Monday, January 31, 2011

Facebook Rolling Out Commenting System for Big Media Sites [MediaMemo]

Facebook's courtship of big media continues: CNET's Caroline McCarthy reports that the social network is rolling out a commenting system, akin to services like Disqus, that it wants to launch with the help of big publishers. That makes sense, because Facebook has been headed in that direction. Go to Time Warner's, and you'll see that Facebook already manages that site's comments, a move it made last year. Easy to see Facebook and publishers working together on something even more robust.

'Love Hormone' Arouses Suspicion, Too

Oxytocin, a hormone with a rosy reputation for getting people to love, trust and generally make nice with one another, can get down and dirty. This brain-altering substance apparently amplifies whatever social proclivities a person already possesses, whether positive or 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Does Social Media Speed Up Romances?

Texting GLOBE AND MAIL - Jan 27 - A survey of 1,200 men and women by Shape and Men’s Fitness magazines found that 80% of women and 58%of men said using social media accelerates the sexy times. 70% of women and 63% of men said they use Google and other online tools to screen potential dates. 65% said they had been asked out through SMS. 49% said they had been asked out through a Facebook message.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Why American Mothers are Superior

Editor’s note: The Wall Street Journal lit up the blogosphere last weekend with an article titled, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior. This played right into the stereotypes about Asian parents being obsessed with their children’s education and myths about Chinese and Indian education being superior to U.S. education.

The Journal article was over the top—way over. In fact, TechCrunch contributor Vivek Wadhwa called it “bizarre” in a response that he wrote in his BusinessWeek column. Chinese and Indian parents really do care about their children, just as American parents do, as do others all over the world. Some Chinese and Indian parents are really strict and push their children extremely hard. But he doesn’t know any who would call their children “garbage” either in private or in public as the Journal described. And he doesn’t know any middle-class Indian or Chinese children, in this day and age, who allow themselves to be subjected to the type of abuse the article details.

You can read his views. But here is the perspective of one of his Twitter followers, Dr. AnnMaria De Mars, President of The Julia Group. She said that she felt compelled to write this after reading his piece.

I really did not have time to write this today, but two articles I read made me drop what I was doing. First was the Wall Street Journal article by a Yale law professor who says Chinese mothers are superior because they produce more mathematical and musical prodigies.

The reason, she says, is because none of them accept a grade less than an “A”, all insist their child be number one in the class, they don’t let their children be in school plays, play any instrument other than piano or violin, etc.

She says that this whole thing about people being individuals is a lot of crap (I’m paraphrasing a bit) and gives an example of how she spent hours getting her seven-year-old to play a very difficult piece on the piano. She uses the fact that the older daughter could do the same piece at that age as proof this was reasonable.

There are a few areas I would take exception with her article. First is her grasp of mathematics and logic. It is clearly impossible that every child in China is number one in the class, unless every classroom in the country has a thirty-way tie for first. Second, as my daughter asked, “There are 1.3 billion people in China. None of them ever got a B?” Third is the issue of claiming your parenting is such a great success when your children are not yet out of high school.

I don’t teach at Yale, but I do have a Ph.D., have published several articles in academic journals, founded two companies, and won a gold medal in the world judo championships. I raised three kids to adulthood. As for the companies, they paid enough to support the kids in what they wanted to do. That individualism crap?

Well, the first one went to NYU at age 17, graduated at 20 and if you google Maria Burns Ortiz you’ll find everything from her acceptance speech as Emerging Journalist of the Year to her stories on Major League Baseball investments in Venezuela for ESPN to Fox News Latino. Plus, she has a good husband and she is a wonderful mother.

She never took piano lessons but she is an amazing writer.

The second daughter, the Perfect Jennifer, received her Masters and teaching credential from USC at 24, after taking a couple years off after her B.A. in History. She teaches at an inner city school in Los Angeles. This isn’t her fall back plan in a bad economy. This was her first choice profession and her first choice school. They are lucky to have her and she’s happy to have them.

My third daughter was in the last two Olympics, won a bronze medal in Beijing and has now gone professional as a fighter in Mixed Martial Arts. Ironically, she was the one that played bassoon and attended a science magnet. She volunteers at a school in Watts where her older sister did her student teaching.

And STILL, I would not venture to lecture other people on how superior my parenting skills are because a) there have been times when I could cheerfully have smacked each one of them with a two by four and only my maturity, Catholic faith and felony assault laws of the state of California stayed my hand and b) as Erma Bombeck said, no mother is arrogant because she knows that, regardless of her other accomplishments in life, at any moment she may get a call from the school principal saying that her child rode a motorcycle through the auditorium.

If I got a call like that, I wouldn’t even be surprised. I would just reach for my credit card to give the principal the number over the phone and go searching the house for my two by four.

The second article I read was by Vivek Wadhwa, in Business Week, who said that Chinese and Indian engineering programs graduate several times MORE students than the U.S. but the quality of these students is generally much poorer than American students.

When I was in graduate school, I used to think arguments such as Wadhwa’s were just sour grapes from American students who couldn’t cut it, and their teachers who let them slack.

Then, I graduated, became a professor for many years and an employer. I see exactly the differences Vivek describes between American and many international students.

When I ask the latter questions such as, “If you were going to redesign programming language X, what would you do?”

They will tell me what X does in great detail but not answer the question.

American students are more likely to jump in with ideas about how to change X, replete with statements like “X sucks because…”

My twenty-five years of experience, agrees with Wadhwa’s research findings in that the international students I have met are far less likely to question results. Of course this isn’t true of all of them. It’s silly to generalize to every member of a nation of a billion or half-billion people.

American students remind me of the nursery rhyme:

There was a little girl

Who had a little curl

Right in the middle of her forehead

And when she was good

She was very, very good

And when she was bad

She was horrid

My husband is brilliant. This is why I married him. He went to UCLA on a National Merit Scholarship, double majored in math and physics and then went on to graduate work in physics. He taught himself Calculus in elementary school and then taught himself as much physics as he could before going to college. His parents pretty much let him do what he wanted to do, which was read physics books.

My older brother has a degree in Computer Science from Washington University in St. Louis. Like most of his friends, he majored in computer science because he was really interested in math and computers. When we were in college, around 1975, I saw my first “personal computer”. One of my brother’s friends had built it from parts.

I’m a statistician because I really love statistics and fortunately for me, it pays money.

In America, people in math, computer science and other sciences generally chose those fields because that is what they want to do. They have a genuine interest, to the point of passion, and will often spend crazy hours working in their labs.

Chinese and other international students often spend crazy hours, too, but not as often for the same reasons. A lot of times it’s because of a language barrier – and they have my respect. I spent a year as a student in Japan. As a professor, I once taught a Directed Studies in Psychological Research course in Spanish. Functioning in a second language is damn hard.

The international scholars I know, far more often than American ones, chose their field for practical reasons. They could get a job. The salaries were good. Their parents really wanted them to become a doctor/ engineer.

Sometimes these Chinese (and other) students change while in America. Not always. Lots of middle managers like people to do exactly what they’re told. Not always the best thing for business but perhaps best for the comfort and convenience of that manager.

Schools really like people to do what they are told, and universities just love having graduate students who will pay high out-of-state tuition, teach for low wages, or even work in the lab for free. Hey, don’t blame us if 30% of the students we admit are from other countries, they did the best on the tests AND had a 4.0 GPA. You should have studied more, you lazy slackers!

Someone ought to ask WHY we are measuring what we measure. These tests we give, and the other admissions criteria were not handed down by God. (I know because I did my dissertation on intelligence testing. Most of these tests come from The Psychological Corporation, Pearson Education and the Educational Testing Service. God doesn’t work at any of those places. If you don’t believe me, call their switchboard and ask for God’s extension.)

Why does it matter if your child is a musical prodigy? What the hell difference does it make if your child can play some complicated piece on the piano at age seven?

My youngest daughter, the world’s most spoiled twelve-year-old, plays drums. She practices about an hour a week. She likes the drums. I want my daughter to play an instrument, if she is interested, because it might be something that brings her joy as an adult.

She is on the student council and, this last report card, she brought home her first B+ in a year. We kind of grumbled about it, but that’s all. High achievement is important in life, but it is not all of life.

WHY does it matter so much if you have a 4.0 GPA? I did not have the best behavior or GPA as either a high school student or undergraduate. Looking back, I wonder whatever possessed the admissions staff at Washington University in St. Louis to look at my SAT scores and overlook everything else, but I will be forever grateful that they did. I doubt many universities would admit a student like me today, particularly not at age 16.

What I did have was an intense desire to learn about the world.

As an undergraduate, I took a graduate course in economics because it sounded really interesting and asked the professor’s permission to enroll.

He happened to have been chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (under Richard Nixon, but he was still a great professor nonetheless). I also took courses on Urban and Regional Economics where I got to see real-life applications of matrix algebra.

My point (and by now you may have despaired of my ever having one) is that my undergraduate education gave me the gift of professors willing to respond to my interests, enough time not to interfere with my relationship with the library, and classmates I argued with for the pure intellectual exercise.

When my youngest child is ready for college, I will look for a school that will give that to her. If it is an Ivy League school, that’s fine.

Dr. Chua is raising her children to fit into the Ivy League mold.

Me, I’m raising my children to be themselves and to mold the world to fit.

How is that working out ….

There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think several times, “I love my life.”

So, it works well for me, and for my family, all the way down to the two-year-old granddaughter whose latest favorite saying is,

“I a lucky kid!”

(Well, right after, “Grandma, buy me an iPad for Chrissmas!” )

Dr. Chua’s definition of success is to have children who are musical and mathematical prodigies.

Mine is to have children who learn well, live well and love well.

She’s a success by her standards as I am by mine.

(But I still won’t be surprised if I get that call from the principal.)

What a wonderful article. Congratulations on a piece well written!

Jan. 14, 1794: First Successful Cesarean in U.S.

Elizabeth Bennett delivers a daughter by cesarean section, becoming the first woman in the United States to give birth this way and survive. Her husband, Jesse, is the physician who performs the operation.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What is the Future of Online Dating?

There is definitely a social stigma to online dating; if you have resorted to an online dating service, then you must have failed in real life, which is not very confidence inspiring. Some may argue the above and claim other reasons and should you provide me with a good excuse, I'll be inclined to listen.

No matter what, I believe that...

Online dating services that match people based on compatibility tests are doomed to fail. No predictive model can pick your soulmate based on a few selection criteria. The first 5 minutes in a face to face conversation, can be much more helpful than any test or match engine There is nothing better than a face to face communication, being via web cam or in person. Sites that provide these types of service will be more successful.

If you plan on launching such web site, then do I have a treat for you?! The following domain is for sale or lease:

All reasonable offers will be considered. Contact me for more!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Women's Emotional Tears Are a Turnoff for Men, Suggesting a Chemical Compound At Work

There Is Crying in Science To capture tears, donor women watched sad movies by themselves and collected their teardrops in vials. Tear-soaked pads allowed men to continuously sniff the tears. Courtesy Science/AAAS

The scent of a woman's sadness - manifested in her tears - is a major turn-off for men, according to new research published today. It is the first study to suggest tears of emotion contain chemical signals that influence others' behavior.

Although men were unable to smell the difference between real tears and a saline solution, they had decidedly different reactions to each. Men who sniffed real tears became less sexually aroused by photographs of women than those who sniffed saline. Just to be sure skin was not the culprit, the researchers dripped saline down women's cheeks, to the same effect: Only real, fresh-cried tears turned men off.

The researchers, from the Weizmann Institute of Science and Edith Wolfson Medical Center in Israel, actually stumbled across the finding. They expected tears' chemical signals to trigger empathy or sadness, but that didn't happen; they did, however, dampen men's sexual desire. Some researchers believe this phenomenon evolved to protect emotionally vulnerable women from male aggression, while others believe it's evidence of a heretofore unknown human pheromone, reports the New York Times.

To capture tears, two donor women ages 30 and 31 watched sad movies by themselves and placed vials beneath their eyes to collect teardrops. The researchers needed fresh tears no more than two hours old, so the women watched weepies like 'Terms of Endearment,' 'My Sister's Keeper' and 'When a Man Loves a Woman,' the Times reports. Their tears were collected 1 milliliter at a time and deposited onto small pads that were attached beneath men's noses, so they could continuously sniff the sadness.

Then 24 men, whose mean age was 27, were shown emotionally ambiguous photographs of women and asked to rate the faces' sadness and their attractiveness. The faces appeared less sexually attractive after sniffing real tears, according to the study.

The researchers also learned the men experienced a drop in testosterone. Then, the men sniffed tears and watched a sad movie while in a functional MRI machine, which showed reduced activity in the brain regions associated with arousal.

Other bodily fluids, like sweat, are known to contain chemical signals that influence others' emotions or behaviors, so it makes sense that tears would have a similar effect, the researchers say. The next step is to study the emotional tears of children and men - potentially explaining the lachrymose nature of the new Speaker of the House.

Myspace Plans to Lay Off 550 to 600 Employees Tomorrow [NetworkEffect]

Myspace, which has been struggling to revitalize itself, is expected to lay off 550 to 600 of its staff of just over 1,000 tomorrow, according to several sources.

NetworkEffect first reported news of the large-scale cuts at the end of December.

But now, the social-network-turned-entertainment-hub has set a date–January 11–and is working on finalizing the number of people it will let go, which will likely include a significant number of international employees.

The Beverly Hills, Calif.-based company will be touting the changes as a restructuring to shed “legacy” businesses and products.

Unfortunately, the context for that rationale is that Myspace is shedding a full half of its staff.

After the layoffs, the News Corp.-owned Myspace will turn its sights to sale options, as I also reported.

The company is primarily being shopped to private-equity buyers, although one intriguing possibility currently being raised within News Corp. is to try to sell Myspace to Yahoo.

Internally, Myspace staffers have been expecting layoffs in early January for some time, with the numbers circulating being as high as 70 percent of the company’s staff.

(Disclosure: News Corp. who owns Myspace, also own Things Digital where this article came from.)

Hugh Hefner Takes Playboy Enterprises Private and Gets Engaged

Playboy Enterprises, the world-famous adult entertainment and media company, is to “go private” again.

The media company, which of course publishes the Playboy magazine but also runs an Internet business segment called Playboy Online, alongside TV and radio networks, will be taken private for $6.15 per share by Icon Acquisition Holdings.

The latter is a limited partnership controlled by iconic Playboy Enterprises founder Hugh Hefner (who also just got engaged, hurray!). Playboy originally went public in 1971.

The $6.15 price represents a 18.3% premium over the closing price Friday, January 7, and a 56.1% premium over the $5.50 a share closing price on July 9, 2010, the last trading day before the proposal was first announced.

Icon Acquisition Holdings has obtained equity commitments for the transaction from an affiliate of Rizvi Traverse Management and a debt commitment for the transaction from affiliates of Jefferies & Company.

Playboy CEO Scott Flanders will remain with the company in his current position and maintain a significant equity investment in Playboy. He says the strategy is to transform the struggling Playboy into a full-fledged brand management company:

“This transaction will advance our efforts by strengthening our balance sheet and streamlining our operations, while creating opportunities to participate in new ventures. I am excited about the future, and I look forward to working with our new partners as we guide Playboy into the next era.”

More details on the transaction are available in the press release.