Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Our Best Habits According to Mechanical Turk

IMG_2506I'm not too surprised that my good habit survey on Mechanical Turk hasn't been as popular as my bad habit survey. People find bad habits more fascinating that good, I think. And yet, the good habit survey still has many more responses than my survey on engineering books. Go figure.

I have received 100 responses to my good habit survey. As with the bad habit survey, the quantity of data doesn't fit well into a blog post. I quickly picked a sampling of responses to post below.

Thanks to all the workers who completed my Mechanical Turk surveys!


Habit I admire in other people: “Standing up when an adult enters the
room, especially if the child has yet to meet him/her. When the child gets up says hello and shakes his/her hand it’s a sign of respect.”

Do I have the same habit? “yes”

Do other people like this habit? “no”

How could someone learn this habit? “Teach their children.”

Will I try to learn this habit? alreadyHave*

Comments about this habit: “Adults react with noticing the kid has respect and is polite. The habit is a pleasent suprise.”

What is my best habit? “Always saying hi to people when I see them, standing up when an elder enters the room and great posture.”

How did I get my best habit? “My parents taught me it, when I was very young.”

Comments about this habit: “People are happy and answer back positively.”


Habit I admire in other people: “The most wonderful and universal behaviour is to smile, a good habit is to be courteous.”

Do I have the same habit? “yes”

Do other people like this habit? “yes”

How could someone learn this habit? “Just be aware of your surroundings and take the time to notice your fellow man/woman and remember we are all in it together.”

Will I try to learn this habit? alreadyHave

Comments about this habit: “In most cases, if you start off with a warm, welcoming smile you get one in return.”

What is my best habit? “A genuine smile”

How did I get my best habit? “It was my mother’s advice and has worked for me.”


Habit I admire in other people: “Whistling.”**

Do I have the same habit? “yes”

Do other people like this habit? “no”

How could someone learn this habit? “Practicing mostly.”

Will I try to learn this habit? alreadyHave

Comments about this habit: “”

What is my best habit? “Whistling.”

How did I get my best habit? “It mostly started out with calling to horses, then I just practiced after that.”

Comments about this habit: “Most people I think find it annoying.”

Do I have any other feedback for these questions? “Thank you.”

*This question was multiple choice, hence the machine-generated symbol in camelcase.
**I like whistling too.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Our Worst Habits According to Mechanical Turk

Phone From CarMy survey of habits that drive people crazy has been a hit on Mechanical Turk (see my earlier post on Mechanical Turk). Unlike my survey on the best engineering books, I've received more than 130 responses!

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with so much data. The responses are fascinating to read, but it's way too much data for a blog post; I'll have to find another way to publish the data.

In the mean time, here are a few randomly chosen responses. I've abridged the questions to save space, but the quotes are unedited.


Habit that drives me crazy: “People who panic over nothing are draining and shouldn’t be allowed to work.”

Do I have the same habit? “no”

Are other people usually annoyed by this habit? “yes”

How could someone change this habit? “Firing the employee.”

My worst habit: “Being stressed out.”

What could I do to change my habit? “Meditating”

Will I take action to change my habit? “no”

Do I have any other feedback for these questions? “kudos”


Habit that drives me crazy: “Lying, especially flattery.”

Do I have the same habit? “yes”

Are other people usually annoyed by this habit? “yes”

How could someone change this habit? “It’s hard to tell the truth in part because we may not know it ourselves or we may feel that it will hurt the other person. But in the long run, lies hurt more.”

My worst habit: “Lying”

What could I do to change my habit? “Taking the risk of telling the truth.”

Will I take action to change my habit? “yes”

Do I have any other feedback for these questions? “Very interesting. Sort of transformative.”


Habit that drives me crazy: “when people call and do not leave a message on voice mail they just hang up.”

Do I have the same habit? “yes”

Are other people usually annoyed by this habit? “yes”

How could someone change this habit? “leave a message when they call even if it is just to say their name”

My worst habit: “The same thing”

What could I do to change my habit? “leave messages even if it is a call just to chat and not something important”

Will I take action to change my habit? “no”

Do I have any other feedback for these questions? “It makes you think about how the things that annoy you most in other people you do yourself”


Habit that drives me crazy: “Overall, generalized stupidity - think of the examples outlines in “Here's Your Sign” by Bill Engvall” *

Do I have the same habit? “yes”

Are other people usually annoyed by this habit? “yes”

How could someone change this habit? “Stopping to THINK before they say and do obviously stupid things.”

My worst habit: “Talking too much, and with too little tact. My problem is that my lips move when I think.”

What could I do to change my habit? “Just stay quiet... preferably with my mouth full of water or something.”

Will I take action to change my habit? “yes”

* You can help me and my publisher by buying the book using this link. In association with Amazon.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Best Engineering Books According to Mechanical Turk

BoltMy first Mechanical Turk experiment asked for the worker's favorite engineering book. See my previous post for a little more background.

This HIT has not received many responses, but I'm not very surprised. There are still assignments open on Mechanical Turk if you wish to contribute.

I asked the following questions:
  1. What is the title of your favorite book on the subject of Engineering? The book might be your favorite because it is fun to read, because it has great ideas, because it is so useful, or some other reason.
  2. Who is the author of your favorite book on the subject of Engineering? This should be the author of the book you mentioned above.
  3. What engineering specialty does this book apply to? Civil engineering? Software engineering? Engineering in general?
  4. Why is this your favorite engineering book? Is it practical? Entertaining? Or something else?
  5. Do you have any feedback? If you're curious, the results of this survey will likely end up on www.engineeringadventure.com
Below are the responses I received so far.


Artificial Intelligence (3rd Edition) (A-W Series in Computerscience)

Author: Patrick H. Winston

Specialty: Artificial Intelligence/Software Engineering

Reason: Very well written and covers many topics. I took Prof. Winston's class and this got me interested in the field, and I have since then followed a career path in AI and machine learning.


Civil Engineering Reference Manual for the PE Exam

Author: Michael R. Lindeburg

Specialty: Civil

Reason: It is efficient and practical. Most needed information for general civil engineering issues are included in this book.

Feedback: I will try to remember to check it out. I'm curious how many other relevant turkers there are.


Post-Capitalist Society

Author: Peter Drucker

Specialty: industrial engineering / industrial psychology

Reason: Peter Drucker wrote "The Post Capitalist Society" more than ten years go, just as the Internet was starting to come on line. He was prescient in the view that the information of the world would begin to upwell and then overflow. His discussion of the commodification of information, the need to train people how to search and research, the psychology (and growing frustration and dropping out) of the rapid evolution of society are coming true. The evolution of knowledge work into low, medium, and high skill sets are something I struggle to implement in the IT system architecture and user interfaces I help implement. Seeing information as a new commodity, a product to be processed, sorted, transformed, and handed off to users in a final and finished form on demand is becoming critical to apply process improvement methodologies to the IT world.


Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource

Author: Marq de Villiers

Specialty: Civil Engineering with an emphasis toward our water resource

Reason: Unlike other mundane engineering books, the flow (pardon my pun) of this book is smooth as it describes the various challenges and engineering feats concerning the water industry. In fact, I have lent the book to other friends and family members who are not of an engineering background, but have exactly been left impacted by the central message. It is that central message is sometime that I try to instill to up and coming engineers back at my alumnus school; that the field of engineering is laid out by formulas and pratical sense, but our ultimate work is dictated by social constructs and attitudes. Most people in America expect to have water, which is defined as a luxury, though really it is a resource. Anyway, it is a very enjoyable read.

Feedback: Good luck finding engineering books, they are certaintly rare, or at least those which are a good read.

* You can help me and my publisher by buying the book using These links. In association with Amazon.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Project Turk

Red FezI was reminded of Amazon's Mechanical Turk a few weeks ago by a story on Boing Boing. In the article, a passenger stranded at Dulles used Mechanical Turk to collect stories and illustrations about cats. He later turned the stories into a book he sold on Blurb.

It seemed like a fantastic idea to me. I wondered how I could use the power of the Turk's hive mind to improve my life. Project Turk was born. Let's see if Mechanical Turk can help me live a better and richer life.

The first idea I settled on was to ask engineers what their favorite engineering book was. I'm a big reader. Perhaps it would be fun or inspiring to read a book from a different engineering field.

To start, I created a qualification to act as a prerequisite to the HIT. This basically amounts to a quick survey that established that the worker was an engineer or engineering student. Once a worker gets the qualification, he or she can perform any HIT (Human Intelligence Task) requiring it.

Next, I created the HIT itself, which pays a few cents in exchange for the name of a favorite engineering book. So far I've only received three responses in the past few days. I'm not too surprised; how many engineers would operate on the worker side of Mechanical Turk? I'm going to give it more time to collect data.

The next HIT I created requires no qualification except that the worker live in the US. I'm asking folks about the habits that drive them crazy, and their own worst habits. It's only been online a few hours and already I have 18 responses.There are a few really interesting themes developing. I'll probably post the results in a few days.