Monday, July 25, 2011

Privacy Is Dead

This is article #2 of 5 for random week.

Every few years there is a conference that is held in New York City called H.O.P.E. For the past few years a private eye names Steve Rambam has been giving a talk called Privacy Is Dead, Get Over it. It is a couple hours long, but you can just listen to it play in the background if you like. Besides, you could do a lot less with your time then listen or watch it. (Any of the other talks are also incredibly interesting as well, check them out on their website.)

The only way not to be tracked is to
take your cell phone battery out...
oh wait

If you watch this video, one of the surprising things you will learn is that you can be tracked by your cell phone signal through antenna triangulation. GPS is not necessary. That's right, your physical location car be determined by the one thing you bring everywhere with you, even if it is off. In fact, this contributed to how the computer hacker Kevin Mitnick was caught.

In an incidentally same-named article, you can read about your loss of privacy over Facebook. Facebook exists in order to find out what to market to you. Everything you type into it, private or not, including private messages are indexed and saved in a giant database.

Under the impression that Google is doing the same, I have been trying to make this website the first search result that comes up when prospective employers search for my name. Speaking of which, "Carmino De Maio Jr". I have also decided to remove as much as my information off my Facebook as possible, and turn all then security features all the way up. Even though it's too late, and my information is probably saved in a giant computer underneath a desert somewhere; I did this instead of completely removing my Facebook because in one month I will be in another country, and I know all of my "friends" are going to want to see what I am up to. Why not use this as a way to drive traffic to my site instead? If I am going to be taking lot's of pictures, and actually doing things on Facebook other than voicing my opinions on what other people do; I think I should be holding the license for, and receiving the ad revenue for that content. As Facebook is trying to generate more and more revenue, I can promise you they are going to be doing the same exact thing with your personal information.

Prospective employers love hearing about your political opinions!
I think about all the political scandals that seem to crop up every month or so, I mean when we have a public officials, or sports stars, taking photos of their genitalia and sending it to other people online, what does the future have in store for us?. I cant wait to see when the people that grew up with social networking start running for public office. We are going to be seeing lots of kinky pictures of politicians, and it's going to be grand.

This all wont happen to someone because somebody forgot to set the privacy settings on their high-school Facebook profile. One of the points Lulzsec made when they released the personal information of hundreds of thousands of people was how insecurely their information was being stored by Sony, Fox, and other companies. Had they never announced they even took the information, no one would have ever known. What happens in ten years? That's a lot of time for your personal information stored by anyone you have given it to, to be compromised. Ever ordered food online? Bought something off Amazon? Have Netflix?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Who Controls The News

 This is article #1 of 5 for random week.

If you did not already think that Rupert Murdoch was a twat, then the recent news should have you thinking otherwise. Fox News, also owned by Murdoch, has been doing a lackluster job reporting on the issue; by simply not reporting on it. Recently, this aired on Fox News:

The problem with this article is that Murdoch's tabloid was doing the phone hacking! I remember in fifth grade when my teacher told us how lucky we were to live in America because we have freedom of press. How when the moon landing happened, in Russia there was no reporting on story because they didn't have freedom of press, and they were jealous. I'm sure.

Fox has done other misleading things too. When Ron Paul won in a poll against Mitt Romney, Fox News superimposed boos over the announcement of him winning. I am not even fucking kidding:

How long are we really going to put up with this bullshit?

I really hope it is apparent to all of us that all of our news sources are owned by companies. ABC is owned by Disney, NBC is owned by GE and Comcast, CBS by Westinghouse, etceteria. The finer points of this article can be summed up by this TV Funhouse clip from SNL:

How absurd is it when a cartoon pointing out media control, is owned by NBC. By the way, this video only aired once and was pulled for defaming GE  and alluding to Don Olhmeyer as the reason why Norm MacDonald was fired (Olhmeyer was a friend of O.J. Simpson and many of McDonald's jokes, especially on Weekend Update, lampooned the issue).

Coca-Cola created Fanta to sell
in Germany during the 1940s
The problem with this whole situation is apparent for reasons outside of our "news" being a shell of anything close to informative. Take for example The History Channel, which is owned by A&E, which in turn is owned by Disney, NBC (GE), and The Hearst Corporation. When you watch the History Channel, you are getting a revisionist view of history, which apparently only consists of the Romans, Nazi Germany, and UFOs. The reasons why these topics are constantly covered is due to the fact that they are noncontroversial. Nazis are universally bad,  nobody is going to protect them, and the Romans are ancient history. Have you ever seen anything objectively critical or controversial on the History channel about Disney?Will you ever? You certainly will never see a Howard Zinn special about how companies like GE or Coca-Cola sell their weapons and products to both sides during wars.

Incidentally there are other TV Funhouse episodes that have been pulled. They are even taken down from the Internet when they are posted, so there is little use in linking to them. One of them is called The Disney Vault and pokes fun of Disney's use of releasing terrible sequel after sequel as well as controversial things they have done in the past, and the other makes fun of the way Disney reinvents history with a fake ad about a new Titanic cartoon with an anthropomorphic boat and Anne Frank. Why would Saturday Night Live be afraid of these videos?

THIS is why the Internet is so important. It allows news from all over the world, from everybody to be shared with everyone else. Egyptians posting about the riots in the country, citizens filming the police, and just being able to access the "hive-mind" reactions of thousands of people in an area when something happens is quicker and more informative news than the fluff we get fed on a daily basis. Incidentally the chaotic flow of news from the Internet works better than any news company could hope.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Watching TV as a child in the U.S. , you were guaranteed to see this ad five thousand times in a row:

"Yes that's French these children are speaking, and no these children are not French, they're American." To this day I have no idea what that little girl is saying in French; but a part of me still hopes she is either wrong, or saying something really offensive in nature.

The commercials is right when it says that these cartoons were made by the BBC, but incidentally they were made to teach ESL (English as a second language) and then later the rights were bought by Early Advantage, the company you are sending your money to in the commercial. Incidentally they are still hawking the product  and it looks like they also market it to librarians. If you interested, you might be able to get some of these programs from you local library.  

I never knew anyone who had Muzzy. The product was marketed to a niche group of parents; those that wanted their children to learn another language, but were gullible enough to pay six easy payments of $28.08. Today the DVD sets will still cost you around one hundred dollars on Amazon, but you can get the VHS sets for around 20 bucks. Unfortunately it looks like you will have to pay over one hundred dollars for the German VHS set. There are torrents available online,  but it seems that some might be missing parts: certain videos, or workbooks. Still, thanks to the resources of the Internet, we can watch Muzzy right now!

From the commercials my impression always was that the cartoon was like Sesame Street, simply in another language. There actually seems to be a story line thought, with a royal family who has a princess. There is a guy who is in love with her, but there is also an evil green guy who is in love with her too. Muzzy is an alien that orbits around their little kingdom in his spaceship and hangs out with the other characters to practice their nouns, which is a pretty cool thing for a space alien to do. I can only imagine the role he plays later on.

I am interested to know if there in anyone who watched this as a child? How often did you watch it, did you like it or did your parents make you watch it? Was it helpful or educational to you in any way?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Emotion of Thought

Today's post has been supplemented with an update post! Simply scroll down, or click here to see it.

This post was supposed to start out with a quote from Buddha, but unfortunately I could not find the primary source for the quote. Nevertheless, here it is:
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.”
Guatama Buddha (probably)
This quote is spot on, whether the Buddha said it or not. I remember one of my professors asking "if our thoughts are just brain chemistry, then shouldn't we be able to alter our brain chemistry with our thoughts"? Anybody who has been depressed knows how depression can turn into a reciprocal loop which feeds on itself. On the other hand thinking happy thoughts, or smiling really does make you feel better.

What we think is proportionate to how we feel. One of the first things you learn in rhetoric class are the logical fallacies of argument. If one doesn't know any better, they could trap themselves in one of these. For example, have you every asked, or told yourself something along the lines of: "Why am I so fat?", "I'm so stupid." "How come everybody thinks I'm a jerk?" ? These are all loaded questions (or statements). They are a logical fallacy Fox News often uses, here are some examples:

Understanding and knowing these fallacies is the first step you can take to protect yourself from predatory propaganda, or more importantly, from yourself!

As humans, we are victims to more than just false logic, we are also victims to our emotions. Sometimes people will decide on a whim that they are going to do something all of a sudden like quit smoking, or lose a bunch of weight. Most of the time, they are not successful. In fact I had a friend who upon announcing that he was going to quit smoking, ended up smoking more then ever. Why? The need to avoid pain is biological. It is a survival mechanism that has been programed deep into our ancient brains. Those of us who could not feel pain were genetically pruned because they couldn't tell when they needed to get away from whatever was affecting them adversely.

For this reason, pain is stronger than pleasure. If we tell ourselves things that are going to hurt, things like "I'm too fat", then we're begging the question, convincing ourselves of a logical fallacy. If we want to change this, then we have to change the experiences we link pain and pleasure with. By associated more pleasure than pain with something, it is easier to accomplish that thing. The classes I do well in, I do well in because I enjoy those courses. When I have a class I don't find interest in or find boring, I focus on why I am taking that class, and how the good grade at the end of the semester will feel to me, and what those grade will do for me later on.

We can control the biochemistry of our brains.
When we think of experiences, the thought of the experience affects us whether it really happened or not. Think of a time a good friend or family member went behind your back. Or when you thought somebody was doing something adverse to you, and then that wasn't the case. How did you feel after being wrong? What state of mind does that put you in? Alternatively, when you think of things that are going really well for you right now, or what are you proud of? How does that make you feel?

Thinking is reality. Our brains do not know the difference between what we lucidly imagine, and what's reality. Neurons start firing when we think of something, and along with all that brain potential comes the emotions tied with those memories. It is what makes us human. Buddhists really are not far off when they try to end suffering through meditation.

Announcement Update

Recently I have had inquires regarding the direction of Always Avoid Alliteration. I wanted to take some time to clear things up and let readers know what to expect. Ideally, when this project first started I wanted to post five days a week. Background work on this site (tweaking html as well as the blogger code for example) takes up some of this time, as well as making sure the posts are a quality of the highest standard.

Considering that I will be here, you shouldn't
feel bad that I will be gone for a little while.

In September I will be going to Freiburg, Germany for a year. I will still update while I am there, but there will be some downtime while I first get adjusted. In order to work around this I have done two things. First, I have already written articles which will auto-post while I am away. Second, I have contacted people about being guest writers for the site. Their knowledge and interests coincide with languages, but I am also working out letting them make posts that are loosely related, or pertaining to Cognitive Science or their interests. Also while I am in Germany there of course be a larger influx of German language learning posts; considering my primary goal while I am there is to become fluent in the language. Be sure to keep posted!

Next week will also be an "off topic week". I don't know what I'm going to call it yet, but there will be five days of posts consisting of topics that don't necessarily have to do with the site. Some of the topics have briefly come up in other posts and I have gotten a lot of positive reactions to those so I figure why not cater to the audience? Topics will include social engineering, and censorship in video games. This will also give me time to come up with some more material pertaining to language, and Cog Sci.

If I could get published, this is how the cover of
the book would look like when you hold it open.
Finally, I am working on a book. It has been coming along nicely now, and when it is finished it will be available to download for free! A lot of information I have ingested over the years has come from the Internet, and as such has been free. I am simply repaying the favor after all these years. The title will be 'Motherfucker Why You Reading?' Not only is it a throwback to a Bill Hicks joke, it is also a reference to an incident I had in middle school. Another reason I am giving the book away for free is that even if I could ever get published, I probably couldn't keep the title, and frankly if I can't write a book with the word Motherfucker in it, then I would rather not write a book at all. Motherfucker Why You Reading will be about my experiences facing incompetent teachers, policies, and anti-intellectualism in the American school system. I have been through three catholic schools, two public schools, one of which was ranked in the bottom five in the state, as well as a liberal arts college and state university. I figure I have enough "academic diversity" to pull through something like this. I promise that the book will be as entertaining, informative, and funny as a free book can be.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 10, 2011


We have all seen TV advertisements that make us go "huh"? The end result of an ad is to get you to buy something and in order to do that, they (the advertisers) are supposed to get us (the audience) to notice the commercials. In the past few years more and more commercials have been getting absurd. Perhaps you have noticed?

It might also serve to explain why these commercials have been so successful for Old Spice:

Of course there is a reason for this, and that is humans pay attention to things that are odd and do not match up with our framework of what it normal or expected. This develops when children learn object permanence - that is that awareness that objects continue to exists when not perceived.. At the age of eight months, infants are able to utilize this skill. This is something that is usually covered in early psychology classes.

Kicking ass at cognitive tasks!
In the study an infant is placed in front of an object, perhaps a couch. A small toy then disappears behind the couch. A child who does not have object permanence will not look for it. This can also be done with a screen. A child who has object permanence will stare at an object or toy that disappears behind a screen, children without this ability will not. You can get the same result by changing the number of toys or objects as well. The fact the the children stare mean that they are paying attention and thinking. It is the same effect as when people are shown a magic trick for example.

What does this mean about advertising? I would suggest that advertisers are trying to get us to look at their ads, holding our attention by altering permanence of objects, and breaking the rules and schemas we have developed about the world around us by showing us pigs in cars with pinwheels and things turning suddenly into diamonds.

Now you're playing with power!
(image from UGR)
One way to study this would be through an ERP (event related potential) experiment. Basically you cap somebody with a bunch of little electrodes. Then you present the subject with some stimuli, in this case perhaps one of the commercials from above. A computer hooked up to your ERP machine then measures electrical signals being set off by the subject's brain due to neurons firing. If you're lucky you will get some sort of significant waveform.

There have already been other waveforms linked with attention and there are many others. It would be a cool study to try out, if it has not already been done. I personally, would guess that people are going to look at these ads longer. The only problem is that you would need some sort of appropriate control stimuli. Maybe the control could be averaged waveforms of "unabsurd" commercials which would be matched against the averaged waveforms of the "absurd" commercials.

Nonetheless the point I am getting at is that advertisers want you to go "what the hell was that all about?" when you watch their commercials. By doing so they make you pay attention to their ad, and therefore more likely to get you to start thinking and talking about their products.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Why Cognitive Science is Important

I spent an evening in the dressing room of  
Howard Thurston the last time he appeared on Broadway - 

Thurston was the acknowledged dean of magicians. For forty 

years he had traveled all over the world, time and again, 

creating illusions, mystifying audiences, and making 

people gasp with astonishment. More than 60 million 

people had paid admission to his show, and he had made 

almost $2 million in profit. 

I asked Mr. Thurston to tell me the secret of his success.   
His schooling certainly had nothing to do with it,  
for he ran away from home as a small boy, became a  
hobo, rode in boxcars, slept in haystacks, begged his  
food from door to door, and learned to read by looking  
out of boxcars at signs along the railway. 

Did he have a superior knowledge of magic? No, he 

told me hundreds of books had been written about legerdemain 

and scores of people knew as much about it as 

he did. But he had two things that the others didn't have. 

First, he had the ability to put his personality across the 

footlights. He was a master showman. He knew human 

nature. Everything he did, every gesture, every intonation 

of his voice, every lifting of an eyebrow had been 

carefully rehearsed in advance, and his actions were 

timed to split seconds. But, in addition to that, Thurston   

had a genuine interest in people.
                                                                                            -  Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People (get the full text here).

See also: the Wikipedia article for Cognitive Science
Every time I meet a new professor at college, there is a conversation that assuredly takes place. You've probably had the same experience many times over. When they ask you what your major is. "Cognitive Science, what exactly is that" or "why study that"? To be honest my answer is never the same, because cognitive science is interdisciplinary; it incorporates multiple fields of study, and they are all important in their own right. Simply put, it is the study of thought.

After graduation I want to have some meaningful, and useful skills outside of a couple of degrees, which is why I am also trying to master a language while in college. A combination of these sentences and others is usually what my response is, and are dependant on what I think will impress the inquirer the most. If I had to give a straight answer, it would have to be that Cognitive Science is the study of stumli processing in the brain. How we process information, and insights that can lead us into human behaviour, biology, and psychology. On top of that, I just really want to do lab research.

My Cognitive Science major is not offered at my school. I was able to get it through the BDIC (bachelors degree of individual concentration) program which is offered through UMASS. I had to go through a lengthy process of paperwork, and I was not necessarily guaranteed to get into the program.I take a most of my Cognitice Science classes at Hampshire College, which actually has a school of Cognitive Science. While this does add to the legitimacy of the major, my German major advisor warned me that while he thinks Cognitive Science is a great thing to study, I may be met with skepticism from some Germans during the time I will be studying in Germany. I will be sure to let ypou all know how that goes when I cross that bridge. Whether or not you think Cognitive Science is important, consider this. Every person can interpret stimuli differently, and that is really important.

1000 different people could see this painting 1000 different ways. Suspended Animation by Swarez.

Another writer, over at the site Everyday Psychology had a great post about this:
An individual who is a heavy drug user is told by their family that they need to seek drug rehab in order to quit their drug use.
The individual may perceive their family's suggestion as either:

1. Genuine concern, and be willing to undergo drug rehabilitation.2. An attempt to control their life, and refuse to undergo drug rehab.
The drug user may preceive their family's actions as an attempt to control their life, when in reality the family's actions are genuine concern. If you want to know how people think, you have to understand the reality they are perceiving. Some of my friends go as far as to say that colors are experienced differently by everyone. While I would not go as far as to say that (if certain colors mean the same thing to us, how can we see them as different?), it is possible that we each individually associate different good or bad memories with different colors.

This is why Cognitive Science is important. The master magician that can captivate an audience needs to understand people, the  study of multiple fields and tying them together is important from the progression of scientific research, and finally the understanding of why we see things the way we do, whether these things be objects and images we interact with, or simply abstract concepts. Understanding these processes gives us insight into out evolutionary history as well as our nature.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Different Study Method

I was on the phone with my friend today. We were talking about German and he asked me "Carm, when are we going to have a full conversation in German"? I professed that I had not been studying much over the summer. We started talking about new study methods, and he gave a great suggestion I tried out today.

Find a podcast, music video, movie, or show in the language you are trying to learn, something you haven't seen before. Start writing out what you're hearing (in the language you are hearing it in), then write a summery of what you have heard. He said that this was an important skill because your incorporating passive and active listening skills.

When I do try to speak German to someone I often get flustered. It becomes hard for me to express my wants, feelings, thoughts and opinions clearly and effectively. When practicing, I'm usually talking to people online, and that gives me time to go back, make corrections and even spell check what I am about to say. I may be communicating, but I'm not doing as much thinking as I probably should. 

The method he suggested worked well for me. I listened to one of the news stations that is streamed on Itunes. Incidentally the report was on the American government, but I still wrote everything out in German on a scrap piece of paper. I am going to stick to this for a few days and see what comes of it.

Do you have any study methods that have particularly worked for you?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Mental Benefits of Learning a Second Language

Learning a new language isn't just a way to meet new people, it is also healthy exercise for your brain! For example, people who are bilingual are beter at multitasking, or more specifically; better at editing out irrelevant information and focusing on important information than monolinguals. Another study, by an independant research group showed that learning another language can help stave off dementia and alzheimers on an average of about four years.

I have always thought of the brain as a muscle of sorts. The more you use certain parts of it consistently, the stronger those parts of the brain get. The added benefit being added cognitive ability in whatever cortex you are working with (see this post).

If you don't practice a language now, why aren't you? There are plenty of people in the U.S. who speak a another language at home, 47 million to be exact. I know in previous posts I have suggested Livemocha and even Okcupid in order to find speaking partners. Your school or university is another place to look. I know the German department at my school offers kaffeepause every once in a while. Another site to look for conversational groups is By speaking with people in a casual environment, you will be without the stress of tests and quizzes that you probably remember from high school Spanish class, and you can work at a pace you're comfortable with!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cognitive Bias

Humans have so much stimuli coming in all the time that we have to unconsciously cut corners in order to do mental tasks. We do this with our vision, our reasoning, and our memory. (For example, when we look at a picture or a field we know that objects that at are in front of other things must be closer because well... it is in the front!) However, when we draw incorrect conclusions based on these shortcuts. cognitive bias happens. These are call heuristics, simple rules for our brains to compute things, but incidentally can introduce errors.

A page from the cognitive biases study guide.
Somebody over on Scribd put together a great study guide of all the cognitive biases. It includes cool little images that will help you remember the biases. However a lot of the information came from a wiki, I am not sure how reliable it is. Although it seems that the same people who put this guide together are the same that have been editing the wiki page that all of these came from. Nonetheless a lot of this information can be found in any Cognitive Science or Cognitive Psychology textbook or website.

Cognitive Biases are really important to know about when dealing with people for two reasons. First you will be able to know when someone is bullshitting you or them self with one of these. Second, you will be able to know when you are appealing one of these biases. In a way, it is almost a form of enlightenment because you are able to know you are making an error. In fact, the blind spot bias is "the tendency not to compensate for one's own cognitive biases. Memorize these, and apply them every day. If you ever take a psych class you will have to know about a few of them anyways.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

American Sign Language

Tetris Origami
Outside of the name, nothing about American Sign Language has to do with English. For example, ASL has more in common with French Sign Language than British Sign Language. This is due to the fact that when a Protestant Minister from Connecticut went to Europe to figure out how to get his daughter to sign, the school in Brittan that he went to wouldn't teach him, so he went to France instead. He brought back a teacher with him and in 1817 the American School for The Deaf was formed.

Sign language is just as much of a language as any spoken language. People with aphasia who know how to sign are affected just as much as those who speak spoken languages. Also cognitive stress affects signers who are not native speakers. For example, a pilot who was not a native speaker of English would have a hard time speaking to his passengers in English if there is an issue with the plane. Finally and most importantly, deaf people who do not learn to sign, and are forced to read lips almost never go past an elementary level in their reading a writing abilities. Just as somebody who was never fully immersed in a language.

When two people who know ASL sign to each other, their spatial relation to each other is important. Signers "speak" from their location, therefore the listener needs to make a 180 degree spatial rotation. Due to the fact that signers have to do this every day, they excel at spatial reasoning. From this article at Live Science:
Knowledge of American Sign Language comes in handy when studying structural geology.
Come again? Structural geologists have to visualize the bending, breaking and folding of rock formations that are usually motionless and firm. This often requires the processing of complex spatial information—something that individuals experienced in American Sign Language, or ASL, already do well, explained Michele Cooke, a geologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
 However later in the article this is mentioned:

Wondering if the relationship between signing and spatial reasoning can be further validated, Cooke now tries to incorporate "ASL-based gestures" into the classroom by encouraging her students to communicate with their hands during discussions.
"So far our results have been inconclusive; the students are resistant to this kind of learning," Cooke said. "They need to get rid of their inhibitions and not feel intimidated by using their hands when they participate in class."
 The reason why these results are inconclusive is due to no spatial reasoning being used by the students with their gestures. Simply gesturing with your hands will not help. One would have to use the some cues in ASL or actually start using sign language.

 TL;DR - People who know sign language kick ass at Tetris.