Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Next Year

It seems that slowly, things are starting to come together. While my fall 2009 grad school plans are still uncertain, of course, I have made some good progress that's worth revisiting (to make myself feel better about where I am):

- I have come up with a list of 10 (perhaps 12) masters programs from which my final list of schools to apply to will come. (I will probably not need to apply to as many as 10 to 12.) During the last week or so, I decided that two programs on a previous iteration of this list that required the GRE Psychology subject test were not worth applying to in light of the need to do an entirely separate prep effort. I found two other worthy-looking programs to replace them.

- I have identified potential advisors at each of these programs - professors who have active research programs in an area of interest to me and has strong applicability to my future doctoral plans.

- I have identified 3 professors who should make very good recommenders, if they will agree to do it. I have one other that can be a backup if one of the three declines. I am feeling pretty confident that they will be amenable, however.

- I have put together my c.v., which looks really impressive for a would-be masters student.

- I have started reviewing for the GRE.

This summer, in addition to continuing to work on this math curriculum project until the beginning of August, I am starting to work with my marketing (consumer behavior) professor to turn the organic paper I did for her class into a paper to be submitted to conferences. I met with her last week to start talking about how we want to go about this. She asked, and I readily agreed, that she be a second author on my paper, which is great because I believe that it is appropriate and important for her to be rewarded for the effort she will put into the paper and this will act as an incentive for her to make the final product as good as possible.

She has already identified a couple of conferences where we could submit the paper and has determined that university funding is available to pay her and my way to present the paper if it is accepted. It's cool because I am going to be competing in the academic professional league (if not exactly the major league) and not submitting to undergraduate conferences.

I also had the opportunity to talk to her a bit about my professional/academic past and my future plans. It was a relief for her to be so positive about my pursuing a masters degree in psychology as preparation for a consumer behavior marketing PhD program. She believes (as do I) that the heavier research component of that kind of program will be better preparation than an MBA or the like. When I told her that I had secondary authorship on two journal articles from my stint as a research assistant at a psychiatric research center, she asked if they were medical or psychology journals. When I said medical, she was impressed because medical journals have a reputation for being very hard to get published in. This was an interesting and new take on my current publications - I had been sort of wondering how good medical journal articles would look to social scientists, and had a vague suspicion that they might look inferior or irrelevant in some way, but if her reaction is at all typical, they may be much stronger looking than I had thought.

I got a call today from one of the other marketing professors on the kid menu study I worked on over this past spring, and she offered me a job as their assistant for the coming spring (their current grad assistant graduates in December). One of the things she mentioned that they will want me to do is working on the actual writing up of the paper for publication, which will be a great experience and should get me a co-authorship on the paper (I assume). This should be pretty much fantastic for them, too, of course, because it seems unlikely that they very often find someone with my interest and skills in research coming through the MBA program from which they usually recruit their grad assistants.

I had been really wondering what I would do in the spring, since I will be in the process of wrapping up my grad school applications and only have one or two math courses I am interested in taking then. I don't want to be sitting around waiting for rejection/acceptance letters from grad programs or taking a bunch of extra classes just to fill the time. I had considered getting a "real" (outside the university) job, but finding a way to swing that with what is likely to be a 2:00 twice a week stat class would be difficult.

So, that's this summer and next spring. My plans for this fall have been pretty nebulous other than working on applications, taking a math class, and continuing to develop the organic food paper. Getting more publication opportunities is a priority for me and something I would like to put as much into as possible prior to applying for the masters programs. Even though it would be hard to get anything accepted by a journal by January, I would like to at least have some research in progress to put on my c.v.

I have two key opportunities here:

1. I may be able to turn some research I did at my previous employer into an academic journal article, especially with Robert's assistant on the statistical side of things. I spoke to my co-worker K about this via email this week and she feels like the agency would be supportive of my doing this, but she is going to check with the Powers That Be to get an official okay on it. Ideally, I would like to talk the agency into giving me some kind of status as a Research Consultant or Research Intern or something that doesn't pay me in any way but lets me have a concrete title to put on my resume for the fall semester, so I don't look like somebody who took one course and otherwise was just screwing around.

2. If that doesn't work out, I will ask my psychology professor if she or someone in the department needs a research assistant. While this would not be something likely to lead to publication credit, it would be more research experience.

As for the math course, I finally had the epiphany about the whole "Do I take Calculus 3 (Vector), which is more useful, or do I take Differential Equations, which is being taught by Dr P who is awesome, this semester" issue. I sort of forget from time to time that I have already taken Calculus 3 and gotten an A in it. So while I feel that a refresher of this material would be good, it doesn't actually help my credentials much to retake a class that cannot possibly improve my GPA, and indeed only adds the risk that I might get a lower grade. So screw it; I'm going to take Diff E. Calc 3 is taught every semester, and I can always take it along with the stat class in the spring semester if I decide I really want to review it in a formal way, as opposed to just looking at the textbook, which I already own.

So, that's an overview of my (likely) life for the next 9 months or so. My next grad school issue, aside from the GRE, is starting to work on my Statement of Purpose(s) for the various programs.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Geometry Vocabulary

I have actually been getting an incredible amount out of reading this math book, thinking about it in a deeper than usual way due to the need to critique whether a person could really understand all the relevant concepts and material from how it is presented, and doing all the problems.

Today I started the "dreaded" geometry chapter, so-called because I had been warned by teachers at the math camp that it was hard to understand. (By this I do not mean that the teachers and I cannot understand it, but that it is hard for 6th grade students to understand, which is the issue.)

Three things I learned from the first bit of the chapter:

(1) My memory of the unit circle is fading. (The book did not present the unit circle, but I was thinking about it as a way of answering some angle measurement problems despite not having a protractor. Arctan is your friend and Google calculator rocks.)

(2) A different proof of the Pythagorean Theorem (see proof #9 on this page for a picture)

(3) The word "tessellation" - a collection of plane figures that fills the plane with no overlaps or gaps. This is a helpful word for applying to those interlocking figures so common in M.C. Escher's work. I had always thought there had to be some kind of term to describe that pattern and am glad to finally know what it is.

I love the tessellated reptiles on the paper in this one:

I have this picture in my dining room


Our apartment complex sort of wraps around a piece of privately owned land such that the view from the east end of our balcony overlooks a grassy area with trees that supports a fair amount of wildlife. We've seen birds (including hawks), deer, mice, and other little critters there quite a bit.

Next to the fence just below our apartment building, there is a narrow paved track. I just took this photo so you can see the layout:

At about 7:30 this evening, I went out to water my herbs on the balcony and was daudling over it because the weather was so (comparatively) nice today. I was enjoying looking at the Mexican hat (coneflower) blooming and the many birds flying around when a cottontail rabbit came running down the paved track from right to left. Robert and I have seen rabbits after nightfall on the apartment complex property, but I have not seen one in daylight from a distance where I could actually watch, so I was pretty excited to see this bunny.

Very soon, another cottontail came down the path. They veered into the grass and stopped, standing still about 10 feet away from each other. It was hard to see them in the grass (the camouflage is remarkably good), so I got some binoculars and settled into to watch them.

After about 5 to 10 minutes of watching them standing utterly still (an act of patience I am not typically able to manage), I was hugely rewarded.

The rabbits moved toward each other and stopped with less than a foot separating them. One rabbit started making this kind of sproingy up-and-down movement with its body while the other started making a pre-lunging front-to-back movement and appeared to almost box at the first one with its front paws a few times. Sproingy jumped directly up and down in the air a couple of times (with an impressive lift, in my opinion), and then Lungy ran toward Sproingy, who jumped up so that Lungy ran directly under where Sproingy had been standing. They regrouped and did this again several more times. I cannot be sure whether the two rabbits consistently performed one role in this interaction or if they switched, since they looked identical to me. I couldn't figure out if they were fighting or playing or what.

Next, one rabbit chased the other for short-ish distance, then they both stopped, again with some distance between them. They stayed like this for several more minutes, and then one rabbit moved very close to the other one again. I basically ruled out the idea that they had been fighting at this point. I wondered if they would lunge and sproing again, but a car drove into the parking lot with loud rap music and both rabbits hightailed it deeper into the neighbor's property.

With a bit of thought, it finally occurred to me that I might have been observing mating behavior. Google served me up this information on cottontail rabbits:

"A mating pair performs an interesting ritual before copulation. This usually occurs after dark. The buck chases the doe until she eventually turns and faces him. She then spars at him with her forepaws. They crouch, facing each other, until one of the pair leaps about 2 feet in the air. This behavior is repeated by both animals before mating."

The "nice" weather I was experiencing earlier has now changed to hard, sideways rain. I had been half-expecting rain all day due to the double indicators of cloudiness and headache, but I am glad it held off long enough for me to see these rabbits in action.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Portmanteau Words

As linguistic expert Humpty Dumpty tells us in his explanation of the poem "Jabberwocky," a portmanteau word has "two meanings packed up into one word." For instance, "slithy" is a combination of slimy and lithe.

(1) Robert's family has a set of antique ice cream spoons that have been passed down for some number of generations; they are now in his aunt's possession. (She calls them "runcible spoons" after the term in Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat.") They look vaguely like this:

For those who take the 'ice' idea too seriously
I was pretty much incredulous when I first encountered these things at his grandmother's house. I mean, who ever heard of someone being born with a silver spork in his mouth? It brings to mind too much of a Kentucky Fried Upper Middle Class concept that I can't quite make sense of. (OK, to be fair, they had the rest of the silverware set also, but I like the idea of having one of these to pull out of my purse the next time I'm settling down to a plate of chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, and cole slaw at KFC.)

(2) For a while now I have been trying to find shorts that do not appear to have been designed for someone with a waist-to-hip ratio of 1.0 and that do not automatically make one's ass look like a frickin' square when wearing them. (Have you noticed this phenomenon? It's bizarre. Certain back pocket designs make the illusion even more compelling.)

A couple weekends ago, after trying on about 10 different pairs of shorts at the store, and finding only one that was barely acceptable, I decided to try some skirts that they had. Although skirts and shorts are not perfect substitutes, they both have the advantage of being much cooler than long pants in the summer.

Imagine my surprise when trying on the skirt to find a pair of shorts underneath. It was totally a skort, but not the style of skort I remember from the 80's (and hate), which has a panel overlaying the shorts only in the front. A skirt from the front and shorts from behind - now that's an utterly idiotic concept.

In addition to fitting well, being comfy, and avoiding the whole dreaded "square ass" issue, the skort seems completely acceptable for my (casual) workplace in a way that regular shorts just do not. It was $8. I bought one in every color they had in my size (about 8 of them, I think). Here is what the one I wore today looks like.

This fabric pattern is called 'runcible flower'

I feel sort of like a tennis player wearing an above-the-knee skirt with sneaker type shoes, and any sense of athleticism, however unearned, is a desirable thing for walking across campus in this ridiculously hot weather (as of 6:15, it had cooled down to a lovely 100 degrees). And now that I have this sort of crazy set of skorts, I am happy to have an almost complete collection of solid-colored T-shirts for ease of matching; I had not been compulsive in these purchases, but far-sighted.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fractions: Father's Day Edition

At work today, I was doing a lot of stuff with fractions. There was a treatment in the book of the so-called "Fudge Model" of fractions - the idea being that you think of a pan of fudge and cut it into various pieces and visualize fractions as different parts of this cut-up pan of fudge - that brought to mind something my dad did a very, very long time ago that I still remember with amusement (well amusement now; more like annoyance then).

To wit:

One night, we had brownies (or cake?) for dessert after dinner, and we each got a plate with a piece of brownie on it. Of course, being a greedy sugaraholic from way back, I was dissatisfied with my piece, so I told my dad "I want two pieces." To my surprise, he went for this suggestion and took my plate from me... and promptly cut the piece into two pieces and handed the plate back to me.

I am willing to say this now: good one, Dad.

(Note: under no circumstances should anyone ever take advantage of this confession to start calling me "Sally Two Pieces." You have been warned.)

To(o) Shed

A couple of Mondays ago (before I started my job), I watched an old episode of Monty Python that featured the Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson sketch shown here. It's less than 3 minutes long and worth watching:

For whatever reason, I was struck by this "Two Sheds" business in a major way and felt this incredible desire to start calling someone "Two Sheds." But the likelihood of such an opportunity arising seemed quite low indeed.

That same evening, I went to dinner with RB, who talked about the fact that he was considering building, or possibly purchasing, a shed for his backyard. We even went to the Lowe's in the restaurant shopping center and looked at the various sheds they had for sale. But RB seemed pretty much set on buying only one shed, not two, so despite the weird coincidence of being in an extended shed-purchasing discussion, there was no obvious "Two Sheds" connection to make. This was a disappointment to me because how often does anyone talk about a shed?

When I got home, I went in to pet Leo and fur started immediately. (A few times per year, he goes through this process of losing great heaping quantities of fur, while the rest of the time, he merely loses a lot of fur.) So I said, "Leo, you are really starting to shed ... to shed..." and in a sing-song voice I started to say over and over "Leo-Leo To Shed... Leo-Leo To Shed... Leo is so furry that he is now a Too Shed... Leo-Leo Too Shed..."

Leo did not seem to mind being called "To(o) Shed," reacting with his usual aplomb, or one might say, indifference; he generally does not react at all to what I say to him, so long as it is said in a nice voice and accompanied by good petting. Given the babbling idiocy that proximity to his immensely adorable fluffiness creates, he does not have high expectations of intelligent conversation from me or any other human.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Quantitative Comparisons with Exponents

I got a bunch of good GRE practice on these kinds of questions at work this afternoon. I was sort of blown away by how easy they are, once you think in terms of rewriting the quantities using the rules of exponents and not just freaking out over how the number themselves are huge and a complete pain in the ass to attempt to calculate.

I am quite pleased that an entire section of a chapter in the book, about "applications of linear equations," is set in the microeconomics context - calculating revenues, variable costs, total costs, etc. But I did suggest that given how confusing college students in principles of microeconomics classes and people I have worked with in the past have found these ideas, an introductory section that gives some background information would be helpful. I will definitely get Robert to look at the revised version.

I also suggested changing "that" to "which" in one sentence and my boss (who I will call H, and who is a really nice woman and is the wife of my linear algebra professor) asked me if I could clarify when to use them because she has never been clear on the difference. It was interesting to try to formulate a rule on the fly, since I have long since internalized the distinction so that the application is automatic, but was able to contrast the sentences:

"She has the cup that is blue" - the clause defines something significant about the cup - I am talking about the blue cup and not some other cup - there is an emphasis on the blueness as being important to what I am saying

"She has the cup, which is blue" - the clause merely gives additional information and is not necessary to defining the cup

I learned from H., after a discussion of favorite numbers (yes, everybody had one; math geeks, you know), that the number 4 is considered an unlikely number in Japan (where she is from) because of the similarity of the word for "four" to the word for "death." Wikipedia calls this "tetraphobia" and says that it is a common superstition in East Asia. So would my love for the number four be "tetraphilia"?

Note that today is Friday the 13th. Happy Birthday, Robert! I hope you do not have paraskavedekatriaphobia.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Self-Referential DVD Titles

I was taking the two videos that came from Netflix today to the TV area and saw that there was already a DVD there, but I didn't remember that we had any videos we hadn't watched yet.

I said, "What is this one?" and bent down to look at it.

Robert says, "The Forgotten?"

Yeah, the name of the movie is The Forgotten. Quite apt.

Cafeteria Lunches

One of the perks of my summer job is that I have a free pass for the lunch served in a cafeteria on campus, along with other employees and attendees of various summer camps for kids that are occurring on campus. (At lunch earlier these week, there was an impromptu and thankfully brief Cheerleading Competition that was quite impressively loud; the band kids today were somewhat tamer.)

This is definitely one of the those good news/bad news situations, since they have a lot of health-compromise but yummy-looking items available, including about 6 different kinds of dessert and thick-crust pizza with a variety of excellent toppings. They also have burgers, hot dogs, and fries at one station, and another station with a different "hot dinner" type thing each day. Today it was chicken parmesan, cheese lasagna, a rice pilaf, a hot roll, green beans, and who knows what else (these are things I saw on my co-workers' trays).

I am successfully avoiding the pizza using a contrived strategy that I developed visiting Tam this summer - I am cultivating in myself the belief that the only restaurant pizza that I like is Old Chicago pizza, which is not coincidentally unavailable anywhere near Austin, and am thus not eating other pizza. (Austin's Mangia Pizza, for example - entirely over-rated! This is a true statement that can be construed to support my idealized preference for Old Chicago.) I continue to make pizza at home, though, and enjoy it utterly.

But the upside is that the salad bar is pretty decent. They have green salad with various toppings, including a lot of different vegetables, cheese, and tofu. They have fruit salad (which I have not tried, but appears citrus-free), cottage cheese, a green bean salad, excellent marinated vegetables (different each day), fruit yogurt (today looked like blueberry), and a bunch of other stuff I haven't noticed enough to remember.

They also have good fresh-brewed iced tea and fruit like apples, bananas, and oranges always available. They even have a good selection of cereal and more than one kind of milk, if a person is into that kind of thing.

Today I brought from home half a turkey sandwich and some fresh blueberries Robert bought me at the farmers market. I supplemented this with tea and a trip to the salad bar resulting in the following lunch:

Half a turkey sandwich
Marinated cherry tomatoes, onion, broccoli, and cucumber
A green salad with cherry tomato, cauliflower, ranch dressing, and sesame seeds
A small bowl of cottage cheese with fresh blueberries (dessert)
Iced tea (two small glasses, about 10 oz once correcting for ice - I don't want to get too used to a lot of caffeine every day)

My hope is that I will continue to bring a protein from home that can be eaten cold (next week, I want oven-baked chicken tenders, for instance, as one option) and add on stuff from the salad bar. I will likely get sick of this at some point, but I am liking it so far.

Of course, if I decide I really want to bring my own meal from home to heat up, that's totally workable because across the hall from our workroom (more about this momentarily), there is a huge break room with a full-sized fridge, a microwave, and a toaster oven. So far, I am making a point to join my co-workers for lunch to be sociable, but it will be fine to stay back and heat up my own stuff in the break room when I am in the mood for that.

The room is pretty much great (and huge). We have a set of tables with Macs facing the windows, a worktable in the middle where we are currently working our problems, and a chalkboard (which got used a lot today, especially when two of my co-workers and I were starting to write review problems for one of the chapters). We listen to a Pandora radio station in the afternoon that we seeded with a favorite band of each of the four students and I have been thrilled with what we're hearing. We started with TMBG, the Beatles, a band that is not Iron & Wine but that I put in the same category of music and is a KSAL band but I can't remember which one specifically, and an unknown choice of the grad student that has not caused anything bad to show up. The first song we heard this week was "Ana Ng" and the last one I remember this afternoon was "The Distance" by Cake (which is crazily catchy, in my opinion).

We are working from 8:00 or 8:30 to 3:30 each day, so it isn't too bad. But I admit that my brain was rather tired by the end of today. It's a lot of math, and it's getting trickier.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Revisiting 6th & 7th Grades

Robert suggested that my summer job should be easy enough that I won't have a problem with coming home and studying math for the GRE.

But I found out on Monday that my first task at work will be doing every problem in the textbook, making sure the teacher guide answers are correct (and correctly worked when the method is given), and doing various kinds of evaluation of the exercises and writing new exercises as needed. So while it's true that I am unlikely to be generally exhausted from my job, it remains unclear to me how much interest I am going to have in coming home and doing even more math problems.

Of course, I find it amusing that I recently determined that so many GRE math problems look like algebra problems but can be solved (esp. since they are multiple choice) without using algebra (according to the prep book "trick" methods), given that the book I am working on this summer is about teaching kids how to do algebra without telling them that it is algebra. There's some nice kind of symmetry about this whole thing.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

GRE Psychology Practice Test

Two of the schools on my (still tentative) list require the GRE Psychology subject test. I have been considering eliminating these two programs so I don't have to prep for this test. I mean, I am 12 - 15 years removed from my psychology coursework in college, so there is a lot of stuff I have forgotten.

But before I gave up hope, I decided to download the practice test from the GRE website and do it cold today after lunch. 215 problems in 170 minutes, following the classic paper-based multiple choice format. You get one point for every correct answer and lose 1/4 points for every incorrect answer. Any question you leave blank does not affect your score either way. I chose to guess on any question where I could narrow the answers down to 3 possibilities.

While taking the test, I realized that I know basically nothing about biological/neurological psychology, though. I have never taken a course in it and have not picked up any of this knowledge anywhere else.

I got a 660, which is the 81st percentile. That's not fabulous or anything, but perfectly okay for my purposes (and impressive to me, given how long I've had to forget this). If I could just take the 660 and have it put on my permanent record, I'd be fine with that. Of course, now I have to decide whether it's worth putting a little bit of review time in and taking the damn thing, or skipping it entirely. (I don't feel comfortable going into the real test cold because no doubt I overperformed in my testing conditions due to being unstressed and comfortable and all that.) But at least I don't feel now that I would have to put a huge amount of effort into doing adequately on the test.

This decision process never ends.

The grading sheet for the practice included the percentage of people who took this actual test in November 1999 and got the right answer, so I could see where I most differed from the average psychology test-taker.

Only 10% of test-takers (and I) got this one:
"Complex representations consist of an activation pattern of many individual units that have simple on-off functions. This theoretical view of memory representation is modeled on the actual nervous system and is known as:
A) connectionism
B) information processing theory
C) the ACT* model
D) the Atkinson-Shiffrin model
E) encoding specificity theory"

85% of test-takers got this one, but I left it blank (though I did have a gut instinct about the correct answer that I did not follow through on):
"Subjects are presented with a randomly arranged list of animals, fruits, and tools, and then asked to recall the list in any order they wish. Their recall protocols are most likely to show which of the following?
A) The items with the same initial letters occur close together.
B) The items that rhyme occur close together.
C) The items that belong to the same conceptual category occur close together.
D) The items occur in an order highly similar to that used for presentation.
E) The items from only one of the conceptual categories are recalled."

The "easiest" question I actually gave the wrong answer to (and that 66% of test-takers got right) was one where I talked myself out of the right answer:
"Several abilities are measured repeatedly in the same participants at 55, 65, and 75 years of age. For which of the following measures would the observed decline with age be expected to be the most obvious?
A) Recall of factual knowledge
B) Senseory memory capacity
C) Reproduction of a simple abstract design from memory
D) Motor performance under time pressure
E) Comparative judgments of line lengths after controlling for individual differences in visual acuity"

The first one is A. The second one is C. The third one is D (I guessed C).

Winner of the Creepiest Sentence on the Psychology Exam Award goes to question #109:

"In a classic experiment on 'sham rage' in cats, the cats' cerebral cortexes were removed and the cats were exposed to noxious stimuli."

(Please note the "sham rage" experiment was conducted around 1925 and does not reflect what is going on in contemporary psychology laboratories.)

Elsewhere in the standardized testing world, Tam has been gearing up for the regular GRE exam and struggling with that too-common feeling of rebellion against the whole idea of preparing for the test.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Meeting Ed, Finally

When I visited Tam something like a year ago, we drove past the street where Ed, a guy she had met and almost but not quite started really dating yet, lived, but we didn't stop by. Of course, almost immediately they got together and we lamented the fact that I hadn't met him when I had the chance.

But a couple weeks ago, Tam generously bought me a ticket to come visit her in Denver and meeting Ed was a major item on the to-do list. Now having spent quite a bit of time in his company, I can report: I like Ed. Ed is great. Tam can keep dating him with my blessing.

This is a very pleasant change from her last serious boyfriend, who not only was an asshole and an arrogant prick*, but hated me and disliked Tam after she had been talking to me.

*No doubt he had some good qualities or Tam wouldn't have dated him, but he was always an asshole when I was around, and that's something I find intolerable.

10,000 Public Librarians Pull Their Hair

Get Rich Slowly points out this question that someone submitted to an online forum (as far as I know, it is legit, but can't vouch for it):

"book rental service?
was just thinking. my sister does -alot- of reading, and spends like $1000 a year on just books alone. most of them she reads once then never looks at again. is there any kind of like…video rental store but for books? would make things alot cheaper, plus once one person had read one the next person can get enjoyment from it etc"

If you're not using your public library as a primary source of read-once fiction, you are throwing away money. Even with late fees (which are usually tiny), it beats buying the book, which you then have to store forever or take somewhere to get rid of anyway; you may as well return it to the same place you got it from.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Black Linen x2

Today I finished two sewing projects after not doing anything for months. Conveniently, both were black linen, which meant I didn't have to change the thread in the machine. I am really lazy about not wanting to do that for some reason. Leo did not have the fun "helping" me that he obviously wanted to - the barrier I built between the sewing corner and the rest of the room was successful.

1) I shortened a pair of too-short pants into knee-length shorts. (These started as a pair of pants a friend's ex-girlfriend had sewn and left behind at his apartment; they had already been taken in at the waist to fit me.)

2) I completed a skirt made from a pair of capri pants. Despite this taking a long time for me to manage, it was actually very simple. (And starting from a pair of pants means that the hardest work of the waistband, zipper, and pockets were already done.) The skirt, made from the remainder of the pants left after cutting off where the bleach stain was on one knee, was too short for me, so I extended it using an old shirt of Robert's that was conveniently a matching color. (The shirt had a hole in it and was in my scrap pile; I did not raid his closet for fabric to use.)

Originally, I had planned to lengthen the skirt all the way around the bottom, but once I started cutting up the shirt, I found that I could both simplify the process and funkify the skirt by adding strips to the front and the back that came directly from the bottom of the shirt. So it turned out to have sort of kicky panels with a "slit" on each side. It looks sort of odd, and like no skirt I have ever seen, but I like the effect, I think.

Very demure...

You can also see the new shoes I bought in Denver when I visited Tam. (Tam was not in physical condition for a lot of hiking, but needed to go shoe shopping, so it was a happy time.) I have wanted a pair of shoes with straps like this for a long time, and I happened to find these that were both on sale and "nicer" looking than most of this style. The tapestry-like fabric on the sides dresses them up just the right amount for me.

Flash some leg

In other clothing news, I did a major clean-out of my closet and drawers and got rid of everything that didn't fit me and a few things I just don't ever find myself wearing. (This means I have more pants-to-shorts creations to complete as I do away with the unfashionably short pants I have had since the high-water days.) I realized once again that skirts (especially ones with sewn-down pleats) and dresses (of which I only own about three right now) are much more flattering on me than pants. (Duh, imagine that - clothing styled for a woman's figure looks better than guy-styled stuff.)

This dress I saw today on Wardrobe Refashion really appeals to me as something that might be easy enough for even me to sew, and a wrap-dress is about the ultimate in adjustability of fit. Something to consider. But first I do want to get through all the items that I already own that simply need a little work done to them to make them comfortable and wearable.

Fa(s)t Food Analysis

The economic research paper described here pretty cleverly exploits a natural experiment to suggest that fast food does not cause obesity. The main finding is that people in rural areas next to highways (where there are more fast food restaurants) are no more likely to be fat than rural people farther away from highways. Since the building of these restaurants was not driven by local demand (but rather to accommodate through traffic), they take this to imply that the mere existence of convenient fast food does not itself cause people to gain weight. They suspect that the proliferation of fast food and other restaurants, serving large portions, may be a reflection of people's preferences for eating a lot of food and not a causal factor for obesity.

I wondered whether their measure of convenience was poor because it does not account for the fact that people who live in more distant areas may work in areas that are convenient to a higher density of restaurants, but they examined employed and unemployed people separately and did not find any differences.

One thing I found rather hard to believe was that based on survey data from 1994 - 1996, Americans (living in rural areas) increase their daily calorie intake on days they eat in a restaurant by a net of 24 calories. Though "when a given individual eats out, he consumes 233 more calories per meal than when he eats at home," this increased intake is compensated for by eating less the rest of the day. Can this be right? That data also seems pretty out of date, doesn't it? It's 2008 now. Was the Super Size phenomenon as prevalent at that time? Were sit-down restaurant meals as huge and full of freebies (e.g. mammoth and endless free bread) as they are now? I wish they had reported more recent numbers (though I recognize that the economists were only reporting the secondary data they could find).

They also found that "the between-individual coefficient is significantly larger than the fixed effects coefficient (235 versus 24), implying that individuals who frequent restaurants also eat more at home. This difference suggests that selection may explain why a number of observational studies have found a link between caloric intake and food away from home." So basically, the idea is that fat people eat a lot in restaurants and at home and thus any correlation between restaurant eating and weight is showing that fat people like to eat out, not that eating out makes a given person fat.

The authors suggest that legislation intended to limit the availability of fast food or to increase its price through a "fat tax" (this is discussed in the paper itself, but not the description of the research) will not have much if any effect on obesity levels.

In the economic jargon, "Regulating specific inputs into health and safety production functions is unlikely to be effective when optimizing consumers can compensate along other margins." In other words, keeping people from eating a lot in restaurants isn't going to do much when people can meet their desires for porking out by buying a bunch of craptacularly high-cal food at the supermarket. This rings pretty much true to me and suggests that either (1) the regulation of what people eat is going to have to be a lot stricter than what most people would be willing to tolerate or (2) people's preferences (and habits) need to be changed in a more widely reaching way. Of course, once you start talking about "preferences," I start to wonder what preferences we mean? The preference of the Hungry (or Stressed or Bored or Whatever) Person Who Wants a Large Supreme Pizza Right Now or the Overly Stuffed Person Who Regrets the Trip to Pizza Hut and Never Wants to Eat Again?

Because one thing this analysis does not address is the impact of restaurant eating on people who are generally trying to eat more healthfully / "watch what they eat" / eat less / diet, and they acknowledge that fact when they write: "If consumer preferences are time inconsistent, then regulation that decreases obesity may benefit at-risk individuals. The goal of this paper is not to evaluate how time inconsistency affects the optimality of decisions regarding caloric intake."

Fair enough. But I sure would have been interested in seeing the net calorie difference among "people trying to be careful about eating" for days they eat at home and days they eat at a restaurant because it's my experience, and the experience of approximately 3.6 gazillion people who have lost weight and talked about it on the Internet, in Weight Watchers meetings, etc., that Restaurant Eating is generally Diet Death.

Of course, it is also the case, for me at least, that I am more likely to want to eat in a restaurant when I want to "eat the world" than when I am feeling normal, so it may be a selection problem for me also. But when I successfully resist going to a restaurant in that desperate condition, I do not stay home and eat 1,000 calories at dinner. But I may be more successful than the average person in not having a lot in the way of attractive, convenient calories in my own home. (E.g. I do have the ingredients to make snickerdoodles, but I never do, even when I am strongly desiring going out for a high-calorie dessert or would eat a box of snickerdoodles if they appeared in my kitchen cabinet.)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Grade Inflation: A Small Piece of Evidence

I have been working this weekend again on my c.v. (the long resume used in academia) and it's been basically great. There is nothing like putting all the impressive things about yourself in one huge document to make you feel a sense of confidence. (For instance, my research experience rocks. Too bad I am not going into geology...)

I have a 3.64 GPA from Rice, which put me into the cum laude honors group, and as I recall, I was not barely skating by. Robert looked up the current GPA cut-off at Rice for cum laude - it is 3.80! So in 12 years, there appears to have been enough grade inflation to bring the cut-off up by about 0.20. That's quite a lot. (Of course, it's possible that Rice students have become more studious since 1996, but I somehow doubt it. I also can't believe that student quality could have increased that much since I was there.)

But the thing that had me triumphantly aha-ing when I saw this information was the realization that I don't just have a 3.64 GPA from a top university - in 2008 terms, I have a 3.8ish GPA from a top university. Too bad I can't report my GPA in current terms (like you would report 1996 dollars in 2008 dollars), but I have to assume that the professors on the admission committees are at least as aware of grade inflation as I am.