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Ben Franklin Says: Shut Up!

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I’ve spent a good part of the last three days in the amazing new Cascade Park Public Library (Vancouver, WA). It’s big, bright, and cheerful, with super-comfortable furniture, fireplace, rocking chairs, great wifi, and plenty of outlets. I love this place—except for one thing: the noise.

To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve spent any kind of time in a library. But something’s changed. It seems people no longer know how to behave in one.

They talk on their phones, debating dinner menus. Kids run around the stacks, screaming. Then the parents yell at the kids. Then the kids cry and whine for ten minutes. Seems they think they’re in Barnes and Noble.

But it’s not just the kids and young parents. Yesterday, a gray-bearded gentleman had Bill Monroe blaring out of his laptop speaker. I could hear it sixty feet away. Even a library employee shelving books was dropping them on the metal cart, the resulting thuds reverberating like gunshots.

See, my brain is media-fried by the constant multitasking, which, as we’re learning, is not multitasking at all, but rather rapid-fire task-switching—which doesn’t work nearly as well as we like to think it does. I can’t concentrate anymore!

Recent studies are showing us that people like me, who think we’re the best at multitasking and dealing with distractions, are actually the worst at it. And all the multitasking screws up the brain’s ability to focus. But I didn’t need a study to tell me that. Just a deadline on an editing assignment, and a seat in the Cascade Park Library. See here for a good summary from The San Diego Union on multitasking in a wired society, and its effect on the brain.

My future? Cloudy, I fear…

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CloudCroud, part two . . .

So a week or so ago, I started playing around on CloudCrowd. Now I have a problem.

I think I’m addicted. Working on these silly little micro-tasks is fun. The fact that it pays (peanuts) is secondary. The designers of the system are evil geniuses. They’ve built features into the app that stimulate the brain’s dopamine reward system, which we now know plays a big role in addictions of all kinds.

Working CC feels lot like gambling or playing a game online. Each worker is given a credibility score ranging between 1 and 100. Every task you complete is verified by other workers, who get paid a small amount to look your work over and either approve or reject it. As tasks are approved, you get paid and your credibility score goes up. If a task is rejected, you don’t get paid and your score goes down. (There is an appeal process if you don’t agree with a decision.)

This business with the credibility score part of what makes CC fun, more like a game than work. Another way in which the CC app promotes addiction is that the list of available tasks is constantly changing. I find myself compulsively checking the task list throughout the day, the way a lot of us check our Facebook, Twitter, or email acounts.

Another way the site hooks workers is by allowing them to take a look at any task, and even start it, but skip or abandon it at any time with no penalty. You may download a document to edit, for example, maybe even work on it for ten minutes, then just decide that the doc sucks beyond repair and is a waste of time. Or maybe you just want to see what’s lurking in the system today. No problem. Just skip the job you’ve got, and they’ll throw that fish back in the pool and give you a different one . . . which may turn out to be better, or even worse! Just like a game. The uncertainty keeps workers interested and staying up way past their bedtimes to complete these sometimes maddening, sometimes mindless little tasks for tiny monetary rewards (for me, about $60 so far.)

The site is still in beta, and they’re working out some serious issues with the review system and credibility ratings, but it’s a fascinating concept.

“Welcome to Firefox 3.6.3. Choose your persona.”

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“Rollover reveals six hideous graphic backgrounds which render browser links, menus, and buttons unreadable. Link advises me to “See all 30,000+.” Keeping up a rapid clip at five seconds apiece, not including bathroom breaks, it will take me 41.67 hours to see all 30,000 . . . Not to mention the “+”. Putting this one on the back burner for now.”

I posted the above to my Facebook account about a month ago. A check with Firefox reveals we’re now up to over 60,000 of these persona-thingies. They’re still mostly hideous, and they still make things harder to read. The number of these things are growing faster than the spill. Are we really that desperate for yet another prepackaged way to express our “individuality”?

Hmm. I was all gearing up to complain. Then I realized: Personas don’t kill birds.

I’ll shut up for now.

The Forecast? Cloudy.

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A few days ago I had some writing to do, so as usual I was piddling around on the ‘net instead. That’s how I found CloudCrowd. Here’s the scoop.

CloudCrowd is a Facebook application which serves as a crowdsourcing environment for getting work done. It’s a similar principle to Amazon Mechanical Turk, but the site is more elegant, easier to use, and it pays a bit better.

The CC staff break up large client projects into thousands of micro-tasks which can be completed in anywhere from a few seconds for, say, validating a website against a couple of simple criteria, up to fifteen or twenty minutes for web research, editing, or writing tasks. From the Facebook app, CC’s workers (there are thousands signed up) can view and select from the available tasks, access instructions, and submit their work.

Payment ranges anywhere from a penny apiece for the simplest tasks, to several dollars for those requiring more skill, and  rates may vary a bit from day to day based upon the workload. Payment is made daily—and dependably—through Paypal.

Certain tasks require workers to pass a short credential test before being allowed to do the work. For example, the credential test for editing involves turning a few paragraphs of bizarre English from an Asian company’s website into good, standard English. The rewrite must be free of spelling or grammatical mistakes and sound like standard business English, although they aren’t obsessive about punctuation.

Now, don’t be thinking you’re going to make a living on this. Like mTurk, you might do pretty well if you’re a native English speaker living in a third-world country where things are cheap. But at $1.68 for copyediting a page, you won’t be retiring on this. That being said, my history page shows they’ve paid me $44.48 over the past few days. And it’s fun.

New Media? Old Brain.

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Yes, new technology is cool. But to me, it just doesn’t matter much. My favorite use of new technology? I use it to keep myself firmly stuck in the past.

I’m what they call a “late adopter” of technology; I don’t yet have an iPad, iPhone, or iAnything. But five years from now, when somebody finally gives me their old one, I’ll definitely use it to watch this cheesy old TV commercial from 1955. It’s paradoxical, this use of technolgy to help me live better in the past.

For years I had a persistent nagging in my brain. There was this cartoon I remembered vaguely from early childhood. About this incompetent inventor Clyde Crashcup, and his assistant, Leonardo. They were funny! What I couldn’t recall was which cartoon show it was on. Definitely not a Looney Tunes. Rocky and Bullwinkle? Clutch Cargo? No. I must have asked fifty different people about this, over a span of twenty years. No one could recall.

Solved! YouTube has Clyde Crashcup cartoons! And from Wikipedia I learned that these cartoons were part of The Alvin Show (remember the Chipmunks?). Now I can cross that one off the list—once I watch all the cartoons, of course.

Now, if I could only figure out whatever happened to TEAM Flakes, the best damned cereal ever.

The new name for–huh?

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Don’t be fooled by your teevee. Finish is notthe new name for Electrasol.” What are they trying to pull?

Long Live Electrasol! It was cheaper!

Way back in the dark ages (in suburban geological time it was after pink and turquoise, but before harvest gold and avocado) my mother got her first dishwasher. The detergent shelf in the A&P held three distinct brands: Cascade, Electrasol, and . . . Finish. So despite the claims,  Finish is not a new name for anything, and especially not for Electrasol. Finish is an old name. Finish is the old name for Finish!

Finish is Finish, and Electrasol is Electrasol, but it looks like what’s done is done. If Electrasol is finished, I’ll be buying Cascade next time because they haven’t tried to confuse me. Either that, or I’ll scour Ebay for a stash of “vintage” Electrasol.

Somebody say amen.

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