Adonis Diaries

Archive for December 1st, 2015


Buy Experiences, Not Things

Live in anticipation, gathering stories and memories. New research builds on the vogue mantra of behavioral economics.

Northern lights over a camp north of the Arctic Circle, October 2014 Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

47% of the time, the average mind is wandering. (I think that ratio is little)

It wanders about a third of the time while a person is reading, talking with other people, or taking care of children.

It wanders 10 percent of the time during sex.

And that wandering, according to psychologist Matthew Killingsworth, is not good for well-being. (I must be good, otherwise we all die early on from stress)

A mind belongs in one place. During his training at Harvard, Killingsworth compiled those numbers and built a scientific case for every cliché about living in the moment.

In a 2010 Science paper co-authored with psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, the two wrote that “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” (Depending where the mind is wandering toward)

For Killingsworth, happiness is in the content of moment-to-moment experiences.

Nothing material is intrinsically valuable, except in whatever promise of happiness it carries.

Satisfaction in owning a thing does not have to come during the moment it’s acquired, of course. It can come as anticipation or nostalgic longing.

Overall, though, the achievement of the human brain to contemplate events past and future at great, tedious length has, these psychologists believe, come at the expense of happiness. Minds tend to wander to dark, not whimsical, places. Unless that mind has something exciting to anticipate or sweet to remember.

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk. | More

Mean self-reported ratings
(Kumar et al, Psychological Science/The Atlantic)

Waiting for an experience apparently elicits more happiness and excitement than waiting for a material good (and more “pleasantness” too—an eerie metric).

By contrast, waiting for a possession is more likely fraught with impatience than anticipation. “You can think about waiting for a delicious meal at a nice restaurant or looking forward to a vacation,” Kumar told me, “and how different that feels from waiting for, say, your pre-ordered iPhone to arrive. Or when the two-day shipping on Amazon Prime doesn’t seem fast enough.”

Gilovich’s prior work has shown that experiences tend to make people happier because they are less likely to measure the value of their experiences by comparing them to those of others.

For example, Gilbert and company note in their new paper, many people are unsure if they would rather have a high salary that is lower than that of their peers, or a lower salary that is higher than that of their peers. With an experiential good like vacation, that dilemma doesn’t hold. Would you rather have two weeks of vacation when your peers only get one? Or four weeks when your peers get eight? People choose four weeks with little hesitation.

Experiential purchases are also more associated with identity, connection, and social behavior. Looking back on purchases made, experiences make people happier than do possessions.

It’s kind of counter to the logic that if you pay for an experience, like a vacation, it will be over and gone; but if you buy a tangible thing, a couch, at least you’ll have it for a long time.

Actually most of us have a pretty intense capacity for tolerance, or hedonic adaptation, where we stop appreciating things to which we’re constantly exposed. iPhones, clothes, couches, et cetera, just become background. They deteriorate or become obsolete.

It’s the fleetingness of experiential purchases that endears us to them. Either they’re not around long enough to become imperfect, or they are imperfect, but our memories and stories of them get sweet with time. Even a bad experience becomes a good story.

When it rains through a beach vacation, as Kumar put it, “People will say, well, you know, we stayed in and we played board games and it was a great family bonding experience or something.”

Even if it was negative in the moment, it becomes positive after the fact. That’s a lot harder to do with material purchases because they’re right there in front of you. “When my Macbook has the colorful pinwheel show up,” he said, “I can’t say, well, at least my computer is malfunctioning!”

“At least my computer and I get to spend more time together because it’s working so slowly,” I offered.

“Yes, exactly.”

“Maybe we should destroy our material possessions at their peak, so they will live on in an idealized state in our memories?”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” he said. “The possibility of making material purchases more experiential is sort of interesting.”

That means making purchasing an experience, which is terrible marketing-speak, but in practical terms might mean buying something on a special occasion or on vacation or while wearing a truly unique hat. Or tying that purchase to subsequent social interaction. Buy this and you can talk about buying it, and people will talk about you because you have it.

“Turns out people don’t like hearing about other people’s possessions very much,” Kumar said, “but they do like hearing about that time you saw Vampire Weekend.”

I can’t imagine ever wanting to hear about someone seeing Vampire Weekend, but I get the point.

Reasonable people are just more likely to talk about their experiential purchases than their material purchases. It’s a nidus for social connection. (“What did you do this weekend?” “Well! I’m so glad you asked … “)

The most interesting part of the new research, to Kumar, was the part that “implies that there might be notable real-world consequences to this study.”

It involved analysis of news stories about people waiting in long lines to make a consumer transaction. Those waiting for experiences were in better moods than those waiting for material goods. “You read these stories about people rioting, pepper-spraying, treating each other badly when they have to wait,” he said.

It turns out, those sorts of stories are much more likely to occur when people are waiting to acquire a possession than an experience. When people are waiting to get concert tickets or in line at a new food truck, their moods tend to be much more positive.

“There are actually instances of positivity when people are waiting for experiences,” Kumar said, like talking to other people in the concert line about what songs Vampire Weekend might play. So there is opportunity to connect with other people.

“We know that social interaction is one of the most important determinants of human happiness, so if people are talking with each other, being nice to one another in the line, it’s going to be a lot more pleasant experience than if they’re being mean to each other which is what’s (more) likely to happen when people are waiting for material goods.”

Research has also found that people tend to be more generous to others when they’ve just thought about an experiential purchase as opposed to a material purchase. They’re also more likely to pursue social activities.

So, buying those plane tickets is good for society. (Of course, maximal good to society and personal happiness comes from pursuing not happiness but meaning. All of this behavioral economics-happiness research probably assumes you’ve already given aw9% of your income to things bigger than yourself, and there’s just a very modest amount left to maximally utilize.)

What is it about the nature of imagining experiential purchases that’s different from thinking about future material purchases?

The most interesting hypothesis is that you can imagine all sort of possibilities for what an experience is going to be. “That’s what’s fun,” Kumar said. “It could turn out a whole host of ways.”

With a material possession, you kind of know what you’re going to get. Instead of whetting your appetite by imagining various outcomes, Kumar put it, people sort of think, Just give it to me now.

It could turn out that to get the maximum utility out of an experiential purchase, it’s really best to plan far in advance. Savoring future consumption for days, weeks, years only makes the experience more valuable.

It definitely trumps impulse buying, where that anticipation is completely squandered. (Never impulse-buy anything ever.)

That sort of benefit would likely be a lot stronger in an optimistic person as opposed to a pessimistic person. Some people hate surprises. Some people don’t anticipate experiences because they dwell on what could—no, will—go wrong. But we needn’t dwell in their heads.

Everyone can decide on the right mix of material and experiential consumption to maximize their well-being. The broader implications, according to Gilovich in a press statement, are that “well-being can be advanced by providing infrastructure that affords experiences, such as parks, trails, and beaches, as much as it does material consumption.” Or at least the promise of that infrastructure, so we can all look forward to using it. And when our minds wander, that’s where they’ll go.


Household battery energy becomes tradeable

German household-scale battery maker Sonnenbatterie will soon enable buyers of its systems to trade energy with each other over the grid.

It’ll save clients money, and it’s another step toward a clean energy future.

(Another form for advertising your services?)

On Wednesday in Berlin, Sonnenbatterie co-founder and CEO Christoph Ostermann presented “SonnenCommunity,” a way for buyers of the company’s household-scale electricity storage batteries – most of whom also have solar photovoltaic panels mounted on their rooftops – to automatically buy and sell energy from each other directly through a shared online platform.

Launching in January, the platform will allow members who have more stored power than they need on a given day to sell electricity to others who are short of electricity.

Sonnenbatterie’s wall-mounted batteries, which the company calls “Sonnen” units – Sonnen is the German word for “suns” – are similar to the “PowerWall” batteries presented this summer by California-based Tesla, which the car- and battery-maker plans to start selling in Germany in early 2016.

However, Sonnenbatterie claims its Sonnen system is better than Tesla’s Powerwall system.

Friendly rivalry

“Tesla’s technology is nothing special,” said Mathias Bloch, Sonnenbatterie’s public relations officer.

“Its Powerwall unit is just a battery module, so it’s only one component of an energy storage system.”

Sonnenbatterie’s Sonnen unit, in contrast, includes the battery module, a power regulator, and the software allowing the system to buy and sell power from other SonnenCommunity members over the electricity grid, all integrated into a single package, making it very easy for installers and clients to work with, Bloch said.

Both Sonnen and Powerwall battery modules are based on the same kinds of batteries used in mobile phones, with Tesla using a grid composed of hundreds of small Panasonic batteries in each Powerwall unit, linked into a tightly packed grid, and Sonnenbatterie using Sony batteries.

“Sonnenbatteries’s Sonnen units still retain 70% of their charging capacity after 10,000 charge-discharge cycles,” Ostermann said, suggesting this was superior to the performance expected of Tesla’s Powerwall units.

Money talks

Sonnen buyers who join SonnenCommunity will directly benefit in financial terms, the company said.

For one thing, new Sonnen unit buyers will get a discount of 1,875 euros off the retail price of the battery, in exchange for having to pay a 20 euro per month members’ fee. (For how many years?)

Members will also get 1,000 kWh of free electricity per year – power SonnenCommunity will acquire from grid operators at times when excess solar or wind power, due to bright sunshine or strong winds, is flooding Germany’s wholesale electricity market to such an extent that the spot price of electricity goes to zero.

That’s an increasingly frequent event in a country where 30% of total electricity produced in 2015 was renewable electricity – much of that from wind and solar power.

Buying and selling

Under German law, the electricity grid operator must buy any solar power offered to it by anyone in the country, and pay a regulated “feed-in tariff” that sets a firm price for solar power sold over a 20-year contract period starting when the solar panels are first installed and connected to the grid.

At the moment, the grid operator must pay about 11 cents per kWh for new solar power installations.

SonnenCommunity members who instead sell power to other members will get 0.25 euro cents more per kWh than they would get from the grid operator for solar-generated electricity.

A much more significant benefit will accrue to members of SonnenCommunity who are short power on a given day. They’ll pay a flat rate of 23 euro cents per kWh to buy electrictiy from other members of the Community, a much lower rate than the roughly 32 euro cents flat rate they pay to grid operators for electricity.

Ostermann mentioned some other benefits for SonnenBatterie battery owners associated with becoming members of SonnenCommunity, but the price advantage for electricity buyers seemed to be the strongest benefit.

More developments to come

Electricity markets are heavily regulated – they have to be, since the electricity system is fundamental to the functioning of modern civilization and the government has to ensure systems are reliable, resilient and affordable, even under extreme loads or weather conditions.

For that reason, the details of regulations affect business models heavily, and there’s a reciprocal relationship between new technologies driving evolution in regulations, and new regulations driving technological evolution.

For example, Germany’s legally mandated generous 20-year flat-rate contracts for electricity produced using solar or wind power generation, or “feed-in tariffs” (FiTs), first introduced in the year 2000, caused a huge boom in solar and wind power.

That in turn drove rapid technical evolution. Wind and solar power generation units today are dramatically cheaper, more reliable and more efficient than they were 15 years ago as a direct result of Germany’s FiT law of 2000.

Household energy storage is the next frontier

As energy storage units like those of Sonnenbatterie have come onto the market, they’ve begun to change the financial incentives consumers face. At some point, when all costs are taken into account and “levelized” on a price per kWh basis, it will probably become cheaper for most owners of single-family households to buy something like a Sonnen unit or a Powerwall unit, plus some solar rooftop panels, rather than buy power from the grid. SonnenCommunity helps move things in that direction.

The marketplace for household-scale energy storage systems is still in its early stage. Sonnenbatterie has sold 8,500 Sonnen units so far – out of a total of 25,000 household-scale battery packs that have been sold in Germany to date. It’s the market leader in a small market.

But with solar and wind power generation unit prices continuing to drop year-on-year, and regulations continuing to evolve, the market for household-scale energy storage units is sure to grow.

Sonnenbatterie sales and marketing chief Philipp Schröder, who left his position as head of Tesla Germany to join Sonnenbatterie, told DW he expects new business cases to emerge – for microgrids, for example. “The renewable energy business promises to stay exciting for years to come,” he said.

Narchi Paul shared

Incrível esse modelo de negócios para baterias & PV solar!!
Obs.: As condições atuais que permitem a implementação dessa plataforma na Alemanha são bem específicas e facilitam muito!

Moral bias behind your search results

Unless you do your due diligence

Remember that behind every algorithm is always a person, a person with a set of personal beliefs that no code can ever completely eradicate

What are you searching for?

Am I looking for an isolated fact? The Capital of this nation…

Or are you searching for a complex issue such as “Why is there an Israeli-Palestine conflict?”

So whenever I visit a school and talk to students, I always ask them the same thing:

Why do you Google? Why is Google the search engine of choice for you? Strangely enough, I always get the same three answers.

One, “Because it works,” which is a great answer; that’s why I Google, too.

Two, somebody will say, “I really don’t know of any alternatives. It’s not an equally great answer and my reply to that is usually, “Try to Google the word ‘search engine,’ you may find a couple of interesting alternatives.” And

Third, inevitably, one student will raise her or his hand and say, With Google, I’m certain to always get the best, unbiased search result.” Certain to always get the best, unbiased search result.

Now, as a man of the humanities, albeit a digital humanities man, that just makes my skin curl, even if I, too, realize that that trust, that idea of the unbiased search result is a cornerstone in our collective love for and appreciation of Google. I will show you why that, philosophically, is almost an impossibility.

01:23 But let me first elaborate, just a little bit, on a basic principle behind each search query that we sometimes seem to forget.

So whenever you set out to Google something, start by asking yourself this: “Am I looking for an isolated fact?” What is the capital of France? What are the building blocks of a water molecule? Great — Google away. There’s not a group of scientists who are this close to proving that it’s actually London and H30. You don’t see a big conspiracy among those things. We agree, on a global scale, what the answers are to these isolated facts.

01:57 But if you complicate your question just a little bit and ask something like, Why is there an Israeli-Palestine conflict?”

You’re not exactly looking for a singular fact anymore, you’re looking for knowledge, which is something way more complicated and delicate. And to get to knowledge, you have to bring 10 or 20 or 100 facts to the table and acknowledge them and say, “Yes, these are all true.” But because of who I am, young or old, black or white, gay or straight, I will value them differently.

And I will say, “Yes, this is true, but this is more important to me than that.” And this is where it becomes interesting, because this is where we become human. This is when we start to argue, to form society. And to really get somewhere, we need to filter all our facts here, through friends and neighbors and parents and children and coworkers and newspapers and magazines, to finally be grounded in real knowledge, which is something that a search engine is a poor help to achieve.

02:54 So, I promised you an example just to show you why it’s so hard to get to the point of true, clean, objective knowledge — as food for thought. I will conduct a couple of simple queries, search queries.

We’ll start with “Michelle Obama,” the First Lady of the United States. And we’ll click for pictures. It works really well, as you can see. It’s a perfect search result, more or less. It’s just her in the picture, not even the President.

03:26 How does this work? Quite simple. Google uses a lot of smartness to achieve this, but quite simply, they look at two things more than anything. First, what does it say in the caption under the picture on each website? Does it say “Michelle Obama” under the picture? Pretty good indication it’s actually her on there. Second, Google looks at the picture file, the name of the file as such uploaded to the website. Again, is it called “MichelleObama.jpeg”? Pretty good indication it’s not Clint Eastwood in the picture. So, you’ve got those two and you get a search result like this — almost.

Now, in 2009, Michelle Obama was the victim of a racist campaign, where people set out to insult her through her search results. There was a picture distributed widely over the Internet where her face was distorted to look like a monkey. And that picture was published all over. And people published it very, very purposefully, to get it up there in the search results.

They made sure to write “Michelle Obama” in the caption and they made sure to upload the picture as “MichelleObama.jpeg,” or the like. You get why — to manipulate the search result. And it worked, too. So when you picture-Googled for “Michelle Obama” in 2009, that distorted monkey picture showed up among the first results.

Now, the results are self-cleansing, and that’s sort of the beauty of it, because Google measures relevance every hour, every day.

However, Google didn’t settle for that this time, they just thought, “That’s racist and it’s a bad search result and we’re going to go back and clean that up manually. We are going to write some code and fix it,” which they did. And I don’t think anyone in this room thinks that was a bad idea. Me neither.

But then, a couple of years go by, and the world’s most-Googled Anders, Anders Behring Breivik, did what he did. This is July 22 in 2011, and a terrible day in Norwegian history. This man, a terrorist, blew up a couple of government buildings walking distance from where we are right now in Oslo, Norway and then he traveled to the island of Utøya and shot and killed a group of kids. Almost 80 people died that day.

And a lot of people would describe this act of terror as two steps, that he did two things: he blew up the buildings and he shot those kids. It’s not true. It was three steps. He blew up those buildings, he shot those kids, and he sat down and waited for the world to Google him. And he prepared all three steps equally well.

If there was somebody who immediately understood this, it was a Swedish web developer, a search engine optimization expert in Stockholm, named Nikke Lindqvist. He’s also a very political guy and he was right out there in social media, on his blog and Facebook. And he told everybody, “If there’s something that this guy wants right now, it’s to control the image of himself. Let’s see if we can distort that. Let’s see if we, in the civilized world, can protest against what he did through insulting him in his search results.”

And how? He told all of his readers the following, “Go out there on the Internet, find pictures of dog poop on sidewalks — find pictures of dog poop on sidewalks — publish them in your feeds, on your websites, on your blogs. Make sure to write the terrorist’s name in the caption, make sure to name the picture file “Breivik.jpeg.”

Let’s teach Google that that’s the face of the terrorist.” And it worked. Two years after that campaign against Michelle Obama, this manipulation campaign against Anders Behring Breivik worked. If you picture-Googled for him weeks after the July 22 events from Sweden, you’d see that picture of dog poop high up in the search results, as a little protest.

 Strangely enough, Google didn’t intervene this time. They did not step in and manually clean those search results up. So the million-dollar question, is there anything different between these two happenings here? Is there anything different between what happened to Michelle Obama and what happened to Anders Behring Breivik? Of course not. It’s the exact same thing, yet Google intervened in one case and not in the other.

Why? Because Michelle Obama is an honorable person, that’s why, and Anders Behring Breivik is a despicable person. See what happens there? An evaluation of a person takes place and there’s only one power-player in the world with the authority to say who’s who. “We like you, we dislike you. We believe in you, we don’t believe in you. You’re right, you’re wrong. You’re true, you’re false. You’re Obama, and you’re Breivik.” That’s power if I ever saw it.

 I’m asking you to remember that behind every algorithm is always a person, a person with a set of personal beliefs that no code can ever completely eradicate.

And my message goes out not only to Google, but to all believers in the faith of code around the world.

You need to identify your own personal bias. You need to understand that you are human and take responsibility accordingly.

And I say this because I believe we’ve reached a point in time when it’s absolutely imperative that we tie those bonds together again, tighter: the humanities and the technology. Tighter than ever.

And, if nothing else, to remind us that that wonderfully seductive idea of the unbiased, clean search result is, and is likely to remain, a myth.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.
Search engines have become our most trusted sources of information and arbiters of truth. But can we ever get an unbiased search result?|By Andreas Ekström
Note: Writing a short story can be done by accumulating and linking dozens of simple isolated facts. That what the lazy-ass reporters do: They refuse to do their due diligence of discovering the other side story and opinions.
Writing an essay requires a vast general knowledge that only experience and consistent learning on a subject matter can provide. It is kind of weaving together dozens of comprehensive short stories




December 2015

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