Observation Bias - A True Story

January 5, 2014 — Posted by Al Shalloway

I don’t normally talk about an event that happened in my life several years ago because I am afraid what people will think of me.  But a recent twitter conversation about observation bias has compelled me to describe it.

 Several years ago I was driving in my car when some bright lights erupted all around me.  I felt a jar and all of a sudden the wheels of the car started spinning like I was in the air.  The car started rotating in a slow, counter-clockwise manner and I realized that I was being lifted up off the road.   The next thing I knew the car doors open and there I was, face to face with three, large blue-eyed, green bodied aliens!

To say I was scared would be an understatement.  Then they started making sounds like a car – a series of honks, engine sounds and braking noises.  The kept this up for several minutes and they seemed to be getting agitated.  It took me a few minutes to realize that they were trying to talk to my car! In my stupor I hadn’t said a thing, but now I had calmed down a little and said – “what is it you want?”  Not sure it was really shock on their face, I mean, they were aliens and how do I know what shocked aliens look like, but that was the impression I got.

One said to the other “it talks.”  I said “sure I talk, why are you talking to my car?”  “Your car?, it’s clearly you are it’s servant, not the other way around.” “Huh?” was all I could say.  The alien said “Look, we’ve been watching you for a long time and it is clear that when a car wants to move it summons its servant and then takes off.  We see how you all get out of your car-master to run errands for it. We see you take it places to put food into it and it gets to rest most of the time while you scurry around. You also bring them to what you call highways to gather together and hang around.”

I didn’t know what to say – but it appeared the alien was starting to get angry (of course, I can’t really be sure what an angry alien looks like).  The aliens kept making car noises with the expected limited result. Finally, it looked at me and said “you better get your master talking to us or we will kill you!”  I said, “but I am the master, isn’t the fact that it doesn’t respond proof of that?”  The alien responded, “no, all it proves is that their language is more complex than the simple one you speak that we figured out so easily."

I was now getting scared but had an idea.  I said “wait a minute, I can get her to talk.  But she won’t talk to you in car.  That’s reserved only for cars to speak to each other. I think I can get her to speak to you in my language if you promise to set me free.” The key was still in the ignition, so, although car had stopped, power was still on.  I clicked on my “OnStar” system and was met with “how can I help you?”  At this point the alien asked a question and the system gave a response.  The aliens were delighted.

The alien turned to me and said “thanks for your help.  We will let you go, but we are keeping your master.”  The next thing I knew was I was on the side of the street where I had first seen the lights.  No worse for wear, but not sure what I’ll tell my car insurance company.

 Al

BTW: This was inspired by some short-story / film I saw as a teenager.  I’m guessing it was this – What on Earth!  http://www.nfb.ca/film/what_on_earth/  Or, perhaps it was the more recent Hitchicker’s Guide to the Galaxy – not sure.

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With over 40 years of experience, Alan is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, SAFe, Scrum and agile design.


Comments

You always have had a knack for good stories... I loved it!

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