What’s really behind those Facebook quizzes

Bullshit

Here’s what’s really behind these quizzes on Facebook.

1) First of all, the “92% of people can’t…” line is total BS. There’s nobody keeping track of scores. That “92%” line is designed to entice you into taking the challenge. It’s not based on any collected data at all, and has that “92%” number on it from the moment it’s released on Facebook.

2) The quizzes are designed to be easy so that you will do better than the “92%” and will share the quiz and brag about it, thereby enticing others to take the quiz.

3) You’ll notice that every question in the quiz is on a separate page. That’s not because there are slick web designers or usability experts behind the page; it’s because every time you go to a new question you load a whole new set of ads, thereby generating loads of ad revenue for the people who made the quiz. (There can easily be 12-20 ads per page.)

4) For quizzes that are designed to tell you something about your personality — what Star Wars character you are, or some other personal quality — know that the results are based on total BS. Some person spent half an hour in a cubicle drawing up a matrix based on nothing more than what kind of mood they were in that day, and that’s it.

5) By going through the quiz and then sharing it, the people making the quiz are gathering data about the things you like. (Car quizzes label you as a car fan; geography quizzes label you as a person who likes to travel, etc.) They sell this data back to Facebook (or perhaps a third-party ad manager) who uses it to build your Facebook advertising profile, which in turn determines what ads and “sponsored posts” you see.

So please do not think that these quizzes tell you anything about yourself, or that the results have any research or scientific thinking behind them. Go ahead and keep doing them if you like — after all, they can be fun — but remember that you’re a bit of a sucker every time you do so, and the results mean nothing.

The only purpose behind these quizzes is to keep you clicking and sharing so that other people can make money from it. But hey, people have to make a living, right? Fair enough. But for Pete’s sake just be aware of the level of BS you’re engaging in when you do it, and don’t bother bragging that you’re better than “the 92%” and don’t even bother questioning the veracity of that figure, because now you know it’s all just made up to suck you in.

(Published simultaneously on Facebook.)

Leonard Cohen Must Not Die!

I‘ll skip over the obvious reasons why Leonard Cohen must not die any time soon and cut to the matter at hand: Leonard Cohen must not die because people are ignoring his request for a moratorium on the song Hallelujah. Worse, most of the people who “interpret” the song seem hung up on a single variation: the mournful and funereal Jeff Buckley version.

Yes, the Buckley version is an interpretation. And it’s not a bad one. But it’s not the only one, and its tear-jerking style has thrown a weepy cloak of misunderstanding across the whole thing.

Take four minutes and watch the video below. It’s from some wacky Berlin TV show in the 1980s. Whether you like it or not is irrelevant. Pay attention to how Cohen sings the song. Look for the mournful parts. Hint: there aren’t any. It’s quirky and kind of funny, actually. It’s hard to sing with your tongue in your cheek, but Lennie does it because that’s how he wrote it.

Back in 2010, when Cohen called for a moratorium on new versions of the song, his concern was about “overkill” in general. My concern is the heavy shift towards weepiness.

The clincher for me was when Stephen Page, who I generally quite like, rolled out a rather thin and reedy rendition of “Hallelujah” at Jack Layton’s funeral last summer. Let me say it again: Hallelujah is not a funeral song!  It’s not even a sad song! It’s a crazy, sexy, sometimes silly song about sex and orgasms. Or something like that. (Ironically, it was Jeff Buckley, not Cohen, who told Rolling Stone magazine that his version was an hommage to the “hallelujah of the orgasm.”) It’s completely out of place at a funeral. That is, unless it’s a funeral attended by people who don’t listen to lyrics; people whose emotional pushbuttons are large, fully exposed, and easily pushed by melodies.

Therefore Leonard Cohen must not die anytime soon; not until some other song comes along and replaces Hallelujah as the general public’s knee-jerk tear-jerker for sad moments. When the day finally comes that Cohen achieves equilibrium with room temperature, no one should sing Hallelujah at his funeral. Doing so will be a direct slap in the face to Cohen’s intentions with the song, and it will probably cause my head to explode.

So do Leonard Cohen and me a favour and give it up. While you’re at it, do the memory of Jeff Buckley a favour and let his mournful version live on as his version, not to be repeated and continually rehashed. But if you absolutely must sing Hallelujah then give it a whole new spin. Make it a polka, or a hip hop song. Do a Black Keys-like version, or give it the Iggy Pop treatment.

There are, by some accounts, 15 verses in the full version of the song, whittled down from – according to other accounts – the original 80. Below is a sampling of the lyrics from two different recordings by Cohen. The first version is how he recorded it in 1984, for the album Various Positions. That is followed by the lyrics as he sang them on Austin City Limits in 1988, which was released in 1994 on the Cohen Live album.

Read it and don’t weep:

Hallelujah (from Various Positions)

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the Name in vain;
I don’t even know the name.
But if I did, well, really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word;
It doesn’t matter which you heard;
the holy, or the broken Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah (from Cohen Live)

Baby, I’ve been here before.
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor.
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch,
but listen, love is not some kind of victory march,
it’s cold and it’s a very broken Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
what’s really going on below
but now you never show it to me, do you?
I remember when I moved in you,
and the holy dove she was moving too,
and every single breath we drew was Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Now maybe there’s a God above
but as for me all I ever seem to learn from love
is how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.
And it’s not a complaint you’ll hear tonight,
it’s not the laughter of someone
who claims to have seen the light —
it’s a cold and it’s a lonely Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best; it wasn’t much.
I couldn’t feel, so I learned to touch.
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come all this way to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand right here before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

How to Tell One Robax from Another

I have a sore back. It’s something that hits me once or twice a year due to a problem with lower back spasms. This time it’s been going on for more than a week, which is unusual. Today I was almost completely incapacitated, which is very unusual given that two days ago I thought I was almost over it.

The go-to drugs for back pain are the collection of Robax drugs. Those are the ones you see advertised on TV with the wooden dolls dancing around after they get a pin taken out of their backs. Well, they help me a bit, but not much. Even after taking a pile of Robax pills I still feel like there’s a dagger in my kidney.

There’s a reason for this sad lament: a sadder lament and a bit of information that you might find helpful.

Here in Canada we have not caught up to the U.S. when it comes to over-the-counter drug packaging. Go do a Rite-Aid or a Duane Reade in the U.S. and check out the pills. The packages very clearly state what are the active ingredients, and even more clearly state the dosages. It’s writ large and clear, in a design that has clearly been vetted by UX designers. Bravo!

U.S. package. Easy to read!

But go into a Pharmaprix or a Shoppers Drug Mart or a Jean Coutu in Canada and check out the same pills. Yes, the information is there, but it’s written in 4 point Helvetica in a block of text with no line breaks or spacing or any other cues to help you quickly make sense of it. Plus it’s in two languages, and given how unreadable it is, it’s like two foreign languages.

Canadian packaging. WTF?

So when I went to a Jean Coutu last week to get some back relief, I was faced with the same problem I’m always faced with. A wall of pills that all look the same and have the same basic names but it takes a good amount of study and ideally an internet connection to sort out which is the one you should buy. This time, however, I finally managed to figure out the difference between the three different types of Robax back pills. And now for your reading pleasure I preset that information to you, in plain English, the way it should – but isn’t – on the package.

Note: the one thing they all have in common is methocarbamol, a muscle relaxant. The difference lies in what pain reliever they’re married to, if any.

  • Robaxin: methocarbamol only.
  • Robaxacet: methocarbamol and acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Robaxisal: methocarbamol and acetylsalicylic acid (ASA, or Aspirin).
  • Robax Platinum: methocarbamol and ibuprofin (Advil).

That’s it. It’s that simple, although some are also available in “extra strength” dosages. In that case it’s only the pain reliever that’s “extra strength,” not the methocarbamol.

But wait! For some reason, the standard dosage of methocarbamol is 400 mg. That is, unless you’re buying straight Robaxin, in which case it’s 500 mg. Or Robax Platinum, which has the standard dosage of ipuprophen (200 mg) and 500 mg of methocarbamol. There is no reasonable explanation for this difference.

However, you should know that if you already have ASA, acetaminophen, or ibuprofin in your medicine chest, you need only buy Robaxin. Because there is absolutely no difference between taking one Robaxin plus one Advil, and taking one Robax Platinum. Similarly, the only difference between one Robaxin plus a Tylenol and one Robaxacet is you get a bit more methocarbamol in the former case.

In my case, I find Robaxin with acetaminophen (or Robaxacet) does the trick for me, at least for muscle pain. If I take Robaxisal, I need to supplement it with Tylenol, which means I’m taking ASA that I don’t need. We have tons of acetaminophen already, so what I really should be buying is straight-up Robaxin and just take them with a couple of Tylenols.

This next bit should be a separate blog post…

While I’m on the topic of drug dosages, you should familiarize yourself with a few standard dosages. For example, the standard acetaminophen (Tylenol) pill contains 325 mg of active ingredient. The “Extra Strength” ones contain 500 mg. If you take three regular ones you’re getting 975 mg, which is pretty much exactly the same as the 1000 mg you’d get if you took two Extra Strength ones.

You might think all of this is really obvious, but I’m shocked at how often I meet people who have no idea what’s in the pills they take, and who believe silly things like “regular Tylenols don’t help me at all! Only the Extra Strength ones work!”

No. Read the labels. Hopefully we’ll learn from our neighbours to the south and the labels will one day be clearer.

Now go take a pill.

Name Plates in the Cube Farm

I once worked in an office environment that was a vast array of cubicles, and every cubicle had a name plate to identify the cube’s inhabitant. There were two kinds of name plates available; one type was a free-standing A-frame of the type you see on executive desks that say “The Buck Stops Here” and the other type was a flat frame that clipped to the cubicle wall.

From my perspective, the free-standing ones were more useful. You could put it on top of your cubicle’s shelf unit, and anyone within 50 feet could see it and know where you were sitting. That’s very useful for helping new employees figure out who’s who and who’s where, and for locating someone in a part of the cube farm that you’re not familiar with.

The flat ones were less useful, as you could only really see them when you were within a few feet of the person’s cube. In other words, you had to begin your search with pretty tight parameters, such as “third floor, north wing, fifth row” which is a lot more complicated than just “third floor, north wing,” or “near where Bob sits,” or even “over there” if you’re already in the north wing.

Given that I’m in the business of helping people figure things out and do things, I much preferred the free-standing name plates that could be seen from afar. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that some of my colleagues–in some cases people in the same line of work as me–preferred the flat ones. I thought about this for a while and eventually realized that name plates perform another function that I hadn’t considered before. They are territorial markers.

Not being one to lay much territorial claim to a cubicle, this had escaped me at first. After all, I didn’t put any personal photographs or art projects or any other significant “me” markers around. (Exception: I pinned a cartoon that I’ve been carrying around for 15 years on the wall, along with a slip of paper on which was written my verbal mantra, “smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”) Because really, I’m happy to show up every day and to do good work, but I don’t want to move in.

However, some of the cubicles around me were overflowing with photos, children’s doodles, plants, gizmos, knick-knacks, and other personal detritus. (There’s a good article on CNN about this phenomenon.) Whatever. It’s your cubicle dude, you can decorate it as you like. But the name plate is there to help people find you.

What really drove home that these were territorial markers was when I noticed some people had their name plates inside their cubicles, where only people in the cubicle could see them.

Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes people just don’t think things through. But I brought this up a few times with a few people–doing so casually so as not to raise defenses–and the response was always along the lines of “whatever, it’s how I like it,” as if the location of your name plate was purely a matter of personal preference, like the color of your socks. When I pressed them on the issue of people needing to find them they’d say something like “if people want to find me all they need to do is ask!” (Insert mental “GONG” sound here…)

I’ll let you ponder that. In the meantime, I’m deleting a lot of text that I had written–stuff along the lines of this being so territorial it’s like a declaration of war–because I try not to be judgemental. Let’s just say that if you don’t understand what the purpose of a cubicle name plate is, you probably don’t understand a lot of other things you need to know to do your job right, especially if you’re in the same line of work as me.

Here’s a picture in case you were reading too fast.

Update:

Due to overwhelming demand in the comments, here is the cartoon that I’ve been carrying around for 15 or so years. OK, maybe it’s eight years. Or nine. No, at least nine. Maybe 12… It’s my “justify your existence” mantra, and in a way it relates to the name plate issue:

(For more like this, check out Ted Goff’s website: www.tedgoff.com.)