Wednesday, January 31, 2007

good old earwig, nothing beats it*

From Bowles, Microeconomics:
In the children's game, common around the world (English speakers call it "Rock, Paper, Scissors" and for others it is "Earwig, Human, Elephant") there is no Nash equilibrium in pure strategies.
Earwig, Human, Elephant? Really? What beats what in Earwig, Human, Elephant? And how do you make your fingers look like an earwig? Anybody know?

* Reference to Simpsons exchange:
Lisa:  Look, there's only one way to settle this.  Rock-paper-scissors.
Lisa's brain: Poor predictable Bart. Always takes `rock'.
Bart's brain: Good ol' `rock'. Nuthin' beats that!
Bart: Rock!
Lisa: Paper.
Bart: D'oh!

newest asa member resolution: taking another political stand, but not one that will keep us away from chicago

Following the successful American Sociological Association resolutions in past years against the Iraq War and against the prohibition of gay marriage, circulating this year is a resolution against Native American nicknames in sport. Full text as follows:
Proposed Resolution of the American Sociological Association on Native American Sport Mascots

WHEREAS the American Sociological Association comprises sociologists and kindred professionals who study, among other things, culture, religion, media, sport, race and ethnicity, racism, and other forms of inequality;

WHEREAS the American Sociological Association recognizes that racial prejudice, stereotypes, individual discrimination and institutional discrimination are socially created phenomena that are harmful to Native Americans and other people of color;

WHEREAS the American Sociological Association is resolved to undertake scholarship, education, and action that helps to eradicate racism;

WHEREAS social science scholarship has demonstrated that the continued use of Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport reflect and reinforce misleading stereotypes of Native Americans in both past and contemporary times;

WHEREAS the stereotypes embedded in Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport undermine education about the lives of Native American peoples;

WHEREAS social science scholarship has demonstrated that the continued use of Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport harm Native American people in psychological, educational, and social ways;

WHEREAS the continued use of Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport shows disrespect for Native American spiritual and cultural practices;

WHEREAS many Native American individuals across the United States have found Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport offensive and called for their elimination;

AND, WHEREAS the continued use of Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport has been condemned by numerous reputable academic, educational and civil rights organizations, and the vast majority of Native American advocacy organizations, including but not limited to: American Anthropological Association, American Psychological Association, North American Society for the Sociology of Sport, Modern Language Association, United States Commission on Civil Rights, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Association of American Indian Affairs, National Congress of American Indians, and National Indian Education Association;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, THAT THE AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION calls for the discontinuation of the use of Native American nicknames, logos and mascots in sport.
As with all member resolutions, signatures from 3% of members are needed to place it on the ballot. Apparently if you copy the above text and send it to (presumably along with your name) that is sufficient to count as a signature.

The drive is being organized by Jeffrey Montez de Oca and Laurel Davis-Delano. I have sent an e-mail asking about the evidence regarding WHEREAS #6 of the resolution (the one about evidence demonstrating harm). I'm not saying anything about the quantity or quality of this evidence; I honestly don't know. It seems to me that there should be a requirement that resolutions that make claims about social science findings should be expected to provide references to those findings and preferably with the resolution itself. I'll let you know what response I receive to my query.

The resolution does not itself imply any actions other than ASA "calling for the discontinuation." I have a friend who works for ASA; I wonder if he'll have to be the one who gets on the phone and makes these calls. But to whom? By contrast, the American Anthropological Association has a at-least-ten-year boycott on holding meetings in Illinois (e.g., in Chicago) because of the University of Illinois flamboyantly offensive "Chief Illiniwek" mascot.


Fellow faculty dorky-types looking for amusement, check out: Scholars & Students: A Compendium of Professorial Magic [hat tip: Jude]. I'm going to resist the urge to cast the listed Level 3 Speak Pop spell when I return to teaching this fall, as there is no reason to think I can pull it off.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

jfw 2.0 (alpha)

I have just upgraded to the new Blogger at last--although I have not upgraded the template. Given all I have going on the next four weeks, the last thing I need to do is get mired in is messing around with a new template, especially since I suspect what I would mainly be doing is trying to get it to look like the template I presently have, only with tags. (And especially since I've got myself concurrently mired in trying to work my way through a graduate microeconomics text, as though I have time for that.)

I have thought about trying to contract the labor out (the template upgrade, not the microeconomics). Does anyone know if there are reasonably priced templateers for hire?

what makes graduate programs great?

I just did the general National Research Council survey of faculty for the sociology department rankings they are putting together. This survey asks questions about your own record (you also attach your vita), and then it also asks you questions about what you think are the criteria by which a graduate program should be judged. I thought these latter questions were interesting, and so saved them to repost here. There are separate questions about criteria for assessing (1) the quality of faculty, (2) the quality of students, and (3) general characteristics of programs, and then you are asked separately to provide the % by which you would weight each of those three categories toward a global rating.

For each category, you are asked to selected up to four categories you think are "important" and then the two you think are most important. I will italicize the two I selected as most important, but restrain myself from more discussion. Assessing graduate program quality is a matter about which I have many wheelbarrows full of thoughts, but I have way too much to do so I don't even want to get into that here.
Regarding the quality of the program's faculty:
a. Number of publications (books, articles, etc.) per faculty member
b. Number of citations per faculty member
c. Receipt of extramural grants for research
d. Involvement in interdisciplinary work
e. Racial/ethnic diversity of the program faculty
f. Gender diversity of the program faculty
g. Reception by peers of a faculty member's work as measured by honors and awards

Regarding the quality of the program's students:
a. Median GRE scores of entering students
b. Percentage of students receiving full financial support
c. Percentage of students with portable fellowships
d. Number of student publications and presentations
e. Racial/ethnic diversity of the student population
f. Gender diversity of the student population
g. A high percentage of international students

Regarding the program:
a. Average number of Ph.D.s granted over the last five years
b. Percentage of entering students who complete a doctoral degree
c. Time to degree
d. Placement of students after graduation
e. Percentage of students with individual work space
f. Percentage of health insurance premiums covered by the institution or program
g. Number of student support activities provided at either the institutional or program level
Anyway, I'd be interested in how you would have answered these questions (or, if you're also faculty and have done the survey, how you did answer them). One of the things I kept thinking about as I did the survey is how I would have answered the questions if I'd done this survey as a graduate student vs. how I answered them now.

BTW, I was surprised by the absence of faculty size as a criterion. I feel like small departments must have won some political/rhetorical battle for that to be something not even available as an alternative someone doing the ratings could choose.

BTW-BTW, if NRC conducted a survey of graduate student satisfaction/happiness, I would have selected this as a criterion that should be used. I have thought that ASA should organize an online survey on that as a service to the future of the profession. My experience is that when sociology faculty see unhappy graduate students in their midst, their response is first to remove their sociology thinking caps and then to say "there are unhappy graduate students everywhere," a statement that is no doubt true but doesn't really note the relevant and important possibility that the proportion of unhappy students may vary from place to place and perhaps some of this variation has to do with details of their program.

Monday, January 29, 2007

you're older than you've ever been and now you're even older, but at least the world is smaller and the people are prettier

My Starbucks cup is The Way I See It #186:
The world is smaller than you think, and the people on it are more beautiful than you think.
--Bertram van Munster
Setting aside the whole matter of the surname "van Munster," do you think van Munster intends this to apply to him as well, even after having had this insight? If I read the cup and believe van Munster, does it still apply to me? Is the world still smaller and people more beautiful than what I think? If I believe so, then does it then still apply? What about now? Now? Now? I can keep on going until I think the world is as small as the head of a pin, upon which everyone is ineffably beautiful angels dancing on top. I'm nothing if not tenacious, especially where infinite regresses are involved.

Anyway, it seems like the coffee-cup world-size people-beauty analogue of Hofstadter's Law, that projects always take longer than you think, even once you take into account Hofstadter's Law. And my own corollary, that projects always take longer than you think, even after you take into account that you've taken into account Hofstadter's law and my corollary.

(Note: Yes, I go to Starbucks, although I don't drink coffee. For those who are anti-Starbucks, I used to be quite assertively anti-anti-Starbucks. Then I learned they were singlehandedly responsible for the sale of over one million copies of the latest Mitch Albom book. Now I'm just non-anti-Starbucks.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Saturday, January 27, 2007

(A+ guest post!) American Idol: Week 2 Cattle Call!

Hey folks. A+ again. Sorry for the delay. Onwards. This week, we begin in Memphis. They show us downtown, empty. Beale Street, empty. The trolley things, empty. Where is everybody? Why, auditioning for American Idol, of course! Oy. Anyway, they show like 100,000 people inside a stadium, screaming their balls off for the chance to be humiliated on national TV. It’s at this point that I always cringe at what the screaming is doing to their voices, but I guess one must sacrifice a great deal when attempting to out-whore an entire metropolitan area.

Also, I should say that the Memphis show is cut in half, to make room for the State of the Union Address. The first and last time I’ll ever honestly say this: Thank you, President Bush.

We begin with Frank Byers, a 21 year-old cheerleader/coach from Southern Arkansas University. He brought the entire freaking marching band, and the whole cheerleading crew with him. They annoy. Well, with all this hubbub, the cheers and fight songs and the special focus story, you’d think Frank would be awesome, right? Not so much. He sounds like the guy who might wow ‘em at a karaoke bar, but ultimately has no flexibility in his voice, a lack of control, and no falsetto (which is fine, but then… don’t do it, you know?) It doesn’t hurt to listen to; it’s just “not horrendous.”

Then this weird thing happens, that actually happens a lot on AI, so I’m assuming the producers instruct people to do it: When Simon says you suck, you respond by cutting him off – and singing another song, in just as mediocre a fashion as the last. He’s talking over you, you’re singing over him, he’s telling you it’s no use, you’re begging him to unchain your heart, and ultimately, it feels so undignified and pathetic. Yep, definitely the producers. Anyway, he doesn’t make it, and the crowd still does a cheer.

Next, Tamika Simms. This girl seems polite enough, but has such a flat affect it’s hard to watch her. I don’t know what she said, because I was literally snoring through it. There is, however, a non-hilarious part where she says she has a good voice and could be “A Maya.” Simon goes, “What?”

“A Maya.”

“A Mayor?”

“A Maya.”

“A mayor.”

A Maya.”

Randy, chucking, says, “Maya’s a singer.”

“Oh. Maya.”

So she sings Ashanti’s “Rock With You,” horribly. Every molecule of air has been funneled through her nose. Simon tells her she sucks, and she asks if she can sing another song. He says no, so… she starts singing “Secret Lovers” by Atlantic Starr (Damn you, producers!). She blows.

Now we meet Chris Rivera, who sings “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, and it sounds like he’s been singing through a vocoder, played through an LP with warps in it, so that in some parts it sounds all “Luke, I am your father” and other parts sound like Theodore Chipmunk. So weird. When they tell him to stop, he flourishes with a falsetto, “Whoa-oh!” That makes Randy and me chuckle. He doesn’t make it.

Now, here’s Alexis, who we’re supposed to laugh at because she has huge gums and small teeth with braces. Seacrest makes a pun on “bracing ourselves” for her, and I laugh so hard my lung prolapses. Except not.

Okay, here’s the thing about this audition. She does suck, I’ll give you that. But the audacity it takes to do an a cappella singing audition with Teena Marie’s “Square Biz” is so awesome, I can’t describe. If you haven’t heard the song, it sounds like one of those ones that was produced in itty bitty parts, basically verse by verse. When they’re put together, it’s an impressive flurry of words and stuff. But if you try to sing it live, you either have to slow it down, or risk asphyxia, because there is literally no space in between… anything. It’s like ninety straight seconds of wordwordwordwordwordword without taking a single breath. Needless to say, Alexis has to breathe. So it ain’t good.

Suddenly, it’s Sundance Head, son of Roy Head, of “Treat Her Right” fame (1965? Anyone remember?) He’s a cute chubby guy with spiky hair and a baby Scott Ian goatee. And he seems personable enough. So, with all of this hubbub, the human interest story, the mention of the musical pedigree, you’d expect him to be good, right? Well, he is. He sings “Stormy Monday,” and he’s a natural, soulful singer with a pleasant roughness. This is actually a good clip to watch for people who do too much acrobatics. His inflections, his musical choices – they sound artful and enhance the song. Anyway, he’s good and goes through. Simon mentions under his breath that this kid’s better than Taylor Hicks. Well, since Taylor’s only “pretty decent,” I’m gonna say, yuh-huh.

Next up is Wandera Hitchye, who sings “A Change is Gonna Come.” And I really like it. A Sam Cooke song, but with a little bit of Mary J. Blige. She has a really appealing, husky voice, and lots of control. Inexplicably, the judges cannot stand her. Simon’s excuse: the market is flooded with girls just like her. Because if American Idol stands for one thing, it’s definitely musical innovation. They literally say there’s nothing special about her. Honestly, I think it’s racist of them. Hear me out – I’ve never once cried racism, in all the seasons of American Idol (which, by the way, I have combed through like the freaking Zapruder film every episode since it began). But seriously, that’s the excuse? Nothing special about her? Well, what was special about Kelly Clarkson? Taylor Hicks? That Sundance kid that just came out? Even my baby Elliott Yamin? White people singing soul music? Elvis, anyone? So my opinion is, they said she wasn’t “next level,” wasn’t “unique enough,” wasn’t “special,” because she was a black woman singing soul music. And I guess talent isn’t enough of a gimmick to make it through.

And see, now I’m pissed at AI on two levels. One, I’m pissed because it sends a gross message, and two, because my getting riled up about it reminds me how seriously I take this piece o’ suck.

Hey, our first montage of suck! People are frowning, crying, sobbing, heaving, weeping. No one can believe they didn’t make it – on camera, that is. The sobbing? A sure-fire way to get your untalented ass on the AI. Well played, untalented friends. Well played.

There’s a spazzy dude named Travis who sings his own composition – a composition that, ironically, has no melody or rhythm. A sample lyrics: “Are you here, here, here? Are you there, there, there? I’ll never have you replace it/Getting so close I can almost taste it. Every time you ask to leave, I will say no no.”

Then we meet a blond girl named Dani who sings “Baby I Love You.” It’s not horrendous to listen to, but it’s not good enough to be an actual singer. It’s like, the hot chick at high school who people have convinced is talented, singing in her car with her friends. Also, she does two things that I cannot tolerate: One. She lacks soulfulness in her voice, so she replaces it with some contemporary pop-infused highly produced version of what country music was at one time. Two. She lacks soulfulness in her voice, so she replaces it with purring and sighing and orgasm sounds, in the hope that we won’t notice. I, not having a wiener, notice. Let me state in no uncertain terms: she is a worse singer, and infinitely more annoying, than Wandera. But they adore her, and call her (ready for it?) Unique. You know, I think it would actually be more effective if, on this show, they actually just took headshots and did the first elimination that way. I mean, let’s not harbor any illusions about what we’re doing here, right?

Some recently divorced guy comes on national TV and calls his ex-wife a bitch, then sucks up the place, and then a woman whose boobs are threatening to come out at any moment also gets the boot.

Then we meet a guy named Sean who says he gets called Castro a lot, and let me tell you, he kind of looks like a young, kindly, hippie Fidel. He sings a Johnny Cash song. If I were the judge, I wouldn’t put him through – surprisingly unsucky, yet not good enough. They liked him, Randy even going so far as to loudly proclaim, “It doesn’t matter what you look like, you can blow!” Because Randy lives on the Planet Testicularis, where that’s actually the truth.

Now, Melinda Dolittle, a backup singer who sings very, very well. She’s shy and lacks confidence while speaking, but while singing, it’s very lovely and masterful and pleasant. It is a bit weird to see Paula trying to convince someone not to be afraid of singing because she’s “really good,” (get it, because Paula can’t sing! Harr!). But Ms. Dolittle, whose Pygmalion-like transformation into queen diva will no doubt be concocted by producers should she make it to final twelve, passes through to the next round.

More well-meaning suck. Suck after suck of Hunka Hunka Burning Love, until my ears bleed. In fact, a montage of “weirdos” like Bad Dancer Guy, Visor-Wearing Dude, Way-Too-White Man, Black Guy In a Cowboy Hat, Flat Affect Dude, Gay People, Fat Chick. Ah, comedy.

We end Memphis with some dude with a shaved head who looks like a less-attractive version of Chris Daughtry. He left his pregnant wife to audition, and when he found out his daughter was born while he was away, he stayed at the audition. Classy. So he sings, and it’s not the worst ever, but it’s seriously weird sounding – like he’s tightening up his soft palate on the high notes. Remember Cameron doing Sloane’s dad on the phone to Mr. Rooney? It’s like that. On top of having this weird tone, he thinks he’s way, way better than he actually is. He makes it through, and only then does he return home to see his new baby. And we’re out of Memphis.

On to New York, baby! The guest judge for this round is Carole Bayer Sager, who wrote music or lyrics for Arthur’s Theme, That’s What Friends are For, Groovy Kind of Love, and I think that shitty Aerosmith Song from the movie where Ben Affleck sadly does not blow up.

We begin with Ian Benardo, who is a classic famewhore, having danced it up on So You Think You Can Dance this summer. He’s one of those nonstop talkers, but, uh, I think he’s kind of funny. Especially when Simon asks him why he’s there, and Benardo gives him a look like, “do you see all the cameras here?” Awesome. He’s not a good singer, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s a vehicle for the shtick, which surpisingly doesn’t bug me (although it lacks hilarity), because it’s antagonistic to the judges, which I’m always in favor of. Simon actually looks irritated, like his time is being wasted, which is, ah, how you say, rich. It actually is hilarious when Ian asks Simon for his work visa. And, buh bye.

There’s a crying pretty girl whose dad doesn’t want to support her dream of singing, which turns out to be a great tactic, as she blows more than Moby Dick. Some girl from Queens sings Toto’s “Africa,” and stinks up the joint like my cat Louie after she sneaks some teriyaki beef jerky (ahh, remember similes?).

A girl named Ashanti tries for the third time to get through. She sings Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You,” and she has a cute, kitten-like voice . Actually, she sounds kind of like Minnie Riperton (though not as good – Minnie was a Queen). She even goes for the super high notes, and does ‘em. They think she’s too old fashioned, and suddenly she hops into this weird Broadway acting bag, where she’s begging them to hear her out, and I can’t really tell if it’s put-on or what. The producers even put twinkly piano music behind Her Big Speech, which is kind of funny. Anyway, I have no idea what they have against her, but she doesn’t make it through.

Two almost staggeringly foul girls try to audition together, and because they are gorgeous, it doesn’t matter that the Ashanti woman sang circles around each of these girls. The dong, she is risen; the girls, they are through. Blech.

Some guy named Cliff comes out, and Paula starts, “So, it says here you work in a bank… is that… fun?” Yeah, Paula, it’s so awesome that I’m risking perpetual humiliation on national TV for the one in a billion chance that I’ll be a huge rock star.

A montage of suck follows, NYC style. Space man, Weird Hair Guy, Obese Peeps. Hilarious.

Not everyone sucked, however. A girl sang Ain’t No Way, and it was good enough to get the judges to shut the fuck up for a second. Carole Bayer Sager actually gives great advice to her, telling her that staying with the melody isn’t a sign of weak vocals, but of musicality. Yay!

A boy who looks like a little Tyson Beckford is intro’ed. This kid is only 16, but holy crap, he is gorge. His voice is okay – pretty good, not bad, whatever. But again, he is so utterly fantastic-looking that he is through.

Then, some super-bubbly chick who reminds me of me because of her lack of neck (it’s sad, really – what can I say, we’re 4’11”). For all her spazzity, she’s actually pretty okay. But she’s shorty short short and fatty fat fat, so her mediocrity is intolerable. She’s gone.

Then: the seriously bad who know they’re seriously bad, but apparently made some workplace bet to get on TV, and part of the bet was to act pissed when they don’t make it through. Some guy sings New York New York, and he literally looks about 47. Then, his name thing comes up, and it literally says, “47 years old” (hey, good guess, A+!). And this isn’t considered a tremendous waste of time? (BTW, the cutoff is 29).

A summary of the next 25 minutes:

Pretty pretty girls with okay voices, girls who are 21 but look 41, and the judges get a bunch of people’s names wrong. And then… The judges prove themselves the ultimate asses when a girl tells them her first name is Fong. Simon then addresses her as Pong, and Randy & Simon think it’s awesome. Randy corrects Simon, and then Simon, responds, “Honestly, Ping Pong, whatever your name is…” and Randy cracks up. Other cultures are weird and funny! Gah, shut it, you pud. At least Olivia Newton John (who, we haven’t seen before or after this moment) gets pissed.

Some girl named Rachel sings very well, and yet they kind of hate her, because they can’t put her in a box, and the tone changes with each song. To the judges, this isn’t versatility, it’s a problem. They don’t want versatile. P!nk, for example, would be their nightmare – putting out an R&B album, and then a rock album, then pop, disco, etc. They don’t know what to do with her. They put her through, though Randy makes no attempt to hide the fact that he loathes the sight of her.

Some more sounds of suck, and we’re out. Next week, Birmingham, home of Ruben Studdard! (Who? Exactly.) See you then!

annals of public sociology

Check out the review of Kieran's book in the NYT Sunday Book Review. Score one for public sociology served up without any icky self-righteous-preening aftertaste, and score one for sociologists with blogs as well.

Meanwhile, I was hanging out with a friend yesterday while she was reading Loïc Wacquant's Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. I went back just now and looked up the 2003 NYT article on that, which includes:
"Body & Soul," which Mr. Wacquant says is only the first installment of his work on boxing -- a second, more ambitious book, "The Passion of the Pugilist," is under way
Does anyone know the status of this book? Wasn't the fieldwork for Body & Soul was done in 1988? I recognize there is no statute of limitations for ethnography, especially "carnal sociology" that is dependent on personal, embodied experiences that I'm sure can be easily recaptured in fully accurate vividness by a quick re-consultation of one's fieldnotes, but I was just wondering if there was any word on whether the second book would be out by the 20th anniversary of Wacquant's experience as a boxer.

Friday, January 26, 2007

mozy: the automated backup service that delivers moral dilemmas fresh to your inbox

I was recently in the market for a service that would provide an automated daily backup of files to a remote Web server, because FolderShare--miraculous as it is for keeping my files synced and thus backed up across various computers in Cambridge and Madison--only does continuous synching and so won't work with Outlook, meaning that I've been without reliable e-mail backup for awhile.* I finally settled on buying a one-year subscription to Mozy, which seems to work okay but has a clumsy interface that keeps me from giving it a clear endorsement. Anyway, I got this e-mail yesterday from them:
As some of you may have noticed, the month of December and early January was a challenging time for us. We were overwhelmed by the demand for the Mozy backup service, and had a difficult time keeping up. [...]

So, to try and make up for the problems we've experienced, and to thank you for hanging in there, we like to offer you the follow options:

If you had a really frustrating experience, click here to get 3 months free service added to your account.

If you hit some glitches, but everything mostly worked out for you, click here to get 2 months free service added to your account.

If things went just fine this last month, click here to get 1 month free service added to your account.

But if you'd rather just let us know you're doing okay and you don't need the extra month of free service, click here to let us know.

If you have any questions or feedback, don't hesitate to email me personally. We're here to protect your data - and we thank you for hanging in there during our growing pains.

Founder, CEO, Berkeley Data Systems, Inc.
I think this e-mail is fascinating. Here, the company has apparently had service problems that have annoyed a bunch of customers. They decide that, rather than the expense of handling complaints case-by-case, they will just send out a mass e-mail offering free additional months of their service to everyone. But, then, they insert this humanity by their appeal by asking you only to take the number of months of additional service that you think you deserve (or, more accurately, the number of months they feel you deserve given your classification of the severity of problems you've had).

Sure, you are a faceless customer and this is a mass e-mail, but that doesn't mean you're not a human being. So we'll turn our screw-up into a chance to create greater pseudointimacy with customers by displaying our personal trust in your honesty. We're all cool here. Our product is named 'Mozy', after all.

So, what to do? I did have some problems with the initial upload, so maybe I could lay honest claim to one month, at most. Then again, this is someone who simultaneously identifies himself as CEO of a fully grown-up corporation and yet signs his e-mail with just his first name in all small letters. And he wants to minimize the transaction costs of their customer service problem by passing it off as a moral dilemma to me?

In the end, I clicked the option for two months. Me, in a nutshell: choosing the option that lets me feel both a little immoral and a little like a sucker.

I bet they are going to take the people who click the option for no extra service and sell their names to some marketing company that keeps a trusting-souls mailing list.

* More accurately, it doesn't work with the way I use Outlook, which is to open and close it frequently, and the files are too big for FolderShare to start sending them to all my machines each time. Of course, I could solve this problem by just leaving Outlook open all day. As if my e-mail habits are not unhealthy enough already.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

where godiva and skippy collide

me, outside eszter's office at casbs
(this is literally the view from the back door of Eszter's office at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, except normally that view doesn't include me sitting in the tree.)

So, one of my pet phrases is "This is where the chocolate hits the peanut butter." I use it when I'm explaining something that requires me to first explain two seemingly unrelated things. I insert it as a preface immediately before explaining how the two things fit together, as apparently I believe this is a good moment to introduce an obscure distracting metaphor.

Anyway, it's a reference to these commercials from when I was a child where a man would be walking around with a chocolate bar and a woman would be doing the same with an open jar of peanut butter and through some collisional hijink the chocolate bar would end up inside the peanut butter, and the two would discover that in fact the combination tasted great and the voice-over for Reese's Peanut Butter cups would begin. (Being a child, the brazen sexual innuendo of this ad campaign was completely lost on me.)

I like Reese's Peanut Butter cups. They are traditionally my second favorite candy, in fact, with the first being chocolate-covered malted milk balls. So this past weekend Eszter and I were in Trader Joe's and what do I see: chocolate-covered peanut butter malted milk balls. I had never even imagined my two favorite candies could be combined before. And so I proclaimed, "This is where the chocolate hits the peanut butter!" I scarfed down something like a dozen between the checkout counter and Eszter's car alone.

The weekend was, I might add, the first time I'd ever been inside a Trader Joe's. I had heard it was a place full of strangely addictive curiosities. Even so, I had no idea.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I just got home. I finished the grant proposal I was working on. Which was not necessarily a gigantic thing in itself, but the way that it has intersected with other things I'm trying or allegedly trying to do here has made me feel like Boy Detective, Interrupted the last few weeks.

Anyway, this is the first post of the rest of my life.

Meanwhile, earlier this evening I was talking to a friend of mine who is considering a career redirection and I was trying to convince her to re-redirect into an entrepeneurial venture with me. As ever, I have trouble understanding how someone can recognize that I have a perfectly brilliant idea and yet still not be eager to devote her life on its behalf.

EndNote is supposed to save time, right? not crush your soul and jeopardize your meeting important deadlines?

If my normal mood was Boston proper and mundane frustration was Cambridge, I would be well past Wisconsin by this point, and perhaps into Montana. Maybe Seattle. Maybe Mars.

EndNote is great in the abstract. I have neither the time nor patience for the abstract right now. As some friendly practical warnings to fellow EndNote users, you should (a) keep all your references in one library, (b) not collaborate with other people, (c) not attempt to write complicated documents, and (d) not do any work that involves deadlines. Consider (e) fleeing academia and (f) finding peaceful work in a bookstore or as a barista.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

i know i said i wasn't posting today, but someone has to step up and speak the truth to power on this

How many snowflakes do you think have fallen in the history of humankind? A trillion trillion seems to me an extremely conservative estimate. A trillion trillon snowflakes means half a trillion trillion trillion trillion pairs of snowflakes. If you think the number of snowflakes is more like a trillion trillion trillion, then we are talking half a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion snowflake-pairs.

Why are you so sure no two snowflakes are exactly alike?

i feel like an ugly stepsister

Working on this grant proposal. The text I have in hand being my right foot, and the NIH page limit being the glass slipper. One difference between me and Griselda is that I don't have the option of not somehow cramming my foot in there. Another, more fortunate difference, is that cutting proposal text is much less painful than shearing off toes and heel. But still, no easy feat!*

Anyway, I'm already postdating this to Tuesday 12:01am because there is no way the blog world is getting any other text out of me tomorrow. I am going to finish this thing by its Tuesday deadline, then I am going to take a day or two to catch up, and then I am going to write down (no, not on this blog) various lessons learned from experiences with this and some related recent matters.

* Pun intended, despite the large portion of my audience who winces at puns. Hey, if I have to suffer, you can, too.

Monday, January 22, 2007

blood: thicker than water, thinner than a big wad of benjamins

Floyd Mayweather Sr., who has trained [boxer] Oscar De La Hoya since late 2000, said it doesn't appear he'll work for De La Hoya -- and against his son -- in the May 5 super welterweight title bout [between De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, Jr.] [...]

"If they want me to work against my son, then they're going to have to pay me," Mayweather Sr. told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "My son and I, no matter what's gone down between us, he's still my blood. Hey, I'd work for Oscar if the deal is right, because that's my job and boxing is just a sport.

"But if you want me to tell you how to beat my son -- and I'm the only one who can tell Oscar how to do that -- then you need to pay me."
Isn't there some pseudo-apocryphal story about George Bernard Shaw sitting next to a man in a bar and saying, "If I paid you a million pounds, would you help me beat the living hell out of your son?" And the man saying quietly, "I guess I would." Then Shaw: "What about for twenty pounds?" Man, indignant: "What kind of father do you think I am?" Shaw: "We've already established that. Now we're just haggling." (For those unfamiliar with the reference, the merely apocryphal version of this story is here).

Sunday, January 21, 2007

diszpatch from palo alto

Unique Hazards
(Eszter and me smiling in the face of unique danger!)

Working with Eszter in her research cabana at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences near the Stanford campus. We're rocking out to the Tiffany cover of "I Think We're Alone Now," just after rocking out to the second-greatest-karaoke song ever, Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer."

While I've been here, I've been staying at the Stanford Guest House, which is located on the grounds of the Stanford Linear Acceleration Center, home of the world's first cyclotron and who-knows-what-physics-and-possibly-weapons-of-mass-destruction magic nowadays. When you enter, you have to show identification to a security guard, and immediately after there is a sign warning that: "Unique Hazards May Exist." I love the idea of staying at a site where they get to simultaneously warn you and let you know you are on grounds so special you could be subjected to special dangers unavailable anywhere else on the planet.

I'm taking the red eye back to Cambridge tonight, where I've got two full days of writing crunch time in front of me. I have a feeling the quality of those days will rest much on how well I sleep on the plane. Wish me slumberluck.

Update: Fabio correctly points out in the comments that SLAC is not the home of the world's first cyclotron. It is, however, home of the world's first web server, which has certainly proven a unique hazard in my own life.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

i am sure this was the result of extensive polling and focus group work


Hillary Clinton's website refers to her just as "Hillary" whenever possible and only uses "Clinton" where it is more or less necessary. "Rodham" is nowhere to be found.

Again, the official JFW position is not so much to endorse a particular candidate at this point as to anti-endorse whatever Democratic candidates Republicans are really enthusiastic about seeing win the nomination. While "Hillary" does not bring quite the same GOP glee as a second Kerry candidacy, it's close.

sometimes i suspect i am a bit of a drama queen

Text message just sent to friend: "Yo, exhausted, considering faking my own death, otherwise fine."

Friday, January 19, 2007

hi, i'm trying to be an artist. you look dangerous. would you like to come for tea?

How To Be An Artist

Turns out I'm separated by fewer degrees of separation than I would have imagined or preferred to SARK!, the artist responsible for such beloved books as Living Juicy and Succulent Wild Woman: Dancing With Your Wonder-Full Self!. Her famous "How to Be an Artist" poster hung on the door of bathroom at the vegan co-op I stayed in during one of my summers at Stats Camp. Partly due perhaps to the natural diuretic properties of some of the vegetables I was eating to stay in good standing at this co-op, I read this poster so many times that month that I have large parts of it memorized. Always, it makes me surly. The whole time, I wanted to take a giant Sharpie and write across it "PRACTICE. MAYBE STUDY SOME OTHER ARTISTS (not SARK!)."

Then again, what do I know?

Back when I was in graduate school, there was this woman who lasted a year in the program whose name was Miriam, but who wanted people to call her Rainbow. She was enrolled in a seminar with one of the older professors, and we wondered if he would call her Rainbow. He did. With a certain amount of relish, it seemed to me. SARK! would have been proud. Teaching juicy!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

(A+ guest post!) American Idol: Week 1 Cattle Call!

Hi everyone, A+ here. Jeremy has kindly offered to let me guest-blog recaps of America’s favorite waste of time, American Idol. For those of you who couldn’t care less, I promise to always put AI in the title so you can skip the posts. But I hope you’ll ride the train, even if you don’t watch the show.

And so we begin season six with what I’ve read will be twelve weeks of cattle calls, before we get to the good stuff. Full disclosure: I actually really hate this part of the season. Watching people suck, or pretend to suck, or not know they suck, is an awful experience that I never seem to find as hilarious as the producers think I will. Also? I can’t possibly explain every inch of the FOUR HOURS A WEEK they insist on pelting us with, so I’ll just go over the highlights for now. Anyway. The show.

In a voiceover, Seacrest is quick to take credit for Jennifer Hudson’s recent Golden Globe win for Dreamgirls, despite the fact that when she was a contestant on the show, she was voted off relatively early, when Simon Cowell basically told her she was “out of her depth,” and instead chose to throw all his praise behind Diana Frakking DeGarmo. Who? Exactly.

Even more weirdly, all of this is done with the distinctly unsucky “Baba O’Riley” by The Who as background music. Yes, that’s irony. Predictably, they edit the song so as to avoid the repeating of the lyric, “teenage wasteland” over and over. Also ironic.

After the “who will win blah blah blah next American Idol blah blah,” we start seeing Minneapolis auditions. We also learn that Jewel will be the guest judge. Hooray.

Some girl who is a “makeup artist at the Mall of America” proclaims that Jewel is her idol, and already with the waterworks, before she even steps in there. Then she sees Jewel and starts crying again. After about 45 seconds of “prep,” she sings “You Were Meant for Me,” and although it’s hideous, it’s clearly awesome that she’s trying to sound exactly like Jewel, and doing a great exaggerated impersonation of all the little Jeweltones that irk so thoroughly. The baby-talk voice, the yodeling, the whispering. Awesome. The judges are predictably rude to her, laughing directly at her as Simon quips that it sounded “just like the record.” Jewel looks embarrassed for everyone and everything, except, oddly, the fact that “You Were Meant for Me” sucks anyway, no matter who sings it. Randy asks Jewel if it sounded just like her, but she ain’t talkin’. They tell the contestant that she sucks, and she. Is. Shocked. She literally goes, “Are you kidding me?” She tries whining and crying, but it's that cry-for-show that little kids do when they get a minor injury that doesn’t hurt, but they think you’re watching them and want something. In other words, a big, sobby, whiny temper tantrum. This is a girl who’s used to crying for shit. She finally leaves, and her entire family is there to console her, including her mother, who tells he that “there’s always next year.” Let’s all hope not. Next.

A montage of suck from America’s Heartland follows.

Next spotlight. A guy names Jesse comes in and says he has an incredible range, can hit notes Mariah Carey can hit, and music is his life. (By the way, proclaiming that music is your life, or that it “feeds” you, is the patented AI harbinger of being a terrible singer. Yawn.) He sings “My Heart Will Go On” as sung by my aunt and uncle’s leaky camping air mattress. He’s so horrible he doesn’t even have a sense of when the notes go up or down. Mid-song, he just walks out (probably insulted by being laughed at to his face). Suddenly, he reappears, and without talking, starts the song again. Everyone in America is irritated. They (sigh) ask him to sing another song, and he tries “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” with the same lack of pitch, breath, tone. This is what we call tone deaf, y’all. Bye.

More fools. Some guy dressed as if Uncle Sam were a boxer comes in and tells us that he’s going to sing an R.E.O. song in Italian. Scratch that. He means aria. Aw, man, I was looking forward to hearing “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” in Italian. He’s meh, actually, but he doesn’t make it through.

A 16 year-old from Madison, Wisconsin (hey-ohhh!) is given the focus sob story. She says that her mom has a drug problem, and she was born what was referred to as a “crack baby” (and I think still is referred to that way among less-enlightened folks, no?), but she’s thankful for her gift of song. She sings “And I Am Telling You,” and it’s nice. Let me just state for the record that I think that song is too big for any 16 year-old to sing, and that includes Miss Denise, although she clearly has talent. They love her, and she’s going through to the next round.

Next. A kind-looking woman with braids and a snappy tie sings “Kiss” by Prince. Sort of. She has a major meltdown with the lyrics, and… you know what, screw it. Here is a transcript of a portion of her audition, so you can see what I mean.

Women, no girls…
Women no girls, I want no women no girls…
I want women, not no girls…
I want women, not no girls, [speaking] Oh my God, I’m so [bleeped – I have no idea].
Women not girls, they rule my world, yes they rule my world
…no girls, yes they rule my world…
No women, I want girls, I don’t want no girls ‘cause they rule my world. Yeah…
Women, ‘cause she rule my world…

This literally went on for two straight minutes. I’m not sure if this was edited funkily, or what, but she just wouldn’t stop. When they told her she sucked, she looked sincerely crestfallen and apologized to the judges. Then she tried to run out of there, but smashed against the “in” door on her way out. I hate this show.

Some skinny girl named Perla with a ton of hair and and a charming accent (she addresses the judges, “Well, Seemone…) sings “Call Me” by Blondie, and it blows in a meh sort of way. It’s that “Hey, I’ve got soul!” sound, where she actually doesn’t. Randy demands a verse of “Hips Don’t Lie,” and they like that much better, because know this, Perla. You are Latina, and in the world of AI this means you will sing nothing but Shakira, ever. Bleh, she sucks. But Simon and Randy’s wood was collectively strong enough to put her through to the next round.

We hear mediocre to excruciating versions of “Folsom Prison Blues,” a slew of the best darn singers in the Central High School Jazz-Slash-Show Choir, and a bunch of military service people (in uniform, natch) get through to the next round, because telling them they can’t sing makes the terrorists win.

One more montage of suck, and we’re off to the Seattle audition. Man, I love Seattle. Seacrest Seacrests on about how great The Emerald City is, and hey! It’s raining here! Isn’t that hilarious? Oh, Seattle, you fickle friend.

And suddenly, I’m exhausted. Some guy comes out dressed as Uncle Sam who’s not a boxer, and we find out he’s the same famewhore as the cop who slow danced with Paula last year. It’s hilarious, see, because he’s dressed like Uncle Sam. We also spot various full-figured gals with tight dresses on, that we’re supposed to laugh at. It’s hilarious, see, because they’re fat.

And then… a long string of people whose mental health I actually, seriously question. Some woman with platinum-bleached hair, bright red lipstick that has strayed far outside the parameters of what one would normally refer to as “lips,” and a thin satin shirt over no brassiere-like substance whatsoever, tells us how great she is. Her flat affect and earnest-seeming demeanor make this whole thing suddenly feel as if it’s been directed by Christopher Guest. On top of it, she sucks. They tell her as much, and she looks a little sad, but is ultimately good spirited.

Okay, here’s the thing. I can’t actually tell if this is a hoax or not. I guess I don’t really care, since they didn’t seem to laugh in her face or make her cry, but the whole thing actually made me feel uncomfortable. I don't actually enjoy making people look like fools, even ones who can't sing or put on lipstick.

Next, a very cute boy with a very cute afro and goatee sings and Amos Lee song quite sweetly, and although he’s not the best singer ever, it’s a pleasant change from the endless barrage of poo-flavored snacks we’ve been fed all week.

And then suddenly, it gets creepy. Do you remember the developmentally or emotionally disabled kid who was mainstreamed in with the rest of the assholes, so that every recess, lunch period, and gym class this sweet, well-meaning kid would be teased without even knowing it? The jocks would nude-nudge-wink-wink him about having sex with cheerleaders, to the delight of said cheerleaders, who would coyly flirt with him just enough to crack each other up. They were laughing at him behind his back, right in front of him, because he lacked the cynical douchebagginess to be in on the joke? Remember him? Well, he’s auditioning for American Idol, and the producers are desperately trying to make us the jocks, the cheerleaders, and the people who just stood there and watched. Fuck them. Their horrible singing voices are beside the point; I just hate how Randy and Seacrest ask them questions about what makes them so awesome, Paula hops between her kindergarten teacher and turn-her-back-and-snicker bag, and Simon refuses to look them in the eye, except when insulting them. There’s just too much douchebaggery for me.

This all comes to a head when Simon tells one guy, “you look like one the creatures who live in the jungle with those massive eyes… what are they called… bushbaby.” While Paula cracks up. The guy just stands there, looking at Simon with that exhausted face, the face you get when someone jokes about your height/weight/skin color/acne/boobs/hair/baldness/teeth/mole/unibrow for the ump-fucking-teenth time. Sigh.

On to brighter topics. A young woman from Texas, standing at what I think she said was 6’7”, charms the judges with spunk. She’s really cute, despite Simon remarking to Paula and Randy upon her exit, “You just put through a giraffe.” My belly is truly aching from all the laughter. Go Tall Texas!

A final montage of suck for the week, and we’re out. God, I hate this show.

So, for the initial cattle call, what would I sing? A tough one. You only have two minutes to show the judges your talent, as well as represent what you hope will be stylistic the box they’ll cram you into all season. Er, I mean, your “style.” I’d definitely go with Angel From Montgomery, for two reasons: One, it’s relatively simple, thus letting you, in the words of Paula Abdul, “make the song your own.” In my case, that would mean going thick on the blue-eyed soul, without the melismatic mess modern singing has become. Two, they won’t have heard it 3,000 times that day. If that song wouldn’t be allowable (they have to pass through the right-to-air hurdles), I’d just do Bye Bye Blackbird. Because on AI, jazz means cred. As I am both too old and too fat to be on American Idol, it’s basically a moot point, however.

What about you? If you were auditioning for the cattle call, what would you sing?

annals of brute intellect and professionalism

Flew yesterday from Boston to San Francisco for a workshop at Stanford. As I waited for my flight, a young protoexecutive-middle-management-type was talking loudly on his cel phone near me. Overheard:
"I'm going to this meeting with a f*cking baseball bat and I am going to kick ass. I am tired of how this company is getting run by f*cking emotions instead of intelligence. I am sick of this b*llshit and am ready to go to the CEO and tell him this is unprofessional and he can go f*ck himself."
Because nothing conveys that intelligence has taken control back from emotions quite like showing up at a meeting with a baseball bat. Except, maybe, a hockey mask and chainshaw.

I was going to use my usual "[expletive deleted]" for the profanity above, but then this read confusing because of the different words involved, so I just asterisked the u's.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

dan myers has 279 kiss songs on his iPod.

I was all ready to post something, but then I decided to check out some other blogs first. I promptly learned that Dan Myers has 279 Kiss songs on his iPod, more than twice as many as any artist other than the Beatles and Pink Floyd. My brain is now dominated by this fact. I can't even remember what I was going to post.

I know someone in sociology who once bought his girlfriend a scale for a present and now whenever I see him whatever else I think, "You bought your girlfriend a scale and presented it to her as a gift." Likewise, whenever I see Dan Myers, I will now think, "This man has 10,000 songs on his iPod, and still fully 2.79% of them are by Kiss." Not to draw any parallels between those two examples other than their being facts about people that, once learned by me, cannot be unlearned or even temporarily forgotten. 279 songs! By Kiss!

I had this roommate in college whose last name was spelled the same as mine but was not related and pronounced it so it rhymed with "crazy." His favorite bands were Kiss and the Beach Boys. I like two Beach Boys songs total, "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows", and two Kiss songs total, "Detroit Rock City" and, um, "Detroit Rock City."* Once I put up a couple posters in our dorm with his name and phone number advertising for members for a band that would play Beach Boys covers while wearing Kiss makeup and dressing in superheroes Underoos. I remember it included the line "Must be able to gyrate, but do so only when the situation warrants and is tasteful." My recollection is that he was angry when he saw the poster, but then also sort of sad when it hadn't prompted any calls.

* "Detroit Rock City" is by Kiss, right?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

now this feels like the madison i know!

I extended my supposed-to-be-brief trip to Madison through today. Which meant I got to be here for snow. Sal has been amused by my lack of patience for such modern contrivances as ice scrapers:

sleeve scraper

He's also been amused by my winter driving skills:
"We're sliding again!"
"Yeah, do you think we're going to hit that pole?"
"At least we're wearing our seatbelts."
"Hey, I forgot to put on my seatbelt!"
"I know. That was my way of saying something."
All this, and I still had time to put my seatbelt on before we stopped sliding (fortunately, short of the pole in question).

We're up on campus. Our need to work didn't mean that, on the walk from the parking lot to the building, we couldn't take a moment out to see if a stray laundry basket could be pressed into service as a sled.

laundry basket sled

Suffice it to say there are reasons sleds do not have wheels on the bottom.

Monday, January 15, 2007

the boy detective as autochoreographer

So, for the past four years my friend Rob has organized an NFL pool. The grand prize includes not just money from the other competitors, but also something original from me, to be posted on this blog. Only when Rob sends out his mass e-mail announcing the pool at the start of the season do I learn what it is that I will be expected to create. The first year, it was just an original haiku. Then, it was an original recipe. After that, he asked me to invent something on behalf of the winner (I would say "original invention," except thats redundant). This year, my task is to devise an original dance, to be posted at halftime of the Superbowl.

Anyway, today I clinched victory in the pool--my first win--even though the Superbowl is still three weeks away. Which means that now I have to come up with an original dance in honor of myself. Alternatively, partly in anticipation of this possibility, I've actually entered the pool under the name "Dorotha Harried," so I could create an original dance for someone else's blog pseudonym.

I don't have any idea what I'm going to come up with for this dance. More than this, I don't even know how one goes about posting an original dance on one's blog. Is there some standard dance notation? Should I draw little stick figures? Should I pay professionals and upload it to YouTube? Should I act it out with marionettes? Let me know if you have any dance or dance-representation ideas.

So long as I'm previewing coming attractions, readers can also look forward to a Super-Secret Special Guest Poster potentially making a series of appearances soon.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

in which jeremy retypes highlights from someone else's article

Tonight I read this Psychological Bulletin article on procrastination* that was featured in the news and that I mentioned in my post about the Kiwi Cloak quasi-coercive anti-procrastination tool. Beyond whatever personal-practical interests I might have in better understanding procrastination, I also find it interesting as someone in sociology who is interested in rational choice, both because procrastination is perhaps by definition irrational and it's also a great example of something people experience as an individual failing even though there's ample reason to think that it has much to do with the social-cognitive environments in which people find themselves.

Anyway, not that the article is especially splendid, but it's a good systematic review of the area and I did found myself typing in parts as I read it. I've decided to re-arrange and present a dozen quotes here. Not that anybody who reads this blog procrastinates, but I thought maybe some of you might know someone, or know someone who knows someone, and thus perhaps parts will either resonate or not with what your thoughts about procrastination.
  • "[T]o procrastinate is to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay." (p. 66)
  • "The intention-action gap refers to the degree to which people follow up on their original work plans. Most procrastination researchers suppose that delaying is not only irrational but unintentional... Failure to act upon one's intentions is quintessentially self-regulatory failure [cite], almost the definition of low self control." (p. 70)
  • "Several studies have linked procrastination to individual performance, with the procrastinator performing more poorly overall [cites] and to individual well-being, with the procrastinator being more miserable in the long-term [cites]" (p. 65)
  • "The first actual historical analysis on procrastination was written by Milgram (1992), who argued that technically advanced societies required numerous committments and deadlines, which gives rise to procrastination." (p. 66)
  • "Kachgal et al. (2001) believed that procrastination is on the rise. This would be consistent with the increase in other forms of self-regulatory failure (e.g., obesity, gambling, excessive debt) over the last 25 years [cites]." (p. 71)
  • "[J]obs are expected to become more unstructured or at least self-structured [cites]. The absence of imposed direction means that the competent worker must create the order--he or she must self-manage or self-regulate [cite]. As structure continues to decrease, the opportunity for workers to procrastinate will concomitantly increase. Furthermore, the prevalence and availability of temptation, for example, in the forms of computer gaming or Internet messaging, should continue to exacerbate the problem of procrastination." (p. 84)
  • "[A] poor mood itself may not only result from procrastination but also create it." (p. 70)
  • "Procrastinators tended to spend more time on projects if they were likely to fail, whereas the opposite relationship was seen for nonprocrastinators [cite]." (p. 77)
  • "As O'Donoghue and Rabin (1999) concluded, 'Many people who procrastinate only moderately do so not because of intrinsic self-control, but because they have developed schemes to overcome procrastination.'" (p. 71)
  • "Researchers should be able to reduce procrastination simply by adjusting situational aspects, specifically the proximity to temptation and prevalence of stimulus cues. A good example is e-mail, with over 90% of college computer users reporting that they use it to delay irrationally [cites]. Because the e-mail icon is perpetually in the field of view, and its access borders on the instantaneous, simply making e-mail less visible or delaying access to it should decrease procrastination." (p. 82)
  • "For Kuhl and Goschke (1994), 'The repeated use of strict time schedules... fosters the formation of behavioral habits that circumvent conflicts with competing tendencies by establishing quasi-automatic trigger conditions.'" (p. 83)
  • "A considerable amount of reesarch has shown that goal setting does reduce procrastination. Boice (1989) found that daily writing goals helped to keep academic writers on a healthy schedule of publications... Ariely and Wertenbroch (2002) investigated goal setting (specifically, creating deadlines to prevent procrastination), finding that they were effective, but more effective when set by other people." (p. 83)
*Steel, Piers. 2007. "The Nature of Procrastination: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review of Quintessential Self-Regulatory Failure." Psychological Bulletin 133:65-94.

a past example of how i take nothing for granted

Still in Madison. Because I was tenured early by the department here, I did not actually know that the department was meeting to vote on my tenure until after they already had. Then I received an e-mail from the chair. My response to this e-mail has apparently now become part of Wisconsin Sociology lore. Which is that, before telling anyone else or replying to the chair's message, I forwarded her message to one of the senior colleagues to whom I'm closest and asked him for confirmation. Well, more specifically, what I actually asked him was: "Is this some kind of incredibly cruel practical joke?" `Twasn't!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

don't let's tarts

I went to a dinner party at Nina's, who has recently launched her Ask For An Ocean View companion site. The site's slogan is a spot-on distillation of Ninaness and worth clicking over just for that. Anyway, for the dinner, I bought a bottle over of Bogle wine, and explained that the reason that I bought it was that the name was an anagram of BLOG + E, for Blog Entrepeneur. Nina did a passable job of acting amused.

Not like the time shortly after I began at Madison and was invited to a beginning of the year party. I brought tarts. I said I brought them because "tarts" was an anagram of START and so seemed the rousing choice given the party theme. The person to whom I said this looked at me the way you might imagine someone would look if the seemingly ordinary conversationalist she had been talking with had been suddenly replaced by a two-headed space alien, especially if that alien had something incredibly disgusting hanging out of one of its noses.

Moral: If you are someone who enjoys anagram humor, understand that this is a lonesome joy that will only bring awkwardness and pain if you try to share it with others.

Friday, January 12, 2007

meanwhile, you never hear anyone say 'the grant proposals practically write themselves.'

section from uw libraries electronics resources

Back in Madison for a brief visit to work on a grant proposal. Just now procrastinating by using the UW libraries to look up this Psychological Bulletin article on procrastination that has been in the news. When looking for PsycArticles on the e-resources list, I saw another entry in the P's that surprised me. An unfortunate thing about the phrase "the jokes practically write themselves" is that this does not mean the jokes actually write themselves. And I certainly do not have time for such timefoolery today. Still, if you click on the partial screenshot above, you can see if you can guess which electronic library resource caught my Beavisish bloggerly eye.

I might have more to say about the procrastination article, if I get around to it. For now, back to work! (Well, I mean, after I check my e-mail again.)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

kiwi cloak: a quasi-coercive anti-websurf-procrastination tool

kiwi cloak
(locked out of jfw until the top of the next hour)

Web-based procrastinators: Lucy and I modified a script by Gina Trapani that was posted on Lifehacker. That program, called Invisibility Cloak, would allow you to specify sites that your browser would not let you visit until after a certain time of day.

While a fine idea, it's not consistent with how I wanted to rein in certain irksome compulsions of my own (e.g., GMail, Blogger, Bloglines). Instead, what I wanted was a program that would only let me check GMail and other distracting sites for a short period at the beginning of each hour. That is, I wanted a software solution that would help thwart a certain tendency toward mindless alt-tabbing self-distraction. After modifying the Invisibility Cloak script to do this, we couldn't think of a good name for it, so we're calling it Kiwi Cloak, in honor of a mysterious fruit/bird/nation fondness of Lucy's.

If you already know how add-ons for Firefox with Greasemonkey works, just right-click here to install. You can customize the settings (default is a 10 minute window from 6am to 11pm) and the excluded sites within Greasemonkey after installation.

Otherwise, how to use it:
1. Use Firefox. You should be doing this anyway.

2. Install Greasemonkey for Firefox. You should do this anyway if you use Firefox, which you should be doing.

3. Download this script.

4. Modify it to set the desired length at the beginning of the hour (default = 10), the desired window during the day when the restriction is on, (default 6AM - 11PM), and whether or not you want it to work on the weekends (default = yes). You can also set the particular sites you want to be kept from impulsively surfing. You can also this file in Greasemonkey by clicking on the monkey-face icon at the bottom of Firefox, choosing "Manage User Scripts...", choosing "Kiwi Cloak", and then either hitting the Edit button or changing the Included Sites list.

5. Go to "Open File..." in Firefox, and open the file. Click the Install button.
Sure, you can disable the script or disable Greasemonkey, etc., which is why it is only quasi-coercive. However, I've been using it and have found it genuinely effective and not something I try to thwart, since I know I should be able to wait until the top of the hour to check my e-mail. More generally, I'm optimistic that it can help lessen the habit of mindlessly clicking my way into distraction.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

tell you what: when we do get the band back together, we're changing the name to something that starts with a tilde

Am I the only person who ends up listening to a disproportionate number of 10,000 Maniacs songs because they are on the top of my iTunes list and occasionally for whatever reason it starts playing from there? Sure, I'll always love "What's the Matter Here?," but they're probably my best example of a band that seemed all "socially conscious" back when I was in my 20s and seem now more "'socially consciousness'" whenever I listen to the same songs more than a decade later. (As in, authentic vs. authenschtick.)

Just now, I was just listening to their song "Headstrong" and was reminded of its lyric, "If we were living in a house afire / I don't believe that you could rush out and escape / and not rescue me." I remember hearing it way back when and thinking, for neither the first nor last time, "Wow, some feminists have really low standards for what they expect from men." Really, he loves me! I can't tell you how wonderful it is to sleep next to a guy and think, "This one, he wouldn't just let me burn to death!"

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

i know the p and d stand for portable and document, but about that last letter...

Trying to install the new Adobe Creative Suite, mostly so I can use Acrobat 8, has resulted in the kind of frustration I would normally associate with having done something so awful as to be damned to spend eternity rolling a heavy stone up one side of the hill, only to have it roll down the other side.

Eventually, my move to Creative Suite to change my minimalist web page from its current FrontPage incarnation to something using Dreamweaver. Way back when I was first putting up a webpage, I was encouraged by the computer person in my department to use Dreamweaver but opted FrontPage just because I figured Microsoft would end up dominating that market as well. Now it feels like I'm the last FrontPage user, and that's mainly because since I haven't done anything more-than-minimal website-wise for like three years.

If anyone has any recommendations about interesting-but-professional-looking yet not-requiring-much-maintenance Dreamweaver templates, let me know.

dispatch from the ongoing battle between children in poverty vs. rich people's pets: rover scores again!

From the AP:
SARASOTA, Fla. --Austin ricochets around the Ritz-Carlton hotel room, bouncing from bed to chair and leaping high to lick the face of his personal masseuse. He's an energetic 4-year-old pug, so there is a lot of wriggling as his "privileged pup" pet massage begins. But soon his eyelids droop and his tiny muscles relax under the soothing touch of Darlene Davison, the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota's spa director.

"OK, sweetheart, OK. There you go," coos Davison, creator of the luxury hotel chain's latest indulgence -- the $130 dog massage.

Figure in the hotel's 20-pound weight limit and the additional $125 nonrefundable pet fee and the "privileged pup" plan comes out to a minimum of $12.75 a pound. And that's the basic package.

For another $220, the Ritz throws in gourmet dog biscuits, an in-room pet massage, a choice of nail buffing or nail polish, a souvenir photo, a brisk walk over Sarasota's scenic Ringling Bridge and a gourmet meal of organic stew and designer water served on a silver tray.
If only some organization teamed up with the Ritz-Carlton so that for every $130 dog massage, $1 went to help fight childhood malaria in Africa. 50 cents? A quarter?

Monday, January 08, 2007

sorry, i know it's nearby, but i can't really reckon with the singularity right now

I made progress on the grant I'm working on tonight--although, O, much more needs to be done--but tonight's major procrastination distraction was: improving a piece of anti-procrastination software! I'll post it when I get around to it.

So now I'm in bed having my usual trouble sleeping, and I'm contemplating one of the books on my nightstand, Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near. I bought the book because it had been recommended to a colleague by an important figure in the national science funding establishment. The basic argument of the book is that innovation is occuring at an accelerating pace and, this will continue to change everything faster and faster, then big chunks at a time, then all at once. Or something like that. I can't get past page 14, where I read the same two sentences and stop.
"I conceptualize the history of evolution--both biological and technological--as occurring in six epochs. As we will discuss, the Singularity will begin with Epoch Five and will spread from Earth to the rest of the universe in Epoch Six."
Each time, I hit this point and think, "You know, it's an accomplishment for me if I manage to leave the house cleanly shaven five days a week. I can open my head enough to wonder and worry about the world. Proliferation to the rest of the universe, I can't be troubled with that. The whole universe, when I don't even have my elliptical trainer yet. No, not for me."

of course, it would probably just get stolen by the people who run the zombie restaurant down the street

fMRI recruitment poster

The other day I provided an example of how not to recruit people around Harvard for a project. Here, however, I present what seems to me like a positive example for Harvard recruitment. There are all kinds of posters around here offering you money for clinical trials. I haven't seen another one offer you a picture of your brain along with money, though. Moreover, Harvard seems just the kind of place where you have people who are not easily motivated by modest recruitment fees but might think A picture of my brain? How cool is that!. And, it's not like you can just step into a brain-photo booth at the mall and snag one.

Okay, so I confess: While I have a complicated travel schedule coming up--not to mention numerous work deadlines--I do fit the gender, age, handedness*, and language requirements, so I might call and see if they are still looking for people. A picture of your brain! I mean: A picture of my brain? How cool is that! If I do, I'll let you know what happens.

* If you didn't know this, (virtually?) everything you've ever seen reported in the press about neuoscience findings from fMRI studies has been based on samples of right-handed people only, as southpaw brain structures are different and the samples of these studies are so small as to not make subgroup analysis feasible. Plus, who cares about lefties qua lefties?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

you don't have to be an economist to see the problem...

"I am required by law to negotiate with you over the price of this car. I am also required, at the end of the day, to buy this car. I see that the sticker price is $23,000. How about we start the negotiations at $17,000?"
"How about we end the negotiations at $23,000?"
"Um, $19,000?"
"The law says I have to buy this car! $21,000 is not my final offer!"
"Okay, $23,000."

This, as far as I can tell, is what the Democrats are offering as their plan for how the government will use its "power" to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs with Medicare. NYT has critics making the point here.

That said, my guess is the government will be able to negotiate lower prices, which will be partly apparent [lower prices compared to what?] and partly real, just so this plan can be called a success and there will be no pressure to enact a plan where the government has true leverage and could force a much stronger deal.

It's a little like invading a foreign country without enough troops to do the job properly, except that, over the long-term, more Americans will be killed by suboptimal drug policy than by the war in Iraq.

To clarify: (1) some negotiation can't be worse than the Republican plan allowing no negotiation, but (2) this is still much better from the perspective of the pharmaceutical industry than what the Democrats could have done. Given how much money the pharmaceutical industry spent trying to defeat Democrats, it does make one wonder if part of the purpose is to neutralize this lobby by being ungenerous but not unfriendly toward them.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

speaking of spelling...

asl j-e-r-e-m-y
(section of the bulletin board in my office)

New addition to my bulletin board: the sign language J-E-R-E-M-Y I received as an Xmas present from Dorotha. Presumably I will string them together with something more suitable than a green paper clip at some point, although the clip does remind me of a certain friend from college whose office supply fetish resulted in her getting a tattoo of three linked green paper clips on her leg.

BTW, beneath the letters is the current state-of-the-art for being able to collect people's DNA inexpensively through the mail. You spit in the blue part, and the white part is a lid that contains this preservative with a clear plastic seal. When you screw on the lid, the seal breaks, and the preservative combines with your spit to preserve it. Why I have one of these kits tacked to my bulletin board is a different story.

advice to authers


I saw this poster last night, taped to the side of a pay phone across the street from Harvard Yard. Obviously, this is almost certainly a project borne from some very unpleasant story. But, if one wishes to recruit informants for your expose' from around the Harvard campus and thinks it would help to emphasize that one is a published author, one really wants to make sure one spells "author" correctly.

Friday, January 05, 2007

annals of jeremy freese, reflective advice giver

I think whatever you think is the right thing is the right thing.
Note: I always sign my e-mails hyphen-hyphen-Jeremy. This was something I started doing as soon as I started e-mail, back in college, and have not changed. I refuse to move to the favorite academic signoffs -- "Best, Jeremy" or "Cheers, Jeremy" -- unless/until I'm moved into some administrative capacity. Nor will I use just "j" or "jf", as by this point "--Jeremy" takes less than a second to type. The principal exception to hyphen-hyphen-Jeremy is when replying to a female friend of mine who signs her e-mails "xx", as in "xx, Cruella," in response to which I feel compelled to assert my manhood and reply "xy, Jeremy."

every therm is sacred, the sequel*

My heating bill for December was $300, even though it was warm enough not to really need heat for the first two weeks and I was in the Midwest for the last two. I realized there was a going to be a problem when I got home from my trip and discovered I had left the heat on, albeit at a relatively low temperature (62 degrees). I realized this problem was going to be a bigger one when I discovered that the door to my screen porch had somehow blown open while I was gone, meaning I had two weeks of my radiator attempting to raise the whole of Cambridge up to 62 degrees.

A main intellectual interest of mine, stated in the abstract, is how stable psychological characteristics of people can have quite different implications depending on their surrounding social/cultural/technological environment. Let's just say that my absent-mindedness has combined with various aspects of my life in Cambridge in ways that have been very expensive.

Even so, I've ordered an elliptical trainer. Something had to be done on that front, and there is no easier step toward fitness than the exercise of one's credit card.

* Original post here.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

little house on the crimson prairie

Last week featured a visit from A Certain Friend, a private person who has said she would be happy if she was never again mentioned by name on this blog.* While walking around Harvard Square, ACF started listing her all-time ten favorite books, which included Ulysses and a book about how to live your life like Jacqueline Onassis. She also listed a memoir of Julia Child's, and said: "Do you know she lived in Cambridge?"
"I was told her house is like 2-3 blocks from where I live."

Like Vulcans with the Pon Farr, we could then talk or think of nothing else until we visited this house. Luckily, we were able to text-message a friend with Google skills who found the address for us (103 Irving Street).

I'd walked by many times, not knowing its culinary-cultural significance. According to ACF, Julia Child refers to the house repeatedly in her memoir as her "little house in Cambridge." This is what counts as a little house in the world of Julia Child:

julia child house

* Or even indirectly mentioned, she added, but don't you think that's a little too much to ask?

the boy detective flails

Sitting in his office late into the night, doing some combination of working and floundering, the boy detective opens up Firefox and Googles up a passage he remembers from The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman:
Inconsistent soul that man is!--languishing under wounds, which he has the power to heal!--his whole life a contradiction to his knowledge!--his reason, that precious gift of God to him--(instead of pouring in oil) serving but to sharpen his sensibilities--to multiply his pains, and render him more melancholy and uneasy under them!--Poor unhappy creature, that he should do so!--Are not the necessary causes of misery in this life enow, but he must add voluntary ones to his stock of sorrow;--struggle against evils which cannot be avoided, and submit to others, which a tenth part of the trouble they create him would remove from his heart for ever?
Sometimes the boy detective has crises of spirit or confidence over exactly what he understands himself to be doing and why he is doing it. These episodes can be counted upon to pass. Knowledge of this does little to lessen the unpleasantness of their experience while underway.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

one item already crossed off the freese family 2007 to-do list

''HAPPY NEW YEAR'' to all
Happy New Year to you, Mom!  And remember: if you want to type a quotation 
mark ", you just need to hold down the shift key while pressing the ' key.
The CAPS LOCK key only works for letters. You should make it a goal to
master this in 2007!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

especially considering how expensive it is to keep someone in prison for life, couldn't we try just buying him a mannequin?

From the NYT:
FERNDALE, Mich. (AP) -- A man who has a history of smashing windows to indulge his fetish for female mannequins could draw a long prison term for his latest arrest. Ronald A. Dotson, 39, of Detroit faces up to life in prison if convicted of a charge of attempted breaking and entering at a cleaning-supply company in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale. [...]

Dotson was arrested Oct. 9 after police say he smashed a window at a cleaning-supply company to get at a female mannequin dressed in a black and white French maid's uniform. He had been out of prison for less than a week.

Dotson was arrested in Ferndale in July 2000 and later convicted for breaking and entering at a women's clothing shop to get at a mannequin in a pink dress with bobbed hair.

Ferndale police also arrested Dotson in 1993 after finding him in an alley behind a woman's store with three lingerie-clad mannequins.

the boy detective fails, again

Lucy, as much as she's nice as 3.14159265, and I are now locked in public dispute over the penultimate page of The Boy Detective Fails (see update to her post and footnote and update to mine). TBDF is one of the few books to earn a full five kiwi rating in Lucy's antipodal book-rating system. So as not to leave interested bystanders out in the literary cold, I have scanned the relevant page for your perusal here (don't worry, it's not a spoiler):

second to last page of the boy detective fails

If you do like this page, then you will definitely love The Boy Detective Fails, given that this is the worst part. Indeed, you can feel free to follow its instructions by printing the scanned page, finding someone's hand to hold, reading the passage again, and making the requested drawing on your printout. Even better: instead of writing the name of that chump whose hand you're holding, write mine! C'mon!

Meanwhile, here are a couple of pages from The Boy Detective Fails in better times, selected nonrandomly but not especially deliberately from somewhere in the middle:

better two pages from the boy detective fails

BTW, I may dislike the second-to-last page, but the ending itself is pretty good.

Monday, January 01, 2007

resolution for 2007

(my first experience with the tradition of trying to eat 12 grapes in the first 12 seconds of the new year. i thought it would be harder and hold some risk of my choking and dying. it's easy. plan for next year: bigger, more treacherous grapes.)

Shorter posts.