Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986.

So You Want to Be a Star?

So You Want to Be a Star?

Headed off to the Trojan war, Odysseus asked a trusted friend to stay behind in Ithaca and watch over the upbringing of his son, Telemachus. Odysseus chose the best person he knew to prepare his heir to handle family responsibilities while he was away. It was a good...

I Yam What I Yam

I Yam What I Yam

Are you tired of hackneyed phrases? Threadbare moth-eaten sayings that have been used so tediously for so long that they've lost whatever meaning they might have had? Me, too. Recently I heard someone say “it is what it is" for the third time in a single day. If you...

Service with a Smile

Service with a Smile

When I was a rookie bartender working my way through college, I found a grizzled veteran who agreed to teach me how a master craftsman does it. One day I asked him the name of the guy seated down at the end of the bar. “Amigo," he said. “No, no, what’s his name?” I...

Chain of Custody

Chain of Custody

Evidence is defined as the available body of information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or untrue. Chain of custody is a legal term for the rigorous procedure that is to be followed and documented when evidence is collected, held, transferred,...

5 things you do in elevators

5 things you do in elevators

Undergraduate grade point averages are the first thing doctoral programs look at and my application would have been automatically binned if they had Artificial Intelligence scanners in those days, but it was 1977 and they didn’t. The Indiana University Sociology...

Dreck the Halls

Dreck the Halls

Young Moderns have had it with the dreary old decorations of the past and think it’s time to move on. One great way to make your Christmas yard display stand out is by featuring an inflatable Hidden Valley Ranch bottle, a Taco Bell sauce packet, and a giant bag of...

You bonehead!

You bonehead!

You dimwit, nitwit, halfwit, ignoramus, dolt, imbecile, moron, nincompoop, numskull, pinhead, simpleton, birdbrain, lame-brain!For many generations, beating and humiliation were two of the tools schoolteachers used to keep order. Children who misbehaved would get...

Third Anniversary

Third Anniversary

This is the third anniversary of LetsTakeACloserLook.com. Here is where I've written and published more than 150 articles, usually on the topic of misinformation and often involving items in the news.  To those of you who have been loyal readers all along - thanks for...

How Information Is Like Gold

How Information Is Like Gold

The great California gold rush began when sawmill builders found gold in a streambed in 1848. Headlines in newspapers around the world told tall tales of gold lying on the ground just waiting to be picked up. Hundreds of thousands of gullible fortune seekers came by...

?#@*&%!

?#@*&%!

In The Guardian, Issy Sampson described rap music as society’s lurch toward infantilism. His? Her? (but certainly not Their) many examples included language that disgusts most people. The British daily published every bit of it unbowdlerized, as is their policy....

Change your life in 4 minutes.

Change your life in 4 minutes.

When it comes to planning and decision-making, too many people rely on complicated procedures and detailed statistics when there is an excellent tool that is easy to use and requires no math at all. The 2x2 matrix is a great tool for early-stage planning. It is an...

Calling Bullshit

Calling Bullshit

University of Washington professors Jevin West and Carl Bergstrom say the world is awash in bullshit and they’re tired of it. This is why they designed a class called Bullshit: Data Reasoning in a Digital World. Their aim is to teach people how to think critically...

Geronimo!

Geronimo!

Movie buffs know that army paratroopers shout Geronimo! as they jump out of airplanes. As the story goes, paratroopers do it because it’s what the famous Apache chief yelled when he bravely leaped his horse from a high cliff into the river below to evade the hot...

March 32nd

March 32nd

No one knows how April Fools’ started. One story says it began during the First Century,  when court jesters and fools told Roman emperor Constantine they could do a better job of running the empire. Amused, the emperor allowed a jester to be king for one day. Another...

The Camel’s Nose

The Camel’s Nose

The statistics vary from study to study, but most agree that more than two out of three of us have stolen something from work. For most of us, it is small things. Pens, pencils, and paper clips are pilfered all year long. There are seasonal patterns, too. In August,...

Word Association

Word Association

Say the words cracker barrel and most Americans think of the chain restaurant and gift shop. Cracker Barrel Restaurants and Country Stores were designed to evoke the friendly, homespun character of general stores from the 1800s, when the U.S. was a rural agrarian...

What Are Your Chances?

What Are Your Chances?

We have to make an effort to get the full picture, especially when marketers don’t want us to have it. Most of us have seen the NordicTrack ads on TV where Jane lost 20 pounds and we can, too. Few of us have read the fine print in the footnotes. The information there...

Not Meant to Be Taken Literally

Not Meant to Be Taken Literally

TrueCar operates a consumer-facing website that promises to help car buyers find the best price. Their TV ads feature a glasses-wearing, bearded, regular-guy pitchman oozing authenticity. He tells us that by seeing TrueCar data on what other buyers paid, we can see...

Brainstorming

Brainstorming

Novelist William Styron wrote in Darkness Visible that “depression is a true wimp of a word.” True depression, he said, swallows its victims entirely and is so overwhelming that a better word for it is brainstorm, not as it is currently used to mean some burst of...

2 Million

Newspapers everywhere have picked up the Associated Press story on predictions of 2 million people in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Who is behind that forecast? In The Curious Science of Counting a Crowd, Rob Goodier says “when turnout implies clout, politicians and...

Sorry, Charlie

  Fox News Network’s Alexandra Deabler says the canned tuna industry is in decline because younger generations want their foods trendier and less-processed. Andy Mecs, VP of Marketing for Star-Kist, takes that explanation a step further, saying “A lot of millennials...

Second Anniversary

  Last week was the second anniversary of my weekly articles. I've written more than 100 of them in succession, usually on the topic of information and misinformation and often involving items in the news. To those of you who have been loyal readers all along -...

McCadillac

  Let me see if I have this straight: Cadillac struggled to sell cars, so their solution was to leave Detroit for New York, where they struggled to sell cars, so their solution was to leave New York for Detroit. Really?  Four years ago, Cadillac hired aging...

Cool

Thomas Dorgan was an American cartoonist who died in 1929. According to his obituary in the NY Times, he introduced many slang terms into the popular culture. Among them were some that are gone and some that lasted. When you said something was the cat’s pajamas or the...

Cookies & Milk

  Our new and improved labels and boxes of "Cookies & Milk" will remind you of your favorite childhood cookie, dunked in sweet, creamy v'nilla milk! Two quick questions: Q1. Which age group is the target? Q2. What type of products are these? A1. Most of us...

Put On Your Thinking Caps

Six Thinking Hats is a system for conducting work sessions that claims to overcome the problems of factionalism, arguing, and groupthink. Different ways of thinking are represented by different colored hats. Participants are directed to "put on" these figurative hats...

McBummer

  We came upon a story in Fortune that said McDonald’s partnership with UberEats is bringing in younger customers. We looked around some more and found a CNBC article that said McDonald’s is losing customers and a Global Data report that said McDonald’s has seen...

Ford’s Aha! Moment

  In an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s John Stoll, Ford’s president of global markets says he is going to turn the advertising world on its head. Ford will laser-target us with very specific ads online, using algorithms that mine social media and online...

A.I. vs H.I.

  An article in Gizmodo says scientists have developed a way to identify people by their walk. They did this in the highly controlled environment of a lab where study subjects walked on a special pressure-sensitive floor while being filmed. An A.I. system...

TIDAL Wave

You already know music streaming is worth billions of dollars. Spotify, Apple and Pandora are big names, but did you know about TIDAL?  Owned by Jay Z, TIDAL claims that Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo was streamed by its customers 250 million times in just ten days...

The Swiss Army and Their Knife

  During the late 1880s, the Swiss Army decided to purchase a new folding pocket knife for their soldiers. It was to be suitable for use by the army for two things other knives couldn't do: opening canned field rations and disassembling the Swiss Army rifle, an...

Musical Chairs

Faced with large numbers of battlefield casualties arriving en masse, Army doctors needed to quickly determine which cases required immediate attention, which were urgent, and which could wait. This assigning of priorities and resources to one of three broad...

Which Is It?

Most businesses define customer problems as unwanted headaches, obstacles, messes, and predicaments. The exceptional ones don’t. Exceptional leaders understand problems are usually of our own making and they take the responsibility for them. They see problems as...

Order, Please

  Most Western societies read from left to right and from top to bottom. As a result, we quite naturally assume that when it comes to lists of things, the most important ones come first. This has a profound but often ignored effect on how we go about building...

Your Shower Is Leaking

  The condo board told my friend her shower was leaking into the apartments below. She was instructed to under no circumstances use the shower until it was repaired. Faced with an undiagnosed amount of serious plumbing work, she began by going to the home...

Shop ‘Til Somebody Drops

Shop ‘Til Somebody Drops

Thousands of years ago, we were all hunters of wild animals and gatherers of wild foods. Responsibilities were allocated by gender. Hunting was a male task, as men were bigger and stronger. Women's responsibilities included child-rearing, cooking, and gathering...

Tornadoes

  In the United States 1,200 tornadoes a year kill 50 people. Texas has 149 tornadoes a year, Kansas has 93, and Oklahoma has 64. So Texas is the most dangerous place, right? That's the deduction most people make, but a few of us know the importance of taking...

Nuts

Nuts

William Black opened a store in New York City in 1926 where he sold roasted nuts. As the story goes, he called it Chock Full o’ Nuts because the tiny (6 by 20 foot) store was crammed full of dozens of types of nuts. Within six years, he had more than 100 nut shops in...

Mixed Emotions

Mixed Emotions

U.S. President Ronald Reagan liked to define “mixed emotions” as the feelings a man has as he watches his mother-in-law drive over the cliff in his new Cadillac. Another example involves how driverless vehicles will be programmed to react in emergencies. One is to act...

Gatekeepers

Gatekeepers

Thousands of years ago, a gatekeeper was a roadway toll-taker or the person whose job was to prevent people from entering a restricted area without permission.  In the modern workplace, gatekeepers control access to information. Information Gatekeepers are common in...

Dear Diary

Dear Diary

Sixty-seven years ago, Nielsen issued their first television audience ratings. They claimed their sample represented an accurate cross-section of U.S. geographies, markets, homes, families, people, incomes, educations, ages, ethnicities, and more. Two ways of...

Pay Only For What You Keep

Pay Only For What You Keep

In 1926, the Book-of-the-Month Club started with only a few thousand subscribers. By 1951, it had sold 100 million books. The business model worked then, and it works now. Clothing retailers have wholeheartedly embraced the subscription model, and why not? It allows...

It’s Time To Eat

It’s Time To Eat

Grossly overweight people are the subject of many studies. In one interesting experiment, scientists manipulated the clocks so when they said 12 noon, it was really 11am. All the subjects went to the dining room, because it was time to eat. The scientists fiddled in...

Jumping On The Bandwagon

Jumping On The Bandwagon

Long before television and radio, circuses traveled from town to town by way of horse-drawn wagons that paraded right down Main Street, USA. Elephants would be first - bizarre creatures never seen before by simple country folk. Next would be a fancy wagon with a...

Powdered Eggs

Powdered Eggs

Powdered eggs really came into their own during WWII, when the Armed Forces needed to feed millions of men in the European and Pacific theaters of operation. Powdered eggs were an excellent solution to the problem of shipping foodstuffs to far flung locales. But the...

Try This Experiment at Home

Try This Experiment at Home

The next time a prescription drug ad comes on, turn the sound off and watch the scenes of happy people enjoying active lives with families, friends, and pets. The next time that ad runs, leave the sound on, close your eyes and listen. You may discover how the list of...

Amazon Swallows Whole Foods

Amazon Swallows Whole Foods

We’ve seen the stories about Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods and the many speculations for the reasons behind this decision. The big ones are customer data, distribution, logistics, and more consumer touchpoints, but there are others. Physical Contact There are...

Crazy Goats

Crazy Goats

In the 8th century BC, a Greek shepherd found his goats behaving strangely. Nearby was a chasm, with vapors coming out of the ground. When he got close, he inhaled the fumes and began to have strange visions of the future. Word got around, as you would imagine. Others...

Three Ways To Test Ads

Three Ways To Test Ads

For those companies that bother with advertising testing research (fewer than you think), there are three basic ways they go about it. The most common is the Disaster Check. Here companies do one or two quick focus groups after creating an ad. They only want to see if...

Why Did Our Plan Fail?

Why Did Our Plan Fail?

The senior executives decided the company needed a state-of-the-art customer service program. They appointed a Project Team and directed them to implement the vision. The team's first task was to write an action plan. They spent weeks putting together a detailed...

Breaking Up With QWERTY

Breaking Up With QWERTY

Folk wisdom says the QWERTY keyboard was invented in 1875 to slow typists who were overwhelming the machinery of primitive typewriters. The truth is that it was designed for the convenience of telegraph operators who needed to convert Morse Code's dots and dashes into...

Everything Old Is New Again

Everything Old Is New Again

Amazon’s cashierless grocery store is designed to allow shoppers to skip checkout lines and cash registers. The idea is that we scan our smartphones when we enter, pick up whatever we like, and walk out, with charges automatically posted to our accounts. Things worked...

Hurry, Hurry, Step Right Up!

Hurry, Hurry, Step Right Up!

Circuses Most of us have been to circuses where tamed animals are trained to perform for the amusement of spectators. In general, the less the performing animals act as they normally would, the more we are entertained. Dancing bears in tutus. Seals balancing balls on...

Doing The Laundry

Doing The Laundry

We were asked to survey users of stacked washer-dryer units to learn about their likes and dislikes. We agreed, but only if we began with some site visits so we could observe how people used them in their homes. Stacked washer/dryer combos are designed to save space....

What Do You See at the Airport?

What Do You See at the Airport?

Every day, nearly four million people fly on airplanes. Think of the complexity of what’s involved. Websites are searched, travel agencies are contacted, calendars checked, phone calls made, messages sent, relatives consulted, and so on. A massive worldwide system of...

Who Wants Dessert?

Who Wants Dessert?

In an earlier century, the would-be entrepreneurs had an idea for a new business: home delivery of desserts. No one in their area was doing it, and they would have the market all to themselves. A shoestring operation, they had budgeted for only two focus groups. We...

Big Data

Big Data

Only recently popularized, Big Data has been around for a long time. It has been nearly 50 years since some exceptional Stanford students developed a sophisticated statistical package to analyze huge data sets on mainframes. Their idea was to use this very powerful...

You Get What You Pay For

You Get What You Pay For

FREE! is the headline, but there are two other claims shared by every one of the dozens of Free DIY Online Survey companies. Our product is easy to use.  Most say their tools require absolutely no previous experience or knowledge. Some say theirs is so easy that it...

Leading Edge Rejectors

Leading Edge Rejectors

They were the first to get on the technology bus, and now they're the first to get off. Seventy million Baby Boomers were born in the years immediately after World War II. They were well into managerial and professional careers when desktop computers and cellphones...

H2CUS. CU@4.

H2CUS. CU@4.

One effect of too-small and hard-to-use keyboards is the shortening of words and messages. This spins itself off into a linguistic subculture where understanding and using code words are evidence of being well-informed and up-to-date — technological sophisticates with...

A 534-Word History of Tech

A 534-Word History of Tech

Thirty years ago, the first Motorola Brick cellphones weighed two pounds, were as big as your shoe, and cost $4,000. The first ones were owned by four different groups of Leading Edge Adopters: status seekers, business people who spent a lot of time out of the office,...

Status Seekers

Status Seekers

A hundred years ago, a new comic strip was published in the New York Globe. Called Keep Up With The Joneses, it featured the adventures of a family vainly trying to keep up with their well-to-do neighbors. Mr and Mrs McGinis and their daughter were social climbers,...

Herd Behavior

Herd Behavior

As much as we humans like to think of ourselves as sophisticated, there are many things we do at animal level. One of these is herd behavior, our tendency to blindly follow the lead of others and go with the group.And while this is often a choice, as when we follow...