Essay for A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior

So, I’ve been taking this Coursera course by Dan Ariely called “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior”. One of the assignments was to write a 500-800 word essay on a bad behavior and how to apply the lessons from the class to make people improve their behavior. Here’s my essay:

Fitness centers or gyms are typically divided into rooms or areas for different purposes: cardiovascular exercise using equipment like treadmills, free weight areas for weightlifting, rooms for different types of group exercise, locker rooms for changing, and so forth. One behavioral problem often encountered in gyms is in the free weight area, where gym users frequently fail to remove weight plates from the equipment after use—”re-racking” weights. Failure to re-rack causes inconvenience to others, who have to unrack the weights before they can use the equipment. The problem of racked weight abandoment gives gym users a negative experience that reduces their overall satisfaction with their gym, which is especially prominent for novice weightlifters.

Racked weight abandoment is against the rules in gyms, and gym management usually make at least some effort to miminize this behavior. A common practice is posting a sign in the weight area notifying gym users that they are obligated to re-rack their weights. Less common is paying employees to continuously patrol the free weight area and un-rack weights left on machines. High-end fitness centers do this because maintaining a clean look in their fitness areas is something they are willing to pay for, even if it results in some people feeling entitled to abandon unracked weights.

The “please re-rack weights” sign gets ignored after the first few times someone uses the gym, and probably has little impact on the re-racking rate. Also, such signs are universally found and so only provide social clues of expected behavior to people who have never used free weights before. Further, since unracked weight abandonment is so common, many people assume the social norm is to abandon unracked weights despite the presence of the sign indicating the rule.

From the week 2 lectures, we learned that people have a tendency to act in a dishonest way, such as not re-racking weights when you are supposed to, when they believe that you can get away with it, when they perceive the social norm that others also violate the rule, and when they only do it a little bit—it’s within their fudge factor, and they can still think of themselves as good people, even though they broke the rule.

If there were a way to remind users each time they use the gym of their obligation to re-rack weights, then the rate of racked weight abandonment might drop. I propose adding a re-racking honor code step to the gym sign-in process. Most gyms have some kind of sign-in process to ensure that the users of the facility are permitted to use it. If management adds a step requiring users to check a box and sign their name when they sign in, acknowledging the re-racking rule, this might reduce the rate of racked weight abandoment. I hypothesize that the racked weight abandonment rate will reduce because of the introduction of a moral reminder. This is similar to the experiment where people were reminded about honor codes just prior to being given an opportunity to cheat, and this significantly reduced the incidents of cheating (Mazar, N., Amir, O., & Ariely, D., 2008 pp. 15-16).

To test this, we could construct an experiment similar to the one used in Israeli childcare centers (Gneezy, U., & Rustichini, A. 2000), where new policies designed to reduce unwanted behavior were introduced at real, existing facilities to see how the policies affected behavior. We would need to find several gyms willing to take part in an experiment. First, we would measure racked weight abandonment rates in the gym over the period of a few weeks as a baseline before introducing the new step. Then, in a subset of gyms participating, we would introduce a new step to the sign-in process requiring users to acknowledge the re-racking policy every time they sign in to the gym. Once the policy was in place, we would measure how the racked weight abandonment rate tracked over the next few weeks.

There are some pototential problems with this solution. First is that gym management may have several behavioral issues with gym users and racked weight abandonment might not be their biggest problem, and will be unwilling to inconvenience all their customers by requiring them to sign an acknowledgment before using the facility. Second is that drawing attention to to the racked weight abandonment problem may make actually worsen the problem as people might rebel against the policy, or just being more consciously aware of how many others violate the policy may make them feel like it is more socially acceptable.

If there were published work showing that such a policy were effective at reducing racked weight abandonment, gyms might consider implementing the policy and increasing the satisfaction of their customers.

I got 9/9 on the essay based on peer reviews, with the following comments:

peer 3 → Very nice!
peer 4 → Well-written piece with a workable solution – the daily log-in register could carry a statement to sign against. More ideas could be mined from the dishonesty experiments e.g. have someone wearing a rival team/state/country’s fan shirt behave irresponsibly, interrupt the music for a ‘shout-out’ to someone (another shill maybe) who followed the unracking rule etc.

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Rustic beef patties

24443_10151678817627787_2032768717_nWhen Diego and I went to Amsterdam, we prepared several meals at home with our hosts, Sam and Ine. This recipe is based on a recipe from Sam’s repertoire which we prepared together. These patties are halfway between hamburger patties and meatballs in shape.

Prep Time:10 minutes
Cook time:15 minutes
Yield: 4 patties, serves 2 as an entree

Ingredients:
- 1/2 lb. 80% lean ground beef
- 1/2 red onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 slice whole wheat sandwich bread
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
- 1 tbsp evtra virgin olive oil

Instructions:

Dice onion into 1/4″ pieces. Mince garlic in a garlic press or on a grater. Chop bread in 1/4″ dice. Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a bowl. Mix just enough to combine evenly without overworking the meat. Separate mixture into four patties, about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and 1 inch in thickness. Heat olive oil in a 12″ stainless steel skillet over medium heat. Cook the patties on side until a brown crust forms on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Turn the patties, reduce heat to medium-low, and cover until the patties are done, when an instant-read meat thermometer measures 155°F in the center of the thickest patty.

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My recipe for broiled chipotle chicken breast

These small medallions of spicy chicken can be ready in less than 20 minutes for a quick weeknight dinner entree.

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless
  • 1/3 cup chipotle puree*
  • 1/3 cup pecan pieces, finely chopped (largest pieces should be no more than 2mm)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • salt and pepper, to taste

* Chipotle puree: empty a 7 oz. can of chipotles in adobo sauce into a food processor (this is a great use for one of those small food processors, like the Cuisinart Mini-Prep). If your supermarket has even the tiniest selection of “hispanic foods”, chipotles in adobo will almost certainly be one of the products they carry. Process for 5-10 seconds, until thick and smooth in consistency, then transfer to an air-tight storage container. It will keep in the fridge for at least a month. You can also put it in an ice cube tray and freeze it. Once frozen, store the cubes in a freezer-safe zipper-lock bag. Be sure to wash any plastic the puree comes in contact with immediately, as it stains. If it does stain you can get rid of the stain with bleach.

Equipment:

  • toaster oven with baking tray
  • aluminum foil
  • chef’s knife
  • cutting board
  • mixing bowl, minimum size 3/4 qt.
  • instant-read thermometer (you almost certainly want a Thermapen to get an accurate reading within a few seconds. If not, while waiting for a reading either your chicken will get too cool or you will burn yourself).
  • food processor (for making chipotle puree)

Procedure:

Pre-heat toaster oven on maximum broil setting. Line tray with aluminum foil.

Cut chicken into medallions: cut off thin end of breast at about 1/3 mark, leaving thick end as 2/3 by weight. Slice thick end in half through its “equator” to yield 2 more pieces approximately equal in thickness and surface area to the end piece. You should end up with 3 pieces about 2 inches in diameter about 1/4" thick at the thickest point, from each chicken breast half.

Combine chipotle puree, pecans, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Dip the chicken into the mixture and toss to combine and evenly distribute on surface of the chicken. Place the chicken in a single layer onto the toaster oven tray and broil until interior of thickest part of the thickest piece reads 160°F with an instant-read meat thermometer, approximately 10 minutes. Measure the temperature every minute starting at about 6 or 7 minutes because thinly-sliced chicken breast will get overcooked and dry really fast under a broiler.

Yields: 6 medallions, serving 2 as a small entree.

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My recipe for garlic-parmesan croutons

Ingredients:

  • 3 slices of whole wheat sandwich bread
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

Equipment needed:

  • 1-2 qt. microwave-safe bowl
  • Toaster oven with baking tray
  • Microwave
  • Aluminum foil
  • Tongs

Pre-heat toaster oven on broil setting. Place a layer of aluminum foil on toaster oven baking tray. Melt butter in the microwave (15-30 seconds) in a 1-2 qt. bowl. Cut crusts off slices of bread and cut bread into squares or rectangles, between 1/2″ and 1″ on a side. Add seasonings (salt, pepper, parmesan cheese, and garlic) and bread to bowl with butter and toss gently with the hands or tongs to coat. Lay out croutons onto baking tray in a single layer and put in the toaster. Watch carefully and remove the tray from the toaster when the croutons are a deep golden brown (about 2-3 minutes). They should be just about to burn on the edges. Turn over all the croutons and return to the toaster oven. The croutons are done when they are a deep brown (but not burnt). Let cool for 1-2 minutes before tossing into your salad.

Yields: about 25-30 croutons, about 1 cup, enough for salad for 2.

Equipment alternatives: If you don’t have a microwave, you can melt the butter in a small saucepan on the stove. If you don’t have a toaster oven, you can use a regular oven with a broiler setting and a broiling pan. This would also work if you want a lot of croutons by doubling or tripling the recipe.

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Conversation with Skype customer support

System says,
Thank you for contacting Skype Customer Support!
08:35:59 System says,
Please hold for the next available Live Support Agent.
08:36:49 System says,
Jennifer Rose E. has joined this session!
08:36:49 System says,
Connected with Jennifer Rose E.
08:36:59 Jennifer Rose E. says,
Hello! Welcome to Skype Live Support! My name is Jennifer. How may I help you?
08:37:12 nohat00 says,
Hello, I think my account has been compromised
08:39:34 Jennifer Rose E. says,
I’m sorry to hear that your account has been hacked.
08:39:39 Jennifer Rose E. says,
I would be happy to look into this for you.
08:39:44 Jennifer Rose E. says,
For better assistance, may I have your name and your Skype username, please?
08:39:58 nohat00 says,
name: David Friedland Skype username: nohat00
08:40:14 Jennifer Rose E. says,
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to chat with you at this moment, David.
08:40:54 Jennifer Rose E. says,
May I ask what cause you think that your account was hacked?
08:41:59 nohat00 says,
First, I received an e-mail notification that my account had been charged but the notification was in Russian, which made me wonder about my account. So I signed in and checked my call history, and I noticed dozens of calls to Pakistan and the United Kingdom over the past couple days.
08:42:19 nohat00 says,
I haven’t used Skype at all over the past couple days, so someone must have hacked my account.
08:42:59 Jennifer Rose E. says,
I’m sorry to hear that.
08:43:19 Jennifer Rose E. says,
To ensure that only you have access to your Skype account, we suggest that you change your password through this link:

https://secure.skype.com/account/password-reset-request

08:43:32 nohat00 says,
I have already changed my password
08:43:49 Jennifer Rose E. says,
I have cancelled the recent charge on your account.
08:44:24 Jennifer Rose E. says,
We had not received the payment for the order, therefore no refund to your credit card is necessary.

This may show up reservation on your credit card statement but no funds were taken from your account as we have reversed the transaction.
08:45:08 nohat00 says,
Thank you. Can I also get the credits restored for the fraudulent calls?
08:46:54 Jennifer Rose E. says,
I apologize but unfortunately, Skype cannot refund any money you might have lost due to this incident.
08:47:07 nohat00 says,
why not?
08:52:40 Jennifer Rose E. says,
The service have been used and we are not unable to refund these calls.
08:53:18 nohat00 says,
So you _are_ able to refund them? That doesn’t sound like a real reason.
08:53:36 nohat00 says,
I would like the fraudulently-used credits back
08:55:30 Jennifer Rose E. says,
I apologize but there is nothing that we can do.
08:55:35 Jennifer Rose E. says,
Every user has to take care of their security systems on private computers.
08:59:50 Jennifer Rose E. says,
It’s been awhile since I’ve heard from you, just checking to see if we’re still connected?
09:00:56 nohat00 says,
If you don’t restore the credits, then I will have to contest the charge with the credit card company
09:01:31 nohat00 says,
You _can_ restore my credits, you simply choose not to.
09:01:40 nohat00 says,
Saying there is nothing you can do is disingenuous
09:02:00 Jennifer Rose E. says,
You may dispute these charges with your bank.
09:02:30 nohat00 says,
wouldn’t Skype prefer to keep me as a customer?
09:04:00 Jennifer Rose E. says,
Please understand that there are procedures that we need to follow. We are all aware that hackers gained a lot number of techniques to gain access to someone else’s account.
09:04:10 Jennifer Rose E. says,
This is clearly a problem for us and we are continually working to increase our security measures and prevent as many of these fraudulent transactions as possible.
09:04:20 Jennifer Rose E. says,
We advise you to contact your bank, to receive the money back from the unauthorized transactions.
09:06:25 Jennifer Rose E. says,
It’s been awhile since I’ve heard from you, just checking to see if we’re still connected?
09:06:44 nohat00 says,
I’m just trying to understand what your previous comments have to do with the situation at hand
09:07:18 nohat00 says,
I would really appreciate it if you could restore the fraudulently-used credits to my account.
09:07:35 Jennifer Rose E. says,
We are just trying to say that all major credit card companies have policies that protect you against this kind of fraud and allow you to simply call them and reverse this payment.
09:09:33 nohat00 says,
well, it’s too bad for Skype. I know chargebacks are bad for business. You could have kept the money and me as a customer if you had just restored the credits.

Jennifer Rose E. says,
As mentioned, we need to follow processes and procedures.
09:13:32 nohat00 says,
Well, if you just tell me what else I need to say for you to follow the process and procedure for restoring credits, I’d be happy to say it
09:14:19 Jennifer Rose E. says,
I apologize but there is really nothing that we can do. We are only able to refund “unused” Skype Credit.
09:14:49 Jennifer Rose E. says,
I have cancelled the recent order on your account as the Skype Credit have been unused.
09:16:00 nohat00 says,
well, you are to be congratulated on your recalcitrance. I can only hope that these inflexible policies benefit Skype more than it hurts
09:16:09 nohat00 says,
good day

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What constitutes an apology

The non-apology apology is quite common. Many famous people make them who are not really sorry. But no one seems to have fully articulated what constitutes an actual full apology. This is my attempt. A true full apology is a sign of a truly civilized person—a gentleman or lady apologizes fully. Anything less is insincere, and, frankly, childish.

In short, an apology must have three things: it must acknowledge personal fault, it must convey contrition, and it must contain promise to improve. Furthermore, an apology may contain an explanation, but it must never contain an excuse. It may also contain a plea for forgiveness. An apology must apologize for one’s own faults and behaviors. It is not an apology if it apologizes for someone else’s reactions.

I am sorry I broke you favorite mug. I know you really liked that mug and I wish I had been more careful with it. I promise that I will be more careful with your things in the future.

Here the apologizer acknowledges that he is responsible for breaking the mug. He acknowledges and expresses regret that his actions distressed someone else. Finally, he promises to not let it happen again. A true full apology.

I am sorry I made sexist remarks in such a public place. I understand that sexism can make women feel marginalized and I really regret that my comments hurt people. I will do my best to make sure that I bite my tongue next time sexist comments occur to me.

The apologizer acknowledges that his remarks were sexist and they were made in an inappropriate forum. He acknowledges that he understands why no one should make sexist remarks and that he is truly remorseful about the hurt feelings his comments caused. There is also a promise not to do it again.

The Holy Father is very sorry that some passages of his speech may have sounded offensive to the sensibilities of Muslim believers

What’s wrong with this? The pope did not acknowledge that he had done anything wrong. The pope did not express regret and sympathy with what he did wrong, only that others reacted in a way he didn’t expect. The pope did not indicate that he would attempt to avoid offending Muslims in the future. Here’s what a civilized apology would have looked like:

The Holy Father is very sorry for making offensive comments about Muslims. Though it was not his intention to offend, it is clear the speech was poorly written and the Holy Father may have inadvertently conveyed some conceptions he has about Islam in a hurtful way. Although the Holy Father is not a Muslim and does not share the belief system of Islam, he understands that mature participation in the global religious community requires being more diplomatic in the criticism of other religions, and will endeavor to do so in the future

I found this great little post which explains why you should never condition your contrition on someone else’s feelings:

One thing many people say, which you should NEVER say, is, “If I offended you, I apologize.” That is the worst sort of fake apology: It’s like stealing someone’s wallet, and saying, “I’m sorry if you felt you were inconvenienced.” When you say “If I offended you, I apologize,” you’re implying that the other person is to blame-for being so over-sensitive as to be offended, or so selfish as to demand an apology. You’re making it clear that you’re not sorry for anything YOU did; you just resent the other person’s reaction.

The whole article by Joseph Dobrian is really quite good. You should read it.

Robert Lane Green from The Economist wrote a great commentary about Charlie Sheen’s non-apology apology for calling Chuck Lorre “Chaim Levine”: “If they feel upset about something that was misinterpreted, I feel terrible about that.”

This isn’t a half-hearted apology, but a quadruple non-apology.

  1. No “if” clause, Mr Sheen, and especially no “if they feel upset”. What you said doesn’t mean “I’m sorry”, because you’re conditioning your contrition on someone else’s reaction. Don’t do that.
  2. No “something that was misinterpreted”. This is the agent-free passive that doesn’t say who did the misinterpreting. “Some feelings are bruised out there. Who’s to blame? Beats me.” If you’re confused, you’re not apologising.
  3. But it seems you’re not confused about who’s to blame. The verb “misinterpret” itself points the finger at the people who are upset. This one word ruins an entire apology.
  4. And finally, skip “I feel terrible about that.” When you offend people, it’s not about your feelings. Sure, “I feel terrible” can express contrition, but it’s also ambiguous, allowing the possible inference “I feel terrible that I got caught.”

So, in conclusion, at the minimum, an apology should contain:

  • Acknowledgement of personal fault
  • Contrition and remorse
  • Promise to improve or at least not do it again

Any less, and it’s a non-apology apology. That is, it is unworthy of acceptance as not a real apology, and the apologizer is not owed any forgiveness for making it.

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Radio Shangri-La in Chinese

My friend Lisa Napoli wrote an amazing book called Radio Shangri-La. Lisa asked me for help pronouncing the title of her book in Chinese, so I asked my Chinese friend Tingting to pronounce it for her.

Radio Shangri-La Chinese pronunciation

Radio Shangri-LA in Chinese

不丹调频 Bù dān tiáopín Bhutan FM
我在世界上最幸福的地方 Wǒ zài shìjiè shàng zuì xìngfú dì dìfāng I am in the happiest place in the world
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