Friday, March 31, 2017

President Cat

Apparently, Trump really doesn't like having things near him and can be seen in a lot of footage rearranging things and pushing them away, whether they are his or not. Someone took the logical next step:

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The US Census and the (Incomplete) Exploration of the American Identity

Tuesday, a list of topics for the 2020 US Census was released, which finally included sexual orientation as a topic of interest. Tuesday afternoon, the list was updated, this time without sexual orientation. So begins the scramble to explain what happened and, as is sadly becoming the case these days, the information we're receiving from different representatives is often contradictory:
LGBTQ groups had been working with the Census Bureau to explore adding questions on sexual orientation and gender identity, and some of them hoped to see those questions — or at least an update on their status — in the new document. They were disappointed: The subjects weren’t listed in the main report. An appendix at the end, however, presented a table showing the various topics and the years they were first included in the surveys. Near the bottom of the list was “sexual orientation and gender identity”; in place of a year, the table said simply, “proposed.”

In a blog post Wednesday evening, Census Bureau Director John Thompson, who has led the bureau since 2013, wrote that the line in the appendix had been included “due to an error.” In a subsequent email to me, a census spokeswoman said the bureau had explored adding questions on orientation and identity, and that as part of that process a “working copy of the report had a section” on those subjects. “That section of the report was removed prior to publication, but was inadvertently left in the appendix,” the email continued. The bureau did not respond to a follow-up email asking when the section was removed.

Gary Gates, a demographer who has long advocated for collecting better data on the LGBTQ population, said adding questions to the census or ACS requires an extensive vetting and testing process that usually takes years. And Gates, who served on the Census Bureau’s scientific advisory committee until last year, said the bureau is especially wary of adding potentially controversial questions at a time when its surveys are already under political scrutiny from some Republicans in Congress.

“I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that there was never a plan to add sexual orientation or gender identity to the 2020 census,” Gates said. “That just wasn’t happening. It wasn’t even being considered.”
So what is it? A proposed topic they were exploring but ultimately decided to omit? A topic they were never considering that was truly an error? A topic they were going to include that was removed due to political pressure? Seriously, no one is giving the same story.

Even more important, what is their rationale for not including such an important topic? Considering the ongoing debate for LGBT rights, arguments about restroom usage, and so on, wouldn't these data help inform these discussions and policies?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Powerful PSA on Rape Culture

Via Huffington Post, this powerful PSA from the It's On Us campaign:

City Walks

I've always thought better while I was in motion. When I'm struggling to solve a work puzzle, figure out where to take a character in a story, or want to find some clarity on life issues, I find moving to be the best way to get my thought process going. I remember doing this as far back as high school. I asked one of my teachers for a hall pass to go get a drink of water. When he pointed out that the water fountain was across the hall and I wouldn't need a hall pass for that, I told him that I liked to walk to the farther water fountain because it gave me time to think on my way there and back. At that moment, he instituted the "think and drink." If I told him I needed a think and drink, he'd write me a hall pass, no questions asked.

Lauren Elkin's new book, Flâneuse, explores the history, criticism, and her own experiences of women who walk:
In these pages, the native Long Islander ditches her ancestral car keys for a life abroad and on foot, in search of a feminine definition of the flâneur, Charles Baudelaire’s famed and always male urban wanderer. In the streets of Paris, Tokyo, London, Venice, and Manhattan, Elkin roams through broken relationships, unexpected career turns, spiritual impasses, and intellectual harvests. The streets resist and affirm her choices and beliefs; they structure her imperfect wandering. In herself and the paths of famous female walkers, Elkin uncovers her flâneuse.

Elkin, a scholar of literature, weaves incisive analysis of the work of several women artists and writers into Flâneuse, bundling their thoughts and ties to famous cities with her own. In particular, the 19th-century French novelist George Sand, the British 20th-century literary giant Virginia Woolf, and the living film artist Agnès Varda loom large as important Women Who Walked for reasons that echo and clash with Elkin’s own. They walked with purpose and without it, to think and write, to map the city, to protest society, to support civil rights, to find belonging, to lose themselves, to reject and invite another person’s gaze. Bauderlaire’s flâneur may be an exclusively male figure, Elkin writes, an aimless stroller who blends and takes solace with the crowd. But women have always walked, and on their own terms—even when society refuses to see them.

Purchase a copy of the book here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

When Scientists Get Bored

I love stories about what scientists do when they find themselves in an inescapable situation - they collect data. The scientists involved in Rosenhan's On Being Sane in Insane Places gathered amazing observational data from inside mental institutions, when the original purpose of the study had simply been to get committed and see how long it takes to get released. Today, FiveThirtyEight shares another story about the crew of the USS Jeanette, who got stuck in sheets of ice and spent two years collecting detailed data about their surroundings.

Those data are now available on OldWeather, a repository of 150 years of weather, ocean, and sea-ice observations:
Old Weather is a gathering place for more than 4,500 citizen-sleuths who are helping climate scientists map our planet’s ancient weather patterns, for free, one logbook at a time. These volunteers read and transcribe notes from sailors, hoping to map the mostly unknown history of our planet’s weather patterns.

According to Kevin Wood, an Old Weather co-founder, examining the past in this way is key to understanding the earth’s future. As Arctic ice begins to melt at faster and faster rates, scientists need to quickly gain a better understanding of climate change and the impact it could have on humans. By looking at past weather events recorded in old ship logbooks, Wood hopes that he and his fellow scientists can learn more about our planet’s traditional weather patterns, which will help them predict extreme weather events like tsunamis and hurricanes.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Blogging A to Z: What Can You Expect?

Saturday, it begins. I have big plans for this year's Blogging A to Z, where I tackle the topic, Statistics in Action.

For instance, what do statisticians mean when they talk about "power"?

Is bigger really better?

And how did the Guinness Brewing Company make a major contribution to the field of statistics?

All these answers and more!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Shocking Experiment, Unshocking Results

A group of Polish researchers have replicated the famous Milgram obedience study, and unsurprisingly, found the same results:
“Upon learning about Milgram's experiments, a vast majority of people claim that ‘I would never behave in such a manner,’ says Tomasz Grzyb, a social psychologist involved in the research. “Our study has, yet again, illustrated the tremendous power of the situation the subjects are confronted with and how easily they can agree to things which they find unpleasant.”

While ethical considerations prevented a full replication of the experiments, researchers created a similar set-up with lower “shock” levels to test the level of obedience of participants.

The researchers recruited 80 participants (40 men and 40 women), with an age range from 18 to 69, for the study. Participants had up to 10 buttons to press, each a higher “shock” level. The results show that the level of participants’ obedience towards instructions is similarly high to that of the original Milgram studies.

They found that 90% of the people were willing to go to the highest level in the experiment. In terms of differences between peoples willingness to deliver shock to a man versus a woman, “It is worth remarking,” write the authors, “that although the number of people refusing to carry out the commands of the experimenter was three times greater when the student [the person receiving the "shock"] was a woman, the small sample size does not allow us to draw strong conclusions.”

Friday, March 24, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

Last night, I finally went to see the new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. I've heard mostly good things, though many of my friends complained that Emma Watson is clearly not a singer, and since most of my friends are singers, it's not too surprising that they were hoping for better singing from the lead. While I agree that Emma's voice was thin and over-produced, I was expecting it to sound much worse than it did based on the descriptions.

No, this wasn't top-quality singing, nor was it Hugh Jackman butchering "Bring Him Home." Other than that, Emma was perfectly cast as Belle and played the character perfectly. While I know the trend now in Hollywood is that we want our lead actors to do their own singing, I would have been fine if they had gone back to the old way of doing things - casting a big name in the lead role and having a professional singer provide vocals.

Perhaps by having an actual singer in the lead role or at least on the lead vocals would have counteracted my complaint about the film: I would have liked more music, especially from the lead and drawing from the great music from the Broadway version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. In fact, the movie annoyingly teased me with the melody to one of my favorite songs from the Broadway version, which Belle sings to the Beast after she agrees to take her father's place:

They actually used this melody a couple times in the movie. So disappointing when it never went anywhere, because it so easily could have been sung when Belle first enters her new bedroom (the first time the theme was played).

The casting in general was perfect, and I was pleasantly surprised at how good Luke Evan's vocals as Gaston were. I would love to see more musicals with him. Audra McDonald is a freaking gift to humanity and I wished she'd had a little more singing. Josh Gad was perfect as LeFou, and the additional element they added to his character (a gay man with a raging crush on Gaston) really just expanded a subtext that was, in my opinion, already there in the animated version; in fact, I loved the characterization of LeFou, his discomfort with Gaston's cruelty, and his opportunity at redemption that in general made him a much more relatable character. Dan Stephens was great as the Beast, but I have to admit, overshadowed by the amazing actors surrounding him.

The movie also changed the prologue just enough to make it much more acceptable. In the animated version, the Prince is only a child when the Enchantress visits him and tries to exchange a flower for a night's stay. We know he has to be young because the flower blooms until his 21st birthday. Can you really blame an orphaned child for not wanting a flower or to have some strange woman stay the night in his place? The curse seems unbelievably cruel. In this version, he is either a teenager or adult, and he has a reputation for being shallow. His house is full of (only beautiful) people when the Enchantress asks for a night's stay, and he responds to her with laughter and derision. The curse is still pretty cruel, but far more acceptable in this scenario.

I also liked that they included the detail that the villagers' memories of the Prince and his castle were wiped as part of the spell, which makes a lot more sense than, "Oh yeah, we have a Prince overseeing us somewhere but haven't seen him. And wait, there's a castle over there with a beast in it? No, that's where the mystery Prince's castle is. You know, the one no one visits and we haven't really thought about for years?"

The visuals of the movie are absolutely stunning. The staging kept the fun of the animated movie while bringing something new. And even though I knew exactly how it was going to turn out, I still cried - seriously, Emma Watson is an amazing actress and brought a lot to the character. I know as a singer I should be more disappointed with her singing, but her acting and characterization made it a non-issue for me. Not to mention, for anyone who saw and loved La La Land, you should know that we have Beauty and the Beast to thank for having Emma Stone in the lead role, as Watson was originally offered the role but turned it down because of her commitments with Beauty and the Beast.

So readers, have you seen the movie? What were your thoughts?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Age Peaks

IFLScience just posted this infographic showing the ages at which you peak at various skills, experiences, and characteristics:

I'm experiencing both fascination and slight existential crisis. Thankfully, today is my Friday.

Carmen at the Lyric

Last night, I went to see Bizet's Carmen at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The production was set in 1930's Spain, and contained a lot of dance, including some interesting choreography involving a dancer in a bull mask. The bull became a recurring theme throughout the show, showing up in scenes and following Carmen around or dancing off to the side. (BTW, John von Rhein of the Trib found the dance additions distracting and hated the bull.)

If you're not familiar with the story: The opera takes place in Spain. Carmen is a Gypsy, working in a cigarette factory. A group of soldiers, including Corporal Don José, are hanging around outside as the girls come out of the factory for their break. Everyone is enthralled by Carmen, except Don José, who sits to the side ignoring her. She chooses him as the object of her affection, throwing him a rose. Later, when she is arrested for attacking a fellow factory worker, she seduces Don José, who lets her go and is instead imprisoned for dereliction of duty. Later, Carmen talks Don José into running away from his duties and joining the revolutionaries in the mountain.

Carmen and Don José are not well-matched - Carmen is free-spirited while he is jealous and controlling. They continue to clash in the mountains. She urges him to leave and go back to his mother and childhood sweetheart. He refuses, though ultimately does leave when he learns his mother is dying. Carmen runs away with Escamillo, a toreador (bull fighter). Don José finds Carmen at a bull fight, confronts her for leaving him, and murders her.

The bull is meant to symbolize fate, something Carmen cannot escape, as she learns when she reads her fortune and finds that no matter how many cards she draws, the outcome is always her death. Don José is portrayed as a naive man seduced by the Gypsy, who ultimately brings about his downfall.

Honestly, what I got from the story was not that Don José was naive - he struck me as an authoritarian. He has very specific expectations about how men and women should behave. He is enthralled by the free-spirited Carmen, who forces him to break the rules, something he finds very uncomfortable. But I think the main reason he is so enthralled by her is that he sees her as a creature he seeks to tame and change. In some ways, she is the bull and he is the toreador. So perhaps his naivety is his belief that he can simply tame the bull. But the toreador's goal is to kill the bull. In that way, the bull appearing throughout the production is not simply fate, but a symbol of Carmen herself. The show is choreographed such that Carmen and Don José are encircling each other, center stage, while to the side the bull dancer and toreador dancer are similarly facing off. In fact, Carmen as the bull is one more reason that the outcome, Carmen's death, is inevitable - it's what the toreador must do or else die himself.

The show is closing this weekend, though it appears the remaining performances are sold out, so if you'd like to see it, hopefully you've already purchased tickets!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

More Evidence for Why We Should Care About Climate Change

A new study has found a potential connection between climate change and type 2 diabetes:
Diabetes data were collected from the CDC. The team also did a worldwide analysis based on rising rates of glucose intolerance and mean annual temperature.

The analysis showed that, on average, for every 1-degree Celsius increase in temperature, age-adjusted diabetes incidence rose 0.314%. A country-by-country analysis of glucose intolerance found an association of 0.170% for every 1-degree rise in temperature. These rates held up after an adjustment for obesity.

[T]he researchers concluded, “This association between temperature and raised fasting blood glucose cannot merely be due to international differences in age, sex, income, or obesity prevalence, as our analyses adjusted for these variables.”

You've Been Terminated

It's sad when things go on much longer than they should. Terminator was a great movie, and Terminator 2 was a freaking awesome movie (though, admittedly an awful sequel):

But then the movies just kept getting worse and worse. At long last, Paramount has finally shelved the Terminator franchise:
"It is over for The Terminator and Arnold," the source stated. "The studio has taken the sequel off the production slate completely, meaning there is no pre-production or any plans for another sequel. The talent had been offered long-term deals, but this is not happening."

The source also stated there was a chance an independent production company could step in and pick up the project, but convincing Schwarzenegger back would be "a tough ask".

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Does Anyone Speak Toddler Psychopath?

John Oliver, as he clearly states in this video, does not:

As usual, the video is full of some hilarious soundbites, such as, "Trump is truly the stopped clock of assholes."

Hey, I Can Write Good!

Back in January, I decided on a whim to sign up for the NYC Midnight short story contest. The contest involves three rounds with assigned story topics, word limits, and increasingly tight deadlines:
In the 1st Round (January 20-28, 2017), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment. Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words. The judges choose a top 5 in each heat to advance to the 2nd Round (March 23-26, 2017) where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000 word (maximum) short story. Judges choose finalists from the 2nd Round to advance to the 3rd and final round of the competition where writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word (maximum) story in just 24 hours (May 5-6, 2017).
This morning, I had an email waiting for me announcing that judging results were in and that they would be sending out personalized feedback soon. In the meantime, writers could check the list of winning stories. The list is quite long and I couldn't remember my exact heat, so I just searched for my name in the document, watching the number of matches narrow down as I typed each letter, waiting for it to say "phrase not found." And there I was:

I came in 2nd in my heat! The top 5 from each heat advance to round 2, which starts Thursday.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Don't Be Jimmy

The Regional Transportation District in Denver has a new mascot, who shows everyone what they shouldn't do while riding the RTD:

You can see what else Jimmy is up to here.

Blogging A to Z Theme Reveal

It's almost April, meaning it's almost time for the Blogging A to Z Challenge! Today is step 1 on the A to Z journey - theme reveal day!

I really struggled with my theme this year. Not coming up with one necessarily, but deciding if that's the one I wanted to go with. While I love having readers (who doesn't?) and want to pick topics that I think will appeal to many people, I use this blog to write about the things I love and know well, which may not always have widespread appeal. Last year, I wrote about my second love, social psychology. This year, I'm going to take on the challenge of writing about my first love, a topic that often makes my friends' eyes glaze over and perfect strangers stop asking me about what I do for a living.

Because my first love is statistics.

So here it is - this year's theme: Statistics in Action.

Here's my goal for this year's theme - to write about statistics topics that I think will be useful for most people and to do so in a way that is understandable and approachable. You're bombarded with statistics on a daily basis. Having some basic understanding of what goes on behind the numbers will help you use those statistics to your advantage and not be fooled by people who misuse those numbers or simply present them without really knowing what they mean.

I hope these posts will be informative but short, funny, and full of examples. I'm even thinking of doing some video posts - so you can listen to someone geek out about statistics instead of reading and trying to glean my enthusiasm. Hell, I'd even do the videos in a bikini if I thought it would keep you engaged.

So be sure to drop by in April for 26 posts on Statistics in Action!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Writing from Paradise

Don't hate me, but I'm writing this blog post from Sanibel, FL, where I'll be staying through Sunday. I'm doing lots of relaxing and reading, and making time for exploring. Here's some highlights.

After checking in, I immediately had to go to the beach alongside the hotel property and do this:

They also have hammocks:

Found this guy hanging around the pool:

And today, I drove up to Blind Pass, which is where Sanibel Island meets Captiva Island:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Women, Cannibals, and the Horror Movie Zeitgeist

It's always interesting to observe the different zeitgeists in horror. Though you'll see particular horror movie creatures come and go, it's interesting how one seems to catch on for a time and suddenly they're everywhere. In the late 90s/early 00s, it was vampires. Then it was zombies. Today, according to Kate Robertson of the Atlantic, it's female cannibals:
Having spent the last five years studying the female cannibal (an admittedly odd subject even in academic circles), I’ve been fascinated by how the subject has gained more mainstream visibility of late. While the female cannibal isn’t new to pop culture, she’s relevant in ways that go beyond shock value, by capturing ever-present social anxieties about gender, hunger, sex, and empowerment. These new works center on women who, in addition to eating humans, negotiate and subvert expectations for how women should look and behave. They’re motivated by physical hunger but also by sexual desire, making them an extension of the femme fatale—the beautiful woman who deceives and ensnares men. In eating flesh, characters like Justine simply redirect this fear from the metaphorical to the physical. There’s a persistent stereotype that women will “suck men dry”; well, these ones will literally devour you.

It’s significant that the grotesqueness of these women’s eating habits—their proclivity to gorge on human flesh—is rendered through beautiful bodies. Portrayals of female hunger in visual culture more broadly are tangled up in social expectations about how women manage their bodies, expectations shaped in part by fad diets, targeted advertising, and celebrity culture. Eating is thus not just about nourishment, but also about appearance. It’s why when celebrities admit that they like fast food, too, or that they don’t like dieting either, they seem relatable in a way that can feel carefully orchestrated. When these “rule-breaking” women happen to be gorgeous, their rebelliousness becomes that much more appealing.
Robertson discusses the portrayal of the female cannibal in two recent movies, Raw and The Lure, as well as a recent show Santa Clarita Diet (which is actually a zombie show, so it's not truly cannibalism, because zombies were once human but are now, well, zombies that feast on humans, but I digress). In these instances, the notion of hunger is explored as a metaphor for awakening and sex. It's not altogether different from the metaphor used by Joss Whedon in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where the literal monsters she faced were stand-ins for the figurative monsters we encounter in a traditional coming of age story.

That's probably one reason why I find the genre of horror to be so fascinating - it can be straightforward, yes (because these movies make a lot of money), but it can also be nuanced and full of symbolism. It can be used to explore hard social issues, especially in climates where such commentary might not be possible. It can be a way to camouflage statements that might be at best frowned upon and at worst censored and attacked. Think of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as less of a monster story and more of a commentary on scientific ethics and the thin line between breakthrough and playing god. Scratch below the surface of the some of the best horror, and you'll find many different messages underneath.

I'll admit, the gore/grossout subgenre of horror is one of my least favorite, though there are definitely movies in that subgenre I love (Evil Dead 2, The Thing). So I wasn't sure on first reading about it whether I was interested in seeing Raw. But it sounds to me like a thought-provoking work that gets to the heart of what I love about good horror - as symbolism and commentary.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Mendelssohn By Any Other Name

More great women in history for Women's History Month - Fanny Mendelssohn was the sister of well-known composer Felix Mendelssohn, and a musical genius herself. It turns out, in fact, that a piece believed to have been composed by Felix was actually by Fanny:
“Easter Sonata” — a complex four-movement piano composition from 19th century Germany — could only have been written by Felix Mendelssohn.

Or so thought many of the archivists, scholars and musicians who encountered it. The sonata was “masculine,” “violent” and “ambitious,” all the hallmarks of the celebrated Romantic era composer.

It took yet another four decades and a lot of clever musicological sleuthing, but in 2010 a Duke University graduate student revealed what some had suspected all along: “Easter Sonata” was not written by Felix Mendelssohn, but by his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn, herself a musical prodigy.

On Wednesday, in honor of International Women’s Day, “Easter Sonata” was performed under Fanny Mendelssohn’s name for the first time in a public concert hall, bringing Fanny and her widely recognized masterpiece out of her brother’s shadow after 188 years.

Pianist Sofya Gulyak performed the roughly 20-minute composition at the Royal College of Music in London. Among those in the audience was Fanny’s great-great-great granddaughter, Sheila Hayman, a filmmaker and novelist who discussed the story behind “Easter Sonata” with the BBC and wrote about it for the Guardian.

Here's a podcast about the performance, which includes a snippet of the work.

Sunday Videos

I seem to do this more often than not - post links to videos on Sundays. I'm okay with that.

First up, you probably know who Aaron Burr is, because in addition to being a historical figure, he did a lot of bad stuff: he famously dueled (and killed) Alexander Hamilton, he was arrested and tried for treason (on Thomas Jefferson's order) for allegedly trying to abscond some of the Louisiana Purchase for himself, and apparently, he used a Yellow Fever outbreak to make a bunch of money for himself (I didn't know that last one until today):

Alec Baldwin plays Trump again on Saturday Night Live:

And finally, I discovered Chris Stuckmann's movie reviews on YouTube. In addition to regularly doing movie reviews of both new and old movies, he also has a series in which he reviews hilariously bad movies, or what he calls Hilariocities. Here's his Hilariocity review of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

What's In A Name?

We're now well into March, which is, among other things, Women's History Month. And while women today have many more opportunities and rights, women are still being treated differently in sometimes unnoticeable ways. Take this story, making the rounds recently, about a man who used his female coworker's name in his emails for two weeks and learned what women workers often experience:

I will say that I'm fortunate in that I don't really deal with this kind of sexism - in the form of constantly being questioned and doubted - in my current job. In fact, I feel very valued and respected in my job, perhaps in part because I'm in a highly specialized field, have a doctorate, and was recently hired because of my expertise. And I feel especially fortunate feeling this way given that my current job is male-dominated. It's not unusual for me to sit in meetings where I am the only woman.

I usually experience it in different ways: people asking my husband what he does for a living but asking me if I "work at all"; having people assume I don't understand technical or scientific topics; and sometimes being outright ignored when in a social conversation with a group of men. I want to stress that this usually happens in situations with people who don't know me as well. I also noticed at my previous job that while men would be referred to by their title (usually Doctor), women would be referred to by their first names, even when their title was also Doctor. So I do feel much more valued and respected at my current job than my previous one.

The problem is that these behaviors are usually very mundane and difficult to spot by a casual onlooker. The people behaving in sexist ways would probably vehemently deny that they are sexist, and in part they're right - they probably wouldn't make disparaging comments about women as a group or profess any "woman-hating" attitudes. They don't exhibit active sexism. Their sexism is instead more passive and indirect. They change their behavior in small, maybe even unnoticeable ways, when dealing with women versus men: being more skeptical, acting more aggressively in negotiations, forgetting to use a proper title, and so on. But it's still sexism.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Truth About Your Brain

I've blogged in the past about Ben Carson, and all the problems when he tries to demonstrate expertise in an area that isn't neuroscience or medicine more generally. So I'm surprisingly not surprised by this speech where he got a lot of things wrong about the human brain:
It remembers everything you’ve ever seen. Everything you’ve ever heard. I could take the oldest person here, make a hole right here on the side of the head, and put some depth electrodes into their hippocampus and stimulate, and they would be able to recite back to you verbatim a book they read 60 years ago. It’s all there; it doesn’t go away.
Ben, please stop. You're making everyone with a doctorate look bad.

Memory is tricky. Your brain isn't a recorder or a computer that commits everything that ever happens to you to some storage compartment. An electrode or hypnosis or sharp blow to the head won't suddenly make these instances come flooding back, and even if they did, those instances would probably be horribly inaccurate. Your brain is a complex organ inside an unbelievably complex system that allows us to navigate the world and have a semblance of self by actively interpreting what we encounter. It isn't the book we read that gets committed to memory - it's our brain's interpretation of it and how we connect it to previously learned information that (sometimes, not always) gets written to memory.

In fact, all our memories are interpretations, with our brain filling things in with previous experience and expectations. And it isn't just during encoding that mistakes can be introduced; it's during retrieval as well. Have you ever remembered a time in your past and somehow remember a person being there you didn't even know at the time? This happens to me a lot. There's no way I could have even known about that person then, let alone remember seeing them. But my present life gets mixed up with the past. It's a little like writing a paper and saving it to your computer only to find years later that it was accidentally merged with newer files. That's what your brain is like.

And a lot of research has shown how easy it is to implant false memories that feel just as - maybe more - real than actual memories.

Carson's speech was apparently extemporaneous, but still, when talking about something you've dedicated your life to, you should be able to talk off-the-cuff without resorting to misinformation and tropes from bad movies:

Thursday, March 9, 2017

How to Get People to Read the Terms & Conditions

How can you get people to actually read the 20,699-word iTunes terms & conditions? Turn them into a graphic novel, of course:

It is rare to find someone who has a favourite line in the iTunes terms and conditions, but Robert Sikoryak does. “Oh boy, where is it?” he says, scanning his book, before beaming and reciting: “You also agree that you will not use these products for any purposes prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design, manufacture, or production of nuclear, missile, or chemical or biological weapons.” He chuckles. “It’s pretty startling, isn’t it?”

Sikoryak’s latest graphic novel, Terms and Conditions, is like a great piece of conceptual art: dazzling to behold, if more than a little perplexing. Its panels of text and dialogue are word-for-word true to the 20,669-word terms and conditions, published by iTunes in 2015 (Apple has since adopted a lighter 7,000-word version).

Sikoryak has been praised by some for making T&Cs more accessible, which he finds baffling. He just enjoys the challenge of making something dismissed as unreadable readable. In his eyes, convincing someone to read terms and conditions is just like getting someone to read “worthy” classics they feel guilty about skipping, from Camus to Beckett and beyond. “I like using texts that are perceived as important,” he says, “and that includes iTunes T&Cs. All my work is an attempt to bridge the gap between what we call high art and low art, what we think is important or serious, and what we see as frivolous and meaningless. Often, that boundary doesn’t exist.”

He’s now working on adapting the work of the ancient Roman poet Catullus into comics, as well as The Unquotable Trump, a series of comic book front pages, in the style of everything from horror comics to superheroes, designed around quotes by the US president.
Speaking of words, imagine playing Scrabble with this kid: 5-year-old Edith Fuller who won the Scripps Green Country Regional Spelling Bee and will be going to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. She is the youngest person to ever advance to nationals.

30 Years of Joshua Tree

U2's Joshua Tree album is celebrating its 30th anniversary today - the album was released March 9, 1987. So tell me, Joshua Tree - after 30 years, have you found what you're looking for?

And to add to the celebration, here's 5 facts about Joshua Tree:
  1. The album was almost called "The Two Americas" as their inspiration for the songs came from the real America, as well as the mythic "American dream"
  2. The album cover was not shot in Joshua Tree National Park, but rather of a lone Joshua tree in the Mojave desert
  3. That tree was blown over in 2000, but it's still there, surrounded by memorabilia from fans
  4. Joshua Tree remains the band's best-selling album
  5. The band has never performed at any venues near Joshua Tree National Park or the location of the lone Joshua tree

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day.

Many women are also striking today for "A Day Without Women" - women are encouraged to stay home from work, spend no money, and wear red. Here's some links about the day:
I'm working today, mainly because I have a week vacation coming up and really didn't want to miss another day of work this month. But I'm with everyone in spirit! Also going out with some girlfriends tonight and visiting a woman-owned restaurant.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Problem With Horror

I've done a lot of talking recently about what is and is not good horror. This video that popped up in my recommended videos on YouTube perfectly sums it up:

The Verdict on Racism and Sexism

I'm currently in an online discussion about whether we should continue singing music that is outdated at best and misogynist at worst. The verdict is still out on that one, but it's generating some interesting perspectives.

So it's interesting timing that these two things came across my inbox today:
  • The Supreme Court ruled that a Colorado man may get a new trial, due to racist comments by a juror during deliberations - it was a close to decision (5-3).
  • New research published in Psychological Science finds evidence of prejudice transfer; finding out a person is sexist leads to the perception that the person may also be racist (and vice versa). This "transfer" was mostly driven by the degree of social dominance (showing a strong preference for their in-group and comfort with social inequalities) demonstrated by the perpetrator.

Monday, March 6, 2017

I'm Completely Insane

April, as I've mentioned before, is the month of the Blogging A to Z Challenge, where bloggers write one post for each letter of the alphabet on a topic or topics of their choosing. In fact, theme reveal day, for those writing with a theme, is coming up soon: March 20! I'll be participating again this year.

So why am I completely insane? Because April is also Camp NaNoWriMo, which is like NaNoWriMo, but with a twist: you can write whatever you want! It's the month for rebels. Set whatever word count goal you like, because the point is to complete a writing project - any kind of project - which could be anything from a novel to a picture book to a screenplay and so on. And you know what? I'm going to do it! That means two big writing commitments in the month of April, along with all of my other life commitments. Yeah, I'm completely crazy. But we already knew that.

A bit of good news: Camp NaNoWriMo will happen again in June, so if I decide I don't have time for all of it, I can just push my project off until then.

I highly encourage fellow writers to check out one or both of these great writing events. If you're near Chicago, ChiWriMo, the Chicago chapter of NaNoWriMo, will be hosting write-ins in April, where you can network with other Chicagoland writers, find beta readers, and just hang out while working on your project. I've made many wonderful friends through the ChiWriMo events.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Follow the Money and See Where It Goes

If you're still scratching your head about what exactly Trump was saying Tuesday night, you're not alone:
President Trump’s (technically not a) State of the Union address Tuesday night included lots of policy proposals but few details. He promised a new version of his controversial travel ban but didn’t explain how it would pass judicial scrutiny. He nodded to a tax overhaul favored by House Speaker Paul Ryan but didn’t quite endorse it. And he gave the rough outlines of a replacement for the Affordable Care Act but didn’t resolve any of the thorny questions that have made Republicans’ “repeal and replace” promise harder to keep than they expected. (“Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” Trump told reporters Monday, drawing incredulous reactions from the approximately 100 percent of people who knew that health care could be so complicated.)
But if you really want to know what Trump is planning, just follow the money - specifically the preliminary outline that will be out this month in advance of the full formal budget Trump will be presenting to Congress later this year.
Various news outlets in recent weeks have reported that Trump’s budget will draw heavily on a plan released by the conservative Heritage Foundation last year. That document proposes slashing spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years by eliminating dozens of federal programs and offices. But Trump appears to be departing from the Heritage plan in significant ways. The think tank’s plan calls for eliminating whole categories of tariffs, for example; Trump has suggested he might impose steep new ones. And Heritage wants to get rid of programs that provide support for entrepreneurs and small businesses, arguing that the free market would do a better job allocating resources to the best companies; Trump, in his address to Congress, proposed a new program to encourage women entrepreneurs.
Once again, today's blog post is a quote, this one from a Broadway musical. Recognize it?

I'll give you a hint: "The Emperor has no clothes"