Humanities Language Media Podcasts

Are you using “steep learning curve” wrong?

Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics podcast episode pointed out that using the term “steep learning curve” to describe something that is difficult to master is incorrect. I’ve been guilty of this and now notice I’m not the only one. Within a day or so, I heard another person on a different podcast use the term incorrectly.

From the transcript:

Stephen Dubner is interviewing Scott Lilienfeld, a professor of psychology at Emory University.

DUBNER: And the last one we’ll do right now is “steep learning curve.”

LILIENFELD: A lot of people will say, “Oh, I started on a new job where I was having to do something new. And this job has a really steep learning curve.” In fact they’re getting it backward. A steep learning curve is easy. Because a steep learning curve means —

DUBNER: You learn a lot in a hurry, right?

LILIENFELD: Not slowly.

DUBNER: When I read that in your paper I thought, “Oh my goodness, that’s really interesting that we’ve all got it backwards.” But then I quickly rationalized and said, “Well, I guess what I always assumed was that the steepness was on the axis referring to difficulty somehow,” right? And that if a task is particularly difficult, then that’s the steepness, and that’s the curve I’m on. So really, when we encounter something that’s really difficult, and we’re having a hard time mastering it, we should say we’re on a very shallow —

LILIENFELD: A very shallow learning curve, that’s right. I think when people say, “This task has a steep learning curve,” what they mean is, “Man, I feel like I’m going up like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill and going up a very steep mountain!” But in fact if something has a steep learning curve, that means that it’s acquired very quickly.

Listen to the episode here.

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Star Wars Viewing Order

aitoff / Pixabay
I’ve always been a Star Wars fan, but not necessarily a hard core fanatic (i.e. I don’t keep up with everything Star Wars, mainly just the theatrical releases). I have the benefit of having experienced it from the beginning from the first theatrical release in 1977 when I was 11. I enjoy the new films and generally look forward to what Disney has in store for the franchise.

Now with eight episodes (currently early 2018) and a ancillary story (“Rogue One,” with soon to be “Solo”), there seems to be some debate as to what order the theatrical films should be viewed. I found this article on Star Wars Day regarding this.

Granted, as I stated above, I am not a “hard core” SW fan, and would probably lose any argument against said hard core fan, but found the idea intriguing none the less. I liked The Machete Order most of all with the one adjustment by the article’s author (as he calls it The New Order). He adds the ancillary film, Rouge One to the top of the list to start which I thought has a great idea.

Which is this:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

If you’re not up on this debate, you’ll notice that Episode One was completely dropped. I was not really overwhelmed by Episode One when it first came out and my very first remark after the film to the people I went to see it with was, “I’m glad George Lucas doesn’t take himself too seriously.” While I was glad to see the franchise being renewed (at least for film), I found it to be a bit campy to say the least. I didn’t even see the next two episodes in the theater, waiting instead to watch it on DVD. So, I found the reasoning behind dropping this one altogether compelling.

At any rate, you’ll have to read the article to see all the reasons behind this order. I also found another article by definite hard core fans that had other interesting takes. It even had some good reasons not to skip Episode One, but didn’t really convince me. It also goes into the whole discussion of the “enhanced” versions, which I’ve written about on this blog here.

Everyday Things Government Media SOI Blog

Highway Sign Font

As I was working on a video project showing highway signs, I discovered the font used on highway and interstate signage is called “Highway Gothic.” You can download it for your own use here.

I also discovered the use of an new font called “Clearview.” It was thought to be a replacement for the tried an true Highway Gothic. After some promising research results on better readability it looked like it would be the new default. Interestingly, after reviewing the research, it appears that the better results on readability seemed to be caused by the fact that the signs using the Clearview font were newer compared to the older faded signs using Highway Gothic. In other words, they were not comparing apples to apples. So according to the Wikipedia article, Highway Gothic will remain the standard for the time being.

Entertainment Government Humanities Media SOI Blog

Copyright Law Weirdness

I’m a big proponent of limited copyright law. I think copyright should have a limited time limit, after which time the work or IP falls into the public domain to be used freely. Currently copyright seems to go on forever. As ranted about by CGP Grey here.

But recently, I discovered that terrestrial or over the air broadcasters only paid the song writers and publishers for playing recorded music. The ones performing the song don’t get anything when their record is played. A loophole the broadcasters have consistently lobbied for.

For instance:
“When you hear Counting Crows’ recording of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ on the radio in the US, Joni Mitchell – the composer of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ – is compensated through BMI. But Counting Crows receive nothing for this performance.”

More can be found in this article:
Public Performance Right for Sound Recordings

Entertainment Everyday Things Media Science SOI Blog

The Vast Emptiness of Outerspace

While browsing to the page of the scale of the universe (previous post) I noticed a related Google search for that page was “if the moon was a pixel.” Of course I had to investigate and I was lead to this familiar interactive display of how empty space really is. This reminded me of a page I posted about a few years ago about the vast emptiness of inner space, that if we made a scale model of an atom where a neutron was only a pixel how far would we need to put the nucleus away from it. Originally the idea was that it would be a few miles away, but seems it wasn’t that easy to display, you can read the author, Dave Grossman’s full explanation here. It appears the Dave created a similar page about the solar system using the same concept, but I think Josh Worth’s work to be much nicer design and much more entertaining. Check it out!

note: even more amazing is the little button in the right hand corner that simulates the moving at the speed of light, it’s seems agonizingly slow!


Media Science SOI Blog Technology

Micro-verse to Macro-verse!

This is a really cool interactive graphic of the known and unknown universe. You can zoom to the smallest described element to beyond the known universe in space. Hours of geeky info here.

Entertainment Internet Media Technology

Star Wars Despecialized

Here’s a project where Star Wars fans have taken it upon themselves to bring back the original Star Wars movie experience from 1977. I admit to being a bit of a purist, but these guys have gone so far as to add back in odd light flashes that most likely were a mistake and even the color of the clouds behind the 20th Century Fox logo at the beginning. I would align myself to the camp that some of the changes made in the special edition re-release went way too far, especially the Jabba the Hut scene, which I thought looked awful. Maybe now that Disney controls this franchise they may be more agreeable to release an unaltered, original version of the film. For now you can find more info about the “restored” version here.

UPDATE: A new version in 4K is currently in the works, info here. Although the version above is created from various DVD and Laserdisc sources, this one claims to be from an original 35mm print.

In fact, there already is a version that was created from an original theatrical 35mm print called the Silver Screen version. I’ve embedded it below from




Everyday Things Media

What Do Crisco and Diamonds Have in Common?

Here are two stories that show how good marketing turned a substance with low to mediocre value to be prized by the general public. Believe it or not diamonds are not as valuable as you may think, they just have good marketing. Crisco had to be sold as a replacement for something that didn’t need a replacement. Two great podcasts explain.

Planet Money Episode 335: Who Killed Lard?0/163834119/episode-335-who-killed-lard

Diamonds Are a Marriage Counselor’s Best Friend: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Media Science

How Good Are TV Doctors?

ER-doomedYou may be surprised that fictional hospitals on TV do not have a very good track record compared to real life. According to research by Amir Hetsroni, an Israeli professor of communications, your chances of survival are pretty slim if you are a patient on a medical drama. From Freakanomics website:

He and his students watched numerous episodes of ER, Chicago Hope, and Grey’s Anatomy, keeping detailed coding books on every patient – their race, approximate age, their malady, the treatment, and whether they lived or died. Their resulting paper was called “If You Must Be Hospitalized, Television Is not the Place.”

The study found that TV patients are nearly nine times more likely to die than actual patients.

You should check out the two Freakonomics episodes on healthcare.

How Many Doctors Does It Take to Start a Healthcare Revolution?

How Do We Know What Really Works in Healthcare?

Internet Media

We Got That B-roll

Those who have worked in television will appreciate this, I know I did.