Friday, June 30, 2006

Swimming update

A nagging suspicion that I have been developing an arm problem has kept me out of the pool off and on over the past few months. Mostly, I've felt it prudent to limit swims to three or four a week instead of the five (or six!) I prefer.

But after a lot of experimentation, I think I've isolated the cause to a glitch in the breathing part of my stroke. I've apparently fallen into a habit of sort of looking up to the side to breathe in instead of looking over my shoulder, more or less. The over-the-shoulder way completely eliminates the twinge I've been feeling in my left arm, which although it hasn't been particularly painful has worried me.

Now all I have to do is get over-the-shoulder burned into my muscle memory and I'll be all set. I hope. Oh, an added plus: Washing out my sinuses more thoroughly pays off. I've had much less congestion, although I have had to take Claritin each evening. I plan to launch a multi-month experiment to try to cut back on how many doses I go through in a week. I'm not concerned about the long-term effect of the drugs, but they aren't cheap (about a buck a dose, even on sale) and I'm not keen on ingesting meth ingredients every day that I swim.

Anyway, this week has been very good in the pool, with no need at all to take a day off. Katy's puppyhood is tiring (and very worth it!), but I find that the swims help keep me in an easygoing frame of mind, even if I am a bit worn.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

History in the making, but who cares?

I guess I've been beaten to the punch in using "schism" in a post or headline, but there's one going on right now anyway.

I wonder if the Great Schism went down like this. You'd think big moments in history would be obvious when they're happening, but maybe not. Who would have thought when it was first advertised that the Macintosh would have had such an effect?

Maybe this difficulty in seeing the forest when you're in it is why reputable halls of fame, such as baseball and sainthood, make would-be entrants wait a while to get in and why there are so many bullshit choices made for awards given the same year something happened ("Crash" - need I say more?)

First signs of the coming storm

A whistling Pete was set off in the neighborhood last night, no doubt a precursor of a nearly weeklong barrage. Piggy will not be pleased.

Last year's Independence Day celebrations started about this early and ended late, and he wasn't too happy, especially when walk time coincided with neighborhood fireworks time.

The spaniel finds pyrotechnics to be very much a bad thing and typically holes up wherever his mommy and daddy are, looking disconcerted. No sign yet of how Katy will handle them, but given their wildly divergent styles of interacting with each other (he wants her to go away, she wants to lick his face and nip him on the butt), she'll probably think it is just a really great party and possibly an excuse to take a nap.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Making ends meet on the installment plan

"Imagine the world of opportunities that awaits with an ability to spreadyour payments over several months!"

With those words, Mason Shoe Chairman Bill Scobie wraps up his pitch for potential customers of his company to sign up for Mason Direct Credit, which in the case of the person whose catalog arrived at my home allows for a credit line of $500 to buy shoes, boots, slippers and/or a few accessories.

The catalog has two front-page refers to the program, in addition to the open letter from Scobie on Page 2, a Web address at the bottom of every page and a pull-out sheet headed "Congratulations: You're PRE-APPROVED FOR Mason Direct Credit" that give some details of the program.

The pull-out sheet is in magenta and black and has a frilly border of the sort you saw on the Elks Club Hoop Shoot certificate you got after a middle-school free-throw contest.

I didn't see any hint of finance charges. Flipping through the catalog, I saw that all the shoes have little inset breakdowns of the price per month, but the fine print on each page says "the price per month reflects merchandise price only. Actual monthly payment may vary..."

Although No. 3 on the certificate pictured here says that all the terms are on the "back" of the form, when you flip it over you find only some terms, including overdraft and late charges, how payments need to be made, a definition of default, some other provisions and a paragraph on arbitration.

What gives? Where's the rest of the fine print?

Well, at the back of the catalog is the other half of the pull-out sheet (of which there was no mention at the front of the catalog), which - Surprise! - outlines the annual percentage rates and "privacy" policy.

The APR is predictably high (though not in Arkansas, where it is listed at 6 percent) and the "privacy" policy is a joke. Unless you opt out, Mason Shoe may share your "nonpublic personal information" with pretty much anybody they like.

Now, I'm not saying they're painting a target on people of limited means, but they are trying to attract people who need to pay for a pair of shoes in installments...

Katy's Bear Paw

After some experimentation, our growing ball of fuzz has a name. She also has the beginnings of several tricks (sit, get up - her favorite thing to do is lie down, so that's not really a trick - hurry home) as well as an improving track record with collars, leashes and house training.

Max still isn't too keen on the situation, but he is finding little ways to assert himself and he is always willing to growl. Ah, dog dynamics.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Is Garybob slacking?

If so, I hope he doesn't read my blog.

Having already established that Monkey doesn't take very long swims, I was attuned to other people's workouts in a way I wouldn't normally be, which led me to calculate Garybob's swim at 1,500 meters, somewhat short of the amount he credits himself with. Curious, that.

Of course, I'm one to talk, having launched into a multiple personality disorder style of swim distances (see, I know it's not schizophrenia!).

Oh, I guess it isn't called that anymore, damn it. Let's try that again:

Of course, I'm one to talk, having launched into a dissociative identity disorder style of swim distances (see, I know it's not multiple personality disorder!).

It's all about the fans, baby!

By popular demand, our baby (who got a clean bill of health and some shots at the vet today)...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Quadruped #2

Fortune may favor the foolish, but the butterfly lady and I - OK, the butterfly lady anyway - have a wisdom surplus, so I'm not sure what to make of our shocking luck...

News of a Newfy pup came in on Friday's breeze and today brought the above individual. Below is a somewhat ruffled other individual...

Friday, June 23, 2006

day of coding

One of the side benefits of being me is the chance to do entertaining odd jobs that are not strictly speaking a part of my job description.

Yesterday (and Wednesday afternoon), that meant revising some of the macros that our Byzantine and antiquated (come to think of it, Byzantine is probably becoming an antiquted term :) pagination system uses to make our jobs "easier."

The A1 index is an example of an item that can be macro-ed, but also one that a template works for in about a quarter the time (hey, these aren't rocket-fueled computers). Guess which one I use? But to learn more about macros, I revised the index, which has lots of little details and tricks.

I'm not sure how much I learned, but I got the hang of the macro thing, so hey, low-cost amusement. Especially because I can see HUGE opportunities for fun and devilment in designing some of the macros. One reason for this is that the programmer can work in little dialogue boxes that pop up when a macro user needs to make a decision. The text of those boxes, as you might have already guessed, is up to me!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Flying cowboy class

"Classy" airplane seating sets sail under many flags - business class, first class, executive class - but it all boils down to comfy. What isn't so hot, you would think, is having all the cattle-class schlubs parade by on their way to the back of the plane. Unless your goal in sitting up there is to feel superior, I suppose.

It seems to me that the airlines, hoping to lavish their higher-paying customers with goodies to ease the pain of flying, figure they've pulled off a clever twofer: Seat the first class folks first so they can have a treat, but also so they can act as a living, breathing advertisement for flying in the front of the plane.

Well, I don't want to spend big bucks to be a free ad, and if I'm about to sit for a few hours in a tin can, I'm not too keen on sitting down right now. So how about giving me a lounge where I can enjoy those drinks standing up and letting me get on last?

Of course, some airlines just buy planes that put the passengers on in the middle of the craft and segregate them at the door. That's a good solution, but not if you're stuck with a bunch of old planes...

I'm reminded of all these things by a recent flight, and also by the news that Southwest Airlines is edging away from its festival (dog-eat-dog) seating of aircraft. Although their news release pays lip service to efficiency and other rubbish, I think the real deal is in this poorly written sentence:

"Southwest also has said it would consider Customer Satisfaction enhancements, like assigned seating, if such a move would attract new Customers and maintain or improve overall operational efficiencies."

When you start capitalizing things like Satisfaction, it is a short trip to capitalizing on things like satisfaction.

The irony here is that Southwest highlights its "enviable" successes in the same statement. Those successes would be, obviously, in comparison to the performance of other, more class-conscious carriers that are always on the brink of bankruptcy.

Strange and mysterious.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Decongestant Times, Vol. 3

Safeway, which previously foreswore selling such infamous products as Claritin-D, is now peddling it, but according to the lady at the pharm desk not for long. And in keeping with her prognostication, the price label under the little chits for the product reads "while supplies last." The discount expires July 1.

The pharm lady also suggested the drug might soon be by prescription only, by the above date in Oregon and "soon after" in Washington.

OK, but I don't think putting the drugs in Prescriptionland is really going to make a difference in the "war" on meth. In the long run, all this appears likely to do is put the meth labs in Mexico and add one more drug to the well-developed supply lines.

This doesn't seem like a very good plan, but maybe that's because it isn't part of a plan, just a piecemeal take-a-stand campaign by states that don't want meth labs in their back yards. That fits from a parochial standpoint, but is irresponsible and doomed from any other sensible point of view.

It seems to me that a more rational course of action would be to attack the demand side of methamphetamines, which some people - notably the Montana Meth Project - do.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Why do we call him Pig?

Mostly because he does a little vocal thing when he sniffs to see if your hand is holding a treat, but also because he has a tendency to do this!


Icelandic, Japanese, Norwegian, Russian, Makah, who cares? You kill whales, you've got mental problems.

On that happy note, I see that the International Whaling Commission has made a symbolic step toward ending the ban on whaling (which of course is not universal). Hey, I get the whole its-my-culture-that's-why-I-want-to-kill-them bit, and I also get that dead whales are valuable, but give me a break, on both accounts.

The fiscal argument cuts no ice: It's been 20 years, find a new job.

And culture? Rubbish. Cultures change. To pretend that a culture will "die" if its carriers can't kill something is a charade carried on by the superstitious and provincial, enabled by the namby-pamby forces of political correctness. Absolute bullshit.

We're not talking about whole cultures here, but if your country has represented as pro-whaling for the past 20 years and you haven't done anything about it, you're partly to blame, too.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Butterfly lady at a joe shack

West Philadelphia doesn't seem to be a hotbed of good coffee shops, but this one was A-OK by me... This also happens to be my maternal grandfather's old neighborhood.

Juvenile delinquent or young punk?

Our living language provides plenty of chances for the politically correct to recast the world in their image. Here's yet another example, at a facility near the University of Pennsylvania.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

amusing signage

From the University of Pennsylvania neighborhood, scraps of silliness.


Sometimes the coolest little details are near your shoe. How many cities do you know of where such an item is manufactured?

cool but disorienting typeface

found in some odd corner of Philadelphia.

If I had a million dollars (seriously)

I would buy a Raven's Progressive Matrices kit and all the accessories from Harcourt Assessment. Alas, the kit's price tag is $749 and does not appear to include handy things like a fleepin' manual to tell you what the scores mean.

I am a little annoyed to find out that the fancy schmancy testing I underwent to get my job used standard matrices, not the advanced test, which one would hope is harder (and more fun).

So now all I need to do is find somebody who has time to spare and an advanced set they're willing to run me through!

Shariff Azim (and/or his friends) rocks!

After blathering ad nauseum (and judging by the overwhelming number of comments on my postings from the conference) about the goings on at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society conference in Philadelphia, I got the sneaking suspicion that I should have been a bit more self-promoting (Advice Goddess Amy Alkon had the good sense to put up little signs at the conference sign-up table indicating she'd been blogging on the proceedings).

But Shariff Azim and/or his friends and fans, saved the day with multiple visits, although I think I gave his research short shrift. So here's how Azim and his second author, Ara Norenzayan, laid out the meat of their study in an abstract:

"Using social psychological methodologies, we have examined how priming religious concepts affects moral and prosocial behavior. Our results indicate that even subtle unconscious exposure to religious ideas can dramatically encourage prosocial over selfish behavior. These effects hold for both theists and atheists. Current research is examining the relative effectiveness of secular moral concepts such as civil responsibility and social contractarianism."

I still say the most interesting piece of their research - to me, an outsider - is how stark the difference was between religion-primed and control-primed participants, and the implications for priming in other venues. Indeed, "can dramatically encourage..." may even be too soft a sell...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A sin of omission

On a quick online troll for information about an OTC allergy drug, I found a list of which states won't sell you decongestants without a trip to the pharmacy counter.

The list also indicates which stores Alavert's maker says won't leave the methamphetamine ingredients out in the aisles: Albertsons, Safeway, Longs Drugs, Rite Aid, Shopko, Safeway, Target and Wal-Mart.

Exactly half of states will let you buy Alavert Allergy & Sinus D-12 (and, presumably, all its competitors) without rigamarole.

Of course, Alavert (again, presumably, joined by its competitors) doesn't make any effort whatsoever to say why you have to go to the pharm desk...

not quite a triumph, but not too shabby

Tuesday's swim, the first in recent memory (vacation'll do that to me), went fine, but was a smidge slow. The reintroduction of chlorinated water did not make for happy sinuses, but oh well.

It was, as always, fantastic to be in the water.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


and waiting a triumphant (??) return to the pool. Yesterday was definitely out on account of the two hours of sleep that came between arriving at home and heading to work.

Work: Where you go to recover from vacation.


Saturday, June 10, 2006

If I had a million dollars...

I'd buy whatever I wanted.

But if I only had $20, what would I do?

That question is the basis for an interesting economic game that a healthy handful of researchers - most notably and most heavily referenced, Norm Li - presenting at HBES are playing with their participants.

The basic principle: You get a list of attributes for a short-term or long-term mate (or both) and a small amount of capital to spend on the attributes. What do you look for? When the researcher doles out another helping of capital, do your priorities change? What about another helping?

Typically, the answer when the budget is small is absolute necessities. In the case of women, that would be a man with resources. In the case of men, that would be a good-looking woman. After satisfying those obvious basic needs, the less-useful items get bought, such as sense of humor, kindness...)

The games are touted as being a way to get to the heart of what's important in mate-seeking in a way that is very difficult in the lands of plenty that all this research is done in.

For a fully laid-out version, read Li's paper, "The Necessities and Luxuries of Mate Preference: Testing the Tradeoffs."

Ironically, perhaps, a talk today by Elizabeth Pillsworth on the Shuar (hunter/horticulturalists of southeast Ecuador) found that kindness, reliability and faithfulness ruled for people seeking long-term mates. Being as the Shuar appear to be in a life situation much more closely related to all of humanity's forebears, you'd think that they, like the people Li's games test, would put greater stock in looks/resources...

Kanazawa postscript

When I caught up with Satoshi Kanazawa during an evening poster session Friday, I put the question to him: Can you have high mating intelligence without using it?

He said no, and equated mating intelligence with cheater detection. Could you truthfully say you're good at detecting cheaters but also acknowledge being routinely taken in?

Says I, "Does that mean that you have to have a wife and kids to have high mating intelligence?"

"No," says he, "but you would need to have a lot of partners."

OK, fine. But what about for women? Having many partners is not typically seen as a genius strategy for women, so his position would mean that the only women who have high mating intelligence are indeed the ones who have a husband - or other long-term mate - and kids.

I find this implausible, to say the least, but I also think Kanazawa is onto something when he posits that mating intelligence is not the be-all Intelligence - a position held by others.

That doesn't mean I'm sold on Kanazawa's proposition that general intelligence, mating intelligence and all the other intelligences are non-hierarchical, though.

a useful tool?

In a task designed to determine whether religion points people toward morality (defined here as prosocial behavior), researcher Azim Shariff used implicit priming (a word-jumble game that contains certain terms, in this case ones associated with religion) to see whether participants would be more likely to share money.

The upshot appears to be: Yeah, they will, regardless of whether they are theists or atheists. Of course, there's plenty of room to wonder what exactly was at work, but the religion-words-primed participants were much more share-y than the non-religion-words-primed participants.

In this particular experiment, the participants had to decide how to allocate $10 between themselves and an unsuspecting other (unsuspecting in the sense that if you took $9, they wouldn't know they were getting a worse deal than if you took $6).

This leads me to wonder whether other sorts of implicit priming could be used to point people in the direction of parting with their money. For example, the longer you play cards against the house in a casino, the more likely you are to lose. So maybe casinos already (or could choose to) employ some sort of priming to keep people at the tables for another hand.

Maybe that's what Jack and Cokes are for.

Friday, June 09, 2006

implications for newspaper folk

Off the side of a side road, I came across this little item:

A study by Miriam Law Smith of whether human face color counts when it comes to assessments of mating worthiness shed some light on an area I hadn't expected. Smith said that when the time came to manipulate the reds and yellows in people's faces (facial redness turns out to be widely viewed as desirable, so drink up!), using lab color was the best choice (most lifelike, evidently), as opposed to operating in RGB (or CMYK, for that matter).

Of course, the natural inclination for press types is to operate in CMYK, because for all its pitfalls, it is the color that's used on the press.

Lab color, unlike the sorta primary color scheme used on the multimillion-dollar machines, is a way to tinker with lightness as well as, if you by the Wikipedia account, redness and greenness.

Would this mean we'd be best off adjusting images in lab color, then converting? Who knows. Adjusting in RGB then converting sometimes results in a loss of fidelity, no doubt on account of the inherent limitations of CMYK (muddy waters ahead!).

But this is certainly information that begs experimentation!

more food for thought

Medical professionals sometimes suggest to women struggling with acne that they use oral contraceptives because they have a knock-on effect (besides preventing small people, I mean).

Acne is also represented as a bacterial ailment.

Today's lecture by Diana Santos Fleischman on the effect of ovulation on OCD symptoms - fascinating in its own right - brought to light something I missed previously: that the synthetic hormones used in contraceptives can suppress women's immune systems. What does that say about using it to fight a bacterial ailment?

If acne is indeed an infection, I'd say that suppressing your immune system on a monthly basis would be an outstanding way to give the germs the reprieve they'd need to dig in and fortify. In addition, Fleischman found a higher interest in non-contamination among women with natural cycles versus women on the pill. This seems to me a way to exacerbate the problem.

All of this would be especially bad if acne turns out to be sometimes an infection, sometimes an outcome from hyperactive immune systems. Some of the latter maladies manifest as Xerox copies of acne, after all.

So, que pasa?

Remember the bad old days, when cervical cancer was a dark and deadly mystery and ulcers were "caused" by stress? Perchance a new day could dawn here...

assorted addenda from Thursday's sessions

Food for a couple of thoughts:

So you already know that crazy-clean tendencies on mom's part can result in asthma (or worse) for the kids, but check this out: These days, it is country kids who are seen as having better preparation to fight such hyper-immune-system ailments in part because, as Marlene Zuk detailed Thursday, country kids have access to intestinal worms, which in small numbers prep your body for later assaults by activating a class of cells (T2) that help regulate another class of cells (T1, and are you still with me?) that when unchecked can account for awful afflictions such as Crohn's disease... The key element, it appears, is to have evidence of manure in the linens of the country kids (aerosolized pooh?).

On a lighter (or heavier) note, the standard deviation for brain size was, if Geoffrey Miller said what I think he did, is 8.2 percent. Bigger is better when it comes to your brain, so when some people get a baker's dozen, they really are much better off than the holders of a standard 12. OK, that was a stretch, but hey, 8.2 percent is quite the hill of beans.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

What's your mating IQ?

PHILADELPHIA - What's it take to get laid?

Speakers at an annual evolutionary psychology conference here Thursday took a long, deep view at one of life's age-old questions during morning paper presentations. And a new player in the intelligence game reared its head, too.

Morning presentations at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society meeting focused on creativity as a key element in getting mate seekers into the good graces of their intended, as well as tackling larger questions about how the intelligence needed to do so works.

Presenters discussed mating intelligence, a publicity-poor cousin of such popular concepts as emotional and Machiavellian intelligence, in a symposium aimed at building a case for the idea from an evolutionary perspective.

Whether mating intelligence - roughly defined as adapatations that will get you a mate, help you keep that mate and deal with rivals - should take its place as part of a pantheon of intelligences or as a subsidiary of general intelligence was a subject of debate. For that matter, the idea of "general intelligence" got its fair share of inspection.

Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science, put forward his view that mating intelligence is a separate portion of a whole that has no name - a sort of unnamed pie that includes a slice called "general intelligence" as well as numerous other slices.

Kanazawa cast his view in opposition to popularly held - and in the world of evolutionary psychology this is a supremely subjective term - views of general intelligence.

Other speakers at the morning session took a more pragmatic approach to their arguments.

Ilanit Tal of the University of New Mexico discussed an attempt to validate mating intelligence.

Her study called on college students to undertake a variety of creativity tasks - including representational and abstract drawings and short essays - as well as a battery of tests to ascertain their intelligence, attitudes, personality type and tendency toward mental illness.

Findings of her study included a bright spot for the verbally creative, which is that the skill is a positive for men looking to capitalize on a short-term mating strategy.

Other findings discussed in the symposium posed more questions than they answered. A talk on mating intelligence as seen through the lens of speed dating concluded that more needs to be learned. Peter Todd's research attempted to find more about the high-speed assessments, but perhaps his most amusing discovery was that men typically offered second encounters to about 40 percent of women,. Meanwhile, women acquiesced to only about 20 percent of second encounters with men.

Never a truer word spoken?


Researchers in the session repeatedly highlighted findings that suggest long-term bonds are forged primarily at the hands of women, who are typically seen by evolutionary psychologists as having a greater interest in the long haul.

A final and fascinating note in the symposium was offered by Maureen O'Sullivan, whose research suggests that while everybody lies in relationships, women have a particularly distinguished record in that they successfully lie not only to men but to themselves.

Alas, for the romantic little remained after the mid-morning session.

Except, perhaps, findings of Scott Barry Kaufman, who found that creativity - that attractor of mates - to be linked with mental illness.

First-day impressions at HBES 2006

Philadelphia is the place, the annual conference ( of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society is the reason, and here I am.

After the customary night of beer, wine and high-decibel chatting, the meat of the meet arrived this morning. As you might expect, talks leaned heavily toward mate attraction. Two pieces of the puzzle addressed today were displays of creativity and mating intelligence.

Is visual or verbal creativity another feather in the cap for men (or women, though most findings suggest men make more use of it) seeking mates? Uh, maybe.

Is mating intelligence its own animal (like the much-ballyhooed emotional intelligence) or is it a piece of general intelligence? For that matter, is general intelligence the foundation of all other modules of intelligence (i.e. emotional IQ) or vice versa, or are they completely separate (aka there is no overarching intelligence)? Uh, maybe!

Besides the intellectual fun, a few collected items:

David Buss, he of fame, fortune (?) and certainly above-average height and intelligence, arrived at a talk just as the question was posed: Are height and intelligence selected for together? (I think the real question is: Are taller people smarter, and do they get picked first in the mating game?).

Although it used to be that city kids could resist disease better than country kids, the roles are reversed or at least reversing in the developed world, especially when it comes to asthma. Of course, the whole room-is-too-god-damn-clean thing is a reasonable explanation for why urbanites' kids wind up sick; it just strikes me as funny that now the barefoot country kids have an edge because they are the only ones being exposed to parasites that keep them, in the long run, healthy.

More later...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

good, but not as good as the last dish

In a mood to bump off some ingredients that lurked in the fridge, I assembled a country cousin of manicotti pomodori e gambero. Here were the major players:

cottage cheese
a finely chopped onion, sauteed
finely chopped bacon, three strips

stuffed into jumbo shells and manicotti

topped with halved grape tomatoes, cream sauce (which, if I do say so myself, I make damn well) and finely grated Parmesan.

The previous dish was cleverer by half (at least), mostly because of the spaghetti squash, which is a much more interesting filling than cottage cheese.

But it was still tasty...

yardage increase (finally)

Consistency hasn't exactly been my middle name lately, but the past few swims have been 2,600 meters with time to spare (not much, but a few minutes). My tentative goal for the summer is to get to 3,000, which should be doable because I could probably hit 2,700 or 2,750 right now.

I've been going up in 200-meter increments for no apparent reason (kind of like wearing a glove on your left hand if you're Bill Buckner or Michael Jackson), and I think I like the pattern. Ideally, of course, I would get to 3,200 by Sept. 6, but I'm not sure that's a plausible goal. It would be cool, though!

By then, the new pool should be open at the alma mater, which will pose a dilemma or two. If I can weasel in, it would be free, in which case the butterfly lady says she'd go, too, and if the hours work, it would be hard to justify the cost of the current venue, which has the advantage of being a place I am comfortable (and know two or three people).

Ugh. Who knows. Free is a very good price.