What’s Alcohol Good For? Staying Married.

Winding down towards year end and catching up on the “Study of Studies” section from Atlantic Magazine. It’s a column each issue where they summarize recent academic research on a particular topic. This summer it was about alcohol, called “The Science of Beer Goggles.” Here are some of my favorite blurbs:

  • A version of the classic “trolley problem”—would you push a man in front of a train, killing him in order to save five track workers?—they found that the drunker people got, the more likely they were to say they’d push the man.
  • In one study, researchers offered people 20 euros and gave them a chance to donate some or all of the money to Doctors Without Borders.  Compared with sober subjects, those who’d downed an alcoholic peach drink were significantly less likely to donate.
  • Our appreciation for others also increases after a drink or two. Participants in one study who imbibed a fruity vodka drink found minimally to moderately attractive faces significantly more beautiful than did those who’d consumed an alcohol-free drink. This might be because  we’re less able to distinguish symmetrical faces from asymmetrical ones when we’ve been drinking, and symmetry is known to be an important component of attractiveness.
  • One forthcoming study found that  unhappy couples got along better and were more able to solve conflicts after a few vodka-cranberry drinks.

“Life Isn’t Fair, So Why Do We Behave As If It Is?”

Raising a kid in the Bay Area you hear a lot about “socioemotional development,” which focuses on helping a child understand and convey their emotions. In my household right now this means a lot of discussion about “fairness,” usually motivated by my daughter perceiving that she, or someone else, is getting the short end of the stick.

The Atlantic, which every issue does these great thematic round-ups of academic research, recently published “Life Isn’t Fair.” Here are two of my favorite blurbs from the post:

  • People who frequently patronize a business believe they are more likely than other customers to win a given prize drawing by that business—a phenomenon the researchers called the “lucky loyalty” effect
  • Researchers found that when people felt powerless, they were more likely to say that race, class, and gender disparities were justified [hw note: oh hello Election 2016!]

2016’s Best Startup Podcast Was….

While allowing that the next 16 days might produce a podcast which blows my mind, I’m ready to pick my favorite startup podcast of the year. “What’s Love Got To Do With It” brought three longtime friends together – Jerry Colonna, Fred Wilson and Brad Feld. What’s great about the interplay between the trio is they’ve all worked together in different contexts over a 20+ year period, so there’s no bullshit.  Also, while feeling they are very familiar with one another, they don’t hold static views of who they are. Jerry, Fred and Brad know they have evolved as individuals over their time together and will continue growing and changing.

The discussion itself revolves around being a supportive investor and venture partnership, especially guiding principles and board dynamics. You really should listen to the hour but here are some choice quotes:

“When you are in a group dynamic and you approach things selfishly, it is very hard to be effective.” – Fred Wilson

“There are a lot of investors who walk into the room, take their seat as an investor, and they are scared shitless.” – Jerry Colonna

“If you are going to lose the money that’s fine, but don’t fuck up the company in the process.” – Fred Wilson

“Brutal honesty delivered kindly.” – Brad Feld

…and one exchange I especially loved ->


Thanks Jerry, Brad and Fred for giving back to the tech community and being so generous with me and Satya ongoing.



Twitter Shouldn’t Ban Trump, But It Could Show Him Baby Pictures Before He Tweets

The Twitter President. Farhad Manjoo writes that while Twitter has the right to ban Trump, they shouldn’t, or at least not based on his content to date. Currently I agree with Farhad – Trump uses the platform irresponsibly  and without full care of the implications of what he says, but he doesn’t cross the “ban” line. [Related: Twitter has an opportunity to generally rethink what’s acceptable on their platform, and if they do, Trump’s tweets qualify for great scrutiny.]

But Twitter DOES have the chance to impact Trump in another way: perhaps it could help him understand the implications of his actions, or at least force him to make his way through some friction before he tweets. This isn’t Trump specific – in general, perhaps there are ways to influence the behavior of highly flagged accounts pre-banning. Maybe it looks like “kindness training.”

The challenge: how would you design an online training or in-app experience which encourages people to be nicer and reshapes their view of what’s appropriate? Would you prime them by showing pictures of cute babies in-between tweets? Would you give them a 10 screen training of how words can impact others negatively which they need to complete every day? Would you have an interstitial which asks “Would you say this in person to someone? If not, don’t tweet it?” A countdown timer that makes someone pause for 30 seconds by locking them out of the compose tweet screen during the midst of a tweetwar?

I can’t yet support exorcising @realdonaldtrump from the platform, but I do wonder if thinking about how to influence his behavior could give Twitter another vector in how they deal with abuse generally. Besides, I do enjoy the idea of his stubby little fingers having to swipe through a baby picture slideshow at 3am before launching a Twitter rant.

“Why You Bought That Ugly Sweater” & How Stores Trick You Into Spending

I’ve always been fascinated by the science of sales, especially in a retail setting. “Why We Buy” by Paco Underhill is one of my favorite quick reads on the subject. You’ll never look at a store the same way again!

The Atlantic did a round-up of research into how retailers try to part us from our money. Here are some of my favorite findings:

  • “we perceive prices to be lower when they have fewer syllables and end with a 9”
  • “one recent study found that, compared with friendly salespeople, rude clerks caused customers with low self-confidence to spend more and, in the short term, to feel more positively toward an ‘aspirational brand'”
  • “when a customer who feels badly about her appearance tries something on and spots an attractive fellow shopper wearing the same item, she is less likely to buy it”
  • “One paper now under peer review shows that cooler temperatures indoors lead to a more emotional style of decision making, while warmth contributes to a more analytical approach”
  • “One study found that popular music leads to impulsive decisions, while lesser-known background music leads to focused shoppers”

“Why We’re Terrible At Reading Faces – Yet Quick To Judge Them”

“And yet, as bad as we are at reading expressions, we jump to all kinds of conclusions based on people’s faces.”

Paul Ekman did truly ground-breaking work into microexpressions, the nearly imperceptible changes in our faces that register pleasure, disgust and so on. Love this collection of academic studies via The Atlantic, summarizing some telling research into how we react to faces, expressions and related visual cues. Some of the most thought-provoking:

  • “People were ready to decide whether an unfamiliar face should be trusted after looking at it for just 200 milliseconds.”
  • “Another study reported that jurors needed less evidence to convict a person with an untrustworthy face”
  • “In another, when people watched silent videos of the same person experiencing pain and faking pain, they couldn’t tell which was which. A computer was correct 85 percent of the time”



Update to “My So-Called Virtual Life: The Assistants Which Power Hunter Walk”

A year ago I wrote about the virtual assistant products that had found their way into my life. Since the category was VERY hyped up in 2015, and seemed to cool a bit this year (from an adoption/investment perspective), here’s how my usage trends have changed over the 365 days.

Fancy Hands: STILL my go-to task-based assistant. I don’t use FH for meeting scheduling but instead rely upon them for a variety of requests. Recent ones include:

  • Submitting information to my insurance company around policy changes
  • Arranging car service when I’m traveling (and Uber isn’t the best solution for some reason)
  • A list of SF Holiday ballet and dance performances appropriate for kids to attend
  • Martial arts classes in SF that fathers and daughters can attend together
  • List of private chefs who specialize in preparing meals for recovering cancer patients (for a friend)

Facebook Messenger’s M: Held steady but narrowed. M isn’t currently suited for complex tasks where research or judgment impacts quality. M also won’t touch anything it deems medical related, so no scheduling doctor appointments or even checking if a prescription is ready for pickup from the pharmacy. That said, I use M to schedule hair cuts, restaurant reservations and similar requests where a call and information submission or retrieval is needed. I often queue these up pre-normal business hours and then M will address once these businesses are open.

Wonder: I use Wonder for b2b’ish research but they’re really good for any type of research question where you could imagine a subject expert needing 15-30 minutes to pull you together an answer. Quality can really vary but they’ll redo a project if you find the results insufficient. Use this URL to get yourself $15 off a task: https://askwonder.com/r/hunterwalk

GetService: Solves customer service issues for you. I don’t have these often but when I do, I turn to Service first. They just resolved a disputed hotel charge for me from my minibar with very little effort on my part. Still a free service.

What am I missing? Are there awesome virtual assistant services you use?