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So here's the ChangingMinds Blog, from site author, David Straker. This is my more personal ramblings, though mostly about changing minds in some shape or form. Please do add your comments via the archive or the right-hand column below.  -- Dave


Sunday 27-July-14

In search of the perfect phone

I've been looking for a great phone for a number of years, and watching how I look tells much about how my mind gets changed.

A long time ago I bought a Nokia with one of the first touch screens. It had a camera. It played MP3. It was pretty neat. I could drop it and put it back together again and it would still work fine. In fact it's still working, though the old Nokia Symbian operating system means there are no new apps, and those I have are, well, limited. I replaced it recently, but more about that later.

Phones these days are of course more than phones. They are multi-functional tablets too. Tablets have been something of a revolution and have replaced PCs for many, though not for me. As a writer and photographer, I need big screens and a proper keyboard where I can write quickly. Nevertheless, I had an iPad early, and it's still working just fine, though now seems a big heavy when holding for more a few minutes. I got tendon problems in my hand about it, so I got a Google Nexus 7 2013. Much quicker, higher resolution and a better camera. Accessible file system and easy to connect with PC. But it died, taking with it some writing I was doing.

So recently I decided to get an all-in-one device. After much chewing (notice how I was persuaded here), I got a Nokia 1520 phablet. Largely because it has a fabulous 20Mpx camera and a good GPS navigation system built in. Also because my old Nokia worked so well. And because I thought Microsoft, being further behind, would build a good operating system be trying hard and ensuring there are good apps out there. And there are some, though with appalling omissions (no proper Dropbox, for example). There are also vastly annoying missing features (no 'select all') and design flaws (many apps have the 'save' right next to the 'back' button, which closes the app without saving your work or asking you about it). Bafflingly, even the much-vaunted 'Microsoft Office' on the phone has a version of MSWord with hardly any features at all. And as a writer, that's very frustrating.

I've been looking to have my mind changed, to be as happy with a new phone as I was with my old Nokia. But sadly not. I was drawn in by glossy features and glowing reviews. Now I'm stuck for a few years. If I could, I'd put Android on the phone, which suited me far better than the dumbed-down interface that Microsoft seems to think the world needs.


Sunday 20-Jul-14

The Conformance-Consulting Dilemma

There are a number of people and even whole business departments who face a daily dilemma, based in an often unrealized role conflict situation. HR, Quality, Finance, IT and others all fall into this trap, and as a result find they face an uphill path when getting people in the rest of the company to change.

Let's look at it from the viewpoint of an average manager, Jo Soper. Jo has a very busy job to do in creating real value for the company that leads directly to profits. This helps make her feel important and good about herself. Then HR come along and tell her that she's got to fill in various forms to help recruitment, employee surveys, performance management and so on. In other words, they eat into Jo's 'real' job. So Jo looks at HR as something of a nuisance. But Jo is a loyal employee and goes along with this, perhaps grumbling to her colleagues about the waste of time. Then HR next come along, brightly telling Jo that they can help her be a better manager with employee development planning and so on. They even want to be her 'trusted advisor' on employee matters. You might forgive Jo for being rather suspicious about all this. After all, HR are the people who make her do all that form-filling (and nag or threaten her until she does).

The problem is because HR is trying to be both police and friend, regulator and helper. On one hand they say 'Do this' and on the other say 'Let me help'. Jo is left confused. Are HR the bad people who make her do stuff or are they friends who help? Who is in charge? Are HR friend or foe?

Jo may also be a bit crafty. She knows that HR like helping, and that in this mode, they are playing the consultant and she is the client, and that the boot is now on the other foot. So when HR put on the conformance hat, telling her how she must follow company policy, Jo talks back as if they are wearing the consultant hat, and that their demands are actually offers. She has now retained control and can, if she likes, refuse or delay her responses. And Jo is not the only one. The result is that HR are left baffled by lots of managers who seem to be in covert or even open revolt, and even the slightest change seems not to work.

An answer for HR, and any other department who want to both dictate and help, is to pick one role and not try to do both. If you want both, then you must organizationally separate them. HR, then, for example, could be the regulators, defining and policing employee policy. They may be seen as the bad guys, but at least they are keeping everyone on the straight and narrow way. The company could then set up a separate Personnel Development department, whose job is about helping people in their people-based work. The PD person comes along and effectively says 'Yes, I know HR are making you do this stuff. I can help lessen the pain.'

Parents, teachers, police officers and others also face the same dilemma. On the one hand they need to tell, and on the other to sell. A parent may have strict rules about how their child behaves, but then they also want to hug them and coax them onto the right path. Sometimes parents handle the dilemma by splitting the roles, with one as the 'strict parent' and the other as 'nice one'.

When you cannot be both boss and friend, you have to choose where you stand. Effective teachers handle this by being mostly the person in charge. Even when they are helping out, there is no question of the pupil turning around and dictating terms. If this happens (and it does) the result is classroom anarchy. Teachers 'lose' classes by trying to be too friendly and getting too close. There is a lesson here that if you have to both control and help, then you can never let go of the reins. Even when you are being friendly, you cannot be friends. Everyone must know what is optional and what is not.

In fact whatever your roles are, it can be a good idea to look hard at them. Are you on the one hand telling people what they should do and then wanting to help them? Are you having problems in one or both of these where people are not really going along with you? Oh look. You've got the conformance-consulting dilemma.

Sunday 13-July-14

The winkler's dilemma

Imagine you are a part of a town planning team and need to get people out of their houses and into new accommodation, as the area where they are living is being redeveloped. How would you go about this? This job of getting people out of their houses has been called 'winkling' and the band Genesis wrote a particularly scathing song about this many years ago.

Perhaps you would talk up the new location and all the advantages of the new housing. Perhaps you would offer incentives to move. These are typically done. In fact a common scenario is where some people delay and refuse. A dilemma here is that the more they push back, the more desperate you get, and the the more you end up offering to get them to move. In the end, you can still end up with one or two tree-huggers and it has been known for huge developments to be built around one small house.

This dilemma has been faced in China, where an interesting reversal was used. Those who moved first were given the nicest houses and reasonable financial payments. However, the longer you took to agree to move, the less you got, until the last to leave were unceremoniously kicked out of their houses, got the worst new accommodation and received no compensation payments at all.

Yes, you may say, but we're not in China (unless you are, of course) and things are different around here. But that's not the point. Rather than dismiss the Chinese approach, we can find useful ideas there for creating change, perhaps in an organisational situation. The basic principle is to give bigger rewards to those who go first. Early people may have to cope with teething problems (which is one reason others want to leave it to later) and it seems reasonable that they get some advantage for this. The sliding scale of benefit also encourages later people to get on the bus as they look around them and conclude that even late is better than later. Whenever you get on the bus, you will always be competing with the people around you as even the person just in front of you gets more benefits. And as with any laggards, you will probably need a coercive sweep to get the last few on board, but by then they will have little options and less support for dragging their heels.

Sunday 6-July-14

The weirdly level playing field of social media

One of the best ways of getting ahead in business and life is to be different. If you are the same as everyone else, then you will get lost in the crowd and your message with it. It's all about attention, of course, which is a critical early step in changing minds.

However, standing out can be a bit of a problem. Imagine yourself in a party and you want to be noticed. So you speak louder. But then other people can't be heard, so they speak louder too, maybe a bit louder than you, so you have to up your volume as well. Before long, all you can hear is noise. This is the standout problem. As everyone tries to stand out and be noticed, there is an escalation of increasing effort. This can happen more slowly, too, for example in the clothes people wear. A person at a party wears high fashion clothing to get noticed. So next time, other people go fashionable too. Before long, the level playing field effect comes into play, where everyone wears expensive fashionable clothes but nobody gets the attention they seek. All that has happened is that the status quo has become more expensive. This effect also helps to create a ratchet on the level playing field, where nobody wants to go backwards. Wearing unfashionable clothing when everyone is looking smart may get you noticed, but in the wrong way.

A related problem is that, when trying to be different, rather than being attractive, you may end up in the weird effect. There is a fine line between interestingly different clothing and just plain kooky. People like others who are similar to them. They admire others who are bold and who they'd like to emulate. But they don't like people who are really different. If a person comes to an ordinary party wearing a rabbit outfit, would you notice them? Almost certainly. But would you go and chat with them? Perhaps not.

This happens in all kinds of places, including with social media. First of all it was just a place to chat and meet friends. Then businesses, large and small, realized that it was a good place to 'fish where the fish are', advertising and engaging with their customers. Some of the early adopters had huge success with this and were widely reported in the traditional media. Now it's kind of mandatory to have a wide range of social media campaigns, and those who do not tramp the fields of Facebook and treadmills of Twitter are considered out of touch. But how successful are these activities? Some, no doubt, work well, yet many will leave marketing managers floundering. The social media playing field is becoming level as everyone and their cat jumps into the pond. Consumers are drowning in the noise and the novelty that once drew them in is becoming boring and stifling.

The game never stops as the search for attention-getting fashion and novelty marches on. Things still go viral, and it's more than just cats and babies that get attention. Fashions evolve and you have to be wide awake to stay on the leading edge. You've got to be creative, too, yet whenever you step beyond the familiar, you run into the danger of just being weird. So you've got be brave, too.

Sunday 29-June-14

Deadly language

On July 6th 2013, Asiana flight B772 from Seoul, South Korea, crashed at San Francisco as it came in to land. Coming in at a high pitch angle, it touched down short of the runway, the landing gear and tail section broke off, sending the Boeing 777 skidded along the runway. The left wing hit ground equipment, spinning the aircraft around and breaking off the engines as the plane burst into flames.

Some were lucky. Others were not. Remarkably, only 2 occupants were killed, though 10 were left in a critical condition, 38 had serious injuries, 82 had minor injuries and 175 escaped uninjured. The two killed were Chinese 16 year old girls on a school outing.

So what happened?

Amongst other errors, when they realized they were too low on the approach, they decided to do a 'go around', flying around in a circle to get more height for a better approach. The pilots pulled back on the controls to go upwards. Doing this actually reduces lift and the plane will drop unless it is accompanied by a boost to the engines. This normally happens automatically, but this time it did not, and the plane dropped to a point where the go-around could not happen and they were forced to an emergency landing with the results as described above.

A key part of the problem was poorly written documentation. Even Boeing admitted in its subsequent report that 'the complexities of the autothrottle and autopilot flight director systems that were inadequately described in Boeing’s documentation and Asiana’s pilot training, which increased the likelihood of mode error.' The autothrottle is a system that normally cuts in to keep up the speed of the aircraft and stop it dropping when the pitch angle is changed. However, there are situations when it is automatically turned off. Pilots are told about this through a statement tucked away in the 1600-page operation manual, which states:

When the pitch mode is FLCH or TOGA, or the airplane is below 400 feet above the airport on takeoff, or below 100 feet radio altitude on approach, the autothrottle will not automatically activate.

Just look at the linguistic complexity of this. It is of the form 'When X or Y or Z then Q'. This needs care in reading. It also includes a negative ('not automatically activate') which the brain does not easily activate. A better phrasing that might have saved lives and injuries would be to warn early about non-activation of the autothrottle.

For example:

Warning: The autothrottle system will NOT automatically activate in ANY of the following conditions:

  • The pitch mode is FLCH or TOGA

  • The airplane is below 400 feet above the airport on takeoff

  • The airplane  below 100 feet radio altitude on approach

When you write anything, do consider how people will read it. Consider also the impact of their misunderstanding and make appropriate effort to ensure they are alerted to factors that could lead to significant risks. In this, consider:

  • Clarity that avoids ambiguity
  • Accuracy so everything is correct
  • Simplicity for ease of understanding
  • Emphasis of critical points

Oh look. That spells 'CASE'.

Sunday 22-June-14

About thinking about thinking about...

Perhaps uniquely, the human species can not only think and know that they think, but in 'self-aware metacognition' we can look in the mirror and think about thinking and the thoughts we have. This is the critical ability that is used in much therapy, as patients are asked to consider causes of their damaging thoughts. Perhaps this endless circle of thinking about thinking about thinking also contributes to our neuroses. In a current long-running advertising campaign, a mobile phone company urges us to 'Be more dog', which in effect means not thinking so much and just getting on with things. Maybe it's not bad advice sometimes, though sometimes reflecting on what's going on upstairs can be a useful exercise.

Nicholas Shea and colleagues looked at this through the lens of Daniel Kahnemann's 'System 1 and System 2' automatic and effortful thinking (which is itself related to Petty and Caccioppo's Elaboration Likelihood Model). While the process may start in the unconscious, we may notice we are consciously thinking about our thoughts. And once we think consciously, we can then feed the reflections into other cognitive processes, such as decision-making. Conscious thought can also lead to verbalisation and consequence communications and socialization. We can discuss our thoughts with others in ways that no other creatures can achieve and so grow closer with others while also improving our thought processes.

In other words, thinking about thinking is good for us, which perhaps explains its evolutionary benefit (which is always a good question to ask). It is also very helpful in persuasion, where you can get people to think about how they are thinking and hence see how that thinking is incorrect or in appropriate. Reframing is a classic method for getting people to see things differently and shows a practical way to persuade by reflection and thinking change.

Nicholas Shea, Annika Boldt, Dan Bang, Nick Yeung, Cecilia Heyes, & Chris D. Frith (2014). Supra-personal cognitive control and metacognition Trends in Cognitive Science

Sunday 15-June-14

A rather intense night at the opera

This last week, I was in Athens, helping a friend do up his flat there. It was an interesting experience, including watching Greek negotiation, which seems to involve high-volume discussion and a lot of hand waving. It was also amazing experiencing the local driving, where road rules seemed more advisory than mandatory.

Anyway, I got the chance there to go to see Mozart's Don Giovanni in Herodes Atticus, the ancient Greek amphitheatre on the side of the Acropolis. I'm not really an opera buff but the location made it an unmissable pull. And indeed it was spectacular and something I will never forget. It also got me thinking about why people like opera.

The goal of all art is, arguably, to stimulate emotion. It's to make you feel something, whether it is anger, fear, sadness, happiness or some combination of these. When we experience emotion, we feel aroused and alive, as opposed to the dull and numbed state that we often find ourselves in. Music achieves these through complex patterning of sound frequencies, that range from the familiar to the novel. Theatrical productions tell stories of human emotion that provoke empathetic responses.

Opera combines both music and theatrical stimulation in a way that intensifies the emotional experience. Operatic stories and singing also tend to be rather exaggerated, leading to further intensification. Bright lights, spectacular costumes, complex sets, all are designed to make you feel more deeply. And putting on the show in an ancient amphitheatre added to all this. The drama even got accidentally heightened more when a woman in front of me fainted and the parametics swooped in. The show did not stop and the lady recovered, but on top of everything else I was close to emotional overload.

So will I remember it? Of course. We remember things that have strong emotions attached, which can be both a boon and a bane, depending on how positive or negative the experience was. In this case, I have intensely happy memories.

Sunday 01-Jun-14

The corrosion of fear, the corruption of greed

Fear and greed seem to be quite different emotions (if indeed greed is one). And yet so often, they are found together. A classic situation is corruption, which is often driven by greed and controlled by fear. Uday Vir Singh was an Indian forestry officer who stumbled upon and then exposed a multi-billion-dollar operation involving selling iron ore to China, involving many corrupt officials and heavyweight criminals. Singh now lives in fear of his life. Without the protection of the law, such operations work through fear and greed. If you cannot bribe a person, then you scare them so much they stay quiet. And any transgressors or whistleblowers, internal or external, are subject to extreme measures as a signal to everyone involved to stay afraid.

This is also bad for entire countries. According to the Economist, a recent poll showed that 96% of Indians said that corruption was holding back their economy and 92% thought it was getting worse. The missing element is real trust, where you have confidence that the other person is acting with integrity. In a corrupt context, nobody really trusts anyone else, other than knowing that fear of recrimination will keep most people in check, which is surely a poor way to life.

Fear and greed also appears in bubbles, such as in the stock market and in housing. When people think they can make a fast buck, they become driven by greed. Other people fear being left behind, so they buy in too. Decisions such as these, that are driven more by emotion than reason, pay little attention to the real risks involved, with the result that when the bubble bursts, many are left penniless.

Greed energises and corrupts. A person sees something that will get them something they want with relatively little effort. They focus closely on this, and in doing so focus less on the happiness of others. This single-mindedness leads to a greedy determination that steps outside common social values. Fear corrodes, sapping the will and draining the desire to fight for what is right. In doing so those who are constrained by fear feel they have betrayed themselves and others and their self-esteem spirals downward.

It is perhaps a damnation of humanity that greed and fear are so widespread. All we can do is understand what is going on beneath the surface, including in our own heads, and respond accordingly.

Sunday 25-May-14

Touching underwear, risks and money

What gets you turned on? It's different for men and women and there can be many differences within this. For many men, just seeing an attractive woman in a state of partial undress is enough. The are a relatively uncomplicated gender when it comes to sex, with an easily aroused drive to spread their seed. Men fundamentally seek just two things: health and fertility. Health can be seen in such as shiny hair and clear skin and eyes. Fertility can be seen in big breasts, wide hips and youth.

Women are more involved in childbirth and nurture, so are more selective. They broadly seek power and kindness ('protect me but don't hurt me') yet, like men, can also be turned on by relatively simple things, including healthy, attractive men, though not as quickly and easily as men.

Sex sells. While the generalized statement can be contested, the drivers above are often used in advertising, which is why you see attractive women and powerful-looking men in all kinds of adverts.

It has been shown that after looking at sexual images, men, but not women, become more impatient for financial rewards and will take more risks in doing so. Such knowledge is gold dust for people selling finance a carefully designed ad can hook in an awful lot of money.

But how about women? Can you use subtle sexual cues to get them to take more risks when making decisions? Anouk Festjens and colleagues faked a demonstration of clothing, including getting women to handle t-shirts or men's boxer shorts, then afterwards gave them a test that included options for shorter or longer-term financial reward. The women who handled the boxer shorts tended to go for the shorter-term benefits, which in selling you usually want. In further tests, women who handled boxer shorts were willing to pay more for products (men only had to look at a bra to get them to pay more).

Does this mean women are more tactile? Perhaps. It certainly has relevance for those who use sexual imagery to sell to women. Perhaps one way of improving things would be to get the women in the adverts to engage in sexually arousing touching, for example showing a woman doing washing handling her partner's underwear.

Anouk Festjens, Sabrina Bruyneel, and Siegfried Dewitte (2013). What a feeling! Touching sexually laden stimuli makes women seek rewards. Journal of Consumer Psychology

Sunday 18-May-14

Brand collision

In the UK news this week is the proposed merger of two big companies, each with a history of daft naming that I suspect has affected sales. Yet both companies have still been successful and I am left wondering about the real reasons for the merger, beneath the predictable PR hype.

Dixon's were the big tech retailer on the high street. If you needed a TV or computer, you went to Dixon's. Then along came the internet and internet prices. Dixon's wanted to compete in this market but didn't want to have shop and internet prices conflicting. So in a crazy move (that I blogged about at the time), they changed the name of the retail store while using the Dixon's name online (while, oddly, retaining the name their airport stores). Worse, they called the stores 'Curry's, which was the name of a white goods retailer they owned, with a little '.digital' postfix. Confused customers? You bet.

Carphone Warehouse got into the mobile/cell phone business really early. You guessed it: when there were those clunky big things in cars. And then when things went properly mobile, rather than biting the bullet and re-branding, they dragged the clunking name with them. The original smart name then became something of a millstone. More confused customers.

So when I heard these two behemoths were merging, I groaned. The market groaned too as both their share prices fell at the news.

I've worked in M&A and there's no such thing as a merger. There's always a 'leading partner', and I suspect it will be Dixon's, who are more dominant in their sector as they have little real high street competition, although they have already failed with a phone retail chain (in a rising market, how??). On the other hand, Carphone Warehouse is the newer company and may have more youthful drive. Sometimes even acquired companies do a reverse on their purchaser. Both companies have relied on strong marketing, and no doubt this will continue, though merging the two marketing departments will likely be horribly messy and political as people fight for power or just to keep their jobs.

Unless somebody wakes up, I'd predict another high street train wreck in a couple of years, perhaps starting with more naming weirdness. I just wonder how big companies survive without that most important of abilities: a deep understanding of human psychology.

Sunday 11-May-14

The power of other people

When we are trying to persuade, it is easy to think that it is all about the methods we use and the messages we send. But while this is important, it is far from the whole story. There are always at least two people in a communication. You and the person (or perhaps many people) you want to persuade. And what you say is not as important in persuading them as how it makes them think and feel. This makes an understanding of general psychology as well as the specific make up of your target demographic important.

There is also a third group of people who can have a huge effect.

Whether you write, sell or just want to influence a decision, one of the most powerful ways you can do this is to get other people to praise you or your products. Just look at the effect that reviews on Amazon and other sites have. Effectively what happens is that people who have gone before you are offering you their sage advice based on real experience. They presumably have no particular motivation to persuade you and so you are likely to accept their advice.

Third parties are also helpful for providing information about things that could help you even before you know you need it. Blogs and websites act in this way, telling you about other sites and otherwise giving you useful information.

References are the lifeblood (or at least a shot in the arm) for many of us, from sales people to web writers. So I was rather pleased to get referenced in a posting on no less than Fast Company magazine. It was also rather nice that I was told about it by my hotshot consultant daughter, who was impressed that her dad was getting such good press. The author was one Kevan Lee who writes for the estimable Buffer blog. So thanks, Kevan!



For more, see the ChangingMinds Blog! Archive or the Blogs by subject. To comment on any blog, click on the blog either in the archive or in the column to the right.


Best wishes,



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27-Jul-14: In search of the perfect phone

20-Jul-14: The Conformance-Consulting Dilemma

13-Jul-14: The winkler's dilemma

06-Jul-14: The weirdly level playing field of social media


29-Jun-14: Deadly language

22-Jun-14: About thinking about thinking about...

15-Jun-14: A rather intense night at the opera

01-Jun-14: The corrosion of fear, the corruption of greed


25-May-14: Touching underwear, risks and money

18-May-14: Brand collision

11-May-14: The power of other people

04-May-14: Managing boundaries and drawing the line


27-Apr-14: Discount vouchers and free draws

20-Apr-14: Negative online reviews: the surprising effects


16-Mar-14: Thinking about death

14-Mar-14: The Value of Time

02-Mar-14: Mindfulness and sunk costs


23-Feb-14: Inspirational Messages and Rants

16-Feb-14: Lesson Plans that Work

09-Feb-14: Pretend to sleep: it's good for you!

02-Feb-14: Inertialessness


26-Jan-14: Beautiful Adverts

19-Jan-14: Signal to Noise

12-Jan-14: How to make a video go viral

05-Jan-14: Passion and antipassion


22-Dec-13: The Flight of Time

15-Dec-13: What is 'easy'?

08-Dec-13: All day breakfast

01-Dec-13: Christmas Adverts


24-Nov-13: Apology and trust

17-Nov-13: How about that, then

10-Nov-13: Culture, Courage and Whistleblowers

03-Nov-13: Smile and Survive


27-Sep-13: The Garden of Words

20-Sep-13: Weird old tips

13-Sep-13: The Business Dinner


29-Sep-13: Line breaks and holding attention

22-Sep-13: How to remember 60,000 words

15-Sep-13: Email spam and subject titles

08-Sep-13: Remember your grandparents!

01-Sep-13: A Tale of Two Doctors


25-Aug-13: How to handle men in three easy steps

18-Aug-13: I'm glad I'm not a woman

11-Aug-13: Be more dog

04-Aug-13: How the Mighty Fall: The Three Ages of the Great Company


28-Jul-13: The formation of value words

21-Jul-13: How to demotivate children (and teachers)

14-Jul-13: Why science and religion are the same

07-Jul-13: Sell food to hungry people


30-Jun-13: Principles of Persuasive Design

23-Jun-13: Boosting minority performance

16-Jun-13: What's in a name? It depends how you make it

09-Jun-13: Gripping fun

02-Jun-13: To hell with it


26-May-13: The smell of anxiety

19-May-13: Happiness, Busy-ness and Laziness

12-May-13: The simple complexity of avoidant instructions

05-May-13: Asking for the Truth


21-Apr-13: Blue Lights Behind

14-Apr-13: What is winning?

07-Apr-13: The three Ls of a good marriage


31-Mar-13: Extremism and Anger

24-Mar-13: The Cult of the Average

17-Mar-13: Being Welsh

10-Mar-13: The Purpose of Art

03-Mar-13: Selling to job-hunters


24-Feb-13: The flattering mirror

17-Feb-13: Does money make you happy?

10-Feb-13: Deconstructing 'Keep Calm and Carry On'

03-Feb-13: More Good Service


27-Jan-13: Hey, your computer booted up 102% quicker!

20-Jan-13: Air fresheners and adaptation

13-Jan-13: Famous for fifteen minutes

06-Jan-13: Doggy game theory

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