Tuesday, May 29

Superman+Spiderwoman(?!), Bollywood style

This made my day week, gotta love the flying special effects :D

Stumbling on happiness

Daniel Gilbert's fantastic book won the Royal Society prize for science books.
Two other books in the same league for me were:

  1. The Undercover Economist, by Tim Harford
  2. The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, by Barry Schwartz

Tuesday, May 22

Thursday, May 17

Efficient JavaScript talk

Watch it @ the YUI Theater or download for Quicktime

5 lessons to retain from the talk:

  1. Don't modify visible objects: hide, modify, display.
  2. Best way to append multiple elements: remove node from DOM, append elements, re-attach element to DOM.
  3. Beware of the markup maintenance issues caused by the use of innerHTML.
  4. Avoid internal browser reflow (repositioning) by caching element properties.
  5. Rather than binding events to every element inside a container, bind only to the parent container. It is easy to access each of its children by id.

Wednesday, May 16

The Google Mission

I often hear "predictions" about the inevitability of a Google downfall because they are stretching themselves far beyond search. The Economist claims:

"A leapfrog may seem unlikely, given Google's reputation as an innovator, but its diversification into so many fields beyond web-searching might yet cause it to stumble"
from Out-googled, May 10th 2007.

Quoting Google's Corporate Information page:
"Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."
The word 'search' is not mentioned in the mission statement. Thus, the core search service as we know it is simply a means to an end -an entry point to a much more ambitious goal: "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful".
Docs, apps, email, IM, and the sometimes misunderstood calendar, are all perfectly aligned with the company's strategy (unsurprisingly).
In fact, as an information organizer and management tool, a calendar is closer to their mission statement than a search box.

Tuesday, May 15


Jia on bubble skirt[click on image to enlarge]

Last Sunday, walking down Portobello Road, a couple of photographers from The Style Scout spotted this young beauty on a very unique and underused bubble skirt. I, of course, had to get out of the way -no room for trend-wasters in the A-list fashion world :)

Monday, May 14

New house, new address

This is a list of the institutions I have notified of my address change, for future reference:

  1. Abbey National (Cash ISA): filled-in paper form in person, confirmed a few days later and address was successfully changed.
  2. Amazon: Added new address to my account and set it as the default one. It was that simple.
  3. Barclays (Personal Banking): Filled-in paper form in person, returned a week later to find old address still on the system. Account manager 'apologised' and changed address on the spot (on the system, no forms needed).
  4. Barclaycard (Credit Card): Filled-in form on the back of statement and sent it on pre-paid envelope. Several weeks later, statement for the following month was still sent to old address. Had to call to confirm address change.
  5. BCP (Personal Banking+Credit Card): Sent letter with copy of tenancy agreement to HQ. No confirmation and old address is still on the system.
  6. BUPA (Private Health Care):
  7. Council: Posted Westminster council tax form. A week later received letter addressed to my name, plus 3 times the same form I had sent before.
  8. DVLA: Posted driver license and paper counterpart to DVLA. Received updated license a week later.
  9. The Economist: Emailed new address and received confirmation. Also used online form @ http://www.economistsubs.com. Address change was only effective in 10 days time -it is a weekly newspaper(!), which says something about their logistics infrastructure.
  10. Electoral Roll: As per instructions on the Electoral Commision, obtained form online and posted to address given. No confirmation yet.
  11. Fidelity (Savings Funds): Setup online account and requested address change online. It was done in less than a week with a pre-paid envelope sent for the account holder's signature.
  12. Invesco Perpetual (Stocks ISA): Called and was sent change-of-address form to new address (account holder's signature is required). Sent form back on pre-paid envelope and address was changed on the system accordingly. Whole process was painless and took about a week.
  13. Inland Revenue: Called and was told that I needed to write a letter. Did so, sent letter, and received no confirmation. Called again and address was changed over the phone.
  14. O2: Updated online form. Unsure if successful since I receive electronic invoices.
  15. PayPal: Added new address to system but it is clumsy and unintuitive to remove old (verified) address.
  16. Scottish Widows (Pension): Changed address online @ http://www.scottishwidows.co.uk/global/log_in_or_register.html. Changes take effect within 3 working days but that is not too bad for a pension fund.
  17. Southampton University:
  18. University College London: Emailed student records and was pointed towards alumni form @ http://www.ucl.ac.uk/alumni/keep-in-touch/update-details. No confirmation yet.
  19. Virgin Media (Ex-Telewest, for TV+broadband): Called to transfer account and change address and a few days later received statement to new address. However, a week later called to proceed with account transfer and old address was still on the system.
  20. Solomon Smith Barney (Stock Options): Faxed address change form. Received no acknowledgment and more than a week later old address still shows on my online account. Called customer services a week later and was informed that new address is already on file and the online system will not be updated. Needless to say, they thought it was pretty normal that I should get no notification nor acknowledgment. Those who can't abandon ship due to some corporate deal already know what Smith Barney is all about -the angry comments from like minded unfortunate users like myself on their own web survey were quite clear. To those undecided, a word of warning: run! Don't come anywhere near this sinking ship.
  21. Work: filled-in online form and emailed HR. System was updated immediately.

Thursday, May 10

The (misguided) pursuit of happiness

TEDTalks, Dan Gilbert


  • In 2 million years the human brain tripled in mass, and not just 3 times bigger in size: it gained new structure, namely the pre-frontal cortex.
  • The pre-frontal cortex is our experience simulator: we can simulate things in our heads without the need to try them out in the world; thus, we can make predictions about the emotional impact of future events based on past experiences.
  • Degree of 'happiness' is reportedly the same for both lottery winners and paraplegics.
  • Research on Impact Bias shows events have far less impact, intensity, and duration than what people expect or anticipate.
  • Synthesis of happiness: we change our views of the world to help feel better about the world. "The one I own is far better than I thought it would be; the one I didn't get sucks."
  • Research with Anterograde Amnesiac patients replicate these findings (synthetic happiness): even though they don't remember they own it, they like it better.
  • We like best what we are stuck with.
  • We are rubbish at making predictions about the emotional impact of future events (there is plenty of evidence of how remembering the past biases forecasts of the future in the finance world too).
  • Bottom line is we don't really know what makes us happy.

Closing words:
"We have the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience"

Daniel Gilbert is at least as good a speaker as Barry Schwartz. I'm looking forward to read the book.


Wilson, T. D., Meyers, J., & Gilbert, D. T. (2003). "How happy was I, anyway?" A retrospective impact bias.

"People do not learn from experience that positive events are often less impactful than they anticipated, because they recall them as more impactful than they were. One reason for this, we suggest, is that both affective forecasts and affective recollections are subject to the focalism bias, whereby people think about the emotional event in isolation and neglect to consider that other events were influencing their feelings and thoughts."

Lieberman, M. D., Ochsner, K. N., Gilbert, D. T., & Schacter, D. L. (2001). Do amnesics exhibit cognitive dissonance reduction? The role of explicit memory and attention in attitude change.

"The amnesic patients in this experiment showed just as much behavior-induced attitude change as did matched control participants despite the fact that they had no explicit memory for which prints they had chosen and no explicit memory for which prints were involved in the choice."
(Behavior-induced attitude change = 'changing minds': revising attitudes to fit with current circumstances, which is conventionally thought of as self-deception or rationalization.)

Gilbert, D. T., Pinel, E. C., Wilson, T. D., Blumberg, S. J., & Wheatley, T. (1998). Immune neglect: A source of durability bias in affective forecasting.

Affective forecasting is "the ability to predict one's hedonic reactions to future events."

Wilson, T. D., Wheatley, T. P., Meyers, J. M., Gilbert, D. T., & Axsom, D. (2000). Focalism: A source of durability bias in affective forecasting.

"When we're trying to predict how happy we will be in a future that contains Event X, we tend to focus on Event X and forget about all the other events that also populate that future—events that tend to dilute the hedonic impact of Event X."

Wilson, T. D., Meyers, J., & Gilbert, D. T. (2001). Lessons from the past: Do people learn from experience that emotional reactions are short lived?

"People who received positive or negative feedback on a test were not as happy or unhappy as they would have predicted. People in the positive feedback condition did not learn from this experience when making predictions about their reactions to future positive events (Impact bias & Focalism). People in the negative feedback condition moderated their predictions about their reactions to future negative events (Immune neglect), but this may not have been a result of learning. Rather, participants denigrated the test as a way of making themselves feel better and, when predicting future reactions, brought to mind this reconstrual of the test and inferred that doing poorly on it again would not make them very unhappy."

Dunn, E. W., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2003). Location, location, location: The misprediction of satisfaction in housing lotteries.

"People tend to overestimate the emotional consequences of future life events, exhibiting an impact bias. The authors replicated the impact bias in a real-life context in which undergraduates were randomly assigned to dormitories (or “houses”). Participants appeared to focus on the wrong factors when imagining their future happiness in the houses. They placed far greater weight on highly variable physical features than on less variable social features in predicting their future happiness in each house, despite accurately recognizing that social features were more important than physical features when asked explicitly about the determinants of happiness."