Sunday, June 4, 2017

Why You Aren't as Great as You Think You Are

I'm sorry to tell you this, but you aren't as great as you think you are.  If it makes you feel better, neither am I. 

If you ask a random person to rank themselves on a scale between one and 10, they might say something like "I'm average.  Probably a 7."  

The problem with this statement is that on a 10 point scale the "average" should be 5, yet in large survey's most people rank their appearance between 6 and 8.  Perhaps this is why if you ever tell a woman that she is a 5 she's likely to take it as an insult.  Especially if you're on a date with her.  

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but for a majority of things we tend to rank at or near average with the rest of the population.  While we can understand how this must be true, it's hard for us to really believe it applies to ourselves.  That's because we tend to believe we have a better grasp of our abilities than other people do, and as such rank ourselves better than most when it comes to what we are capable of.  This is one of many cognitive biases that everyone has, which is sometimes referred to as the overconfidence effect.  

In short we like to believe that we are better people than we are.  At least in Western cultures like the United States.  In many Eastern countries, such as China, Korea, and Japan people are much better at estimating their actual abilities compared to others.  Much of this can be attributed to the value Western culture puts on self esteem.  That self esteem has it's benefits, but it makes us look quite ignorant when you see how it can inflate our opinions of ourselves in mathematically impossible ways.  For example...

93% of Americans believe they are a better driver than most others.  Or as George Carlin put it, "Did you ever notice anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?"  This means when you are yelling at the "maniac" who just cut across 5 lanes of traffic, he is calling you and all other drivers "idiots" for getting in his way.

Perhaps one reason why we think we are better drivers than so many others is that we rarely see people who drive the same way as we do.  You can drive for 5 hours on an interstate and never see the driver one mile ahead of you who is driving the same speed.  During the 5 hours you always stay one mile away from each other and out of sight.  Instead you only see the "maniacs" who keep passing you, or the "idiots" who you keep having to pass.  At the same time we ignore our own driving faults, but notice those of other people.  I once had another driver give me a dirty look because I was talking on my phone while driving.  Instead of feeling embarrassed for my dangerous driving habit I felt righteously indignant when I noticed the other driver had a little dog sitting on his lap.  In my mind I reasoned my phone driving might not be the safest, but at least my phone won't step on the steering wheel or lick my face while I'm trying to change lanes.  

These biases don't just affect people we don't know.  When it comes to the office, 70% of us believe we have better leadership skills than most of our coworkers, and 85% of us believe we can work well with others better than they can work well with us.  Amazingly, 25% of people believe they are in the top 1% when it comes to working well with others.  These statistics alone explains why Congress is so dysfunctional.  You end up with a room full of people who feel they should be the leader, and believe the only thing keeping them from working with the opposition party is that those "idiots" can't make an effort to reach across the aisle. 

One area where the overconfidence effect can vary among Americans is intelligence.  It still exists, in that 55% of Americans believe they are smarter than average, and only four percent can admit they are less intelligent than most people.  However rich white men are much more likely to inflate their IQ than a less successful minority woman.

Men on average overestimate their IQ by 5 points, and an average woman underestimates her IQ by 5.  That inflation increases or decreases when you factor in success.  Basically it's white privilege denial.  A white man who is born into a rich family has a much higher chance of success than anyone else.  It's a lot easier for that man to convince himself his success comes from his intelligence, leadership skills, and ability to work well with others rather than just admit he was born with an advantage.  

Again, this overconfidence effect is one of many cognitive biases that everyone has.  Try to keep it in mind when you think yourself superior to others.  And in case you believe that you aren't affected by these biases, know that you aren't alone.  85% of people in the US believe they are less biased than the Average American.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What's in a Name?: 3 Tips for Naming Your Kid

Parenting is hard.  Everyone screws it up, at least a little.  I've always said that your first kid is your practice kid.  The one that you make all the mistakes with, before doing a hopefully better job with your next kid.  This might be because I'm a second child myself, and I like to think my parents did a pretty good raising me.  To their credit they did a good job with my older brother too, or at least the best they could.

I have two children, and I am very proud of both of them. I would say I'm doing a pretty good job as a Dad, but I will be the first to admit I'm far from perfect. I even like to joke that my oldest child Brayden is such a "practice" kid that we should have named him "Mulligan."  

The point is that anyone can be a parent, with absolutely zero qualifications.  We require you to pass a test and get a license if you want to drive a car, but if you want to be responsible for another human being you just have to forget to use birth control.  Even parents who actively want to have kids and read up on how to be a good parent often have little to no real world experience before they take a helpless child home from the hospital, or if you are like my wife, a birthing center.  One of the obvious flaws in this model is that one of the most important decisions you make as a parent is also one of the first... giving your child a name.

Of all the choices you make for your kid, their name is the one that will follow them through the rest of their lives, and beyond.  It will be how they identify with their peers at school, possibly impact what type of job they have as an adult, and will be chiseled onto their tombstone after they die.  Yet this important decision is given to. Young, inexperienced parents thousands of times every day.  No wonder so many of them screw it up.  

Of course I'm not saying that your parents gave you a bad name, unless it's Francise in which case you have my sympathy, but there are many mistakes that new parents routinely make while picking names, and in hopes of saving some of the future generation from a rough life I'd like to share some of them with you.

Tip 1:  Be Original
My wife once asked me if I wanted to name our son Ryan Jr, and I couldn't say NO fast enough.  I have never been a big fan of naming your children after yourself, unless you are a member of a royal family and want to maintain the image of a stable government.  Perhaps this is because my Father is a Jr and he's never been a big fan of that suffix.  First of all, adding a Jr to your own name is just lazy writing.  That says that you don't have an original idea for a name, or worse you are trying to extend your importance to future generations by forcing them to carry your name for their entire life.  That's what surnames are for. My last name connects me to my children, and they don't need a first name to make sure everyone is extra clear.  

In some cultures children are given a paternal and maternal surname.  I think that would be a great idea for our society as a way of providing more value to the contributions of women in the family.  As it is now women don't get a family name to fall back on, which might explain why I have never met a woman who has Jr. In her name.  On top of all that, Junior has a lesser value in the English language, it devalues the efforts of your kid and forces them to live in your shadow.  Don't be that parent, put some effort into your child's name.

Next you need to take a look at the list of the 20 most common names for your country in the past year, and make sure you don't use any of them.  I know you like the name Kendra, but this year so did everyone else.  That means a child with that name will have two or three other kids in their same class with the same name.  As a Ryan who was in a class with two other Ryans and a Brian I can tell you that gets old really quick.  The worst part is that those children will often start being referred to by a nickname to avoid confusion.  Then it doesn't matter how much you liked the name Kendra, your daughter will only respond when you call her Kat, or something equally ridiculous.  

Tip 2:  But Not To Original
Randomly jab a few butttons on your keypad and I guarantee somewhere there is a person with a name that is close to that.  There's nothing wrong with getting creative with a name, but stay away from the absurd.  There was once a couple who named their child ABCDE (pronounced Ab-se-day).  Not only is this name going to confuse everyone who ever reads it, but it wasn't even that original.  Around 5 children in the US are given this name every year, proving that every original idea has already been thought of by someone else, even the bad ones.  

What's more, studies have shown people with more common names such as Mike or Cindy, are much more likely to get a job offer than those with exotic names.  Perhaps this is because there is a stereotype that parents who name their kid Philestio didn't do the best job raising them.  Or maybe it's an establishment thing where guys named John are much more likely to hire people named John because that feels familiar to them.  

Tip 3:  Spell it like it sounds
Some parents try to split the difference between familiar and unique by using a common name with an uncommon spelling.  These are the Jeni, Myke, and Jeralds of the world.   What these parents forget is that most of the time, when people will hear your name they will need to write it down.  Every time you make a reservation, or fill out an application you will have to explain to them that it's Mary with an "i".  I know that seems like a minor issue, but it's also an annoyance that they will have to deal with hundreds of times each year.

Similarly don't pick a name that's hard to pronounce when you read it for the first time.  When that happens you are never sure when someone is talking to you.  

"Brit party of 4." 

"Do you mean Brythe"

It also helps if you can avoid names that sound similar to other common names.  Growing up with the name Ryan, people were constantly asking me if I actually said "Brian" when I introduced myself.  This is a mistake I made with my son Brayden.  I thought it was somewhat unique until I started telling people and they started asking me if I was really saying "Brandon" or "Braydon".  I don't think that would have affected my choice of a name, but by the time I realized the problem it was too late to do anything about it.  

In short, be able to say it when you read it, spell it when you hear it, and not copy others too much.  Once you have the name down, you can go forward and screw up the other parts of raising your kid. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Top Things to Joke About in 2017

Happy New Year!

Thank God 2016 is finally over.  Now we have a whole new year of things to complain about.  And when it comes to complaining no one does it better than comedians.  We are constantly using social trends, news events, and new technologies as fodder for our new jokes.  And while no one knows what the future holds there are some things that we can expect to happen in 2017 that we know will be easy targets of jest.  Wether it be on stage, or just social media here are a look at the top things you can expect comedians to make fun of in 2017.

#10 Social Media Itself
Remember MySpace?  Its that thing Robert Downey Jr. mentioned in the first Iron Man Movie.  Now it's been replaces with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Not to mention a dozen other various sites that I can't keep up with because I'm not a 16-year-old girl with unlimited time.  If there's one thing they all have in common it's that people always move on to the next thing, then make fun of those that are still using the old thing.  Expect the same with social media.  Will Twitter and Facebook be gone by 2018?  Probably not, but I wouldn't be surprised if the hashtag #youstilltwitter becomes a thing, or it would if hashtags were still a thing. #youstillhashtag

#9 Brexit and the Breakdown of the EU
In June 2016 many people in England woke up to realized that they had broken up with their EU girlfriend the night before, and now there's no getting back together.  The decision to leave the European Union will be a long and messy process which will take several years, but will begin in March with the start of exit talks.  How is this going to be funny?  Well for one thing it's not clear if it will be a "hard" Brexit or a "soft" Brexit.  So there are the obvious penis jokes about pulling out.  It might be hacky, but it's still funny.

#8 ISIS and the Middle East
Yes, Syria and the rest of the Middle East is a crap fest right now, and there are no signs of it getting any better.  If anything it is going to get worse.  So why is it on this list?  Well it isn't.  ISIS is.  ISIS is the new Nazi, and if there's anything we comedians love it's a target everyone loves to hate.  The fact that ISIS isn't known for taking a joke makes them even more of a target.  We just have to make sure the comedy focus on the people and not the religion that they claim to represent.  We don't want another Muhammed Cartoon incident now do we?

#7 Virtual Reality
2016 was the year that Virtual Reality arrived in the home.  With the Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, and a handful of other VR headsets making their debut.  Now that the technology is finding it's footing it's only a matter of time before things like virtual porn become a a thing.  Bringing with it a whole new meaning to playing with your joystick.
Virtual Reality also has a learning curve for new audiences which means a lot of VR fails.  We've already seen a handful of videos of people crashing into things while wearing VR headsets go viral online.  Expect some VR memes to follow.

#6  Star Wars Episode VIII
Word on the internet is that Mark Hamill is actually going to have to speak to earn his paycheck this time.
After the success of The Force Awakens and Rouge One, you can expect a year long hype for this much anticipated addition to the Star Wars Universe.  It will be sad that this will be Carrie Fisher's swan song, but in good taste or bad there will be a lot of jokes about bringing her back in CG form like they did in Rouge One.
Personally I'm going to focus my jokes on Kylo Ren - aka Ben Solo.  Particularly about how a character with two such good looking parents ended up turning out so ugly?  No wonder he decided to wear a helmet and turn to the dark side.

#5 Nintendo Switch
It's been a rough few years for Japan's favorite Italian plumber.  Nintendo has found itself a distant third place in the video game wars.  In March the company is revealing it's new Switch consul to compete with the XBox One and Playstation 4.
The gimmick is it's a home consul that you can take with you on the go.  So now when mom's tell there kids to play outside and get some fresh air the kids can take their video games with them and play them at the park.
What's really interesting is Japan has made Mario part of the advertising for the 2020 olympics in Tokyo, and if the Nintendo switch is a failure then you can expect a lot of jokes about the olympic committee considering a Playstation mascot instead.  Might I suggest Kratos from "God of War".

#4 Russia
Remember when the Cold War ended?  Well, Vladimir Putin doesn't.  The guy seems to have spent the last couple decades building a really long sharp stick which he is now using to poke the United States.  From screwing with our election, to threatening another nuclear arms race, Russia is making things feel like the 80's again.  While it's easy to make fun of the former KGB Putin, the fact that he is so friendly with Donald Trump makes him all the more a target.  Personally I can't wait for pictures of the two riding horseback together while shirtless.

#3 Drones
The future is here and it is making people lazy.  After the success of Amazon drones delivering packages, other companies are getting in on the action, which could means 2017 could be the year pizza and beer literally drops from the sky like mana from heaven.  Even Walmart is getting in on the action, meaning those people who shop there at 2am are going to lose their last excuse for getting out of the house.

#2 Binge Worthy TV
It took 6 years of boobs and bloods, but Winter has finally come to Westeros.  And it brought with it Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons.   The seventh season of Game of Thrones is expected to be such a major TV event the 2018 Emmy's have already started putting their name on the trophies.  The show is as awesome to watch as it is easy to make fun of, so you can expect a lot of fun poked at the show as well as the fans, and probably George R. R. Martin once he finds out that no one wants to read books after they've already seen the movie (or in this case TV show).
Similarly you can expect jokes directed at any other binge worthy TV show, such as the Walking Dead, and of Marvel's Netflix shows, and House of Cards.  Particularly the latter as it gets compared to the number one butt of all jokes for 2017...

#1 "President" Donald Trump

A comedian making a joke about Donald Trump is like an executioner being asked to behead a giraffe.  There is so much material to work with you don't know where to start.   Yes, he prefers a 3am tweet over a press release.  Yes, he is endorsed by the KKK, and hired their hero Steve Bannon to be his top advisor.  Yes, he's thrice married, has a history of trolling beauty pageant changing rooms, and he seems to want to bang his daughter.  Yes, he's sexist, racist, xenophobic, and elitist.  But if that wasn't enough there is all the illegal stuff he's done.  He's a tax dodging, bankruptcy filing, fraud settling, pussy grabbing, Russian ball fondling, antitrust violating, Cuba Embargo breaking, accused rapist.
He's like the drunk uncle from Thanksgiving who has the influence of a billionaire and now the power of the President of the United States. It would make for a hilarious movie, but is terrifying as a reality.  That's why it's all the more important to laugh at the fear.  It's the only way we are going to survive the next four years with any sanity.
To give you an idea of just how big of a joke Donald Trump will be in the coming months, one of the hot joke gifts of the holiday season was toilet paper with his face on it.  Proof that Donald Trump is going to catch a lot of crap from everyone.