Sunday, November 17, 2013

Radio Lab Epidoes on Morality

NPR's Radio Lab show recently did a whole episode on Morality. The highlight of the show was a segment done by Amy O'leary in which she describes a game she played in elementary school called Homestead, described as a cross between Dungeons and Dragons and Monopoly, and how she managed to completely control the game and the other "citizens" (starts at 37:20). You can listen to the whole episode for free here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Exploiting Blogger For Passwords

Disclaimer: I do not recommend doing this, and I am not responsible for any trouble you get in for doing this. This post is for educational purposes only. ETC ETC

While working on my site I stumbled upon a way one could harvest Google account passwords from a simple blog account. By setting up a Blogger page, you have the option to include a Google Friend Connect "Join this site" button widget complete with profile pictures of other members who have joined the site.

Look familiar?

At first, I was hesitant to post this, because this site uses the Google Friend Connect widget. Then I realized that no one has used to feature in almost a year, and that the number of users using the service have dropped off, while traffic to the site remained steady. That doesn't mean one could do this with any other sort of connect feature websites often have (Facebook, Reddit, etc).  Pointing out such flaws will hopefully make such services much more secure in the future, as it will hopefully be corrected in some way.

Clicking on the blue button prompts the user to input a Google, Twitter, or Yahoo account login and password. By simply misdirecting the path of the follow URL, one could then spoof the login page so that the information entered follows through to  malicious site. All one has to do is replicate the Google service login popup. No URL is displayed during the whole process.

Such a method has been used before. Mistyping the Craigslist URL might bring you to a page notifying you that you need to update your version of Adobe Flash. Everything from the color scheme used, the font, and the installer are all reminiscent of what Adobe uses for their flash program.

uh oh...

Of course, the URL should be a giant red flag! Following through with the install will almost certainly lead to viruses/maleware/adware. Another approach of this technique is exploited by the torpig botnet. Which university researches were able to take control of. THey learned that the botnet was spoofing online banking logins for major banks on the infected computers, then sending the login information to whoever owned the botnet. Pretty scary stuff.

Did Bots in Quake 3 "Learn" Pacifism?

Anon supposedly recreated the ending of Wargames

No. A 4chan post has been circulating the Internet recently, claiming that after four years on a server full of bots in a Quake 3 death match game, the bots learned that the best strategy was not to kill each other. Huffington Post jumped on the story, although they later updated the page admitting the story was a hoax. However, they did not explain why the story was fake. A major news outlet jumping on an anonymous 4chan copypasta should be a reflection of the current state of news today. 

The original 4chan thread. Click for large.
A whole thesis was published by ID Software in 2001 detailing the build and intricacies of the bots. Furthermore, in 2005 the Quake 3 source code was released under the GNU license, meaning anyone with a compiler could dig through the code. This should give us the tools necessary to scrutinize these claims.
Let us first take a look first at the original post:

"Quake 3 bots were designed off an artificial neural network.
They would effectively "think" to figure out the best way to do things. 
They would see which tactics worked and which didn't.
The longer they played the more they would learn about you, figuring out your patterns, and this would apply to other bots aswell. For all intents and purposes they were one of the first learning AI in a game.

When I found out that I set up a Quake 3 arena server on my pirating server just to have 16 bots over and over just to see how good they would get. 
I set the server up 4 years ago, it's been running the entire time, I forgot about it until this thread. I'm gonna go check on them."
From page 13 of the thesis on Quake AI:
Although neural networks can be useful in several areas in bot AI they are not used for the Quake III Arena bot.
John Carmack even tweeted a response to the claims being made:

The bots are programmed to react to players given reaction time and accuracy constraints given the particular map. The bots DO have an internal representation of the each map given the "volume" of the map. They are not self learning, and they do not aggregate information for use later. "Learning" might not even be an appropriate context for what the bots do. Instead, having your bots standing around is much more consistent with having a bug in the code. For example, the files could have reached a max size limit, and just stopped.

If each of his bot logs are 256 megs each, and there are 16 bots, loading 8 gigs of ram on a 32-bit computer game is implausible in the first place. Even if this guy had over 8 gigs or ram in his computer, he simply could not load all of that bot data in the first place. While the data could be loaded as needed into the rom, the thesis specifically states that not being able to load such specific data in a fast paced game was a limitation of the game, and why a neural network could not be used. Once again, from page 13 of the thesis:
It is also possible to train a neural network during gameplay, which allows the bot to acquire all kinds of knowledge. However training of a neural network is often a time consuming process. The learning capabilities of the neural network will often have to be limited due to the time constraints in a real-time application like a game.
Finally there are other aspects of the story that are bizarre. Who has a server running for four years and forgets about it? During that time the game never crashed; the electricity never went out? No screenshots or video of this situation exists? The particular conditions should be replicable, and could possibly take much less time than4 years to replicate. I am not saying that such a situation of pacifism is implausible, but this story is clearly a hoax.

Quake has almost always been predominantly a multi-player game, with AI rarely being a focus in lieu of graphics, networking, and game-play elements. The bots could still do some pretty impressive things however. They were able to parse per-determined chat sentences given certain environmental characteristics (p.57).

ex. 1

environmental change
bot wants to
choose initial chat
use random strings in chat message
replace synonyms in chat message to add variation
output chat message
 ex. 2

bot receives a message
replace synonyms in the message
interpret message using match templates
match is found
perform action
messages is a chat message from another player
bot wants
to reply to this message
find a reply chat
use random strings in chat message
replace synonyms in chat message to add variation
output chat message
As mentioned before, the bots DO react to players given reaction time and accuracy constraints and traverse "nodes" in relation to the current map. In this way, the bots do "think", but they do not "learn". AI programming is still being developed interdependently for contemporary first person shooters, and none of them have replicated anything like this. It is not to say that something like this could never happen. But one should keep in mind the disclaimer pasted across the top of some 4chan boards. "The stories and information posted here are artistic works of fiction and falsehood. Only a fool would take anything posted here as fact."

Friday, March 22, 2013

First Episode of Tropes vs Women in Video Games Released

After being called a scam artist, whore, and having a video game made where you can beat the shit out of her (the game has since been taken off of Newgrounds), Anita Sarkeesian recently released the first instalment of her "Tropes vs Women in Video Games" series. Surprisingly, the video is not at all offensive and it seems that the only problem a lot of people online have with Sarkeesian is that she is a female. It is refreshing to see critical analysis performed on a medium where less than a decade ago, people would argue over whether or not it constituted as an art form.

Meanwhile, in probably one of the best scams of the year, a reactionary group formed a "Men vs Tropes" Kickstarter have run away with the money. Sarkeesian was being accused of pulling a similar swindle, as she had received over 160 thousand dollars, and took a little under a year to release the first video. Criticism has flocked to her in every imaginable online form. Once again, one has to wonder why it is important to point out that she is a female at all? If you disagree with what someone is saying, there are better ways to go about it than calling them a cunt. Pretty reactionary for performing critical analysis of video games. It unfortunately makes me think that if you get death threats on the Internet for something other than hate speech, you're probably doing something right.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bing VS Google

After learning that Google censored its Google image results, I started looking for alternative search engines. Not that I am searching for porn every hour of the day, but if I want to, I should be able to. I considered using Bing after reading Bill Gates' Reddit thread in which he claimed that Bing really was the superior product.Sure he might be a little biased in the matter, but considering he as given away so much of his money so that at this point, purchasing a Microsoft product is almost equivalent to giving to charity. Why not give the service a spin?

I tried the Bing vs. Google Bing It On site, and found that Bing won out every single time when I searched for different things that I usually use Google for. Your mileage may vary. Besides from the comparison, there are some benefits I have found with Bing.
  • In the past few months I have noticed that Google search will be down for a short period of time. When switching over to Bing, I notice no delay in my query response, and experience no connectivity issues.
  • Uncensored results (obviously).
  • More flexible and accessible search results. Especially for video and images.
  •  Bing rewards just for using the service.
  • No concerns about having your search results tied to your Gmail or Google account.
Until these issues are resolved I will probably stick to using Bing and alternative search engines. 

Friday, February 22, 2013


The Free PC games post has been updated. Check it out!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How To Sound Like an Idiot on The Internet

Always Avoid Alliteration takes a shift today to talk about an inhabitant of the Internet. Today's case will deal with language, film, and technology, which are all overarching themes and topics here at AAA. Before we begin, some background explanation needs to be set: in my spare time I like to play with Google, we all do it. Recently, the query "check your privilege" has become a treasure trove of incoherent babbling which froths to the top of the search results. During my Internet voyage I delved so deep into Google's recesses that I extruded pieces of bullshit under so much pressure of other pieces of meaningless shit that that they are now diamond pieces of comedic travesty.

In order to define my terms, I am going to use the definition of "privilege" I found from this site:
Privilege is a concept used in anti-racist, anti-sexist, and similar anti-oppression movements.

Anti-oppressionists use "privilege" to describe a set of perceived advantages (or lack of disadvantages) enjoyed by a majority group, who are usually unaware of the privilege they possess. It is a term of art that may not align particularly well with the general-use word "privilege" or the programming term "privilege".
The whole concept is thought provoking and I sincerely suggest reading the whole article, however what stands out in this post it "Privilege is a concept used in anti-racist, anti-sexist, and similar anti-oppression movements". Which means that if you want to align your ideology or argument with these ideals, throw out the "Check your privilege" card.

Here's the diamond:

Link to post

Unfortunately, the author never goes on to mention privilege once in her post which leads me to believe that she only wants the reader to think that she is being oppressed because of how films she has never been were cast. Here's the problem. If you have NEVER SEEN these films, how do you KNOW these films have the whitest, most heterosexual males?
  • Independence Day - Will Smith, White heterosexual male? NO!
  • Jurassic park - Laura Dern, White heterosexual male? NO!
  • Terminator - Linda Hamilton, White heterosexual male? NO!
  • Star Wars - Carrie Fisher, White heterosexual male? = NO! 
  • The Avengers - Scarlett Johansson, White heterosexual male? = NO!
The person who wrote this post could not be more wrong unless she included The Jungle Book and Ilsa She Wolf of the SS in her list. Had she seen Star Wars our blogger would have know that Carrie Fisher ends up being the female leader of the rebellion against the xenophobic, white male dominated empire. The worst part is that her criticism could have gone somewhere positive if she had been asking why so few movies have strong female characters. Instead she decided to complain about what movies other people like, and how their favorite movies are not her favorite movies.

Here's the deal, if you're going to lecture about "checking privilege", consider the following.

1. Mention why that term "check your privilege" is relevant at some point. Using it to support why nobody likes the same movies you do just demonstrates what a hallow, useless, and pretentious phrase "check your privilege" is.

2. Every person's experience is different than your own. You should try talking with them about your concerns rather than blaming the heterosexual males, an act which is ignorant and prejudice within itself.

3. You're not entitled to your opinions, your opinions are not to be taken as "truths" and it is not disrespectful to argue against you just because you decided to align yourself with being "anti-opressionist". Furthermore: To assert the existence of the right of an opinion is a failure to assert any justification for the opinion.

Monday, February 11, 2013

What Happens When You Live Abroad

Thought Catalog has a short essay on the experience of living abroad. An interesting read for our foreign language major and international readers.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Something Awful's 'MSPaint Your Pet Peeves About College'

Original artist: 'Insurrectum'

In 2006 when I was sixteen years old, I thought that the Comedy Goldmine post: MSPaint Pet Peeves About College post on Something Awful was one of the funniest things I had ever seen. Seven years later and a college senior, a lot of the things ring true about college life today, some of them reek of nice guys and neck beard thinking too though.... Anyways... sssooooo, here it is again from a sea of content. Some of the contributions are a little creepy, the last two entries are concerned with how the authors think they deserve sex. If anything, it's a testament to the prevailing attitudes and trends in contemporary college life. Or... something.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Adam Curtis Documentaries

Adam Curtis has made some of the most fascinating contemporary documentaries for the BBC. He uploads them to the Internet so that one does not have to purchase them, and they cover a wide range of topics. The two films which our readers might fin most interesting are The Century of Self and The Trap. Century of Self is preoccupied with Freud's theories concerning the unconscious, and his nephew Edward Bernays' development of public relations. The use of desire over need is discussed in its application in American media and advertising. The Trap - What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom is concerned with the concept of freedom in contemporary society.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Agression And Uniform Color

In 1988, researchers Mark Frank and Thomas Gilovich from Cornell assessed the self- and social perception of wearing a black uniform in professional sports. In our culture we would all agree that the good guys always wear white, and the bad guys always wear black. A classic film from 1977 reflects this concept well:

Han solo, always the badass,
incorporates both black and white.

This is not to say film or media is responsible for such concepts, they simply mirror our cultural norms and values. The perception of white = pure, black = evil is heavily integrated into our western culture; all one has to do is inspect just about any Christian piece of artwork ever made. Previous research has shown that Caucasian subjects asked to make semantic differential ratings of colors associated black with evil, death, and sadness (Williams & McMurty, 1970).

Frank and Gilovich set off to see if professional hockey and football teams that wear black uniforms were more aggressive than their counterparts. The operational definition of "black uniform" meaning over half of the colored parts of the uniform being black,  and "aggressive" being how much the teams were penalized in their respective sport. Twenty-five subjects unfamiliar with hockey and football were outfitted with the task of differentiating each teams' uniform. Cues to outside references, such as the teams' hometowns were removed when necessary and\or possible. All of the black uniforms were rated to be much more "bad", "mean", and "aggressive" than other uniforms in the league. The black NFL uniforms were perceived as being "stronger" than their non-black counterparts, however this was not the case for black NHL uniforms!

From Wikipedia and NHLUniforms, here are the ten team uniforms that were used in the study. (As long as the current uniforms are similar to the 1988 uniforms, I did not seek out images of the exact original NFL designs. For example, the Bengals had solid stripes on their sleeves in 1988, instead of today's tiger stripes.)





Bears (While technically dark-blue, The Bear's uniform is very often perceived as black.)






(Frank & Gilovich, 1970)
The researchers found that in record archives from 1970 to 1986, teams with uniforms which matched the definition of "black" were penalized more in penalty minutes (for hockey) and yards (for football) than average. 1970 being selected as the cut-off date as it was the year the NFL merged with the AFL. A significant difference in penalties was also recorded when teams switched over to black uniforms; the years teams in the NHL wore "non-black" uniforms were counted in the non-black sample. As the title suggests, there are two reasons given for this: 1) Social perception, referees making biased decisions against the "bad" teams.
2) Self-perception resulting in increased aggression on part of the players. The teams with black uniforms were also ranked highest on a malevolence scale (as part of the subjects' questionnaire)! The one exception being The New Jersey Devils being ranked fourth in the NHL. It is also interesting to note that the teams ranked the least malevolent by subjects were teams that had cool green or blue uniform colors: The Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitols (red, white, and blue), St. Louis Blues, The Miami Dolphins, Houston Oilers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Detroit Lions were the bottom five teams ranked on malevolence for the NHL and NFL, respectively.

However, the researchers also provide another explanation. Perhaps the management of teams want their teams to play more aggressively as a strategy to win, and therefore management specifically hired aggressive players; the bow on the team being the uniform the team is draped in, sporting a psychologically aggressive color... BLACK.  George Carlin's, "Baseball or Football" sketch comes to mind, and after all, football and hockey are both contact sports. Being aggressive and strong are both ideas you would want to communicate to the other players. This suggestion is certainly worth considering for the Raiders, who in the 1970s and 80s had a notoriously vicious defencive line.

In order to see if referees might have some sort of bias against teams in black uniforms, the researchers went on to form another study where subjects watched staged games of football with white and black uniformed teams. The subjects were asked to rate the defensive team in certain plays. At the end of the study, subjects were more likely to penalize a black uniformed defensive team than a white uniformed defensive team even though it was the exact same gameplay footage with altered color. In a final study presented in the paper, the researchers had male Cornell students compete in a set of games of their choosing, with the opposing teams given white and black uniforms. Those teams given black uniforms were more likely to select more aggressive games, such as chicken fights (as opposed to block stacking), however these results were not statistically significant.

These results lead to some interesting questions. Will you be perceived as being "evil" or "aggressive" by your peers, or even yourself for wearing black clothing? Or perhaps you would be an aggressive person in general, and then as a result select more "intimidating" clothing. Such an issue is age old in psychology, the nature vs. nurture question. I am sure more research has been conducted in this area since this study from 1988. If any of you dear readers know of any follow up studies, please go to the contact page above or leave a comment. 

Frank, Mark G., and Gilovich, Thomas, "The Dark Side of Self- and SocialPerception: Black Uniforms and Aggression in Professional Sports",Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1988, 54:1:74-85

Perspectives on Inference

            The following paper was submitted by me as a final project for a Hampshire College cognitive science course. It has been edited into a second draft, and has also been edited and formatted significantly from its original version for pulication on this site.

            Numbers never lie is a phrase etched into our collective minds at a young age. Unfortunately this could not be further from the truth, especially in regards to statistics. In fact, one professor went as far to say that statistics is often classified as a subcategory of lying. (Moore 1985). As powerful tools of inference, statistical tests are able to give us insights from the data we collect about the world around us. However, these insights are generalizations and are open into interpretation; just as a translation can only ever be an interpretation, statistical results are also only interpretations of data and variables.
            Before this paper begins, it is important to start with a disclaimer. By no means am I stating that the statistical inferences we have today are the “begin and end all” of data assessment. If anything, they are just another perspective to assimilate data and makes the data easier to “work” with. For instance, the student’s T-test is much more conservative in terms of data analysis than the z test, although there is criterion for using each; even then this criterion can be vague. One textbook I have states that you should use the z-test when you have a sample size under 30 (Diez, 2012). But this is by no means a standardized rule, and can be up to the researcher’s discretion.  
            As a result of this amalgamation of what statistics can mean, different groups of people have different ways of perceiving their intended use and for the layperson, the media, students, and academics, statistics analysis have very different meanings. I would like to explore what these perceptions are. Before that, I would also like to present some ways in which statistics can be altered in malicious ways in order to suit the needs of a researcher. While not the only ways one can be dishonest in academic literate, doing so will demonstrate how easy such feats can be.            
            A very simply way one could change their statistically insignificant results to statistically significant results would be to change their one tailed test to a two tailed test. Doing so would lover the p-value (the probability of getting your result if the null hypothesis is true) of your result, possibly changing the outcome of your study. This is dishonest because you need to start off with a good reason as to why you are using a one or two-tailed test, One–tailed tests are for studies where we know that there will be no sort of adverse result, or studies where we are not interested in that result for a valid reason. For example, if we were testing the effects of meditation on blood pressure, we would not expect meditation to increase a subject’s blood pressure. As a result, your alpha level (where one’s p-value needs to fall in order to reject the null) is only on one side of a distribution and would be five percent. However, if we were to test some sort of new way for students to study, we would want to see if our independant variable increased or decreased subbects' scores Therefore we would 

(Different image used for online article, image from The heritiage foundation.)

split the 0.05 alpha level between the two tails of the distribution, so that it is now 0.025. If we were to run our "new study method" experiment, and at the end we get a p-value of 0.033; if we decided that we wanted to change our study to a one-tail experiment, this would be dishonest.
            One of a more obvious way to misinterpret statistics is to literally change the perspective of the visual representation of your data. In the following example, the samples closest to us would be considered larger, because they appear larger.
A verbal example of the same phenomena would be how you expressed your figure. Would you like to say that you had a one percent return on sales, a fifteen percent return on investment, a ten-million dollar profit, or a sixty percent decrease from last year (Huff, 1954)? This topic alone could be covered in volumes (such as the one just cited), however I am trying to show that there are many different ways one can misrepresent, and misinterpret statistical information. One could write multiple papers as well on each of these subjects (performing logical fallacies, such as asking loaded questions, throwing out data, manipulating data, have biased samples, etcetera). I just wanted to show how one can present data in such a way that it would appear to be justified to an uninformed reader.
            There are many real world examples of studies that misrepresent their data or have had their data misrepresented by others, whether it was an accident or just a simple mistake. Duncan MacDougall’s attempt to find the weight of the human soul in the twentieth century is something that has entered Americans’ minds as a faucet of pop-science. While MacDougall reported that the human soul might have an average weight of about twenty-one grams. The truth is that his methodology was seriously lacking. MacDougall only had a sample size of six, two of which were discarded, with the rest there was trouble with determining the exact time of death. The weight of subjects often fluctuated after death, and contemporaries of the time provided a laundry list of physiologically plausable alternitive reasons as to why the subjects would have lost weight (Evans, 1947). Never the less, MacDougall continued his research and his results found no difference in weight with dying dogs.
            Still today, MacDougall’s research is something I have been told by others with conviction is a scientific fact. I personally have had a high-school history teacher relate this faux factoid to us. “A scientist once measured the human soul” she began. A few students backed her up, they too had heard about the doctor who was able to weigh the human soul and that because he was a scientist, there was some validity to the point being made. While this example is mostly harmless, being confined to everyday “did you know?” situations, misinterpreted studies can become toxic in the realm of news media.
Take the television show Ancient Aliens as another example many should be familiar with. While there is virtually no manipulation of statistics in the show, there is vast falsifying of information and misinterpretation of current archeologist evidence making such absurd claims such as the pyramids were carved out of lasers, and ancient peoples having the ability to build aircrafts (Heiser, 2012). An example more related to Neuroscience and statistics would the studies on average brain size often distributed by ignorant racists to support their beliefs that certain races of people are more intelligent. With the cited papers (an example would be: Witelson, 2005), these racists claim that other races have smaller brains, and then insinuate that this somehow means they must be less intelligent. Besides the fact that the results of the study provided; many others like it are almost always either insignificant or too vague to come to a solid conclusion, it is still a red herring to say that brain size is related to or correlated with intelligence. However, this is not an inference that an average layperson may make, and they could be led to believe that certain bigoted viewpoints have some sort of validity. Here is a different example from May of this year (2012 at the time of submission), CNBC reported a story with the headline “The Inflation of Life, The Cost of Raising a Child Has Soared" (CNBC). The article states that the cost of raising a child has raised 25%. What they don’t state is that this can be reflected in ten years of inflation (Olitsky, 2012).
Students are also prone to these mistakes. Any person who spends some time in a psychology class is eventually bound to hear something along the lines of “Therefore this study proved X”. I am not accusing these students of being malicious, and it would be unfair to hold them to the same standard that we should the media, specifically news outlets and a television channel that claims to have history as the primary subject matter. This may partially be due to the fact that statistics are rarely taught outside of higher education, and even then statistics may not be offered or required outside of certain programs. One may argue as to why a high-school student or English major would need to take statistics, but when statistics are used every day, it is important for a more general understanding of what they mean, and how they are used.
We can take a step further and examine who exactly are teaching these statistics course. The author of the book Sense and Nonsense of Statistical Inference, Chamont Wang, claims that many researchers do not even understand the statistical methods they are applying. He cites a paper that approximated half of the articles published in medical journals at the time used statistical methods incorrectly (Wang, 1993. Glantz, 1980). And at this level of academic research, a major problem is conflict of interest. Many professors are in a situation where they are pressured to publish significant research in order to keep their jobs. Deemed “publish or perish” this environment  is lethal for the integrity of science as it puts many academics in situations where they can easily manipulate their data in order to just keep their jobs, or to continue funding. A simple Google search of “scientific misconduct” will yield thousands of studies that have been deemed invalid or fraudulent in the last decade alone.
In closing, there are an exhausting number of ways to misrepresent data, and what has been presented here is a brief overview that does not even being to scratch the surface of misinterpreting statistics. I would have liked to expanded more and more on each one of these subjects provided, but I don’t know if I would have known when to stop. While this paper has been rather bleak, I would like to note that one of the beautiful things about science is that it is always open for discussion and criticism, and with due time we may hopfully be able to cast out instances of bad research as examples of what is naught to be done.

Works Cited

Ancient Aliens Debunked. Dir. Mike Heiser. N.p., 30 Sept. 2012. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.

Diez, David M., Christopher D. Barr, and Mine Çetinkaya-Rundel. OpenIntro Statistics. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace, 2012. Print.

Evans, Bergen. The Natural History of Nonsense,. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1947. Print.

Glantz, S. A. (1980). Biostatistics: How to Detect, Correct and Prevent Errors in The Medical Literature. Vol. 61, 1-7.

Huff, Darrell, and Irving Geis. How to Lie with Statistics. New York: Norton, 1954. Print.

Introduction to SAS.  UCLA: Statistical Consulting Group. (accessed December 5, 2012).

Moore, David S. Statistics: Concepts and Controversies. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1985. Print.

Olitsky, Morris. "Misuse of Statistics a National Problem. Amstat News, 1 Aug. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. .

Pie3d. N.d. Photograph. Charting Control. Chartin Control. 2012. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.

"The Inflation of Life - Cost of Raising a Child Has Soared." Yahoo! Finance. CNBC, 7 May 2012. Web. 12 Dec. 2012.

Wang, Chamont. Sense and Nonsense of Statistical Inference: Controversy, Misuse, and Subtlety. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1993. Print.

Witelson, S. F. "Intelligence and Brain Size in 100 Postmortem Brains: Sex, Lateralization and Age Factors." Brain 129.2 (2005): 386-98. Print.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Can Cats Play Three Card Monte?

What may seem as a testament to animal cognition, this video boils down to a simple three-card monte game; as such it is an employer of misdirection and slight of hand. The commentors to the video state that the cat "understands what is happening and can play the game", or "he is finding the ball" both are false. Let us take into consideration the following:

1. There is a bell inside the cups, the cat never even needs to see what's inside. A misdirection in a sense that you think the cat is playing three card monte, when all it is doing is listening for a sound that can be heard anytime the cup is touched.

2. You never see the inside of the cups. There could simply be cat-nip or food taped on the inside. A form of slight of hand could be taking place.

3. Multiple takes were probably done until the desired results occurred.

4. The cat could have simply been conditioned to tap the "correct" shell.

5. Domesticated animals take cues from their owners and humans in general. For all the viewer knows, the owner is looking right at the correct cup, or giving off another subtle cue without even realizing she is doing it!

This video is a little more impressive as it challenges the previous criteria a little more, however the cat completes the task two out of three times. Also, the skeptic in me wants to know once again what is in that paper ball, as at the end of the video the cat knocks it down and goes for it. It all seems reminiscent of the tic-tac-toe chicken.

People tend to stare longer at things they find interesting. For example, a child without established object permanence will stare longer when an object "appears" (peek-a-boo). It would be interesting to see if when slight of hand is applied against a cat, whether or not the cat would stare longer (or at all for that matter). I just wonder which shelter would let me play three card monte with their cats for hours on end, never mind which shelters have cats well trained enough to watch. So, can cats play three card monte? I am skeptical of it, but not dismissive. A study in a controlled environment with many cats would yield an answer. If anyone  knows of studies that tested similar criteria, don't hesitate to drop a line.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hating America

Bruce Bawer's 2004 piece for the Hudson Review entitled Hating America is a must read for anyone in the "I need to leave America as soon as possible" mindset. On the coat-tails of yesterday's post the article supports my argument that while it may be a stereotype that Europeans reject American culture, they in fact eat it up. I find this quote quite compelling:
I’d always taken for granted, or even disdained—among them a lack of self-seriousness, a grasp of irony and self-deprecating humor, a friendly informality with strangers, an unashamed curiosity, an openness to new experience, an innate optimism, a willingness to think for oneself and speak one’s mind and question the accepted way of doing things. (One reason why Euro- peans view Americans as ignorant is that when we don’t know something, we’re more likely to admit it freely and ask questions.)
I recall one time at Sunday lunch with my German host family when the topic of the French language came up. I asked why the French represent large numbers by grouping certain numbers together. My host-mother's boyfriend snapped back "Well why do Americans count a different way"? I admitted I did not know. Later I learned that the French use a different sort of base number system for larger numbers. Still, the incident stuck out as an example of what openly asking questions could get me in return. At times in Germany, I felt asking inquisitive questions about my environment could get a browbeat response reminiscent of a school-yard child's opportunity to put own another in front of the other students.

Expanding into anti-Americanism after making comparisons between Europe and the U.S., Bawer got me thinking furthermore. How many people had I met that while criticized the U.S. had never set foot in it, or had bothered to learn enough about the country to know that New York City was not the capital, or that George Bush had not won the popular vote? They had not gone one to think critically outside of the taling points they learned. Futhermore, America's culture being perhaps it's major export, there is simply not one thing in Western Culture, perhaps the world, that somebody does not like about American cultre. Even Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden had Mars bars, and Coca Cola in their hideouts, respectively. Outside of the movies, television, food, drink, clothing, candy, products, guns, sports, universities and research, computers, and pornography, is there anybody left that feels excluded?

Bawer waxes on just about every point with excellent arguments. HE expands on education, food, the war in Iraq, television, anti-intellectualism, bi-bilingualism, and more. If you consider yourself a disenfranchised American, the article is a must-read.

Der Schwarzfahrer

Schwarzfahrer means 'black rider' which can be taken literally, or to mean one who is riding without a ticket. The question this video poses is 'who is the real Schwarzfahrer? The black guy? The lady who was arrested for riding black? Or.... the scooter guy, notice he never paid either? Racism is always a problem with uneducated people - no matter which skin color.

Three Weeks in France

Bart: So basically, I met one good French person.
(The Simpsons, S01E07 The Crepes of Wrath)

Previously, my only experience with France was a one day trip to Strasbourg to visit one of the capitals of the European Union. The European Union, trademarked as indecisive, decided to split the capital between Brussels and Strasbourg, costing millions of euros a year for taxpayers. Conveniently, this made one of the capitals close enough to where I was studying to warrant the teacher to have our whole class spend the day on a bus. This is the only thing I remembered from the trip, other than that I fell asleep in the front row of a presentation and woke up to a German politician taking questions from our class. My stay in the city for the day was pleasant, everyone was very friendly, despite my comprehensive knowledge of the French language being "Merci", "Je suis la jeune fille", and "Omelette du fromage".

A three day stay in Paris and the rest of the time in Tours has been more encompassing. By no means am I an expert in French culture, but to get an idea of a country you have to immerse yourself in it for a while. Endlessly entertaining are those that tell you how culturally enriching their seven day trip to London, Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, Pompeii, and Barcelona was. That is not to say, three weeks is not a very long time either. As I mentioned before, my lackluster knowledge of the language and culture makes me think everyone is always talking about cheese, because it stands out as one of the words I know. In all fairness here is all I know about French history:
  • German and French people are terrified that one of them is gonna swim across the Rhine and kill the other.
  • Some drunk dude in a bar writes a song that becomes the national anthem.

  • Napoleon swims across the Rhine and there's a party under the Brandenburger Tor.

  • Napoleon sits in the snow outside of Moscow and then someone puts him on an island.

  • A bunch of people break into the Bastille and set free all the political prisoners and prisoners.

  • France sends troops and the Statue of Liberty to America, meanwhile Thomas Jefferson chats up some 'demoiselles. Five years later Americans forget either event happened, or that our politicians use to speak more than one language.
  • Germans swim across the Rhine and kill a bunch of French people. 
  • Germans swim across the Rhine again and kill a bunch of French people and Jews, then they take pictures at the Eiffel Tower. 

  • Tom Hanks leads a small group of American soldiers through war torn Europe in search of Matt Damon, along the way single handly winning the war in a decisive battle in some small European town or something.
  • The first McDonald's opens in France.

  • French people publicly mock fast food, while privately soliciting McDonald's three times a week.

  • France elects a socialist president. A French political science major in my political science class mistakenly admits that she does not know who which party the president of France belongs to. Americans who have never left the country complaining about Socialist France are accidentally a little bit correct.
  • As you can see, I am not well versed in the subject. Born in the 90's, growing up we were told that the French were snooty cowards that hated Americans, specifically after the invasion of Afghanistan. In high school, the well off children at the Catholic school I attended would complain about how rude the French people were. Between these off hand remarks, and Fox news telling us how we needed to boycott French cheese and wine, one would get the impression that it is not a nice place to go to.

    Fortunately, I have been staying with my girlfriend, who besides speaking French nearly fluently, has also lived here for some time as a teacher. The very first observation one will make is that there is an understandably very different reaction to speaking French and yelling in English. In line at a Christmas market vendor, the body language of the workers was photogenic in the worst way possible when an eastern European man tried yelling an order in English. We were right after, and as my girlfriend told the man what she wanted in French, the laborer handed her the order and said "C'est pour la Madamoiselle". And once again, that has been my experience for the most part, nice helpful people.

    On the other hand my girlfriend's outlook is comparable to Bart's. She has had to deal with mountains of paperwork, finding an apartment, and working in the school system here. One of the problems with getting out of the U.S (or anywhere) is that you're an outsider, and if you don't speak the language fluently (learned it before age seven) the other fluent speakers know almost immediately. My favorite story of hers was when she asked her French friend what he didn't like about America and he said "Your religion, your president (Bush), and McDonald's". And when she retorted "doesn't your roommate eat there"? He replied "Yeah, he goes there every Sunday"!

    This is sort of something that rings dissonant. I have heard Europeans state that they go great lengths to make sure that restaurants like McDonald's stay away from their monuments, and do not exist every five kilometers like in the U.S. ; this simply is not true: 

    Martins Tor in the very center of Freiburg Germany.
    Note the McDonald's restaurant underneath. Some
    children refer to it as the McDonald's Tor.
    McDonald's at Berlin Alexanderplatz
    McDonald's at the center of Tours France

    In all fairness of the last two pictures, one is in a train station and the other one is near a train station. A quick place to grab a quick bite to eat. What I cannot deny is the frequency at which I see these restaurants in European countries. Freiburg, which touts itself as being a green, student city has two McDonald's, three Starbucks, and a Burger King in the city center. I have also known the same amount of Americans and Europeans that have worked at McDonald's (two each). The truth is that there are some things people ubiquitously love. As unhealthy and greasy as it is, who is going to truthfully state there's nothing at McDonald's they don't like? I can also state from being from a Springfield that Europeans LOVE The Simpsons. "Where are you from? ... Springfield! *gasp* Like The Simpsons!" It's inevitable. My girlfriend, when teaching her students the states, they exclaimed "Les Simpsons" at the mention of Springfield, Illinois. A group of friends relayed to me that when on a school trip to Italy, the people in the restaurant started singing the theme song to the show when they learned which city they were from. The only way I can explain such behavior is that of insecurity which is focused across the Atlantic. At root an American and European have different cultural values, perhaps indulging in something like McDonald's creates a form of dissonance?

    Xenophobic is a word that I have seen tied in with French. In public online discussions however, I find that French people take an offense to being portrayed satirically. (No more, I'm sure than any person on the Internet would protest being satirised.) While in Tours, out of the ten or more Turkish run Kebab shops I have seen, seven have had their front windows broken! A recent survey of French people yielded a surprising result that one in seven French people admitted to being racist at some level. All in all, every country has a problem like this, and all across Europe politicians are saying that "maybe letting all these immigrants in was a problem". Just like Americans complaining about "illegals", not many people were saying anything when they needed hard labour at a low price. Of course, these results could mean a lot of things, for example maybe they are more willing to admit they are racist? What I want to highlight here is that as much as America gets lambasted for shitty things, France has no clean record either. For example, an anti-gay protest is scheduled in Paris today. Keep that in mind for your next angst ridden "I can't wait to graduate and move to Paris!" huff.

    As for my French cultural experience I find things for the most part similar to when I was in Germany. There are lots of baguettes, and everyone seems to dress their best every single day. This is really all that is different. With Freiburg being so close to France there is a lot of French influence in the city. French wine, cheese, and people are all close at hand, and relatively inexpensive. A long time ago I came to the realization that everyone is the same everywhere. There are cultural, geographic, and environmental differences, but for the most part people like the same things. Societies have the same types of people: there's racists, smart people, fat people, athletic people, thrill seekers, reclusives, etceteria, etceteria, and they all get defined by the political borders that hold them, or something like that...