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About obesity

I am taking the opportunity of being at CMU for a semester and attending a course on behavioral economics and public policy. Behavioral economics is a topic that caught my attention a while ago and it’s been interesting to see it under the lens of public policy. The course is quite American-centered, and being a non-American (or “alien”, as the government likes to call me) makes it only more interesting. I am trying to understand what is the mindset, what is the “normal” around here, and I am still in awe every now and then. It’s a good state to be in. But anyway…

Today in class the subject of obesity was briefly mentioned. It is seen as a public health problem, and we were studying ways (read, public policies) to motivate people to loose weight. But that’s treating the symptom, not the cause. I like to treat causes, seems more effective. So, for the reasons why obesity is a problem, it was mentioned: decrease in food prices (specially unhealthy food), lack of time (arguably not true, we just suck at time management), sedentary lives, working parents and larger portions (why America? why??). We might add dining out and drinking soda like crazy to that list, as discussed here. Fair enough. These all look like reasonable reasons for a less healthy diet and consequent increase on obesity. Then I had an epiphany: those reasons are not America-exclusive. People are more stressed everywhere, both parents are working everywhere, sedentary lives are everywhere, cheap fast food and soda is available everywhere. So what creates this enormous demand for big portions of deep fried chicken in America specifically? [1]

Unfortunately I do not have an answer for that. What I know is that the unhealthy eating seems to be an acceptable thing. I never saw so many ads for food as I see it on TV here. Really. If you are ever in the US and have a chance to watch some TV, do it. Even for half an hour. It is an interesting experience (not only because of the food ads). I have the feeling that one in every three ads is about food. And not healthy food: fried chicken, giant burgers, 2 feet (~60 cms) pizza, a burrito stuffed with three types of different melted cheese, pancakes made with buttery croissant dough, chocolate cookies filled with more chocolate and marshmallows… you name it. Ironically, another third fraction of the commercials are dedicated to medicaments. As if it is not enough to bombard people with ads for greasy and processed food, they go to the next level and actually *scorn* healthy eating. Just take a look at this or that. Americans, do you have any idea how absurd it is to have an ad like that? This should have never ever been approved!! I would boycott Domino’s if I ever ate there.

I am not sure if these ads can be counted as a cause or effect of obesity, it is a chicken-and-egg problem. What I know is that regulating such things properly will do no harm, but only good [2]. It’s a no-brainer. On top of motivating people to loose weight, how about cutting on the temptation for eating in the first place?

[1] As a side note, Brazil is also not the healthiest country around. And I lived there, and even so I cannot explain what happens… Seems to be a cultural thing (that needs to change!).

[2] Regulation is needed when people lack the common sense and allow such horrendous ads. Unfortunately, those that make regulations are also people.

About questions

I used to think that people, in general, had problems when it comes to asking questions. What was my surprise when I recently realized that, in fact, we also have problems in *getting* questions! Given the important status questions have for the exchange and construction of ideas [1], it is really a shame that we both don’t like to ask questions or receive them.

You might be very familiar with the feeling of holding back a question because you might sound [insert here whatever adjective works best for you]. But being asked? Yes. It turns out that instead of listening a question as it should be, i.e. just a question, we add our own interpretation to it and reply (or not) to that. We see questions as criticism, as challenges, as disagreement… but have you ever thought that it might be, in reality, *just* a question? (In spite of what your biased self might “notice” about language, tone, etc.)

Try that for a while. Get rid of your prejudices and take the questions as they come. You will see life becomes much much lighter. Answer sincerely (even if it means saying “I do not know the answer”) and ask sincerely (even if you think it’s a [same adjective as before] question). You will notice how communication improves, how it is possible to have an argument without it getting to your head and how everyone feels less intimidated. It’s good all around!

And if it just so happens that someone does have an ill-intended question, you can see the disappointment in their eyes with your honest answer ūüėČ

 

[1] I must leave here a special thanks to my classmates from grad041, who taught me the importance of argumentation, and that friendship is independent of agreement. There are very few circles where questions are so well received as with these people ūüėÄ

O Banco do Brasil é o banco mais seguro do mundo (4)

Na √ļltima vez que voltei ao Brasil, me deparei com uma pilha de correspond√™ncias do Banco do Brasil pra mim. N√£o s√≥ ele quer que eu v√° na ag√™ncia, mas tamb√©m me manda carta. √Č um banco rom√Ęntico! N√£o se fazem mais bancos como antigamente…

O que acontece é que, todo mês, o BB manda um extrato de investimentos pra eu saber o que anda acontecendo. Já que eu não consigo ver muita coisa online mesmo naquele site super bem implementado. Eu achei um desperdício aquele tanto de extrato. Desperdício de papel, de tinta de impressora e de tempo do carteiro. Decidi tentar cancelar o serviço.

Primeiro busquei como fazer isso online, mas a gente j√° viu que o BB n√£o √© muito da era tecnol√≥gica. Eles gostam mesmo que a gente v√° na ag√™ncia, d√™ oi pro gerente, conte como anda a vida… Eu dei mais uma chance pro telefone. Liguei l√° no 4004 comemorando que eu estava no Brasil e o n√ļmero finalmente funcionava. A√≠ ele me pede uma senha de 4 d√≠gitos do telefone. A√≠ eu digito a senha (que, de novo, por um milagre eu lembrei) e, t√°d√°! senha bloqueada! “Por favor compare√ßa a uma ag√™ncia para o desbloqueio.” Ok. Dessa vez eles me pegaram. N√£o tinha como escapar.

Fui da ag√™ncia (sem o computador dessa vez, aprendi minha li√ß√£o), peguei a senha e dos 5 gerentes que estavam l√°, dois estavam conversando com outros clientes, dois estavam batendo papo entre si e outro estava fazendo n√£o sei o qu√™. Esperei uns 20 minutos numa fila com duas outras pessoas na minha frente. Afinal de contas, ag√™ncia cheia n√©, eles ficam inventando motivo pra gente ir l√°… Fui atendida, refiz a senha do telefone (que a essa altura do campeonato j√° est√° bloqueada de novo) e pedi pra cancelar o recebimento de extrato.

N√£o n√£o… Cancelamento de recebimento de extrato √© feito no caixa eletr√īnico. Mentira! Existe mesmo um servi√ßo que √© feito *s√≥* no caixa eletr√īnico e n√£o dentro da ag√™ncia? Eu quase ca√≠ pra tr√°s quando me falaram isso. Vamos ver finalmente como funciona qualquer coisa automatizada nesse banco! Uhuuu!

Sa√≠ da ag√™ncia, peguei outra fila pro caixa eletr√īnico. Coloquei o cart√£o, digitei a senha, s√≠labas, anivers√°rio, ano de nascimento do pai, n√ļmero do sapato da m√£e (n√£o pode sempre fazer as mesmas perguntas n√©?), tr√™s pulinhos e uma voltinha. Voil√°! Servi√ßo cancelado. Como eu sa√≠ em menos de um m√™s, n√£o sei de fato se os extratos pararam de ser enviados, ou se meu pai tem queimado eles quando chegam temendo pela minha sanidade mental…

O Banco do Brasil é o banco mais seguro do mundo (3)

Da √ļltima vez que estive no Brasil, comprei uma coisa via internet e precisava pagar a conta. Como s√≥ tenho um cart√£o de d√©bito, tive que usar o bom e velho boleto banc√°rio.

Tentativa de pagamento 1: pagamento online, claro. Mais f√°cil e conveniente, funciona sem sair de casa. Entro no site, pe√ßo o c√≥digo, recebo o c√≥digo, autorizo o computador… A gente j√° sabe o esquema. Vou pagar, digito 5 mil n√ļmeros do c√≥digo de barra e… opera√ß√£o n√£o permitida. Por qu√™? N√£o sabemos… nunca saberemos.

Tentativa de pagamento 2: vou em uma ag√™ncia pagar no caixa eletr√īnico. Era s√°bado. Passei pela porta girat√≥ria com um detector de metal, fui num caixa… em manuten√ß√£o. Fui em outro caixa… manuten√ß√£o. Na verdade nenhum dos caixas onde eu podia realizar pagamentos estava funcionando. Havia um seguran√ßa dentro da ag√™ncia que me informou que os caixas estavam sendo abastecidos de dinheiro. Ele n√£o sabia me dizer quanto tempo levaria. Pessoal trabalhador n√©… enchendo caixa no final de semana.

Tentativa de pagamento 3: voltei no dia seguinte. Os caixas pareciam estar funcionando, as pessoas estavam fazendo opera√ß√Ķes normais e tudo mais. Fui feliz com meu boleto em um deles. Coloquei meu cart√£o, digitei a senha, s√≠labas (que por um milagre eu lembrei de cabe√ßa), data do meu anivers√°rio, nome do pai, nome de solteira da m√£e, endere√ßo do av√ī, ra√ßa do cachorro e tudo mais que ele queria saber (tamb√©m dei um tchauzinho pra c√Ęmera s√≥ pra eles terem certeza que eu era eu!). Digito 5 mil n√ļmeros do c√≥digo de barra e… opera√ß√£o n√£o permitida! N√£o vamos perguntar porqu√™. Um colega ofereceu pagar pra mim online mas eu n√£o quis arriscar. Vai que o banco n√£o me deixa sacar o dinheiro pra pagar ele…

Tentativa de pagamento 4: ir num caixa √† moda antiga. Era tudo que eles queriam, finalmente me fazer ir a uma ag√™ncia! Falar com uma pessoa ao vivo e a cores! Nesse dia eu estava com meu computador na mochila, e o computador n√£o cabe na caixinha pra deixar chave e celular que tem do lado do detector de metais [1]. Nessa ag√™ncia n√£o tinha escaninho. Eu estava literalmente na rua, com uma mochila com computador, tentando passar por uma porta girat√≥ria com um detector de metais [2]. Aquilo n√£o ia funcionar. Bati no vidrinho da ag√™ncia at√© um seguran√ßa me ver, apontei o computador e a porta, e ele apertou qualquer coisa l√° que desativou o detector de metais e me deixou passar. Entrei na fila do caixa, passei por uma menina que est√° l√° s√≥ pra clicar umas op√ß√Ķes bestas numa telinha e me dar um papelzinho com a senha. Minha senha foi chamada. Fui no caixa. A mo√ßa do caixa n√£o pareceu t√£o contente assim em me ver… Paguei a conta. Sucesso!

Agora pensa se eu tivesse dado o azar de precisar pagar alguma coisa n√£o estando no Brasil hein? Afinal de contas, foram apenas quatro tentativas e pronto!

[1] Se pagar uma conta já é difícil, entrar no banco também tem que ser, oras.

[2] Talvez eles tenham problemas com pessoas que usam computador? Olha que é uma boa teoria hein!

O Banco do Brasil é o banco mais seguro do mundo (2)

Mais um conto da série.

Eu tinha mudado pra Viena h√° pouco tempo quando precisei acessar minha conta do Banco do Brasil online fora do pa√≠s pela primeira vez. Isso devia ser meados de 2011. Se voc√™ est√° lendo isso na ordem, deve saber pela √ļltima hist√≥ria que toda vez que preciso acessar o site do BB, tenho que receber um novo c√≥digo de autoriza√ß√£o do computador no celular.

A primeira vez que isso aconteceu e eu estava fora do pa√≠s, o √ļnico celular cadastrado na minha conta era o meu antigo, que j√° n√£o existia mais. Tinha ent√£o que cadastrar um novo telefone (que s√≥ pode ser do Brasil), e pra isso, adivinha? Tenho que ir na ag√™ncia! Esse pessoal deve gostar muito de atender cliente. Imagino que chegarei l√° e estar√£o todos de bra√ßos abertos com um sorriso enorme me esperando…

Com sorte eu tinha deixado uma procura√ß√£o com meu pai que basicamente d√° direito a ele ser eu pra qualquer coisa. Ent√£o ele me fez o favor de ir na ag√™ncia ser eu e cadastrar o n√ļmero do telefone dele na minha conta. Pelo menos agora eu vou poder acessar minha conta de vez n√©? Ah vou…

E quando eu precisei acessar a conta e o meu pai estava me visitando fora do Brasil? O celular dele n√£o estava funcionando e portanto n√£o consegui receber o c√≥digo. Decidi usar o bom e velho telefone, e depois de um bom tempo procurando um n√ļmero que (1) funcionasse via Skype [1] e (2) n√£o precisasse da senha do telefone que (surpresa!) estava bloqueada, consegui falar com uma pessoa. Ap√≥s confirmar todos os meus dados, ela me perguntou o que poderia fazer por mim e eu pedi pra ter acesso √† conta online. Ela me disse que n√£o era poss√≠vel. Por que n√£o? Porque n√£o tinha como ela ter certeza de que eu era eu. Voc√™ sabe, medidas de seguran√ßa n√©… Vai que tem algu√©m com um rev√≥lver na minha cabe√ßa pedindo pelo amor de deus por um c√≥digo pra desbloquear o computador pra eles poderem… hmm… ver meu saldo? [2] [1] N√ļmeros 0800, 4004 e cia n√£o funcionam via Skype.

[2] Parece que essa √© a √ļnica opera√ß√£o que eu consigo fazer de todo jeito. Terceira historinha aqui.

O Banco do Brasil é o banco mais seguro do mundo (1)

Ou o mais carente. Vou explicar.

M√™s passado eu tentei acessar minha conta do Banco do Brasil online. Eu estava em Viena, na √Āustria. Ao clicar em “Acesse sua conta”, o site √© redirecionado pra uma p√°gina onde tenho que colocar o n√ļmero da conta e senha. Mas antes disso, como de praxe, ele me avisa que vai executar um jar e pergunta se eu tenho mesmo certeza se quero fazer isso.

bb-jar

Duas vezes. Eu tenho que realmente ter certeza. [1]

Depois de entrar todos os dados, a página me avisa que não posso realizar nenhuma operação porque meu computador não está autorizado. Claro! Eu atualizei o Firefox. Toda vez que atualizo o Firefox (que acontece mais ou menos uma vez por mês) o Banco do Brasil esquece que meu computador é autorizado. Faz todo sentido.

Ent√£o eu tenho que receber um c√≥digo pelo celular pra autorizar meu “novo” computador. S√≥ que n√£o pode ser pra qualquer celular, tem que ser pra um celular no Brasil. Dei sorte de j√° ter passado por todo o processo de cadastrar o n√ļmero do meu pai na minha conta sem estar fisicamente no pa√≠s [2]. Pedi que enviassem o c√≥digo ent√£o e aguardei meu pai me mandar. Ele n√£o estava com o telefone na hora, mas depois de algum tempo recebi o c√≥digo.

Ao tentar acessar o site de novo, me deparo com uma mensagem dizendo que minha senha foi bloqueada. Eu devo ir num caixa eletr√īnico com meu cart√£o pra desbloquear ou numa ag√™ncia. Desconfiei que o acesso foi bloqueado porque eu estava no exterior. Pedi pro meu pai tentar acessar o site do Brasil, mas nada. Senha bloqueada. Ele gentilmente ofereceu ir numa ag√™ncia pra mim. O gerente o informou que n√£o s√≥ minha senha da internet, mas todas as senhas, foram bloqueadas por “medida de seguran√ßa”. Sabe-se l√° qual. Ningu√©m conseguiu me explicar ainda. Pra desbloquear a senha eu deveria ir pessoalmente na ag√™ncia… ou ir na embaixada brasileira, redigir uma procura√ß√£o pro meu pai, assinar com firma reconhecida e enviar via Sedex. √Č uma praticidade sem fim!

Eu pensei que talvez existisse um jeito mais f√°cil. Entrei em contato com o Banco do Brasil via Facebook explicando a situa√ß√£o. Depois de explicar que eu n√£o poderia ir a uma ag√™ncia e n√£o tinha procurador no Brasil, eles me mandaram um formul√°rio que eu deveria enviar preenchido e assinado, com uma c√≥pia de algum documento, pra um e-mail da minha ag√™ncia [3]. (Olha s√≥, j√° ficou mais simples do que o esquema do Sedex hein!) Um dos campos que eu deveria preencher nesse formul√°rio era o endere√ßo IP do computador utilizado pra acessar o site. Mesmo? Endere√ßo de IP? Que bonitinho eles tentando ser tecnol√≥gicos… Como se eu usasse *um* computador, em *uma* rede, com *IP¬† est√°tico*! Parece minha av√≥ perguntando qual √© meu novo endere√ßo de e-mail depois que eu mudei.

Enfim, mandei o formulário deixando claro que não tinha um IP fixo de onde eu sempre acessaria o site deles. Isso faz uma semana. Sem notícias ainda. Talvez eles estejam confusos com o esquema do IP que muda. Talvez eles estejam com saudades de mim e queiram que eu pegue um avião pra dar um pulinho lá na agência. Pelo menos ninguém mais tem acesso à minha conta né? (Ou será que tem??)

Vamos ver quanto tempo vai demorar pra eu recuperar esse acesso. Aguardem cenas dos próximos capítulos.

[1] Quem ainda usa Java Applets empacotados em jars pra rodar um simples formul√°rio em uma p√°gina web hoje em dia? Sinceramente…

[2] Segunda historinha. Veja aqui.

[3] Fato interessante: Nesse meio tempo, o meu noivo teve o mesmo problema. Sua senha de acesso à internet foi bloqueada. Ele entrou em contato com o BB no Facebook um dia depois de mim. Em três dias ele recebeu uma mensagem dizendo que a senha havia sido desbloqueada. Belas políticas incoerentes de segurança!

About stupidity

Recently I came across this quote:

“When you are dead, you don’t know that you are dead.It is difficult only for the others… It is the same when you are stupid.” [1]

Isn’t this the best quote ever?

At times when people are voting for Donald Trump, enormous corruption scandals are being unveiled, terrorist attacks are becoming the norm as well as bombarding others’ countries, we all have something to say about stupid people. As unbelievably stupid as others may seem, we need to keep in mind a couple of things:

1. We might appear equally stupid for others as well, and;
2. In the end, we are all just people.

For the sake of not appearing stupid and for reducing the general level of stupidity in the world, let’s try to understand how this happens. Fortunately I am not the first one to ask this question, and much more competent people have studied this before. We should learn from them. In 1999, David Dunning and Justing Kruger ran a series of experiments to test how people assess their own competence at a task. This was inspired by a very interesting fact:

“The study was inspired by the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras.”

I know… I know… How in the world can a person think that lemon juice would make their face invisible on cameras? And if they thought so, why haven’t they tested it *before* robbing a bank? It turns out that the lack of competence is so big, but so big, that they are unable to doubt their reasoning and think for a second that they might be wrong.

Now, this is an extreme case, of course, but the study has shown that incompetent people were often over confident, and guessed a much higher score than they actualy got. This is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

At this point you might be thinking: “Sure, but I am not a stupid person.”
Aren’t you? Think again. If a stupid person is not able to assess their own stupidity, how do you know you are not one of them? [2] How do I know *I* am not one of them? No one wants to be seen as stupid by other people, so we should really find out.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is observed when unskilled persons have what is called “illusory superiority”. The name is self-explanatory. It is also known as the above average effect (e.g. in a survey, 87% of MBA students at Stanford University rated their performance above the median — something which is mathematically impossible). How can we avoid the self-inflated judgement of ourselves? This being a cognitive bias, it is virtually impossible to get rid of 100% in practice. Nevertheless, I believe there are some things we can do to alleviate it:

Doubt yourself

Whenever you think you know about something, google it. But don’t just take the first link, google also makes mistakes and the results of searches are biased. Make sure the sources you are checking are reliable, and be aware how far your knowledge goes. Inform yourself, check the facts and make sure you are not over simplifying (or maybe complicating!) things. (That is healthy doubting. We do not want the kind of unhealthy doubting that makes us crawl underneath the covers and feel bad about ourselves!)

Challenge your beliefs

It can be very healthy to talk to people that disagree with you, if they are equaly engaged and willing to explain their point (and not ofended by your questions [3]). It is good to understand the other side’s reasoning that led them to a different conclusion than yours, and it is good to explain your reasoning to others. Explaining is a very nice way to sanity-check your reasoning.

Learn from experience

If you are in a situation that others have been before, take a look at the past experiences. How are they similar to what you are going through? How are they different? What actions were taken? What was the outcome? Has someone conducted scientific studies on this before? Learn something from them.

Don’t let emotions get in the way

When someone says we are wrong, our first reaction is to listen to the “you are wrong” part and ignore completely why they think we are wrong. We are humans and we don’t like being wrong, but the moment we start being defensive is the moment emotion takes over reasoning. And emotions tend to make us even more biased. So if you feel your heart beating harder when you listen to something, take a step back, breath, and think coldly what exactly it was that made you startle. You might even learn a thing or two about yourself.

Give information instead of opinions

When you think someone is being stupid about something, give them some information they can reflect on. If they even think you implied they are wrong, they will stop listening to you. If you have ever changed your mind, you know that this is not a straightforward procedure. It takes time and it has to come from within. The best you can do is provide more information so the person can think for themselves.

Good luck and stay wise!

[1] Possibly attributed to Philippe Geluck, but I could not check with absolute certainty.
[2] I am not saying you will put lemon juice on your face and rob a bank. Please don’t be angry. I am not calling anyone stupid.
[3] This happens more often than not, unfortunately.

(inter)nationality

Three seemingly unrelated facts have caught my attention this week (maybe motivated by an e-mail that arrived just in time). It got me thinking about the nationality business again. Strong nationalist feelings never made sense to me. Maybe it is because I am not exactly proud of my origin country, maybe because I have moved and traveled so much that borders cause more hassle than help, but there is something about nationalism that I just don’t get. I thought that, at least in academia, we would be better than that as our community is highly international, but these events make me think otherwise, unfortunately.

The first thing that happened was the release of results of Marie Curie projects. This is organized by an European funding agency, it is open for anyone to apply with a project to be developed at a host institution somewhere in Europe. I applied for France, to follow-up on the post-doc I have until November. It was not accepted, sadly, but that’s another story. The interesting thing was the e-mail I got from the French branch of this agency. It mentioned very proudly that France was the second country in terms of number of approved projects, being only behind the UK. Being a Brazilian researcher applying to work with an American coordinator, nothing made less sense than counting my project as “French” only because it just so happens we are both in France. I know a French researcher that applied for a project in Germany, a Russian researcher that applied for a project in Austria… By the way, the whole idea of this grant is to move people around, so you cannot apply for a country where you have lived in for more than one year in the past three years. So most applicants for an institution in country X are not actually from X. How do you consider a project being from one country or the other like this? Worse, you create a fake sense of pride for the people that happen to be in their home country, and prejudice against foreigners. The foreigners that contributed for that count in the first place.

I am applying for another thing, a permanent position this time, at Inria in France. There is a document with many many sections to fill in, and at some point they ask us to list our publications. The subsections for the publications are split in “International Journals”, “Reviewed international conferences” and then “National Journals” and “Reviewed national conferences”. What do they mean by international and national? Is national French? Is national a conference or journal that have the name of a country in the title? If I am in France and publish a paper in a workshop organized in Brazil by a Brazilian university, is this international? On top of not being clear, the division of publications into national/international suggests there is a difference of importance between these two types of events. I do not know any conference or journal that restricts submissions based on the nationality of authors (also because authors usually are from different countries) so there should not be a difference of importance based on this criteria alone.

At this point one might think that the bureaucrats are to blame. They are the ones organizing reports and templates for applications, and they are the ones that think of boundaries between national and international. The researchers are aware of the nonsense of this distinction, and are only interested in the development of science for the sake of the human kind. Right? Well… here I am at a workshop in France, which is being streamed for three locations, whose invited speaker was German and gave the talk in English, but the rest of the talks are being given in French! The guy talking now has even the slides in English, but he is speaking French. If the invited speaker was talking in English, would it kill them to give a talk that he (and I) would understand better? Sigh… I am not a native English speaker, but this language made it possible for me to get where I am, so I have no problem in using it if it is enabling a better integration of the people in the world. Franchement…

In spite of all that, I don’t feel like an outsider. On the contrary, the outsiders for me are people who give so much importance to the nationality question, and I feel sorry for them. If they have some kind of prejudice against me because of where I am from, it is really *their* loss, because I am awesome xD