Here's part of "Tricky Living," copyright by Russ Walter, first edition. For newer info, read the 32nd edition of the "Secret Guide to Computers & Tricky Living" at


The most misspelled word in the English language is “psychology.” That’s how most people spell it, but that spelling is wrong! You should spell it “sighcology,” since it’s the study of why people sigh.

It studies what makes people sad or glad (the meaning of happiness!) and what motivates people to do things and keep on living.

It also studies why people act crazy. At Dartmouth College, the course in “Abnormal Psychology” is nicknamed “Nuts & Sluts.”

Many psychology experiments are performed on rats before being tried on people. That’s why at Northwestern University, the course in “Psychology” is nicknamed “Ratology.”

Trick the professor

According to psychology, if you make your victim happy when he’s performing an activity, he’ll do that activity more often. That’s called reinforcement.

At Dartmouth College, a psychology professor was giving a lecture about that, but his lecture was too effective: his students secretly decided to make him the victim! They decided on a goal: make him teach while standing next to the window instead of the blackboard. Whenever he moved toward the window, they purposely looked more interested in what he was saying; whenever he returned to the blackboard, they purposely looked more bored. Sure enough, they finally got him to give all lectures from the window! They’d trained their human animal: the classroom was his cage; his class became a circus. When the students finally told him what they’d done, he was so embarrassed!

Okay, kids, try this with your teachers! Pick a goal (“Let’s make the teacher lecture from the back of the room while he does somersaults”) and see how close you can come to success!

But actually, with an experiment like this, everybody wins, since the students have to keep watching the teacher to find out when to pretend to look interested. That means the students can’t fall asleep in class. If one of the students secretly snitches to the teacher about what’s going on, the teacher should play along with it, because the teacher knows that the students will be watching the teacher’s every move while the game continues. A rapt, excited audience is exactly what the teacher wants!


If you want to do experiments on humans, to determine which social settings and drugs are most effective, make sure that neither the experimenters nor the patients know which patients got which treatments, until after the experiment is over. If the experimenters or patients know too much too soon, they’ll bias the results of the tests.

The most accurate kind of experiment is called double-blind: neither the experimenters nor the patients know who gets which treatment; the experimenters & patients are both blind to what’s going on, until after the test. For example, to accurately test whether a pill is effective, it’s important that neither the experimenters nor the patients know which patients got the real pills and which patients got the placebos (fake pills) until after the experiment is over.

Here are two famous examples proving that double-blindness can be essential to accuracy.…

Hawthorne In the 1920’s and 1930’s, psychologists tried some experiments in Western Electric’s “Hawthorne” factory in Chicago.

First, psychologists tried improving the lighting, by making the place brighter. As expected, the workers’ productivity increased.

But then, after a while, the psychologists tried another experiment: they lowered the lighting. Strange as it seems, lowering the lighting made productivity increase further!

It turned out that what made the workers productive wasn’t “more lighting”; it was “attention and variety.” Anything that made the workers’ life more interesting and less monotonous made productivity increase. Also, perhaps more important, workers work harder when they know they’re being watched!

The same thing happened when the “rest breaks” and pay were changed: the act of change itself made productivity increase, regardless of whether the change was intended for better or worse.

That’s called the Hawthorne Experiment. Moral: workers (and patients) do better when they know they’re watched and cared about, even if the conditions are worse. So if you try a new technique (or pill) that seems to be successful, the success might be just because the patients know they’re being watched, not because your technique itself is really good.

Bloomers In the 1960’s, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson had psychologists sit in the back of 18 elementary-school classrooms, watch the students, and then tell the teachers that certain kids were “intellectual bloomers” who would probably do better and improve a lot. Then the psychologists left. At the end of the year, the psychologists came back, gave the kids IQ tests and and, sure enough, the kids that had been called “intellectual bloomers” improved more than the other kids and were also “better liked,” even though those kids had actually been picked at random! That’s because the teacher treated those kids differently, after hearing they were “intellectual bloomers.”

They repeated the experiment with a welding class: they told the teacher that certain students in the welding class were “high aptitude.” Sure enough, those students scored higher on welding exams, learned welding skills in about half as much time as their classmates, and were absent less often than classmates, even though those students had actually been picked at random.

In an earlier test, they told psychology students that certain rats were “bright.” Sure enough, the “bright” rats learned to run through mazes faster, even though those rats had actually been picked at random.

Moral: if you expect more of a person (or rat), you’ll tend to give that individual more helpful attention, so the individual will live up to those expectations. Second moral: if you (or teachers) expect a certain outcome, it will happen, just because you expected it.


Whenever you feel bummed out, take a trip — for a month or a week or a day — or at least take a walk around the block or watch TV or read a newspaper or book. When you see other people acting out their own lives and ignoring yours, you’ll realize that your momentary personal crisis is unimportant in the grand scheme of life.

So what if a close acquaintance thinks badly of you? There are billions of other people in the world who don’t care, who don’t have any opinion of you at all, know nothing about what you’ve done, and don’t care about it. All they care about is that you act like a nice person now.

Act nice, and the world will grow to love you. If your little world temporarily hates you and you don’t want to deal with it, explore a new world: take a trip!


In a psychology lecture about habits, the professor said he knew a bishop who dispensed advice to priests. To the question, “Is it okay to kiss a nun?” the bishop replied:

It’s okay to kiss a nun once in a while, but don’t get in the habit.


More suicides occur on Sunday than any other day of the week. That’s because Sunday’s the only day when Americans have enough time to ponder how meaningless their lives are.

The best cure for suicidal thoughts is: Monday! Go back to work, get reinforced every hour for your accomplishments, and keep yourself busy enough to avoid introspection.

Every day, I think about killing myself, but the main thing stopping me is curiosity. I’m a news junkie with a sci-fi bent: I want to know what will happen to the world tomorrow, and if I kill myself I won’t find out!

Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and the reporters at The Wall Street Journal have saved my life. They give me a reason for living: to find out what stupid things they’ll be forced to say tomorrow.

When I see the daily newsreels of horrors around the world, I remember why God created evil: to make us feel better, by knowing that other people are even worse off, and we’re so lucky not to be them!

Learn from your miseries and become a better person.

                                 If your travails are long and tough

                                 And your rewards are few,

                                 Remember that the mighty oak

                                 Was once a nut like you.

But if you nevertheless decide to kill yourself, here’s a suggestion about the best way to do it:

A local newspaper here ran an article whose headline said “Police kill suicidal man.” The police in Henniker NH got a call saying that a relative (a man in his 40’s) was depressed (because he was fired from a bookstore) and seemed suicidal (judging from what he phoned to his 5-year-old estranged daughter), so the police went to his house. Nobody responded to their knocks, so they forcibly entered and found him. They asked him if he was okay. Instead of replying, he walked near a rifle, picked it up, and aimed it at a policeman, so they shot him in self-defense. Since his gun was loaded, the police were exonerated.

Hey, that’s a clever way to commit suicide: get the police to do the killing for you! But plan carefully, to make sure you don’t accidentally shoot the police when they shoot you.

Psych course

During the 1960’s, when I was learning to be a clinic psychologist, the professor told us that two thirds of all psychological problems resolve themselves, without help — though a nudge sure helps!

Loretta LaRoche

                                 Yesterday is history.

                                 Tomorrow is a mystery.

                                 Today is God’s gift to you:

                                 That’s why it’s called “the present.”

I didn’t invent those words. They were the closing poem at a one-woman show/seminar: a PBS special called “The Joy of Stress” by humorous therapist Loretta LaRoche. Now she has a new presentation, called “Stop Global Whining.”

Grow up

Bored people grow up.

Fascinating people grow down.



Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

Test about life

Here’s a multiple-choice test about life.

Laugh, and the world laughs with you.

Cry, and....

Which completion is most correct?

Cry, and you cry alone.

Cry, and the world laughs at you.

Cry, and your dad says to shut up.

Cry, and you win the Academy Award — or at least get on Jerry Springer.

Cry, and you make the guy feel sorry for you and marry you.

Cry, and you get a loan.

Mr. Stupid

                              They call me Mr. Stupid

                              Because I am so cool!

                              I put my pants on backwards —

                              Just love to break the rules!

                              I fall in love with any girl

                              Who dares to tell me “no,”

                              Since any girl who dislikes me

                              Must really be a show!

                              Though I’m called Mr. Stupid,

                              I never really mind,

                              Since I know how behind my back

                              They whisper I’m so fine!

                              Sticks and stones may break my bones

                              But names will never hurt.

                              Though maybe stupid, I’m unique.

                              The other folks are dirt.

                              Folks do not mind my joyous brags.

                              In fact, they even laugh.

                              And when I tell a dirty joke

                              They offer me a bath.

                              Stupidity is wonderful

                              When I am in control.

                              I may be just a character,

                              But on my bridge, the troll!