Experiment 1: Address Book Lottery

rolodexI’m planning a series of experiments aimed at attempting new daily practices, learning new skills, and finishing uncompleted projects.

The first experiment of the year is simple: E-mail 50 randomly-selected people from my address book and see what happens.

Choosing an address book. I’ve been a professional for 18 years, and in that time I’ve worked a number of different jobs. I’ve done a good job transitioning my address book each time. More recently, though, my contact list has become fractured among Outlook, Gmail, social media apps, and my phone. For the sake of choosing something, I went with my Outlook Contacts – a list I started in 1999 and currently includes 1,181 people.

Selecting 50 people. The next step was identifying the random 50 people to email. For this task I used this random number generator: http://andrew.hedges.name/experiments/random/. A few interesting things came out of the randomized subset:

  • Three of my direct-reporting employees were part of the 50. To avoid “obligation to the boss” awkwardness, I removed them.
  • One selected contact was a name with no e-mail address, so I replaced it with the next contact on the list.
  • One was a deceased business contact. I remembered him fondly, and then added the next name.

The email. I chose my current business email address (instead of my personal Gmail) for this effort. First, that is how I met many of these people, and they may recognize it. Also, I think a corporate address is less likely to go straight to an automated spam folder.

At this stage I was nervous that this will come off as creepy or a sales call or both.

Hi,

I realize this email may seem a little weird.

As I begin 2017, instead of developing a year-long resolution, I’m trying a series of 2-week experiments. Some will be health-related (working out daily, eliminating sugar); others will be habits (meditating daily, reading fiction each night); and some just weird ideas (wear the same jeans for 2 weeks, learn the ukulele).

My first experiment is in the “weird idea” category: Contact a random subset of 50 people from my address book and track the results. I anticipate some emails will be undeliverable, recipients won’t remember me, and some will just choose not to respond. But I hope in some cases I’ll get to revisit old stories, revive a few connections, and maybe spark some interesting email discussion. (I also realize that, in some cases, we just talked last month or even yesterday – that’s part of the fun, too!)

Letting “the universe” or “God” or “mathematics” choose the initial recipients is part of the fun, and you have literally been randomly selected. If you’re up for it, I’d love to hear from you. Where are you living, what kind of activities are you enjoying, and – most importantly – what are you passionate about in 2017?

Thanks for considering, and I hope you have an amazing year!

Brian

At 6pm on January 3, 2017, I sent the email to the 50 randomly-selected contacts. And then I waited. Will anyone respond? Will some think I’m a moron? Was this a bad idea?

The numbers

  • 15 bounced back immediately as undeliverable. 30% of my randomly-selected contact list was effectively useless? Yikes.
  • 2 responded that evening.
  • 6 responded the next day.
  • 3 responded over the course of the next couple weeks, including the final response 15 days after receipt.

As of this writing, I received a total of 11 responses, which (after factoring in the undeliverables) is a 31% response rate of those who presumably received the email. Not bad for a random note with no real subject. Respondents included customers who I’d spoken with a few days before, a person I had met once at a conference 10 years ago, and my father – Hi, Dad. (I kept other identities confidential, and I’ll note here that I didn’t use any of my dad’s response in the content below.)

Responses. I was blown away by the information shared with me, given that in most cases our relationship could be considered past its “best by” date. Respondents, some of whom didn’t even really remember me, shared their life struggles, relationship problems, victories and defeats, and goals for the future. Many shared with me recent successes in health and business, and relayed to me their hopes and dreams for 2017 and beyond. Responses came from every region of the country. Here are a few sound bytes from the emails received:

  • From what I remember about you, you were skinny and recently married and young.
  • I’m going to be passionate about my family’s health and not just physical, but spiritual health.
  • I’m on sabbatical this year and enjoying seeing new things and travelling around the world.
  • Travel is in my weekly budget and chances are, if a friend asks me to visit, I’ll book it immediately.
  • Thanks I felt like I won the lottery.
  • Yes, weirdest email I have received in 2017.

In the end, it was a fun experiment that put me back in touch with people I hadn’t heard from in some time, and I’d recommend giving it a try.

Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons, flic.kr/p/4MLzSY

Is this heaven? No, it’s Gotcha

(I gotcha02ran across a Halloween essay I wrote in 2009 – seemed like a good day to dust it off and re-post).
My favorite part of Halloween in Columbia, Missouri, is trick-or-treating downtown. And the highlight of the evening is always a visit to Gotcha.
 
Gotcha is a costume shop in downtown Columbia, owned and operated by a gentleman I’ve only known as “Arrow,” along with his family. As one might imagine, the shop is extremely busy on October 31, as college students and others are completing their outfits for upcoming parties. Here’s the scene:
 
We walk into Gotcha, fighting the crowd a little to get in the door.
 
Arrow yells, “Make way for the important people!” in reference to Blake and Madilyn as he makes the 30 paying customers in line scoot back two steps to make room.
 
“Hey, it’s Bumblebee and Hermione!” (note: the kids were mis-identified as a Power Ranger and Harry Potter in most of the other stores) “Come get some candy! Happy Halloween!”
 
At this point it is important to define “candy” the way Gotcha defines “candy.” We are not talking about Tootsie Rolls or Smarties or half-bite-snack-size Snickers. The kids’ eyes opened wide as they giggled at a basket full of KING SIZE CANDY BARS. Blake grabbed M&Ms. Madilyn beamed at her choice: a 4-pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
 
In a world where kids (particularly once they grow past the cute baby and toddler stages) are typically vilified, ignored, or – at best – tolerated, my children were celebrated as the IMPORTANT PEOPLE by a store owner who surely had much more important things to do on his most profitable day of the year. For 2 minutes they were the stars of the show.
 
This “let the children come to me” selflessness surprised and overwhelmed me. But why? Had I previously thought (and been taught) that love and acceptance were reserved for more “Christian” environments like home or church? Am I surprised that my kids are cared for in a downtown costume shop? Is the lavish generosity of chocolate somehow different than from God’s gift of grace?
 
I’m not sure about answers to any of those questions, but I do know this: My children were adored this Halloween, not at a church-sponsored, anti-ghoul Fall Festival, but among the plastic vomit, fake blood, and half-drunk-half-naked college students at Gotcha. It was unconditional love at its finest, and I’m grateful for it.

Google Trends Fun

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

-Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country


I recently discovered a fun thing: make your own searches in Google Trends.

Google Trends provides a 10+ year graph of how often a word or phrase has been searched on google.com. One of my first attempts was my favorite baseball team, the Kansas City Royals, who – for many years – were mediocre before their recent resurgence and World Series championship.

kcr

But wait, there’s more! You can also compare multiple search terms to see which is more popular over time. The possibilities are endless! Enjoy my very first “social commentary via Google Trends.”

elbow

Elbow room is much more popular than elbow grease (lazy punk kids – what’s wrong with the world?). However, elbow room is trending downward (maybe as millennials and boomers move to the cities?), and elbow grease is gaining momentum (as they build DIY compost bins and make gluten-free bread from tree bark).

I’ve compared colors, celebrity couples, sports teams, modes of travel, hair styles, dog breeds, body parts, etc.  It’s fun. Go play with it.

Taco Dice

On a recent drive by Taco Bell I learned about their latest invention – the Quesalupa.  It got me thinking about what their marketing meetings  might be like.

  • Ok, there are 6 ingredients we use for every single menu item . We’re not adding more, so instead how do we rename what we have?
  • How can we randomly combine new food-sounding words for a new name?
  • How many prefixes, suffixes, letters, layers, and invented words can we add?  How about Stuft?  XXL?
  • Can we just throw these ideas on the wall and choose at random?

Assuming this is true, I figured I could so the same with a Mexican fast food dice-roll game. I bring you TACO DICE.  Here is one of my early throws:

taco-dice-photo

Beefy Chipotle 5-layer Chicken Quesarito Supreme Party Pack

For math nerds, you can roll 4,665,600 different meal options (many fictional, of course).

I had so much fun rolling multiple menu items, that I put together a printable version to share. Print the file linked at the end of this article, cut the dice to build your game, and roll!

Enjoy, and if you play, post your meals in the comments!

TacoDice

Marshall Flinkman ID – finally available!

marshall

In preparation for Emerald City Comicon earlier this month, I made a late (ok, night-before) decision to dress as Marshall Flinkman, the amazingly-talented-and-awkward-and-brilliant tech guy on the TV show Alias. Because EVERYTHING is online, I was sure a quick search would yield an easy-to-print name tag / ID card for my costume.

I was wrong.

(Aside – Season 1 of Alias is one of the best stories in any medium. Go binge watch it now.)

Frustrated with this failure of the internet on which I so often rely, I dusted off my Microsoft Paint skills and cobbled together a few bits and pieces to create this important accessory. The information is accurate to the best of my knowledge, including the institution, the address of said institution in real-life Los Angeles, and a bar code that – if scanned – reads “Marshall J Flinkman.” I guessed at his title.

My purpose of posting this image is in the hopes that some day, someone will have a similar need, search “Marshall Flinkman ID card,” and be greeted with this blog post and the solution they desire.  If that person is you, we have been connected across space and time for this moment. I hope it serves you well, and that you’ll create something – even a little silly something – for the next person in need.

What Great Science Looks Like

grave

“The scientific method is the radio edit of great science.

Great science doesn’t look much like the story you’ve been told about people diligently trying to falsify things and all sorts of statistical significance.

Great science looks like breaking into graveyards and digging up bodies when you know you shouldn’t, or trusting your aesthetic sense when the data tells you otherwise.

You may want to tame this thing, but it won’t be tamed. It will always be the case that the leaders of the field are the misfits in the back throwing spitballs rather than the good kids who are always there on time raising their hands.”

-Eric Weinstein

About the Author

I’ve been writing bits and pieces of things for most of my nearly 40 years.  Sketches and essays in random notebooks, notes files on computers and phones, and abandoned blogs (see here and here… oh, and here).

But now it’s official. Amazon has deemed me an author.

And so has a real-life book publisher, as they “proudly present” my latest writing project.flyer

I’m hopeful that the book – written primarily for a semi-technical yet non-expert audience of students and practitioners – will serve as an introduction to traffic safety as we continue to grow and evolve the craft. Technology and psychology continuously change how and why people travel from here to there and back again.  I hope to do my small part to help all road users stay safe.