Round up #170: The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, books by the foot

Round up #170: The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, books by the foot

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

The end of “books by the foot”?


When I managed a brick-and-mortar bookstore, one of the weird things that would happen is that somebody would come in and want to buy a bunch of remainders (bargain books, basically) of a particular color (“Do you have ten green books?”).

They were using them as decoration. It might be in a model home, or it might be in a store display. They were usually mixing books of different colors.

Well, recently, my Significant Other and I were shopping in a department store, and I noticed the above display for furniture.

See those bookshelves?

It’s a photograph! They have something like “wallpaper” with bookshelves on it, and just put that up to give the feel for the room.

First off, we do have a room like that with floor to ceiling shelves in our home, but I don’t think most people do any more…so I guess this is aspirational advertising.

Second, it just looks weird. It’s like those cardboard computers they put on desks they are trying to sell. It makes it feel like…a dollhouse, or like you are on display in an alien zoo or something (hm…maybe that last one is just me). 😉

I don’t know how many books were sold that way a year (and some people sold miscellaneous books by the foot ((as in twelve inches))), but this might have some impact on the market…

New York Times: “Apple Fights Back in Antitrust Case Over E-Book Prices”


New York Times article

by Edward Wyatt and Brian X. Chen starts out with this line:

“Don’t mess with the legacy of Steve Jobs.”

Regular readers might recall that I described Steve Jobs’ mystique as Apple’s most valuable asset, and that I thought that protecting that might be what got them to settle in the Agency Model case before it went to court.

Well, the trial is set for June 3rd. There could still be a last minute settlement, but if there isn’t, Apple may work in court to refute tarnishing allegations against Steve Jobs. I suspect that if there is a settlement (which could even come after the trial starts), it might include not having to admit any wrongdoing by Apple’s visionary.

An extraordinary and valuable book

I’m only partway through

The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What We Can Learn About Ourselves from Our Machines

by Clifford Nass and Corina Yen, but I’m finding it quite remarkable. It seems like an important book for understanding the world and the people in it…like The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal by Desmond Morris or Please Understand Me II (which is an update of Please Understand Me) by David Keirsey.

Nass is a social scientist who has pioneered work that shows that people interact with computers as if the machines were also human beings.

This has led to much practical work, not just theory.

This book has a somewhat different focus…it tests social ideas by using computers as the “agents” in experiments.

It’s pretty simple: it’s hard to test the impact of flattery using humans, because who that human is (gender, age, and so on) really affects the impact the flattery might have on us. It’s possible to do it, but quite complex. Using a computer as a flatterer is simpler.

The book appears to be able to test a lot of ideas effectively (using experimentation).

For example, what’s the best way to give somebody a review at work? Praise, criticism, praise? Or is there a better sequence?

I want you to read the book, so I’m not going to give you the answer they found. 🙂

However, I will share with you a little test I did today, based on one of the book’s findings.

They said that team building can be enhanced by the team members having a commonality. It could be a simple as assigning people to different colored teams (as they do on Survivor), or first finding similarities and then grouping people by that.

I was presenting to my coworkers (other trainers) today on the project management work formula (W=D*U…Work = Duration * Units). I know I”m a good presenter (that’s the feedback I get), but this is can be particularly dry stuff (like accounting and algebra rolled together). 🙂

So, I wanted to try the commonality thing.

First, I explained a problem we were going to solve. Then, I broke the room into groups, just based on who was sitting next to each other. Sitting next to somebody doesn’t mean that you normally would group with them…there are a  lot of us coming from considerably varying distances, so seating is kind of catch as catch can.

What I did, before I asked the groups to work on the problem (which isn’t an easy one…it has to do with “leveling”), was I asked them all to find a pop culture thing that everybody in their group liked: a movie, a book, a sports team, a musician, something like that.

I gave them a minute to do it, and there was some lively discussion.

Then, they worked on the problem for a few minutes.

I had them tell me what the commonality was for each of their groups, and I referred to them by that term.

Here’s what I found to be extraordinary.

I think every group solved the problem…and it needed four different solutions. These are not math people (well, one of them is, but that’s not our job), and none of them had an education in project management (I asked them that in the beginning). I’ve done this same problem with people who were in front of me for a project management class, and it’s taken quite a bit of work and not everybody got it.

Second, and perhaps more important, was the feedback we gave at the end of this seven hour-long meeting. My segment was only half an hour of that: we had a lot of topics.

People said this was the most fun meeting we’d ever had! That wasn’t just me, but I’m sure it was partly me. Also, somebody said it was good to do a “light topic” like mine after lunch. A light topic? I’ve never heard project management/resource allocation described that way before!

Obviously, this is only a small sample and one test, my intuitive sense is that the bonding that happened just by asking them to find that one commonality made them work together better, and made it seem more fun.

Can’t wait to get through the rest of the book!

I’m sure some of you are wondering…

Here’s the problem:

You are in an 8-hour long meeting on a Friday. That morning, just before the meeting, you find out that you also need to do a report to turn in first thing Monday morning (the next business day), and you know from experience that it takes eight hours to produce that report.

You now have sixteen hours of work to do in eight hours.

There are three legitimate approaches to fixing that, and one that is considered cheating.

The problem was to come up with all four solutions…and I only gave them about three minutes to do it.

I’ll let you put in your answers by commenting on this post, if you want. 🙂 If you want to comment on anything else, free to do so. 🙂

Update: I’m going to provide the answers below…if you haven’t thought about it yet, you might want to do that before continuing.

Increase the Units

This is usually the first people mention (it is one that my reader Bailey mentioned in a comment). What that means in this case is either get somebody to else to do the report for you, or have someone else go to the meeting for you. Obviously, that might depend on your role in the meeting. 🙂 Let’s say you have a coworker do the report. Now, you’ve fixed

16 w = 8 d * 1 u (16 hours of work being done in 8 hours of time by one person)


16 w = 8 d * 2 u (16 hours or work being done in 8 hours of time by two people)

Increase the duration

In this version, you ask for an extension: can you turn in the report later, or postpone the meeting? If they say yes, then you’ve fixed it this way:

16 w = 16 d * 1 u (16 hours of work being done in 16 hours of time by 1 person)

Do less work

There are two ways to do less work:

  • Do a worse job
  • Increase efficiency

In the “do a worse job” category in this case, you might go to the meeting for just 4 hours and then create a reduced value report in 4 hours…or possibly work on the report during the meeting (only paying half as much attention to both). Bailey mentioned this one.

It’s tough to see much about how you could increase efficiency in this case, with little warning. Increasing efficiency often means adding technology. For example, it would take people less work to paint a room with paint rollers than with paintbrushes. Perhaps if your boss bought you, oh, Excel, you could produce the report more quickly in the future. This is the answer bosses often want you to do (become more efficient), but they may not want to spend the money to buy new tech. 🙂

The last one, which is considered cheating, is to work overtime…stay up until two in the morning doing the report (after the meeting), or work on the report over the weekend. That’s cheating, because you aren’t supposed to plan on overtime…it’s a tactical response, not a strategic plan. In some states, industries have gotten in trouble for having budgeted overtime in their plans.

That’s it: those are really the three choices (plus the cheating one).

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

5 Responses to “Round up #170: The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, books by the foot”

  1. Bailey Says:

    Hmm, never done anything like this before, but just off the top of my head, my answers are:

    Skip the meeting, don’t write the paper, work on the paper /during/ the meeting, or ask someone else to help you.

    Those are probably wrong, (and, if you actually did some of them, certain to have negative consequences.) What answers did your groups come up with?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Bailey!

      Well, everybody does project management in some way…it’s how you are able to get ready for work (or whatever) in the morning. 😉

      That’s one of the nice things…there is no magic to this, it’s all logical. What the PM part does is just allow you to clearly state the alternatives.

      I don’t want to give out all of the answers until other people get a chance to guess. 🙂

      I will confirm one for you. You said, “…ask someone else to help you.” That’s one of the three “legitimate” answers (and there is a cheating one as well). In PM terms, we would say that you are “adding units” by bringing in an additional person. Here’s how the formula looked before you found out about the report:

      8 hours of work (labor…going to the meeting) = 8 hours of time * 1 person

      That’s in balance: 8 = 8 * 1

      Then, I added 8 hours of work, so it became

      16 = 8 * 1

      which is obviously wrong, in terms of math.

      You fixed it by doing this:

      16 hours of work = 8 hours of time (duration) * 2 people (units)


      16 = 8 * 2


      It could be that you ask someone else to do the report, or possibly that you ask someone else to go the meeting (depending on what your role is in the meeting, of course).

      I will give the answers, but probably not until at least Sunday.

  2. tellthetruth1 Says:

    Bought this on the strength of the title! It’ll definitely be food for thought, methinks! Man who lied to his laptop. I mean, you can’t help but giggle! 😉

  3. Round up #171: XBOOKS, Stephen King’s latest horror | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] influenced by a stated gender (even for something genderless like a computer), is demonstrated in The Man Who Lied to His Laptop (which I highly recommend). That would be an interesting study: are people more likely to buy […]

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