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 in 2012. I highly recommend to course to anyone if it is still offered. 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. The direction of the bees' "dance" is in direct relation to the hive and the position of the sun in the sky. It is mostly believed that bees interpret another bee's dancing as s worker honey bee’s brain contains about 850,000 cells, half of which belong to the occipital lobe (half their brain is used for vision.) (Menzel 191 - 201). Vision is incredibly important for bees in general, and like birds, they can see ultraviolet light.  Recent research shows that bees cannot communicate this way in the dark. We also now know that the duration of the part of the dance where the bee moves a certain way (zigzags) signifies distance of the location in question.

15,000 year old cave painting
found in Valencia, Spain.

Humans and bees have always coexisted as far as we know. 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 including Zimbabwe, China, and Spain. The presence of these artifacts across the world 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 type of hive made of wicker, oak, and dung. When the Romans invaded Briton around 45 AD, they brought the practice of beekeeping with them.

Aristotle was one of the first people to write about the inner workings of beehives. Pliny the Elder documented that The Romans were likely the first to develop transparent hives from horn of lantern and "mirror stone" to study bees. 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). 

When we start thinking about domestication, we need to think about what that word really means. Is it something that we can measure? Today we know that some animals can be tamed and others cannot. That there are some animals that could have been tamed, but are very much wild. Plenty of people have barn cats for example. But what does the process of domestication look like over history and how did it develop? In this case it's best to talk about dogs since they're the best example when it comes to domestication.

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 that a bigger brain does not make a smarter brain.

Further examples of differences between domesticated animals and their wild types::

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 also need to think about how we view the bee. A single honeybee 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" - that is that the hive itself is seen a single organism itself. 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). There are many different definitions of what it mean to be conscious. My personal definition is that to be conscious is to understand that you are a separate entity to the world around you. This means that I consider dogs that don't freak out at their reflection in a mirror as possibly being conscious. It means that I don't find individual bees as having consciousness, but I do see bee hives as being self-conscious. Alternatively, individual humans are conscious, but a physical group of people is very much not conscious. I also use the terms consciousness and self-awareness interchangeably. If you'd like to know more about super organisms, the book The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies is an excellent resource.

There are similar measurable traits found in honey bees versus other bees that are not used for honey production. 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). 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).

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 physically affects them. Bees absolutely do have hormones, so what is different about insects or bees where we wouldn't see the same changes in them over time? 

Today beekeepers are able to even more granularly 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. There are many more aspects today that beekeepers know 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). It's completely possible some beekeepers in the past know to select for these traits, but no such record of doing so has been found. 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.

[There was a section here on what might be causing colony collapse. Pesticides still continue to be believed to be the leading cause. New research also shows that moths at night play an integral role in pollenization.]

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. Honeybees also die after stinging you, while other bees do not. For those who have been fortunate enough to never experience it, wasps bite and sting at the same time. 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.

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. Sure enough, one of the biggest threats to bee keepers is bears destroying their nests. At UMASS the only bee hive we had that didn't get destroyed by a bear was on the roof of a building. 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).

Right now there may not be much physical evidence of the bees being domesticated, but I think that more research needs to be done looking at hives rather than individual bees themselves. Nevertheless it seems that, compared to their wild types, the “domestic” bees are much more docile. Comparison of the brain size and density of honey bees to wasps and their Africanized counterparts would prove to be interesting. 

"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. <>.

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). < >.

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): <>

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. <>.

Strassmann, Joan E. "Social Behavior of Polistine Wasps." Rice University Web. Rice University, 1 Nov. 2006. Web. 9 May 2011. <>.

Tew, James E. "Africanized Honey." Ohioline. Ohio State University. Web. 9 May 2011. <>.

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
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.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

One Month In Germany

It has been a little over a month since I have been in Germany. I figured a lot of you might wonder how I have been doing, considering I have not written about it at all while I have been here. Therefore, today's post will only be about my time in Germany. Regularly scheduled content will follow.

Two years ago I spent five months in Berlin, but already this experience has been different. For example, last time I had schnitzel only once, and that was when we took a trip to Poland. If they're not serving schnitzel with potatoes and gravy at the dining hall here, it's meat with potatoes and gravy.  Maybe schnitzel is more of a "southern" thing? They even sell it next to the coldcuts in the grocery stores; pre-made and pre-cooked. Since I have been here in Freiburg, I have probably eaten schnitzel at least once a week, and honestly I have no problem with that. When I unexpectedly die at twenty-three from a coronary artery, they will cut me open and find pan fried chicken and beef. In fact I am eating schnitzel right now!
You probably wish you were me.

I am surprised at how much better my speaking has become since I have been here! Although, I believe that my writing grammar still leaves something to be desired; at the same time, I haven't written as much as I have spoken. I also have been avoiding speaking English. Last time I was surrounded by other American students, this time I have made a point of distancing myself and only speaking to the other international students who do not know English. The semester has not officially started yet, and the student housing buildings aren't teeming with students; so I have not met too many Germans. However, tomorrow I am going to put up bills on the public bulletin boards at the university looking for a German / English tandem partner.

Usually on the weekends I go to the black forest. The student transit card gets us there for free on the weekends, and after two on the weekdays. Downtown is really pretty, but does get old when you are down there every day for class anyways. When a group of fellow UMASS students stopped by in Freiburg after an orientation, they all commented on how much more beautiful the city was compared to where they were, and were surprised that I spent my weekends in the black forest. However I think the latter response was more their surprise at me rather spending my free time alone in the woods than in a club, rather than the availability of transport to the black forest. Oh well.

Other than that  I usually spend my time in Seepark, which is a park around a giant man made lake that is about a block down the street from me. I take my runs there, and it is also a nice place to relax. There is all sorts of students, and people everywhere. You can swim in the lake (although it smells like goose shit), and there is also a beer garden. On Sundays some people gather together on a hill there and sing. I think they might be holding mass, but all I know is that I can hear them from my bedroom.

This time I most likely will not travel as much due to budget constraints. Last time around I went to Erfurt, Weimar (also Buchenwald), Dresden, Prauge, and Fankfurt Oder (to walk into Poland) and all of this was included in the program. However as I mentioned already Freiburg is a beautiful city and I am really ok with not leaving to go somewhere else any time soon.

The quality of food here is high, and is also relatively inexpensive. As a result I usually spend the pocket money I have on döners, Ritter chocolate, marzipan cake, blackforest cake, strong coffee, fresh bread, croissants, and of course schnitzel. You can buy a fresh, flaky croissant for 0.30€ at almost any bakery right down the street. The company Dr. Oetker makes really good frozen pizzas that I will buy when they are on sale. I sometimes felt like a typical American buying them all the time, but I felt better about it when German student professed to me that they were his favorite meal to have for dinner!

Other than that my money gets spent on books:
Yes, I purchased two dictionaries.

I have been doing a good job not spending too much money on these, but then again it is hard to feel bad about buying books. And it's a better investment than a night out drinking. The heard of the German department at my old college told me I should spend as much time as possible in book stores in Germany because it is one of the resources that the U.S. doesn't have. After all if you're a German major, and a multiple stories of German books doesn't get you excited, you might want to reevaluate your priorities.

Nevertheless I have only been here for a month. And I know I had a different impression of Germany my first month in Berlin compared to the end of my trip. Only time will tell if I feel similarly at the end of my year-long stay. Until next time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Using Visual Accessing Cues For Better Memorization

In 1985 there was a PHD thesis published researching the use of the same visual eye movements that are used in NLP to tell wither or not somebody is lying. Rather than use the eye movements to read the body language of a subject, the researcher had subjects utilize these same strategies in order to help memorization of how to spell words.

This article references information in a previous article I wrote on visual accessing cues. If you are not familiar with this technique, I suggest reading the article in the second link above, or clicking here.

This research falls under cognitive strategies, which as the name suggests; are learning, and thinking strategies we can use to increase mental performance, and memory. Another paper from the University of Utah defines these strategies, which differ somewhat person-to-person, as personal strategies
"A strategy is an ordered sequence of cognitive behavioral experiences that is repeated in the same or similar contexts. An experience is personal, so must strategies be. For example, when I tie my shoelaces in the morning, there is a sequence of experiences--mostly of the small muscle sensations and skin pressures in my fingers--that are repeated from past shoe-tying contexts. Even though million of people tie their shoes every day, the exact sequence of my experiences, probably slightly different from anyone else's, must occur for me personally if my shoes are to be tied."
 The reason why these strategies are personal is because not every strategy works for everyone. It is important to provide people (or more specifically, children who don't know how to tie their shoes) with pictures, stories ("make the bunny ears"), and demonstrations of how to tie a knot. As these children learn, they also develop internal representations of what a knot is. Therefore it would make sense that remembering what a knot looks like, visualizing a knot, or saying the steps of tying a knot out loud ("a rabbit comes out of the hole, goes around the tree...") would all help in remembering how to tie your shoe. The example the paper gives is that when experienced spellers try to spell a non-phonetic word, such as "Albuquerque"; they will visualize the word, and then spell it out based off of their mental image of the word.

In both these tests, the results were almost identical. In the Loiselle test All the subjects were given a spelling "pretest". Group A was simply told to "learn the words", and scored same as the pretest. Group B was told to "visualize the words as a method of learning them", and scored 10% better. Group C was told to "look up to the left", which NLP claims helps visual memory, and scored 20-25% better! A further group, Group D, were told to "look down to the right" (kinesthetic, and internal dialogue), but may hinder visualizing. People in this group scored 15% worse than pretest.

In the Malloy test the visualization spelling strategy produced a 25 percent improvement in spelling ability (and 100% retention) compared to no change in a control group but that spellers told to visualize when looking "down to the left" (kinesthetic feeling) scored around 10% worse.

Of course these studies only suggest that these techniques would only help with spelling. Although I seriously doubt that this only applies to spelling. Nevertheless, this research opens the door for all types of other questions. Would looking down and to the left or right (kniestethic) help with typing correctly on a blank keyboard? Or would it not help because even though typing is a physical activity, it is still a memorization task? Does looking down/right affect spelling performance any more or less then looking down/left? IS the eye movement simply a memory cue that helps with memorization, and if so why do people who look down perform worse on the tests?