Archive for: March, 2012

Signs that they don't get it (#openaccess)

Mar 21 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

From Cold Weather University's webpage on why you shouldn't use University networks to download pirated TV shows and music:

"How would you feel if someone read your groundbreaking research paper that consumed a year of your life and then posted it on the Internet for anyone to download and copy?"

8 responses so far

The Science of Selecting a Urinal

Mar 20 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I was reminded of a story yesterday while I was in the bathroom.

The story came from one of my friends in grad school. She was fascinated by the existence of a hidden order in the universe, one that she had been blind to until college. She was taking a computer programming class in her undergraduate days, and each student had to write a simple computer game as a final project. One of her friends, a male, wrote a game that created a random layout of a men's room, with urinals distributed along the walls, and on some turns, with people standing at a subset. On each turn, the player had to select the single best urinal.

The game was popular in her circle of friends, and was even more popular as a conversation topic. It seems that the vast majority (let's say, 80%) of the male players were able to perform nearly perfectly at this game. While the female players didn't even know that it might be possible to rank urinals on the dimension of social acceptability. And often the male players could all agree on a single best urinal but not really articulate why it was the best. Or maybe they had totally divergent, possibly confabulated, reasons, for picking a winner, but, except in rare circumstances it was the same winner.

And all the males had the desire for the remaining 20% to play by the same rules as them, and reduce social friction in the men's room. [If you have never been in a men's room, it helps to know that talking is taboo, and so any coordination needs to be non-verbal.]

I heard my friend's this story about the computer game 10 year's ago. Although I had never thought about these rules before, I have thought about it many many times since. Pretty much any time I had to choose a urinal, which is often. And I have come to the conclusion that, except in certain degenerate cases, there is always a single best urinal, and choosing it is precognitive.

Indeed, were I an evolutionary psychologist, I would attempt to argue that there is a urinal-selecting module in our brains and genes, likely on the y-chromosome.

I have, sadly, never seen the game in person. It's limited to my friend's anecdote and my fervid imagination. I imagine it looks something like the below. As far as I know, this blog post is the first time the Men's Room Urinal Game has been shared with the internet. (Admittedly, my knowledge is limited, since I refuse to search for "Men's Room Urinal Game" in google). I present 4 of the simpler problems, with some exegesis, but no answers, below. Answers tomorrow.

This is a view of the men's room, from above. The gray squiggles are the urinals. The black shape represents the urinator(s) there when you arrive, if any. The choice of font was dictated by the intense love for comic sans among my likely readership.

Round 1 presents the "Basic 5" problem. If you look at this and say, 'how could you possibly choose?' you have already lost, and demonstrated that you are either unfamiliar with men's rooms, or possibly autistic. There is a clear hierarchy of urinal choices. Although left/right preferences may vary by individual.

Round 2 introduces the issue of the other urinator. It breaks the symmetry. And increases the complexity infinitely. But not in this simple case. There's a clear hierarchy here.

Round 3: No comments, except to say, this takes us from beginner's to intermediate level.

In my friend's telling, there were a large number of layouts, with corners, occasional support pillars, small puddles of urine on the floor, and so on. Because I am considering releasing a home board game of this, I will not present them all here, but I will provide a corner case, for your consideration and discussion.

43 responses so far

The Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Test

Mar 19 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Another day, another venerable neuroscientist decides to go after neuroaesthetics.

I have a long-standing interest in neuroaethetics. If I remember correctly, my Embarrassing Personal Statement for my grad school applications, written back in 1999, were about my desire to do neuroaesthetics. (I am eternally grateful that that Personal Statement has been lost in the sands of time, since it was certainly ridiculous.) I gave up my dream of pursuing that interest the moment I got to grad school and discovered more serious stuff, but I nonetheless feel kind of attached to the field, and hope to get back into it around the time the softball team gives me the nickname Emeritus.

In my opinion, there are two types of people who are interested in neural aesthetics. Type 1: People who actually want to understand how aesthetics works, neurally. Type 2: People who want to name drop famous painters and composers while they sip red wine and eat cheese. The Type 1 people prefer to spend their time in the lab actually learning how aesthetics works.

I have invented a to distinguish these types. I call it the Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Test.

It goes like this: when the person talks about neuroaesthetics, do they focus on how subjects respond to the music of Bela Bartok, or on how they respond to the Wiggles?

Because if they want to talk about Bartok, or Kandinsky, or whatever, I posit that they are not legitimate neuroaestheticians.

The reason for this is that 20th century modern art is the most fun to talk about at parties, but is the least amenable to scientific scrutiny.

Imagine it’s the late 1960's and you want to invent behavioral genetics. You don’t start with humans, you start with fruit flies. And if you are inventing physics, you start with the two body problem, not with chaotic attractor systems. And if you want to understand why we like certain pieces of art, you try to figure out what 4 year olds are responding to in Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

In fact, I wouldn't even start with visual art myself. I would begin with music, since that seems much more powerful, and much less laden with cultural junk that is hard to quantify. The first generation of neuroaestheticians are not going to be doing the most glamorous work. They are going to be doing the simplest work.

3 responses so far

Neuropolarbear will be guest blogging at Scientopia for the next 2 weeks

Mar 19 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Dear Scientopians,

I will be posting on the Scientopia Guest Blogge for the next two weeks. Who am I? I am a card-carrying neuroscientist, and a first-year tenure track professor. I have a dog, and we enjoy running. I have a wife and we enjoy talking about politics and also talking about the functional and structural anatomy of the reward system. I love watching TV. My house is located on the northern land border of the United States. I got my undergraduate degree at Hot Weather University, my Ph.D. at Mild Weather University, did a post-doc at Basketball University, and now sculpt tomorrow’s minds at Cold Weather University. Some of my secret side passions include etymology, grid cells, political science, and the interstate highway system. The most played song on my iTunes is Carry Me Ohio by Sun Kil Moon, followed by Last Songs, by Dntel. My blog has no unifying theme, no consistent axe to grind, and no higher purpose other than my own amusement. I often blog about academia. I sometimes tweet. I discovered the neuroacademic blogoverse in the summer of 2011 and it has helped me navigate a confusing first year, for which I am very thankful. I am honored to join it officially for the next two weeks.


One response so far

Google Questions and Answers

Mar 02 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Thanks for a great two weeks!  We're leaving you with this parting gift.

People occasionally mistakenly find our blog when they are looking for the answers to something else entirely.  In order to not disappoint them in the future, as well as to spread knowledge, we answer their questions in bulk 2x a month (10 each posting).  Here's this bi-monthly's batch.

Q:  what is grade d it means pass or not in gradual school

A:  You may want to drop out of gradual school anyway... it takes too long to graduate.

Q: when buying fundraiser things from girl scouts who do i make the check out to?

A:  Nicole and Maggie. [#2 notes:  that's not true!  We're not girl scouts!  Generally I think you make it out to the girl scout, but could be wrong here... I seem to have developed a wheat allergy so we haven't bought any this year.]

Q:  how to say we'd love to stay with you

A:  "Would you mind helping us pay for a hotel?"  (#2:  Unless they ask, and they mean it, you don't.)

Q: why shouldn't i sleep in class?

A:  why shouldn't I come to your office and sleep on your desk while you're trying to work?

Q:  i paid off my mortgage so should i change my home insurance?

A:  That depends on your risk in the house and your risk tolerance.  Banks have minimum insurance they require you to have.  Think about a scenario in which your house burns down completely-- would you be ok with no payout?  With a smaller payout than the one you would get currently?  Or do you need at least what the bank required you to have?  The answers to these questions will have to do with how expensive building is and your other areas of financial security-- cash on hand, employment security, wages, etc.

Q:  why parents think you are grumpy

A:  They're perceptive.

Q:  if you owe college money can they take your house away?

A:  Probably not.  College money isn't discharged in bankruptcy, so they can't get at your house that way (and they would only be able to in some states anyway).  You didn't put down your house as collateral, so they don't really have a right to repossess it.  I'd worry more about wage garnishment.

Q:  if you die in your home is paid off do you still have to pay home owners if the home is to be kept

A:  Probably, though local laws may vary on this topic-- you are usually able to get some kinds of grace periods when an emergency (such as death) is involved.

Q:  can you join 2 vertical blinds together to make 1 long one

A:  You can do anything with duct tape.

Q:  will my hypoglycemia go away in my second trimester?

A:  it may get a little better, but it may come back with a vengeance to beat the band third trimester.  Eat small frequent meals!

2 responses so far

March Mortgage Update and does any of this really matter?

Mar 01 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

The first of each month or thereabouts, #1 updates the blog on her mortgage situation.  Why?  Because personal finance bloggers dig that sort of thing and were in favor of it.  Each mortgage update is followed by a contemplation on housing or family budgeting, sometimes personal, sometimes more general.  This month is the former.

Last month (February):

Balance: $109,293.86
Years left: 9.416666667
P = $776.50, I =$437.91, Escrow = 726.93

This month (March):

Balance: $107,953.41
Years left: 9.25
P = $781.78, I =$432.62, Escrow = 726.93

One months savings from this month’s prepayment:  ~$2.22.

So... got signals that DH's tenure case is not very good.  He is unlikely to be tenured.  He considered withdrawing his packet, but apparently if he does that then he's out of a job in May and we kind of need his salary for next year.

So what does this mean?

Well... we have some choices.

We can live on my salary alone.  We'll have to make some cuts, especially to our saving.  DH could then do something like long-distance consulting or just devote himself to pursuits that don't make money, like volunteer work or taking classes etc.  We're in a small town and the nearest city is pretty far away and doesn't really have the kind of industry he works in either.  He's also not particularly interested in going the administrative route at the uni.

We can go on the market again.  He doesn't want to work at a university, but I could get a different TT job in a city that has his industry.  Unfortunately there are only 3 cities that have his industry and only one of them is an area I could get a TT job at.  And that one place... it's in a part of the country I would prefer not to live.  (Sorry, I just don't like the East coast much!)

We can move out to California.  DH could work in industry in his field and make a big salary.  Sadly there are no think-tanks in the SF bay area in my field that are any good to work at (one of them has a reputation for being a horrible work environment, and the other is a 3 hour commute from anywhere DH would be likely to work).  The SLACs and CalStates are also unappealing, first because they would be unlikely to hire me (I have pedigree from the wrong coast!), and second because their pays are low and their teaching loads very high.  So really that leaves trying to get a soft money position at one of the big named schools in the area (since although awesome, I am not awesome enough to get a TT job at a top 10 school... I'm also too far from graduation for their post-docs).  This would be a drop in prestige, but in theory I could build up my cv without heavy teaching and service obligations, and in an environment with amazingly good colleagues.  It would also be an increase in risk because soft money positions can have gaps in employment and widely varying salaries.

We could also move out to California and I could completely ditch my career.  Try to get a job at Google or someplace like that doing I don't know what.  Presumably that would also involve a large salary for me.

We don't want to be apart for any longer than 3 months.  We talked about maybe him doing a 6 month temporary position (sometimes industry does 3-12 month jobbers for professors) and we could live there over the summer and then he and DC could stay on and the baby/toddler and I could move back here.  But nothing longer than that.

Meanwhile we're getting older.

So here's the deal:

We could stay here and be perfectly safe.  Guaranteed employment for me.  Continue saving.  Pay off our house.  Have affordable daycare.  Pay for private school.  Etc. Etc.  We'd have to cut back some, but even without raises we're not doing too badly, even if I am underpaid.  It just doesn't cost much to live here.  I like my job.  I like my colleagues.  I know a lot of things about my situation are better than the average.

Alternatively, we could move to paradise and potentially make much more money.  But... small 3 bedroom houses start at 800K in the area we'd be looking at.  Rent starts around 3000/month (though if it is a same-gendered baby currently gestating we could probably make do with a 2br starting at 2500/mo).  School district suddenly becomes very important because private is so much more expensive.  (On the plus side, DC makes the age cutoff for California, so there wouldn't be any fight to keep hir accelerated in public.)  Buying a house, even with 20% down becomes a lot more risky... being potentially 200K underwater is a lot less scary than being potentially 800K underwater if a house can't be sold.  We'd need a very large emergency fund just to pay for the basics of housing and so on in case of a job loss.  There's the potential for great upside, but also risk we wouldn't have staying here.  And what if DH realizes he doesn't like working for industry as much as he would have liked determining his own hours in our small town?  I probably can't make a big enough salary to (comfortably though frugally) support a family in the SF bay area.

With the pregnancy I just want to nest.  Thankfully I don't have to worry about this decision for real for another year, and will presumably no longer be gestating at that point.  The future is an exciting but scary place.

2 responses so far

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