to remove them from list.
  8. Piles items any old how into bags.
  9. Repacks items into some vague semblance of order.
  10. Looks for purse (optional: unpack bags as purse is under newly packed shopping)
  11. Tips out handbag to locate cardholder.
  12. Finds card, pays for shopping.
  13. Replaces card, replaces card holder, stops to read a note she thought she'd lost three months ago
  14. Grunts in response to cashier's 'Thank you - have a nice day'

2. At the Bus Stop

  1. Arrives at stop, surveys those already there.
  2. If in doubt, check timetable / route guide
  3. Check that season ticket or cash fare is to hand.
  4. Considers whether to bet on Tottenham being in the top four (no), or Arsenal in the top three (yes), while keeping an eye out for the bus.
  5. Considers whether Rupert Murdoch (Sky, Fox, The Sun) really is the anti-Christ (no) or simply a right-wing businessman with exceptional ability to plumb the lowest common denominator of the public's taste (yes), while keeping an eye out for a delayed bus.
  6. Considers how far away the sun really is, and what implications that has for the likelhood of life on other planets (none), and whether the next Star Trek movie will be worth the wait (unlikely), while keeping an eye out for a much delayed bus.
  7. As the bus arrives, check clearly displayed destination information.
  8. Signal in good time for the driver to see and stop.
  9. As the bus slows, calculate where it will come to a halt, and move (or be ready to move) as necessary, allowing people who were there first to move first, but taking advantage of unoccupied space without pushing or shoving.
  10. Step onto the bus while reaching for ticket / cash.
  11. Pay fare / show ticket
  12. Move into the bus, finding a seat if possible, avoid blocking gangways so far as possible.
  1. Arrive at bus stop and stand as near as possible, even though knowing the bus usually stops at road marking three metres away.
  2. Ignore available information, even if this is unfamiliar territory
  3. Considers whether to wear the little black dress with the new shoes (duh!), while waiting for the bus.
  4. Considers whether to wear the little black dress with the new shoes (duh!), while waiting for a delayed bus.
  5. Considers whether to wear the little black dress with the new shoes (duh!), while waiting for a much delayed bus.
  6. As the bus approaches, be sure to ignore clearly displayed destination information.
  7. Signal much to soon, while the driver is negotiating traffic, AND / OR much too late, as it passes.
  8. Considers whether to wear the little black dress with the new shoes (duh!), while waiting for the next bus.
  9. Repeat signalling performance, as another person (male) successfully hails the bus.
  10. DO NOT MOVE until the bus has stopped, then start picking up shopping and storm through the crowd to board
  11. Drop shopping at driver's window, spilling at least one bag, blocking the gangway, while searching for ticket / money.
  12. Ask driver if he's going your way (he isn't).
  13. Swear at driver, pick up shopping and disembark
  14. Repeat #2 - #11 (at least once)
  15. Pay fare / show ticket.
  16. Make little or no attempt to move down the bus or keep gangway clear, delaying other passengers (and self) as they struggle to get past to oasis of space beyond.
  17. Grumble at how slow and useless the service is.
3. At the Drive-through ATM Machines

  1. Drive up to the cash machine.
  2. Put down your car window.
  3. Insert card into machine and enter PIN.
  4. Enter amount of cash required and withdraw.
  5. Retrieve card, cash and receipt.
  6. Put window up.
  7. Drive off.
  1. Drive up to cash machine.
  2. Reverse and back up the required amount to align car window with the machine.
  3. Set parking brake, put the window down.
  4. Find handbag, remove all contents on to passenger seat to locate card.
  5. Tell person on cell phone you will call them back and hang up.
  6. Attempt to insert card into machine.
  7. Open car door to allow easier access to machine due to its excessive distance from the car.
  8. Insert card.
  9. Re-insert card the right way.
  10. Dig through handbag to find diary with your PIN written on the inside back page.
  11. Enter PIN.
  12. Press cancel and re-enter correct PIN.
  13. Enter amount of cash required.
  14. Check makeup in rear view mirror.
  15. Retrieve cash and receipt.
  16. Empty handbag again to locate wallet and place cash inside.
  17. Write debit amount in check register and place receipt in back of checkbook.
  18. Re-check makeup.
  19. Drive forward 2 feet.
  20. Reverse back to cash machine.
  21. Retrieve card.
  22. Re-empty hand bag, locate card holder, and place card into the slot provided!
  23. Give dirty look to irate male driver waiting behind you.
  24. Restart stalled engine and pull off.
  25. Redial person on cell phone
  26. Drive for 2 to 3 miles.
  27. Release Parking Brake.
As I say, these experiments can be (and are!) replicated on a daily basis around the world.

Multitasking? No - simply overcomplicating simple tasks.

[Thanks to Janine (female) for the ATM example]

Monday, 19 January 2009

New Technology - The March of the Media

It's always risky to write anything about progress, especially when you can remember when 'new technology' meant an electric typewriter and a fax machine, two dinosaurs of the late twentieth century.

But with the music industry turned on its head, the movie industry living an fear, and newspapers closing all over, it's an issue that won't go away.

It's pretty much accepted that music will cease to exist on plastic discs, tape or anything else except memory sticks and MP3 players, and I'm amazed that Hi-Fi salesmen are still selling huge machines to fill rooms with sound. You can, of course, still buy vinyl - but that's a completely obsolete fad that has revisited as an overpriced trendy toy, that probably won't survive the latest recession. For those that doubt music's 'no return' trip, just look at the closure of music stores - and the desperation to reinvent themselves as 'games shops' and even diversifying into live music (what will they think of next?).

With movies, it's clear that a similar course will be followed; TV is migrating to the web at an accelerating rate and DVD sales are on the skids. Will movies follow as quickly, downloadable by the mother of all broadband, or will it take another step in technology before discs disappear? Too soon to know - but even flat-screen TVs do not seem to have done the trick for blu-ray, and the studios' insistence on regionalization of discs will inevitably damage their profits, while incentivizing bootleggers (go figure!).

Newspapers are a sad tale of self-inflicted pain.

Many people of a certain age are happy with newspapers - "I love newspapers and books and am quite happy to get my news in paper format with my breakfast. I'd be a happy camper if that doesn't change." That's an often expressed view when the topic comes up in forums.

But newspaper sales throughout the western world suggest it is no longer a representative view; sales are sliding all the time, at all levels of newspaper publishing (broadsheet, tabloid, local).

Printed journalism is in terminal decline - and that cannot be fixed, because times are so hard that it's all about paring down to the fiscal bone. So it feeds into a spiral of declining sales / declining quality.

Hence advertising is allowed to influence editorial; no proofreading, little sub-editing, weak editors, 'news' replaced by hastily re-written press releases and celeb gossip.

But the spiral of decline simply cannot be reversed, as in amongst it all, the Internet is breeding a generation for whom buying a newspaper is simply "huh?", as well as recruiting all those older disillusioned readers. Like me.

Sure there's some good print journalism, but not much, and it's shrinking and quality print journos are aging. Most political and financial scandals are revealed - and followed up - on the web, some from TV. Very little investigative journalism arises from print these days. And if you think my views exaggerate the situation, ask yourself three questions about the financial press - theoretically the pinnacle of the print:

  1. Did they see the merchant banking crisis coming?
  2. Did they spot the biggest Ponzi scam in history?
  3. Did they seriously challenge the status quo in any way?

Answers, upside down, of course:  oN oN oN

Whatever you do, you'll not ever recruit young readers; I suppose you could pull back a few older readers.

And what about books? there's the same loyalty to books - among older people. But books have only been around, for most of the population, for 100 years; before that, they were for churches, business and the rich. Mass market paperbacks can only claim about 75 years; easy come, easy go. Again, a generation is already growing up without that 'respect' for books.

How long before technology replaces them?

There's already a plethora of electronic books, and ebook readers. In fact, a multitude of incompatible technologies. The Kindle is probably the most advanced, even though they have the cheek to charge people to download blogs! But suffice it to say that Kindle won't pass the "Heenan Test" - First proposed in 1998, it goes like this - "No device will replace the paperback book until such device is not only easily updateable and rechargeable, but is also capable of being read in the bath." - therefore that revolution is still to come.

And don't start me on mobile phones ...