The Style Life Challenge I wrote about a couple days got an interesting response (see the comments). While we're on the topic, I thought I'd also mention the female-equivalent of male-centric The Game… a book called The Rules, written by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. They've sold over 2 million copies since 1995, and have built sort of a mini-movement around this book. Most people consider both the books to be rather sexist, misguided, and full of advice that will only work for the most pathetic and desparate people around. I'm not really trying to convince otherwise… but for some reason I find the information in these books to be really fascinating. What's most interesting about these books, to me, is that they're taking something that's traditionally thought of pretty sacred (the search for romance, love, soul mates, marriage, whatever), and turned it into a deliberate set of rules, exercises, and tricks that people who feel frustrated, unhappy, and limited can use to begin to feel empowered, self-confident, and able to impact their own lives for the better.

Here's a list of a more recent set of rules that Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider came up with for online dating.

  1. Don't answer men's ads or email them first
  2. Create a good screen name (they gave BlondeBeauty50 as an example of a good screen name)
  3. Less is more when writing your ad
  4. Post a smiling photo
  5. Wait 24 hours to respond
  6. Don't answer on weekends or holidays
  7. Write light and breezy emails
  8. Never email a second time if he neglected to respond to your email
  9. For the first three months (!) don't initiate an email, only respond
  10. Block yourself from instant messages
  11. Don't volunteer your phone number first
  12. If he doesn't ask you out within four emails, delete/next
  13. Screen out Mr. Wrong
  14. Don't waste your time on time wasters
  15. Don't force the relationship from email to phone
  16. Put safety first
  17. Don't ad-interrogate on dates

I know from my experience of online dating that rules sort of evolve out of usage of the system. You learn from experiences and try to avoid making the same mistakes twice. I have my own rules of sorts… most involving clear pictures, short emails, quick and inexpensive first dates, clear and early communication of disinterest when it clearly isn't going to work, and relying on first impressions and not dragging things out simply to prove yourself. Most of the rules above actually don't sound absolutely horrendous, even though several do play into lame gender roles, everyone is different, and to call them rules is more than a little misguided. What do you think?


I love this game because it is simple, and yet endlessly entertaining due to a simple and engaging aesthetic. Most of all, I love the names of the 27 possible gambits. A gambit is a series of three throws in a row, and depending on the order and nature of the three throws, you get a gambit that has a humorous name and a personality of sorts. For example, the most striking of the gambits is the Avalanche… 3 rocks in a row.



There are two possible strategies in this game.

The first one is to simply attempt to throw randomly. By throwing randomly, your opponent will most likely not be able to guess your next throw, and will have equal chances of winning and losing no matter how "good" the opponent is at the game.

The second strategy is trickier and potentially more dangerous because it opens you up for being tricked. This strategy is to use mind games, taunting, and pattern matching to try to guess what your opponent is going to throw, and then obviously throwing its superior opponent. This is why the game can be so entertaining… like poker, all the complexity of bluffs, smack talk, intimidation, and taunting can be used to trick your opponent. The only problem is that if both you and your opponent are trying to out-guess one another, there is a chance that your patterns and strategy will become apparent to your opponent and you will be basically slaughtered on the rock, paper, scissors floor.


Gambits became a useful tool for paper, rock, scissors competitors because it helps abstract out the possibility of being guessed. Instead of trying to strategize on every throw, you can strategize on every set of three throws. I guess the thought is that they allow you to introduce more randomness by choosing between 27 options rather than only 3. When you only have 3 options to choose from, there is a subconscious desire to balance the three things, and that pressure to balance can be exploited by your opponent if they are paying careful attention.


Believe it or not, there is a pretty serious Rock Paper Scissors tournament every year. This year it'll be in Toronto on September 30th (learn more). There are many more smaller tournaments around the world, and it's actually pretty easy to set up an event yourself if you want (learn more). I'm going to be going to one in Seattle at a local bar (Baltic Room) on July 10th to practice the slightly deviant "drunken rock, paper, scissors" game. If you're in the area, come by.


The field of self-help is wacky and wild. It has corners that the bravest souls fear to tread… and other corners that are as comfy as your favorite sofa. From learning to get in touch with your inner child, to becoming productive with your computer, to losing weight, to getting a raise, to getting along with your spouse, to traveling into deeper dimensions and talking with dead family members… all of these themes of self-help have entire industries devoted to them, and there's obviously a lot of money. Self-help makes money because people want it badly.

That's why I respect Neil Strauss and his latest reinvention of himself that was enjoyably and informatively documented in his latest book, "The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists". He's bringing the somewhat scary world of pickup artists and casual dating and plain old social skills into a new era. In a way, he's a bit of a self-help startup, and he has a lot of passion.

His most recent venture is called The Stylelife Challenge. His market seems to be the socially awkward, the relationshiply-inexperienced, the low self-esteem crowd of people who, either through bad luck, choice, or futility have never been on a date, have never been in a relationship, and have never gotten laid… but who now want to experience this facet of human existence… as early as next month.

It's free, and it seems like it's going to be pretty interesting to watch. Between July 1st and July 31st, he's going to walk as many people as sign up through a 31 day course… with the attempt to get everyone a date by the end of the month.

It's geared mostly towards guys (sorry ladies… but I think this is where more of the work needs to happen anyway), and I think the spirit of it is that you're going to have to go out there and make a bit of a fool of yourself until you get the hang of it.

Here are the guidelines:

On July 1, you will begin receiving daily assignments in the Forum. These assignments may be video, audio, or text. They will contain exercises for you to complete, articles to read, and goals for you to meet. They will begin at a very basic level and grow more advanced as the challenge continues.

In addition, discussion boards have been set up to assist you with your personal growth. You should be posting all questions, obstacles, field reports, and successes there. Style, Rourke (of The Final Five), and the other participants will be there to help you with constructive criticism.

In addition, if you would like feedback on your personal appearance, dress, and the first impression you create, post a picture in the Style Critique section of the Forums, and Style, Rourke, and other participants will offer tips and pointers. You win when at any point between day one and day thirty-one, you get a date and submit a field report about the experience in the Winner's Circle section of the Forums.

A date is defined as a 'planned second encounter' with a woman you have just met.

For example, if you meet a woman at a bar, exchange phone numbers, and meet her for coffee two days later, that is a date. If you meet a woman at the mall, arrange to meet that night at a club, and she shows up specifically to meet you, that is a date. Even if you don't exchange phone numbers.

Basically, any scenario where you approach a woman and she agrees to see you at a later date or time – and shows up – constitutes a date. Once you win, don't forget to add your field report to the Winner's Circle. Feel free to remain on the boards afterward, carry out the daily assignments, and help your fellow competitors.

Read more about it on, or join here.

The tendency for people to scrutinize evidence that contradicts their previous beliefs and to uncritically accept evidence that supports it.  Useful because it helps us catch (aka pay attention to) information that might result in altering our behavior and beliefs.  Harmful because existing beliefs continue to attract unscrutinized "evidence" at a much quicker rate than information that contradicts our beliefs.  Weak beliefs become stronger over time simply by the fact that they encourage us to validate them more than they encourage us to invalidate them.

As most people are probably noticing, most of these biases are simply shortcuts that we take in order to make quick decisions.  They are the various filters we put on incoming information to know when to pay close attention to something and when not to.  As such, there's really no easy cure for a cognitive bias.  To lower these filters is not only very difficult, but simply not practical… we would revert to the overstimulated confusion of childhood… paying attention to meaningless details while letting important new information slip accidentally by.

What would be useful, however, is if we were able to know at any given point which of our cognitive biases were used in the most recent deluge of information.  The best way to do this that I can think of is to simply know the names for all of them… giving something a name makes it easier to spot.

To review the cognitive biases we've covered so far:

  1. The Bandwagon Effect
  2. Bias Blind Spot
  3. Choice Supportive Bias
  4. Confirmation Bias
  5. Contrast Effect

Four ways to tie a tie

June 18, 2006

Being on the west coast, I don't wear ties very often.  Going to church, weddings, funerals, and the occassional party is about it.  Every time I need to put on a tie, though, I panic because I have this feeling that there is some kind of tie magic that everyone else has and that I don't have.  I tie bad ties.  So, on this quiet Sunday, I decided that I was going to learn how to tie a tie… four ways!

Here's a website that explains the four ways: Learn how to tie a tie.

The four ways are:

  1. Windsor Knot: A thick professional knot.  The one I was taught.
  2. Half Windsor Knot: A modest version of the Windsor… good for thick ties.
  3. Four in Hand Knot: A narrow, more discreet knot.
  4. Pratt Knot (aka the Shelby Knot): A medium knot.

There's a video for sale on his site too.  Seems a little silly.  Here are a few funny videos (with encouraging soundtracks) I found on YouTube that might help… 

You're on your own with the Pratt knot, I guess.

Steve Pavlina has a ridiculously organized mind.  He must not have killed all of his brain cells like I have.  I don't know how he does it but he takes very vague and ambiguous ideas and turns them into steps and sub-steps until something as confusing and potentially frustrating as thinking about your purpose becomes as easy as making popcorn.

The quest for purpose is broken down into four components, and an ideal purpose would satisfy each component equally.  The pieces are related to body, mind, heart, and spirit.   

  1. Body.  What do you need to survive? Your purpose should satisfy your survival needs… this includes not only food, water, air, and shelter, but also financial needs.  How much money do you need?
  2. Mind.  What can you do?  Your purpose should be within your abilities.  What skills do you have?  What skills do you have the ability to acquire? 
  3. Heart.  What do you want to do?  Your purpose should be something you're passionate about.  What do you absolutely love to do?  What kinds of things do you love to do?
  4. Spirit.  What should you do?  What does your conscience make you feel like you should do, as a member of your family, your friend circle, your country, and the world?

Each of these components needs to be satisfied in a purpose.  Fill out each of these circles and see if there are any things that fit into all four circles?  If nothing immediately pops out (if it were that easy, most likely you would have solved this problem long ago) you can begin working on the circles themselves.  Maybe you can explore surviving on less, or learning something new, or experimenting with new activities and projects to see if they strike a passionate nerve, or exploring your conscience and trying to get to the bottom of what you feel your contribution to this world really should be.

I went through these steps and think that my purpose is to invent new ways to improve the lives of friends, neighbors, and acquaintences.  Invention includes creating new businesses, events, games, and ideas, each of which exist in markets that reward invention.  I feel like I'm on a good roll with increasing the boundaries of creativity that I exist within.  I love rallying myself and the people near me to new adventures, experiments, and realizations about the world we live in.  And just recently I think I've come to terms with the true value of mutual-improvement… by engaging in a non-zero sum game of collaboration, participation, and edification, everyone can win and grow together.

Steve Pavlina's podcast goes into a lot more detail and organized articulation of the subtleties of this exercise.  Listen to it here:

(Time = 30:10, Size = 13.8MB)

And, to follow up, read up on more of his purpose-related blog posts here.  Nice work, Steve.


In my flickr stream I noticed that Edward Tufte's new book, Beautiful Evidence, was out. I think I'll try to get it at the library. It's too nice to own.

Beautiful Evidence, cover


It led me to an interesting statement he makes about designing plaques for spaceships in such a way that their message might be understood by illiterate aliens. He proposes putting a magic trick on it… a human defying gravity. Because gravity is a universal law, he suggests the possibility that this magic trick would be funny anywhere.

space plaque joke

Thinking about how to make aliens laugh is probably one of the most enjoyable activities one can partake in. The original plague, with explanation, is here.


Looking around the site a little more led me to this essay of Daniel Gould's titled The Median Isn't the Message. And, other than being a delightful read, it also allowed me to brush up on my understanding of means and medians and misunderstanding statistics in general:

The mean is our usual concept of an overall average – add up the items and divide them by the number of sharers (100 candy bars collected for five kids next Halloween will yield 20 for each in a just world). The median, a different measure of central tendency, is the half-way point. If I line up five kids by height, the median child is shorter than two and taller than the other two (who might have trouble getting their mean share of the candy). A politician in power might say with pride, "The mean income of our citizens is $15,000 per year." The leader of the opposition might retort, "But half our citizens make less than $10,000 per year." Both are right, but neither cites a statistic with impassive objectivity. The first invokes a mean, the second a median. (Means are higher than medians in such cases because one millionaire may outweigh hundreds of poor people in setting a mean; but he can balance only one mendicant in calculating a median).

He also touched on the very mysterious fact that the best way to fight cancer is to be cheery and optimistic about it. I love it when self-help philosophies collide with medicine and things as serious as cancer treatment.