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  • feedwordpress 14:02:42 on 2017-12-18 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    when you let a social scientist designs for better weight management 

    What happens when you let a social scientist designs for better weight management

     

    Happy holidays!  It’s the season for gratitude, celebration, time with family… and weight gain.  That’s right, most of our weight gain happens during this time of year, and the problem is that many of us don’t lose it after the season.  This continuous weight gain over time contributes to the fact that over a third of the US population is obese.  Obesity-related conditions, from heart disease to type 2 diabetes to certain types of cancer, are some of the leading causes of preventable death.

     

    If we think about weight management through the lens of social science, what solution would we come up with?

     

    There are many angles we could take, but my team and I started with the scale.  Specifically, we recently created a scale with no display.   Sound odd?  Perhaps.  Let’s suspend judgement for a few minutes and walk through what we know about scales:

     

    1) Stepping on a scale daily is good, especially when done in the morning.

     

    Stepping on a scale daily is correlated with weight loss.  In particular, when we step on the scale in the morning, it has the power to serve as reminder of our commitment to health.  Think about it – if you’ve just stepped on your scale, will you then have oatmeal or a donut for breakfast?  When you get to work, will you take the stairs or the elevator? … and so forth.

     

    2) It’s normal for our weight to fluctuate a lot.  But psychologically the gains affect us more than the losses.

     

    Loss aversion is a well-known principle in behavioral economics – it means that losses loom larger than gains.  In weight, this would be reversed, of course: a three-pound gain will make us miserable, but a three-pound loss does not make us equivalently happy.  Imagine that your weight fluctuates up and down but on average you’re staying within the same range.  Because of loss aversion, your overall experience with the scale is negative.  You might even avoid stepping on it entirely, losing the benefit of using it as a reminder of health.

     

    3) We expect our weight to react quickly to good or bad behaviors, but it doesn’t.  This causes confusion and demotivation.

     

    Imagine you do everything you’re supposed to today.  You eat salad for lunch, you skip dessert, and you go for a run.  When you step on the scale, your weight has gone up.  How does this make you feel?  Or, on another day, you sit at home binge-watching the latest show on Netflix while eating junk food all day.  When you step on the scale, your weight has gone down.

     

    This is confusing and demotivating.  We think that our body’s feedback mechanism will be quick to react to our behaviors (good or bad), but sadly the it does not work that way.  This means that many of us end up thinking, “well what the heck, what I’m doing isn’t working anyway, so why bother?”

     

    For these 3 reasons, our team created a display-free scale called Shapa.  We’ve kept the positive elements of a scale while removing the negative ones.

     

    With Shapa, we celebrate when you step on your scale.  We give you feedback on your weight, but not in pounds.  Instead, we use a 5-point scale called Shapa Color.  If your weight with is in your normal range (within one standard deviation), congratulations, your Shapa Color is green!  If it fluctuates beyond one standard deviation in either direction, your Shapa color changes accordingly.  The idea is to take out the noise of normal fluctuations and provide a better feedback mechanism in which we can better understand the outcomes of our behaviors.

     

    On top of this, we also took all that is known in social science about the small tricks that create healthy behavior change, and bundled them into personalized recommendations called Missions.  We might suggest that you reorganize your fridge, making unhealthy items harder to reach.  If you commute to work, we might suggest that you get off one stop earlier and walk.

     

    Our early results are promising and we’re still capturing data.  In our first trial, we randomly assigned people who wanted to lose weight to either use Shapa or a standard scale.  We found that after just 12 weeks, people who used Shapa did better.   The Shapa users lost between -0.88% and -0.40% of their weight.  For standard scale users, the range was much broader and included weight gain: between -0.78% and +1.22% (95% confidence intervals).

     

    Ultimately, in today’s technologically advanced world, we should be thinking about how to use technology to our benefit.  Just because it’s possible to build a scale that can report very precise granular information (e.g. your weight is 145.27 pounds and yesterday it was 144.87) does not mean that this kind of system is aligned with human psychology.  Our focus should be on behavior change, not decimal-point-level accuracy.

     

    We’re very optimistic about how Shapa can help people make behavior changes to improve their health.  If you think it could help you, here is where you can learn more and order one:

     

    https://www.shapa.me/

    @shapahealth

    Irrationally yours,

    Dan Ariely


     
  • feedwordpress 17:51:54 on 2017-11-29 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    Mental Design at PopTech 2017 

    How can we use findings from social science to improve health, financial decision-making and overall quality of life? I gave a talk on the power of designing for the mental world at PopTech 2017.

    Watch the video below and learn more about PopTech on their site.


     
  • feedwordpress 00:45:56 on 2017-11-23 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    Getting people to agree: A TED experiment 

    In April Mariano Sigman and I (mostly Mariano) carried out an experiment at TED on how to get people to make better decisions and to agree!  Here is the video and the writeup describing this and other experiments on the topic of how to get people to agree on difficult questions.  An important challenge these days…..

    The video:

    And the ideas piece:

     


     
  • feedwordpress 07:30:43 on 2017-10-26 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    See our applications 

    http://danariely.com/2017/10/25/applications-now-open-common-cents-lab-partnerships/

     

    partnership_icon_nologo


     
  • feedwordpress 11:31:25 on 2017-10-25 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    Applications now open: Common Cents Lab Partnerships 

    We are looking for our next cohort of credit unions, tech companies, banks, non-profits, and government organizations to partner with, to find and test interventions that help Americans improve their financial well-being. Our open call is online now, taking applications until November 15th.
    Each year, we collaborate with chosen financial services providers to custom design, test, and launch new features and products that aim to increase financial well-being for 1.8 million low- to moderate-income (LMI) households in America. Partners have the opportunity to work directly with expert behavioral scientists to design solutions to many of our toughest financial decision-making challenges. Click here for more information, or click below to apply.
    Some social proof:
    Common Cents Lab has not only taught us about behavioral economics and how we can help our members have better savings and use the credit union more, but also about a methodical process to test and design our products to better match member needs.
    – Vicky Garcia, SVP Strategy and Risk Management, Latino Community Credit Union
    “The Common Cents partnership was instrumental in helping us develop features that drive substantial savings for our customers,”
    – Ethan Bloch, Founder and CEO of Digit.
    “Common Cents had added rigor to the way we build new features that improve our users’ lives,”
    – Jimmy Chen, Founder and CEO of Propel.
    Some of our press:

    We hope to see your application. Please visit: apply.commoncentslab.org


     
  • feedwordpress 15:33:22 on 2017-09-12 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    A new iPhone? 

    Dear Dan,
    My husband really wants to get the new iPhone that will come out next week.  He has not seen it and he knows nothing about it, but he already knows that he wants it.  I on the other hand know a few things for sure.  I know that $1,000 is a lot to pay for a slightly newer phone (he has the previous iPhone), I know that he will get used to this new toy very quickly, I know that it will give him less pleasure than he is expecting, and I know that in a few months there will be yet a newer iPhone and that he will want that one as well.  How can I get him to see the mistake he is about to make?
    Sumi
    Dear Sumi,
    Just read your own words: “He really wants…” and now tell me who is about to make a mistake here! Your loving hard working husband who wants to experience first hand the new frontier of technology, or you with your emotion-free approach to his needs and joy?  If I were you I would not only encourage him to buy this new iPhone, I would also make it easier by asking him to give his old iPhone to our daughter and this way making it easer to rationalize.

     


     
  • feedwordpress 14:34:59 on 2017-09-12 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    Data & Society’s Next Stage 

    In March 2013, in a flurry of days, I decided to start a research institute. I’d always dreamed of doing so, but it was really my amazing mentor and boss – Jennifer Chayes – who put the fire under my toosh. I’d been driving her crazy about the need to have more people deeply interrogating how data-driven technologies were intersecting with society. Microsoft Research didn’t have the structure to allow me to move fast (and break things). University infrastructure was even slower. There were a few amazing research centers and think tanks, but I wanted to see the efforts scale faster. And I wanted to build the structures to connect research and practices, convene conversations across sectors, and bring together a band of what I loved to call “misfit toys.”  So, with the support of Jennifer and Microsoft, I put pen to paper. And to my surprise, I got the green light to help start a wholly independent research institute.

    I knew nothing about building an organization. I had never managed anyone, didn’t know squat about how to put together a budget, and couldn’t even create a check list of to-dos. So I called up people smarter than I to help learn how other organizations worked and figure out what I should learn to turn a crazy idea into reality. At first, I thought that I should just go and find someone to run the organization, but I was consistently told that I needed to do it myself, to prove that it could work. So I did. It was a crazy adventure. Not only did I learn a lot about fundraising, management, and budgeting, but I also learned all sorts of things about topics I didn’t even know I would learn to understand – architecture, human resources, audits, non-profit law. I screwed up plenty of things along the way, but most people were patient with me and helped me learn from my mistakes. I am forever grateful to all of the funders, organizations, practitioners, and researchers who took a chance on me.

    Still, over the next four years, I never lost that nagging feeling that someone smarter and more capable than me should be running Data & Society. I felt like I was doing the organization a disservice by not focusing on research strategy and public engagement. So when I turned to the board and said, it’s time for an executive director to take over, everyone agreed. We sat down and mapped out what we needed – a strategic and capable leader who’s passionate about building a healthy and sustainable research organization to be impactful in the world. Luckily, we had hired exactly that person to drive program and strategy a year before when I was concerned that I was flailing at managing the fieldbuilding and outreach part of the organization.

    I am overwhelmingly OMG ecstatically bouncing for joy to announce that Janet Haven has agreed to become Data & Society’s first executive director. You can read more about Janet through the formal organizational announcement here.  But since this is my blog and I’m telling my story, what I want to say is more personal. I was truly breaking when we hired Janet. I had taken off more than I could chew. I was hitting rock bottom and trying desperately to put on a strong face to support everyone else. As I see it, Janet came in, took one look at the duct tape upon which I’d built the organization and got to work with steel, concrete, and wood in her hands. She helped me see what could happen if we fixed this and that. And then she started helping me see new pathways for moving forward. Over the last 18 months, I’ve grown increasingly confident that what we’re doing makes sense and that we can build an organization that can last. I’ve also been in awe watching her enable others to shine.

    I’m not leaving Data & Society. To the contrary, I’m actually taking on the role that my title – founder and president – signals. And I’m ecstatic. Over the last 4.5 years, I’ve learned what I’m good at and what I’m not, what excites me and what makes me want to stay in bed. I built Data & Society because I believe that it needs to exist in this world. But I also realize that I’m the classic founder – the crazy visionary that can kickstart insanity but who isn’t necessarily the right person to take an organization to the next stage. Lucky for me, Janet is. And together, I can’t wait to take Data & Society to the next level!

     
  • feedwordpress 02:55:16 on 2017-09-04 Permalink
    Tags: Uncategorized   

    First review of DOLLARS AND SENSE 

    This is a review from Kirkus and they are not easy to please…

     

    DOLLARS AND SENSE
    How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter
    Author: Dan Ariely
    Author: Jeff Kreisler
    Illustrator: Matt Trower

    Review Issue Date: September 15, 2017
    Online Publish Date: September 4, 2017
    Publisher:Harper/HarperCollins

    A lively look at how even the wisest among us are too often fools eager to part with our money.Most of us think about money at least some portion of each day—how to get more of it, how to spend less of it. However, cautions Ariely (Psychology and Behavioral Economics/Duke Univ.; Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, 2016, etc.), working with comedian and writer Kreisler (Get Rich Cheating, 2009), “when we bring money into the equation, we make the decisions much more difficult and we open ourselves to mistakes.” The better course, they urge, is to consider money not for its own sake—indeed, not to acknowledge its existence at all—but instead to consider the concept of opportunity cost: what do we give up when we make one choice over another? Is the forgone acquisition really the correct one? What if, instead of buying a big-screen TV or new clothes, we thought of what we might do with the hours we don’t have to work in order to procure them or of the other things we might buy in their place? Such counsel comes after consideration of other economic notions, such as the endowment effect, whereby we give more significance to things simply because we own them, and our generally risk-averse economic behavior, whereby the pleasure taken in gaining something is vastly overshadowed by the pain caused by losing it. Ariely and Kreisler, writing breezily but meaningfully, allow that money has its uses as a symbolic system of fungible, storable, accessible value. However, the real consideration should always be that “spending money now on one thing is a trade-off for spending it on something else,” a calculation that is not often reckoned simply because it’s more difficult than fishing out a credit card or some other means of delaying the recognition that spending money now has future, downstream effects. A user-friendly and often entertaining treatise on how to be a more discerning, vastly more aware handler of money.


     
  • feedwordpress 01:50:25 on 2017-08-02 Permalink
    Tags: career, medialab, mit, Uncategorized   

    How “Demo-or-Die” Helped My Career 

    I left the Media Lab 15 years ago this week. At the time, I never would’ve predicted that I learned one of the most useful skills in my career there: demo-or-die.

    (Me debugging an exhibit in 2002)

    The culture of “demo-or-die” has been heavily critiqued over the years. In doing so, most folks focus on the words themselves. Sure, the “or-die” piece is definitely an exaggeration, but the important message there is the notion of pressure. But that’s not what most people focus on. They focus on the notion of a “demo.”

    To the best that anyone can recall, the root of the term stems back from early days at the Media Lab, most likely because of Nicholas Negroponte’s dismissal of “publish-or-perish” in academia. So the idea was to focus not on writing words but producing artifacts. In mocking what it was that the Media Lab produced, many critics focused on the way in which the Lab had a tendency to create vaporware, performed to visitors through the demo. In 1987, Stewart Brand called this “handwaving.” The historian Molly Steenson has a more nuanced view so I can’t wait to read her upcoming book. But the mockery of the notion of a demo hasn’t died. Given this, it’s not surprising that the current Director (Joi Ito) has pushed people to stop talking about demoing and start thinking about deploying. Hence, “deploy-or-die.”

    I would argue that what makes “demo-or-die” so powerful has absolutely nothing to do with the production of a demo. It has to do with the act of doing a demo. And that distinction is important because that’s where the skill development that I relish lies.

    When I was at the Lab, we regularly received an onslaught of visitors. I was a part of the “Sociable Media Group,” run by Judith Donath. From our first day in the group, we were trained to be able to tell the story of the Media Lab, the mission of our group, and the goal of everyone’s research projects. Furthermore, we had to actually demo their quasi functioning code and pray that it wouldn’t fall apart in front of an important visitor. We were each assigned a day where we were “on call” to do demos to any surprise visitor. You could expect to have at least one visitor every day, not to mention hundreds of visitors on days that were officially sanctioned as “Sponsor Days.”

    The motivations and interests of visitors ranged wildly. You’d have tour groups of VIP prospective students, dignitaries from foreign governments, Hollywood types, school teachers, engineers, and a whole host of different corporate actors. If you were lucky, you knew who was visiting ahead of time. But that was rare. Often, someone would walk in the door with someone else from the Lab and introduce you to someone for whom you’d have to drum up a demo in very short order with limited information. You’d have to quickly discern what this visitor was interested in, figure out which of the team’s research projects would be most likely to appeal, determine how to tell the story of that research in a way that connected to the visitor, and be prepared to field any questions that might emerge. And oy vay could the questions run the gamut.

    I *hated* the culture of demo-or-die. I felt like a zoo animal on display for others’ benefit. I hated the emotional work that was needed to manage stupid questions, not to mention the requirement to smile and play nice even when being treated like shit by a visitor. I hated the disruptions and the stressful feeling when a demo collapsed. Drawing on my experience working in fast food, I developed a set of tricks for staying calm. Count how many times a visitor said a certain word. Nod politely while thinking about unicorns. Experiment with the wording of a particular demo to see if I could provoke a reaction. Etc.

    When I left the Media Lab, I was ecstatic to never have to do another demo in my life. Except, that’s the funny thing about learning something important… you realize that you are forever changed by the experience.

    I no longer produce demos, but as I developed in my career, I realized that “demo-or-die” wasn’t really about the demo itself. At the end of the day, the goal wasn’t to pitch the demo — it was to help the visitor change their perspective of the world through the lens of the demo. In trying to shift their thinking, we had to invite them to see the world differently. The demo was a prop. Everything about what I do as a researcher is rooted in the goal of using empirical work to help challenge people’s assumptions and generate new frames that people can work with. I have to understand where they’re coming from, appreciate their perspective, and then strategically engage them to shift their point of view. Like my days at the Media Lab, I don’t always succeed and it is indeed frustrating, especially because I don’t have a prop that I can rely on when everything goes wrong. But spending two years developing that muscle has been so essential for my work as an ethnographer, researcher, and public speaker.

    I get why Joi reframed it as “deploy-or-die.” When it comes to actually building systems, impact is everything. But I really hope that the fundamental practice of “demo-or-die” isn’t gone. Those of us who build systems or generate knowledge day in and day out often have too little experience explaining ourselves to the wide array of folks who showed up to visit the Media Lab. It’s easy to explain what you do to people who share your ideas, values, and goals. It’s a lot harder to explain your contributions to those who live in other worlds. Impact isn’t just about deploying a system; it’s about understanding how that system or idea will be used. And that requires being able to explain your thinking to anyone at any moment. And that’s the skill that I learned from the “demo-or-die” culture.

     
  • feedwordpress 19:55:09 on 2017-07-05 Permalink
    Tags: , harassment, , Uncategorized   

    Tech Culture Can Change 

    We need: Recognition, Repentance, Respect, and Reparation.

    To be honest, what surprises me most about the current conversation about the inhospitable nature of tech for women is that people are surprised. To say that discrimination, harassment, and sexual innuendos are an open secret is an understatement. I don’t know a woman in tech who doesn’t have war stories. Yet, for whatever reason, we are now in a moment where people are paying attention. And for that, I am grateful.

    Like many women in tech, I’ve developed strategies for coping. I’ve had to in order to stay in the field. I’ve tried to be “one of the guys,” pretending to blend into the background as sexist speech was jockeyed about in the hopes that I could just fit in. I’ve tried to be the kid sister, the freaky weirdo, the asexual geek, etc. I’ve even tried to use my sexuality to my advantage in the hopes that maybe I could recover some of the lost opportunity that I faced by being a woman. It took me years to realize that none of these strategies would make me feel like I belonged. Many even made me feel worse.

    For years, I included Ani DiFranco lyrics in every snippet of code I wrote, as well as my signature. I’ve maintained a lyrics site since I was 18 because her words give me strength for coping with the onslaught of commentary and gross behavior. “Self-preservation is a full-time occupation.” I can’t tell you how often I’ve sat in a car during a conference or after a meeting singing along off-key at full volume with tears streaming down my face, just trying to keep my head together.

    What’s at stake is not about a few bad actors. There’s also a range of behaviors getting lumped together, resulting in folks asking if inescapable sexual overtures are really that bad compared to assault. That’s an unproductive conversation because the fundamental problem is the normalization of atrocious behavior that makes room for a wide range of inappropriate actions. Fundamentally, the problem with systemic sexism is that it’s not the individual people who are the problem. It’s the culture. And navigating the culture is exhausting and disheartening. It’s the collection of particles of sand that quickly becomes a mountain that threatens to bury you.

    It’s having to constantly stomach sexist comments with a smile, having to work twice as hard to be heard in a meeting, having to respond to people who ask if you’re on the panel because they needed a woman. It’s about going to conferences where deals are made in the sauna but being told that you have to go to the sauna with “the wives” (a pejoratively constructed use of the word). It’s about people assuming you’re sleeping with whoever said something nice about you. It’s being told “you’re kinda smart for a chick” when you volunteer to help a founder. It’s knowing that you’ll receive sexualized threats for commenting on certain topics as a blogger. It’s giving a talk at a conference and being objectified by the audience. It’s building whisper campaigns among women to indicate which guys to avoid. It’s using Dodgeball/Foursquare to know which parties not to attend based on who has checked in. It’s losing friends because you won’t work with a founder who you watched molest a woman at a party (and then watching Justin Timberlake portray that founder’s behavior as entertainment).

    Lots of people in tech have said completely inappropriate things to women. I also recognize that many of those guys are trying to fit into the sexist norms of tech too, trying to replicate the culture that they see around them because they too are struggling for status. But that’s the problem. Once guys receive power and status within the sector, they don’t drop their inappropriate language. They don’t change their behavior or call out others on how insidious it is. They let the same dynamics fester as though it’s just part of the hazing ritual.

    For women who succeed in tech, the barrage of sexism remains. It just changes shape as we get older.

    On Friday night, after reading the NYTimes article on tech industry harassment, I was deeply sad. Not because the stories were shocking — frankly, those incidents are minor compared to some of what I’ve seen. I was upset because stories like this typically polarize and prompt efforts to focus on individuals rather than the culture. There’s an assumption that these are one-off incidents. They’re not.

    I appreciate that Dave and Chris owned up to their role in contributing to a hostile culture. I know that it’s painful to hear that something you said or did hurt someone else when you didn’t intend that to be the case. I hope that they’re going through a tremendous amount of soul-searching and self-reflection. I appreciate Chris’ willingness to take to Medium to effectively say “I screwed up.” Ideally, they will both come out of this willing to make amends and right their wrongs.

    Unfortunately, most people don’t actually respond productively when they’re called out. Shaming can often backfire.

    One of the reasons that most people don’t speak up is that it’s far more common for guys who are called out on their misdeeds to respond the way that Marc Canter appeared to do, by justifying his behavior and demonizing the woman who accused him of sexualizing her. Given my own experiences with his sexist commentary, I decided to tweet out in solidarity by publicly sharing how he repeatedly asked me for a threesome with his wife early on in my career. At the time, I was young and I was genuinely scared of him; I spent a lot of time and emotional energy avoiding him, and struggled with how to navigate him at various conferences. I wasn’t the only one who faced his lewd comments, often framed as being sex-positive even when they were an abuse of power. My guess is that Marc has no idea how many women he’s made feel uncomfortable, ashamed, and scared. The question is whether or not he will admit that to himself, let alone to others.

    I’m not interested in calling people out for sadistic pleasure. I want to see the change that most women in tech long for. At its core, the tech industry is idealistic and dreamy, imagining innovations that could change the world. Yet, when it comes to self-reflexivity, tech is just as regressive as many other male-dominated sectors. Still, I fully admit that I hold it to a higher standard in no small part because of the widespread commitment in tech to change the world for the better, however flawed that fantastical idealism is.

    Given this, what I want from men in tech boils down to four Rs: Recognition. Repentance. Respect. Reparation.

    Recognition. I want to see everyone — men and women — recognize how contributing to a culture of sexism takes us down an unhealthy path, not only making tech inhospitable for women but also undermining the quality of innovation and enabling the creation of tech that does societal harm. I want men in particular to reflect on how the small things that they do and say that they self-narrate as part of the game can do real and lasting harm, regardless of what they intended or what status level they have within the sector. I want those who witness the misdeeds of others to understand that they’re contributing to the problem.

    Repentance. I want guys in tech — and especially those founders and funders who hold the keys to others’ opportunity — to take a moment and think about those that they’ve hurt in their path to success and actively, intentionally, and voluntarily apologize and ask for forgiveness. I want them to reach out to someone they said something inappropriate to, someone whose life they made difficult and say “I’m sorry.”

    Respect. I want to see a culture of respect actively nurtured and encouraged alongside a culture of competition. Respect requires acknowledging others’ struggles, appreciating each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and helping each other through hard times. Many of the old-timers in tech are nervous that tech culture is being subsumed by financialization. Part of resisting this transformation is putting respect front and center. Long-term success requires thinking holistically about society, not just focusing on current capitalization.

    Reparation. Every guy out there who wants to see tech thrive owes it to the field to actively seek out and mentor, support, fund, open doors for, and otherwise empower women and people of color. No excuses, no self-justifications, no sexualized bullshit. Just behavior change. Plain and simple. If our sector is about placing bets, let’s bet on a better world. And let’s solve for social equity.

    I have a lot of respect for the women who are telling their stories, but we owe it to them to listen to the culture that they’re describing. Sadly, there are so many more stories that are not yet told. I realize that these stories are more powerful when people are named. My only hope is that those who are risking the backlash to name names will not suffer for doing so. Ideally, those who are named will not try to self-justify but acknowledge and accept that they’ve caused pain. I strongly believe that changing the norms is the only path forward. So while I want to see people held accountable, I especially want to see the industry work towards encouraging and supporting behavior change. At the end of the day, we will not solve the systemic culture of sexism by trying to weed out bad people, but we can work towards rendering bad behavior permanently unacceptable.

     
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