Checking Facebook at Work Increases Productivity

Okay, this is getting a bit suspicious. Previously, there were studies suggesting that office productivity can be increased by bad and grumpy people, terrible hardship and even being intoxicated with Alcohol. Now a new study claims that periodically checking Facebook and other social media increases productivity at the workplace. This time, the research  comes from University of Melbourne, Australia, which coincidentally enough, is also the originating place of a recently published research that claimed that People with terrible mood make great employees.

The Facebook productivity boost phenomenon is the conclusion of a research done by The Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne. They say that when companies make regularly timed recess part of their work schedule employees felt more relaxed and happy which improved overall productivity. The employees’ non-work related activities give them a regular and refreshing break from the usual work which recharges their mind and body. But not all recess activities result in equal amount of productivity boost. This is where social media scored points. According to the study, surfing the net to check Twitter and Facebook increased productivity by 39% compared to 19% boost when employees engaged in non-internet stuff like talking on the phone or stepping out for a walk.

The article also makes note of the increase in employee participation in these routine breaking activities when it is promoted directly by the company leadership – a full 39% increase that is. This could be interesting – I would love to see an email from the CEO saying –

Dear valued Employee,
This is to notify you that you have reached the allotted maximum number of hours for continuous work. You are here by required to take a mandatory 15 minute break from your regular office tasks. Make sure to check Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Tumbler, Pinterest, Google+ and any other social networking website that are up and running during this time so that you can get back to work with more motivation and focus.

I appreciate your continued handwork and commitment towards the well being of the company, even during these breaks.

Warm Regards
Office of the CEO

Oh, the wonderful world that is work-life.


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Getting Close to Minority Report

Remember the super-cool computer screens from the Stephen Spielberg movie Minority Report? Tom Cruise and his fellow actors were able to manipulate objects on a screen directly with their hands using an almost magical contraption that allowed true 3D interaction with digital screens and objects on them. We have been waiting for this technology since the movie came out in 2002 and finally the tech world has caught up to it.

MIT student Jinha Lee designed a prototype as an intern in the Microsoft Applied Sciences Group which allows a user to physically interact with the objects on a transparent screen. Moving windows forward and backward with your fingers, two Kinect cameras sense where the users hands are and allows for a true 3D interaction with the content on (or is that “in”) the screen. The cameras also track your head and adjust the screen’s orientation in 3D so that the view and aspect of the screen is maintained no matter the angle of view.

Here is a demo from Lee.

It is not far from becoming a commercial product and once it reaches the market it can make big impact on everything that has a screen, from a small iPod to computer assisted surgeries in medicine. This is such a brilliant technology that its only a matter of time before someone smart does something incredibly amazing with it. I just hope that it happens sooner.


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How Big is the Universe?

Not the most easiest question, is it?
Chris Anderson, the man behind one of the most powerful sources of intelligence and information, TED, raises that question along with the possible answers and their counter-points from the scientific community. Just the few minutes he spends opening our minds to the impossible vastness of the universe we know is enough to make you feel awe-struck by sheer possibilities, but he also throws in a bunch of other equally mind-boggling questions with no answer yet. It’s more than likely that the ultimate answers for these long explored mysteries may be revealed at a future TED conference so at least, we can thank Chris for giving us this incredible source of ideas and inspirations.


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The Love Competition

Ever thought about measuring love ?

It’s such a crazy thing to imagine quantifying the amount and intensity of love that someone could experience. Researchers at Stanford University did not think the idea was that crazy so they decided to host the first Annual Love Competition. Seven contestants ranging in ages 10 to 75 were asked to think about the most intense feelings of love they can muster in five minutes while an fMRI machine scanned their brain. The test was geared to measure the levels of Serotonin, Oxytocin and Dopamine – chemicals released in our brain when we experience the feeling of love – and whichever contestant managed to produce the most of these neural enzymes in their brain wins. Movie maker Brent Hoff made a short video out of it.

The results definitely gave me a pause. Before the test every participant has their own idea of what love feels like and how much they thought they loved someone, but the final score shows something else. It throws our common understanding about love being fleeting and random into question. I wonder if this subject has clear answers.


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Think Outside A Carboard Box

Ever heard the phrase ‘Think outside the box‘? Of course you have. It’s easily one of the most pervasive idioms in marketing, management, presidential run and, possibly, every other field that exists. But is it really true? Does thinking outside the box, literally, make you better at solving problems?

Researchers at Cornell University had the same question and from their experiments they have concluded that it is totally true. Yeah, you read it right. When people literally sat outside a physical box, they were more creative than others who sat inside the said box. They detail their experiment in a recently published article in the New York Times.

They built a large cardboard box — large enough to fit people inside — and had some volunteers sit inside it. They also had volunteers sitting outside but close to the box. And then they gave the participants word association problems to solve — you know, the kind of puzzles where you need to find the common connector between seemingly disconnected words, like mound, foul, and bleachers.[Answer is Baseball, by the way]. When the researchers tallied up the results, they found out that the participants sitting outside the box got the correct answer a remarkable 20% more. Being and thinking outside of the box actually boosted problem solving skills.

The psychology term for this is embodied cognition. This is the skill that enables our brain to process metaphors meaningfully and turn larger problems to relatable and ultimately solvable puzzles. ‘A thousand yards’ is not easy to understand as ‘the length of ten football fields’ because embodied cognition enables our brain to identify and relate to familiar concepts and apply the idea to unfamiliar subjects.

The study, soon to be published in the Psychological Science journal, found out that the box does not have to be an actual box either. In one experiment, students from Singapore Management University were asked to come up with original ways of using an object made of Lego blocks while walking. Research showed that participants who walked freely came up with 25% more ways to use the object compared to those who were made to walk on a restricted and predetermined path. What is interesting is the novelty in the answers given by the free-walkers. They had higher quantity of ideas which were more flexible and unique.

In another experiment, just by moving their arms more – the changing hands metaphor – participants increased their creative capacity by up to 50 percent. Clearly, acting out our metaphors has direct impact in our cognitive skills. It is widely accepted that metaphors assist in our understanding of complex problems, but this study demonstrates that they have a real and tangible effect in our interpretation of the actions implied by those metaphors.

This is something I have experienced personally many times. When I am stuck at something at work, I go for a short walk outside the building and more often than not I come back with a solid workable strategy. It’s just nice that someone from Cornell University has the metrics to back up this strategy.

Moral of the study — Think outside the cubicle.

Original New York Times link.

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String Theory And The 10 Dimensional Universe!

This is one of those videos that made me feel exceptionally unintelligent. How I got to this YouTube clip is different story. The title seemed interesting, and once the video started it was very intriguing. It gave a sense of clarity and understanding. Don’t be deceived. As it progresses it gets more and more complex until half-way through the video your mind is yelling ‘Stop, I don’t understand any of these words. Are these even words?’
I powered through the entire video and watched it two more times in hopes of understanding at least some of the concepts, but it only got a lot more complex. Its like the movie ‘The Matrix’, except that upon multiple viewings it morphs into ‘Memento’.
Mind bendingly interesting, nevertheless.

Let me know if it made some sense to you.


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Connectivity Issues ? Nano-Particles To The Rescue

Have you ever pulled out your smart phone for some awesome thing on the internet that cannot wait only to be thwarted by the ‘No Signal’ icon ? There are times when you absolutely need internet/cellular connectivity, like say when you are being chased by vicious wild-dogs that suddenly materialized in your local park where you were strolling alone very early in the morning. Worry not, because the solution to this essential problem has arrived.

A company called ChamTech Operations has come up with an insane product that can turn virtually any object into a highly powerful antenna. Although the name of the company is nothing to be excited about, their product though could be a game changer in today’s ultra-connected world. ChamTech’s unnamed product is just a spray that can convert any object into an antenna by spraying tiny nano-particles in a specific orientation. These nano-particles have nano-capacitors that charge and discharge super fast and produce less heat which is a troubling drawback in conventional antennas made of copper. Not only does this magic spray create antennas from everyday objects, it can even improve existing antennas’ range by a magnitude of 100. It basically means that your cellphones can easily reach signals while you are inside a subway station riding a train while fully covered by a thick woolen blanket.

Check out this article from iEEE Spectrum and accompanying video presented by one of Chamtech’s founders.

Like many groundbreaking science stuff, this project was initiated for military purpose. This could revolutionize the way we connect to the internet. Imagine having high-speed internet connection no matter where you are. Whether you are on the highway where no cellphone towers exist, or on a plane that does not offer free wifi, with just a few squirts of nano-particles you could be browsing in no time. May be you are inside a cave exploring when suddenly you feel like checking Facebook. Underground cave means no connectivity which means no Facebook. Currently you have to wait in anguish caused by your inability to check your friends’ status about love and honesty or their photos about some football team you don’t even care about. But once Chamtech’s spray hits the stores, all this will change.

Basically this nano-particle spray turns the internet into that annoyingly cute bulldog from Hutch commercials.[Click the link if you did not get that reference]


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