Sunday, September 28, 2008

Just a Gingerbread Muffin

The salad bar at Jason's Deli has yummy gingerbread muffins. When I was looking up the damage of a macademia nut cookie (a yikes-worthy 340 calories), I also looked up the calories in these bad boys: 220 calories.

Now 220 calories may not seem all that bad for a muffin. Certainly there are muffins that have more calories than that (e.g. anything from Otis Spunkmeyer), though all the ones I make personally are between 100 and 170 calories.

But these muffins are mini-muffins and the 220 calories only buys you 1 oz of food. Or so they say. But wait, butter, which is the most calorie-dense food there is, has 204 calories per oz. Something is whacked. And as Robert just pointed out looking at Jason's nutrition data for this, the 31 g item contains 10.5 g of fat, 29 g of carb, and 2.6 g of protein.

So, despite the company publishing nutritional information, I still don't know just how calorie dense these things are. But I feel confident that it's a lot more calories than it's worth.

By contrast, my full-sized banana oat bran muffins contain 130 calories, weigh 2.75 oz, and are 47.3 calories per ounce.

And for a calorie-free sweet treat, take a look at this amazing Muppet Show cake! (via Tam)

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Psychology of Irrationality

Notes and comments on a chapter by Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State who studies self-control and decision-making.

He identifies three basic categories of irrational and self-defeating behavior:

(1) Deliberate self-harm, for which he says he has found no evidence in normal adults.
(2) Trade-offs: when something good is linked to something bad.
(3) Counterproductive strategies: a way of trying to get something good that doesn't work.

The primary causes of self-defeating choices:

(1) Emotional distress: Lottery experiments* suggest that people who are upset tend to make foolish, risky choices because they fail to think through the implications and consequences of their behavior. In his research, when people who were manipulated by the experiment to become angry are told to take a minute to "stop and think" before making a choice, they make better decisions, even though they do not calm down in such a short time. Angry people took riskier choices when that gave them either a lower or higher expected gain.

*Lottery experiments are very common. There are a lot of variations, but generally in these experiments, people are given the choice between two or more options that have different amounts of pay-off (e.g. $5 or $50) and/or different probabilities of winning the amount (e.g. 50% or 5%). A "rational" person will generally choose the option with the highest expected value, calculated by multiplying the probability by the pay-off amount, subject to a certain level of risk aversion. If the values are the same, they will choose the one with the highest probability. An example of a bad risky choice would be to select a 10% chance at $10 (expected value $1) instead of a 50% chance at $5 (expected value $2.50, plus it's more certain.)

(2) Threatened egotism: "People who hold a high opinion of themselves often get quite upset by a blow to pride and the rush to prove something great about themselves overrides their normal, rational way of dealing with life." He did some interesting experiments involving giving people a fake creativity test, telling them they either scored well or scored poorly, and then giving them the option to bet on their own performance in a task. When told they had done well on the test, high self-esteem people made more money than low self-esteem people - they correctly gauged how well they were going to perform and bet accordingly. But when they were told they had done poorly on the test, they bet more and lost more than the low self-esteem people - they bet more extravagantly even when they did not have the ability to back it up.

(3) Self-regulation failure: Self-regulation refers to how people manage and control themselves. Self-regulation is a limited resource; if it gets depleted, the self cannot function as effectively for some time after that. In his research, people showed up at the lab after having been told to skip lunch and were put in a room with cookies; some people were told to not eat the cookies and were later given radishes instead while others could eat the cookies. The ones who avoided the cookies gave up faster when asked to do either some impossible geometric figure tracings or a set of solvable anagrams than the cookie-eaters did.

In recent research, he has found that self-regulation depends on glucose as an energy source. No wonder dieting is so fricking hard: making the effort to control your food intake makes your glucose level drop, so you want more food.

(4) Decision fatigue: Making decisions, either one large one or a series of small ones, draws on the same resource as self-regulation.

(5) Rejection & belongingness: He believes that the need to belong and to form and maintain connections to others is a more powerful motive than it is often credited with, more powerful than self-esteem, for example. In an experiment, he manipulated someone's feeling of connection by telling them that they were either chosen to be a partner by everyone in a group or chosen by no one (and in another variation, that on a fake test they took, they would be likely to be well connected, or alone in life, or accident-prone: another "bad" outcome that doesn't relate to belongingness). The ones that were made to feel rejected or alone performed less well on many different critieria - IQ test performance, aggressiveness, willingness to help someone who asks, and a variety of "taking care of oneself" measures; they were more likely to eat fattening food, take a risky lottery, and drink less of a vinegary yet "healthy" drink in experiments.

One of the big takeaways of this research to me is that it's important to not set yourself up for failure by lining up too many decisions or too much of a need for self-control at one time. It's basically common sense that it doesn't make sense to do too many hard new things at once: going a diet, start exercising, try to meet a new bedtime hour, give up sugar-free soda for water, cut back on TV viewing, etc. But if self-regulating and decision-making capacity is a limited resource, you need to be sure to protect yourself from self-control lapses when you have big decisions you are contemplating or a bunch of small decisions that have to be made. If you've had a rough day in that respect, you are unlikely to be able to go to an Italian restaurant for dinner and order the healthy tuna dish that you always plan to get; if the lasagna always calls your name, you will be especially vulnerable. Perhaps it's better to go someplace that you don't have to control yourself so much in. And it's no wonder that many people have trouble with sugary snacks at work. Though doesn't it seem like women indulge in this more than men do? I wonder how the glucose theory lines up with other research (e.g. in Brian Wansink's lab) that has found male/female disparities in snacking.


The psychology of economic decisions / edited by Isabelle Brocas and Juan D. Carrillo.
New York : Oxford University Press, 2003

Gailliot, M.T., Baumeister, R.F., DeWall, C.N., Maner, J.K., Plant, E.A., Tice, D.M., Brewer, L.E., & Schmeichel, B.J. (2007). Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: Willpower is more than a metaphor. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 325-336.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

You Should Be Eating Spinach

Spinach and other dark leafy greens really are the bomb, health-wise. Other veggies can't touch them for nutritional value, and since veggies are at the top of the nutritional value list, this makes spinach a serious champ that you should be chomping regularly.

Here's what I've been eating for dinner this week with turkey burgers. It is delicious and takes scant minutes to prepare. Much more satisfying than a vitamin.

Spinach with Pine Nuts and Garlic

1/8 c. pine nuts (pignoli) (approx. 80 nuts)*
1 ½ T. extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 bag (10 oz) washed fresh spinach leaves
1/8 t. salt
1/8 t. pepper
Balsamic vinegar (optional)

*If you don't have them, or don't feel like paying for them, they can be left out, no problem.

1. Gently toast nuts in a dry sauté pan until they start to brown. Set aside.
2. In a very large pan, heat olive oil and garlic over medium heat until garlic sizzles and start to turn golden (do not let garlic brown).
3. Add pine nuts and one third of spinach; sauté until spinach wilts. Add remaining spinach in batches, seasoning with salt and pepper as it cooks.
4. If you love vinegar, sprinkle lightly with balsamic vinegar when serving.

Serves 2.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Taking Steps (Not 39, Though It Feels Like It)

Good news this week!

Step 1: I have gotten a $1,400 grant from the university to present my research at a very good marketing conference in May. (As in, $1,400 to cover the costs of travel, hotel, etc.) Woo! My professor is awesome for doing all the paperwork, shepherding, etc., involved in this.

Step 3a: I should finish the paper I am submitting.

Step 3b: I guess I should also make it good enough to be accepted.

I made some good progress toward Step 3 on Friday - a lot of straightforward writing, but also finishing up some naggling loose ends, like finding an appropriate source to reference when I posit here that XYZ is the case and finding the actual number that I should put in the place that currently reads "X%" and so on. I also had a couple of moments along the lines of "hey, there are policy implications of this, yay" since the conference focuses on that kind of thing.

Step 2: But I also need to collect more data! So there is a limit to how far I can progress on Step 3. (I've got a limited amount of infrastructure in place for the results section, but obviously can't really write the whole thing yet.)

I spent about 6 hours doing differential equations homework today. It's almost scary how on top of this material I feel (and appear, objectively, to be, given my quiz grades and how I plowed through the homework today, surprising myself with one correct answer after another). So all is well on the DE front.

This past week I got super-organized on grad school applications also.

Step 1: I have my final list of 7 programs, subject to hearing back from Virginia Tech (aka VT) as to whether they will accept my GRE scores in place of the GMAT. If they say no, as I am starting to strongly anticipate, I will just go to 6 programs.

Step 2: I have recorded all the information for each program about what they are expecting when, and developed the list of known unknowns that I need to follow up with each program about. I had been dreading this step, but it wasn't so bad. (I guess after all the mammoth projects I've managed in my career, this is going to be an easy one; I mean, first of all, everything is being done in English, which I have not always been able to rely on.)

Step 3: I have ordered my transcripts (except the ones for VT), which was kind of a pain in the ass because I have 4 different colleges to get them from and each program has requirements about whether they want them from me with my bundle o' application stuff or directly from the college. UT, by the way, continues to be a School of Suckitude in that they charged $10 per transcript (esp. annoying for one stinkin' class!); Rice and TSU charged $5, and TCC charged $0.

Step 4: I have ordered GRE score reports for all of the schools (except the one for VT).

Step 5: I have started the online applications for each program and have completed a significant amount of the "easy" stuff.

Step 6: Writing the statement of purpose, generally considered the most difficult part of the process. I was cheered up when I read a philosophy professor's blog in which he said that he has never seen a first draft of a SOP that was any good at all. Maybe the fact that my own first draft ended up so disappointing is not a bad sign, but represents a typical stage of the progression from Not Any Good at All to Good Enough. I am going to work on my third approach tomorrow.

I worked on a second approach and wasn't pleased with it. I basically have not come up with an interesting "hook" a la telling an interesting story in the first paragraph to grab the adcom's interest. The examples are always how watching megafauna on the Serengeti plain got me interested in biology, how watching my father save the life of a woman on a private airplane while simultaneously flying the aircraft to safety convinced me that I should dedicate myself to becoming a doctor and inventing superior airplane autopilot technology, how my childhood being raised by wolves has impacted my perspective on sociology, or whatever. To tell a "story" about getting interested in psychology while heeding the no-doubt vital advice that it's a mistake to talk about the psychological issues of yourself or anybody you know is kind of difficult, I think.

Well, here's one: "The most fascinating and frustrating part of the experiment I conducted for my paper A Case of Balance Disturbance in a Domestic Cat (unpublished) actually occurred after the formal experiment was over. While happy to have put a frequently-held, but at that time scientifically unsubstantiated claim to the empirical test (see enclosed writing sample), my satisfaction was short-lived. I found myself unprepared to make sense of the cat's behavior once he was released from the experiment. In-depth investigations of the literature did not reveal any extant theory to explain the cat's actions. Since that time, I have dedicated myself to exploring the social psychology of trans-species interactions in the context of close relationships, with a particular focus on displays of emotion toward humans."

Step 7: Once I have well and truly finalized the list of programs, which keeps threatening to occur, but never quite makes it - it's sort of like those projects at work that get a series of file names like Winters Report Final.doc, Winters Report Final Revised.doc, Winters Report Final Revised with Bobs Edits.doc, Winters Report Final Revised with Bobs Edits Finalized.doc, Winters Report Final Revised with Bobs Edits Finalized June 10 2008 Version.doc, Winters Report Final THIS IS THE ONE IGNORE ALL OTHERS.doc - I get to do the part I am dreading most, which is approaching professors to write my recommendations. I have no real reason to think this will be difficult or unpleasant; I just don't like having to do anything that smacks of "asking for the sale."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lessons Learned from "The 39 Steps"

(1) Every bachelor should keep a piece of fresh fish on a plate in the refrigerator without any plastic wrap or other covering because you never know when a mysterious, beautiful woman will invite herself home with you from a music hall and announce that she's hungry after telling you all about being a spy. That fish will cook quickly enough that you'll be ready to eat before things get terribly awkward.

(2) Although it is quite inconvenient when you ask a woman on the train to help you get away from the police because you're really innocent of the murder of aforementioned mysterious spy-woman and she immediately turns you over to the cops, in the long run, you'll be glad that you didn't fall in love with a woman who is a complete idiot.

(3) If you must wear stockings, it's best to go old-school and use the kind that only come up to mid-thigh rather than pantyhose that go up to your waist. It's more difficult to remove wet stockings while handcuffed to a man you think is a murderer than you might think. Of course, you could wear pants and normal socks, but it wouldn't be as sexy when his hand is forced to slide along your leg when you remove them.

An Unfortunate Typo

I'm doing some lit review on depth interviews and just came across this awkward listing in the database:

Parents' Experience and Meaning Construction of the Loss of a Child in a National Tenor Attack

Perhaps the authors will follow up this work with a paper on the loss of children to other aggressive singers; I suspect altos to be particularly vicious but that the loss of a child to a raging soprano might be the most horrifying experience of all, since the behavior is so out of line with the girlish voice.

(Yes, that should be "Terror Attack" according to the title given on the actual paper.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Recipe for Embarrassment

Texting on a cell phone, while climbing stairs in flip-flops and jeans that you can't help stepping on = not a good idea.

But the dozens of people who saw it will pretend that we didn't notice in one of those common social conspiracies of silence. Pick yourself up and keep on going, girl.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An Expectation

With all the bad stuff going down with the investment banks, mortgage lenders, etc., I expect a lot of people will be applying to Ph.D. finance programs this year to get out of the job market. I'm glad I'm not one of them.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Placebenol Ad

I enjoyed this "advertisement" from the American University Discrete Observer online newspaper:

But I like cherry flavor

Friday, September 12, 2008

Statement of Purpose Ending

I completed my first, second, and third drafts of my SOP today, with Robert's editing input. One goal of my essay is to simultaneously demonstrate that I am a mature, skilled, knowledgeable individual with a successful professional career who is yet aware that going into academic psychology, I am starting over as a student with much to learn. Making the last round of changes this evening, I decided that I didn't quite like the way the essay ended. I had referenced something about "contributing to the research" being done in the department, by which I meant being a valuable assistant but which sounded a bit too much like the language I used earlier to imply my interest in eventually contributing to psychological research as my career goal.

Sally: "I guess I can't rewrite this to say that I am eager to be their helpful minion."

Robert: "No, I think you would be better off leaving it out entirely. You want to come across as eager but not Igor."

Sally: "But I make a really good minion. My Igor impersonation scared my co-workers [at my summer job] with its power. Well, something they will have to wait to discover after they accept me into the program."

Robert: "Deputy henchman."

Sally: "Chief flunky."

Robert: "Assistant lackey."

Sally: "I want to be senior minion and have assistant lackeys of my own."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

GRE Scores in Writing

I received my GRE score report in the mail today, and I did not misremember the Quantitative and Verbal scores they gave me at the testing center. The report also gave my Writing score.

800 V (99th percentile)
750 Q (83rd percentile)
6.0 W (97th percentile)

(Percentile = percentage of test-takers scoring below my score)

The "99" given for the Verbal score is a bit misleading; a 740 still gets you in the 99th percentile. Robert's estimate, based on the reported data, is 99.7% scored below 800.

Using the correlation between Verbal and Quantitative scores ETS provides (0.35) and making some assumptions about the distributions of the data, Robert also looked at the percentage of test-takers scoring an 800 V and a 750+ Q (i.e. at least as well as I did) - this turned about to be about 0.25%, or one in four hundred.

In his model, a person scoring an 800 V is expected to score just about what I did on the Quantitative section.

So, I guess you could say I not only survived the GRE, I pwned it.

So now I am hoping that what I hear is true - that assistanceships and fellowships are often awarded based a combination of GRE score and GPA. Although my GPA is very good but not stellar (although I do not know how/whether they view GPA in context of the rigor of the undergraduate program), it should be good enough in combination with a 1550 GRE to get me funding.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Too Many Words About Me

I just now finished my outline for my statement of purpose for my #1 program. The outline alone is 1,077 words.

They did not specify a length limit, but the Patricia Keith-Spiegel book recommends in that case to stick to 1,000 - 1,500 words as a maximum for the essay.

Yikes. OK, well, at least I know I won't have difficulty finding enough to say. Fortunately, I can put/leave some of the stuff in my c.v. and elaborate on the highlights and the qualitative aspects in my essay.

I took the advice of the excellent book Graduate Admission Essays and recalculated my Rice GPA to find if a favorable trend exists; I decided to see what it looks like if I separate out my not-so-great freshman year. I was pleasantly surprised: Freshman year = 3.0. Sophomore - senior years combined = 3.9. And my GPA from Texas State is 4.0 and holding steady (so far, diff e is not kicking my ass, but it's early days, of course). Those are some fine, fine numbers.

I hope my GRE numbers are fine also. Knock wood, I should get my score report this week.

Idiotic As Hell, More Like

I find the phrase "sexy as hell" ... well... not.

I think this is because it's 100% romance-novelist-speak to me.

You know, the kind of thriller romance novel that features a strong-yet-vulnerable, beautiful-yet-girl-next-door woman investigating some crime she has no business whatsoever getting herself involved in (she is a journalist or a lawyer or a writer or some other kind of person who makes her living with words), while hating, then sleeping with, then eventually falling in love with some tall, dark, handsome tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold-once-you-find-it-beneath-his-armor (who is a cop or an FBI agent or a bodyguard or some other kind of person who makes his living with guns) who she is forced to work with. At some point in this story, the previously taciturn or big-talking tough-guy admits to the chick when she walks into the living room wearing only an over-sized t-shirt (or whatever), "You are smart, and beautiful, and sexy as hell, and even though everything in my head is telling me to run away, I can't." Readers, commence vomiting.

Did it originate as a variant of the only somewhat less turn-off phrase "hot as hell," with hot = sexy?

Yes, this is the kind of deep linguistic analysis you've come to depend on Empirical Question for.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Death Wish Bicyclist

To my readers who may ride their bicycle for transportation through car-dominated areas sometimes:

"Please do not make the terrifying (to me, god knows to the bicyclist) mistake of deciding that it is a good idea to ride your bicycle while wearing a navy blue turtleneck sweater and black pants for maximum invisibility (when, incidentally, the temperature is 90 degrees) ...

on a major interstate...

in a construction zone where there is no shoulder whatsoever...

where the cars in the right-hand lane have to get over to the center lane in a sudden and dangerous way to avoid hitting you and narrowly avoid hitting each other.

Because even if you don't care for the lives of the people driving those cars, having a major car accident, at speeds in excess of 60 mph, occurring right next to you cannot help but have dire consequences for you also. And you are not protected by a cage of metal, air bags, etc. You will just die a bloody, horrible death."

When the two cars ahead of me swerved sort of suddenly into the other lane, I was left with this weird image ahead of me - a dark apparition that did not immediately resolve itself into any specific thing. I got over into the middle lane myself and only then, having gained on the guy, realized it was a person on a bicycle.

OK, I sometimes see people riding bikes on the access road, and that can be a bit dicey but is usually workable if everybody is paying a little bit of attention, but on I-35 itself? Is this complete insanity?! Is it even legal?

One long-standing fantasy of mine is that after I die, I will be assigned to the Department of Vehicular Death: Asshole Division. This job consists of driving around in a vehicle that appears to mortals as an unassuming, older four-door sedan (my current car would be perfect for this) but that is, in reality, the most bad-ass black-with-flames Mack Truck ever built. And when I encounter a driver who is being a serious jerk in his driving habits - like the guy last week who decided that he wanted over in the left lane of the access road so bad that out of nowhere, he cut me off while I was still coming down the exit ramp - I do not make those accommodating moves that allow such selfish assholes to survive their bad driving; I let them get hit by the Mack. And in those time-dilated last seconds of eternity before they die in excruciating pain, they hear my laughter and see the image of Cerberus (the three-headed dog who guards the gates of hell and who, incidentally, bears a striking resemblance to the Mack bulldog, only really mean) slavering in welcome. It's not a job I would want to have forever, but it would be a nice way to work through the anger at being dead and all, taking revenge on assholes, enjoying a genuine upside to the situation.

If I had seen idiot bike boy while on my rounds, you can be assured I would have called up a colleague in the DoVD: Stupidity Division to check in on this. The agents of the Stupidity Division do not let people kill themselves immediately, but stage warning interventions of various sorts to give people opportunities to smarten up. (It's a good gig for someone who is patient with people and likes role play.) Those morons who don't get a clue can generally be trusted to kill themselves pretty quickly.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

No Whammies

This morning I looked up the 1980's daytime TV game show that featured the contestant battle cry "Big bucks no whammies" and found out not quite more than I ever wanted to know about the program Press Your Luck.

The most interesting thing was how one guy beat the system to win over $100,000 in a single day.

The game worked by contestants answering trivia questions to get opportunities to play against the Big Board, where a lighted square would move, seemingly randomly, around a square of spaces with dollar amounts or "whammies" that would take all the money you had earned. These squares themselves changed dollar values as the lighted square moved. The contestant would press their button, freezing the lighted square in place, and either get the money (or prize) on the square or lose everything to the annoying animated cartoon whammy.

Wikipedia writes:

"Through a careful study of the "random" movements of the 18-square "Big Board" on the CBS game show Press Your Luck, Larson was able to determine that there were only five patterns used to determine the movements of the spinner used to award money on the show. He was able to discover this by using a VCR to pause a recorded episode of the game, and proceed frame by frame to learn the patterns. Armed with this knowledge, he found that it would be theoretically possible to go on the game show, watch the patterns carefully, and hit squares containing money consistently.

Two of the 18 squares on the game board (usually referred to as 4 and 8) always contained cash in round 1 (square 4 held $1,000, $1,250, and $1,500, while square 8 held $300, $450, and $550), as well as cash and an extra spin in round 2 (square 4 held $3,000 + ONE SPIN, $4,000 + ONE SPIN, and $5,000 + ONE SPIN, while square 8 held $500 + ONE SPIN, $750 + ONE SPIN, and $1,000 + ONE SPIN). They never contained the Whammy, the character in the show who takes away all cash and prizes a contestant has earned. Therefore, Larson reasoned, if he used his knowledge of the board patterns to stop on only those two squares, he could play on as long as he dared, never at risk of losing his money.

Larson arrived in Hollywood from Lebanon, Ohio for a contestant tryout on Press Your Luck, having virtually no money to his name and using most of what he had to make the trip. In his tryout interview, he described himself as unemployed, but an ice cream truck driver during the summer season, who wanted to be a contestant on the show. Two producers discussed whether to have him on the show after his tryout interview; one was suspicious of Larson and his reasons for trying out—the other was not. The final decision was to let Larson on the show...[He appeared on May 19th, 1984.]...

In the second and final Big Board round, Larson's demeanor and behavior changed dramatically. He was completely silent during spins [as opposed to the "big bucks no whammies" cry that contestants were encouraged to make], concentrating carefully, and leaving Tomarken to fill the silence with increasingly amazed chatter. He immediately celebrated after many of his spins, instead of waiting the fraction of a second that it would normally take for a player to see and respond to the space he or she had stopped on. All of these habits were extremely unusual for a Press Your Luck contestant...

Early on in the second round, perhaps due to nerves or inexperience, Larson's pattern play was irregular. On four of his first eleven spins, Larson stopped the board at a point not called for by his patterns; but luckily, he avoided the Whammy all four times, instead hitting a trip to Kauai (worth $1,636), $700 + ONE SPIN, PICK A CORNER (where he selected $2,250 out of THAT, $2,000, or $1,500 + ONE SPIN), and a Sailboat (worth $1,015). Then his play became deadly accurate. A player stopping the Press Your Luck board randomly would expect to hit a Whammy approximately once in each six spins. By contrast, in this second round alone, Larson took over forty spins without a Whammy. On thirty consecutive spins, his pattern play was perfect, and he consistently landed on the two "safe spots" that always awarded money and a spin. Peter Tomarken and the other contestants were increasingly amazed as Larson pressed on and on, never coming near a Whammy, never even using up one of his spins...

Litras took both spins safely, but earned no spins that she could pass back to Larson. Her last desperate spin ended with her landing on a Mexican Cruise in Square #15, and no Mexican Cruise was worth more than $4,500. Thus the game was over, and Michael had won $110,237; of this $104,950 was cash...

[The head of the daytime programming department said] "Something was very wrong. Here was this guy from nowhere, and he was hitting the bonus box every time. It was bedlam, I can tell you. And we couldn't stop this guy. He kept going around the board and hitting that box." Brockman contacted CBS lawyers to prove that he had cheated, but they failed. Larson won the argument, saying that what he had done was no different than if he had "[broken] the books to get on Jeopardy." When he threatened a lawsuit of his own, CBS finally gave in and awarded him his money...

Part of his winnings went to taxes and part of his winnings were invested in real estate, with the remainder left in the bank. The real estate deal turned out to be a fraudulent ponzi scheme and Larson lost his investment entirely. Larson then learned about a get-rich-quick scheme involving matching a one dollar bill's serial number with a random number read out on a local radio game show that promised a $30,000 jackpot. Larson withdrew his remaining gameshow winnings in one dollar bills in hopes of winning the contest. He would examine each dollar carefully and upon discovering that he did not have the winning number, would place all the money back in his account, only to withdraw it again the next day and repeat the process all over again. Larson's wife at the time stated that this obsession consumed him...

Approximately USD $40,000-50,000 in the remaining cash was stolen from Larson and his common-law wife Teresa Dinwitty while the two attended a Christmas party shortly after giving up on the radio contest, according to a Game Show Network special. Larson and Dinwitty split up soon after...

Larson fell victim to head and neck cancer in 1999 and died while on the run from the US Securities and Exchange Commission."

Later, they changed the way the Big Board worked so that no one would be able to exploit the pattern like this guy did. But I have to wonder why the original pattern had those two "always safe" squares in spots 4 & 8. Did no one notice that the pattern had safe spots? Did a technician somewhere screw up the implementation of the pattern so that the safe spots appeared?

Also, can you imagine that "I told you so" of the producer who didn't want Larson on the program to begin with?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I Heart Nertz

This evening for the first time in my memory, when I was sorting the cards after the game, I found that I had played an entire suit (hearts), ace through king, to the center, sequentially.

If you don't play the game, this may have no immediate meaning for you, but nertzers, this must be rare, right?

I had been feeling that I was working really hard to get the stack built up to where I could play the king of hearts straight off my nertz pile (because sadly, that was my best chance), but I had not realized that I had gotten no help from Robert in this regard whatsoever.

(Lately, I have frequently felt that I was working hard for every move off my nertz pile, and at one point in the game, Robert made a "pulling teeth" sound to accompany my play.)

My final score of 38 is not my highest ever, but considering the A-K hearts, that was possibly my most impressive game. (Also, winning 38-17 is pretty cool by itself.)

Taking the Next Step

For the past year (or longer), I have been developing and reformulating my graduate school strategy for achieving my next career goal - getting a PhD and an academic job at a research university in consumer psychology. This plan has gone through a lot of different versions (PhD social psychology, PhD marketing, masters then PhD Marketing), and I have spent a huge amount of time and effort determining what things I can do to improve my chances along the way:

- take marketing classes (and do well)
- take more math and stat classes (and do well)
- read about the field of consumer psychology
- get to know professors well enough for them to be willing (eager?) to write strong, relevant recommendations
- get additional academic research experience
- get conference or journal publications
- find masters degree programs and professors (with research match) that will set me up for the PhD and develop a final list of programs to apply to
- write a C.V.
- take the GRE (and do well)
- write a strong statement of purpose
- get familiar with SAS and a programming language

But at this point, with only a few months until applications are due, it's time for me to get tactical. To quote author of The Art of War Sun Tzu, which is obligatory in this context: "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

Or as I would say: No plan is better than its execution.

Or as the Byrds (or the Bible) might say: A time to plan, a time to act.

So I am making a purposeful effort to dwell less (preferably, not at all) on the scary, big-picture stuff between now and when applications are due and rather focus on actually accomplishing the short-term tasks I have identified as useful or necessary to carrying out the plan.

Tasks that I have completed:

Previous life:
- Completed a bachelors degree in a relevant field with a high GPA from a top-20 university; worked as a research assistant, a grader, and an office assistant (hey, some people are still working on this, or will never have it)
- Two publication credits as junior author
- Learned SPSS
- Over 10 years of research experience (not hugely important for academic programs, but can't hurt)
- Got an A in Calc 3 so I don't need to take it again for a better grade

More recent life:
- Wrote my C.V. (may be updated with new stuff, of course)
- Took the GRE (and I'm not giving it back)
- Finalized the list of masters programs and identified potential advisors at each one
- Completed Calc 1, Calc 2, Linear Algebra, and Intro to Prob & Stats (all high A's)
- Completed a graduate psychology course in attitude change (grade = 100)
- Completed Intro to Marketing and Consumer Behavior (high A's)
- Identified 3 professors who I believe will write me good recommendations
- Read about 3 academic books about consumer psychology or related fields
- Worked a summer job as a research assistant writing a textbook (math)
- Worked occasionally over one semester as a research assistant performing experiments (marketing)

Some tasks that will be occupying me in the near future:
- Differential equations class, which requires constant vigilance
- Getting the organic paper submitted to the conference before Nov 14; this may involve doing additional data collection
- Writing my statement of purpose
- Organizing the application process - what is needed, when, and where?

A task that I will not be spending any more time on:
- Searching for yet another potential masters program, even more wonderful than the ones I have already picked; I need to move the hell on.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day Birding

Robert and I birded two ponds/small lakes southeast of Austin (about 45 minutes from our apartment) on Monday from about 10:00 - 12:30. Our goal was to see a wood stork, which had been reported in the area and is a common "post-breeding dispersal" bird that moves outside of its usual range (east of Austin) at this time of year.

Our list:

White-eyed vireo
American crow
Turkey vulture
Black vulture
Pectoral sandpiper
Spotted sandpiper
Peep species (one of three tiny and extremely similar looking sandpipers that I usually don't bother trying to identify)
American coot
Blue-winged teal
Cinnamon teal (I love this bird)
Great egret
Snowy egret
Great blue heron
Little blue heron
Roseate spoonbill (about 10 birds total, seen in both places)
White ibis (2 adults, 1 immature)

We saw at least 25 wood storks - I counted 25 at once in the spotting scope.

Wood stork is #448 on my ABA area life list.

(Photos from the web)

Cinnamon teal - our view was not great due to the heat distortion:

Roseate spoonbill - I had not seen these birds away from the coast - the ones we saw were hunched over and eating in the water the entire time:

Wood stork - they were hanging out in and under a large tree (the only nearby shade) with a lot of egrets, vultures, and the spoonbills - if they had the brains to think it, they would have been laughing at us standing in the hot sun watching them: