Predictions,powerpoints and quantified selves

  • “PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat. “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
  • When it comes to predicting the election, forget opinion polls and leadership debates.
    The winners and losers can be determined by asking a couple of hundred voters to give a second or two of their time, according to psychologists Rob Jenkins and Tony McCarthy, both of the University of Glasgow, and Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire. The research team believes that some voters will be swayed by a simple rule of thumb. There are many pundits who are trying to do the same thing with traditional methods, such as opinion polls. However, the team is so confident about their idea that they are publishing their prediction for the outcome of the election in the latest issue of New Scientist.
    And to show how confident they are of success, the psychologists have placed bets with bookmakers and will reveal precisely how they came to their conclusions – and whether they were borne out by the results of the election – in the issue of New Scientist dated 15 May.
  • Humans make errors. We make errors of fact and errors of judgment. We have blind spots in our field of vision and gaps in our stream of attention. Sometimes we can’t even answer the simplest questions. Where was I last week at this time? How long have I had this pain in my knee? How much money do I typically spend in a day? These weaknesses put us at a disadvantage. We make decisions with partial information. We are forced to steer by guesswork. We go with our gut.
    That is, some of us do. Others use data. A timer running on Robin Barooah’s computer tells him that he has been living in the United States for 8 years, 2 months and 10 days. At various times in his life, Barooah — a 38-year-old self-employed software designer from England who now lives in Oakland, Calif. — has also made careful records of his work, his sleep and his diet.
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