Sunday, November 30, 2014

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Some things are younger than you think. It really surprised me to learn that the snowmobile has only been around since 1960. I guess kids today would be surprised that the ATV was only brought to market in the 80s. I remember when the first ones came out -  they only had three wheels and would roll over on top of you if you weren't careful.

Which brings me to peanut butter and jelly. Jelly has probably been around for centuries, and peanut butter was patented in 1884. But it took many decades before the two were put together with commercial white bread into that most American of sandwiches.

When I was about six years old, I was babysat by a lady whose kids were about ten years older than me. I know they would have been little in the early 1960s, because she once told me she was potty training her middle son when Kennedy was assassinated.  She also once told me that she hadn't learned about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until after her kids had already been born. She said that when she was little, she ate peanut butter sandwiches but never with jelly. The first time someone suggested she add jelly, she thought it didn't sound very appetizing.

So when was peanut butter and jelly invented? I ran a Google Ngram on the phrase "peanut butter and jelly" and here are the results. For those who don't know, Ngram counts the frequency of a word or phrase in all the books Google has scanned, which is a huge sample of books. For instance, if you run Ngram on Atari, there is basically nothing until the late 1970s, when it explodes. (There's an interesting little bump around 1890 which probably has to do with the word atari originally being something you say while playing Go.)

Going by the Ngram results, peanut butter and jelly was invented some time between 1920 and 1940, but didn't go mainstream until the early 1960s, which would be right around the time my old babysitter learned about it. So it took 80 years from the time peanut butter was invented until the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was well known. It makes you wonder what two currently available foods will suddenly be discovered to go well together 80 years from now.

An unrelated story is that when this babysitter wasn't able to come and watch me, she would send her friend who was an older lady from Ireland. Once I went over the handlebars on my bike and hit my head, and this Irish lady rubbed butter on the bump. Go figure.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

It's Official: We Are Saps

I'm reading You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier. A friend once said my blog was too heady. Well, compared to Lanier's work, my blog is about as heady as the instruction manual to a garage door opener. The part I understood best was his criticism of the "hive mind" concept; that is, the idea that averaging the opinions of a large number of people is a good way to ascertain the truth.

One thing that bothers me about the hive mind is that it's so easily manipulated and so vulnerable to the human desire to fit in. Haven't large groups of people converged on beliefs that turned out to be false and destructive, not a few times but over and over? 

A few years ago I read about how the personality cult developed around Kim Il-Sung. I had thought these things happened only because a person became so powerful he was able to compel everyone else to fawn over him. But at least in the case of Kim Il-Sung, it had just as much to do with the psychology of the people surrounding him. At some point it became clear that he had acquired a great deal of authority. The way everyone else reacted was to try to appropriate a little bit of that authority by sucking up to him. This sort of snowballed until you had formerly intelligent human beings going around saying Kim Il-Sung invented the airplane. It became sort of a contest to see who would abase himself more completely.  

The hive mind can enable a cult. The hive mind theory says that if millions of North Koreans insist that Kim Jong-Il got 11 holes-in-one on his first round of golf, then it's likely to be true. It's just stupidity magnified.

Advertisers and entertainers know more about human psychology than any psychologist. They know we are all susceptible to groupthink. Appeals to conformity have always been a part of advertising, but lately they've become more obvious and naked than ever. One red flag is the use of the "we" to mean "you, me and everyone". I found these in a couple minutes on Huffington Post and the like.

We Are the Most Unequal Society in the Developed World... And We Don't Know It

Dakota Fanning, We Know You Can Do Better Than This

These May Be Some Of The Tackiest Advent Calendars We've Seen

Then there's the phrase "It's Official" to try to put an objective gloss on something that is obviously a matter of opinion.

It's Official: The Best and Worst New Shows of the Season Revealed 

It’s Official—iOS 8 Is Apple’s Buggiest Release to Date

It's official: The religious right is calling it quits

It’s Official: Religion Doesn’t Make You More Moral

It’s official: Marijuana has gone mainstream

It's official? My, I wouldn't want to hold a non-official opinion. Here's one more for you, courtesy of your blogger: It's Official: The Internet is Full of Crap.