Saturday, 30 June 2007
It's often found in the conservation psychology research that no amount of persuasion or cajoling to conserve does as much good as simply removing simple physical barriers. Local governments that collect mixed recyclables will do better than those that spend on big persuasion campaigns yet require citizens to sort their recyclables. Even whether people are provided a free recycling box or asked to find one of their own has a huge effect on recycling rates. Likewise, simplifying a complicated printing menu can potentially save many more trees than expending greater efforts in persuasion and awareness raising but without demystifying how to actually navigate the menus.
I received the bike at a mini-awards-thingie on Thursday, presented by the head of recycling for Exeter Council. It will be very useful, as currently I am walking 5 miles a day to and from work (yeah, bus prices went up 57% in a year - the exercise is good though.) There should be a story about it in the next edition of the Exeter Citizen.
Here is a picture of me on my new bike:
Well, ok, but everything besides the picture is true.
Friday, 29 June 2007
If you want to have a gander at the presentations, they are available online at my new online resources page: http://people.ex.ac.uk/ccd203 They may be missing something without all the supplementary videos, and explanations behind the bullet points, but if you are interested, there they are.
And now, for the first time since starting my PhD, I have 3 months with no work responsibilities other than my own research. I've already got a stack of journal articles in my backpack...
Thursday, 28 June 2007
Plus, people like having control over their technology - being locked out (technologically and legally) of a system you paid for does not inspire customer loyalty - I'm looking at you Microsoft, AOL, and RIAA. Treating fans and customers as team members will always win out in the long run over treating them as potential intruders and theives. Hopefully, more will follow Nintendo's success.
Tuesday, 26 June 2007
With the new technology, ambient heat is captured in high-surface area objects, like glass wool. This resonates - like blowing over a bottle, or into a woodwind instrument - and this resonance forms a single sound wave and that in turn generates voltage.
Heat engines have been around for decades, but they have always been large and impractical. With new advancements, they are now only milimetres in size - and as energy efficient as diesel engines. They can be used in conventional engines and machinery to recapture waste heat, but more enticingly, they could be used to create a new generation of solar power. Current solar panels take a very long time to pay off the energy costs of their own creation. Improved, efficient solar panels could open up massive new sources of energy - and the technology is bound to only improve.
Article in Science Daily.
Article in New Scientist.
Monday, 25 June 2007
Update: That forecast wasn't kidding. Thankfully the Southwest is mostly unscathed.
Psychologist David Rosenhan, in 1972, was concerned about how mental illness was diagnosed and how people were institutionalized. He designed a very elegant study with impeccable ecological validity: he took eight "normal" people (i.e. not insane) and had them visit mental institutions across the US. They acted normally and were totally truthful about themselves, except they also said they heard a voice in their head saying "thud," "empty," and "hollow." The psychiactric staff at the hospital diagnosed seven with schizophrenia and one was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. As soon as they were admitted into the mental hospital all eight researchers acted normally and claimed the voice was gone. The psychiatric staff did not believe them, and insisted they were insane, citing evidence of "psychotic" behaviours by the pseudopatients. Their stays ranged from 7 to 52 days, with a mean age of 19 days before they were allowed to leave. He published his research (On Being Sane in Insane Places) in what is probably the most prestigious academic journal in the world, Science.
When these results were reported, it caused predictable controversy in the world of psychiatry. One prestigious mental hospital boasted that those kinds of mistakes would never happen at their institution, and challenged Rosenhan to send "fake" patients to their institution where they would easily be detected. Rosenhan accepted the challenge. Out of 193 admissions, the institution detected 41 "fakes", and 42 "suspected fakes." How many did Rosenhan send? Zero. Whoops. That kind of research is about as damning as I can think of for an academic discipline. If a discipline is to survive that kind of crisis, it must confront the problem fully and openly, else slip into ever-increasing irrelevance and disregard, until one day it wakes up and find itself nestled snuggly between phrenology and Aristotelian abiogenesis.
Here is the most worrying part: in my 600+ page textbook on Abnormal Psychology, published in 2001, which contains well over 3000 citations, with entire chapters devoted to schizophrenia, diagnosis, and mental institutions, none of Rosenhan's work is mentioned at all. That is a discipline in denial.
(Also worrying is that any genuine discussion on the Internet about the role of psychiatry tends to get hijacked very quickly by militant scientologists.)
Here is a slightly sensationalized, but generally accurate account of the study, originally shown on BBC2's The Trap:
When the eProfiles were first introduced, there was some departmental discussion about their use. I particularly liked this input from someone in the school: "There are some strange people out there who, for example, may be 'attracted' to psychologists or may be 'interested' in researchers in animal behaviour. Furthermore, I would prefer any use of photographs to be an opt-in procedure as opposed to an opt-out procedure."
I'm guessing there is a story there?
Sunday, 24 June 2007
Young-earth creationists are particularly entertaining - they insist the Earth is 6,000 years old, despite the crush of research suggesting otherwise (radiometric dating, ice cores, fossils, the size of oil/coal reserves, accumulation of erosion, cave formation, the size/nature of the universe, the hydrogen/helium proportions of the sun, and so on and so on.) They have a love-hate relationship with science, desperate to cherry pick supporting evidence, but distrustful of an enterprise that is not a priori loyal to their literalist world view. When confronted with a possible conflict to their young-earth world-view, the conflict must be reconciled to minimize the cognitive dissonance. In the case of dinosaurs, many young-earth creationists believe they are real - but were formed with the rest of the creation 6,000 years ago and lived and walked with Jesus - and are now (for whatever reason) in hiding in the deepest depths of Congolese and Amazonian jungles. The same is true of unicorns (not joking).
This has lead to a particularly interesting microgenre of art: the Jesus-with-Dinosaurs composition. Comical, compelling, and slightly disturbing, there has been a rapid growth in their appearance on fundamentalist websites. This is one my favourites:
I like how the creator has put a great big smile on the face of that pygmy brontosaurus. The image is from Conservapedia, the fundamentalist counter to Wikipedia, created because of the "bias" in Wiki, such as allowing non-US citizens and non-Christians to have input in creating articles. Although toned-down recently, many of the original Conservapedia articles were hilarious in their absurdity, such as defining Jews as (paraphrased, but very close) "people who get touchy when they hear about the holocaust" and unicorns as "controversial animals which we know exist because they are mentioned in the Bible." Good times.
I have so much to share, but blogging may be light for a while. For almost a week now I've lost the ability to type with my left hand. I think it is from pressing CTRL+C and CTRL+V (literally) several thousand times for my last study. So now I have a repeptitive stress injury, but hopefully it will heal fairly soon. Typing with one hand is not nearly as much fun as it is rumoured to be. :/
Thursday, 21 June 2007
A word about the exams: I marked 60 and my fellow PhD student/officemate Iain marked 60. Without consulting on any specific answers, our final mean marks were within 3% of each other. Now that's statistical reliability, baby!
A word about the new data set: Getting new data to prepare for analysis is a little like getting a Christmas present with about 50 layers of packaging, all of varying difficulty to remove. Imagine receiving a package that takes 12 hours to unwrap, knowing the contents will determine the path of your next 3 years of work (and could possibly help cement the PhD or potential career), and if you try and unwrap it too quickly you could break it or worse alter its meaning without even realizing it, thus potentially leading months or years of work down a deadend. That's what it is like cleaning and integrating data in preparation for analysis.
Apologies if you have already seen this video floating around the intarnets, but if you haven't it will brighten your day. It is 5 seconds long, and you should watch it (volume up) whenever you read or hear something mildly surprising. It will never get old.
Wednesday, 13 June 2007
Shillingford was fantastic. At 400 acres, it is quite large for a family farm, especially since much of the planting and harvesting is done by hand. The vegetables were simply the best I've ever had. The difference between live, fresh organic vegetables and supermarket vegetables is the same difference between freeze-dried camping rations and supermarket vegetables. Incredible. If you live in the Exeter area, they will deliver weekly for reasonable prices.
While I was there I ate an entire head of lettuce in two meals. Now, if you are only familiar with iceberg lettuce, this will of course sound disgusting, but this is real lettuce. Like in this post. I had one of my faviourite sandwiches: toasted bread with hummus, tomato puree, tahini, lots of crushed chili flakes, and about 20-30 layers of lettuce. The bread was organic spelt grown and baked on the farm. I can feel it scrubbing my insides whenever I eat it. Mmmm...
I'm pretty busy doing more marking. This time it is 60 stats exams (regression and factor analysis) I need to finish by Monday. It's going alright, but it is very mind-numbing to read 60 responses in a row to each question. After these, I should be done for the term though.
I'm still looking forward to teaching Intro to Psychology on Friday. It'll be my first time with a class younger than university-age, which for some reason is more intimidating than teaching masters students.
I just finished a longitudinal study with 150 participants completing all parts. Retention rate was +80%, which is fantastic. I'm really looking forward to analyzing the results, but that may have to wait for a week or two. I'll tell a bit more about the study and the results in the next few weeks.
I've been exploring all the fun that can be had with a pressure washer. No, I'm not speaking of colonic irrigation, I'm talking about using it on my back patio and finding out the concrete tiles are not actually gray as I always thought, but are instead a chessboard pattern of yellow and pink (WTF?) Yes, that's right. My back patio was an awful pink/yellow pattern the whole time concealed by decades of gray accumulation. The only possible explanation I can think of is that it was the 70s. If I lose enough pride I'll post pictures. I've also discovered that a pressure washer is great for cleaning interior bathrooms... just make sure the walls and ceiling are waterproof.
Yesterday I developed some kind of eye-infection. I got the exact same thing in the same eye at this time last year. I've got some antibiotics for it, so it should clear up soon. The antibiotic is chloramphenicol, which is in eye drop form. It's pretty freaky because it goes through human tissue like water through soil. When I put a drop in my eye, about one minute later I can taste the drop in my mouth as it trickles down through the inside of my head. Now that's pretty cool. I wouldn't want to teach my first high school class with freakin pink eye.
And what else? Oh, yes, our house nearly burned down yesterday. The toaster decided it would keep toasting indefinitely. I heard some, shall we say, colourful exclamations coming from Sita in the kitchen so I ran in and found 1 ft flames coming out of the toaster and so much smoke that I could not see the wall on the other side of the room. It could have been bad if no one had returned to the kitchen for a few minutes. Crisis averted though; however the house still smells of burnt toast.
Saturday, 9 June 2007
Friday, 8 June 2007
Thursday, 7 June 2007
This summer should be full of free, wild fruit. My list of fruit trees on nearby public land includes:
- Dozens of elderberry bushes
- Countless blackberry brambles
- 20 apple trees
- 6 fig trees
- 2 cherry trees
- 1 mulberry tree
Tuesday, 5 June 2007
That's a little like making a recipe book of pies from around the world - pecan, chocolate mousse, lemon merengue, pumpkin, shepherd's - and then, after winning the Pulitzer, after 54 years of everyone talking about how it is one of the best books about pies, after decades of your pie recipe book being used in junior high home economics classes everywhere, suddenly announce "No, it's not about pies - it's about the pumpkins that made some of those pies! It's all about the pumpkins!"
It is my opinion, that while authorial intent is appropriately marginalized, pie analogies, on the other hand, are critically underutilized.
The reader should not suppose that this is a book about the philosophy of social science, or about moral pronouncements on what is good and bad in ancient and current psychological theorizing. Instead, the reader is invited to consider the psychological side of the explainer. What brings individuals, whether they carry the label scientist in psychology or not, to neglect the psychological perspective of those who are being explained? What is responsible for the explainer reducing complex behavioural patterns to “The person is a demagogue type” or “All people from hot climates do that”? And still another question: Are such oversimplifications part of the explainer’s attempt to bring a quick, indelible order to the universe of human behaviour?
The opening chapter introduces the explainer as someone whose directions of explaining are affected by control threats, incompetencies, and lack of experience. Such threats and incompetencies bring the explainer to account for others’ actions by simplifying others, treating them as static entities, with the result that deciding factors in the psychological background are neglected.
Psychology has characteristically limited its explaining of the explainer to the “everyday explainer,” that is, to the so-called naïve scientist. But why not extend our understanding of the explainer to all of those who try to come to terms with complex behaviour including those who carry the label scientist? This book assumes, without reservation, that the principles used to understand “naïve explainers” can be applied just as well to “professional” explainers. Its chapters follow the course of development of the modern theory, as promulgated by scientifically working psychologists, and devote special attention to the narrow thinking that is so evident in recent efforts to capture and explain complex human action. It is shown that modern, widely published explanations manifest a style of theorizing that carries the following characteristics:
These fourteen chapters attempt to understand this development in explaining/theorizing, using the broad concepts of the explainer’s commitment to a fixed portrait of the human, the explainer’s control needs with respect to complex human behaviour, and the competition that stems from a field loaded with professional explainers. The final chapter addresses the cultural side of these progressive simplifications and downfalls in theorizing and explanation and comes to the conclusion that a competitive, highly technical society produces the directions that are now explicit in the modern zero-variable theory.
- The humans who are being explained are first placed into fixed categories.
- The explainer implements a single, home-grow categorizing instrument for this purpose.
- These categories consist of lists of behaviours that appear to belong together (e.g., “honest,” “loyal,” “consistent”).
- The behaviours of category members, thus respondents in research projects, are then explained fully by those respondents’ membership in one or the other category.
- The explainer defends the categories as one would defend territory, misusing statistical devices to demonstrate that other explainers cannot account for the behaviours of category members.
- This direction of theory development, referred to here as the zero-variable theory, neglects the perspective of the person whose behaviours are being accounted for and also hinders integration among psychological explanations.
Monday, 4 June 2007
My talk was a (too brief) review of conservation psychology. The basic structure was 1) Why do it? 2) What are its limitations? 3) What I am currently doing
My presentation is online, for those who are curious.
Have you seen the new logo for the London 2012 Olympics? There it is. Umm... wow. It cost £400,000 in taxpayer money ($800,000.) According to the LOCOG press release: "The new emblem is dynamic, modern and flexible reflecting a brand savvy world where people, especially young people, no longer relate to static logos but respond to a dynamic brand that works with new technology and across traditional and new media networks."
"This is the vision at the very heart of our brand," said London 2012 organising committee chairman Seb Coe. "It will inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world."
Meanwhile, 84% of BBC readers think it is awful. I mean, really, how is that supposed to be "iconic?" It looks like Lisa Simpson going down on a fat guy. It is artistically crude, uses styles last popular in 80s teen magazines, captures no sense of identity for Britain, London, or even the Olympic Games. The one thing it does evoke is massive unpopularity.
Update: Another thing it does, when animated, is cause epileptic seizures.
Update II: Jon Stewart explains it nicely:
Sunday, 3 June 2007
And what is particularly sad is that I've played most of the games those graphics were taken from. Good old Chronotrigger...
If you knew that the flash video was a paradoy of another previous video, then you get +5 to your intelligence for the next six rounds.
To be fair, AD&D is generally not that bad, unless everybody is a n00b. The arguments generally come in when half the people are taking it way too seriously and the other half just want to joke around.
Originally from Pharyngula at Science Blogs.
Saturday, 2 June 2007
Update: This is the obituary from the NY Times:
Steven Gilliard Jr., 42, Dies; Founder of Liberal Political Blog
By NOAM COHEN
Steven Gilliard Jr., a political journalist who found his calling as a combative and influential blogger on the left, died on Saturday in Manhattan. He was 42.
He died after having been hospitalized at Lenox Hill Hospital since February because of heart and kidney failure, said his cousin Francine Smith, a spokeswoman for the family.
From his perch at The News Blog, whose advertisements and donations paid for his modest living expenses, Mr. Gilliard offered his powerful readership a blunt and passionate take on the events of the day. He was one of fewer than a dozen liberal political bloggers to make a living from his blog, said Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the founder of the Daily Kos Web site, to which Mr. Gilliard had been an early contributor.
Mr. Gilliard was born in Harlem and attended Hunter College Elementary School and Hunter College High School before graduating with a degree in journalism from New York University.
After working in print journalism, Mr. Gilliard migrated online, working for a Web site, Net Slaves, that chronicled the lot of the tech worker during the dot-com boom. His involvement in online political writing received a critical boost when Mr. Moulitsas chose Mr. Gilliard to help create material for the Daily Kos site at a time when it had 4,000 visitors a day; it now has 500,000 a day.
Mr. Gilliard eventually left Daily Kos to create The News Blog.
Mr. Gilliard’s survivors include his parents, Steven Gilliard Sr. and Evelyn Lillian Gilliard of Manhattan, and two sisters, Valerie Gilliard and Roberta Smalls, both of Massachusetts.
In what is a now-familiar story among Internet collaborators, many of the thousands who posted online reactions to Mr. Gilliard’s death wrote that they had known little about him, even the fact that he was black. Others, though, mourned the loss of an African-American voice in the liberal blogging world. Those closest to him offline similarly knew next to nothing about his life as blogger.
“Most of the family didn’t know what he was doing on the Web site,” said his cousin, Ms. Smith, who said his parents did not own computers.
Friday, 1 June 2007
There are too many strange things to point out all of them in his hour-long vomit-fest of craziness, but perhaps the most amusing was that he threatened to take away the world's supply of Coca-Cola if people kept accusing Sudan of genocide.
From the Washington Post:
Genocide in the Darfur region? "The United States is the only country saying that what is happening in Darfur is a genocide," Ukec shouted, gesticulating wildly and perspiring from his bald crown. "I think this is a pretext."
Ah. So what about the more than 400,000 dead? "See how many people are dying in Darfur: None," he said.
And the 2 million displaced? "I am not a statistician."
Khartoum Karl went on to say that, all evidence to the contrary, his government does not support the murderous Janjaweed militia. "It cannot happen," he said, "so rule it out." As for the Sudanese regime itself: "We are the agents of peace, people like me, my colleagues who are in the central government of Sudan."
What's more, the good and peaceful leaders of Sudan were prepared to retaliate massively: They would cut off shipments of the emulsifier gum arabic, thereby depriving the world of cola.
"I want you to know that the gum arabic which runs all the soft drinks all over the world, including the United States, mainly 80 percent is imported from my country," the ambassador said after raising a bottle of Coca-Cola.
A reporter asked if Sudan was threatening to "stop the export of gum arabic and bring down the Western world."
"I can stop that gum arabic and all of us will have lost this," Khartoum Karl warned anew, beckoning to the Coke bottle. "But I don't want to go that way."
These are some highlights from the hour-long performance: