Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Unblocking GEMA on Youtube In Germany

What these Youtube videos have in common, is that they are all blocked in Germany. Not only are some of these videos uploaded by their original artists, they are from German artists. It has become a huge pet peeve of mine.


There are of course, many ways to unblock the GEMA through proxies. My favorite is a Firefox add-on called Proxtube. Which will fire up every time you click on a GEMA-blocked Youtube link. A favorite site is Hidemyass.com . Another is stealhy which works for the BBC iPlayer if you're outside the United Kingdom. While I have never used it, if SOPA passes in the United States, then it might be worth checking out.

Monday, December 26, 2011

German Prepositional Verbs

Here is a list of German prepositional verbs. I copied them down from a worksheet in order to better learn them. Hope they can help you!
  • abhängen von + D 
    • "Es hängt  vom Wetter ab, ob wir fahren".
  • an/fangen mit + D 
    • "Wir fangen um 9 mit der Arbeit an.
  • an/rufen bei + D
    • Er hat gestern bei mir angerufen.
  • sich ärgern über + A
    • Ich ärgere ich über das schlechte Wetter.
  • Sich auf/regen über + A
    • Warum regst du dich imer so über den Chef auf?
  • auf/hören mit + D
    • Freierabend! Wir hören mit der Arbeit auf.
  • auf-passen auf + A
    • Die Babzsitterin passt auf die Kinder auf.
  • sich beklagen über + A
    • Die Gast hat sich über den schlechten Service beklagt. 
  • sich beschäftigen mit + D
    • Ich beschäftige mich mit Literatur.
  • sich beschweren um/für + A / bei + D
    • Er beschwert sich beim Koch über das schlechte Essen.
  • sich bewerben um/für + A / bei + D
    • Peter bewerbt sich um/für einen Job bei der Uni.
  • bitten um + A
    • Ich bitte dich um deine Hilfe.
  • danken für + A
    • Ich danke dir für deine Hilfe.
  • diskutieren über + A / mit + D
    • Wir diskutieren mit dem Lehrer über Politik. 
  • sich entscheiden für/gegen + A
    • Er hat sich für dieses Studium entschieden.
  • sich entschuldigen für + A / bei + D
    • Sie hat sich bei ihm für ihren Fehler entschuldigt. 
  • (sich) erinnern an + A 
    • Ich erinnere mich an meine Kindheit.
  • erzählen von + D (auch: über + A)
    • Opa erzählt immer vom Krieg. 
  • fragen nach + D
    • Der Chef hat nach dir gefragt. 
  • sich freuen auf (Zukunft) /über + A
    • Ich freue mich auf den Urlaub. 
  • gehen um + A
    • Es geht natürlich wieder um's Geld!
  • sich gewöhnen an + Akk
    • Ich habe mich an den neuen Job gewöhnt.
  • glauben an + A
    • Glaubst du an Gott?
  • handeln von + D
    • Der Film handelt von einem Musiker. 
  • hoffen auf + A
    • Ich hoffe auf besser Wetter.
  • hören von + D
    • Ich habe von dieser Geschichte gehört.
  • (sich) informieren über + A
    • Ich informiere mich über diese Reise.
  • sich interessieren für + A
    • Er interessiert sich sehr für Kunst.
  • kämpfen für / gegen / um + A
    • Die Gewerkschaft kämpft für mehr Geld. 
  • klagen über + A
    • Alle klagen über den kalten Winter.
  • sich kümmern um + A
    • Der Gärtner kümmert sich um den Garten.
  • lachen über + A
    • Über diesen Witz habe ich viel gelacht.
  • leben von + D
    • Er lebt von der Sozialhilfe.
  • leiden an / unter + D
    • Sie leidet an Migräne / unter dem despotischen Chef.
  • meinen zu + D
    • Was meinst du zu diesem Problem?
  • nachdenken über + A
    • Ich denke oft über dieses Problem nach.
  • passen zu + D
    • Die Hose passt gut zu dem Pullover.
  • protestieren gegen + A
    • Ich protestiere gegen diesen Lärm.
  • reagieren auf + A
    • Er hat nicht schnell genug auf die Gefahr reagiert.
  • rechnen mit + D
    • Ich hoffe du kommst - ich rechne fest mit dir!
  • reden über + A
    • Man soll nicht immer über andere Leute reden!
  • riechen nach + D
    • An der Tankstelle riecht es nach Benzin!
  • schimpfen mit + D / über + A
    • Er schimpft immer über seinen Chef.
  • schmecken nach + D
    • Diese Suppe schmeckt nach Fisch.
  • sein für / gegen + A
    • Bist du für oder gegen meinen Vorschlag. 
  • sorgen für + A
    • Er ist Hausmann, er sorgt für die Kinder.
  • sprechen von + D / über + A
    • Der Professor spricht über die Gentechnik.
  • (sich) streiten mit + D / über + A
    • Ich streite mich mit meine Bruder über das Geld.
  • suchen nach + D
    • Ich habe eine Stunde nach meiner Brille gesucht. 
  • telefonieren mit + D
    • Er telefoniert stundenlang mit seiner Freunden.
  • träumen von + D
    • Gestern habe ich von dir geträumt!
  • sich treffen mit + D
    • Samstags treffe ich mich immer mit Freunden.
  • (sich) trennen von + D
    • Sie hat sich von ihrem Freund getrennt. 
  • überreden zu + D
    • Ich wollte nicht, aber er hat mich dazu überredet.
  • überzeugen von + D
    • Die Argumente haben mich davon überzeugt.
  • sich unterhalten mit + D / über + A
    • Ich unterhalte mich mit ihm über Politik.
  • (sich) unterscheiden von + D
    • Er unterscheidet sich sehr von seinem Bruder.
  • sich verabreden mit + D
    • Sie hat sich mit ihm für's Kino verabredet. 
  • vergleichen mit + D
    • Man kann nicht Freiburg mit Tokio vergleichen.
  • sich verlassen auf + A
    • Auf ihn kann man sich wirklich nichts.
  • sich verlieben in + A
    • Romeo hat sich unsterblich in Julia verliebt. 
  • verstehen von + D
    • Von Technik versteht er wirklich verlassen.
  • sich verstehen mit + D
    • Ich verstehe mich gut mit meinen Eltern. 
  • verzichten auf + A
    • Verzichte lieber auf diesen Job - es gibt bessere!
  • sich vor/bereiten auf + A
    • Maria muss sich auf ihr Examen vorbereiten. 
  • warnen vor + D
    • Ich warne dich vor dem Hund - er ist gefährlich!
  • warten auf + A
    • Ich habe 2 Stunden auf dich gewartet.
  • wissen von + D
    • Ich habe von dieser Geshichte nichts gewusst.
  • sich wundern über + A
    • Ich habe mich sehr über ihn gewundert.
  • zweifeln an + D
    • Er zweifelt an ihrer Freundschaft. 
  • zwingen zu + D
    • Ich wollte es nicht - er hat mich dazu gezwungen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lying More Common Over Email

Researchers at my home university UMASS Amherst suggest that when we communicate with computers (instant messaging, and e-mail) we are more likely to lie compared to when we speak in person. The reserchers suggest that this has to do with deindividualization. Through the use of technology we grow farther apart, and as a result there is more likelyness to lie. This study really sticks out to me because I cannot say how many people have told me over my university e-mail that they got back to me late because they were sick, or had some other emergency. Here's an e-mail from last week:
"Hey Carm,
endschuldige die späte Antwort, ich war krank und heute ist der erste Tag an dem ich mich besser fühle... "

"Hey Carm"
Sorry for the late answer, I was sick and today is the first day that I feel better..."
I saw him playing drums earlier in the week...

Pink Floyd's Empty Spaces covers this theme quite well. The more technology we buy, and consume, the further it drives up apart. People are more likely to lie via e-mail than text, because it is even less individualized, in that it is not connected to the present time. I wonder if there is a statistical difference between lying via text message, and speaking over the phone?

Zimbler, Mattitiyahu, and Robert S. Feldman. "Liar, Liar, Hard Drive on Fire: How Media Context Affects Lying Behavior." Journal of Applied Social Psychology 41.10 (2011): 2492-507. Print.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Free College Lectures and Courses

Do you see my Sallie Mae balance on the right side of the page? Fuck college, take free courses online, and learn a tangible skill. Stanford and MIT both are offering online material for free. MIT, like UC Berkley, has over one-thousand Youtube video lectures online. I am hoping maybe I can take a calculus class, before I have to take one at my host university.

Stanford is offering free online courses which start in January. Some of the courses include Computer Science, Game Theory (the two I signed up for), Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, and others.

This is amazing! As the bachelors degree continues to be the most over markets product in the United States, I hope more colleges follow suit.


 Reddit users were sharing the onomatopoeias of their native languages. Interesting enough, almost all of the examples were animal noises. You can look at he link yourself, or check out the list below.

American English:
  • meow = cat
  • woof = dog
  • moo = cow
  • knock knock = knocking on door
  • tweet tweet = bird
  • pow pow (or bang bang) = gun shooting
  • pew pew = blaster
  • who who = owl
  • cheep cheep = chick
  • neigh = horse
  • cockle-doodle-do = rooster
  • ribbit = frog
  • caw caw = seagull
  • bahhh = sheep
Brazilian Portuguese:
  • Miau = cat
  • Au au = dog
  • Muuu = cow
  • toc toc = knocking on door
  • Piu piu = smal chick
  • bam = gun shooting 
  • mao = cat
  • gao = dog (their bark is woe woe)
  • nouw = cow
  • jew jew = laser beams (jew also means banana, "banana banana"! )
  • Miau = Cat
  • bup bup = Dog
  • Muuu = Cow
  • piu piu = Bird
  • toc toc = Knocking
  • Pam, Pum = Gun
  • Mjauw = cat
  • Vov = dog
  • Muh = cow
  • Bank bank = knocking
  • Pip pip = bird
  • Bang = gunshot
    • Miauw = cat
    • Woef/waf = dog
    • Moe = cow
    • Klop klop = knocking on the door
    • Tjilp tjilp = bird
    • Pang = gun shooting
    • Vroem = car
    • Kwak kwak = duck 
    • Ka-ching/Ka-tjing! = cash register
    • knor knor = pig
      European Portuguese:
    • Miau = cat
    • Ão ão = dog
    • Muuu = cow
    • Truz truz = knocking on door
    • Piu piu = small chick
    • Bang = gun shooting
    • HAHA = laugh
    • Caim = Dog yelp
    • miau = cat
    • vuh, hau = dog
    • muu (sometimes 'ammuu') = cow
    • kop kop = knocking on the door
    • piip piip = small bird
    • pam = gun shooting
    • titityy = bird
    • kvaak kvaak =duck ( "kääk" if the Duck is Donald )
    • röh röh = pig
    • böö = boo
      (The verb for frogs' sound is "kurnuttaa", it is not usually written as a sound itself, just as a verb.)
      French Canadian:
      • Miaou = cat
      • Wouf = dog
      • Meuh = cow
      • toc toc = knocking on the door
      • pit pit = bird (french canadian only)
      • pan = gun shooting, we use also "pow"
      • Vroum = car
      • coin coin = duck
      • Kashing! = sound of a cash register
      • groin groin = pig
      • toudoumtsi = rimshot
      • bouh = boo (when you try to scared someone)
      • rabbit rabbit = frog
      • Miau = Cat
      • Wau or Wuff = dog
      • Muh = cow
      • klopf klopf = knocking on door
      • gurrgurr = dove (there's no one for birds in general, at least I don't know it)
      • klopf klopf = knocking on the door
      • Brumm brumm = Car
      • Quak Quaak = Duck
      • Ding = Cash register
      • grunz grunz / oink oink = Pig
      • bada bum dschsch = rimshot
      • Buh! = scare
      • quaaaak quaaaack = frog
      • päng päng! = Gunshot
      • Μιαου = cat
      • Γουφ = dog
      • Μου = cow
      • τοκ τοκ = knocking on the door
      • τσιου τσιου = bird
      • Μπαμ = gun shooting
        Gujarati (ગુજરાતી):
        • મિયાંઉ = cat
        • ભાઉંભાઉં = dog
        • ભોંઓઓ = cow
        • ઠક ઠક = knocking on the door
        • ચીંચીં = bird (small)
        • ધડૂમ or ધડામ = gun shooting
        • Mjá = cat
        • Voff = dog
        • Mu/Mú = cow
        • Bank bank = knocking on the door
        • Bíbí = bird
        • Bang = gun shooting
          Irish Gaelic
          • miao = cat
          • bhuf = dog
          • mú = cow
          • cnag cnag = knocking on the door
          • tsíp tsíp = bird
          • plimp = gun shooting
          • Nya-Nya = cat
          • wan-wan = dog
          • don-don = knock
          • chun-chun = pigeon
          • ban = gun
          • gero-gero = frog
          • ki-ki = monkey
          • shuwa-shuwa = sparkling
          • ju-ju = grilling meat
          • goshi-goshi = washing something
          • momi-momi = squeezing body parts (i.e. boobs)
              • (야옹) ya-ong = cat
              • (멍멍 / 왈왈) mung-mung / war-war = dog
              • (음메) mm-meh = cow
              • (톡톡) tok-tok = knock on door
              • (빵/팡) BBANG / PANG = gun shot
              • (빵빵) ppang-ppang = honk
              • (꽥) queck = duck
              • (꿀꿀) kkool-kkool = pig
              • (짹짹) check-check = small bird
              • (히히잉) hee-hee-heeing = horse
              • (꼬끼오) kko-kkio = rooster
              • (찌지직) chi-zi-zick = ripping paper
              • (두근 두근) doo-goon doo-goon = heart beat
                  • Mjau = Cat
                  • Voff = Dog
                  • Bank bank = Knocking
                  • Pip pip = Bird
                  • Pang = Gunshot
                  • Kykkeliky = Rooster 
                  • Nøff = Pig
                  • Bæææ = Sheep
                  • Miał miał = cat
                  • Hał hał = dog
                  • Muuu = cow
                  • Puk, puk = knocking on the door
                  • Paf paf = gun
                  • Ćwir Ćwir = bird
                  • Puk Puk = knocking
                  Russian (Русский):
                  • Мяу [Myaoo] = cat
                  • Гав [Gaw] = dog
                  • Мууу [Mooo] = cow
                  • Тук-тук [Took-took] = knocking on the door
                  • Чик-чирик [Chyk-chyrik] = bird
                  • Бах or бам [Bakh or bam] = gun shot or an explosion
                  • Хахахаха [hahahaha] = laughter
                  • Kukariku = Rooster
                  • Hruk = Pig
                    • Miau = cat
                    • Guau guau = dog
                    • Muuu = cow
                    • toc toc = knocking on the door
                    • pio pio = bird
                    • pum = gun shooting
                    • ja ja ja= laughing
                    • Mjau = cat
                    • Vov = dog
                    • Muu = cow
                    • Knack knack = knocking on the door
                    • kvitter = bird
                    • Pang = gun shooting
                    • Gnägg = Horse
                    • Pip pip = Mouse
                    • Nöff = Pig
                    • Bääää = Shepp
                    • Grrrr = Tiger
                    • Kvitt kvitt = Bird
                    • Kraa Kraa = Crow
                    • Kvack = Duck
                    • Hoo hoo = Owl
                    • Kuckeli kuu = Rooster
                    • Kväk = Frog

                        Sunday, November 20, 2011

                        Livemocha Giving Away Premiuim Conent To Contributing Users

                        January 22, 2012 - I have a new article on becoming an Apprentice Livemocha Expert.

                        Livemocha, a language learning website, is giving away their premium content to Contributing users. Considering other users grade your submissions, you really should return the favor anyways. It's fun too, you listen to records others have made, you have to think about your language, as well as how this person can improve their language ability, and if you find someone who is a good grader/reviewer you can friend them!

                        If you haven't checked this site out yet, this is honestly a good reason to start now.

                        Tuesday, November 8, 2011

                        Spider Eyes

                        While looking for images for yesterday's post I found a wealth of images of spider eyes. Many of the images come from Thomas Shahan. As far as I know, all of these images are in the Creative Commons. Thought they were interesting enough to share.

                        Monday, November 7, 2011

                        Public Speaking

                        My biggest fear? Speaking in front of a room full of spiders.
                        The Internet went out for a few hours today, and with an upset stomach, and nothing to do; I started to wonder about why so many people fear public speaking. Why are so many of us adverse to it? Supposedly seventy-five percent of people experience some sort of anxiety when publicly speaking. Sometimes it happens to me, all of a sudden my sympathetic nervous system kicks in, and I start to get sweaty, and my heart races, and oh jeez.

                        Evolutionary psychologists suggest that our fears have been hardwired into our brains. We fear heights, spiders, and the dark because our ancestors that didn't, were promptly genetically pruned. Of course the problem with this theory is that there is no way to test it without a time machine.

                        Can the same be true to public speaking? Would expressing your views to a group put you in as much danger as being somewhere high up, or being attacked by a wild animal? Ostracization could have certainly meant death in certain situations. Then again, many people who do speak out are put in danger (Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Yitzhak Rabin, Gandai, Larry Flint, Jesus, George Harrison, Alan Berg).

                        But the concept of public speaking being so dangerous is astounding to me. Perhaps  it is the same reason why the judgment of others is so important to us? I don't know... only questions to think about...

                        Sunday, November 6, 2011

                        The Ethics of Cog Sci

                        Unfortunately, because my degree program in Cognitive Science is in science (instead of the humanities) there isn't any room for an ethics class. There is however room for the mandatory Calculus I and II. I hope that comes in handy, considering statistics was rejected from my final degree proposal. On the other hand I could have taken an ethics course as a general education requirement. Well possibly... after transferring between schools with completely different gneral education requirements, in order to pursue the BS in Cognitive Science; I don't know if I can blame myself.

                        In late night conversations in smoke filled rooms my friends and I talk about the future, and ethics of Cognitive Science. It is my hope that after I graduate I can do lab-research in the field. Perhaps eye tracking, an ERP lab, machine learning, doing work with games, or some other cognitive psychology laboratory. A question always arises "Why"? Why would one want to continue research in such a field? Usually the interrogator of the question is concerned that technology will eventually lead to humanity's downfall, "the end of the world". I do not necessarily disagree. 

                        I have often been criticized about how I use what I know about how people work in every day situations. When I explained to my friend that if I am in a club, sometimes I will approach a woman with another woman around my arm. The reason for this is building social report, simply put, if this person is invested in me, than there must be a good reason why. My friend told me that I was being sexist and manipulative. I argue that if after approaching someone with a friend, if I can get that person to open up to me, and have a meaningful relationship with them, then there is nothing wrong with what I am doing.

                        On the other hand, I could just as well take her home for the night. Is this still manipulative? Even after a string of other social engineering techniques? No, pinking up women isn't necessarily Cognitive Science; I would argue it is more social engineering, which I would argue can be a part of Cog Sci. The point I am getting at is that is just like any other form of technology, Cognitive Science could be used for good and bad. Yes computers can provide us with a wealth of information, but they've also proved quite well at collecting off of our personal information, and as much as they bring us together, they drive us farther apart through isolation, etceteria, etceteria.

                        The question remains, why is it important that we know what human eyes pay most attention to, and for how long, why do we need to know if the sound of a beer bottle opening triggers more brain activity in a alcoholic than an average person, why do we need to have computers that can "think" on their own. Obviously nothing good can come fro technology like this, and will only be exploited more by people like advertisers.

                        And the reason I give is a personal philosophy. It is that if heaven could ever exist, it would have to be manifested here on Earth. If we are ever going to achieve such a state, we need to understand how we operate, why we do the things we do. We need to understand that we operate on the same brains we had when we were cavemen; and that's why we are aggressive, why we believe in ancient superstitions, why our genitals control actions we make, when the woman in the club sees me approach her with another woman in my arm and recognizes what is happening.

                        Being able to understand the ways in which the cognitive biases, and facilities we make affect our judgement is a form of transcendence. If man can't understand that, than I believe that he deserves to be pruned from existence. Not necessarily "the end of the world", the end of the human race. The earth is 4.54 billion years old, we're 200,000 years old. Whatever we can cook up I am sure the planet can handle it.

                        Thursday, November 3, 2011

                        Meaning and Cognition Readings

                        Yesterday I posted about one of the reading for my Meaning and Cognition class. Instead of a textbook, we have selections from various books in which we must read. These readings were made publicly available, so if you are interested in reading them yourself, you can find them here.

                        Wednesday, November 2, 2011

                        Word Order

                        Many of the concepts and examples in this article come from a chapter in a book written by Dirven and Radden, I have included the citation at the bottom of this article.
                        The word order of a sentence is crucial. "Loaf a store went of to the to bread I buy" doesn't make a lot of sense, even though you might be able to figure out that "I went to the store to buy a loaf of bread", it would certainly take you longer to understand when reading the former example. Other examples, such as "I want you to know" and "I want to know you" would need clarification if ever mixed up.

                        Sentences like "I came, I saw, I conquered" also rely on word order, so do "binary" examples (those that refer to two opposites) "give and take", "cause and effect"... "park and ride". Switching take and give, or cause and effect, do not sound right to a native speaker of English.

                        As mentioned before, word order defines the meaning of the sentence;
                        "Sam painted the green door".
                        "Sam painted the door green".
                        The word green, based on it's location in relation to the word "door" states the condition of the door before and after the event of the door being painted. You could of course include the state of the door before and after; "Sam painted the red door green".

                        Some languages can circumvent these rules, German is one of them; due to the existence of cases. In the sentence, "The boy threw the ball", both the words take thier respective cases; with the boy as the subject, and the ball as the object.
                        The boy threw the ball.
                        Der Junge warf den Ball.
                        Den ball warf der Junge.
                        Although the latter sentence would probably sound strange, the case of the word defines the subject, and object in German; not necessarily the position. 

                        Another concept that appears in language is that of the distance between words. Things which belong together conceptually tend to be put together linguistically, and vice-verse.
                        "A noisy group was hanging around the bar".
                        "A noisy group of youngsters were hanging around the bar".
                        Furthermore the difference between the sentences "I made her leave", and "I hoped that she would leave" is the influence of the noun on the situation. The sentence with the direct effect has a shorter distance between the subject and verb, the sentence with the least impact has a larger distance. The difference between "Romeo sent his girlfriend a valentine" and "Romeo sent a valentine to his girlfriend" is that the more direct sentence (the first one) suggests she received a valentine. However, if you change the sentences to say that "Romeo is sending..." then it is NOT assumed that she received the valentine! In this case, would there be anything different between the two sentences?

                        Dirven. "The Cognitive Basis of Language, Language and Thought." Cognitive Exploration of Language and Linguistics. Ed. Radden. 2004. 1-21. Print.

                        Monday, October 24, 2011

                        Pink Floyd on German TV in 1971

                        This is a rare clip of Pink Floyd on German television cira 1971. Here you can see a lot of the unique equipment they use. For example, at around four minutes they demonstrate the use of one of their effects, which worked by controlling speakers based off of the movement of a 360 degree control stick.

                        Yes, more articles and original content are on the way, please be patient.

                        Friday, October 21, 2011

                        George Carlin Albums on Youtube

                        In 2008, during my senior year of high-school I skipped out on seeing George Carlin in Northampton Massachusetts even though I had listened to ever one of his albums. Tickets were forty dollars each, and I couldn't find anyone to go with. Two months later he died. I still haven't forgiven myself.

                        Why I am posting about him now (and have before) on this site is that Carlin often covered the theme of language, and it's role in society, and thought thought. In his Inside The Actors Studio episode, when asked "what turns you on"? He responded "Reading about language".

                        It seems someone has recently uploaded a wealth of George Carlin albums to YouTube including interviews, and audio books. What made Carlin such a great comedian, and ranked him with others such as Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, and Richard Pryor, is that he was a social critic.

                        There have also been some interviews uploaded that I have never seen before, here is one of them:

                        Wednesday, October 19, 2011

                        The Boy Band Effect

                        Social proofing is a very powerful tool. There are all sorts of examples of this; another well known (academic) study was conducted by Milgram in 1969 (see source at bottom) where he had people stand around and look up at a window. Forty-five percent of the people on the street stopped if one person was looking up, eighty-five percent of the people on the street stopped if fifteen people were looking up. Social proof has also been used to cure phobias. In a 1967 study, children who were afraid of dogs were more likely to handle a dog themselves after watching another child play with the animal.

                        So whenever I see mountains of screaming fans I have to wonder if there isn't some social engineering happening. Do you remember that South Park episode where Cartmen goes to Chef for advice about making a boy band?

                        Cartmen: Chef, God told me I was to start a boy band and make ten million dollars. The problem is, it isn't working. I mean I feel the music burning inside me, but I just can't express it right, you know?

                        Chef: Well Eric I... I think you're just focusing in on the wrong thing. Boy bands aren't about music, they're created by corporations to make money, they're all based on the Garmlich effect.

                        Cartmen: What's the Garmlich Effect?

                        Chef: The law of physics that states if one girl screams for something, it will make other
                        girls scream and then it grows exponentially until all girls within a five mile radius are screaming.

                        Cartmen: But then how do boy bands use that?

                        Chef: All they do is make videos, showing tons and tons of girls screaming for the boy-band. Once you get them screaming you can't stop them, they're crazy. Ex.. except for Liz of course.

                        Cartmen: Thanks!

                        Chef: You're welcome! Now go away.

                        Cartmen: OK!
                        Chef: And a cucumber down the pants never hurt either!

                        Cartmen: Cucumber down the pants, got it.
                        I have to wonder if there is some truth to the fictional Garmlich effect. Have you ever seen the first Backstreet Boys, or The Beatles music video? They're all being chased, or surrounded by by hordes of screaming women! In all fairness N'Sync doesn't get chased until their second video, and there is only one woman. In their first video, they're all dancing together on a moon-base, 238 thousand miles from the closest female.

                        One cannot help but think that there is an artificial standard being created. I remember hearing about screaming fans being placed up front at Elvis and Frank Sinatra concerts, although I have no source for this.  Televangelists place plants in their audiences, why wouldn't music promoters do the same?

                        Social proofing is a
                        heuristic, a shortcut to mental decisions. "If that worked for them, then the same must also work for me"! I would argue that this is the same behavior that makes men already in a relationship more attractive to other women. "If she's in a happy relationship with him, I can be in a happy relationship with him". Finally we may have an answer to the loaded question "why are all the good men taken"? There are of course other factors involved in this. It is a rule of logic for example, that the less of something there is, the more valuable it is.

                        Of course, our best defense against social proof is our knowledge of it. The book The Psychology of Influence has a lot more information on how marketers, and other people try to exploit these mental heuristics we are all prone to.I highly suggest this book as further reading material into the subject.

                        Bandura, A. (1967). The role of modeling processes in personality development. In W. W. Hartup & N. L. Smothergill (Eds.), The young child. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

                        Milgram, S., Bickman, L., Berkowitz, L. (1969).  Note on the drawing power of crowds of different size. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13, 79-82.

                        Steven Pinker Returns to The Colbert Report

                        Yesterday, the Harvard Cognitive Scientist Steven Pinker returned to the Colbert Report for the third time. In order to plug his new book The Better Angels of Our Nature. According to the short plug, he argues that we are currently living in the least violent times ever. Can't wait to read the book when I get back state-side. 

                        The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
                        Steven Pinker
                        Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

                        Monday, October 17, 2011

                        Ein Stusie Zimmer

                        I decided to take pictures of my room at Die Studentensiedlung (Stusie) in Freiburg for future students who might interested in living here. Unless your program makes you live here, in which case I guess you don't have much of a choice. Nevertheless it is student housing that will cost less than a dormitory in the U.S. And although you are not on campus, you are down the street from the lake-side park.

                        Here is my room. Yes, all rooms are singles. My favorite thing is the giant window that opens up. At least here they trust students enough to not put bars on the windows.

                        Back shot of my room. Some students just have a regular bookcase instead of the wall mount one. The shelves are adjustable. However this morning I tried to bring the bigger shelf down to desk-level so I could have some more work space, and almost broke it.  

                        One of my complaints is that I can hear my flatmates pee when my door is open.

                        Here is our kitchen. I share it with eight other people. We have two refrigerators, an oven and six stove tops. Students who live on the ground floor have more room in their kitchen for a small living room space.

                        This is our porch. We are only one floor up, but it makes for a nice view. It's a great place to eat, expecially with a large group of people.

                        All in all this is a nice place to be, especially compared to student housing in the U.S. However my only other complaint is that I was placed in a hall with three other international students. It is frustrating to come to a different country to learn another language only to find out that no one that lives with you can speak the language fluently. Oh well, at least I'm still in Germany! Hope this helps.

                        Sunday, October 16, 2011


                        The statistics nerds over at the dating site Okcupid run a blog called Oktrends where they crunch their user data into really interesting posts. For example: Using a physical compliment in you frist message to someone brings down the odds that they will reply. In this case, using the word "pretty" as an adjective makes it a physical compliment, but as an adverb it works as just another word.

                        Graph shows reply rate of messsages containin the listed
                        keywords, plotted against the average reply rate of 32%
                        (This image belongs to OKcupid)

                        Pretty cool! Earlier in the year, Okcupid was updating Oktrends every few months, now however their last update has not been since April. (If by a miracle any of the Okcupid researchers out there read this, please start updating Oktrends again! Also I love you.)

                        Of course these results are only true for people who use Okcupid. Therefore we can only say that on average there are more twenty year old female Okcupid users that enjoy rough sex than any other age group. It is also important to not mix correlation and causation, but there's a whole book for that.

                        The fact that they do this makes me glad that Okcupid is somewhat transparent about what they are doing with user's personal information. Imagine the kind of correlations Facebook must discover (and not share with their users)? I really cannot suggest a single article, because they are all fascinating. If you haven't already, go and check it out. And let me know if you know of any other sites out there like this.

                        Saturday, October 15, 2011


                        George Orwell, Politics and the English Language:
                        In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning(2). Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X's work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X's work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.
                        Buzzwords can be used in order to hide intent. Politicians are notorious for this, and as a result they compose long winded empty speeches. Steven Pinker does a great job at explaining this:

                        Empty rhetoric also exists in the form of buzzwords. "Clinically-tested", "vitality", "angus beef", "natural", "max", etc are all hollow and empty terms.

                        This concept reaches farther than just the words that we think of as buzzwords. For example, since most products are exactly the same, they can all legally be referred to as being the best without justification. If you want to go ahead and state that your product is better however, you need to have a reason for saying so. When Papa John's claimed that their "fresher" ingredients made for a "better" pizza than Pizza Hut pizza, Pizza Hut sued them in federal court and won.

                        Another buzzword that gets thrown around is natural. A concept we associate with healthy foods. Arsenic, mercury, and radium are all one-hundred percent natural. I don't know what makes Wendy's fries any more real, or natural than the ones they had before. Sea salt doesn't change the fact that there is still salt on my fried potato. Although we may think otherwise; natural and healthy are not synonymous. Wendy's fries are still bad for you, even if they still are delicious.

                        Meersalz - Sea salt, I can't even escape
                        this bullshit in Germany!
                        Advertisers are always using silly little fallacies to get at you. The assurance of a clinically-tested trial for a product usually means the research was financed and published by the company itself. Going on to use these results to promote the product, or by saying something like "nine out of ten doctors agree...", or "experts say..." is a fallacious appeal to authority.

                        Maybe you have read something like this in a newspaper article: "Could help keep you healthy" Could -in this context means may. So it might not work. Help - Wont necessarily work on it's own. Keep - will only maintain a helthy heart, so you already need to be healthy in the first place. Sounds like a sack of bullshit to me, you would be better off exercising with the time it would take to read that article.

                        Friday, October 14, 2011

                        Free PC Games

                        updated 2/22/13

                        In the past week I have been busy behind the scenes, tweaking code and making small aesthetic changes to the site. So today how about we take a break and play some free (albeit old) video games? I promise they all have aged well!

                        Games marked with an asterix may require DosBox.

                        5 Days a Stranger - A free horror game released around 2003. Highly recommended.

                        Alter Ego - A "life simulation" game that was designed by a psychologist. Live someone's life through a series of experiences. If you're going to look at any of the games in this list, play this one. Not a lot of graphics, but don't let that stop you from trying it. Playing it may put your own life into perspective.

                        Captain Forever - Space shooter where you build your ship from parts from the enemies you destroy. 

                        Dune 2 - * A RTS that was really good for when it came out in 1992. Has voices, and awesome music. Doesn't have anything to do with the Dune storyline as far as I can tell. Reminds me of Command and Conquer. This is where the guy on the Dosbox website comes from.

                        Incredible Machine, The - * I never have played this game, but I have a lot of friends who played it in school, and are really nostalgic about it. No idea if it has aged well.

                        Jones in The Fast Lane - The concept of this game is from the idiom "keeping up with the Joneses". Another "life-simulation" game where you get a job, and have to buy things you don't need in order to compete with the other players. Like alter ego, playing it may put your own life into perspective.

                        Mad TV - * A game where you control a TV station, and compete against other networks. You're also trying to buy the love of a women, it's part of the humor of the game. Satirizing the rat-race like qualities of life is a common theme in a lot of these games. Licensed under the name Mad TV in the states. This is originally a German game, and has some great examples of Denglish.
                        A browser based version is also available, which you don't have to download.

                        Real Lives - Another "life-simulation" game. Based off of global statistics, you are born somewhere in the world, and then you live that person's life. Is supposed to make you feel bad about living in a first world country, and you will usually die as a child. (If you don't want to provide them with personal information to download the game you can use the identity generator, and 10-minute mail).

                        Rebuild - A short game where you have to manage and grow an outpost in a zombie apocalypse. There are multiple endings and events that can happen.

                        Sim Ant - * Played this a ton as a kid on our first computer, a black and white Macintosh Classic. Maintain an ant colony, and fight against the red ants. You eventually infest the poor lawnmower guy's house.

                        Sim City - Need I say more? The version that might have came with your computer if you had Windows 95.

                        Sim City 2000 - When the graphics in the Windows 95 version of Sim City are too bad for you.

                        Super Offroad - * This little addicting racing game used to exist in arcades with a cabinet that had three steering wheels and sets of pedals. It is still fun enough on the computer, with the satisfaction of gliding through each level upgrading your ride along the way.

                        The Lurking Horror - This game is a text adventure. However, consider the following: part of the fun of these games is supposed to be drawing up the maps for them. pick up a spiral-bound notebook and pen and you'll have no problem navigating this game. Second, it is about a student at MIT (you) that ends up exploring the campus due to mysterious events that lead up to a Lovecratian horror. Highly recommended.

                        Top Eleven - A soccer management game in the vein of Hattrick. I like this much better than Hattrick however because instead of maybe playing a match once a week, you have one every day.

                        You Don't Know Jack - Now free to play through Facebook. It pairs you against Facebook friends that have already played through the same "episode" before. Although you only get one free game a day, there are plenty of easy ways to win more tokens to play more games.

                        Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego - * This is the version I first played when I was a kid. Although I thought later versions where you had to talk to different people, and match the profile of the thief was more fun. For other versions, as well as answers to the copy protection questions click here.

                        Thursday, October 13, 2011

                        Vocabulary Practice

                        I am sure many of our more Internet-seasoned readers know about Free Rice. It is a website where you can answer questions in different subjects, and each correct answer gets ten grains of rice donated through the WFP.

                        One of the subjects that Free Rice has available is foreign languages. You can answer vocabulary matching questions in German, Spanish, Italian, French, and English (or Chemistry, Geography, or Math for that matter). If you are just beginning a new language, this can be a good way to build your vocabulary. What I like the best is that the German vocabulary also includes the case with the word, something I have seen other flash-card websites not do. The site also reintroduces words you answered incorrect more often, so that you are more likely to learn those words.

                        Tuesday, October 11, 2011

                        Bee Domestication

                        This article is one big paraphrase of a paper I wrote for a class I took with Mark Feinstein at Hampshire College called Cognition in Domesticated Animals. I highly recommend to course to anyone. For the sake of the audience I have cut down the length of the original paper. However I have also added extra information on domestication in order to contextualize some of the information provided. If there are any glaring problems with this article, please contact me. I have also maintained all of the citations in case you are interested in reading more about this topic. Where information was added I included a link for further information or the full citation in the text.

                        Bees communicate the location of flowers and food by "dancing". Wikipedia now has a great, well cited article on this behavior. This was first noted by the Austrian scientist Karl von Frisch in his book Die Tanzsprache der Bienen (English: The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees). Today our understanding of how bees communicate through "dancing" is much more better understood and documented.

                        15,000 year old cave painting
                        found in Valencia, Spain.
                        Humans and bees have always coexisted. Before beekeeping, hunter-gathers would climb trees in order to retrieve honey from nests. Wall paintings showing this behavior have been found in countries on different continents across the globe; Zimbabwe, China, and Spain. This suggests that the means by which people collected honey from bees developed convergently around the same time in different societies. One wall painting in Spain shows how humans would put giant ladders against trees in order to climb up and collect the honey. In Thailand permanent ladders made out of bamboo would be installed into the trees in order to access the honey bees’ nests (Oldroyd 213). In Vietnam, Apis Dorsata honeybees were kept in rafters. African tribes would, and still do create artificial “hives” out of suspended wood logs, which could be placed near a dwelling. Hieroglyphics show us that the Egyptians kept hives in clay pots, as did the Greeks.  Later, in the seventeenth century, the Greeks started using wicker hives instead of clay. Meanwhile the Romans had a more advanced type of hive made of wicker, oak, and dung. When the Romans invaded Britton around 45 AD, the practice of beekeeping spread there too.

                        Aristotle was one of the first people to write about the inner workings of beehives. Pliney the Elder documented that The Romans were likely the first to develop transparent hives from horn of lantern and "mirror stone". Virgil too wrote concerning bees and where to place apiaries. He was the first to document that there was a class structure within a bees nest. Some oversights made was that he assumed the queen bee was a king. He also remarked that pollen stuck to bees in order to act as a ballast for when they flew. Some countries today such as Oman and Yemen still refer to the Queen Bee as a sheik, meaning they consider it a male (Free 100).

                        One of the theories that have been suggested as an explanation for the domestication of dogs is self domestication. Dogs that had a smaller flight distance (the measurable distance a person could get to a dog before it runs away) would eat food scraps from neolithic "garbage dumps" humans were making. This reduce in flight distance may be the result of an altered state of brain chemistry, which in turn would affect other behaviors. For example: while humans would eventually select and breed for specific behavioral and physical traits in dogs, there would be other measurable traits that would not initially be accounted for; the size of a domesticated dog's skull and brain is on average smaller than their wild type (Serpell, James (1995). The Domestic Dog; its evolution, behaviour and interactions with people. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. p. 35. ). (It is important to delineate here that a bigger brain does not make a smarter brain.)

                        For example:
                        This strange link between coat color and temperament stems from a relationship between pigment production, hormones, and neurochemistry. It is not the case that coat color causes a difference in temperament, but rather that certain physiological processes underlie facets of both coat color and behavior. In particular, the hormones and neurotransmitters involved in the stress response and other behaviors are closely integrated with pigment production.
                        For example, the neurotransmitter dopamine and the hormones noradrenaline and adrenaline, which are involved in the stress response, have the same biochemical precursor as the melanin pigments (Anonymous 1971, Ferry and Zimmerman 1964). In addition, dopamine directly influences pigment production by binding to the pigment-producing cells (Burchill et al. 1986). Dopamine indirectly influences pigment production by inhibiting pituitary melanotropin, also known as melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH), which is responsible for stimulating pigment cells to produce pigment (Tilders and Smelik 1978).
                        Therefore, by breeding only the most docile animals in a group, humans select for physiological changes in the animal's hormonal and neurochemical systems, changes that impact morphology and physiology -- including fur color. A change in fur color during domestication may therefore be an incidental byproduct of selection for tameness.
                        It is therefore suggested that more tame domesticated animals have less melanin:

                        The character Mongo riding a tame, mostly white bull in the film Blazing Saddles.

                        We some of these traits in honey bees. The honey bee was are familiar with in North America is specifically the Italian honey bee, Apis Mellifer which European settlers brought with them in 1859. It has been suggested by sources that the Italian honey bee was selected out of all the honey bees for a verity of reasons: they occupy less space in the nest, they swarm less than even other honey bee species, they are more adaptable to other climates, and most importantly; they produce more honey than other honey bee species (Frank, et el.; 2000).

                        The missing traits are that there are no current data or research suggesting that honey bees have smaller brains than their “wild” counterparts, or are whiter in color. This brings up a lot of interesting questions pertaining to our relationships with different classes of animals, and how that phycisally affects them. Bees absolutely do have hormones, so why wouldn't we see the same changes in them over time?

                        The worker honey bee’s brain contains about 850,000 cells, half of which belong to the occipital lobe (Menzel 191 - 201). Vision is incredibly important for bees, and they can see ultraviolet light. However as stated before, due to the large size of honey bee nests, the honey bee must exhibit many social behaviors. For example, the bees do a very good job of regulating themselves. At some point all the drones from a nest will be escorted out to leave (Free 44). While this behavior may seem bizarre, it assures that the drones are able to continue spreading their genes. Oldroyd compares bee reproduction to an arms race (114).

                        Compared to their wild-types, honeybees initially produced a honey that was edible. Some wasps, such as the polistinae wasp (paper wasp) produce honey that can be poisonous to human. Over time bee were bread to select for quality of honey; texture, color, and a final product that is free of brood are all important factors (Free, 124).

                        Today beekeepers are able to select for desired traits by removing larva from their cells in the hive and placing them in “queen cups” where they can then be introduced into another colony. As mentioned before, there are many aspects to control for. “Cleaning behavior” which is the removing of damaged larva, and debris from the nest. Grooming is also important; this is the removing of mites from the bees themselves. A foreign mite introduced from another bee species has the potential to wipe out a whole race of bees. Bees stealing honey from other hives is another behavior that one beekeeper reports, and supposedly can be controlled for (Cushman).

                        By having apiaries, are domestic bees receiving any benefit from humans through this relationship? That is, besides any causalities taken when the honey is taken to be processed, and at least in a majority of western countries; we do not consume the bees. A recent phenomenon called colony collapse disorder is when European honey bees disappear. One has to wonder what role humans may have in this situation. Everything from pesticides to cell phone radiation has been suggested as the cause. Oldroyd suggested that it may be a combination of factors which are worsened by the presence of mites which lower the immune system of the bees (Oldroyd; 2007). If it is not too late, bees will have to be selected based on their immunity to these adverse conditions.

                        Nest size is another factor that may have been selected for in bees. Considering more bees mean more honey, solitary bees are never used for honey cultivation. A healthy honey bee nest can have anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 bees (World Book Encyclopedia; 154 - 161). Compare to a paper wasp nest, which can house around 5,000 wasps (Strassman). Due to the fact the nests are smaller and wasps are carnivores, they do not produce as much honey as a honey bee. Wasps also construct their nests out of paper instead of wax, which is less useful for human consumption.

                        A bee on a yellow Rudbeckia hirta flower.

                        The pain score for honey bees on several different scales tends to fall in the middle. On the Starr Sting Scale of Pain, insects in the Apidae genus all score a two on a scale of one to four (Starr; 1985). On the Schmidt Sting Pain Index honey bees once again score a two out of four; alongside yellow jackets and wasps. The paper wasp scores a four on the Schmidt scale. However honey bees are less aggressive than wasps. This could have to do with the fact that honey bees consume nectar, while wasps are carnivores and therefore have to hunt and fight to survive. (Online sources suggest that the bee stinger has evolved through fighting between bees, however all of these sites cite an outsourced Wikipedia article). Have honey bees been selected based on the pain of their sting, or is this a trait that is tied to domestication?

                        The Africanized honey bee for example may have adapted its aggressive behavior from having to protect their nests from predators in their environment; possums, bears, badgers, jackals and other predators that would destroy their nest. The climate of Africa also means that the Africanized bees are more tailored to harsher climate with less water. Due to this reason, Africanized bees have been able to easily travel outside of their habitat, much to the discontent of the people who come into contact with them. Beekeepers in Brazil have successfully been able to breed Africanized bees into their apiaries and over time, select for less aggression (Tew). The only major difference between Africanized bee and honey bees is that the Africanized bees are more aggressive, and will pursue a perceived threat for a longer distance (Tew).

                         Nevertheless it seems that, compared to their wild types, the “domestic” bees are much more ductile. Comparison of the brain size and density of honey bees to wasps and their Africanized counterparts would prove to be interesting. Studying the hormonal balance of the two might also prove valuable. All in all bees are incredibly smart creatures that can distinguish flowers, communicate through their movement, and possibly create mental maps of the areas around hives (Menzel). To the naked eye there are no noticeable physical differences or phenotypes between “domestic” bees and their wild type.

                        Right now there may not be much physical evidence of the bee being domesticated, even though many important traits still have been selected for over time; aggressiveness, quality of honey, amount of honey produced, wax production, and efficiency. In the future it will be important to select for traits that make bees more resistant to disease spread by mites as well as ourselves. Nonetheless more research needs to be done in this field; research should one the brain size of honey bees species, as well as their counterparts; to see if they indeed fall in line with the criteria set by domestication. Still one cannot deny the rich evolutionary history of the bee, spanning over almost every continent, climate, and many taxonomies (Menzel, 8).

                        Therefore we could Honey bees cannot exist without the hive. The word eusocial has been used to describe their complex hierarchical behavior, and the beehive has been described as operating as a “super organism". Due to the beehive existing as a single organism, and early man’s misconception as to how bees mated, it was tough for one to directly or artificially select for the right honey bees due to the fact that so many of their behavioral traits are linked to social interaction (Menzel 27).

                        "Bee." World Book Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. Chicago: Feild Enterprises Educational Corporation, 1973. 154-61. Print.

                        Cushman, Dave. "Honey Bee Colony Assessment Criteria." Beekeeping & Bee Breeding. 10 May 2005. Web. 9 May 2011. <http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/assessmentcriteria.html>.

                        Frank, P., L. Garnery, G. Celebrano, M. Solignac, and J.-M. Cornuet. "Hybrid Origins of Honeybees from Italy (Apis Mellifera Ligustica) and Sicily (A. M. Sicula)." Molecular Ecology 9.7 (2000): 907-21. Print.

                        Free, John B. Bees and Mankind. London: Allen and Unwin, 1982. Print.

                        Hunt, James H., Anthony M. Rossi, Nels J. Holmberg, Samuel R. Smith, and William R. Sherman. "Nutrients in Social Wasp Honey." Physiology, Biochemistry and Toxicology 91.4 (1998). < http://www.umsl.edu/~huntj/Number%2064.pdf >.

                        Menzel, Randolf, and Alison Mercer. Neurobiology and Behaviour of Honeybees. Berlin. Springer, 1987. Print.

                        Oldroyd, Benjamin P. (2007). "What's Killing American Honey Bees?". PLoS Biology 5 (6): <http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=1892840.>

                        Oldroyd, Benjamin P., Siriwat Wongsiri, and Thomas D. Seeley. "Asian Honey Bees: Biology, Conservation, and Human Interactions." Harvard University Press. Print.

                        Ramirez, M., E. Rivera, and C. Ereuc. "Fifteen Cases of Atropine Poisoning after Honey Ingestion." Vetinary and Human Toxicology 41.1 (1999): 19-20. Print.

                        Starr, Christopher K. "Pain Scale for Field Comparison of Hymenopteran Stings." Journal of Entomology 20.2 (1985): 225-32. Web. 10 May 2011. <http://www.ckstarr.net/cks/1985-PAIN.pdf>.

                        Strassmann, Joan E. "Social Behavior of Polistine Wasps." Rice University Web. Rice University, 1 Nov. 2006. Web. 9 May 2011. <http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~evolve/Waspweb/wasphome.html>.

                        Tew, James E. "Africanized Honey." Ohioline. Ohio State University. Web. 9 May 2011. <http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2124.html>.

                        Sunday, October 9, 2011

                        The Nobel Conference

                        Every year Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota holds the Nobel Conference. The Nobel name comes from the fact that most of the conferences have dealt with the kinds of science issues for which Nobel Prizes have been awarded. Past subjects have been "Making Food Good", "The Nature of Nurture", and "The Science of Aging". The 47th, and most recent conference was "The Brain and Being Human". The two lectures I watched had material (presented by the people who discovered it) that was extensively covered in a Behavioral Neuroscience course I took.

                        The first lecture by Larry Young covers the role of oxytocin (a hormone) in mammals. Oxytocin is responsible for sexual arousal, bonding, and maternal behavior. Inject it into the right part of a male rat's brain and he will instantaneously have an erection. Do the same to a female rat, and she will enter lordosis (present herself). Give a female rat a oxytocin antagonist (inhibitor) , and she won't display maternal behavior. The stimulation of the nipples also triggers the oxytocin production. Administering it to humans induces higher levels of trust and lower levels of fear. Young's research with prairie voles, and their monogamous mating behavior is really interesting: 

                        The second lecture I watched was by Vilayanur Ramachandran, who discovered mirror visual feedback. This treatment is primarily used for amputees. Those that have lost a limb sometimes report feeling a phantom limb, feeling as if their arm or leg is still there. Sometimes they can move it, sometimes it can be paralyzed. If a patient does  have a stuck limb, the experience can be very painful.

                        The example given in the video is a patient who's phantom hand was clutched so tight that he could feel his fingernails digging into his hand. Ramachandran's solution to this problem was the creation of the mirror box. In which a mirror is placed vertically in front of the patient has the patient look at the mirror reflection of the normal arm. In this way, the arm is optically superimposed on top of where the phantom limb is felt. Moving the intact limb creates the illusion that the phantom limb is moving. In the case of the example, the patient was able to open their clutched phantom hand. Over time, sometimes instantly, this illusion reduces the pain of the stuck limb. This treatment has been used as an alternative to painkillers such as morphine.

                        Ramachandran also touches upon synesthesia, which is another incredibly interesting phenomena. If you would like to know more about it, you can read a previous article about it here.

                        Friday, October 7, 2011

                        Operating Systems and Marketing

                        The "personal preference of a computer brand" debate has clogged Internet discussions as much as any other pointless debate. "Why The Simspons aren't funny anymore", and "Kirk versus Picard" are arguments almost as old as the Internet itself. Yes, people actually came up with one hundred point lists as to why one fictional space-captain was better than the other. In fact BBS boards existed for specific models of computers, and the operator would kick you if he found out that you had a Commodore on an Amiga board; because obviously Amigas were superior machines in every way.

                        When I was fifteen I went to CompUSA to buy a copy of OSX 10.3. I bought an iMac G3 with OS8 at a computer fair with the plan to upgrade it, and then turn the computer over for a profit. It ended up being one of the biggest pain in the ass projects I ever attempted. I found the Apple rep, who was talking to a woman with a child. I asked if they had any copies of 10.3 still laying around, because all I saw were boxes for 10.4. The Apple rep snickered and said "Ha! Nobody uses Panther anymore!" The woman rolled her eyes and laughed. As the two people returned to their conversation, smiling, I stood there contemplating the reason why grown adults would result to school yard attempts at ostracization over consumer products. I then realized my mistake wasn't asking the Apple rep for help, but going to CompUSA in the first place.

                        The point I am trying to get at, isn't that Mac users are assholes (disregarding the two people in CompUSA), but that we are affected every day by consumer marketing, and that the two assholes in CompUSA were just as much implicated in be affected by marketing as you and I are. Nevertheless a specific operating system is required only by the type of work you do. If you're a system admin, you're probably going to use Linux or Unix. If you're a video editor, or graphic designer; you're probably going to use a Mac at work. And for spreadsheets, and everything else there's windows. If you think one computer is better, and all you use it for is checking your e-mail and browsing the Internet, you're a tool, and this post will explain why. And no, using a torrented copy of Final Cut Pro to make Naruto, and Avenged Sevenfold Youtube music videos wont justify your purchase to your anime fan forum.

                        First off, the act of simply branding a product has an effect on us:
                        In 2003, researchers led by Read Montague at Baylor College of Medicine used an old ad campaign as inspiration for a seminal scientific experiment. They decided to have their test subjects take a Pepsi Challenge of sorts, with one key difference: the subjects' brains would be monitored by a functional MRI machine as they completed the taste test.

                        The results were remarkable, as summed up in this excerpt from a Frontline report by Mary Carmichael: "Without knowing what they were drinking, about half of [the subjects] said they preferred Pepsi. But once Montague told them which samples were Coke, three-fourths said that drink tasted better, and their brain activity changed too. Coke 'lit up' the medial prefrontal cortex — a part of the brain that controls higher thinking. Montague's hunch was that the brain was recalling images and ideas from commercials, and the brand was overriding the actual quality of the product."

                        In other words, about half of the subjects who said they preferred Pepsi when both drinks were anonymous changed their preference to Coke when the drinks were identified. And when the brands were revealed, the Coke brand actually caused activity in a part of the brain that remained dormant at the mention of Pepsi.
                        Computer science majors probably
                        have different concepts attached
                        to this image than other people.
                        I have often heard people exclaim "ads don't effect me". But if we weren't affected by ads, we would be unique in human history in that we would be unaffected by our culture. Anything that stimulates our senses affects us. You reading this sentence right now is affecting your brain chemistry the same way reading "you are now aware of your breathing" affects you. How are messages specifically designed by marketers and psychologists to target you any different?

                        A brand is a collection of images and ideas representing an economic producer; more specifically, it refers to the concrete symbols such as a name, logo, slogan, and design scheme. Think about the concepts that are tied to the products you own.  I decided to make a list of the first six words I thought of when I thought of the words "Microsoft" and "Apple".

                        Microsoft Apple
                        Windows slick
                        BSOD macintosh
                        MS DOS IPOD
                        desktop tower firewire
                        Bill Gates graphics design
                        Steve Ballmer Steve Jobs
                        XP Apple store

                        You could of course, do this with any product, and results are going to differ from demographic to demographic, person to person. My personal results up there don't matter, I am just trying to covey the idea that we attach meanings to concepts. Hence why people prefer Coca-Cola, even if Pepsi tastes better. Here is another example of how branding influences us, well in this case influences men:

                        Although a sample of fifty women and fifty men probably isn't a significant sample size, even after applying the T-test.

                        The public reaction to the passing of Steve Jobs is an excellent example of how branding and marketing affect us. News articles have gone as far as to compare Steve Jobs to inventors such as Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. It is completely ignorant to make such a statement, and disregards the fact the the invention of the computer was done so on the shoulders of many other people and companies. (The book Accidental Empires is a great history of the invention of the modern computer, and can be found on Amazon for a dollar. ) Although your Facebook feed right now might give you the impression Steve Jobs invented computers, MP3 players, cell phones, and the Internet. But this is what was intended, Steve Job's most important contribution to Apple upon his return was the complete overhaul of Apple marketing.

                        Steven Wendel
                        Don't make fun of Steve Jobs on Facebook

                        Every classroom I have ever been in, starting with firstgrade, has had an Apple computer sitting in the back of the room; from the Power Macs to the Imacs. Whether or not the computer was utilised was the teacher's preference. Still, the case stands that almost every student in the US would come to equate Apple with education. Apple cut deals with schools everywhere to sell them Macs. Even today Apple offers discounts to college students based off of which colleges they attend.No other computer, or product is as well liked to education.

                        In 1998 the year Steve Jobs returned to Apple was the same year they pushed the think different campaign. The Imac line was specifically targeted towards college age people and students. This also includes the modern design of the products, and the way Apple products are made to compliment each other (Ipod > podcasts > Itunes, Ilife). Even the newer "I'm a Mac" ads portray Apple and their products as being younger, hipper, and more user friendly. Before the rehiring of Steve Jobs, Mac ads only focused on how much easier their computers were to use over PCs. Does intelligent, creative, unique, young, and different define the people you know that own Macs, or define how those people wish to appear? How would you describe a "Mac user" compared to a "Windows user", or "Linux user". When you buy a product, you're also buying in to the concepts and ideas behind it.

                        I am not trying to discredit the accomplishments of Steve Jobs, but it is important to note what his role was in shaping the computer, and not what we are lead to believe. Yes, he owned over three hundred patents. Is the amount of patents somebody owns a measure of intelligence? One patent troll can have over one thousand patents easily. Many of these patents were design details of Apple products, not technical aspects, and while there is a patent the for the graphical user interface, it was Xerox that first created the GUI in 1970. Steve Jobs was a great marketer, and capitalist. But inventor and genius on the scale of Ben Franklin or Einstein?

                        In German, a play on words can be made between the word Schein and Sein. To appear and to be. It is important to see things how they are, and not how they seem, or how you want them to be. Marketing tries to convince you otherwise.

                        Schein und Sein
                        by Wilhelm Busch
                        Mein Kind, es sind allhier die Dinge,
                        Gleichwohl, ob große, ob geringe,
                        Im wesentlichen so verpackt,
                        Daß man sie nicht wie Nüsse knackt.
                        Wie wolltest du dich unterwinden,
                        Kurzweg die Menschen zu ergründen.
                        Du kennst sie nur von außenwärts.
                        Du siehst die Weste, nicht das Herz.

                        Here is my attempt at a translation:

                        Appearance and Being
                        by Wilhelm Busch
                        My child, there is in all things,
                        No matter how large or how little,
                        packaged essentially so,
                        that one cannot crack them like nuts.
                        How would you undertake,
                        the short path to fathom the people,
                        you know them only from the outside.
                        You see the vest, not the heart.