Arguments and Confirmation Bias

May 5th, 2011

An article from wired that I was reading today pointed out an interesting connection between argumentation and confirmation bias. I never would have thought the two were so connected before now, but it actually makes sense.

The article begins by wondering at the phenomenon of confirmation bias. Why do we even have it? Why is it that we dumbly look only for evidence that supports the idea we already have in mind, and are blind to contrary evidence? The result is that people make tons of bad choices! But what they point out is that this ability to only see things that confirm an idea is helpful when it comes to being persuasive. If I’m encouraging you to do something for me, I only want to give reasons you should do it, not reasons you shouldn’t.

It makes sense, and it speaks to our being designed for community. We literally can’t think logically about things without another person to bounce ideas off of. The other person has their own confirmation bias and, hopefully, you’ll get someone with a different idea than you. The result is a debate, and you get different ideas going back and fourth in opposition to each other. So our confirmation bias actually does work towards logical conclusions, but only in the context of a somewhat diverse community.

I think that confirmation bias further functions to strengthen the community once the debate is over and a conclusion is reached: everyone agrees on the idea in the end, and then everyone’s confirmation bias kicks in to start seeing reasons that it was right, bonding the community in agreement. That’s why stores have liberal return policies. As much as you may be debating in your head and hesitant about a purchase, once you’ve got it, you start seeing all the reasons you should keep it, even if you thought you didn’t like it before.

Where debates don’t end in agreement, community tends to polarize more and more, splitting into factions that will probably separate. This seems unfortunate but is probably helpful in that it keeps a diversity of approaches to life alive. You have people making cars that run on gas, and people making cars that run on electricity (like we did at the turn of the 20th century). If both approaches are perused, then you have better options down the line. If only one is perused (e.g. gas) then it’s really hard to adapt when problems emerge with that approach.

Educator Video on Youtube breaks 1,000

October 26th, 2010

The introductory video for my HTML5 course on Educator is on the Educator YouTube channel and it gets way more views than any of the videos on my own YouTube channel.

Educator HTML Lesson

Alright then! I feel like I’ve outstripped myself! But honestly, its’ crazy to think that in just a few days so many people have sat through a long, boring video, whereas over months nobody wants to sit through the “more interesting” and shorter videos on my vlog!

When Cats Become Magnetized

October 9th, 2010

Much like how aircraft can become magnetized when flying through the earth’s magnetic field, or electromagnets when a current runs through them, cats sometimes become magnetized. It’s just one of those strange things about cats. G. Curtis Hoskins describes one method for determining whether your cat has become magnetized:

Note when a cat is lying in a certain orientation. Pick it up and then put it back down. If it chooses the same orientation (to magnetic fields), then it is in need of degaussing.

Degaussing is the process of removing the magnetism from an object, for example, old CRT monitors will frequently need to be degaussed when you move them or point them in new directions. A magnetized cat is not a serious problem, but you may notice your cat exhibiting curious behavior while suffering from magnetism.

It will not be strong enough to attract metal objects to the kitten, however, the cat will tend to position itself in the room according to unseen magnetic fields, sometimes resulting in funny behavior such as sitting in the corner facing the wall or hanging half way off of objects in seemingly impossible (or at least uncomfortable) positions. They will also tend to align themselves along a north–south axis (much like cattle and deer, which are naturally magnetized).

Unlike cattle, however, magnetization affects some of the highly refined senses of the cat, such as its inner ear mechanisms that allow it to always land on its feet, the high sensitivity of its whiskers, and ESP. Usually cats are able to keep themselves from becoming too magnetized by brushing against things as they walk by, which creates a static current in their fur that will naturally tend to degauss them. Petting your cat also helps it to keep down magnetic build-up. However, once magnetism has built up too much, cats will try more drastic measures, such as taking advantage of the photoelectric effect to degauss by sitting in the sun or lying on top of devices which emit small amounts of radiation, such as laptop computers. If your cat has most of the aforementioned symptoms of magnetic build up, or any of the following, it is time to manually degauss your cat:

Fortunately, there are reliable ways to degauss your cat, if you’re willing to put in the effort. Hoskins, in the same Air & Space article linked to above, outlines the steps:

First: Take the cat outside and coil a lightweight copper or aluminum wire loosely around it, beginning at whichever end the cat prefers, or allows. The coil may be either right-handed or left-handed, but be sure to note the direction of the coil and whether the cat is left-pawed or right-pawed, so the outcome may be correlated later.

Second: Wrap either end of the wire around a long nail and drive the nail into the ground. Note which end of the wire is used.

Third: After a suitable period of time, remove the wire from around the cat, or remove the cat from within the wire. Cats generally choose the suitable time period, and will pretty much take it from there.

Finally: Check to see if the cat’s direction is more random when lying down. If so, then the procedure has been successful. If the cat still appears to be polarized and unduly oriented within the magnetic fields, then a repeat of the procedure is recommended.

Westmont College Rankings

September 24th, 2010

Westmont consistently ranks in the top tiers when evaluated by these stupid college-ranking magazines. It’s a bit surprising to me not because I didn’t already know that Westmont is one of the best colleges around, but because I wouldn’t have thought these national magazines would notice such a small school. With a student population capped at 1200 by Monticeto, there’s very little money coming in from Alums, meaning less resources–no particle colliders or nuclear power plants on campus.

Here’s the top 8 colleges in California, as ranked by Forbes, along with the total student population:

  1. Stanford University, 17,833
  2. Claremont McKenna College, 1,212
  3. Pomona College, 1,532
  4. California Institute of Technology, 2,126
  5. Harvey Mudd College, 738
  6. University of California, Berkeley, 35,396
  7. University of California, Los Angeles, 38,220
  8. Westmont College, 1,340

To be honest, when I see that I wonder what biases put us at the bottom of the top eight instead of the top. I mean, is this survey looking at undergrad, or just the whole school? Yes, Stanford has a linear particle accelerator and nuclear physics labs, but their undergraduate students also sit in classrooms of 500 and are lectured to by teacher aids and grad students, while the actual professors smash particles into each other at the accelerator. In terms of undergraduate education, I am biased to think Westmont has got to be a lot better.

Plus, they just built a bunch of fancy new structures on campus. And the library has low speed treadmills for reading!

Google’s Bouncy Ball Logo

September 12th, 2010

The internet has been abuzz about the fact that Google was abounce this September 7th. I assume it will eventually show up in Google’s logo archive, but until then, I  found a copy someone made, plus some reverse engineered versions using SVG and the HTML5 canvas element. Ironically, I was too busy to really look at it on September 7th because I was recording my Educator lesson on the canvas element, which is what I initially assumed was how this was being done (like the browser ball Chrome experiment). Unfortunately, it wasn’t HTML5, it was more like DHTML with Javascript-controlled absolute-positioned divs.

It is clear to me that the doodle was meant as a sort of fanfare to the launch of Google Instant, which, by the way, surprised me the next day when I googled something… I’ve worked with Ajax before but I’d never have thought it could pull that much data out of the cloud that fast! Google’s servers are insanely fast, and they have some incredible pre-caching going on. It begins asynchronously querying possible autocomplete suggestions as you type, so that before you even finish typing, you’ve got the result.

Anyways, very cool stuff coming from Google these days, they’re doing a lot to accelerate the advance of web technologies.

Oh, and here’s a cat who liked the bouncy balls as well.

New Beginnings

August 16th, 2010

Today is my first day fully moved into my new apartment on Locust. I have a lot of expectations for this place, hopes and dreams and also resolutions. My second year at Fuller will be starting soon, I’ve recently started a new job at Educator, I’ll be living with new roommates, who I haven’t met yet in this new community. Even this website is freshly reinstalled and I’m planning on beginning to use it again.

All of this newness has got me in the mood to make resolutions. I want to host something social every week, maybe cook meals, etc. I want to keep my house cleaner and clearer. I want to get rid of a lot of my things, leaving only the minimum of things I use. I want to ride my motorcycle more often. I want to vlog and blog more regularly, and about more serious topics. I want to keep in contact with acquaintances, near and distant, new and old. Maybe I will write more letters. I wan’t to keep in contact with family better. I want to work with youth somehow, volunteering or an internship, or paid. I want to build my resume and explore career possibilities. I want to eat breakfast more often. I want to use my coffee table as a coffee table, and not as a dinner table. I want to simplify my life and I want to enrich my life. And I won’t resolve to do any of these things, because I want to change and grow as a person, and to be open and flexible to new desires and needs. But I want setting these thoughts out here to help me organize my thoughts and be aware of them so that I can live more in line with how I want to live.