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In a series of classic studies done in the 1960's, the Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget showed how children can misperceive volume. When colored liquid was poured from a taller cylinder to a shorter wider cylinder, they thought the volume of liquid had decreased. These primary school children were using only the height of the container when making volume judgments and were hence making mistakes. Ah, you say, they are children and are naive enough not to understand that more than height goes into determining the volume of liquid in a container. Full grown adults would never make that mistake. Why, if such height based illusions existed, wouldn't restaurants routinely use tall thin glasses to pour your drinks, rather than short wide glasses? Well. 

Books: The Reluctant Mr. Darwin

Posted by on in TRC Book Club

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin - An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen

On the evening of July 1, 1858, six scientific papers were read to the Linnean Society in London. One of them was an idea independently discovered by two authors, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. Neither author was there; the young man, Wallace, was in New Guinea collecting insects, while the older man, Darwin, was moaning the death of his young son at home. The idea, natural selection, had nearly zero impact and in the annual address given the following year, the president of the society said the past year hadn't seen "any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionize" science. That was the official birth, 150 years ago, of the single biggest idea in the biological sciences.

Guns, Germs and Steel

Posted by on in TRC Book Club

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond

Why did history unfold differently on different continents? Rather than point the finger at racial or ethnic differences to answer this question, Diamond focuses on environmental differences and proceeds to lay out a comprehensive case. Four sets of factors, he argues, contributed to the world as we see it today.

Insighter: Teresa Amabile

Posted by on in Rajan Sambandam

Do you procrastinate? Have you ever told yourself that you do your best work if you wait till the last minute? You may not be as creative as you think, according to Teresa Amabile the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. A leading authority in the field of organizational creativity, she has conducted intensive multi-year studies to understand the nature of creativity in organizations. One of the findings that surprised even her was that time pressure was actually an impediment to creativity. Even people who felt they were being more creative under time pressure are actually less creative.


In Mark Twain's classic novel Tom Sawyer is white washing a fence because his aunt told him to do it. In other words, it's work. But Tom soon convinces his friends that whitewashing the fence is a privilege and even gets them to pay him for a chance to try their hand at it. Twain makes the larger point that whether something is work or not is based on whether one gets paid for it. In this case work becomes a privilege when the worker has to pay to take part, as opposed to being paid for it. Based on this principle, two researchers have developed the idea of two markets:  social and monetary. When you help a friend move with no mention of money it is a social market. When you get paid to mow someone's lawn it is a monetary market. Where do you expend more effort and does anything change the level of effort?

Books: Moneyball

Posted by on in TRC Book Club

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis

How did one of the poorest teams in baseball, the Oakland Athletics, win so many games? Fascinated by this question Lewis begins an investigation that takes him into an area of baseball that was shrouded in mystery about a decade ago. This was an area dominated by people who believed that to truly understand baseball you have to use numbers. Not just any number from a box score (such as an RBI) but those that were shown to be related to winning (such as on-base percentage).

Emily Oster is an Professor of Economics in the Brown University. Her research reaches outside the traditional boundaries of economics to larger health and policy questions. Her claim to fame is her disputing the Nobel winner Amartya Sen's contention from two decades ago that there were 100 million "missing" women, quite possibly because of misogynistic attitudes in developing countries.

Researchers at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and the University of Waterloo have conducted some experiments with very interesting results about the impact of brands on people. They started with prior research that has shown that people modify their behavior in response to environmental cues. For example, exposure to rude words leads to people behaving rudely; exposure to elderly people made others walk more slowly. Even exposure (or priming) with a parent made people achieve more if they believed that the parent would be interested in their achievement, or if they were hoping to please the parent. The question asked by the researchers in this study was whether brands could have similar effects on people and the results turn out to be quite interesting.

Books: The Code Book

Posted by on in TRC Book Club

The Code Book - The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary, Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography, by Simon Singh

If you have any interest in the history of codemaking and codebreaking (or more accurately ciphermaking and cipherbreaking ), this would be a great place to start. Singh begins with early codebreaking ingenuity such as the Caesar shift (yes, that Caesar) where alphabets are substituted for others, and the powerful technique of frequency analysis for breaking substitution ciphers.

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