Do Search Engines Just Tell Us What We Want To Hear?

February 21st, 2018

Early in my software sales career--I had the good fortune of working for an enterprise search startup. I really got a kick out of understanding the science underlying the technology I was selling, and I also got a kick out of researching and understanding the underlying science that catapulted Google past a slew of established competitors. So over the years I've always prided myself on being a pretty good "searcher." It seems a lot of us pride ourselves in our ability to effectively find the answers to life and work questions on the internet. Why wouldn't we? We all know that the answers we get, are only as good as our ability to craft a good query. So it came as a surprise to me when my teenage son brought it to my attention that the way I had crafted a query, had prejudiced the results I'd received. As parents, how many of us have queried: "dangers of _____" and then forwarded the results to one of our kids? I'm guessing this is a fairly common practice if you have teenagers :-). In any case, he promptly submitted the query: "benefits of _______" and I was surprised that he got a very different set of results.

I've since become a lot more thoughtful about how I craft my queries, favoring terms like "pros and cons" to terms like "benefits" or "dangers."

While I sometimes want my sweet Grace (that's my wife) to tell me what I want to hear (she doesn't), I need my search engine to tell it like it is. In order for that happen, I have to learn and practice asking unbiased questions.

Why Johnny Can't Read

October 18th, 2017

As parents, we suffer all our children's cuts and bruises, but we also can rejoice in their accomplishments, both large and small. When my oldest son was in the early stages of grammar school, he started having some learning issues. At the time, I knew I was by no means qualified to determine if my own son indeed had a learning disability, so I went ahead and had the school schedule an evaluation. At the same time, I feared the school had jumped too quickly to wanting to label him with a learning disability, so I sat down with my son to see if I could get a sense of what he was having trouble with. So here I am, trying to see if I can get a better understanding of what my son is struggling with, and to my shock and surprise, I realized that he did not know all his letters. In other words, at the time, my son couldn’t recognize all the letters in the alphabet, and the school was complaining that he wasn’t reading at grade level! I’m not an educator, but I couldn’t understand how they could expect him to be reading at grade level, when he wasn’t even fluent with the alphabet. At the time, I was also kind of shocked because they should have been concerned that he didn’t know his alphabet. Instead, they were expecting him to be reading, when he didn’t even know the letters? The internet was in its nascent stages and I was able to do some research. I stumbled across the whole debate of phonics vs. sight reading. I also found a great book: Why Johnny Can't Read?: And What You Can Do About It, by Rudolf Flesch. The book covers the phonics vs. sight reading debate in exhaustive detail and includes an appendix with “flash cards” that you can use to teach your own child to read. So with the learning disability evaluation scheduled 3 weeks out, I sat down with my son and started to teach him how to read. 3 weeks later, he knew his alphabet and was sounding out multisyllabic words. When the time came for the learning disability testing, he was found not to have a learning disability. There is no doubt in my mind, that had I not spent this time with him, there is a high likelihood that they would have found that he did indeed have a learning disability. For a while, I was worried that maybe I had somehow shortchanged him, and had I not tutored him prior to the testing, he might have been found to be learning disabled and gotten additional help and attention. I'll never really know the answer to that question, but he’s a grown man now, and while he never was a big fan of school, he devours huge technical tomes on computers and can build them, fix them and make them sing and dance (computers that is). So, while I get that smart people (like my son) can have learning disabilities, I don't regret helping him when I did. He needed to know how to read, and somebody had to care enough to take the time to teach him. This experience inspired me to use the “Johnny book” with my 3 other children as well. So, on each of their 4th birthdays, I sat down with them and taught them how to read. As a self-proclaimed bibliophile, there is no greater pleasure than knowing that you have given your child the gift of reading! If you’re interested in teaching your kids how to read, in a later post, I’ll go through the process I used, and offer some of the things that I learned. You can start by getting and reading the book. I’ll offer a word of caution right from the get-go, if you’re not able to be patient and gentle and slow, don’t try this at home, as you don’t want your child to learn to hate reading. Having said that, if I can do it, you can do it.


Welcome to Cesar The Magician's Blog!

March 17th, 2012

Welcome to my blog--I'm planning on posting ideas around family, parties, entertainment etc. For my first post--I want to take a moment to thank all of my clients! I've been performing at children's parties now for over 25 years--and I always feel honored to have an opportunity to play a role in someone's celebration! I've had the opportunity to perform at a kid's birthday party--and many years later--after they've grown up and started their own family--I've been honored to perform for their children as well (It sure would be nice to keep that trend going for a few more generations--feel free to comment with your life extension theories!).

I was talking to a new client today and she was asking me how long I had been doing this and how I got started. While I was telling her that magic was my childhood hobby and that I'd been performing for over 25 years--I couldn't help thinking how lucky I was. I actually have the honor and privilege of getting paid to do something that I love--something that I would do for free (if my daughter Madison wasn't in college). When I'm performing at a party, I get to be a kid again. I get to play, be silly, and have fun. I also get to see the joy and wonder in the faces of my audiences. It's one of the few experiences in my life where I can consistently achieve a state of flow. Magic is a metaphorical reminder that we are surrounded and immersed in a mysterious, amazing and wonderfully magical experience called life.

So, once again, thank you for your patronage--you let me do what I love!