Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ego-depleting Blog Post

It was a little bit difficult to read this blog post about commitment contracts (e.g., and its comments and inhibit the impulse to post a response like:

"Read Deci & Ryan (self-determination theory) on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (and the sub-types within these categories). 

Read Higgins on regulatory fit.

Read about the differences among goal initiation, goal achievement, and maintenance (note: maintenance is hard, even for people with high commitment, due to the self-regulatory complexity). 

Read about behavioral economics so you do not mistakenly characterize it as claiming that "people respond to carrots and sticks" (that's behaviorism in psychology, and it works more consistently with lower-order animals) (but a finger-gun shot at commenter #9 for calling you on this already). 

Etc. Etc."

Fortunately, I'm also motivated to not be an asshole to random people on the Internet to their face (so to speak) and I have my own outlet.

I am trying and failing to imagine the kind of blog post that would evoke a similar response (i.e., wanting to point out "dude this is a hugely complicated issue and you don't know what you're talking about") from my mathematically-focused readers.


This afternoon, I told my mom that I needed a dose of bunny.  Tam sent me one this evening.  Isn't he ravishingly adorable?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Few Random Notes

Latest numbers from the CDC: 30% of American adults are obese and another 38% are overweight.  (I am writing an NIH grant proposal for two studies about self-regulation, identity, and eating habits as a class assignment.)

In unrelated news, I think I ate my ("normal") weight in macaroni and cheese this week.

Today I briefly wished I was wearing long pants.  We'll see if this feeling continues at all as October looms before us.

An Economist article about management and biology used the phrase "the rigor of biology."  (It's only in the social sciences that biology would be so characterized.)

Most amusing thing heard today on the bus: "The axioms in topology are way weirder than the ones in abstract [algebra]."

Tomorrow, I don't have to teach, so I'm staying home to make chicken and rice soup (a long process when you start with 5 pounds of skin-on, bone-in chicken).  One of the benefits of academia is, as they say, that you get to pick the 80 hours per week you work.  Tomorrow, I also get to pick where I work them.  Not having to commute to and from school saves me about 40 minutes (more if you include booting and shutting down my computer, which takes an age), so that's nice.

I defend my major area paper next Thursday.  I will have to re-read the thing (and take notes, like it's somebody else's paper) to remember what the findings were.  They've changed too many times over the many rounds of data collection.  My paper is 15, 160 words long.

We didn't have neuroscience class today, and that was awesome.  (Class itself is fine; it's all the work that goes into preparing for class that sucks.)  

I've been sleeping 8 hours per night this week.  It's bliss.  Serious bliss.  I'm going to do it again right now.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How Appropriate

Today I'm feeling like crap - fever, headache, body aches, sniffles, the works.

So I just now decided to see if I am capable of playing a game of Word Mojo.  The first word I put together? "sick"

Thanks for rubbing it in, universe.

UPDATE:  And no, I'm not much capable of playing the game.  I lost at 4,000 points (compared to a more typical 28,000).

UPDATE 2:  I just realized it was even worse - the letters were (in another order) "sickeee."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Perceptions of Grad Students

"Consider anecdotal evidence about why undergraduates at Stanford University hesitate to wear bike helmets when they ride across campus.  Many bike accidents occur every year, and numerous injuries could be prevented if more undergraduates just wore helmets (indeed, they are well aware of this hazard). But although this safety failure could be due to a number of factors, many undergraduates explained their reluctance to wear helmets based on concerns of identity communication - they chose not to wear helmets because graduate students wore them. Graduate students were not disliked by undergrads, but they were seen as socially awkward and overly intense. Thus, some undergraduates avoided helmets to avoid giving others the mistaken impression that they were akin to this social group."

Socially awkward and overly intense? 

I think that phrase describes about 83% of my friends during undergrad, but they were all just graduate students in the making.

Source: Berger & Rand (2008). Shifting signals to help health: Using identity signaling to reduce risky health behaviors. Journal of Consumer Research, 35, 509-518.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dutch Sweets

"In our experiment, each category was represented by four different food stimuli that were adapted to the general taste of the Dutch population and that represented snack foods in eatable portion sizes."

For the category high-calorie sweet, they used:
  • Chocolate
  • Wedge of apple pie
  • Treacle waffle
  • Bonbon bloc
I tell you, is there anything in the world that triggers an uncontrollable food craving like the idea of a treacle waffle? A treacle anything, really, just gets the saliva flowing. I might be slightly even more excited at the idea of a treacle digestive biscuit, but the treacle waffle is a damn fine choice. I especially like the kind of treacle that is drawn from a treacle-well.

As for the bonbon issue, I prefer my bonbons from the eastern bloc but I'm just picky that way.

[Source: Ouwehand & Papies (2010). Eat it or beat it. The differential effects of food temptations on overweight and normal-weight restrained eaters. Appetite, 55, 56-60.]

The Kidney Method of De-cluttering

In this post about clothes shopping, the blogger talks about his clean slate method/fantasy of starting with nothing and then adding in the things he wants rather than just eliminating items from his hoard of Stuff.

Coincidentally, my neuroscience professor today advanced his kidney method of cleaning (or de-cluttering) during a lecture on drugs. Despite widespread belief that the kidneys work by filtering bad stuff out of the blood into urine, what actually happens is that the kidneys move everything out of the blood into the urine-holding area, then let the good stuff back in to the blood. (Drugs are lipid soluble and move through the membrane back into the blood stream.) He recommends cleaning your room/house like this at least once a year.

This jives with the recommendations of people like my mom that the way to clean a closet is to first remove everything from it, then put back the things that you want to keep.

If you really want to seriously get rid of a lot of stuff at once, I think it's smart to do this. You put all the work into removing things at the beginning, so deciding to keep something means you have to move it into place again. This makes getting rid of the item (e.g., tossing it into the Goodwill box/bag) the default option, so your laziness works for you. (As long as you don't get so lazy that you just dump everything back into your closet/under your bed/etc. in one large undifferentiated mass of junk.)

I admit that I tend to use the weeding method myself. The first time through, I get rid of the obvious stuff (big weeds). Then I go through again a little later and eliminate some more things (the medium-sized weeds that now look big in comparison to the rest). I keep repeating this process until I've winnowed things down considerably. The trick is that you have to keep after it because you are not necessarily eliminating many items at a given time. However, sometimes the idea of parting with 50% of your wardrobe feels aversive even if you rationally know that it will leave you with plenty of clothes. Getting rid of a few items at a time is not nearly so traumatic, and it can become kind of a game to figure out which 4 items you will eliminate this week (or whatever). It helps that I love actual weeding (my favorite part of gardening; I'm a freak), so thinking of it as weeding makes the process more appealing to me. Of course, it's sometimes hard to distinguish a "weed" from a "flower" while doing this, but I have that problem with literal weeding as well.

Coming back to the neuroscience thing: It's quite fortunate that I started watching House, M.D. long enough ago that I am now able to read, hear, say, and write the word "blood" without feeling faint because I would not be able to remain conscious in class without having experienced this inadvertent exposure therapy. Today's class was particularly "blood"-intensive.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pilot lolbun

Jen sent me this lolbun, which half-captures how I felt yesterday. My late flights were grounded on account of Angry and Sleepy. (Of course, I think this bun has a Sleepy, too.)

I, however, was not such a snuggly little bunny-loaf in the process.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


My middle finger of my right hand hurts like a son of a bitch, so much that I am having difficulty not whimpering to myself when it's not moving, let alone when I type or, worse, try to write. (I say try because I have not successfully written anything this afternoon.) I can only think that in this morning's marathon cooking session, chopping 7 bell peppers and 3 gigantic onions with my blunt knife did my hand in.

It's a good thing I don't have any work to do. Oh, wait.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Last Time

I had a good meeting with my advisor this morning, and I am just about to start my final analysis and write up of the infamous Experiment 2. I feel bizarrely excited at this prospect. (Maybe in part because every hour spent on this project tonight is an hour that I'm not reading about neurotransmitters.)

My data set is now in a folder titled "Absolutely final data" with the date, superceding the "Final data" folder that I renamed "Penultimate data." It reminds me of presentations and such that I would put together at my previous job that ended up with titles like "X Presentation - Final - I mean it this time - seriously - v4."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An "In press"ive Publication

This weekend I got to see the final, approved manuscript for the nutrition study I worked on as a research assistant before starting my masters program. It's supposed to be published some time in 2011, but it's now an "in press" peer-reviewed journal article on my c.v., which is nice. I am the fourth of four authors (after the professors) but I feel absolutely great about the fact that I did the analysis and wrote the introduction and results section and that the final version looks basically identical to the work that I had turned in before.

Here is the obligatory word cloud for this paper:

I also helped with data collection on the project (going around to Scout meetings to talk to the kids) but I joined the team after the study design was finalized, the questionnaires were written, and participants were lined up. Robert made a comment along the lines that I've done all the various parts of a study except for contacting organizations to line up participants, with the implication that this a hard part of the process that I do not have experience with.

I laughed.

After having to call up 89 park managers to convince them that they really do want to participate in this massive survey project of their visitors (despite the fact that they are understaffed and don't exactly trust the management of their own division, let alone an outsider like me)...

After starting up studies in China, Australia, and Canada on top of the projects I was already managing in 6 other countries and having to stay on top of the call center supervisors in all these countries to make sure they manage their sample well and get the correct number of completed interviews with participants who are getting nothing but the satisfaction of helping put my biggest client out of business by expressing their consistently dismal opinions...

The idea of contacting a bunch of organizations and offering them the opportunity for their members to completely voluntarily participate in a research project with $10 per person in compensation just doesn't seem like that big a deal to me. It's not a cake walk, but it's not that bad.

Really, the bad part is getting your university's internal review board to approve your study and not, e.g., freak out that you used an acronym in the name of your study as it will appear on the experiment management software that the student participants will use to sign up for studies. (This happened to one of my classmates, who had his approval pushed back by weeks to deal with the "problem.")

Losing It and Getting It Back

On Thursday evening, I did kind of lose it. After working hard for two long days, my analysis of the second experiment for my major area paper yielded a non-significant result that really needed to be significant for my unusual proposed mechanism underlying my cool, counter-intuitive finding (itself still significant, thank relevant gods) to be strongly supported. I did not literally rend any garments, but I wasn't happy about it. When Robert got here, and after he stashed the veggies he brought from the farmers market in the kitchen, I told him about it (with some gnashing of teeth). Then I realized that I had been so busy and full of rageful disappointment that I hadn't had a snack and was quite hungry.

Robert said, Go in the kitchen and open the white paper sack. (Well, he said it in a way that did not sound like a command from an Infocom game.) And lo, it was revealed: an oatmeal raisin coconut cookie from the farmers market. And next to this sack, there was the elixir of life in the form of a bottle of Cragganmore, the perfect accompaniment to a sweet treat.

So we relished our snack, and refilled our glasses, and all was right in the world.

Robert thinks this looks like a face; it is the face of yum

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Grandmother's Cleaning Liquid Recipe

For reader(s) who have been asking for this magical cleaning fluid recipe:

Mix 16 oz alcohol and 1/4 c ammonia in a gallon sized container (e.g., milk jug).
Fill up rest of the container with water.
Add 3-4 tablespoons liquid dish soap.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Where Have I Been?

It's been a week since my last post because I have been on vacation in the south of France.

Well, OK, no. But it looks pretty there, doesn't it?

Rather, I've spent the week doing work for school and continuing to read The Historian (the vampire historical thriller). The protagonist in the book is a history grad student who is travelling around Europe (but not, sadly, the south of France) looking for clues as to where his beloved advisor has been taken (presumably, kidnapped by Vlad Dracula or his minions). I am happy to report that my own advisor is, as of a couple hours ago, alive and well in North Carolina.

Even though he's chasing vampires, the time he demonstrated the most (sustained) fear was on the several days leading up to and the day of his presentation at an eastern European history conference for which he was the "star" speaker, giving a talk on something completely outside his own area of expertise (and which his traveling companion had to write for him). I hear you, man. Fortunately, at the conference I am attending this January, which is the largest and top conference in my field, I am only having to do a poster presentation (i.e., basically, I have a science fair poster that I talk to people about when they stop at my station) so I do not have to share his anxiety. I just found out this week that my submission was accepted, which puts me in the company of approximately 1,000 other people.

Yesterday, we finished collecting additional data for the second experiment in my major area paper, for real this time, damn it. Even though it's only 26 extra participants, it means re-running the entire analysis over again, and because I had generated the previous results in a very piecemeal fashion, I did not have code already written. However, I was able to write the code pretty straightforwardly yesterday and run it this morning. I'm now in the process of updating my paper and hoping that nothing terrible happened. So far, one contrast went from p < .08 to p < .05 and another went from p < .05 to p < .08. One main effect became marginally significant. But overall, I think I'm getting a reasonable (and reasonably similar) pattern of results. I am ready for this sucker to be done.

Tam has characterized my neuroscience class as sounding like a combination of biology and electrical engineering, which seems just about right to me. The textbook clearly assumes that the reader is familiar with first year chemistry and second semester physics, which is probably true of the pre-med students and other physical sciency people who use the book. For example, I was amused by the paragraph describing how action potentials in a neuron work by explaining how the process differs from the function of a battery; I'm sure this would be more useful to people who already know how a battery works than those like me who have to figure out the battery aspect before I can get to the neuron aspect.

The funniest academic journal article I read this week involves a pair of self-regulation studies. Studies examining the self-control strength model have found that if a person performs a task drawing on self-regulatory resources (e.g., resisting the temptation to eat cookies, making themselves continue a boring task, suppressing the thought of a white bear, regulating their emotions), they will demonstrate less self-control on a different subsequent task if it also involves self-control. However (among other factors), the consumption of glucose has been shown to reduce or eliminate the performance deficit on the second task. This result has now been found in ... wait for it ... dogs. (Self-control has been studied in monkeys, of course, but not using this paradigm, to my knowledge.) These results are interesting because they suggest that there need not be a "self" (in the human sense) in order for there to be self-control. I think this adds support to the neuro-cognitive models of self-control that focus on the centrality of brain functions like executive functioning in self-regulation rather than conceptions that focus on the "sense of self." Alternatively, dogs may have a more highly developed sense of self than we think.

[Miller et al. (2010). Self-control without a "self"? Common self-control processes in humans and dogs. Psychological Science, 21, 534-538.]

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Evening

The Handbook of Implicit Social Cognition? No

The Historian (a historical thriller novel with vampires)? Yes

Neuroscience? No

"The Big Bang Theory" (a TV show featuring 4 science nerds and a blond woman from Nebraska who works at the Cheesecake Factory)? Yes


Can't Stop the Lop Hop

Tam sent this silly, hopping bunny video. The way he chews the bag then throws it aside with his mouth is very evocative of Leo and Katy.

Our buns had trouble with our cement floors, too; thankfully, most of their area was covered with a giant rug.