Category Archives: Misc.

Human ingenuity

An item was posted on The Consumerist about a small”salad-spinner-like device that you use to handwash your small loads.”  Apparently it really was inspired by the salad spinner.  The item linked to an article that provided some details about the genesis of the product:

While engineering and designing the Smart Touch Salad Spinner for Zyliss, RKS learned that resourceful women were using salad spinners to wash their delicates. Independently, Fran Slutsky, co-owner of leading commercial laundry machine manufacturer American Dryer Corporation, had identified the need for an easy, energy-efficient way to clean small loads of laundry and discovered that salad spinners effectively mimicked washing-machine agitation. After becoming aware of their work for Zyliss, Slutsky enlisted RKS to develop a concept for a hand-powered, high-performance, laundry device for small loads. (Emphasis mine.)

Absolutely annoying

The Telegraph has an item about the ten most irritating phrases or expressions as determined by some researchers at Oxford University.  Is the list accurate?  Absolutely!  I personally found the list on the mark; nevertheless, what each person finds most irritating is probably fairly unique.  I confess that I am also guilty of sometimes using some of these phrases; I try to be on my guard but it’s a nightmare trying to be so vigilant 24/7.  In fact, at this  moment in time, I’ve already used phrases I shouldn’t of.  With all due respect, the research is not rocket science, and, at the end of the day, does it really matter?  But here is their list anyway:

The top ten most irritating phrases:

1 – At the end of the day

2 – Fairly unique

3 – I personally

4 – At this moment in time

5 – With all due respect

6 – Absolutely

7 – It’s a nightmare

8 – Shouldn’t of

9 – 24/7

10 – It’s not rocket science

Hydrox is back, but still misunderstood

The people have spoken and Kellogg’s has listened and are bringing back, for a limited run, the Hydrox cookie that was discontinued in 2003.  But, as the initial post about its demise noted (see “Evolutionary food chain”), the Hydrox cookie has always been misunderstood and continues to be even as it is being resurrected.  The entry from The Consumerist announcing the return of the cookie perpetuates the false perception of the Hydrox as a cheap knock-off of the Oreo:

“1,300 phone inquiries, an online petition with more than 1,000 signatures and Internet chat sites lamenting the demise of the snack.” That’s all it took for Kellogg to resurrect the odd Oreo ripoff cookies called Hydrox, which were discontinued in 2003 after nearly 100 years. Turns out some people really like their Hydrox! The product always seemed like an inferior, superfluous, knockoff cookie with a terrible name. Which it is!

Which it is most emphatically not — well, maybe except the terrible name part.  What’s even more sad is that the Wall Street Journal article that The Consumerist references as source explicitly corrects the misconception that The Consumerist’s perpetuates:

Hydrox also likely suffered from the impression that it was a cheap knockoff of the better-known Oreo. In fact, Hydrox was created by what would later become Sunshine Biscuits Co. in 1908 — four years before National Biscuit Co. (later Nabisco) launched the similar Oreo. Sunshine is now a unit of Kellogg.

I guess we should never underestimate the power of preconceived biases.

Evolutionary food chain

It is remarkable how often the things we know turn out to be false knowledge, and it is even more instructive when such false knowledge has passed into the realm of public or common knowledge.  A blog entry in the Wall Street Journal is a reminder of one such example.  Christopher Rhoads writes about the demise of Hydrox and how its devotees are petitioning Kellogg to revive the cookie.

Here is the short history of the Hydrox:

Hydrox was created in 1908 by what would later become Sunshine Biscuits Inc. . . . When Keebler acquired Sunshine in 1996, Sunshine was a distant third behind Keebler and Nabisco. Keebler then replaced the original Hydrox with a reformulated, sweeter cookie aimed more at children, called Droxies. When they failed to make a dent in the Oreo, Kellogg, which had acquired Keebler in 2001, quietly stopped making Hydrox two years later.

Anyone who remembers the Hydrox remembers it as the cheapo imitation of the Oreo.  So it comes a surprise to most when they learn that the Oreo was brought out 1912 by the company that would become Nabisco — four years after the introduction of Hydrox.

In the mournful words from a website devoted to the Hydrox:

Hydrox debuted in 1908, the signature product of the nascent Sunshine Biscuits, and ruled the category until 1912, when National Biscuit (later Nabisco) launched the remarkably similar Oreos. Given Nabisco’s superiority over Sunshine in everything from distribution channels to advertising budgets, it was no contest–Hydrox never had a chance. Over the years, Oreos’ popularity and market hegemony became so overwhelming that the product transcended the consumer realm and came to be viewed as a cultural icon, an American original–even though there was nothing original about it.

SAT myths and reality

A conservative political scientist, Charles Murray, makes a case for abolishing the SAT. He notes that the 2001 study by the University of California system revealed, “The surprising empirical reality is that the SAT is redundant if students are required to take achievement tests.” The study points out that achievement test scores and high school grades were better independent forecasters of a student’s success in college than the SAT score. Moreover, the SAT score did not add in any significant way to the forecast made by the achievement test scores and high school grades.

Murray also tackles some of the myths surrounding the SAT. For instance, here is the myth and the reality about coaching:

From 1981 to 1990, three separate analyses of all the prior studies were published in peer-reviewed journals. They found a coaching effect of 9 to 25 points on the SAT Verbal and of 15 to 25 points on the SAT Math. In 2004, Derek Briggs, using the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, found effects of 3 to 20 points for the SAT Verbal and 10 to 28 points for the SAT Math. Donald Powers and Donald Rock, using a nationally representative sample of students who took the SAT after its revisions in the mid-1990s, found an average coaching effect of 6 to 12 points on the SAT Verbal and 13 to 18 points on the SAT Math. Many studies tell nearly identical stories. On average, coaching raises scores by no more than a few dozen points, enough to sway college admissions in exceedingly few cases.

But the coaching business is booming, with affluent parents being the best customers. If the payoff is really so small, why has the market judged coaching to be so successful?

Most obviously, parents who pay for expensive coaching courses ignore the role of self-selection: the students who seem to profit from a coaching course tend to be those who, if the course had not been available, would have worked hard on their own to prepare for the test.

Then parents confuse the effects of coaching with the effect of the basic preparation that students can do on their own. No student should walk into the SAT cold. It makes sense for students to practice some sample items, easily available from school guidance offices and online, and to review their algebra textbook if it has been a few years since they have taken algebra. But once a few hours have been spent on these routine steps, most of the juice has been squeezed out of preparation for the SAT. Combine self-selection artifacts with the role of basic preparation, and you have the reason that independent studies using control groups show such small average gains from formal coaching.

According to Murray, the overriding truth about the SAT is this:

the children of the affluent and well educated really do get most of the top scores. For example, who gets the coveted scores of 700 and higher, putting them in the top half-dozen percentiles of SAT test-takers? Extrapolating from the 2006 data on means and standard deviations reported by the College Board, about half of the 700+ scores went to students from families making more than $100,000 per year. But the truly consequential statistics are these: Approximately 90 percent of the students with 700+ scores had at least one parent with a college degree. Over half had a parent with a graduate degree.

And, he adds, “The children of the well educated and affluent get most of the top scores because they constitute most of the smartest kids. They are smart because their parents are smart. The parents have passed their smartness along through parenting practices that are largely independent of education and affluence, and through genes that are completely independent of them.”

Why I have daughters

Psychology Today has an article on Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature. Number 6 is “Beautiful people have more daughters.” It’s too convoluted to summarize, so, here it is in full:

It is commonly believed that whether parents conceive a boy or a girl is up to random chance. Close, but not quite; it is largely up to chance. The normal sex ratio at birth is 105 boys for every 100 girls. But the sex ratio varies slightly in different circumstances and for different families. There are factors that subtly influence the sex of an offspring.

One of the most celebrated principles in evolutionary biology, the Trivers-Willard hypothesis, states that wealthy parents of high status have more sons, while poor parents of low status have more daughters. This is because children generally inherit the wealth and social status of their parents. Throughout history, sons from wealthy families who would themselves become wealthy could expect to have a large number of wives, mistresses and concubines, and produce dozens or hundreds of children, whereas their equally wealthy sisters can have only so many children. So natural selection designs parents to have biased sex ratio at birth depending upon their economic circumstances—more boys if they are wealthy, more girls if they are poor. (The biological mechanism by which this occurs is not yet understood.)

This hypothesis has been documented around the globe. American presidents, vice presidents, and cabinet secretaries have more sons than daughters. Poor Mukogodo herders in East Africa have more daughters than sons. Church parish records from the 17th and 18th centuries show that wealthy landowners in Leezen, Germany, had more sons than daughters, while farm laborers and tradesmen without property had more daughters than sons. In a survey of respondents from 46 nations, wealthy individuals are more likely to indicate a preference for sons if they could only have one child, whereas less wealthy individuals are more likely to indicate a preference for daughters.

The generalized Trivers-Willard hypothesis goes beyond a family’s wealth and status: If parents have any traits that they can pass on to their children and that are better for sons than for daughters, then they will have more boys. Conversely, if parents have any traits that they can pass on to their children and that are better for daughters, they will have more girls.

Physical attractiveness, while a universally positive quality, contributes even more to women’s reproductive success than to men’s. The generalized hypothesis would therefore predict that physically attractive parents should have more daughters than sons. Once again, this is the case. Americans who are rated “very attractive” have a 56 percent chance of having a daughter for their first child, compared with 48 percent for everyone else.

Time to learn a new tune

Spiegel Online has a news item about the responses of birds to new tunes.

Elizabeth Derryberry, a biologist at Duke University in North Carolina, compared recordings of sparrow hits from 1979 to those of 2003 and found that the newer songs have a much slower rhythm and dip further down into the lower registers. And upon playing the different versions to hip, modern-day sparrows in a variety of areas, she found that today’s birds are much more into current chart hits than those of 30 years ago.

The 20 males that heard Derryberry’s two recordings reacted much more aggressively to the new tunes, ready to defend their territory against the crooning interloper. And the chicks? They responded by becoming more open to sexual advances when the new music was played. The oldies didn’t turn them on at all.

“I’m not saying a female bird won’t respond to an old song, but not as much as she would to the newer version,” Derryberry told the newspaper the Daily Telegraph. “They regard the old songs as not as interesting, not as good as the new ones.”