Monthly Archives: May 2014

“Should a scanner run their own business?” Revisited

Apologies for the lack of posts this week, there are a couple of reasons. The first and main reason is that my work situation has changed in a way that sees me away from home for about 11 hours each day, which while it is only about 1 hour more than before, that extra hour is taking more of a toll on my energy and state of mind than I expected it to. My job has also gotten more complex and thus stressful, and thus tiring.

The only reason, which ties in this this, is that I have come up with a new business idea, and most of my available free time this week was spent communicating that idea to various professional friends and trusted contacts – both for feedback but also advice.

I am very fortunate to know some very smart, insightful and talented people who are helping advise me with my idea. But it was a conversation with one of them that brought me back to this question, with a new answer.

Last time I speculated that running a business definitely requires a variety of skills, skills I didn’t used to possess (when I tried the first time), and possibly not even all of which do I currently possess. However, there is another angle to this question.

I’ve had a lot of ideas, few of them could be called “viable”. In the last year or two, I’ve been more frustrated because I felt like I had the skills, the potential to do more than I was doing, I just didn’t have a marketable idea. Some people have a plethora of marketable ideas, but not the skills to execute.

One thing I have had for years however, is a desire, a feeling, that I was capable of more, I just had a hard time finding ways to demonstrate it.

As I was talking to one of my friends about my idea, she said she envied me, as she (like most people, including myself) was told to get a “safe” job, and just “dabble in your spare time”. I’ve tried that, and every time, I’ve ended up bored, unfulfilled and frustrated. I keep coming back to that notion “I’m capable of more than this, why can’t anyone see that who is in a position to use my talents?”. And so inevitably I’ve always gone back to the drawing board. Because hey, I know *I* can use those talents!

Last year I started my podcast, to try and answer the question “what the heck should I be doing that I can really invest myself into and feel good about it?”. There was no good (read: “easy”) answer. I talked to several friends, many of whom also felt similarly, that they had no choice but to get a job that paid the bills and find “fulfillment” – whatever that was – elsewhere and on their own time.

This idea that you’re not supposed to enjoy your job (or at least that that’s not the point and shouldn’t be your primary motivation), I hear parroted so often, and it’s crazy to me. It almost seems like “I didn’t get to hold out for a job I like so why should you be so lucky?”. But that’s just arguably punishing someone else for a decision you may regret. What does it hurt to (realistically) encourage them?

I don’t necessarily believe that everyone can or will find their calling, their dream job, but I think so few people really even try, and that’s depressing. Of course the way our society is set up, it certainly isn’t easy. You kind of have to be a bit crazy to really push for a satisfying answer long enough to get one. I think I’m one of those crazy people, not by choice, but because I have this feeling inside. This feeling that, no matter how much or how long I’ve tried to push against it, it always wins, it always says “no, you’re capable of more, you can’t settle, it would be a travesty”.

And once I finally stumbled upon my current idea and knew that it was viable, and got the same feedback from my trusted peers, I knew that there was no choice but to go for it. It’s going to take time, but now I know that I will only have a “boss” for so much longer. Now my biggest obstacle is my impatience. I can picture the whole thing, in its final state, all tiers and wings, doing what it is intended to do. But that mental picture could well be 5, 10, 20 years off. I have no idea.

The best part is that my idea incorporates everything I like to do, including helping people. Mainly helping other people like myself, who have that feeling but are (or in my case, were) lost, confused and unsure.

In the meantime, I have no other way to avoid becoming homeless other than to keep doing my current job (for which I no longer have any real passion or emotional investment), via a sense of duty as a responsible, professional, mature adult, to not simply just stop trying.

I ended the last post with an anecdote from someone about what can go wrong and how it can turn out to not be as good or positive as you expect, and my risk-averse side decided that for me, at the time, that was the answer. I feel a lot more confident and upbeat now, and while I can’t get into too many details yet (so much is still up in the air), I’m very excited.

While I’m here, here’s a new resource I was just shown, Bloomberg’s “Game Changers” series (for inspiration):
http://www.bloomberg.com/video/game-changers/

So, should a scanner run their own business? If they have the skills, a viable idea, and that feeling that they just can’t escape that tells them they can and should be doing more, then why not?

Now I have to go and execute my idea and not fail so that I can be an example of my own advice not being bunk.

Project in the works: Help me help you

I am shifting my focus a little more right now towards a new project idea, specifically focused on helping others who are unsure about what they want to do for a living. Whether you are young, old, or anywhere in between, there is no shortage of people who are still wondering if their “calling” is still out there waiting for them.

I started interviewing people to see if I could find mine, I am beginning to wonder if interviewing people to learn from them is my calling (I never would have guessed!). But, I am going to keep interviewing people and I don’t just want to ask them my questions, I want to ask them yours as well.

So, if you could ask any question to someone in a field of work you are interested in or curious about, what would it be?

Some examples to get you thinking:
Q) What is a typical day like in your field of work?
Q) What are the best and worst parts of your job?
Q) What is a little known fact, perk, quirk or piece of trivia about this job?
Q) What is one thing, whether a task or personality trait or environmental factor, that if I can’t handle it or really don’t like it, this field of work may not be a good fit for me?
Q) How could someone with a disability or part of a minority group work successfully in this field? Are there opportunities for such people?

That should give you some ideas. If you’d like to send in your own (I encourage it), please send them to adam@curiositycrossroads.com.

Curiosity Recap: Posts review May 25th, 2014

Sorry for breaking routine folks, doing my best to roll with some punches and shifting priorities. This blog will be morphing slightly going forward as I begin working on some new projects, which I’ll be very excited to announce when I can. Also, the latest episode of Noise in my Head is a two parter full of all kinds of good information.

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been posting about on here for the last few weeks:

recapsmallThe Deepest Hole on the Planet – What we learned from drilling 0.02% of the way into the earth’s crust
How or why does a hot shower clear your sinuses? – I reflect on the nuisance of having a headcold, and one simple, but brief remedy
Listen to Adam Savage talk about hearing loss and the state of hearing aids – Some wisdom from one half of the Mythbusters
Soylent: An alternative to food if you’re looking for one – Do you consider having to stop being productive to cook, and eat? If so, this might be a solution for you
Consumer Awareness: Don’t fall for the decoy! – Something from the psych files here, the more you know, the less you get conned out of your hard earned money!
Five creatures that aren’t dinosaurs – Just what the title implies. We mistake a lot of creatures for dinosaurs
Are some animals psychic? Spoiler alert: No – Another podcast spotlight to teach us about our psychological fallibility and biases
Multiply big numbers easily, using lines (not calculators!) – A really simple, easy math trick that made me go “heck yes!”
Ten things everyone should know about science – including shortened, tweetable versions
Pink and Blue and Other Colours Too – An entrepreneur spotlight, a look at gender issues, solutions, and the latest episode of my podcast
Reviving Old Technologies – time to dig out your old cassette tapes – Sony is bringing back magnetic tape, and putting blu-ray to shame in the process
Some words of inspiration for the students out there – One teacher tells you what good teachers are really thinking, and it may surprise you
Why it’s good to be a Jack of all Trades – Tim Ferriss gives us 5 great arguments in favour of not specializing. Polymaths rejoice

Previous Recap – May 4, 2014.

Why it’s good to be a Jack of all Trades

There’s a saying, “Jack of all Trades – Master of None”. That typically gets thrown around by specialists in a condescending or critical way. A specialist might assume that because a “generalist” (or polymath) dabbles and experiments in so many things, they can’t likely be good at any of them.

I’d never really heard any good rebuttals to that idea – until now. Life Hacker Tim Ferriss comes to the rescue on his blog with “The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades”.

He writes:

“Jack of all trades, master of none” is an artificial pairing.

It is entirely possible to be a jack of all trades, master of many. How? Specialists overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill and confuse “master” with “perfect”…

Generalists recognize that the 80/20 principle applies to skills: 20% of a language’s vocabulary will enable you to communicate and understand at least 80%, 20% of a dance like tango (lead and footwork) separates the novice from the pro, 20% of the moves in a sport account for 80% of the scoring, etc. Is this settling for mediocre?

Not at all. Generalists take the condensed study up to, but not beyond, the point of rapidly diminishing returns. There is perhaps a 5% comprehension difference between the focused generalist who studies Japanese systematically for 2 years vs. the specialist who studies Japanese for 10 with the lack of urgency typical of those who claim that something “takes a lifetime to learn.” Hogwash. Based on my experience and research, it is possible to become world-class in almost any skill within one year. [emphasis added]

That last claim is pretty extraordinary (that you can become world class in anything within one year), but having read 2 of his books, and heard him talk about all the things he has tried, done and accomplished, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt there.

In a world of dogmatic specialists, it’s the generalist who ends up running the show.

Was Steve Jobs a better programmer than top coders at Apple? No, but he had a broad range of skills and saw the unseen interconnectedness. As technology becomes a commodity with the democratization of information, it’s the big-picture generalists who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest. There is a reason military “generals” are called such.

If being a generalist was so bad, I don’t think that it would be such a common thing in the military. Again, there is a difference between focused sampling/learning and just bouncing around different things randomly without really trying to understand or absorb them.

Boredom is failure.

In a first-world economy where we have the physical necessities covered with even low-class income, Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs drives us to need more for any measure of comparative “success.” Lack of intellectual stimulation, not superlative material wealth, is what drives us to depression and emotional bankruptcy. Generalizing and experimenting prevents this, while over-specialization guarantees it. [emphasis added]

I just had a discussion with a PhD student last night and they were telling me something like this, that your studies basically take over your life, leaving you little time to even attempt to “find yourself”. I have found lack of intellectual stimulation to be the number one thing that has made me hate most of the jobs I have had, and is obviously part of what drove me to start this blog, and my podcast, and the other projects I am currently working on.

Diversity of intellectual playgrounds breeds confidence instead of fear of the unknown.

It also breeds empathy with the broadest range of human conditions and appreciation of the broadest range of human accomplishments. The alternative is the defensive xenophobia and smugness uniquely common to those whose identities are defined by their job title or single skill, which they pursue out of obligation and not enjoyment.

This has definitely been my experience.

It’s more fun, in the most serious existential sense.

The jack of all trades maximizes his number of peak experiences in life and learns to enjoy the pursuit of excellence unrelated to material gain, all while finding the few things he is truly uniquely suited to dominate.

The specialist who imprisons himself in self-inflicted one-dimensionality — pursuing and impossible perfection — spends decades stagnant or making imperceptible incremental improvements while the curious generalist consistently measures improvement in quantum leaps. It is only the latter who enjoys the process of pursuing excellence.

Since I “took on curiosity” as a full-time endeavour, I have met a lot of really awesome, interesting people, learned a ton, been very inspired and felt like my life really meant something and I look forward to each new day. 5 or even 10 years ago, I was in the “just get through the next shift at work and then back to killing time in front of the TV or computer” camp.

As much as possible, I want to promote the idea of being a “jack of all trades”, generalist, polymath, autodidact, scanner, multipotentialite, whatever you want to call it. I’m learning how to be smarter and more efficient about that process and am trying to share it here as I can.

Try, do, learn, explore, create, ponder, live 🙂

Or in the words of Ben Sharp/Cloudkicker, “Let yourself be huge”:

Some words of inspiration for the students out there

I am a student of life, always will be, but I have been making a conscious effort to stay out of the actual brick and mortar classroom, since graduating the last time. I feel that my autodidact skills have been refined to the point where I can learn most things to a reasonable degree without having to be taught by a teacher using a blackboard (or powerpoint).

Learning is a big deal to me, it’s a part of why this blog exists, but I’ve realized I don’t post as much about actually learning, as I probably should. I actually interviewed some teachers last year, to ask them about what it’s like from their side of things, what they think is good and bad about the educational system, and I learned some things. One of those things was that – any teacher worth their weight in chalk cares about their students and doesn’t want to see them fail.

That might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s true. A good teacher wants you to succeed, not only just so that they don’t have to (try to) teach you the same stuff again the next year, but because they want to be good at their job, which is teaching you things and preparing you for life. So here’s an article by a teacher, to his students, about that very thing. From Affective Living, “What students really need to hear”:

First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself.  And I care not just about your grades or your test scores, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be honest with you — both in what I say and how I say it?

Here’s the thing: I lose sleep because of you.  Every week.

Before I tell you why, you should understand the truth about school. You see, the main event of school is not academic learning. It never has been. It never will be. And, if you find someone who is passionate in claiming that it is about academics, that person is lying to himself or herself and may genuinely believe that lie. Yes, algebra, essay writing, Spanish, the judicial process —  all are important and worth knowing. But they are not the MAIN event.

The main event is learning how to deal with the harshness of life when it gets difficult — how to overcome problems as simple as a forgotten locker combination, to obnoxious peers, to gossip, to people doubting you, to asking for help in the face of self-doubt, to pushing yourself to concentrate when a million other thoughts and temptations are fingertips away.

It is your resilience in conquering the main event — adversity — that truly prepares you for life after school. Because, mark my words, school is not the most challenging time you will have in life. You will face far greater challenges than these. Sure, you will have times more amazing than you can imagine, but you will also confront incomparable tragedy, frustration, and fear in the years to come.

I don’t want to quote the entire post, but he goes on to write about how, if you don’t take school seriously, you’re setting yourself up for failure, not only in having poor math or reading comprehension, but also in being able to face the challenges of everyday adult life. And he’s right. There is a quote I heard years ago, that applies here. It goes “Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it”. And I think that’s true.

Reviving Old Technologies: Time to dig out your old cassette tapes

If you were born long enough ago (like I was), you will remember a thing we had called cassette tapes. They weren’t terribly convenient, but they are what we had when we wanted to listen to music of our choice (or not on the radio).

It was a fairly primitive technology, and you always secretly feared the tape would get caught and yanked out (and you’d have to manually wind it back in with your finger tip, if you were like me and never had the bright idea to use a screwdriver or possibly a power drill on a slower setting). Or you hoped no one would ever purposely or accidentally move the tape near a magnet and ruin it, or leave it in the hot sun to melt. There were a lot of ways to destroy tapes.

Like I said, it was what we had and it was good enough at the time. But then along came CDs, and then DVDs, and then USB sticks to make our lives easier. But hidden away in bunkers, in server rooms of companies that perhaps couldn’t afford a large amount of modern storage (or by savvy hackers like Hugh Jackman in Swordfish), and even in recording studios to this day, exists storage tapes. Big storage in a set amount of space, just slow to access.

Well, seems Sony decided to give us a reason to remember this old but faithful technology. From ExtremeTech “Sony develops tech for 185TB tapes: 3,700 times more storage than a Blu-ray disc”:

Back in 2010, the standing record for how much data magnetic tape could store was 29.5GB per square inch. To compare, a standard dual-layer Blu-ray disc can hold 25GB per layer — this is why big budget, current-gen video games can clock in at around 40 or 50GB. That, however, is an entire disc, whereas magnetic tape could store more than half of that capacity in one little square inch. Sony has announced that it has developed a new magnetic tape material that demolishes the previous 29.5GB record, and can hold a whopping 148GB per square inch, making it the new record holder of storage density for the medium. If spooled into a cartridge, each tape could have a mind-boggling 185TB of storage. Again, to compare, that’s 3,700 dual-layer 50GB Blu-rays (a stack that would be 14.3 feet or 4.4 meters high, incidentally). In fact, one of these tapes would hold five more terabytes than a $9,305 hard drive storage array.

While 185TB of storage sitting on a single cartridge is extremely appealing for people with large digital collections — music, games, or really any kind of media — it’s best to remember that the storage medium of tape has never been easy access. Read and write times feel like (and often are) an oblivion, and tape is used mainly for safe-keeping backup, rather than because you have too much music on your SSD and want to free up space for a new game. Still, when it comes to massive, non-time-sensitive storage, tape storage libraries are still one of the most common methods used by big corporations.

So, probably still not terribly useful for the average consumer (except maybe to backup movie collections, or family vacation photo collections?), but interesting nonetheless.

Pink and Blue and Others Colours Too

I have written on this blog in the past about various issues pertaining to raising children in the best way possible, and I’ve written about gender issues. Today I get to write about both!

We set examples for children in many ways, including ways that we aren’t even aware of.  Children can only know what we teach them, and there is an overwhelming amount of environmental reinforcement in our society that teaches kids that boys are tough and smart, and that girls are frail and pretty. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

There are some very simple ways to counter-act this messaging, and one of those ways is by not dressing all boys in blue and “masculine” colours, and not dressing all girls in pink and “feminine” colours. We also shouldn’t have kids wearing clothes that say “smart like daddy” and “pretty like mommy”.

Last year, expecting mother Jenn Neilson walked into a store to buy clothes for her unborn child, and was stunned that her options were literally just blue, or pink. But there are plenty more colours than that, and babies like all colours. Jenn is among the growing movement of people who feel this needs to change, and she decided to do something about it (the most important step!).

She put her money where he mouth was, and she started a company – Jill and Jack Kids which has a KickStarter that you should check out. Jill and Jack Kids is an environmentally friendly baby clothing company that doesn’t just feature two colours, but 4 to start. And the designs themselves promote gender-neutrality and gender-equality, which is great. One of the shirts is captioned “half of all T-Rexs are girls”, and hey – that’s a fact!

Not only are the clothes environmentally friendly, but since they are gender-neutral, they also work as great hand-me-downs, meaning you buy a lot less clothes in the end! And they’re built to last, so you can stretch your clothing bucks to the maximum and save some money for college funds.

If you are thinking to yourself “so what, how does the colour of kids clothes matter? they don’t even know what colours are yet!”, well, that’s the thing. As I said, kids only know what we teach them, so if as long as they can remember, they’ve worn certain colours, and the kids with different parts than them wear different colours and are treated differently, they notice, and they respond. As a friend of mine has said, “we raise boys and girls instead of raising people“.

I just did a very quick internet search for “how does clothing colour affect kids gender?” and here is a good, short explanation from Yahoo answers, that explains gender conditioning and the social pressures that follow:

If a girl wears a skirt, it’s fine. If a girl wears pants, it’s fine. When I guy wears pants, it’s fine. When a guy wears a skirt, there is something wrong with him! Wearing clothing, listening to certain kinds of music and even television shows fall under this ‘gender bias’. Having a certain ‘norm’ forced on you can be rather troublesome. Like a girl who wants to ‘code and hax’ rather than ‘curl her hair’ may be frowned upon by her more ‘girly’ peers, where as she may appeal more to ‘the guys’ now.

That’s a very simple explanation, but you get the idea.

On a more complex scale, this comes from a WikiPedia article title “Social Construction of Gender Differences”:

Gender identity is not a stable, fixed trait – rather, it is socially constructed and may vary over time for an individual. Simone de Beauvoir’s quote, “one is not born a woman, but becomes one” is applicable here. The notion of womanhood or femininity is accomplished through an active process of creating gender through interacting with others in a particular social context.Society typically only recognizes two genders. Therefore, when transsexuals want to have a sex change operation, they must prove that they can “pass” as a man or woman – so even the choice of changing one’s gender is socially constructed. The fact that these individuals want to be one sex or the other speaks to the “’essentialness'” of our sexual natures as woman or as men”

Diamond and Butterworthshow how gender identity and sexual identity are fluid and do not always fall into two essentialist categories (man or woman and gay or straight) through their interviews with sexual minority women over the course of ten years. One woman had a relatively normal early childhood but around adolescence questioned her sexuality and remained stable in her gender and sexual identity until she started working with men and assumed a masculine “stance” and started to question her gender identity. When ‘she’ became a ‘he’ he began to find men attractive and gradually identified as homosexual as a man.

The perception of sexuality by others is an extension of others’ perceptions of one’s gender. Heterosexuality is assumed for those individuals who appear to act appropriately masculine or appropriately feminine. If one wants to be perceived as a lesbian, one must first be perceived as a woman; if one wants to be seen as a gay man, one has to [first] be seen as a man.

So, that, I would argue, is why this is important and why it matters. Kids don’t know any better so we should try to be careful about what we teach them as facts of reality.

EXTRA: May 23, 2014 – I recently interviewed a Queer Adult Entertainment Performer named Mara Dyne for my podcast, and we spent a good chunk of the interview talking about what gender is and means, and highlighting some of the problems related to it. The interview is clean (no swearing), but obviously the subject matter is a bit heavier. If you might be interested, here are the promos to give you an idea:

You can find show notes and subscribe here.

Ten things everyone should know about science

From ScienceNews.org, “Top 10 things everyone should know about science”, with each point also shrunk into twitter fitting length:

  1. Science successfully explains natural phenomena through rational investigation and logical reasoning rather than by recourse to superstition and mysticism.

    Tweet: Science explains nature rationally and logically, eschewing superstition and mysticism.

  2.  When scientific disputes arise, the ultimate arbiter is not expert authority or common sense but experimental evidence, guided by theory.

    Tweet: Fits as is!

  3. Scientific theories are not “guesses” but are logi­cally rigorous attempts to explain the observed facts of nature and to predict the results of new observations.

    Tweet: Theories aren’t guesses; they are logically rigorous explanations of observed phenomena that predict new results.

  4. When a theory’s predictions are confirmed, it becomes an essential tool in the further practice of science, but even good theories may someday be superseded by theories more comprehensive or more accurate.

    Tweet: Good theories may be superseded by better theories.

  5. The universe is vast and old, with our sun one of bil­lions of stars in a local galaxy, joined by billions of similar galaxies occupying the depths of space beyond.

    Tweet: There are billions and billions of stars.

  6. Life has changed over the eons, with complex creatures evolving from simpler precursors, and human beings therefore occupy one branch of an immense fam­ily tree of living organisms — all sharing a common molecular machinery driving basic life processes.

    Tweet: All life is related.

  7. As Einstein demonstrated, conceptions of time and space based on everyday life don’t apply accurately to all speeds and all realms of space.

    Tweet: Fits!

  8. The microworld of the atom, and realms even smaller, obey “quantum” laws completely at odds with common sense, and notions of cause and effect and the very nature of reality are inherently blurred on that scale.

    Tweet: The subatomic realm is weird.

  9. The way a thing works is often influenced by its connections to other things and the ways that they work, a principle that applies to everything from the networks of cells in the brain and the body’s other organs, to ecological and economic systems, to human interactions and social institutions.

    Tweet: Networks Are Us.

  10. Little is certain in science but much is highly probable, and the proper quantification of probabilities is essential for inferring facts, drawing conclusions and formulating sound judgments.

    Tweet: Learn some damn statistics.

All I have to say is, I love that last tweet. It’s kind of ironic, despite my day job revolving around numbers, and the music I write revolving around numbers, I really don’t particularly enjoy math, nor do I consider myself especially good at it. I took a statistics class once, it was kind of interesting, but because I’m just a little bit silly I was more interested to use it to calculate the mean length of podcast episodes than anything actually useful. Good thing I never aspired to be a statistician I guess.

Anyways, yay scientific principles and more logical thinking!

Multiple big numbers easily using lines (not calculators!)

A friend of mine in the Cognitive Science world linked to this video, and I have to say, it’s amazing. Such a simple trick, can be used by anyone (any age) and can make you look like a math savant if you do it secretly.

I memorized the multiplication tables in school like everyone else, but if anyone ever asked me “what is 12 x 21?” I’d say “hang on, let me get my calculator”. No more!

Are some animals psychic? Spoiler alert: No.

I just listened to this last night, The Skeptoid Podcast #412 “Animal Predictors: Psychic, Sensitive, or Silly?”. The episode does a great job of looking at a few purported cases of psychic animals, and then breaking down the factors at play to explain why they aren’t or weren’t. If you’ve ever watched James Randi debunk a psychic or other pseudoscience person (there are several videos of this on YouTube, like this one), this podcast episode does something very similar.

Skeptoid looks at five examples and explains factors in play that the average person wouldn’t necessarily be aware or even consider. My favourite was “Paul the Octopus”, who was apparently quite good at predicting who would win world cup matches.

Paul the octopus lived in a tank at Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany. In 2008, during the European Football Championship, they put two boxes of food in his tank, one labeled with Germany’s flag, and the other with that of Poland, whom Germany was about to play. Paul went to the Germany box first, and sure enough, Germany won that game. Throughout the tournament, Paul correctly predicted 2/3 of the matches he was given. But during the 2010 World Cup, Paul was correct 100% of the time, a feat that seems impossible unless he was truly inspired.

Many news outlets consulted mathematicians, who generally used the coin toss analogy. Paul’s chances of correctly picking the 2010 World Cup were 1/64, and with hundreds of animals being used as oracles around the world, it was a virtual certainty that at least one of them would guess all eight matches correctly. And that one is the one we all remember.

But the coin toss analogy is not correct. Paul was given only matches in which Germany played, and since Germany was a top team (eventually winning second place), it was more likely they’d win any given match. Octopus are extremely intelligent, and though they’re colorblind, they do recognize shapes. In his six 2008 trials, Paul simply swam to the Germany box every single time, and was wrong two out of the six. Once Paul had learned that the Germany box contained food, it only makes sense that he’d go straight to the one marked with the bold stripes of the German flag each time.

In the 2010 World Cup, Paul continued to choose Germany five out of seven times. In the eighth and final match, Germany did not participate, so Paul had a 50/50 chance on that one, and he guessed it correctly. Paul was correct all eight times. Most of these may be attributable to his trust of the German flag and Germany’s winning tendencies, but that doesn’t explain his misses. Octopus are imperfect, apparently. However it is noteworthy that in all three instances of Paul’s career that he did not pick a box marked with a German flag, the box that he picked also had a national flag with three bold horizontal stripes. Three of the five times he picked Germany in his perfect 2010 season, it was against a country whose flag was very different.

Was Paul truly psychic, or was it all random chance? Probably neither. He simply had an octopus’ excellent eyesight and intelligence, and knew that he’d find food wherever he saw three bold horizontal stripes.

Pretty cool.

Another notable example from the episode was that of a psychic cat in a nursing home that would “correctly predict” who the next person to die was going to be, but Brian points out that everyone there was terminally ill, thus literally, no matter who the cat chose to spend time with, they would eventually die anyway, and once they did, he would have no reason to still stay by them.

[The cat]’s story can almost certainly be explained by confirmation bias: the tendency of workers at the center to more strongly notice Oscar’s actions when they confirm the belief, in exactly the same way that many hospital workers notice busier nights during a full moon, a notion that’s been conclusively disproven. But we can’t know for sure since nobody has ever studied the way Oscar divides his time between the living and the dying. Until they do, we have a cute story, but certainly not a psychic cat.

We are great at attributing qualities to things based on our interpretations and perceptions, but this is in part how a lot of superstitions are born. The more we can learn to examine an occurrence and determine what is really going on and come up with a logical, rational explanation, the better off we are. It may be more “fun” to believe in psychics or magic, but to quote an image I recently found online:

You don’t see faith healers in hospitals for the same reason you don’t see psychics winning the lottery.