Uncommon Sense: the This is True Podcast show

Uncommon Sense: the This is True Podcast

Summary: Uncommon Sense is the podcast for This is True, the oldest Entertainment newsletter on the Internet, starting in early 1994 and running weekly since. TRUE features 'weird news' stories with a purpose: it's Thought-Provoking Entertainment. TRUE is news commentary using rewritten summaries of real news stories as its vehicle. The newsletter is text, but the podcast is decidedly not an audio version of the newsletter, so you may want to try a free subscription to the newsletter, too. Subscribe at https://thisistrue.com/podcast

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 041: What is Thinking? | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 14:14

In This Episode: The question is harder to answer than you …think! But really, what IS thinking? Plus, if you use the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” to judge other peoples’ thinking, you’re doing it wrong — says Dr. Dunning. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * My story on the Dunning-Kreuger Effect is here (or you can use the easier-to-remember https://thisistrue.com/dke). You can download the original 14-page journal article here (PDF, 500K). * In this episode I read some of Wikipedia’s article on what thought “is”. Transcript Welcome to Uncommon Sense, I’m Randy Cassingham. Even if you believe you already think quite well, you can use what’s in this episode to help teach others how to improve their thinking. Let’s get down to basics, because frankly I’ve seen many people aren’t quite clear on the concept …as perhaps illustrated by the stories in the newsletter every week. To me, though, the most important part of the idea is illustrated by letters I get from readers that start along the lines of, “I’m not a big thinker because I’m not all that intelligent.” And you know what? I hate that self-depreciation, because if that’s what you believe, you’re setting yourself up for failure: you’re setting a belief that you don’t have the capacity to improve — and if you believe that, you’re wrong. Unfortunately I get that from both men and women, but more often women, and it’s my opinion that this message is a societal bug: it’s misinformation, such as the concept that women aren’t good at math and science. So let’s make this clear: you don’t need some sort of abnormally high I.Q. to think, or to improve your ability to think. For instance, my wife and I have a niece who is severely developmentally disabled, and she and her family visited us last week. We’ve seen that her ability to think has significantly improved over the years, and if she can do it, trust me: you can too. Also, we’ve all seen highly intelligent people who do not think very well, at least some of the time. In fact I’m very sure that some of the people I write about in This is True who do really dumb things are absolutely not stupid, but in fact could probably qualify for Mensa, if they’re not already actual members! Yet many people think that if someone is smart, they ought to be able to do anything! They ought to be able to know what to do next, no matter how complex the problem. Just because someone has a high I.Q. doesn’t mean they know everything or can do everything. I’m very good at words; I’m not great at numbers. My math ability is spotty: I’m very good at estimating numbers, but have a such a terrible time getting exact answers I don’t even try to balance my checkbook. I therefore made what I think is a smart decision: that I’d hire someone else to do my bookkeeping since there are people who are as good with numbers as I am with words. They can not only do that sort of work faster than I can, and more accurately, they actually enjoy it! It’s simply a different kind of intelligence. As I’ve said repeatedly in This is True, and in blog posts,

 040: Undaunted | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 12:35

In This Episode: Can anything be done to stem the decline in bookstores from Amazon’s relentless domination? Yes: Uncommon Sense is already reversing the trend, and in a surprising way. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * See the chart recording the decline of U.S. bookstores since 2004. * There’s a photo of James Daunt in the transcript. Transcript The number of bookstores in the United States has fallen dramatically in recent years. In 2004, there were 38,539 brick and mortar stores, both independent and chain stores. Every year since then there have been fewer; in 2018 the number was down to 22,586, more than a 40 percent drop. Frankly, I was surprised the decrease wasn’t more. But Uncommon Sense may reverse the trend, and in a surprising way. Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham. When such statistics about the U.S. book market are quoted, most point fingers at Amazon, and not without reason. Amazon originally started as an online bookstore, going online in July 1994 — just a few weeks after This is True. By early 2014, they sold 41 percent of all new books. In 2014, there were 26,238 bookstores in the U.S., but one of them made more than 40 percent of the sales. It’s still growing: today it’s 50 percent. That’s staggering. Unlike most bookstores, Amazon has systems in place that allow them to take an order for a book, print it instantly, and ship it overnight, just like they had it in stock. That’s an incredible advantage. In the face of that, Barnes and Noble, the biggest bookstore chain in the U.S., has been struggling, its sales declining year over year, and their stock price following suit, losing $5 billion in value over the past five years. In 1997 they had over a thousand stores; only 627 Barnes and Noble stores are still open. A report I saw last year noted that their sales had dropped in 20 of the previous 23 quarters, and they were losing more than $5 million per month. Their share had dropped to just 8 percent of U.S. book sales. The situation was much the same in England. Waterstones, Britain’s largest bookstore chain, was seeing a massive slump in sales. But wait: this podcast is called Uncommon Sense! Where is it in this case? In 2011, Waterstones hired a guy named James Daunt to turn things around. Within just four years, he took them from facing bankruptcy (if things kept sliding) back to profitability, even as Amazon was ramping up book sales in the U.K.: Amazon now sells 40 percent of the books sold in Britain. But Waterstones? Not 8 percent like Barnes and Noble in the U.S., but 25 percent of all books sold in Britain. How did Daunt fight back against the Amazon juggernaut? He paid attention to the details in the pursuit of one overriding goal: serving the customers — the people who buy books! For a tiny example, the chain had hired a showroom designer to help Waterstones’ 289 stores show their merchandise better. The designer specified that for ideal visibility, the bookshelves that show the front of the books should be tilted back by four degrees. But Daunt had also studied the issue, and disagreed: he said they should tilt back by three degrees.

 039: Failure is Not Optional | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 13:19

In This Episode: Humans don’t like to fail. Sure, sometimes failure has catastrophic results, so surgeons work hard to ensure their operations are successful. But when we don’t allow ourselves, or our children, or our employees to fail, they can’t reach their full potential. Here’s why you should actually embrace failure. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * I only barely touched on the ideas in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I’ve read it, and there’s a lot more to delve into — highly recommended if you found her ideas at all interesting, or want more tools to help you push toward a growth mindset. Transcript Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham. It’s not just OK to fail, it’s actually a requirement to reach the greatest success. If you never fail, you’re clearly not pushing yourself hard enough. There’s a big difference between failing and giving up. One of the first business books I ever read was about sales. The guy who wrote it was a very successful salesman, and in the business he was in, only one in 50 calls he made to potential clients resulted in a sale. Some salesmen would be depressed at so much rejection. This guy, and I’m sorry that decades later I can’t remember who he was or what he sold, he didn’t get angry or depressed at being turned down so much. Rather, it energized him: if he was only going to sell something one time out of 50, he said, the faster he got through the 49 non-sales, the sooner he would get to the one who would buy! Then he’d celebrate that win, that commission, and start over on the next 50. He was no fool: as I said, he was a very successful salesman — so much so, he wrote a book about his methods. And no doubt it sold well! I didn’t want to go into sales myself, but I have the same attitude about This is True: only a small percentage of people who subscribe to the free edition of the newsletter will upgrade to the paid edition, yet I’ve always said that if someone can’t afford to upgrade, they’re welcome to stay on the free distribution for as long as they’d like. Because at some point, things may be better for them: they might get a job, come into an inheritance, or whatever, and upgrade then. Or they may have a friend that they suddenly realize would really like the newsletter, and recommend it to them because they see it every week and it’s fresh in their mind. New readers subscribe pretty much every day. Some percentage of them will upgrade, and those Premium subscribers make my job possible. I’m really happy to say it’s more than one out of 50! But even if they never do anything that supports This is True, at least those free edition readers are prompted to think more, and to make the world around them a better place. And for me, that’s a win. Getting back to the bigger picture, humans need to fail because that’s how they learn. Do everything you can to keep your child from failing is stealing from their future. Worse, they develop a fear of failure, and don’t push themselves because …they might fail! And then, when failure does happen, and it will, it really hurts: they retreat even more, push even less, and don’t get to see what their limits are. Which is really sad: they could have been a great writer,...

 038: The Giant Leap for Mankind | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 14:26

In This Episode: I’m recording this episode the evening of July 20th: the 50th anniversary of the first humans landing on the moon. If you think it maybe took Uncommon Sense to get there, you’re right: it took an extraordinary amount, and this episode talks about some of the details that you may not have heard about before. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * NASA budget information (historical through 2017) is here. The military budget info is from here and here. * The several photos noted are interspersed in the transcript. * Errata Note: I said at the time of Kennedy’s go-to-the-moon challenge, humanity had less than 2 hours of experience in space. It’s actually barely over 2 hours. (The most important number in this context remains the same: the U.S. was publicly making this challenge to itself after it had a single manned space flight that lasted a mere 15 minutes! Transcript Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham. When President John F. Kennedy announced the goal, “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” there certainly wasn’t a universal feeling of that being a great goal, even from Americans. The war in Vietnam was raging, and so were civil rights protests. And NASA wasn’t even sure it could be done. When Kennedy gave that proposal as a speech to Congress on May 25, 1961, humankind — and I mean the Russians and Americans combined — had a total experience of less than two hours of human flight in space: 108 minutes by the USSR’s Yuri Gagarin, and a mere 15 minutes by American Alan Shepard, who had flown just 20 days prior to that speech. Russia was certainly not going to give us any lessons learned from their efforts: the whole thing was known as a “space race” — and landing humans on the moon was the biggest possible goal available at the time …and Russia was in the lead. Flying to the moon and back wasn’t an order of magnitude more complex than Freedom 7’s suborbital flight: it was multiple orders of magnitude more complex, especially with JFK’s added difficulty factor: we have to return those guys to Earth “safely”! So how did we do it? First, NASA was given enough money to do it. You often hear about the huge cost of the Apollo program, but NASA’s budget peaked out at just 4.4 percent of the federal budget, in 1966. By comparison, today NASA’s budget is less than one-half of one percent of the federal budget. By the way, in 2015 — the most recent figures I could find — our military spending was just shy of 16 percent of the entire budget, and is more than the next seven countries combined. Still, that meant NASA was able to hire lots of engineers: they could hire Uncommon Sense, and the project was interesting enough that those engineers were willing to take government salaries. But what was it they had to invent? It wasn’t just rockets, even though that technology was complex enough all by itself. They knew they’d need computers,

 037: You Were Never Created to Fit In | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 12:26

In This Episode: Uncommon Sense can be found in very unusual places. In this story, a janitor at one of the plants at a multinational corporation had the cojones to call the CEO with an idea. And the CEO was smart enough to listen. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * An interesting tidbit in the “cola wars”: you likely know that Coca-Cola “won” the “war” by getting and maintaining a bigger market share than Pepsi. On the other hand, consumption of soda pop is way down. With its 1965 acquisition of Frito-Lay, PepsiCo is much stronger in the snack food category, and the real story is in the final numbers: in 2018, The Coca-Cola Company reported a net income of $6.43 billion on $31.85 billion in sales. But Pepsi: $12.51 billion net on $64.66 billion in sales. * The Variety article I mentioned. Transcript Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham. Richard Montañez grew up in Guasti, California, in the 1960s in a Mexican immigrant family. You may never have heard of Guasti: it’s an unincorporated town about 40 miles east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County that used to be known as South Cucamonga, in an agricultural region where one of the biggest crops was grapes. In the 1960s, the “family business” (if you will) was to pick those grapes. Like many Mexican farm laborers, the Montañez family made very little money for their hard work: the entire family with 11 children lived in a one-room apartment at the labor camp. The bathroom down the hall was shared with a number of other families. But Richard could go to school! Always a way to get ahead, right? He remembers his school bus was green, not the standard yellow like other school buses: just another way to separate the children, he says now. But there was another problem: in the 1960s, schools were starting to integrate, but that doesn’t mean they offered anything extra. They made a take-what’s-offered proposition, and they offered classes taught in English. Don’t know English? Too bad: you have to learn on your own — no help from the school. And certainly his parents couldn’t help: they only spoke Spanish. But he started school, even though he couldn’t understand the teachers. At lunch, he thought the white children were staring at him: the other kids had sandwiches, and he had a burrito. When he got home, he asked his mother to make him a bologna sandwich for lunch the next day, because he “didn’t want to be different.” No, she said: “This is who you are.” The next day she made him two burritos so that he could give the second one away to help make a friend. And this is where the first glimmer of Uncommon Sense kicked in: that second burrito was so coveted that within a few days, he was taking lots of extra burritos to school …and selling them for 25 cents each! He was 7 years old. “I learned at that moment that there was something special about being different,” Montañez said, “that there was a reason that we all just couldn’t fit into the same box.” Yet, one day the teacher asked the students to say what they wanted to be when they grew up. As the other children named things like teacher, astronaut, and doctor,

 036: The Stakes are High | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 6:30

In This Episode: In This is True, I rail about obliviocy, using real people and their stories as examples. Uncommon Sense talks about the opposite: the cure for obliviocy …using real people and their stories as examples. The two sides are actually at war, so let’s define our terms — and think about what the stakes are. It really is worth 6-1/2 minutes to talk about it. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * I’m speaking at the Mensa Annual Gathering (aka national convention) at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, July 5: How I Learned to Think — by Observing the Biggest Obliviots Around. * Kit is also speaking, at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, July 7: Why Would Anyone Walk the Camino de Santiago, Anyway?! Transcript Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham. I’m giving a talk to a large group next month, so I’ve been spending a lot of my time thinking about and writing that talk. Once finished with the writing, I read it to my wife: that’s how I make sure the result is smooth and understandable: it gives Kit an opportunity to say, “Wait a minute, you skipped over how you got from here to there” or whatever. Since I can type faster than I talk, I actually adjust things while reading the text aloud, and it’s generally nicely fine-tuned by the time we’re done. It’s a fun process that I do with This is True stories, too. The bottom line is, she liked it, and she went to bed while I finished up. When I got in bed she was already asleep, but that’s OK: I like to read awhile before I go to sleep — I think of that reading time as feeding my brain so it can think better. But I had to put the book down because something popped into my head: in my talk, shouldn’t I specifically identify “the enemy” to thinking? Because the people coming to hear the talk aren’t necessarily This is True readers — and come to think of it, Uncommon Sense listeners aren’t necessarily either! And if “thinking” is the way to win the war, what, specifically, is the fight about? Well, I didn’t want to wake Kit up to talk about it, or go back to my office and write it up, so I picked up my phone and sent an email to myself: the whole concept had popped into my head all at once, so clearly my subconscious had been working on this all along. I swiped it all out on the phone’s keyboard, hit send, and went to sleep. When I got to the office in the morning, there it was in my inbox, so I opened up the speech document, slipped the new part into place, and told Kit that when she had a moment, I wanted to read her the new addition. As I was reading it, I saw I had her complete attention. Before I could even finish, she had exclaimed “YES!” a couple of times. It summarizes the problem so succinctly that I thought I’d read you that section from my talk: it briefly lays out what “the stakes” are — why we need more thinking in the world, and what happens if we don’t fight for it. Here it is: Let’s make something clear: obliviocy is the enemy, and it has declared war on intelligence, learning, science, and common sense. We didn’t want this war,

 035: To Boldly Go | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 11:25

In This Episode: To Boldly Go? No, this isn’t about Star Trek, but rather something even better: real life. This is the story of a 9-year-old with Uncommon Sense who was inspired to reach for the stars — and years later inspired a bunch of other kids growing up behind him. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * Hadfield’s quotes are from his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth — What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything. * My blog post about Hadfield’s video and book is Ground Control to Major Tom. Transcript Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham. What were you doing when you were 9 years old? I’d like to tell you about a guy who changed his life when he was 9. At the time, I was 10, and we saw the same thing happen. We were both inspired by what we saw, even if we took different paths. And by the way, his path was much more impossible than mine. When Chris was 9, he and his family were at their island summer cottage. They didn’t have a TV set, so when there was something very special coming on, the neighbors invited them in. Chris remembers it with crystal clarity. He said it wasn’t just his family and the neighbors: a lot of folks on this island getaway were there, jamming the living room to watch history being made on TV. Chris said he and his brother, Dave, were together as they watched a grainy low-resolution black and white image of a man climbing down a ladder, and then stepping foot on the moon. It was July 20th, 1969. Despite that low quality image, Chris said much more recently, “I knew exactly what we were seeing: the impossible, made possible.” When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went back into their lunar module after their “impossible” moon walk, Chris and his brother walked back to their own cottage. “I looked up at the moon,” Chris said. “It was no longer a distant, unknowable orb but a place where people walked, talked, worked, and even slept. At that moment, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to follow in the footsteps so boldly imprinted just moments before. … I knew, with absolute clarity, that I wanted to be an astronaut.” Yeah, well, so did you, probably, if you remember that day. What kid didn’t? But Chris had a barrier to his dream: he was Canadian, and Canada didn’t have a space program. They didn’t have astronauts, and there was no path for a Canadian to become an astronaut. So, Chris said, he “knew, as did every kid in Canada, that it was impossible. Astronauts were American. NASA only accepted applications from U.S. citizens.” On the other hand what did “impossible” mean anymore: he had just witnessed the impossible live on TV. “Neil Armstrong hadn’t let that stop him,” he reasoned. “Maybe someday it would be possible for me to go,” he said, “and if that day ever came, I wanted to be ready.” And that’s what set Chris apart from most of the other kids who watched the moon walk that night. There was no path for him to become an astronaut, so, he said, “I had to imagine what an astronaut might do if he were 9 years old, then do the exact same thing. I could get started immediately.

 034: I Have a Scenario For You | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 12:00

In This Episode A reader tells how she was inspired to change her life. And that leads to a powerful thinking tool: running scenarios can save your life. I’ll show you how, and tell the story of how they probably saved my life. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * The earlier episode I mentioned: 027: Think… or React? * The story of the deer that jumped in front of me on an ambulance call: The Risks of Emergency Responses. * The other story I mentioned about someone hitting a bear. * Menu of all EMS Stories in this blog. Transcript Welcome to Uncommon Sense, I’m Randy Cassingham. This is a requested re-issue of a first-season episode that was spurred by a letter from a reader. Kellie in Pennsylvania wrote, “I want to thank you for being such an inspiration with your stories about being a medic. Every time I read a blog post about your experiences, it stirred something inside of me. I became a certified EMT last week.” She closed with a smiley face, and now I have a smiley face. But that was a pretty brief note from Kellie, and I wanted to know more. I asked her if she was volunteering on the side or what. She replied, “I’m actually hoping to make it a full-time career. The school I went to provides the program in partnership with the local EMS. After doing a few field shifts with them as a student, I realized that I really wanted to be part of their team. So I busted ass in school, graduated top of my class, and after interviewing with one of the people present when I won my award for the best grade, I have a tentative full-time offer from them. “I’m just waiting on the state to put in my credentials for my certification to drive the ambulance, and they are moving at the speed of government. And then I can hopefully get an official offer. I’m being super cautious because I don’t actually have that official offer in hand yet, but I’m so excited and happy because I’ve dreamed of being in EMS for years ever since I started reading This is True and following you, and I’ve worked so hard to make this happen. I actually took a huge leap of faith and quit my full-time job so I could focus 100% on school, even though it was all night classes, and my wonderful husband has worked super hard to make that possible. I can’t wait to start.” She later confirmed she got the job. When my wife, Kit, and I got certified, we had to keep our full-time jobs: This is True readers needed their newsletters! And I needed to pay my mortgage. Because I had been certified as an Advanced Life Support medic before, and worked in the field full-time for about six years, it was pretty easy for me to re-certify at a lower level, even though there had been a 20-year hiatus. Still, things change in medicine in 20 years, so I did have to read the book. I had to learn what was new and what the local protocols were. Still, both of us wanted to be part of serving the community in a way that we could. It isn’t something you just go to a weekend class and then get t...

 033: Taking Control of Your Attention | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 11:51

In This Episode: “Your attention please!” Isn’t that what everyone seems to want online? They call you “eyeballs”. Meanwhile, “they” say our attention span is getting shorter and shorter. But I don’t think that’s true for people with Uncommon Sense. Here’s a way to ignore the din and instead find the things that you are actually interested in online. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * Here’s more about Marcus Aurelius, Stoicism, and Virtue Ethics. * I mentioned my ADD. If you haven’t heard that episode, it’s 013: How ADD Made TRUE Possible Transcript Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham. What is it pretty much every website wants — besides some way to make money, I mean. They want “eyeballs,” otherwise known as visitors. But, yeah, then what they really want is for those visitors to click an ad …which takes them away from their site, but hey: at least they made a few pennies from your visit. And to get more and more eyeballs, they resort to all sorts of tricks to get you in there. There’s a Top 10 list of manipulations they use, and you won’t believe #4! As an aside: the This is True web site currently doesn’t have ads, because it’s reader-supported. That’s what the Contribution button is for in the sidebar. Eyeballs. There is a web site that’s taken this concept to a high art. Who gets the most eyeballs these days? Already have your answer? Here’s mine: Facebook. And what is the essence of Facebook? Its “news feed.” The key word in that concept isn’t “news”: for the most part, it’s not. It’s whatever your friends decide to post, and when you look at those posts objectively, what percentage of their ramblings add value to your life? Worse, the cost of seeing that stream is: ads. Lots and lots of ads. That’s what has made Facebook worth, and this is after lots of bad publicity over their wanton privacy violations, they’re still worth more than a half trillion dollars. That’s the market capitalization value of their stock. Why? Because they’ve figured out how to not only get eyeballs, but get them to come back again and again, and stay for a long time — so they can click, or at the very least see, more ads. So if the key word isn’t “news,” then it pretty much has to be “feed.” Your feed is just that: it’s feeding stuff to you based on an algorithm that is tuned to addict you. To what? More feed, and thus more ads. It’s downright Pavlovian: you post something, and you get a “Like” or even a “Love”! Or something funny gets a “HaHa”. And the natural reaction is, “What else can I post to get Likes or other reactions?!” And sadly, so many posts these days want a different reaction: “Angry.” Is all the rancor there sapping your soul yet? Facebook is a media company that doesn’t even have to create the content. You do, and your “friends” do, to “feed” to each other what they think will garner reactions to feed their addiction. And, of course, Facebook is populating that content with massive numbers of ads. And that feed is what gets the bulk of your attentio...

 032: “Give Me a Shot at It. I’m an Engineer” | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 10:20

In This Episode: The story of a man who wasn’t satisfied with mere success. He took Uncommon Sense to a new level in order to help others, yet refused to get rich from it. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * The photos mentioned are included in the transcript below. * Kaplan’s National Inventors Hall of Fame induction. Transcript I’d like to tell you the story of a man who wasn’t satisfied with mere success. He took Uncommon Sense to a new level in order to help others. Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham. Sheldon Kaplan got his degree in mechanical engineering from Northwestern University in 1962 and, like many engineers during that era, got a job with NASA. Hired by the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland to design hardware for satellites, he moved to a contractor company in 1965, where he still worked on NASA projects. One of his first tasks was to design an emergency medical kit for the Apollo program. The company had other government contracts too: he also designed something called the PneumoPak, a pressure dressing for high-altitude reconnaissance pilots. Starting to see the pattern here? Medical technology: Kaplan liked to be a part of saving lives by coming up with solutions that helped solve problems. The company had another device that just wasn’t working out. It was called the AtroPen, designed to administer drugs in the field. To keep it rugged, the drug to be dispensed was held in a stainless steel capsule: that meant only drugs that could be kept stable in steel could be used, and there were other mechanical issues. Kaplan set upon completely redesigning the device from scratch — and figuring out how to use glass to hold the drugs: glass is the gold standard in injectable drug storage, which also enabled users to see the drug to ensure the right amount was there, or to see if it was discolored or cloudy. Why was the device needed? In the 1950s, a new chemical weapon was starting to be developed: organophosphate nerve agents. There are a couple of antidotes for it, but obviously they must be administered pretty quickly to save the victim. That meant, for instance, that soldiers needed to carry the antidotes with them, and be able to inject themselves quickly should the antidote be needed, rather than wait for a medic to arrive to help. So the entire package had to be self-contained, stable over time, stay sterile until use, be relatively fool-proof, and be injectable through clothing. That’s a tall order, especially in battlefield conditions. But when Kaplan was done, he met all of the objectives. It was called the ComboPen, because there were two auto-injectors, one for each of the drugs. The U.S. military called the package the Mark I NAAK, or Nerve Agent Antidote Kit, which is pictured on the Show Page. It works against nerve agents like Sarin and VX. Survival Technology received a patent on the device in mid-1977, with Kaplan shown as the lead inventor. The diagram of the thing is a study in complexity: I have that on the Show Page too. But once that process was done and the contract satisfied, Kaplan had already realized there was another application for the auto-injector he invented: one that could have much wider application and save the lives of a...

 031: Boosting Creativity the Easy Way | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 16:31

In This Episode: There’s a proven way to boost your creativity, open-mindedness, thoughtfulness, and more. The best part: it’s also fun, interesting, and can even be done while working, or on vacation. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * Details on Americans’ travel habits: Percentage Of Americans Who Never Traveled Beyond The State Where They Were Born? A Surprise. * More about Prof. Adam Galinsky’s findings: For a More Creative Brain, Travel. * Wikipedia on The Troubles in Ireland. * See below for a couple of photos of Belfast’s “peace walls”. Transcript My wife and I just returned (a few hours before recording this!) from a trip we called “ScIreland” — a tour to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. This will definitely not be a travelogue, but rather an exploration of the reasons why we travel: how travel, especially to foreign countries, makes humans smarter, happier, more creative, and thoughtful. Just the sort of things that This is True is about in the first place. Welcome to Uncommon Sense, I’m Randy Cassingham. I have a love-hate relationship with travel. I love doing it, even though I hate the disruption to my schedule. I do travel a fair amount of travel around the U.S. for business, such as conferences, speaking engagements, and consulting gigs, but now that technology is making it easier and easier to get my work done even in foreign countries, I’m hoping to do more foreign travel, at least as funds allow. A recent survey found that 11 percent of Americans have never been outside the state where they were born; 40 percent have never left the United States. On the bright side, 85 percent say they like to experience new things, about 60 percent have a list of places they’d like to see, and 76 percent would like to travel more. Certainly finances figure into that, but other reasons for not traveling include “feeling unprepared and ill-equipped to venture forth into unknown territory.” If that describes you, think about finding someone who is comfortable with it and see if you can go on their next trip. More on that in a few minutes. I’m not traveling just for fun: there are proven benefits to travelers that last far beyond the length of their trips. What got my attention recently was that business improves when the leaders of that business make time for foreign travel. And if you’re like me, about now you’re thinking, “Prove it.” Let’s get started. A study published by the Academy of Management Journal led by Prof. Adam Galinsky of the Columbia Business School found that when a company’s “influential executives” personally engage in foreign travel, as opposed to sending underlings to do the firm’s business, there’s a direct correlation to the company’s “creative innovations,” which the study team defined as the extent to which their resulting products or services are novel and useful from the standpoint of their customers. To study this,

 030: I Learned There Are No Boxes | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 19:39

In This Episode: An unthinking This is True reader was shown Uncommon Sense — and adopted the practice for himself. A profoundly moving episode that shows how even terrible humans can change. John’s story is one of the most powerful ever told by a reader. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * The blog post John was commenting on is Orlando: What YOU Can Do. You can also jump directly to his comment. * Another post that at least one reader says “changed them” refers to this blog post. * If you usually read the transcript, I’ll suggest this is one to listen to instead. Transcript An unthinking This is True reader was shown Uncommon Sense — and adopted the practice for himself. This is a profoundly moving episode that shows how even terrible humans can change. John’s story is one of the most powerful ever told by a reader. Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham. Last week’s episode reminded me that another of the first season episodes that listeners demanded I rescue somehow when I took them offline was this one about a This is True reader, John in Arkansas. I’m re-recording it in the new format and, in fact, it was this particular episode that made me stop the first series and refocus this podcast’s approach. After the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, I wrote a blog post that argued anyone could “do something” about mass killings. I’m not going to read that essay since that’s not the point; if you want to see it, you can find a link on the Show Page. No, what I want to highlight is a comment made there: John’s comment. It shows Uncommon Sense in a startling way, and I’ll be going through it in depth. You surely remember that shooting: it was the deadliest violent attack against LGBT people in U.S. history, and the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. It was perpetrated by a Muslim man who swore allegiance to the terrorist group ISIL. A former co-worker of the shooter, at the security firm he worked at, said the shooter “had talked about killing people,” used slurs and “had a lot of hatred for people. Black people, women, he did not like Jews, he did not like Hispanics, nor did he like gay or lesbian people.” And in that so-called “gay nightclub” he killed 49 people, plus himself, and wounded 53 others. Here’s what John wrote: I know a bit about hate. For some years I was the most homophobic, anti-gay, asshole you could know. In that period of time, I was very much hurting. As you already know, and those here who have seen my previous posts might remember, I was a survivor of molestation in my youth. It led me to a dark dark place. That’s the context for John’s comments — there’s more, which I’ll get to in a minute. What John was reacting to was from my essay, where I said anyone can “do something” about the type of hate that drove this shooter to kill and hurt so many truly good people. That something, I said, was “We all have to say stop — out loud. When you hear or see racism, you need to take a stand: (saying) ‘I see that as racist, and I don’t like it.’ If they don’t stop,

 029: 32 Glasses of Water Go Down the Black Hole | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 17:00

In This Episode: I love watching others and recognizing signs of Uncommon Sense. I’m going to tell you about another friend of mine (who has no idea I’m going to talk about this), since it’s a great example of taking something you see with a grain of salt, and calling B.S. when it’s necessary. And then, I take on the universe. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * The original McDonald’s Job Application by Greg Bulmash. * The several memes (and the video) mentioned are included in place in the transcript below. * And Please Do share this episode with a smart friend if you find it lives up to the promise of “Thought-Provoking Entertainment”. Transcript I love watching others and recognizing signs of Uncommon Sense. I’m going to tell you about another friend of mine (who has no idea I’m going to talk about this), since it’s a great example of taking something you see with a grain of salt, and calling B.S. when it’s necessary. And then, I take on the universe. I’m Randy Cassingham, welcome to Uncommon Sense. I have a long-time friend who was also a pioneer in online content, and even though he has had a day job for some time now, you may even know his name. He was the author of a very early online viral humor piece, and if you’ve been online for awhile you’ve likely either seen it, or one of the hundreds of adaptations made over the years — usually leaving his name on it. But yes, he’s a real person. The piece is the McDonald’s Job Application, and I’ll link to the original on the Show Page. Greg Bulmash wrote it in April 1997 so yes, pioneering online content indeed. While he was updating his resume, Greg got the idea to write up a job application with typical dumb questions on it, and provided atypical dumb answers. He included his real name at the top, and posted it online. It has echoed through the Intertubes since. For example you’ll find: “Desired Position: Reclining. Ha ha. But seriously, whatever’s available. If I was in a position to be picky, I wouldn’t be applying here in the first place.” Or, “Desired Salary: $185,000 a year plus stock options and a Michael Ovitz style severance package. If that’s not possible, make an offer and we can haggle.” And, “Last Position Held: Target for middle-management hostility.” Boy, a lot of people could identify with that! It was great stuff, resonated beautifully, and it made the name Greg Bulmash “Internet famous” as people forwarded it around … and around, and around, for many, many years. You get the idea why he’s an old friend of mine; I’ll include his photo on the Show Page too. Last week Greg reposted a meme: one of those “amazing facts” sorts of things on a medical theme. I’ll include it on the Show Page too, and it’s clear it’s been around: it’s been copied so many times that it’s digitally distorted. It is, as I mentioned in the intro, a great example of Uncommon Sense, but I didn’t ask him if I could talk about it, or even ask if I could use his name, since, well, he made it world-readable! And after all, he’s used to being Internet Famous anyway, so this will be a little surprise for him. It shows a tiny illustration of a 12-ounce Coke can on the left, overwhelmed by what’s on the right: 32 tall glasses of water that are even...

 028: Reading TRUE to Kids | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 12:21

In This Episode: Not having children myself, this is a topic I find fascinating, so I asked the experts: readers who do have children! The question: should you consider reading This is True to your kids? Lots of parents do — or let the kids read it themselves. Here’s why. Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * For those new to the concept (which probably means listeners who aren’t readers), the concept of Zero Tolerance is introduced here, and there is a ridiculously long section of ZT stories in this blog. Transcript Not having children myself, this is a topic I find fascinating, so I asked the experts: readers who do have children! The question: should you consider reading This is True to your kids? Lots of parents do — or let the kids read it themselves. Here’s why. Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham One of the topics I promised we’d cover in the podcast is reading This is True stories to kids, and we did that early on. But when I took the first season offline, this is one of the episodes readers said I needed to reissue, so here it is in a tighter exploration that more closely follows the new podcast format. I believe This is True stories are really instructive for kids. I found out — just by talking about this in the newsletter — that there are a lot of readers who get This is True that either read the stories to their kids, or let their children read the issues themselves and ask questions, or even lead discussions. I asked for parents to send me stories about it, and got too many to feature, but here are a few. Let’s dive right in. Elizabeth in Detroit writes, “I’ve been reading all of the Zero Tolerance stories to our 10-year-old for a couple of years. I want to highlight the fact that, too often, educators seem incapable of rational behavior and decisions. This unfortunate tendency is also illuminated by our recent readings of the Free Range Kids blog. It’s one of the reasons she attends a small, private, parent-cooperative, multi-age-classroom school where we say that we teach children how to think, not what to think. You might say that being anti-ZT is one of our family values. And sometimes the dumb criminal stories, if they’re age appropriate and if they end in death, sometimes if it’s not too graphic and is a good illustration of a Darwin Award-type example. You know, they’re funny enough that Scholastic publishes tamer ones for school kids. Naturally, I skip stories that detail more sordid circumstances. We’ve gradually been increasing our daughter’s exposure to and awareness of the world, but since we don’t watch network television, except for some sports, where we pointedly discuss commercials that aren’t always family-friendly, we can monitor her Internet news consumption. For the moment, we’ll stick with teenagers behaving badly resulting in unintended pregnancies, rather than soldiers behaving badly or creepy Austrian dad pedophile kidnappers or whatever. Thanks for being a voice of reason.” I looked and didn’t find any Austrian dad pedophile kidnaper stories, so I assume Elizabeth was speaking figuratively, or stories that weren’t in This is True. After all, being aware of these stories by reading TRUE gives you an eye for them i...

 027: Think… or React? | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 9:40

In This Episode: One of the This is True mantras is ‘Think first, react later …if at all.’ But what does that really mean, and how can we learn something from an example of doing it ‘wrong’? Tweet Jump to Transcript How to Subscribe and List of All Episodes Show Notes * No links for this one, but a comment: the reason I was watching traffic so closely when I was walking downtown is because a couple of years ago, I would see multiple news articles about pedestrians in crosswalks being run down in Denver — and then the driver took off. Sometimes I’d see 2-3 in a week! I finally was able to talk to a Denver cop and ask why. His answer: because the penalty for felony hit-and-run were lighter than for drunk driving resulting in death, so they just took their chances. Yikes! Transcript I just got back from a road trip, and seeing someone in a sort-of road rage incident made me roll my eyes — and consider how it could have been different had that driver taken just a few seconds to think, rather than react. Welcome to Uncommon Sense. I’m Randy Cassingham Spending several days in downtown Denver brought some good food, good friends, and bad drivers. Not all of them, of course. In fact, most were fine drivers — I was watching — but it’s the bad ones that stand out, right? As I was waiting to cross a street, I saw the light for the traffic go yellow, and a driver decided to stop a little sharply. She might have made it into the intersection before it went red, but stopped instead. But she wasn’t the bad driver: the guy behind her was. He not only thought the first car could have gotten through, he thought he could have blown through too! If he had, he definitely would have gone through a red light. But that isn’t where it ended. As he screeched to a halt pretty much right in front of me, I heard him yelling, “Oh come ON!” — he was mad at the first car for stopping; I could hear him clearly because his window was down. And then for good measure he flipped off the driver who stopped. And then the piece de resistance: a little more quietly, he said, “god damned women!” — and that told me a lot. “You are the problem here,” I said to the guy, “not her.” I purposefully made eye contact and, once that was accomplished, I turned away as I got to the far side of the crosswalk. I couldn’t see him flip me off, but I did hear him curse me. I didn’t react at all, I just kept walking, and his light went green and he took off. The other thing I noticed is that his car had several dents, apparently from hitting things. This wasn’t the sort of guy who learns quickly. Long-time This is True fans will label this situation correctly: the guy didn’t think, he reacted. But what does that really mean? What lessons can we take away from this brief interaction that happens pretty much every hour, in pretty much every city, pretty much every day? Or to put it another way, what would a thinking person in his position have done instead? Let’s analyze the situation a little bit, which does means making a few assumptions that are likely correct, even if I can’t prove it. I mean, he could be a full-time jerk who blows through stale yellows all the time, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume he was simply late. And he was blaming the more-cautious woman in front of him for making him even la...


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