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29 de Marzo 2005

more Macalester people finding themselves on the Pennsylvania Turnpike

see the John Updike story in the New Yorker:

The Roads of Home

28 de Marzo 2005


I heard about this on NPR the other day:

Fujimori to woo Peru with drink

Apparently, the former corrupt leader of Peru thinks that branding a cola after himself will win the hearts and affections of the nation. It's almost refreshing honesty, you know? Instead of pretending to appeal to voters' loftiest ideals, come out clean with the fact that you're really betting on their shallowest of interests.

27 de Marzo 2005

This island's mine!

So, I saw The Tempest this weekend, and since it's easier to quote then to think of something original to say, here's a snippet of Shakespeare for you all:

Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself
Upon thy wicked dam, come forth!


As wicked dew as e'er my mother brush'd
With raven's feather from unwholesome fen
Drop on you both! a south-west blow on ye
And blister you all o'er!

For this, be sure, to-night thou shalt have cramps,
Side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up; urchins
Shall, for that vast of night that they may work,
All exercise on thee; thou shalt be pinch'd
As thick as honeycomb, each pinch more stinging
Than bees that made 'em.

I must eat my dinner.
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou takest from me. When thou camest first,
Thou strokedst me and madest much of me, wouldst give me
Water with berries in't, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I loved thee
And show'd thee all the qualities o' the isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile:
Cursed be I that did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king: and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o' the island.

Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.

O ho, O ho! would't had been done!
Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans.

Abhorred slave,
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other: when thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endow'd thy purposes
With words that made them known. But thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in't which
good natures
Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock,
Who hadst deserved more than a prison.

You taught me language; and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!

Hag-seed, hence!
Fetch us in fuel; and be quick, thou'rt best,
To answer other business. Shrug'st thou, malice?
If thou neglect'st or dost unwillingly
What I command, I'll rack thee with old cramps,
Fill all thy bones with aches, make thee roar
That beasts shall tremble at thy din.

No, pray thee.


I must obey: his art is of such power,
It would control my dam's god, Setebos,
and make a vassal of him.

So, slave; hence!

25 de Marzo 2005

red lake

So, I've again been behind on current events this week. But inevitably I heard about the shooting at the school in Red Lake. Bits of information floated by me: A 16-year old shot his grandparents and schoolmates and finally himself. Channeled his anger through Nazi rhetoric. This is about all I know. Occasionally I'll look at an article from the star tribune or on mpr's web site. How are people reacting to this? Is a more complete story coming out? How is it playing out for the reservation where he lived, and for the Native American community in general?

20 de Marzo 2005


The only living beings with whom I spend a substantial amount of time would be my three houseplants; given that I often let them nearly die of dehydration, I can't say that we have a blossoming relationship (forgive the pun). So, perhaps this explains why I find some intimate relationships such a mystery. Given that I spend my days at a major university and my evenings in a graduate student neighborhood, I have the opportunity to observe several couples, who are obviously thrilled with each other's existence. What puzzles me continuously is how these folks feel the need to practically fall over each other in nearly every public scenario in which they meet. What is it about the 61C bus that inspires all this tactile bonding? Why do you feel the need to stroke your boyfriend's face next to the bologna at the deli counter? And you know, in general, I have never understood hand holding. To me, it looks like such a restraint. How do you go up stairs without losing balance? Does your never-ending love naturally generate synchrony in your steps? And I think I would be so conscious of the other person's hand the whole time-- whether it's warm or cold, sweaty or dry, holding too tight or precariously loose -- such that I couldn't concentrate on where I was going.

And another observation I've noticed, with respect to many married-couple types, is how they seem to, at least on the average, weigh a little bit more than the unattached population. Am I right? My theory has always been that meals become more important when you always share them with someone, such that you want to make the most out of it, and that might entail more food than you would eat alone. Or maybe you just go out to eat more. Or maybe I'm assuming the incorrect direction of causality. Maybe heavier people are more likely to get married. Obviously, I have yet to figure this out. There are of course several individuals who are exceptions to the rule, and I'm only drawing on a sample of people who I have known in my limited experience.

16 de Marzo 2005

stuff for people to read while my mind is empty

ok, here's some things to read:

shockingly stupid Bush idea for the day: Paul Wolfowitz as head of World Bank I don't know why I continue to be astonished by our President's audacity and foolishness. You think I would learn.

The story of Lucky Charms cereal: Be sure to scroll down the page a bit to find the article. In a bout of nostalgia for childhood I bought a box of Lucky Charms and was curious as to its history.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Gertrude Stein page: Apparently, Gertrude Stein was born on the North Side of Pittsburgh. Surprisingly, she preferred Paris.

11 de Marzo 2005

dummies all of us

So, here's a quote from a Time magazine article from a few weeks back, on bad parent-teacher relationships:

A teacher at a Tennessee elementary school slips on her kid gloves each morning as she contends with parents who insist, in writing, that their children are never to be reprimanded or even corrected. When she started teaching 31 years ago, she says, "I could make objective observations about my kids without parents getting offended. But now we handle parents a lot more delicately. We handle children a lot more delicately. They feel good about themselves for no reason. We've given them this cotton-candy sense of self with no basis in reality. We don't emphasize what's best for the greater good of society or even the classroom."

That's a gusty statement, and a strong one. At first it was very satisfying. But then I have to step back: She can't speak for all kids. We don't know how kids are treated in their homes, amongst their peers, in the community...there's lots of stressors out there and people who are perfectly happy to squash your ego. So I think her statement goes a little too far.

But I think kids, and maybe even some no-longer-kids, have plenty of reason to become over-confident with respect to their intellectual development and knowledge base. A recent, widely distributed news story pointed out that college has come to entail little work and easy grades. I know my GPA was well-inflated, though that was in part due to the nature of my home departments (Psychology and Spanish professors just don't have the heart to go below a B, I don't think.)

This phenomenon is not restricted to undergraduate education. I think we're projecting onto the young ones a concern that is equally relevant to our own self-evaluation. Information has just become too accessible and comes in a variety of easy-to-read formats. One can Google "Fast Fourier Transform", skim the resulting finds, and have something of a sense of "Hey, yeah, my buddy Fourier, sure, I know all that." Sure you do. I mean, you can make it work for you at the click of a button on your analysis software. And no one keeps you honest, sees if you really know it or not.

The accessibility of information can make you feel like you know anything better than you do. Sure I know the current Lebanese crisis, I just read an article from one of their English newspapers online. Sure I understand all the metaphors and allusions underlying The Wasteland, I read the hyperlinked-footnote edition.

Gone are the days when you have to learn these things by formal training, or at least by having the motivation to sacrifice a sunny day by sitting in a dusty library corner with a pile of books with disintegrating orange binding. No longer must you type at a typewriter, or perform analyses on turtle-slow mainframes. PDF's download within seconds and complex stats are spat out in an instant. As researchers and scholars in this world, we are faster. But are we better? Or in some counterintuitive way, is this speed hurting us? Are we thinking too fast, and blowing past our errors? Are we building an illusion of accomplishment and discovery that later generations will uncover as a fraud?

So, this rant was equally fast and poorly thought. Feel free to present a different perspective. I'm going to go make some tea.

4 de Marzo 2005

half-intoxicated on windex fumes

Well, here we are. Midterm and grant-related obligations over. Now, to catch up with everything else. So, I don't know what's been happening in the world for the last, say, 3 weeks, and all I've been thinking about is cognitive science, and you're all sick of hearing about that, so what do I talk about. Well, what am I up to in my life right now? Why, how nice of you to ask. Right now I'm cleaning, because my parents are going to be visiting within a couple of days. So, my apartment of course is all coffee-stained and junky, so directly after frying my brain, I get to fry my nasal lining on the sweet smell of Windex. Uck.

What else. I'm thinking a lot about task-based feedback. My new favorite-cognitive-neuroscientist-of-the-month is this guy at Boston University named Takeo Watanabe, whose main love is motion perception but he's somehow managed to sneak in some incredibly seductive studies on perceptual learning. For the curious, take a look at his publications, in particular look at the 2003 Nature paper as well as the 2001 Nature paper to get some necessary background. As I said, they're seductive, in that they show a lot of naturally appealing sort of phenomena that you really, really want to be true, just because it'd be so cool.

If folks like Watanabe & friends are right, it could be that the implicit feedback that we pick up from our successful execution of simple acts could reinforce a broader kind of learning than we know. So, say you've been struggling to open a novel kind of medicine bottle cap, and after a million iterations of trial-and-error, you finally get it -- or, say that you've been trying and trying and trying to read a sign that's just barely too far away to read, and then you finally pick up on the critical words -- those triumphant moments may lead to reinforcement signals (read as: dopamine!) that bolster learning of anything that was in the context at the time -- so, maybe the exact position of your hand as you finally popped open the medicine bottle, or whatever.

Anyways, these are the moments when I hope no hard core psychologists or neuroscientists are reading this, because it's a big, big fanciful idea, and I'm kind of playing fast and loose with it.

Alright then, I shall go back to my laundry, and my dishes, and my windex. A good night to all.