Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Don't fail to miss it

Spinal Tap is on tour again, this time Unwigged and Unplugged, NPR's Talk of the Nation interviewed the three surviving (i.e., not drummers) band members yesterday.

Talk of the Nation today had a more serious topic: whether the workplace should be colorblind. Interesting topic, but I couldn't get the link on the Exploring Race blog to the journal article to open. I think this is it: Is Multiculturalism or Color Blindness Better for Minorities? If you're a Fresno State person you should be able to get the PDF here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What if your genes don't fit anymore?

This column from the NY Times reminded me of a couple of things: studies of identical twins, and a recent author who spoke at Reedley College and the Reedley Peace Center. First a quote from the NY Times column:
In one study, women whose identical twin suffered from depression were significantly more likely to have been assaulted, lost a job, divorced, or had a serious illness or major financial problems than people whose fraternal twin was depressed. ... These bad events did not occur because the women were depressed, as the correlations persisted even when women who were currently depressed were excluded from the study. Thus, genes can act on the same disorder by making people more sensitive to stressful environmental events and by making these events more likely to occur.
And for those of you "getting older", read the penultimate paragraph of the column.

The author I heard talk was promoting her book Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend. She gave almost the exact talk as she did on BookTV (even where she made a slight mistake in delivery), but if you watch the BookTV talk skip the introductions since the audio is terrible. It cleans up when she starts talking.

One thing that was in her Reedley talk but not on BookTV was a bit of a slam of Zimbardo's prison "experiment". I think that was a little unfair and is probably the result of an engineering professor's (her) definition of "experiment" compared to a social psychologist's view. She did made a good point that Zimbardo's prison experiment suffered from selection bias:
Also, it has been argued that selection bias may have played a role in the results. Researchers from Western Kentucky University recruited students for a study using an advertisement similar to the one used in the Stanford Prison Experiment, with and without the words "prison life." It was found that students volunteering for a prison life study possessed dispositions toward abusive behavior.
Anyway, after she started talking I realized that years ago I'd read her book about being an observer/translator on Russian fishing boats, as part of a US-Russian joint fishing effort. Interesting book.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Amish furniture

Admit it, when you can't sleep you've been tempted to buy a genuine electric Amish heater. Of course, it's an "'Amish' Heater the Amish Couldn't Use".

This is not to be confused with the Electric Amish band and their hit songs.

What I learned from tonight's Thomas Jefferson Hour

He had a pet mockingbird named Dick (at the end of episode 760 "Felons and ipods") that used to fly around the White House.

From the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia:
The mockingbirds Jefferson purchased in the 1770s came with only a stock of songs from the woods and fields of Charles City County. He must have provided additional musical instruction himself. If he in fact carried a bird to France in 1784, it may have added to its repertoire some sounds common to mockingbirds imported from America. After their month-long transatlantic voyage they interspersed their first European performances with long imitations of the creaking of the ship's timbers.

At least two of the birds in the President's House, however, had already received singing lessons when Jefferson purchased them in 1803 - for ten and fifteen dollars, the usual price of a "singing" mockinbird. Jefferson's butler, Etienne Lemaire, was apparently proud of their serenades, which included popular American, Scottish, and french tunes, as well as imiations of all the birds of the woods.

Age, narcissism, and fish

MacArthur genius Robert Sapolsky is interviewed on NPR about "Does Age Quash our Spirit of Adventure" and how a 20-year-younger assistant's musical listening habits drive him crazy. That prompted him to figure out how radio stations target audiences: the heuristic is that what you listen to when you are about 14 determines what you listen to for the rest of your life, and that by age 35 most people don't care about new music "but you can sell Billy Joel to those people for the rest of their lives". Same kind of results for food and body piercing :)

Hmm, that upcoming Styx, REO Speedwagon, and 38 Special concert is lookin' real good to some of you right now, admit it.

Is this related? A Slashdot article about "Narcissistic College Graduates in the Workplace". Maybe it is all the fault of Mr. Rogers (who actually did live in my neighborhood when I was sabbaticalling at SEI).

What about fish? Yes, Sapolsky talks about Nebraskan sushi-eaters in the interview I mentioned above, but what I am thinking about is an article about the Nature Conservancy teaming up with Morro Bay fisherpeople to figure out how to bring back the fish. Pretty amazing quote:
Things didn’t work out for other Morro Bay fishermen, either. Once an active port with a thriving industry for groundfish — including rockfish and sablefish — by the 1990s the fishery was dying a very public death. Most of the fish processors blew town. The boatyard and boat mechanics left. Between 1990 and 2006, the amount of seafood that annually crossed the docks at Morro Bay and neighboring Port San Luis plummeted from 14 million pounds to 1.2 million.

Trivia: one of Sapolsky's MacArthur award colleagues that year was David Rumelhart, of PDP/neural network/connectionist fame.

Bonus: I still can't figure out if Juan Enriquez's TED talk makes sense. Even if it doesn't make sense it is amusing and some of his visual are funny, especially the one where the people in the swimming pool have a power strip floating in the middle of the water. Yikes.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Brain activity during television commercials

This takes a couple of clicks, but is worth watching. Go to http://www.sandsresearch.com/ and click on "Examples" and then "2009 Super Bowl Ads and Rankings", then click on one of the ads (the Potatoheads were the most popular). You'll see the ad play and six synchonized views of brain activity, as well as graph of overall interest? activity? I"m not quite sure what they are measuring, I think they are calling it "sustained power level"?

By popular demand

I've told a few people about this and it seemed popular, so here it is. IEEE Spectrum has an article about "The death of business-method patents", and the article's illustrations showed ridiculous patented ideas, so I googled, and they are real patents. One is about cats and the other is an astounding way of swinging.

And I found this patent application about jokes too, including self-referential ones :)

Bonus: The Yes We Scan movement is already bringing fascinating things to you, like this short video of the SR-71 :)

Metacognition: Buy the Two Buck Chuck Wine?

Jonah Lehrer talks at the Commonwealth Club about metacognition and neurophysiology. He talks quite a bit about brain functioning and decision making, and cites some of the same studies that Malc does in Blink, but in a more scientific way. Very interesting way to optimally make car-buying decisions about 51 minutes into Lehrer's talk :) He also talks about wine tasting studies (read about it here).

NPR's Radio Lab at the end of 2008 had a show on "Choice" featuring a discussion of "seven plus or minus 2", Jonah Lehrer, and Oliver Sacks (I've posted many times about him, this time he is talking about buying $1 worth of 72% chocolate daily). The "cake or fruit" experiment reminded me of Eddie Izzard's "cake or death?" sketch.

Lehrer also had a recent opinion piece in the LA Times about airline pilots' "deliberate calm" in emergencies.

Another Lehrer to enjoy is Tom (here signing a WW III song, more complete collection here). Good to see the new generation appreciating his songs (and others based on Gilbert and Sullivan, such as this one about Google :).

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Doctors, Quakers, and "relationships"

A simple take on using Quaker principles of community and consensus during tough budget times from Insider Higher Ed. "Friend speaks my mind" would shorten a lot of academic meetings :)

Provocative article from Newsweek about "Why doctors hate science". Where is evidence-based medicine (and software engineering) when you need it? Speaking of software engineering, Grady Booch has voiced all his "On Architecture" columns. The seventh one "The Irrelevance of Architecture" should be familiar to my former software engineering students: the users don't care how you built it.

Meterorite-hunters have found a debris field from the recent falling object in Texas. You have to scroll down a little for the pictures and a description of what they found.

Finally, slightly disturbing but not surprising things about how we make decisions. First, dating and poltics:
  • Milisecond speed dating
  • unconsciously choosing leaders based on looks, and
  • men prefer red (maybe the first legitimate research using hotornot.com).
Second, from the academic world
  • What do e-portfolios share with Oakland? I'm pretty sure the quote is about Oakland and not Los Angeles. And,
  • what really goes on with peer review. Here's a quote from Michele Lamont, from an Inside Higher Ed article:
    One of the key findings was that professors in different disciplines take very different approaches to decision making. The gap between humanities and social sciences scholars is as large as anything C.P. Snow saw between the humanities and the hard sciences.

    Many humanities professors, she writes, “rank what promises to be ‘fascinating’ above what may turn out to be ‘true.’ ” She quotes an English professor she observed explaining the value of a particular project: “My thing is, even if it doesn’t work, I think it will provoke really fascinating conversations. So I was really not interested in whether it’s true or not.”
    Yikes. She even mentions C.P. Snow.