Sketchplanations

Explaining the world one sketch at a time

Sketchplanations

Explaining the world one sketch at a time

Ablaut reduplication - Sketchplanations

Ablaut reduplication

For some obscure reason English speakers will almost always find a flip-flop to be more natural than a flop-flip, or a pitter patter of tiny feet to a patter pitter, or a tick tock to a tock tick. When the vowel changes in a reduplicative term — such as wishy washy or hip hop — it's known as ablaut reduplication and the vowels almost always follow the order I-A-O. If you say them in any other way they almost always sound weird. It's quite fun to think of examples. I learned this neat thing from Mark Forsyth when learning about the even more surprising English grammar convention about ordering adjectives — he was explaining why we say the Big Bad Wolf (thanks ablaut reduplication) and not the Bad Big Wolf as our other grammar convention would dictate. Order print
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The front page test - Sketchplanations

The front page test

The front page test is a handy thought experiment for your decision-making ethics: how would you feel if your actions were on the front page of a major newspaper? Would you squirm or would you stand proud? There are many ways to think about making ethical decisions: sticking to promises, considering the net good and bad consequences, considering what would happen if everyone behaved the same way, and others. The front page test is simple and cuts through much of the noise to how you truly feel about an action. Order print
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Yak shaving - Sketchplanations

Yak shaving

Yak shaving describes how when setting out to do something, you found you had to first do something else, which needed you to finish this other thing, and so on until you found yourself shaving a yak, or equally unrelated activity, to do the first thing you set out to do. It's pretty common in life — tidying your room? — and particularly resonates in software development where when tackling one thing you find yourself fixing something else, which needs you to fix something else, and so on. Here's the ever brilliant xkcd on fixing problems. The first I found of yak shaving was a short article on productivity in the first issue of Make magazine by Danny O'Brien and Merlin Mann. Yak in the style of Alison Green and Adam Stower's excellent children's book, What can you Stack on the Back of a Yak? HT: Joe Knowles Order print
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Context is king - Sketchplanations

Context is king

It's been called the expectation effect. Is it a B or a 13? It appears that how we see depends on the context and what we expect to see. This neat example is from a 1955 experiment by Jerome Bruner and A. Leigh Minturn. One of the findings, other than people seamlessly identifying a B or 13 when surrounded appropriately by letters or numbers, was that when asked to draw what they saw "as is" participants were more inclined to draw a closed or partially closed B when it was surrounded by letters. What participants expected to see appeared to affect what they did see. Order print
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