Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 14th, 2007

Studying psychology

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Another good one from PsyBlog:

Psychology is now the third most popular subject at degree level in the UK. If you’re thinking of studying for a psychology degree and you’re not sure whether it’s for you, then these free Psych 101 lectures from Berkeley are just the thing.

The course covers some basic areas of psychology: learning, sensation, perception, personality and development. The instructor on this course, Professor John Kihlstrom, is a highly respected psychologist at Berkeley, so well worth listening to. You can download the courses to your computer or mp3 player to listen to on the move.

The only downside is that the quality of the recording is not the best and does become distorted a times. Considering these lectures are free it’s not a major problem, but, before you download them all, do listen to a few to make sure it’s not too irritating to your ears.

Don’t forget to explore PsyBlog as well to get more of a flavour of what psychology is all about. Some of the subjects you’ll study at degree level include social psychology, developmental psychology, the psychology of memory, personality psychology and perhaps even positive psychology. Also, have a look at the orange section on the right of this page which contains links to the most popular articles on PsyBlog.

Incidentally, like Professor Kihlstrom I highly recommend buying Morton Hunt’s ‘The Story of Psychology‘ for a fantastic introduction to the history of psychology. I really can’t recommend this book enough, crazy cover photo and all…

» Psych 1 General Psychology by Professor John Kihlstrom.
» If you are feeling a little more unconventional then also check out the course on Buddhist psychology.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 6:43 pm

Gratitude as route to happiness

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PsyBlog has a good post:

PsyBlog has gone gratitude-mad this week, what with reporting experimental evidence that practicing gratitude can increase happiness by 25% and reviewing ‘thanks‘ , the book by the study’s author. To round it off here are Dr Robert Emmons’ top 10 tips for actually becoming more grateful, and consequently more happy.

1. Keep a gratitude journal
Sit down, daily, and write about the things for which you are grateful. Start with whatever springs to mind and work from there. Try not to write the same thing every day but explore your gratefulness.

2. Remember the bad
The way things are now may seem better in the light of bad memories. Don’t forget the bad things that have happened, the contrast may encourage gratefulness.

3. Ask yourself three questions
Choose someone you know, then first consider what you have received from them, second what you have given to them and thirdly what trouble you have caused them. This may lead to discovering you owe others more than you thought.

4. Pray
Whether you are Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or atheist, a ritualised form of giving thanks may help increase gratitude.

5. Use your senses
80% of people say they are thankful for their health. If so, then get back in touch with the simple human fact of being able to sense what is out there: use your vision, touch, taste and smell to experience the world, and be thankful you can.

6. Use visual reminders
Two big obstacles to being grateful are simply forgetting and failing to be mindful. So leave a note of some kind reminding you to be grateful. It could be a post-it, an object in your home or another person to nudge you occasionally.

7. Swear an oath to be more grateful
Promise on whatever you hold holy that you’ll be more grateful. Sounds crazy? There’s a study to show it works.

8. Think grateful thoughts
Called ‘automatic thoughts’ or self-talk in cognitive therapy, these are the habitual things we say to ourselves all day long. What if you said to yourself: “My life is a gift” all day long? Too cheesy? OK, what about: “Every day is a surprise”.

9. Acting grateful is being grateful
Say thank you, become more grateful. It’s that simple.

10. Be grateful to your enemies?
It’ll take a big creative leap to be thankful to the people who you most despise. But big creative leaps are just the kind of things likely to set off a change in yourself. Give it a try.

Read my review of ‘thanks!: how the new science of gratitude can make you happier‘.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 6:40 pm

Notebook site

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Many of us are addicted to little notebooks. We imagine all the terrific things we could jot down. So we get them, jot down a few things, and (generally) stop jotting after a while. Fidelity, again. This blog speaks to the notebook-prone among us.

And now that you have notebooks, what about pencils? The Blackwing 602 is no more, and will never be seen again. So what to do? Check out the site The Pencil Pages for a great variety of pencil information. There’s also Pencil Things, which includes a store as well as a blog.

Boing Boing suggests, “If you are looking for a good low-cost pencil, try the California Republic Palomino HB ($5.15 for 6) and 2B ($4.75 for 6), sold here.”

You’ll also need a sharpener. The KUM sharpener seems to get the most praise.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

My, my—and in California, too

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Washington Post tells of the penalty for daring to criticize the President (at least, when the President is George W. Bush):

Scholars across the political spectrum protested what they called an assault on academic freedom after the University of California at Irvine withdrew a job offer from a liberal professor who wrote an op-ed criticizing the Bush administration. [The horror! The horror! – LG]

Faculty members were furious, and blogs and editorial pages hummed Thursday with news that constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, 54, would not become dean of the University of California’s first new law school in 40 years.

A highly visible liberal law professor at Duke University, Chemerinsky has represented Valerie Plame and a detainee at Guantanamo Bay. He is a frequent guest on talk shows to represent a liberal point of view and has written op-eds for major newspapers, including The Washington Post, on school segregation, abortion and workers’ rights. He also played a major role in investigating the Los Angeles Police Department Rampart scandal and in writing the Los Angeles City Charter.

On Aug. 16, Chemerinsky was offered the job as dean of the University of California at Irvine law school, scheduled to open in 2009. The same day he got the job offer, the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed by Chemerinsky urging California to reject a plan by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales that would, he argued, make it harder for those on death row to have their cases reviewed in federal court.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 2:33 pm

Posted in Education

Prosecutors, Texas… things happen

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Like trying to destroy evidence:

A judge has blocked prosecutors from destroying a hair found at scene of the murder for which Claude Jones was convicted and executed in 2000. The state will now conduct DNA testing to determine if it matches Jones. It’s not just any hair. It’s the hair that prosecutors matched to the Jones at trial by way of a hair fiber analyst.

Hair fiber analysis is, to say the least, an imperfect science. It has led to wrongful convictions before, and professional prosecution hair fiber witnesses have a history of exaggerating the certitude of their findings.

I haven’t read enough about this particular case to have an opinion on it. I note it mostly because of the following passage, which I find absolutely inexplicable:

The groups, represented by attorneys at Mayer Brown LLP, filed the court motions Friday after the San Jacinto District Attorney refused to agree to DNA testing – and also refused to agree not to destroy the evidence while courts consider whether DNA testing can be conducted.

Emphasis mine. Now, I can think of some reasons why a prosecutor would want to destroy a piece of physical evidence that could prove that the state executed an innocent man. But none of them are compatible with…um…being a human being.Perhaps, for example, the prosecutor was one of the prosecutors who worked on the case, and doesn’t want the stain on his career that might come with a wrongful execution. Perhaps he wants to avoid the inevitable stain on Texas’ already execution-happy reputation that would come with proof that the state executed an innocent man. Perhaps he knows that proof of a wrongful execution will make it much more difficult for him to win death penalty cases in the future.

But here’s the thing: While I can perhaps see a prosecutor harboring such sentiment deep down inside, I can’t possibly conceive of anyone actually making these sorts of arguments publicly. Or with a straight face.

Because, you see, if Texas did execute an innocent man, all of those things should happen. Because…well…because Texas…would have executed an innocent man.

And if Texas did execute an innocent man, that Texans might find out about it—and subsequently raise understandable questions about the morality and efficacy of the death penalty—isn’t something to be avoided, it’s something that damned-well ought to happen. Because—at risk of repeating myself–Texas would have executed an innocent man.

What possible not-devoid-of-all-morality argument could a prosecutor possibly make for being permitted to destroy evidence that might prove an innocent man was executed?

I really can’t think of one.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Will this bill pass?

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Note how the lobbyists lie. Here’s the story:

Makers of drugs and medical devices would be required to report publicly nearly all payments and gifts to doctors under legislation introduced Thursday in the Senate.

“Right now, the public has no way to know whether a doctor’s been given money that might affect prescribing habits,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee and one of the bill’s authors.

Senator Herb Kohl, Democrat of Wisconsin, said drug and medical device makers had long defended their payments and gifts to doctors as appropriate.

“If that is the case, full disclosure will only serve to prove them right,” Mr. Kohl said.

Ken Johnson, senior vice president at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said, “A new law is not necessary when pharmaceutical marketing is already heavily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.” [Lie, as explained in next paragraph – LG]

The F.D.A. does not regulate the gifts or consulting arrangements drug and device makers routinely provide doctors, and it reviews only a fraction of the scripted marketing talks doctors make on companies’ behalf.

The bill results from growing concerns that free meals and consulting payments — which in some cases have exceeded $100,000 annually — lead doctors to prescribe more expensive drugs and devices, increasing the costs of health care and sometimes endangering patients.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Business, Congress, Medical

Friday cat-blogging: Megs & dictionary

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Megs & Dictionary Megs & Dictionary Again

The first photo I forgot to raise the little flash thingy, so it’s available light. Still, not bad. Megs likes this perch, behind me and to the right when I’m sitting in front of the computer: up high, and positioned well to watch me.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 11:47 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Auto makers lose in court

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As usual, large businesses are much more interested in their bottom line than in the common weal. This time, the court isn’t buying it.

 A federal judge in Vermont yesterday rejected an attempt by automakers to block individual states from adopting their own standards for limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

Judge William Sessions III of U.S. District Court in Burlington ruled that state action to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles — standards that originated in California in 2002 and have since been adopted by Vermont and at least 10 other states — was not preempted by federal rules on vehicle fuel economy.

The decision follows a Supreme Court ruling in April that the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Air Act by declining to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. It also comes as automakers are confronted with growing public demand and governmental pressure to build more fuel-efficient vehicles. This fall, Congress is to take up vehicle fuel-efficiency legislation that could bring about the biggest change in fuel-economy laws since the 1970s.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 11:14 am

Have the kids make no-knead bread

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This is a good idea for a weekend day when it’s too rainy/wet/cold/dark outside to play.

Or, if the kids are a little older, perhaps these cranberry orange scones from Slashfood:

This is the perfect recipe for a busy morning, because as long as you have buttermilk (you can also fake buttermilk by stirring a tablespoon of lemon juice into a cup of milk) on hand, all the other ingredients are fairly ordinary. You can even mix all the dry ingredients together the night before you want to bake them to hurry things along in the morning. Cranberry Orange Scones

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (you can use whatever flour you have on hand, but this particular flour makes a very nice crumb)
1/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1/2 dried cranberries
2 teaspoons grated orange zest (you can substitute lemon if you find yourself without an orange)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large egg

Optional glaze
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons of orange (or lemon) juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in cranberry and zest.

Measure buttermilk into a 2-cup measuring cup. Break egg in and beat to combine. Pour into dry ingredients and mix with a fork. You may need to use your hands to make sure all the flour gets incorporated. It is a very wet batter, so it gets a little sticky.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat and form the batter into a large patty. Cut it into 8 segments with a knife, but do not try to move. This is only to speed up the cooking process and give you a guide when you go to cut into it later. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-25 minutes, until it is golden on top.

Mix powdered sugar and juice into a glaze and dribble it over the scones.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 10:38 am

“Global warming is manmade” – White House Science Adviser

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In an interview with the BBC, Professor John Marburger, Bush’s chief science adviser, said it was an “unequivocal” fact that climate change is man-made and that greenhouse gases emitted by human activity are to blame.

Marburger said he “strongly agrees” with the IPCC reports and “supports its conclusions.” He added:

I think there is widespread agreement on certain basics, and one of the most important is that we are producing far more CO2 from fossil fuels than we ought to be. And it’s going to lead to trouble unless we can begin to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we are burning and using in our economies. […]

The CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere and there’s no end point, it just gets hotter and hotter, and so at some point it becomes unliveable.

Watch the BBC report.

Roger Harrabin, the BBC climate reporter who conducted the interview, noted that “historically, the White House has given a number of different messages on climate change. You hear one message from Dick Cheney saying that there’s a debate we’ll have to carry on.” On the other hand, Marburger says the science is undisputed. So far, Cheney has been winning the battle in setting U.S. policy.

Just this past February, Cheney asserted, “There does not appear to be a consensus” that global warming is “caused by man.” Bush has repeatedly echoed Cheney’s line that there is a “debate” over the science.

Harrabin noted that “there is very little pressure from the public,” causing a kind of “stasis” in the climate change debate. “The headway in the U.S. is very slow,” he said, “and that feeds into the international process where other countries are looking at the U.S. and saying, hey, you’re the big emitter, if you’re not cutting, then how’s that going to impact on our industries.”

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 10:11 am

Did Bremer (gasp) lie?

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The NY Times has an excellent letter to the editor—a video, no less—rebutting Bremer’s self-serving claim that his decision to disband the Iraqi army was supported and was not controversial. The claim, it turns out, is not only self-serving, it’s a direct lie.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 9:36 am

Culinary Teas

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Got a nice email from Culinary Teas, showing some of their recent offerings. Looks like a good site for tea lovers.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 9:22 am

Posted in Caffeine

Friday video

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Take a look—NSFW unless you wear headphones (sound).

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 9:19 am

Posted in Video

Why the bridge in Minneapolis fell: bike paths

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From today:

Imagine you’re the federal official in the Bush administration charged with overseeing the nation’s transportation infrastructure. A major bridge collapses on an interstate highway during rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring an additional 100. Whom to blame? How about the nation’s bicyclists and pedestrians!

The Minneapolis bridge collapse on Aug. 1 led Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters to publicly reflect on federal transportation spending priorities and conclude that those greedy bicyclists and pedestrians, not to mention museumgoers and historic preservationists, hog too much of the billions of federal dollars raised by the gas tax, money that should go to pave highways and bridges. Better still, Peters, a 2006 Bush appointee, apparently doesn’t see biking and walking paths as part of transportation infrastructure at all.

In an Aug. 15 appearance on PBS’s “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” Peters spoke against a proposal to raise gas taxes to shore up the nation’s aging infrastructure. The real problem, the secretary argued, is that only 60 percent of the current money raised by gas taxes goes to highways and bridges. She conveniently neglected to mention that about 30 percent of the money goes to public transit. She then went on to blast congressional earmarks, which dedicate 10 percent of the gas tax to some 6,000 other projects around the country. “There are museums that are being built with that money, bike paths, trails, repairing lighthouses. Those are some of the kind of things that that money is being spent on, as opposed to our infrastructure,” she said. The secretary added that projects like bike paths and trails “are really not transportation.”

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Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 9:11 am

Connect the dots

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I blogged about this earlier, but a commenter to that post provided another dot. So the full story looks like this—I’ll leave it up to you to connect the dots.

First dot: the politicization of the Justice Department as Alberto Gonzales carried out the orders of (apparently) Karl Rove.

Second dot: This story in the Washington Post, which tells of how the Justice Department decided to drop prosecution of Chiquita Banana executives who had contributed $1.7 million to terrorists (even after being specifically warned that such contributions would be illegal).

Third dot, thanks to commenter: Somehow the “journalist” covering the story forgot to include one important detail: according to the company that owns 30% of Chiquita Banana donated just over $4 million to the GOP since 2000.

Connect the dots and see the picture!

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 9:02 am

Book fidelity

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Having “fidelity” in mind because of the current shaving experiment (sticking with same razor and brand of blade for a month or more), I became aware of book fidelity—or, more generally, author fidelity.

This is the practice of sticking with a particular book or author, rereading the work(s) in preference to going on to read a succession of books.

The practice came to mind in reading a rather peculiar yet intriguing mystery/thriller, The Echelon Vendetta, by ‘David Stone’, the pseudonym of a person we are to believe has worked in the various intelligence services. It’s a first novel, so he hasn’t yet ironed out little difficulties like maintaining appropriate tone, etc., but it’s the more interesting for that.

At any rate, one of the characters reads Joseph Conrad. When asked why, he replies, “There’s always something interesting in Conrad.” And in The English Patient, the eponymous character reads Herodotus—over and over. We know or can readily imagine people who prefer reading Jane Austen’s novels, or Shakespeare’s plays, or Dostoevski, or Tolstoi to moving on to a new mystery, thriller, or novel.

One of my tutors at St. John’s told of a highly successful CEO who had time each year to read only one novel, and every year he read Don Quixote again. (The Edith Grossman translation at the link has received very good reviews.)

So perhaps something is to be said for returning to the same book or author repeatedly—provided it’s a good book or author. I wouldn’t want to try this with one of, say, Harlan Coben’s books. But take, say, Morte d’Urban, by J.F. Powers. When I read it for the second time, it was as if a completely new novel had come to inhabit the pages. Or A New Life, by Bernard Malamud: the knowledge you gain from the first reading totally transforms the second reading.

So it’s probably good to find your book or author and return for a rereading every year or two, so you can open the depths of the book.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 8:55 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Pré de Provence: good stuff

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This morning it was the Simpsons Commodore X3 and the tin of Pré de Provence shea-butter shaving soap. A faint fragrance, but a fine lather.

Day 4 of the Treet Blue Special, and it gave me a beautifully smooth result, though its own action wasn’t quite so smooth as when new, so I reluctantly put the blade into the blade safe at the end of the shave. I probably could have gotten another shave, but with 4 shaves it cost 2.875¢ a shave and with 5 shaves it would cost 2.3¢. What’s 0.375¢ to the Leisureguy? Not that much, really.

The aftershave was Royal Copenhagen, a very pleasant aftershave and fragrance. Great start to the day.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2007 at 8:36 am

Posted in Shaving

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