Monday, December 05, 2005

Amazing TV Commercial from the "Friendly" Skies

Normally, I am not one to praise United Airlines, but a recent TV commercial that this airline has released is quite amazing. Maybe this is more touching to a marketing professor than to most "normal" people, but this commercial is an excellent demonstration of the "means-end chain"--the idea that product attributes--and sometimes products themselves--are used as a means to an end rather than as an end goal.

In this predominantly black-and-white cartoon format--with color as needed--a man gets up in the morning and stuggles to select an appropriate tie. He then flies to a black city--presumably New York--enters a building, takes the escalator, and then notices that his shoes do not match. (This, again, probably strikes a more receptive cord with absent minded professors than it does with normal people). He then enters a conference room and hands over his resume. He goes through tough questioning, and and his disappointment is clear as he heads down the elevator. This is where the usually more upbeat Gershwin tunes turn melancholic. As the man walks the street, however, he receives a cell phone call and jumps for joy. On the flight back, the flight attendant walks the "friendly aisles" (my term--not the commercial's), but the man has now fallen into peaceful sleep with his top shirt button opened.

There is saying that humor can be explained but the amusement tends to die during the dissection. Perhaps it is with same with this kind of a touching story. It is almost a shame to "invade" this beautiful ad, but here are my comments. The ties, shoes, and the cell phone are all means to an end--as is the travel by implication. To this list of means to ends, we can also add less notable elements such as the elevator. It is clear that the event of the interview is an important one in the man's life and that the job appears to offer opportunities to advance toward the man's ultimate goals. Ironically, these are unspoken.

Given my interest in autism, it is interesting just how much this ad depends on empathy and theory of mind. If one did not understand what the job applicant was going through, the ad probably would not make much sense. It would definitely not be as captivating.

This post has made several allusions to "normal" people. It is interesting to note that the ad probably would make a considerable impression on this group, too. However, if most "normal" people do not find the ad as captivating as I do, this provides reassurance in my view that I really would not want to be normal.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Spam in Spanish--from Japan

The globalization of the World is nothing new, and, in truth, many of the new examples that are related seem rather trite. Today, however, a very interesting example escaped my spam filter: A message in Spanish--seemingly about some male performance enhancement substance--featuring a sender domain suffix of Japan!

For some time now, my patience--along with that of many others--has begun to run out. In answer to the question of whehter most spammers "deserve everlasting punishment," I am inclined to conclude "Probably yes." (See my earlier entry on "The non-spammer who cried 'Lamb!'").

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Pink beverages

One of my favorite exam questions asks which research method would be most appropriate to test a hypothesis, held by manufacturers of citrus beverages, that some men will secretly be embarrassed to consume pink lemonade since they may find the beverage too "sissy." The preferred answer is projective research--asking the respondent what someone else similar to him might feel. It is easier to admit that another man's manhood may be threatened by a "feminine" beverage that it is to admit that about one self.

Imagine my delight when, in tonight's episode of Gilmore Girls, Rory celebrated her twenty-first birthday, and her grandmother invented the "Rory" in her honor. The drink contained a number of obnoxious components and was quite pink. Rory's grandmother, Emily, gave Luke a hard time about his apparent discomfort with the drink--it was supposed to be feminine!

Personally, I would prefer to avoid this drink. It is not the color that is threatening my manhood, but I am a firm believer in temperance. Without the alcohol, it might be OK. ;)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Lack of Passion

Last year, I posted several inspirational signs on bulletin boards in classrooms around campus. One of these signs asked, "Do you have a passion for profit?" Recently, I noticed that some individual had written an indignant "NO!" as a response.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Song Facts

As a prior blog entry relates, I am fascinated by the potential background and stories songs. Yesterday, I discovered , a site that provides just this kind of background. Apparently, I am not alone in wondering who Suzanne is, and who is being accused by James Taylor of making and executing plans that put "an end" to her.

One of the stories that has touched me most is "Mandy," as sung by Barry Manilov. I had heard before that originally, another singer had recorded this using the name Brandy, and that to avoid confusion with "Brandy, You're a Fine Girl," the woman's name was changed for Manilov's U.S. version. Song Facts could not provide any information on what inspired the song. Apparently, there have been rumors. One was that the song was about the author's dog. The author reportedly admits to telling that story. However, that was in response to a phone call from a reporter that had awakened the author. He later said that this was the first story he could think of and that he would have said anything to get rid of the reporter as quickly as possible. Oh well, we are left wondering...

It is not clear how carefully the information has been verified, but there are some interesting stories. I found the site searching for background on Train's song "Drops of Jupiter." This song apparently came to the lead singer in a dream. Supposedly, the question about "[falling] from shooting star ... without a permanent scar" may be tied to a scar on the writer's face. I have some difficulty comprehending how anyone could ask with a straight face whether "Venus [was] ... everything you expected to find." Few rational people could have much of a hope of finding any comfort on this planet with its crushing atmosphere and deadly heat. I can certainly understand, however, how the solar wind could "sweep [one] off [one's] feet." Whether intentionally or not, the song gives off some insight into the writer's cultural background. Strictly speaking, people from cultures whose cuisine features other concoctions may not actively seek to "imagine [a world with] no fried chicken," but that could just as well be because they never thought of the possibility of a world featuring this cholesterol extravagant dish. As to what is meant by the notion of "[dancing] along the light of day," I have no clear idea. On the other hand, the observation that "[her checking] out Mozart while she does tae-bo [reminds] me that there's time to grow" is quite inspirational.

It turns out that neither John Denver nor the two co-authors of the song "Take Me Home, Country Roads" had been to West Virginia when the song was written. The song writers were nearby in Maryland, however, when the created the song, while on a road trip, based on postcards they had received from a friend visiting the "country road" state.

Record producers, feeling that the song "Daniel" was too long, insisted that Elton John and Bernie Taupan cut the final, fourth verse. That verse had clarified that the story was about an older brother who had returned from the Vietnam war and, having become disillusioned with the U.S., moved to Spain.

I am grateful to the staff at Song Facts for compiling this treasury of information, so I do not want to sound ungrateful in showing my disappointment that there is no information about some of the songs that fascinate me most. None of Atlanta Rhythm's songs are listed, and there is no entry for "In Neon," sung by Elton John and written by Bernie Taupan.

In case anyone wonders about the songs I wrote, "Tears on My Keyboard" is purely fictional. I don't know of any Tennessee man who fell in love with a woman in Texas.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Spam, framing, and two-sided appeals

Today, I received a spam e-mail offering me a "Rolex watch [which] will look 98% real." Normally, the credibility of spam is, of course, highly questionable, but even if the statement were to be taken at face value, it could be rephrased to state that the watch would actually look "2% fake."

Framing, or mathematically equivalent ways of stating the same fact, represents an interesting issue in psychology. Research has convincingly demonstrated that consumers will tend to evaluate ground beef which is "80% lean" more favorably than when it is labeled as "20% fat." I suppose there is something to be said for optimism, and two percent fake may be better than a glass being half empty.

Why would someone admit to the reality that, realistically speaking, the watch would probably look about two percent fake? Another stream of research in psychology and persuasion has demonstrated the effectiveness of the so-called "two-sided appeal." Here, one would admit something mildly negative about one's case--e.g., that your grocery store charges slightly higher prices than those charged by competing retailers--while emphasizing something positive--e..g., that your store offers a better selection and superior service. The theory--supported by a great deal of research--is that the admission of something negative will make one's claim more credible. Listerine(R) has been running a series of ads admitting that the taste of its product is "a little intense" but that "you can handle it" for a period of thirty seconds while that "germs can't." Two-sided appeals are, however, a somewhat delicate strategy. Under some circumstances--which are typically not readily predictable--the appeals will actually backfire; i.e., the subject will cue onto the negative part without being significantly affected by the positive argument. Would it be a good strategy for some of the spammers offering pharmaceuticals over the Internet to claim that they feature Viagra(R) which is "98% free from harmful contaminants?"

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Back to school for persons on the autism spectrum

The editors of the newsletter for my local chapter of the Autism Society of America asked me for any advice on preparing children on the spectrum for the back-to-school experience. Here are some ideas:

To me, the biggest sources of discomfort were surprises and sudden changes in routines. Therefore, I suggest:

1.If the new school year involves getting up earlier than has been the case over the summer, it may be helpful phase this in gradually well before the start of school. It may also be useful to phase in the rhythm of meal times that will be in place during the school year.

2. If the child will be wearing different clothes to school than he or she did during vacation, it may be helpful to phase this in ahead of time.

3. If siblings are going back to school, too, it may be helpful to prepare for changes that will happen in the family routine.

4. To me, it was difficult to transition from vacation to full time school. If homework is involved, it may be useful to get the assignments in advance and work on this material before the start of school so that there will be less, and hopefully no, homework during the first week. If possible, it may help the transition if the child can leave early during the first week.

5. If a new school, or a new room at the old school, is involved, it may be important to see this before the start of the term. This room should be examined for possible sensory violations (e.g., creaking doors, lights that may be flickering, fans that may be running in the background, echo, or unusual odors).

6. If information about the child's schedule for the coming year is available, it may be better to know this before the start of the year rather than on the first day.

7. If there is a new teacher, this will of course be a considerable adjustment. Obviously, it would be helpful to meet this teacher with just the child and family before school starts. To get a sense of expectations, it would be useful to know this teacher's rules as explicitly as possible before school starts.

8. When I went to elementary school in Denmark, the same students stayed together in a class from year to year, but my understanding is that in the U.S., children are put into different groups each year. If a child is in a large class, learning new names and faces can be difficult. If photos are available, those may be helpful. If not, perhaps the teacher, parent, or aide might teach the child the name of one new student each day.

9. If new subjects start this year, advance notice of what this class involves is essential, and it is important to look for problems. For example, in my music class, I could not understand the words that the other students were singing. New classes may also involve possible sensory violations.

10. Saying that "Everything will be OK" may sound comforting to the person saying it, but those of us on the spectrum are likely either to be very disappointed or very skeptical of this claim. This kind of "reckless and irresponsible optimism" only served to reduce my ability to trust the person saying it!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Tears on my keyboard

No, I am not personnally crying at the moment, but the Autism Society of America will hold its annual conference in Nashville, TN, this year, and as part of that event, I have been given the opportunity to write a country music song and have it put to music. So, I am writing a beautiful song about a man who lives in Tennessee and "meets" a woman who lives in Texas online. For many years, it has been a "secret" dream of mine to become a country star (see, but unfortunately, I seem to lack any talent when it comes to singing. At least I can write the songs!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Seemingly Wasteful Universe

As a person with broad interests, astronomy fascinates me. Yet, I can't help thinking just how wasteful the universe seems to me. I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I am not advocating doing away with distant starts, galaxies, and other objects if doing so would in any way compromise the earth. As a matter of fact, it is probably a good thing that all this material exists. There is just a lingering element of greed within me that wishes that more of the materials out there would be available for use on earth.

There is probably no way around earth being a small part of our solar system. It is clear that we need to sun to survive--both for the energy it radiates and for its gravitational attraction. As I understand it, the moon stabilizes the earth, so that is probably a worthwhile expenditure, too. Life on Jupiter is believed to protect earth by intercepting incoming certain incoming comets and other destructive rocks. Of all the sun's satellites, Jupiter makes up the largest share, and it is probably a good idea to have Saturn as a backup. I have a special fondness for Pluto, but that planet and Mercury aren't great excesses. Perhaps there is some use for Venus, too. I am less sure about Uranus and Neptune. Neptune reportedly serves a purpose in setting the orbit of Pluto, but it is a rather large asset to devote to this purpose.

The greatest "waste" is probably clearly outside our solar system. And, of course, there is the possibility that other material out there provides valuable support for life elsewhere.