Later On

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

Archive for April 17th, 2012

Why I want a Chevy Volt

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Check this out. 132 mpg is not too shabby.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 5:53 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

The Dam Busters back on Watch Instantly

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I think I’ve picked up some new readers since I last gave an incredible number of thumbs up to The Dam Busters, a semi-documentary about a WWII air raid. Made less than a decade after WWII (released in 1955), memories were still much alive and the movie clearly has as one goal to recognize and honor the men involved. There’s an almost Homeric litany of those going on the raid and a roll of those who fell—and this all really happened. Try to imagine being in their situation—how would you have handled it?

School-night note: The movie runs just over 2 hours. And it’s not a movie you want to stop watching.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Nice grüb: Spinach and fish

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Actually, quite a few things: I used the 4-qt sauté pan, which got quite full.

First, cook 3/4 c black rice in 1.5 c water. This will be the starch and will be added later.

2 Tbsp Meyer lemon EVOO (which is what I had on hand)
1 large leek, cut in half lengthwise for washing, then sliced thinly
1/2 large Spanish onion, chopped
crushed red pepper

Sauté until onion soft, then add:

1/4 garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow crookneck squash, chopped
6 domestic white mushrooms, sliced
1/4 c pine nuts

Sauté for a while, then add:

2 Tbsp Amontillado sherry
1 Meyer lemon, ends cut off and then cubed (with peel)
2 bunches fresh spinach, rinsed well in a sink full of cold water, then chopped
1/2 cup pitted Saracena olives
1/2 cup black garlic

Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is wilted and there’s room in the pan. Then add:

the pot of cooked black rice

Stir, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add:

1 lb cod fillet, cut into small chunks

Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

It’s all there: oil, protein, starch, greens, and veggies, with little salt. This looks as though it will be 4-5 meals, at least. I would have preferred Pacific swordfish, but it was $25/lb and the cod was $10/lb. Easy choice. (And, of course, tofu which I would normally use is even cheaper.)

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 4:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Grub, Recipes

A conversation with Timothy Wilson

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If you’ve been reading the blog for long, you’ve doubtless encountered my recommendation that you read Timothy Wilson’s Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. If you haven’t, this article should convince you to get the book. Wilson does a presentation, and then it’s discussed among Steven Pinker, Daniel Gilbert, Timothy Wilson, and Hugo Mercier:


by Daniel Gilbert

Psychology has always had a love-hate relationship with the unconscious, but mainly hate. The unconscious was the cornerstone of Freud’s theories about the mind, but William James expressed the views of many early 20th century scientists when he referred to it as “the sovereign means for believing what one likes in psychology, and for turning what might become a science into a tumbling-ground for whimsies.” James’s antipathy was contagious and his arguments won the day. The unconscious was banished to psychology’s basement for more than half a century.

But in the mid 1970’s, Tim Wilson and Dick Nisbett opened the basement door with their landmark paper entitled “Telling More Than We Can Know,” in which they reported a series of experiments showing that people are often unaware of the true causes of their own actions, and that when they are asked to explain those actions, they simply make stuff up. People don’t realize they are making stuff up, of course; they truly believe the stories they are telling about why they did what they did.  But as the experiments showed, people are telling more than they can know. The basement door was opened by experimental evidence, and the unconscious took up permanent residence in the living room. Today, psychological science is rife with research showing the extraordinary power of unconscious mental processes.

If liberating the unconscious had been Wilson’s only contribution to psychological science, it would have been enough. But it was just the start. Wilson has since discovered and documented a variety of fascinating ways in which all of us are “strangers to ourselves” (which also happens to be the title of his last book—a book that Malcolm Gladwell, writing in the New Yorker, correctly called the best popular psychology book published in the last twenty years). He has done brilliant research on topics ranging from “reasons analysis” (it turns out that when people are asked to generate reasons for their decisions, they typically make bad ones) to “affective forecasting” (it turns out that people can’t predict how future events will make them feel), but at the center of all his work lies a single enigmatic insight: we seem to know less about the worlds inside our heads than about the world our heads are inside.

The Torah asks this question: “Is not a flower a mystery no flower can explain?” Some scholars have said yes, some scholars have said no. Wilson has said, “Let’s go find out.” He has always worn two professional hats — the hat of the psychologist and the hat of the methodologist. He has written extensively about the importance of using experimental methods to solve real world problems, and in his work on the science of psychological change — he uses a scientific flashlight to chase away a whole host of shadows by examining the many ways in which human beings try to change themselves — from self-help to psychotherapy — and asking whether these things really work, and if so, why? His answers will surprise many people and piss off the rest. I predict that this new work will be the center of a very interesting storm.

— Daniel Gilbert, Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University; Director of Harvard’s Hedonic Psychology Laboratory; Author, Stumbling on Happiness.

The Social Psychological Narrative — or — What Is Social Psychology, Anyway?

[TIMOTHY D. WILSON:] Questions that I have asked myself throughout my career are largely ones about self-knowledge and the role of the conscious mind versus unconsciousness; the limits of introspection; and the problems of introspection. For example, how it can sometimes get us into trouble to think too much about why we’re doing what we’re doing. These are questions I began asking in graduate school with my graduate advisor, Dick Nisbett, and they have concerned me ever since.

There has been a question lurking in the back of my mind for all those years, which is how can we take this basic knowledge and use it to solve problems of today? I grew up in the turbulent 1960s, in an era where it seemed like the whole world was changing, and that we could have a hand in changing it. Part of my reason for studying psychology in the first place was because I felt that this was something that could help solve social problems. In graduate school and beyond I fell in love with basic research, which is still my first love.  It is thrilling to investigate basic questions of self-knowledge and consciousness and unconsciousness. But those other, more applied questions have continued to rattle around and recently come to the fore, the more I realized how much social psychology has to offer.

One of the basic assumptions of the field is that it’s not the objective environment that influences people, but their constructs of the world. You have to get inside people’s heads and see the world the way they do. You have to look at the kinds of narratives and stories people tell themselves as to why they’re doing what they’re doing. What can get people into trouble sometimes in their personal lives, or for more societal problems, is that these stories go wrong. People end up with narratives that are dysfunctional in some way.

We know from cognitive behavioral therapy and clinical psychology that one way to change people’s narratives is through fairly intensive psychotherapy. But social psychologists have suggested that, for less severe problems, there are ways to redirect narratives more easily that can have amazingly powerful long-term effects. This is an approach that I’ve come to call story editing.  By giving people little prompts, suggestions about the ways they might reframe a situation, or think of it in a slightly different way, we can send them down a narrative path that is much healthier than the one they were on previously.

One of the first studies I did after graduate school tested a story-editing intervention of this kind. We recruited a sample of college students who were caught in a self-defeating thought cycle, where they were not doing well academically (these were first-year students) and were quite worried. They seemed to be blaming themselves and thinking that maybe they were one of those admissions errors that just couldn’t cut it at college, which of course made it all the more difficult to study.

We did a brief intervention where, in about 30 minutes, we gave them some facts and some testimonials from other students that suggested that their problems might have a different cause; namely, that it’s hard to learn the ropes in college at first, but that people do better as the college years go on, when they learn to adjust and to study differently than they did in high school and so on.

This little message that maybe it’s not me, it’s the situation I’m in, and that that can change, seemed to alter people’s stories in ways that had dramatic effects down the road. Namely, people who got this message, as compared to a control group that did not, got better grades over the next couple of years and were less likely to drop out of college. Since then, there have been many other demonstrations of this sort that show that little ways of getting people to redirect their narrative from one path down another is a powerful tool to help people live better lives.

Another issue that interests me is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 1:41 pm

Social celllular structures

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Fascinating article in New Statesman by Daniel Dennet:

A single cell, such as a bacterium, is the simplest thing that can be alive. In addition to the materials from which it is constructed, it needs three features: a way of capturing energy (a metabolism), a way of reproducing (genes or something like genes) and a membrane that lets in what needs to come in and keeps out the rest.

Converging lines of research from various schools in biology agree on these three necessities, but there is substantial unresolved controversy about the order in which they must have emerged at the origin of life. If the history of evolutionary biology continues along the paths it has followed so far, it is likely that the solution to this problem will prove to be some ingenious and indirect process of chance combinations and gradual refinements, in which metabolism-like cycles and reproduction-like processes joined forces with non-living membranes that were already floating around, objets trouvés that could be appropriated and exploited. Whatever their origins, the resulting designs have now been refined and optimised for more than three billion years and have proven remarkably hardy. Not only are such single cells the most abundant form of life on the planet, but all living things, from trees to fish to human beings, are constructed of them, harnessed by the trillions into co-operating multicellular teams.

Cells may be the simplest life forms on the planet – even the simplest possible life forms – but their inner workings, at the molecular level, are breathtakingly complex, composed of thousands of molecular machines, all of them interacting to provide the cell with the energy it needs to build offspring and maintain its membrane. Echoes of the design wisdom embodied in this very effective machinery can be found in human culture, which is dazzlingly complex, too, composed as it is of about seven billion interacting people, with their traditions, languages, institutions, occupations, values and economies. Some cultural phenomena bear a striking resemblance to the cells of cell biology, actively preserving themselves in their social environments, finding the nutrients they need and fending off the causes of their dissolution.

Consider four unrelated species of social cell that share some interesting features. What do the Japanese tea ceremony, debutante parties, Ponzi schemes and many Christian churches have in common? They are all variations of an insidiously effective social mechanism that:
1) thrives on human innocence, and
2) nobody had to design, and
3) is threatened with extinction by the rising tide of accessibility to information.

Like bacteria, as we shall see, they have – and need – metabolisms, methods of reproducing, and membranes, yet there is no need to suppose that these shared features arose from a common ancestor, nor even that the features of one of them inspired copying by the other. Wherever there is a design that is highly successful in a broad range of similar environments, it is apt to emerge again and again, independently – the phenomenon known in biology as convergent evolution. I call these designs “good tricks”. For instance, flight has evolved independently at least four times, in insects, birds, pterosaurs and mammals, and vision has evolved more often than that.

Seeing and flying are very good tricks, for obvious reasons. It is also obvious that human culture has its own roster of good tricks: bows and arrows, boats, writing and the wheel, to name a few. (It is not known if the wheel has been invented many times or just once, with all later wheels being copies of some original wheel, the brainchild of the mythic inventor of the wheel – and it doesn’t matter! Almost certainly wheels would have appeared eventually one place or another.) The typical if tacit assumption is that these good tricks were independently reinvented by intelligent designers among our ancestors, and although this may sometimes have been true – we will probably never know – it is quite possible that they arose in the same way the good tricks of biology did: by mindless processes of differential reproduction in which understanding of what was going on was at a minimum, if not zero.

Let us consider the four cultural phenomena, chosen for their relative simplicity and vividness from a much larger array of possibilities, to see how this might have happened. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Daily life

FCC Chairman: “Broadcasters are against transparency.”

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Justin Elliott reporting for ProPublica:

Television stations, which have been fightinga government proposal to make political ad data more accessible, came in for some harsh criticism yesterday at their annual trade show in Las Vegas. In a keynote speech Monday afternoon at the National Association of Broadcasters convention, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski unleashed on the industry.

“[S]ome in the broadcast industry have elected to position themselves against technology, against transparency and against journalism,” said Genachowski, who favorsthe proposed rule, which would create an FCC website for political ad data.

The data is already public but kept only on paper at TV stations. (That’s why ProPublica has launched Free the Files. We’re inviting volunteers to visit the stations and help collect the data so anybody can see it. The data can provide information not available through traditional campaign finance filings.)

As we’ve previously reported, the National Association of Broadcasters, led by former Sen. Gordon Smith, has been lobbying the FCC to water down the proposed rule requiring stations to post the data. The commission will vote on it April 27.

Genachowski criticized television stations for opposing the transparency measure despite the “proud history of broadcast journalism.”

Genachowski also answered broadcasters’ objections point by point. Here’s the key portion of his speech: . . .

Continue reading. His answers clearly show that the broadcaster’s are acting in bad faith. Some should lose licenses over this.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 11:39 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

How forensic experts are made

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This helps explain the “expertise” of the FBI crime lab. Leah Bartos reports for ProPublica:

This is how I — a journalism graduate student with no background in forensics — became certified as a “Forensic Consultant” by one of the field’s largest professional groups.

One afternoon early last year, I punched in my credit card information, paid $495 to the American College of Forensic Examiners International Inc. and registered for an online course.

After about 90 minutes of video instruction, I took an exam on the institute’s web site, answering 100 multiple choice questions, aided by several ACFEI study packets.

As soon as I finished the test, a screen popped up saying that I had passed, earning me an impressive-sounding credential that could help establish my qualifications to be an expert witness in criminal and civil trials.

For another $50, ACFEI mailed me a white lab coat after sending my certificate.

For the last two years, ProPublica and PBS “Frontline,” in concert with other news organizations, have looked in-depth at death investigation in America, finding a pervasive lack of national standards that begins in the autopsy room and ends in court.

Expert witnesses routinely sway trial verdicts with testimony about fingerprints, ballistics, hair and fiber analysis and more, but there are no national standards to measure their competency or ensure that what they say is valid. A landmark 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences called this lack of standards one of the most pressing problems facing the criminal justice system.

Over the last two decades, ACFEI has emerged as one of the largest forensic credentialing organizations in the country.

Among its members are top names in science and law, from Dr. Henry Lee, the renowned criminalist and pathologist, to John Douglas, the former FBI profiler and bestselling author. Dr. Cyril Wecht, a prominent forensic pathologist and frequent TV commentator on high-profile crimes, chairs the group’s executive advisory board.

But ACFEI also has given its stamp of approval to far less celebrated characters. It welcomed Seymour Schlager, whose credentials were mailed to the prison where he was incarcerated for attempted murder. Zoe D. Katz – the name of a house cat enrolled by her owner in 2002 to show how easy it was to become certified by ACFEI — was issued credentials, too. More recently, Dr. Steven Hayne, a Mississippi pathologist whose testimony helped to convict two innocent men of murder, has used his ACFEI credential to bolster his status as an expert witness.

Several former ACFEI employees call the group a mill designed to churn out and sell as many certificates as possible. They say applicants receive cursory, if any, background checks and that virtually everyone passes the group’s certification exams as long as their payments clear. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2012 at 11:37 am

Posted in Business, Law

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